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Yukon Mail Service, 1897

Klondike Gold Rush

Philately & Postal Service in the North

The Alaska Searchlight (Juneau, Alaska) - Saturday, February 13, 1897

Canadian Mail Arrives From the Yukon

    Capt. Wm. Moore, the Canadian mail contractor, arrived here from the interior Wednesday night with her majesty's mail en route for Victoria. This is the first year of a regular Canadian mail service which has been performed at a figure so low, however, that there is nothing left in it for the contractor.

    Captain Moore left Juneau on his first trip on May 15. Lumber was packed over the summit and a boat built at Lake Linderman. The mail left here May 25 and was taken to Capt. Moore at Linderman by his son Bernard. When it reached him he had his boat in readiness but was obliged to delay until the lake broke up, June 6. The trip down the lakes and rivers was made in good time and Fort Cudahy or Forty-mile was reached June 18. Capt. Moore delivered the mail and then went down the river to Circle city where he waited until the last of June for one of the river steamboats to put in an appearance. This not coming, he, being anxious to catch the first down steamer from St. Michael Island to San Francisco, started down the river with three men in a small boat and made the journey of 1500 miles in safety and good time. On July 24 he was a passenger on the steamer Bertha when it sailed way from St. Michael. San Francisco was made at noon of August 8, and that same evening Capt. Moore sailed for Victoria, where he delivered the first out mail August 11.

    The second mail was taken in by Bernard Moore. It left Juneau July 8 and arrived at Fort Cudahy July 27. Three days later Mr. Moore left there with the mail coming out, and arrived here September 10, coming out the same way as he went in.

    Capt. Moore took in the third mail himself, leaving Victoria on the Topeka August 16. He arrived here on the 20th and on the morning of August 22 was on his way to Dyea. This mail was delivered at Fort Cudahy September 11. In talking over the trip with Capt. Moore the following particulars were learned which we give for the readers of the SEARCHLIGHT who may be interested in the great gold fields of the Yukon. Heavy rains detained him two days on the portage as the native packers absolutely refused to work until the downpour had somewhat abated.

    A boat was bought at Lake Linderman from some prospectors coming out, which saved considerable time that would otherwise have been spent in whipsawing lumber and building one. All the way down to the Five Finger rapids the weather continued raining and blustering. At Pryor's portage at the head of Lake Bennett Mr. Clay with the U. S. mail was overtaken who engaged Capt. Moore to take his mail through to Circle city for him.

    The journey down the river was without incident worthy of note. During fine weather this part of the trip would be very pleasant were it not for the clouds of mosquitoes everywhere. There is little game along the river though occasionally a lynx, bear or moose is seen. There are fine trout in the lakes, which may be caught by trolling, and there are white-fish too of the finest quality, which can be taken in set nets placed in the eddies, but the Yukoner has no time to indulge in sport which gives him so small chances of food for the time spent.

    A stop of one night was made at Harper's, a small settlement at the mouth of Pelly river. The principal buildings are Mr. Harper's house and store and the Church of England mission buildings. There are gathered about these fourteen or fifteen native houses. The settlement is well located on an extensive flat abounding with luxuriant grasses. Mr. Harper has three horses which he purchased last season which have remained out most of the winter and which are in excellent condition. Most of the time they stay about three miles back at some small lakes, coming and going at will.

    Vegetable gardens do fairly well and potatoes raised are of good size and fair quality though not so mealy as those raised in the coast states. Hay can be cut in quantities and easily cured. Next summer Mr. Harper intends to break up quite an acreage of land and sow it to barley which will be cut in the milk for feed. There are no cattle here nor at any place along the Yukon save a few cows kept at the missions on the lower river.

    The place now called Harper's was formerly known as Fort Selkirk, a trading post of the Hudson bay company, having been built here many years ago. It had a good trade in fine furs which interfered with the trade of the coast Indians known as Chilkats. These natives, under their warlike chief Chatrich, captured Fort Selkirk and burned it to the ground after which it was never rebuilt. Mr. Harper is a Yukon pioneer having been in the interior for twenty-two years, the past three of which he has been at this post.

    On September 10 Clondyke was reached and a stop of four hours made. At that time there were about eighty or ninety men there. Gold had been struck by George McCormick on Bonanza creek about the middle of August. There were many and varied reports of the district, some good, others bad, to be heard then. The Clondyke river is from eighty to one hundred miles long heading in the Rocky mountains away to the northeast. For most of its course it is broad and shallow, having a great number of tributaries. The surrounding country is low and rolling and the immediate banks in most places are flat.

