Over the Chilkoot to Eldorado

WILLARD S. DILL September 15 1926

Over the Chilkoot to Eldorado

WILLARD S. DILL September 15 1926

Over the Chilkoot to Eldorado


No chapter in the story of the Canadian pioneers contains more of the glamor of romance and the thrill of hazardous adventure than that which deals with the famous gold rush to the Yukon in ’q8. Mr. Dill does not pretend to be a historian but he is a remarkably good story teller, and in the series of reminiscences of which this is the opening instalment he draws a picture of life on the gold creeks that reveals it as the fascinating life it was.

THIS is not history; neither is it science nor fiction. It is not even a portrait gallery. It is merely a reminiscence. As I move down the hill-side, through the thickening mists of time, memory tricks, betrays me. The events of yesterday are almost completely obscured. Indeed, there seems but little in the immediate past that is worthy of remembrance. But beyond the close of a recent day, I can see the crest of a mountain, clearly. It is drenched in light, and every detail of the panorama unfolding there, is visible. Even the gloom of the long Yukon night is illumined by some gift of vision that I

I accept without trying to understand. From north and south, from east and west, the scattered members of our great family appear. No longer are we wearied with the burden of the years, no longer chilled by the mists rising from the valley into which we all must descend. We are young, with the song of youth upon our lips and the fire of youth in our veins. We are an assemblage of the men who for a time brought the very corners of the earth into close relationship, and

separating, carried back

those same corners and fixed them at the boundaries of the stars.

Yukon days! Those were the days of light hearts and high courage, days over which the glamor of Romance inextinguishably shone, days that are good to recall! There, atop of the hill, I can see bonfires burning to celebrate the'coming of the “long day.” I can hear voices singing.

A hush ... the light sharpens someone


“The sun! The sun!”

Who could ever forget . . .?

Carmac’s Rich Strike

PERSONALLY, I always 1 like to begin at the beginning. To the Yukoner who lived through the piping days of ’98, that means a word about Carmac.

George Washington Carmac was a native of the United States. Most people thought he was from the state of Iowa. It didn’t matter. In the Yukon, if anywhere on earth, a man’s past was sacred; it was his own. Carmac was a sort of congenital deserter. He had taken very informal leave of the United States and, I believe, deserted his wife. He had traveled about the Yukon long before making his rich find, having been seen in the country as early as 1887. He claimed as companions three Siwash Indians — Skookum Jim Tagish Charlie—Jim’s cousjn a^d a woman, Jim’s sister. To this latter his marriage was complete in every particular save the ceremony. Carmac spoke two Indian dialects. Jim’s accomplishment lay in his strength—-Skookum means strong—and at one time he packed freight for Commissioner Ogilvie, over The Pas, carrying a load twice as heavy as that which the other packers carried.

Tagish Charlie claims historical recognition mainly because success went to his head. After “discovery,” when money was more plentiful than he had ever dreamed, he tried the interesting experiment of converting large quantities of dust into liquid, and one day, in an irresponsible condition, fell off the Carcross Bridge, near White Horse, and was drowned. Little is known of the thirl native of the party.

On August 14, 1896, Carmac and the three Indians stopped for lunch on Bonanza Creek, some nine miles from the spot that later became the city of Dawson. They were hunting game, but hopeful ever of the existence of gold, were always on the lookout for a sign of “colors.”

While the Indians were preparing the meal, Carmac walked down to the creek and began to pan. Suddenly, he saw it—the gleam that turns men’s dreams to fact. He shouted foi the others, and together they made further explorations, deciding thaï this was a genuine “discovery.’ Carmac staked first, taking advantage of the regulations allowing a discoverer two

coverer two claims, or 1,000 feet. drove a peg in Number One above discovery, and Tagist Charlie appropriated Number Two below.

