Over the Chilkoot to Eldorado

WILLARD S. DILL November 15 1926

Over the Chilkoot to Eldorado

WILLARD S. DILL November 15 1926

Over the Chilkoot to Eldorado


In this, the third and final instalment of his reminiscences of the Yukon gold rush, Mr. Dill, among other things, tells us of the bishop who ate his moccasins, the murderer who cost his country $100,000, the surveyor who ‘cleaned out’ the ice pool and the doctor who coveted the North Pole.

JUSTICE was sure and swift in the Yukon. Charles Macdonald, for many years clerk of the Court, or prothonotary, at Dawson, (now sheriff of Vancouver) made an unofficial calculation in 1908, that the number of murders in the Yukon Territory, from ‘discovery’ in ’96 to the above date, was nineteen, for which nineteen men had been hanged. During the same period of time, in the neighboring Alaska, fifty men were murdered and not one single murderer was hanged!

Had you been refreshing yourself in the Dominion saloon, at Dawson, one day early in 1900, you would have taken part in a hold-up that was staged there by a small wiry man, well on to middle age, who lined all the customers against the wall and systematically went through their pockets.

Slorah, the gentleman in question, was a native of Iroquois, Ontario. By occupation he was a trader. He escaped to the Creeks and barricaded himself in an abandoned cabin. The Mounted Police trained a machine gun on the shack and commanded the fugitive to come out and give himself up. Having no choice, he obeyed, was taken to Dawson, and on November 20, was sentenced by Judge Dugas to be hanged. This sentence was commuted to life imprisonment on January 24, 1901, but on June 26, 1912, he was let out on parole.

$100,000 to 'Get’ a Murderer

A NOTHER famous case concerned O’Brien—a man of some education who committed a murder and then escaped from the Territory.

He was tracked, literally, all over the world, eventually being captured while working as a navvy on a railway in Australia. Brought back to Canada, he met with summary justice; was tried, sentenced and hanged, forthwith. This conviction, from first to last, cost the Canadian Government, $100,000, but, as Sir Charles Fitzpatrick, then Minister of Justice, said on thefloorof the House of Commons, “it was money well spent.”

As another illustration of the swift striking of the long arm of the law, the Elfors case may be cited.

In the spring of 1909 a party of three Finns were floating down the river to Dawson in a small boat. Camping at night on one of the small uninhabited islands, Elfors, the oldest man of the trio, aged about seventy years, discovered that one of his companions was carrying with him about two hundred dollars. By morning, he had made up his mind to possess that money, and while his countryman was bending over the fire preparing breakfast, the old man shot, and killed his companion instantly. The third of the group, a mere lad, ran away. He was pursued by Elfors who, failing to catch the youth, took the boat and left the boy to his fate.

The latter was discovered, however, by passing boatmen, and, with the aid of an interpreter, informed the authorities of what had happened. The Mounted Police, assisted by Indians, found the body hidden under leaves, traced the murderer and brought him back for trial.

Elfors was convicted by a jury and hanged in Dawson, the whole proceeding, from the murder to the conviction, occupying less than a month.

In view of the difficulty of tracing both murderer and victim in that labyrinth of islands, this is a record of which a justice-loving people may be proud.

And speaking of the maintenance of law and order. I must introduce Kate Ryan, who was as good an officer as any man.

T N THE early days, the Dominion Government imposed 1 a tax of ten per cent, on all gold mined in, and shipped from, the Territory. This method of fixing the royalty was found to be unsatisfactory, inasmuch as the affadavit accompanying a miner’s statement was often subject to a conscience of extreme elasticity. Moreover, it was found that a considerable amount of Yukon gold leaked out via transients who came in from the United States, Alaska,

or California. Any gold that they carried was exempt from taxation. It was decided, therefore, to place a straight royalty of two-and-a-half per cent, on all gold leaving the Territory—no matter where found. This percentage was based on an arbitrary valuation of $15.00 an ounce.

Outgoing passengers—even transients— were carefully searched; men by the Royal Mounted Police, and women by one of their own sex. The first female inspector in the Yukon was a fine, upstanding Irish girl, by the name of Katherine Ryan. Her firmness and military bearing, soon won for her the title of sergeant-major.

Kate was warm-hearted, -affable and efficient—the very woman for the job. She rarely had trouble with the travelers, but because the frontier is not free from the rougher element, she was always supported by at least one policeman, who remained in the background, unless required.