    On all the tributaries where careful prospecting has been done gold has been found. No great nuggets have been found but the gold is very coarse and too heavy to have travelled any great distance. On the main stream gold has been found but it is much finer and no claims have been worked. One reason which has kept prospectors away from this region is said to be the aversion of the natives to going into this part of the country owing to the great number of bears, many of them grizzlies, which are to be found there. The miners bear out the statement that it is a great bear country. Other game is said to be very plentiful too. This region is well wooded for the most part with spruce, hemlock and black pine while all the banks of the rivers are fringed with cottonwoods.

    At the mouth of the Clondyke Joseph Ladue has located a townsite, built a house and store and moved his sawmill here from Sixty-mile. He expects to get title to his land before long, and as the Canadian government is both liberal and prompt it will not be long before Mr. Ladue finds himself the legal owner of Dawson city, as he has named it in honor of Prof. Dawson, the eminent Canadian geologist, director of the school of geology at Ottawa.

    The mail was delivered at Fort Cudahy September 11. Here Capt. Moore waited three days for the steamer Arctic to come up the river expecting to come back up to Pelly river on that boat in company with Wm. Ogilvie, chief of the Canadian survey party. Fearing that some accident might prevent the Arctic getting up to Forty mile Capt. Moore started down the river in a small boat for Circle city where it was expected to meet both the Arctic and the Bella. On arrival there he found that neither of these boats had yet come, nor were there any tidings from them. A hundred and fifty men anxious to get out by way of St. Michael were awaiting the coming of some river steamer which could take them down to Bering sea. The short summer season was drawing to a close and the delay was growing ominous. Mr. McQuestion, store-keeper and agent for the Alaska Commercial company at Circle city assured the men that the Bella would be there soon and would make the down trip in ample time to catch the steamer Bertha at St. Michael which he said would be sure to wait for the Bella until October 15.

    Capt. Moore chafed under the anxiety for he felt that the mail must come out if not one way then another, so on September 21 he commenced preparations for going down the river in a small boat, and on September 25 with four men started on the long journey. The river was clear but that night it began to snow and freeze. Winter was coming on. The next morning when camp was broken it was snowing and blowing so hard that they had hardly gotten started before they were obliged to make a landing and wait for the storm to subside. On the following morning another start was made although it was still storming and at 10 o'clock the Arctic was passed. Capt. Bocker hailed them telling them the Bella was two days behind.

    Camp was made that night a little above Fort Yukon. The next morning they met the Bella a little below. Capt. Mayo informed them that it was useless for them to go down the river as the Bertha was to sail from St. Michael October 1 and that he had orders to put his boat into winter quarters and not try to return to the mouth of the river. Capt. Moore then decided to continue down the river to Nulato and come across country to Nushagak but as this region is filled with swamps and gullies it was exceedingly dangerous to make the journey until the winter was well advanced. His companions were unwilling to undertake anything so formidable and persuaded him to return and come out by way of the lakes, so the party went aboard the Bella which was towing two barges loaded with 300 tons each while the steamer had a cargo of 200 tons. Two miles above Fort Yukon the steamer got aground and it required seventy-two hours hard work to get off the bar. The river is cut up into several small channels which are continually shifting, making navigation slow and dangerous.

    On the third day, October 1, while three men were taking a line to the shore their boat capsized and one of them was carried under one of the barges and drowned. The unfortunate man was an employe of the company named Otto Lingron, a native of Neustadt, Finland, aged about twenty-six years. After getting one barge afloat the steamer proceeded up stream with it leaving a crew of men to discharge the other. Hardly thirty-five miles had been made when the running ice compelled the leaving of the second barge with men to unload the cargo upon the bank. The steamer continued on its way, trying to make Circle city before the river closed.

    When within twelve miles of this place it had to seek shelter in a slough, October 6, it being impossible to proceed farther. It seemed as if winter had fairly set in so all hands went to work discharging cargo, discon-necting engines, etc., for wintering. October 8 the weather cleared but it was steadily growing colder; the next day the mercury stood 2 degrees below zero, the day after 4 below.

    On October 13 there came an unexpected change: the snow became sleet, the sleet changed to rain. On the 17th the ice ceased running in the river and Mr. McQuestin coming down from Circle city with a crew of men commenced reloading. The weather grew warmer day by day until on the 20th it was warm and sunshiny followed by heavy rain. The steamer and one barge succeeded in reaching Circle city but the second barge could not be gotten above Fort Yukon from which place the goods have to be sleighed up, a distance of ninety miles at a cost of $300 per ton.

    The middle of November Capt. Moore commenced preparations for coming out. Dog teams were bought, outfits packed and on November 21 Capt. Moore and his party started up the river. The river was not yet safe, there being many open places, but anxious to get out they did not delay their departure a day longer than absolutely necessary.

