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How to Reach the Gold Fields of the Yukon River, 1895

Dateline: December 27, 2023.

Arctic & Northern Mining

Saturday Evening Express (Los Angeles, California), Saturday, December 28, 1895

    The Lacon correspondent of the Chicago Record writes that paper:

    Capt. D. M. Swain, master of the steamer Borealis Rex, which plies on the Illinois river, is interested in a company now being formed to operate a line of steamers on the Yukon river in Alaska and the British possessions. The route from Seattle to Juneau is already covered by the vessels of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, while the route from Seattle to the mouth of the river will be covered by a vessel chartered once a year, there being no regular line. The route by way of Juneau will be the passenger route, and the other, by way of the mouth of the river, will be the freight route. The objective point is Circle City, 2093 miles distant from Seattle by the passenger route and 4780 by the freight route.

    This enterprise is being undertaken to facilitate traffic into the gold regions of the far north. Intercourse with miners who have made their fortunes in the Yukon country first drew Mr. Swain's attention to the field, and he is much interested in its resources and possibilities, and has made a thorough study of the country. He is assured of the navigability of the river and its tributaries, and says if transportation facilities for passengers and suppiies are made adequate and rapid the country will develop wonderfully.

    Alaska contains 617,000 square miles and has an extent of over 1000 miles north and south and over 2000 miles east and west. A range of high mountains parallel with the Pacific coast, about sixty miles inland, divides the country into two unequal parts - the narrow coast strip which has a mild, moist climate, and the interior Yukon basin. The coast district is easily accessible, being reached at all seasons of the year by ocean vessels, and is well known, being visited by many tourists. The Yukon river basin is accessible less than half the year and then with great difficulty. The year and then with great difficulty. The extent of its vast resources and unlimited opportunity for the profitable investment of capital in its development is unknown except to a few who have gone into the country in the last two years.


    The Yukon river basin, comprising more than two-thirds of the entire territory of Alaska, contains over 600,000 square miles and is drained by the Yukon river and its tributaries, and is one of the most remarkable regions in the world. The climate is dry and healthful and has two seasons - four months of warm weather, the mining season, when the sun shines twenty hours a day, and eight months of dark winter, when all operations are stopped.

    The discoveries o1 the last two seasons of the resources of the new country show that it is probably the largest and richest placer gold field in the worid, while all along the route from the source to the mouth of the river the close observer can see vast treasures of coal, quartz, marble, iron, copper, etc., only waiting for capital to develop the country and furnish means of transportation to bring them within the reach of the outside worid. Although a hasty exploration of the numerous tributaries of the river during the short summer season has proved that every stream, large or small, is gold bearing, yet that part of the field thus far developed is of insigniticant area. All streams carry flour gold, which increases in its coarseness as the river is ascended. Thus it is evident that the surrounding gulches must furnish exceedingly rich diggings. All these gold bearing streams are navigable for suitably constructed boats, and the territory cut by the waters of Alaska is almost unlimited. One thousand men could prospect the Yukon basin and be lost to one another.


    During the two months last summer the few hundred men in the diggings took out over $1,000,000 worth of gold. Miller creek, a gulch four miles long, alone produced $350,000 in fifty days and but few of the claims were developed. Not a few men took out $5000 to $10,000 during the season and some took out $35,000 and one man from Milwaukee $80,000.

    It is asserted there is a bright future for the entire Yukon basin as a mining region, not only in the auriferous deposits but in the vast leads of quartz found every where.

    But the gold and other minerals are not the only wealth that has remained hidden ip this ice-bound treasure-box for ages. The streams contain salmon and other fish in untold quantities. Salmon canning, yet unattempted on the Yukon, could be made exceedingly profitable, and, together with the rich quartz would furnish a valuable cargo for freight boats returning from taking supplies up the river. The annual output of furs is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and for years to come will continue to be a source of big revenue to any company giving its attention to that trade.

    What the Amazon is to South America, the Mississippi to the central portion of the United States, the Yukon is to Alaska. It is a great inland highway which makes it possible for the explorer to penetrate that comparatively unknown country where heat and cold have for ages contended for the mastery to reveal to the world the treasures long held secret. A wonderful story will unfold as these mysteries are brought to light, but the unfolding will be slow since the opening is for but a brief period of eight or ten weeks during the summer months. Were it not for the great artery, the Yukon river, which goes pulsating for 2000 miles through the northwest, the world would remain in ignorance of the untold wealth oi the interior of Alaska.