On a beautiful summer’s evening, a large party of tourists arrived in Dawson, on their way ‘out’ from Alaska. Kate stepped aboard the boat and proceeded with her work. All went well for a time. The women responded readily to her pleasing manner. She moved from group to group asking the ladies whether or not they carried any gold dust. Then, one refused to answer. She was obviously a person of position, and one who knew how to use it for the gaining of her ends.

“I’m sorry, madam,” said Kate, “but if you won’t answer, you will have to be searched.”

“Oh, scarcely!” returned the other, with crushing hauteur. “Do you know who I am? I’m the wife of Major-General—, of the United States Army.”

“And I,” said Kate, “am, myself, an officer of the . British Crown. Kindly step into this cabin.”

The lady was about to refuse when the Mountie appeared. Then she decided to step into the cabin as ‘kindly’ as she could. There, left with Kate Ryan, she was obliged to uncoil her hair in which was discovered several large nuggets of gold which were promptly confiscated.

Naturally, perhaps, there are many people who enjoy the delusion that we were an aggregation of picaresque rascals and romantic swashbucklers; that the days were crowded with hold-ups and the nights with gambling. They know far too little about the other aspect of Yukon life—an aspect exemplified by the fine sportsmanship of our clergy.

There was one winter when a rink of the Dawson Curling Club consisted of four parsons; two Anglicans— Bishop Stringer and his rector, one Presbyterian—the Rev. Mr. Sinclair, and a Methodist—Mr. Barraclough. Whether or not the concentrated holiness embodied in this quartette had any effect upon the triumphant passage of the iron, statistics fail to show; but certain it is, that the divinity-team was strong.

Of course, you remember John J. Wright? The Rev. Mr. Wright was discovered by the newly-arrived territorial secretary (a former classmate at Queen’s University) in a saloon, holding earnest converse with the bar-tender. In view ol Mr. Wright’s conspicuous piety while at the University, Burns made no attempt to conceal his amazement.

“You seem surprised to find me in these surroundings,” said the minister, shaking hands.

“I don’t deny it.”

“Well,” explained the other, "I’m going to marry the bar-tender to-night.”

“Good Lord . . At least, I congratulate you!”

Mr. Wright protested that he was only going to perform the ceremony, after which he hoped Burns would visit his cabin.

When the latter arrived, he found the room filled with smoke and men of many nationalities and creeds, including the rotund and jovial Father Corbeil.

A spirited game of billiards was in progress, Mr. Wright being the proud possessor of a pocket-billiard table.

Then, there was Father Bunoz, a native of Old France, who presided over the Roman Catholic Church at Dawson. The priest was a saintly man, said to subsist on two rolls a day. He is now Bishop at Prince Rupert.

The Rev. John Pringle was an example of muscular Christianity, who spent many years shepherding his Presbyterian flock. On one occasion he beat up a miner who had insulted a dancehall girl, performing his gallant work so thoroughly that the man barely escaped the privilege of enjoying his professional ministrations.

Dr. Pringle left the Yukon for a period, and carried on his duties in the east. But

not long ago, he returned as a missionary to the wilds of northern British Columbia. This, despite his three score years and ten.

Perhaps we should have begun with Bishop Bompas, who was in truth an old-timer, antedating ‘discovery’ by many years. He was an able and highly intellectual man, sent out from England at a time when the conversion of the heathen was a missionary endeavor entirely in the hands of the Society in the Old Land. Bishop Bompas lived in the uncivilized west so long that he is said to have acquired the appearance and habits of an Indian-— adopting among other tribal customs, the wearing of moccasins all year round.

An Ecclesiastical ‘Teaser’

/GENERAL FUNSTON, on his second visit to the Yukon, told an amusing story of the manner in which His Lordship stimulated practical piety in his church. The attendance had fallen off lamentably, so he imported from England a young and beautiful relative, gender feminine, who innocently served as an irresistible attraction. Each Sabbath saw the holy edifice thronged with miners whose eyes hungered for a sight of Woman and each Sabbath saw the collection plate piled high with glowing nuggets —for the lovely lady took up the collection!

(No, she didn’t marry any of them. She went back to England.)

Bishop Bompas was succeeded by Bishop Stringer, a native of Ontario—a young man, and one eminently fitted to battle with the rigors of that post in the hinterland. No less courageous was his wife, who accompanied him to Herschel Island, where their two children were born when Mrs. Stringer was all of two thousand miles from the nearest white woman.

