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A Trip to the Yukon, 1896: Part 3, From White Horse down the Yukon River

Klondike Gold Rush

A Trip to the Yukon, 1896: Part 2, Through Miles Canyon

The Pittsburg Daily Headlight (Pittsburg, Kansas) - December 30, 1896

A Trip to the Yukon

Some of the Experiences of Seekers
After Wealth in the Alaska Gold Fields

by J. H. Jones, Galena, Kansas.

    We have seen all we want to of White Horse Rapids and are willing enough to get away. They present a grand picture of one of the elements in a rage, but the scene is too realistic to be appreciated by a man who is still trembling from fright after having passed through them.

    After loading our boat and outfit on our sleds we pull for a half mile around the ice jam and find the river full of ice far below us. There is nothing left for us to do but beach our boat and go into camp and wait with patience for the ice to break up. Here where we land we find a small mound and over it a rude cross bearing the inscription "Andy Brofy, drowned while shooting Box Canon, July 5, 1895." It is a forcible reminder that we have no cause to complain of our own annoyances for we are safe thus far, while in front of us beneath the snow and ice, lie the remains of a poor unfortunate man who met death while attempting the voyage we have just made, and perhaps his friends, family or relatives are still waiting for some tidings from him, and to them his fate may never be known.

    We have been in camp three days and have lots of company. There are now thirty-seven tents and about one hundred persons in camp. We could quite easily hold a congress of the nations of the world while we have nothing else to do, for all the leading nations are represented in our little colony.

    Just look at this combination all living in one tent: There is a Dutchman, an Englishman, an Irishman, a Frenchman, a Welshman and a Norwegian. It is needless to say they don't quarrel much, for none of the foreigners can speak good English and can understand it but little better.

    The beach is lined with boats, of every description, presenting quite a picturesque appearance, and still more are arriving each day.

    But there comes the mail carrier and the camp is full of excitement. Everyone is looking for tidings from home. Some are disappointed. The long looked for letter didn't come. The disappointed ones can scarce believe but what the carrier has overlooked their letters - they must be in the bag - and they make the carrier go all through the letters again carefully, while they stand peering over his shoulders with anxions eyes. But there are no letters for them and they console themselves by standing around listening to the more fortunate ones read such parts of their letters as are not of a private nature.

    The mail system in this part of Uncle Sam's domains is not exactly of the free delivery kind. The carrier charges twenty-five cents for each letter, but there is no kicking about the price. I was fortunate enough to receive four letters from my wife - the first ones I had received in nine weeks. They would have been welcome at many times the carrier's delivery charges.

    It is estimated that there are about 750 men and about fifteen to twenty women behind us on the trail. The party of which we form a part is the first to come through this spring. We have one woman in our camp. Her husband came out last fall, and at that time they were single but they were married during the winter, and as this is his last season in the mines she accompanies him, and she is not a bad partner to have on the trip for she helps pack the outfit and does nearly as much work on the trail as one of the men.

    This is the first time we have seen the ground and gone to bed without sleeping on the snow since leaving Juneau. And I want to tell you the earth looked better than I ever thought it did before. It is the first time we have had to give the outside world a thought and wonder what was going on in the civilized portions of the earth.

    But we are anxious to be on our way. It is May 12. We move down the river five miles and again run into solid ice and are compelled to load our boats on our sleds for we want to be in the "head push," and are tired of waiting for the ice to go out. We push forward to Lake Le Barge. This is the last of the whole chain of lakes to Chilcoot Pass and is also the last one in which the ice breaks up. This lake is forty miles long and about fifty miles wide. We have traveled five miles and gone into camp and prepared for an early start the following morning.

    At two o'clock in the morning we are off. These early starts are made in order that we have solid ice to travel on, as a few hours later the sun will have thawed the top snow and a heavy slush will make travel almost impossible. We arrive at the head of the lake at 10 o'clock, having sledded twenty miles. We started none too early, and the last part of the journey was anything but an easy one. The slush piles up in front of the sled and we have to stop and shovel out the path in front. But by pulling and pushing and swearing a little we get all into camp and rest till 3 o'clock the following morning when we start for an island in the lake and arrive at 8 o'clock, making fifteen miles. Here we are greeted by another of those gruesome land-marks of the trail, a grave marked "Unknown, found and buried September 15, 1895."

    On the island is a family of five in camp. If any lady who reads this has ever entertained an idea of taking a trip to the Yukon, if she could see this family and see the daughter, 18 or 20 years old pulling a sled and performing work which was only intended for beasts of burden, she would abandon the thought right then. 2 o'clock the next morning again finds us in the harness, pulling for the foot of the lake, distant of about twenty-five miles. We make the trip without any exciting adventures, but we feel a good deal like plow horses after a hard season's work. Pulling a boat 24 feet long, laden with 1,000 pounds of freight is not an easy task. We have pulled, pushed and gouged our way over 180 miles, but now our sledding is over and none are sorry.

    The balance of the trip is by water, a distance of 820 miles. At the foot of Lake Le Barge is Thirty Mile Lewis river, a stream as large as Spring river, with an eight mile current, but very shallow and hard to navigate. Here we launch our boat. After bumping a few rocks and banging up on one which threatens to demolish our boat, we pull through all right. We have one more dreaded place to pass through, Five Fingers, and then we are safe.

    Here, also, we see many other boats, and some that are remarkable exhibitions of mechanical genius. One, which was amusing to look at, verified the statement I made some time back that not everyone could whip-saw or build a boat. The contrivance was 12 feet long and two feet wide. It had no beam, and consequently would not sit up in the water, but persisted in rolling over. The proprietors of the "vessel," not at all daunted by such trifling obstacle, tied a log on each side of the boat, and one setting on the bow and the other on the stern, with their feet on the logs to balance them, they started down the river as unconcerned as though they were occupying first class quarters in an ocean steamer. We expected to see them wrecked any moment, but the last we heard of them they were getting along all right.

    Thirty miles below Lake Le Barge the Hootalingua river joins the Lewis river, forming the headwaters of the Yukon, making a stream as large as the Missouri river and just as about as muddy.

    We arrived at Yukon, which is rightly called the head of the gold bearing district, and on May 17 go into camp.

[To be continued.]

A Trip to the Yukon, 1896: Part 4, Down the Yukon River to Circle City