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Gone Mad on Gold - Skaguay and Dyea, 1897

Klondike gold Rush

The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.), Thursday, October 14, 1897

The Evening Star - Thursday, October 14, 1897

GONE MAD ON GOLD - October 14, 1897

Special Correspondence of The Evening Star.

    SKAGUAY, Alaska, September 10, 1997. There are hundreds of men here and on the trails who are absolute lunatics, gone stark mad of the craze for gold. Many of them are pitiable objects, but they declare they will not turn back, but will either achieve a fortune or leave their bones in the frozen wilderness. Many men have aged years fn a single month. Many more have so overtaxed themselves in packing that they are physical wrecks.

    Among the packers on the White pass is a young man, who, early in August, stout, ruddy and healthy, came here on the same boat with me from Seattle. I saw him yesterday, but would not have recognized him had he not spoken to me. He is emaciated and hollow cheeked, and appeared to be in the last stages of physical exhaustion. In answer to my inquiries, he said that he had been packing, and had made about $30 a day for awhile. Then his strength began to flag. and he could work only every other day. Now he is working about half a day out of two. "But what are you doing it for?" I said: "you are killing yourself."

    "Oh," he replied, "in another week I will have enough to buy an outfit for myself and go through to the Klondike." They will have to bury him before long.

    Along with the pathetic sights there are many ludicrous happenings. There is an old pack steer here who runs away about once a day, playing havoc in the camp and stampeding a whole train of pack horses. Yesterday he started off, caught his horn in the flap of a tent, and pulled the tent along with him, poles, stakes and all, upsetting two men at dinner and scattering their provisions to the four winds. Away he went, the tent hanging to his horns, his pack slipping under his belly, stampeding a dozen horses and knocking aside as many men, until at last, freed from all his impedimenta, he quietly stopped by the roadside, several miles up the trail, and began placidly to graze. I am afraid he is no more, for I have not seen him since, and a hundred men swore vengeance.

    It rains here almost continually, and on the pass it is snowing. Already the mountains which flank the pass are covered with three or four feet of snow, and every morning there is a skim of ice at the edge of the river.

    In October and November they have terrific wind storms, and when these storms begin to come down the narrow valley there will be, I believe, considerable of an exodus from here.

    The people here are anxious that a post office be established. The nearest office is at Dyea, which is about six miles away by water, and unless one owns one's boat the round trip costs $3. There is a self-appointed postmaster here who obtains from the Dyea office all letters directed to Skaguay and delivers them for 5 cents apiece. He also receives letters and delivers them aboard the mail steamers for the same fee. All postage must be prepaid, and it is difficult to obtain stamps. Newspapers will not be touched.

The Scene at Dyea.

    A trip to Dvea showed a very different state of affairs. While there is evidence that there will be a small permanent settlement here there are only a few hundred people not on the move. It was thought for a while that burros could be used across the Chilkoot Pass, but this has been proven a mistake. It is true that a few burros and horses have been taken over, but they had to be taken unloaded, and it was only with the greatest difficulty that they were gotten over the steepest places.

    However, as far as Sheep Camp, about eleven miles up tke trail, all sorts of pack animals are being used to great advantage. We saw horses, mules, burros, oxen and even dogs packing over this part of the trail. The dogs get along with the least trouble and carry heavier packs, in proportion to their size, than either man or horse.

    The Dyea trail is right up the center of a narrow valiey, between the two branches of the Dyea river. This river divides some distance up the trail and flows down in two streams, one on either side of the valley, leaving a broad dry strip of land between. It is upon this strip of land that the trail is made.

    Many of the Indian packers load their canoes and carry goods up the river. They load the canoe and attaching two ropes to the bow they tow it up stream, one Indian on one side, one on another. They carry many times as much as other packers and make fester progress.

    Sheep Camp, eleven miles from Dyea and nearly half way to Lake Lindeman, is the largest permanent camp on the trail. There are a number of log and frame houses here, it has two well-stocked stores, two restaurants, three saloons, and its average population is about 700. Of course this population is daily changing.

    The next camp is at Stone House, so called from a huge boulder resembling a house. At Dyea we met the proprietor of one of the eating houses at Stone House, and he says that by careful count about 5,200 prospectors have gone over the Chilkoot Pass since spring. Shortly after leaving Stone House, the timber line is passed, and from there to the lakes there is no wood of any description. For this reason no camp can be made on this part of the trail.

    At the southern end of Lake Bennett there is a saw mill where boats are built. The cheapest boats are $75 and some sell for $300. For a while the mill would build boats for any prospector, who would cut and bring to the mill enough timber to make three boats, but now they can only be had for cash. The timber on the lakes is sparse and very small, the largest trees being not more than six inches in diameter.