The elder child, grown to stalwart manhood, distinguished himself in the Great War. Picturesquely, he was christened after his birthplace, Herschel.

The Bishop’s life was a series of hardship and adventure. On a lengthy round of ministerial visits, he went down the Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean, planning to cross the divide to the lower Yukon in Alaska, and return to Dawson.

All went well going down, but on the return journey—almost within sight of civilization, misadventure overtook the party. They lost their way, ran short of supplies, and, finally, the Bishop and his Indian guides were forced to boil and eat their moccasins.

Bishop Stringer still administers the Anglican diocese of the Territory.

No member of the clergy was better known than the Rev. A. S. Grant, M.D., the present treasurer of the Missionary Committee of the Presbyterian Church of Canada.

Dr. Grant and his family were very agreeably situated in Dawson, enjoying amongst other comforts, the capable assistance of two Japanese ‘boys.’ The minister was

known to be extremely generous, although he always concealed from his left hand that which his right was doing. The mainspring was he, of the Good Samaritan Hospital. He dabbled in mining operations, and several commercial enterprises. At one time, he and a partner owned the Dawson Telephone Company, water works and electric light supply. In addition, they were possessed of a coal mine—low grade—some distance down the river. All of these, they sold en bloc to an English company, and rumor had it that while the partner was willing to accept part of his purchase price in stock, Dr. Grant insisted upon 100 per cent, cash—and got it.

The partner was called N. A. Fuller, formerly manager of the celebrated Treadwell Mine, at Juneau, Alaska—the largest stampmill mine in the world. Treadwell, of New Brunswick, discovered it and gave it his name. Generally, it was thought to be owned by the Rothschilds. •

Among his other holdings, Dr. Grant had à hillside claim on lower Bonanza Creek. This, he had partially worked, but was forced to abandon for lack of water. The mine lay idle at the time when Earl Grey, then GovernorGeneral, and his suite, including Lord Lascelles, visited the Yukon in 1909. The Guggenheims—large smelting operators from the United States—were working enormous holdings, and their manager was eager to give His Excellency a demonstration of the hydraulic method of mining. Unlike Dr. Grant, the Guggenheims had plenty of water, having installed the largest pipe-line in the world, at a cost of many millions.

Naturally, earth torn from the water-assaulted hillside had to be deposited somewhere—the ‘where’ being considered by the ‘Goog’s’ manager a matter of trifling importance. The Grant claim lay just below, and seemed to be the logical ground for the dump. But he reckoned without the owner, who promptly took out an injunction and held up the operations. Until some settlement was made, the Guggenheims were unable to demonstrate and His Excellency was denied the sight of this very interesting process.

Negotiations led to a settlement under which the ‘Googs’ agreed to give the doctor enough water from their pipe to wash up the balance of his ground, which he promptly did. Naturally he returned the compliment by allowing his neighbors to dump where they liked.

Incidentally, Dr. Grant cleaned up about $35,000, which, they say, he invested in a heating plant for the Hospital.

The Ice Pool

PROBABLY, this is as good a time as any to speak of gambling and the ice pool.

In an isolated country such as the Yukon, numerous amusements are devised to lighten the long months of darkness. Conspicuous among these was gambling, and a favorite form of gamble was the ‘ice pool’ guessing the exact day, hour, minute and second that the Yukon River ice would begin to ‘go out’ in the spring.

By common consent, ‘going out’ was understood to be a movement of the ice sufficiently strong to carry away a flag placed on the river in front of the town. To the flag-pole was attached a wire connected with a steam whistle on the shore.

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Over the Chilkoot to Eldorado

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When the ice moved, the whistle blew. At the same instant, the clock in the boilerroom was stopped, which set at rest any dispute that might arise as to the moment of the break-up.

All the principal saloons conducted pools on this big event, and every time a patron purchased a drink at the bar, he had the privilege of dropping a card containing his name and his guess, into a slot-box. The guess nearest to the actual time won the pool.

To increase their chances visitors to the saloons spread their guesses over a considerable space of time. Not so Charlie Barwell, a popular land surveyor, a sport and an Englishman, a veritable sourdough who had seen the ice go out many times— the accepted definition of ‘sourdough’ is one who has seen the ice go out after spending a winter in the Territory.

Barwell had a hunch, and, like all gamblers, he followed it. He came to the matured conclusion that on the afternoon of May 11th, at forty-five seconds, and twenty-three minutes after five, the ice would move. So strong was Charlie’s hunch that he played it in two different pools. It is on record that at the exact day, hour, minute and second the flag moved and the whistle blew.