    The Yukon is the second largest river in the world, being next to the Amazon in size. It is sixty miles wide at its mouth and at a distance of 1500 miles from its mouth has a width of seven to ten miles. The river is too shallow for ocean steamers, but is navigable the entire length for flat bottom river boats of 400 to 500 tons burden. The navigable tributaries of the Yukon are the Lewis, Pelly, Stewart, Tahkenna, Hootalinqa, Porcupine, Tannana, Avik, White Birch and the Salmon and many others, to the extent of several thousand miles. Prospectors can penetrate by boat the most remote parts of the gold fields without hardships, get supplies without fail, work during the entire mining season, and coming out at the close of the summer spend their winter in milder climates. All this will be made possiple by the line of boats now under contemplation.

    The hindrances under the present condition of things to the development of the country are many and almost unsurmountable. The shortness of the season is the most pronounced. The mining season at most is but ninety days, and in many localities but sixty to seventy days. Were the fields not of unprecedented richness and extent, the long winter of eight or nine months would be an effectual bar to the development of the country. The shortness of the season makes every day valuable, and hence transportation is the thing most needed. The length and severity of the winter makes it preferable that men enter and leave the country every year, and the shortness of the season makes it of prime importance that they enter and leave quickly.


    There are two routes to the Yukon gold fields. The freight route is by the North Pacific ocean, the Bering sea and the mouth of the river, which, on account of its length and the late opening of the river, will always remain useless except for taking in supplies. The second route is the passenger route, used by the miners, who go from Juneau up the Lynn canal, thence over the Chilkoot pass, twenty-four miles to the very head waters of the Yukon. Here they spend seven or eight days building a rude boat and drift down the chain of lakes and river, a distance of 600 miles. All this distance is navigable except a short portage, and at present is without any transportation facilities except the rude rafts of the miners. The company in prospect figures on the passenger route as a profitable venture. A few light steel launches on this route would shorten the journey going and coming fifty days, and would do away with the hardships and dangers now encountered. Thus nearly two months would be added to the short mining season, and this, in a country where labor commands $5 to $10 a day, is an item of vast importance.


    To enter this country at present, which is done by the miners' route, requires an expenditure of $125 and much hard labor and suffering from privations endured. It requires a greater amount of time and money and hardships to get out. Since the open season at the most is but 120 days, the miner must take half of the time going and coming or must remain in the interior and endure an arctic winter. Swift steel launches would cover the distance in five days at a cost of not more than $75 for the trip.

   At present it costs trom $150 to $250 per ton to get supplies into the country. This is due to the high charges of the Indian packers, and to the lack of proper transportation facilities on the river. The company in prospect proposes operating by way of the ocean and the mouth of the river, laying down the freight at Circle City, the center of the gold field, at a comparatively low figure.

   A company having the proper facilities would, no doubt, command the carrying of the United States mails. The government has been urged by Governor Sheakly of Alaska, backed by the petition of the inhabitants, to establish a mail route connecting Juneau with Circle City, and has signified its intention of doing so next year. The government has estimated the cost of making the six yearly trips at $12, 000,


    Following are the prices of a few supplies at Seattle and Circle City. The prices quoted are the lowest prices at Circle City, on the river. Back from the river, in the diggings, prices range three or four times the value at Circle City:

    Clothing, hardware and groceries in like proportion.

    Until two years ago comparatively few miners visited this region of wealth where nature bad been so lavish. In 1893 about 300 men went; in 1894, 600 entered, and this year over 3000. If proper transportation facilities are furnished and made known, in 1896 20,000 probably would be a low estimate of the number that will seek riches in this new country. That movement toward the coast, on the way of their long journey, would remind the Californians of '49.

    The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is authority for the statement that the mines were short 2000 tons of provisions this year, and that many were on the verge of starvation, with money to burn in their pockeis. This shows the vast importance of a line of freight steamers.


    The company now forming in Chicago proposes to put one or two large freighters on the Yukon, to run from its mouth to Circle City, the supply point for the gold fields; five swift launches of 75 to 125 passengers capacity to ply on the upper course of the river to carry passengers in and out and to take prospectors and supplies up tributary streams.

    The change in conditions and prices to be brought about by the company is summed up in their prospectus as follows:

    The company will be strictly a transportation company, without any trading interests to protect.