    Between the summit of the pass and Lake Lindeman are a number of small lakes. Heretofore the trail was around these lakes, but of late quite a ferry business has sprung up on them. Early in the season a prospector going through with his family and quite a party carried along a small knock-down boat. When he reached Crater Lake he determined to save the distance around the lake by putting his boat together and floating his goods across. As he was starting over with the last load another prospector came along and offered him $10 for a lift across. While he was loading this man's provisions another came along and made the same offer: and so on until he saw that he had gotten into a profitable business. He followed this for about a month, during which time he cleared more than $3,000; and then he sold the boat for $40. In the meantime his family, established at the further end of the lake, had been baking pies and selling them for one dollar apiece. About the middle of August he returned to Sheep Camp, replenished his depleted larder, and having a large and substantial boat built at the mill he went on his way rejoicing.

Few Big Strikes - Claims Taken.

    At Dyea I met a Klondiker who made one of the big strikes last spring. He said that when he left the Yukon country there was no great excitement, and the people there had no idea of the rush that had commenced. He said that his first knowledge of it was gained when he met the advance guard of the great army on the Lewis river. He says that when he left there were about 4,000 men on the Klondike; that very few had made big strikes, and that all the good claims in the region were taken up. He says that all who are going in now will be disappointed, unless other rich creeks are discovered. Most of the gold which has come out this year is the accumulated saving of men who have been on the Yukon from five to ten years.

    Hearing of the recent law passed by the Dominion government restricting placer claims to 100 feet along a stream he said it was a great mistake, for, unless a stream is exceptionally rich, like Eldorado creek, a hundred feet would not be worth working. There will be no danger of a famine at Dawson this winter, he says, provided those who are now going in take enough provisions for themselves.

Snow on the Chilikoot Pass.

    The snow is already heavy on the Chilkoot Pass, and within a few weeks winter will have set in in earnest, and all travel will be stopped. A large number, even on the Dyea trail, are turning back, because they realize that they cannot get through and prefer to pass the winter at Dyea, Skaguay or Juneau than on the trail. If there were enough packers and if the prospectors could pay the charges no doubt all who are now on the trail could get through. But packers' charges have been continually going up and now the charge over th Chilkoot Pass is $38 per hundred. There has been one attempt made, by means of a packers' union, to put the charges even higher than this. At Sheep Camp a packers' union was organized, and as is usual the people at the head of it were not packers, but the gamblers, saloon keepers and store keepers at Sheep Camp, who get all the packers' earnings. But a union was organized and a restaurant keeper elected president and a gambler secretary. They immediately put up the prices to $40. But the Indians could not be drawn into it, so, after a few days, it collapsed, much to the chagrin of the self-appointed guardians of the poor laborers.

Mail for the Yukon.

    Mr. G. P. Sproul, who has charge of the United States mails for the Yukon country, has reached Sheep Camp, but expresses a fear that the carrier may not get through. He says that though he may get through, it will be quite impossible for him to get back with the return mail. Mr. Sproul complains very bitterly that the contractor has failed to make the necessary provisions for the trip, and that he has failed to keep his promises. The contractor, according to Sproul, had promised that there was to be a boat and four tons of provisions at Lake Bennett, and that supplies were to be cached at four places on the Yukon. Neither boat or provisions are at the lake, and no provisions have been cached.

    Mr. Sproul had 3,000 pounds of provisions at Sheep Camp, but had to sell 2,000 pounds on account of the impossibility of getting them through. People expecting mail from the Yukon this fall or winter must be prepared to be disappointed.

    The Queen is just in and brings the news of the loss of the Liza Anderson, which sailed from Seattle for St. Michael's on August 9, with several hundred prospectors and their outfits. She ran into a terrific storm to the westward, and was barely able to put into one of the western ports in a disabled condition. The captain, after making every man sign an agreement that the boat and company should not be held liable, made arrangements to have them returned to Seattle. It is said that the Anderson was condemned, and that she left Seattle in spite of the warnings of the officials, and, that all persons responsible for her sailing will be prosecuted.

    The Queen will sail tomorrow, and will take about sixty disheartened prospectors from Dyea and Skaguay.

    I had almost forgotten to mention that one of the features of Skaguay is an old bark, which is moored near the shore and used as a warehouse and hotel; and now the Queen brings the news that an old snag boat has been fitted up into a floating hotel and business block, and is now on her way here. If she can withstand the terrific winds which sweep down through Skaguay valley and churn up the waters of the inlet, she will no doubt be the most comfortable abiding place here during the coming winter.

    Two large wharves are being built at Skaguay, and all sorts of preparations are being made to meet a great rush next spring. Juneau merchants declare that, judging from the letters they are receiving from all parts of the states, there will be at least 50,000 people going to the gold fields next spring.        J. S. R.