Barwell cashed some $2,000 in one pool and $1,000 in the other, saying:

“I’d bally well have been cleaned out, if she hadn’t moved just then!”

Dr. Varicle’s Patriotic Excursion

SPEAKING of ice, reminds me of Dr.

Jean Varíele, a serious man—a student who brought from Paris to Dawson a deal of learning, and an old-world courtesy that was not exceeded by the graces of Carbonneau, himself.

The doctor was an idealist, and although, like every other man in the Y’ukon he was interested in gold, his concern differed from that of the ordinary rank and file. He was a dental surgeon, and developed a large and lucrative practice. Was it not he who illumined a certain

lady’s countenance by implanting a couple of huge diamonds in her eye teeth?

Alone he lived, save for the companionship of a secretary whose services lightened the doctor’s literary activities. He contributed to a number of scientific journals.

In addition, Dr. Varicle sought some practical means of expressing his debt to humanity, some definite deed by which he might forward world progress. When the malodorous Dr. Cook was exposed and while Peary was still unsuccessful in his questing, an idea in the doctor’s brain was born . .

By a fortuitous circumstance, he counted Charlie Macdonald among his many friends. Charlie had earned for himself the soubriquet of ‘silver-tongued orator’ by reason ot a magnificent forensic effort he had made at the memorial service held for the assassinated President McKinley, and had endeared himself to the large American colony living in Dawson. At one time, he was grand master of the Masons there.

So, the doctor conferred with Macdonald, whose popularity and oratorical ability would be useful in furthering his enterprise, and he felt that the first barrier had been won when Charlie gave his unqualified endorsation to the scheme. In the matter of procedure, he made several constructive suggestions, the first of which was to inform the entire male population of Dawson, through the press, that they were invited to meet and discuss a proposition of international significance.

Dawson was always willing to attend meetings, but the mob that responded to the above announcement broke all previous records. The rooms of the Amateur Athletic Association were quite inadequate to house the throng.

So soon as a hearing was possible, Macdonald took the platform. The gist of his remarks ran something like this:


You are called together as guests of one

of our most public-spirited men, and at 1 the same time the most modest citizen of ! Dawson. I refer, of course, to Dr. Jean Varíele. (Charlie stuffed his right hand in the bosom of his coat and waited applause.) He is well and favorably known to you, and while not a son of this fair

Dominion, he has cast in his lot with us,and we rejoice that success has been his reward. (Pause punctuated by cheering). Now, it is not his intention to go hence—as others have done—and forget the land of his adoption. No! With a largeness of purpose and a catholicity of spirit that should inspire the meanest creature amongst us, he desires to share with You and Me, gentlemen—the success which by unaided efforts, he has achieved. Such is the grand and noble temper of the man! (Charlie removed his hand, unbuttoned his coat and glared at the audience majestically.) But before outlining the pecific proposition he wishes to subm , Dr. Varíele asks that you join him in d. inking to the happy outcome of the undertaking. Polite waiters will pass through the aisles, dispensing the beverages for which this Club is so justly famed. (Prolonged and spontaneous applause. )

Somewhat later, the host of the evening stepped to the platform and announced in effect:


I am not good on the speech Anglais. Therefore, I have the assistance of Monsieur Macdonald, with the tongue of silver. I hope the several times to hold assemblement with you, here, and now my friend will speak at you.

Again Charlie took the rostrum and said:

Citizens of Dawson:

The dazzling scheme you have been I asked to hear and discuss is the outcome of Dr. Varicle’s magnificent generosity and idealism. It is nothing less than a desire on his part to equip and send forth an expedition to discover the North Pole!!!! (Terrific demonstrations of enthusiasm.) His will be the expense— the major part of it—and yours will be the honor. Think of the credit to Canada! Think of the honor that will rebound to its remotest corner— our Yukon! (Charlie made abortive efforts to fly, standing on his toes and flapping his elbows rapidly, after the manner of orators.) It is the doctor’s wish that we have free and unrestrained discussion of this stupendous project, but before declaring the meeting open, I am requested by our host (here, Charlie had the grace to pause and look enquiringly at the doctor) I say, I am requested by our host to ask you once again to charge your glasses. (Ringing cheers and calls of bravo.)

After the meeting had been declared open, one Charlie Barwell, took the floor.

