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Stories from the Klondike

Klondike Gold Rush, 1896-1899

Special to the Post-Dispatch

    SEATTLE, Wash., Aug. 4. - The tide in the news from Alaska is turning and now comes stories of privation, hunger and disappointment. Forty or more prospectors have turned back from Skagua and others will likely do so. Gross fraud upon the part of agents is charged against the transportation lines. The Klondike with its gold appears to many to be at the far end of the rainbow, and these travelers are too weary to chase after it.

    John McKinney, a well-known Seattle railroad man and miner, writes from Skagua:

    "It was a shame the way we were treated on the steamer. You would not eat the grub; it was the worst I ever saw. Three meals in succession without bread unless you paid the steward 25 cents a loaf for it.

    "Men that came without outfits bought complete outfits from sailors that were stolen from the men going to the mines. You could buy anything from the sailors. The officers closed their eyes. I went to the purser, but could get no satisfaction. By giving the steward $5, you could get something to eat."

    From Chilkoot Pass Dr. G. M. Faulkner of this city writes he is in charge of an outfit and fifteen men, fifteen horses and fourteen tons of provisions. This party took two double sets of block and tackle to help them drag goods up the last pitch on the Chilkoot Pass and the doctor writes that the tackle has already been of great practical advantage. The letter says:

    "It has been raining hard and lots of the men feel blue. A great many will turn back. I estimate that forty will return on the next boat. I fear we have not enough provisions. The much talked of White Pass, by way of Skagua, is a fraud."

    Thomas A. Garrett, who is at Skagua, writes in a similar vein and claims gross misrepresentation.

    "The mode of unloading horses," says he, "is to stand them out on a gang-plank and slide the horse into the sea. Some of them go in in a sitting position, some head first, some sideways and some heels over. Our horses made quite a graceful and successful slide. The situation here is not very cheerful. There are a number here who have no means to get further without packing and they have not yet made up their minds to do that. We cannot even here get satisfactory information concerning White Pass. Things have been misrepresented to us in regard to the facilities for landing. There is a small dock in course of construction situated in an accessible place under the cliffs. The head of the bay is tidal flats and not even row boats can get right up to the land, it being necessary to wade some distance."

    PORT TOWNSEND, Wash., Aug. 14. - A letter, received here from John U. Smith, United States Commissioner at Dyea, regarding the conditions at Dyea and Skagua, is as follows:

    "Of the 3,000 miners here and at Skagua more than 250 are not provided with horses, and it will be a physical impossibility for the Indian packers to get more than 250 outfits over the trails before winter sets in. The Indian packers at Dyea are on strike; they are making money too easily.

    "When a steamer lands at Dyea or rather anchors out in the bay a mile from shore the miners have to hire Indians with canoes to get their baggage upon the sandy beach. This costs 1½ cents per pound.

    "The miner then carries his outfit 200 yards further to high water mark and pitches his tent in the forest.

    "He is soon ready to make a start, but only goes a mile, when he comes to a river about three feet deep and 50 to 100 feet across and very swift. He must wade and take chances of getting his outfit wet, to say nothing of getting cramps in the cold water. He may cross the river too low down and after proceeding a quarter of a mile further must be ferried past a projecting rock too steep to be scaled. Of course everything costs money. The Indian carries 200 pounds and makes $40 for two days' work. Not a few miners are already turning back. The outfits of such men are for sale, and the Indian will pay about 50 cents on the dollar for the outfit. The start of the Skagua trail is all right; but after traveling twenty-five miles, the miner finds himself in full view of sixty good-sized lakes or swamps. No one knows which route to take from this point. Every man has his own choice, but they stick together to reconnoiter and try to agree. They cannot agree, or at least they have not up to date.

    "Prize fighter Lavigne of California has turned navigator and has been exploring the lakes. Several have entered, but none has yet returned. In the event of their finding a way out it may be that the Skagua trail will become the most popular route for getting to the lakes. The crowds following through are motley enough. They are representatives of all professions, arts and trades. They are a whimsical lot, ready to listen to any advice. They now say that there are more liars per square inch in Alaska than any other place inn the world.

    "Any way, you may be sure that whichever trail you take you will wish that you had taken the other."