    At Circle city there were then between 500 and 600 people. Many had gone to the Clondyke diggings and others were at Coal creek, a tributary of the Yukon about sixty miles above Circle city where a recent strike has been made. Some men were engaged in sleighing their supplies up to this new find from Circle city. There are at Circle city two large stores, some fourteen or fifteen saloons and a large number of houses. Some of the buildings are very neatly and substantially made of hewn logs and are well finished. The government school had in attendance about twenty-five pupils. Thirty dog teams and thirty-three or four horses were at work hauling supplies to the outlying camps. The teamsters were praying for snow there being at that time not more than four or five inches. Most of the camp supplies are being hauled in the winter as it is much more commercial, winter prices being from eight to ten cents a pound against forty cents, the summer price to Birch creek. Hay is cut in considerable quantities but all feed has to be brought up the river. One man had fifteen tons on the barge at Fort Yukon and the cost of getting it from there to Circle city at regular rates will be $4,500. The freight rate from Circle city to Forty mile in winter is fifty cents a pound.

    The river was found to be very rough in places but on the whole the going on the ice was very fair. Forty mile was made December 5, here a stop was made for the ice to get firmer and to rest the dogs. Forty-mile was left December 11 and three days later the party arrived at Clondyke where a stay of four days was made to replensih provisions for men and dogs while all rested for the journey ahead. Fresh beef at fifty cents a pound was one of the articles added to the larder here. At this time the number of men in this district was about 500. Several good log huts had been built but most of them were living in tents.

    The fifty five miles between Clondyke and Sixty-mile were made in two and a half days. The only white people there were J. Harper and family who had moved down from Pelly river as provisions there were nearly exhausted no boat having got up to them with supplies for two years. A stop of one night only was made here and fresh supplies having been bought the journey was resumed. From this post to Pelly river it is 130 miles and it took seven days to cover the distance. The store here had nothing to sell save flour (good at 20 cents a pound, damaged at 15 cents) and some dried fruit. Frozen salmon which had been taken from the river dead were offered for sale as dog feed at twenty cents a pound. Some of these were bought for dog feed was very scarce. The king salmon have not been running freely in the Yukon the last two years and the natives have neglected their fishing to work in the mines so that the supply of food for dogs is limited. The regular fare of Capt. Moore's animals was corn meal and bacon cooked together, two and a half pounds to the dog.

    Goodby was said to Pelly river on New Year's day. That same day Hugh Day with the U. S. mail was met fifteen miles up the river. His dogs had given out seven miles above and two Indians were hauling the mail. The Gillis party who had left Pelly a day ahead were overtaken January 10 twenty miles below the Hootalinqua. Twelve miles farther on Henry Hyde and W. A. Biglow with the U. S. mail were overtaken. The next day A. D. Nash came to their camp. He had left Forty-mile ten days before them with a large letter express and important Canadian government dispatches. He had abandoned his tent, stove and all his outfit save for a few provisions he could pack with the express. He found cheerful assistance and came out the rest of the way with Capt. Moore's party.

    The Lewis river below Lake Lebarge was open and traveling on the banks was extremely difficult. The lake was reached January 15 and the Canyon on the 17th, where Joe Goldsmith and Capt. Gieger were met. They were having a hard time of it and both men and dogs were tired. At Tagish lake some Indians were encamped and the fare for the next few days was varied with a dish of moose meat at a dollar a pound.

    January 25 camp was made on the island in Lake Bennett where Jack Hayes was met with the U. S. mail. The next day the foot of the summit was reached and the following day they crossed over and on the 28th were camped at salt water.

    The long hard journey had been made quite comfortably, Capt. Moore having taken care that his party should have the two things needed for winter travel in northern latitudes - plenty of food and proper rest. Though the Captain is in his seventy-second year he is strong and well and looks none the worse for the thousands of miles of rough traveling he has done the past year. He leaves here for Victoria on the Al-Ki and in a few weeks will again be on his way to the interior.

    Better facilities are needed for getting in Yukon supplies. There never has been a season when the stores did not run short of provisions before summer. An accident might leave hundreds with starvation staring them in the face. The terrible experience of '89 is not forgotten when the Arctic was wrecked and most of the men had to leave the country making their way down the river in a small steamer and a barge and after the barge went to pieces tramping from Nulato to Bering sea. THE SEARCHLIGHT always favored a railroad from the coast to connect with steamboats on the upper Yukon. The near future promises to see this plan carried out.

    The Alaska Searchlight was published in Juneau, Alaska, by E. O. Sylvester from December 17, 1894, to February 1898, by which time Sylvester had moved to Skagway. At least one issue was published in Skagway, as the Daily Searchlight, on March 23, 1898.