“Mr. Chairman,” he began, “I feel that this vast and representative assemblage should endorse Dr. Varicle’s noble scheme in no uncertain manner. At the same time, we should consider the handicaps under which such an expedition must labor. First, how many persons would constitute it? (Cries of Me . . . Me . . . from all over the room.) Second, what means of transportation would be employed? Third, what supplies provided? The practical aspect of . the enterprise should be discussed in fullest detail.”

Mule Eat Dog—Dog Eat Mule

A SOMEWHAT disconcerting interruption occurred just here, for it was perceived by the audience in the rear that those gentlemen occupying front seats possessed a decided advantage over the rest of the gathering. It was quite a simple matter for them to hide their empty glasses and intercept the waiters on their way to the back of the room. Considerable commotion arose, but the chairman finally brought chaos to order and replied to Barwell’s queries.

“We are, in the doctor’s opinion,” he said, “but a stone’s throw from the evasive pole. Finding it, should not be a supremely difficult undertaking. Dogs will do the greater part of the carrying, but our host suggests that the teams be supplemented by a number of mules —• animals in which the doctor reposes the greatest confidence. Mules are inured to our severe weather. They are accustomed to packing. But, before going any further into this matter, Dr. Varicle feels that some simple refreshment would be in order.”

The crowd had fegcome—shall we say

uncontrollably?-—enthusiastic, and several groups started to compose songs featuring the doctor in terms of highest praise. When a semblance of order had once more been restored, the question of transportation was—to quote the wholly erroneous newspaper report—‘soberly discussed.’ The doctor’s idea in taking mules aimed at the concentration of food-stuff. As the loads lightened and fewer animals were required, they were to eat each other. But whether mules were to consume dogs, or huskies were to be fed on mules—or both—still remains a contentious issue.

Above the uproar, Charlie Macdonald made himself heard calling upon ‘our esteemed citizen and veritable sourdough, Mr. Joe Barrette.’ He implored that gentleman, who was familiar with all conditions existing in the Yukon, to favor the company with his opinion.

Every eye sought out Joe Barrette, who was discovered sitting on the back of his neck in a huge armchair. A picturesque figure was he, garmented in parka and muk-luks—-a personage whose appearance gave weight to his opinions pertaining to the Arctic circle.

Joe seemed averse to speaking, but finally, in response to the insistent calls of the audience, condescended to mumble from his seat:

“All I gotta say is dat mule’ won’t eat dog’ because dey can’t; an’ dog’ won’t eat mule’ cause dey’re too—tough. So dere!”

Considerable space in the daily paper was devoted next morning to the ‘lengthy and informative address delivered by Mr. Barrette.’ But if there was any more of it than that, we never heard it!

The end of the story? Well, an advisory board was elected to assist the doctor. A sheaf of academic resolutions was passed. Laudatory speeches reached through the smoke-heavy atmosphere far into the dark morning. Most of those present looked forward to a succession of similar meetings at which the serving of free refreshment would be accounted a necessary part of the scientific deliberations.

About a month later, the doctor and Charlie left for a tour of the Pacific States. In several cities they held meetings in the interest of Varicle’s North Polar Expedition. The chief result of all this energy and enterprise was a startling evaporation of the doctor’s fortune.

But his parties were genuinely enjoyed by all.

So’s Your Old Man!

ANOTHER official who saw the Yukon without gloves, so to say, was Inspector Courtland Starnes, Royal North-West Mounted Police, and it was seldom that his judgments were questioned. One exception recurs to me, however; one which I trust the Colonel, now Commissioner of the Mounties at Ottawa, will be amused to remember.

In the days of the ’98 gold rush, before the existence of the White Pass Railway, all freight was ‘packed’ into the country on the backs of men. The Mounted Police handled the government stores, and employed, for their transportation, a large number of Siwash Indians. It was as a packer, you’ll recall, that Carmac’s partner—Skookum Jim—-was so conspicuous a success.

Colonel Starnes sat in his office paying off the packers, after a long, hard haul. At the conclusion of his task, he was surprised to find the tall and dignified Chief lingering beside the table.

“Well,” demanded Starnes. “What do you want?”

“You no pay me,” moodily replied the Indian.

“Because you didn’t do any work,” the Inspector explained. “When you don’t work, you can’t get pay.”

“But me Big Chief,” insisted the other. “That makes no difference. I can pay only those men who work!”

The Chief,pondered this a space, then inquired:

^You get paid . . .yes?” “Certainly,” returned Starnes.

“Well, you do no work,” protested the Indian with intense conviction.