Neither Dawson nor White Horse were visioned then but on the site where the former now stands the built a raft, and, leaving Skookum Jim to guard theii property against claim-jumpers, Carmac and TagisI Charlie floated down to Fortymile—some fifty-twc miles from Dawson. There, they promptly recorded


Despite tight-lipped pre cautions, news of the goli find leaked out and virtu ally the whole town—som hundred souls—‘-stampede« up the river. The velocit; of the water had brough Carmac and his companioi down in about nine hours but a week or so was re quired to make the journe' up. Eddies and rapids wer so numerous that most of th time the boats had to b poled.

There was an alternativ —pushing through the dens brush, overland. But thi was a terrible trip—quite long as the other, and infin itely more exhausting.

It has frequently beei asked why news of the dis covery did not reach th« outside world until nearh two years after Carma’ found gold. In the firs place, all those with knowl edge of it were busily occu pied up on the creeks, wher« there were no telegrapl offices or postal stations This was in the summero winter of ’96-’97. In th second place, when naviga tion opened about th middle of June, ’97, and boat came back to Seattli with the news, it was to late to start outfitting, catch an up-bound steame: that season. Consequently the summer of ’98 had com before the big rush went in

After Carmac had taker the “cream” off his claim and sold it, the first dredg to operate in the Yukoi moved up to the site of his strike. Thiswas operated bj the Lewes River Dredging Company.

Among those who stampeded from Forty mile was a Swede called Charlie Andersen. He was the onlj

man known to carry any real money on his person, and, therefore, the subject of considerable entertainment. One night, a school of sharks fell upon Charlie, overcoming him with exaggerated hospitality, and when he was sufficiently drunk, they took his two hundred dollars, giving him in exchange, the deed for a claim on Eldorado.

Then, discreetly, they disappeared.

Charlie made a terrible scene when he came to. He rushed to the police and raved bitterly, but was assured that nothing could be done. Having no other resources, he proceeded to his claim, and look out over a million.

Then, there was Dick Lowe’s fraction—the richest piece of ground for its size in the world’s history— the forfeiture of which by William Ogilvie was but one of the many examples of that commissioner’s incorruptible governing.

Lowe came in with the first stampede from Fortymile, but he did not strike pay dirt during those early years. “At the time our story opens,” he was employed by the commissioner, as chainman, and they had gone to check up the measurements of miners, holdings out on the creeks.

According to regulations, a man was entitled to stake 500 feet. Sometimes accidentally and sometimes otherwise, several additional feet were included in a claim. When adjustment was made, there would necessarily be a fraction of a claim between two of normal measurement.

Ogilvie and Lowe had just discovered such a case —a miner had staked 560 feet.

“There’s a fraction here,

■ isn’t there, Chief?” asked the latter.

■ “Yes, Dick.”

“It looks like pretty rich


Again, the commissioner assented, padding, “You’d better stake it, Dick.”

“Don’t you want it,


_ “I’m a government official,” returned Ogilvie, “and am« not permitted to hold property. You go down, if you like, and record.”

Lowe dropped his chain and lost no time in getting back to Dawson. After legal formalities were completed, he engaged three men to return and work with him “on spec. The quartet shovelled into sluice-boxes for six weeks. At the end of this period Dick Lowe paid royalty on five hundred thousand dollars—this, exclusive of what his assistants quietly appropriated for themselves.

The Commissioner used to shake his head soberly over Dick s subsequent history. It seems that he married three sisters in succession—a bold step for any man. It was disastrous in his case, however, for as a family, these women were royal spenders, and soon reduced their husband to actual poverty. In conversation with the manager of a Victoria bank, Mr. Ogilvie learned that some time previously, Dick Lowe had begged a loan of two hundred dollars on his eight hundred dollar watch. The latter with its curious monogram, the Commissioner easily identified. After receiving his money, Lowe disappeared.

That’s all.

. ^ have referred to Commissioner Ogilvie. No oldtimer needs, to him, an introduction. His name stands for a tradition—a principle in governing, an outstanding example of public service and incorruptibility. In honoring his memory, none can but regret the meagre measure

of appreciation that was accorded to him while living.

The administration of the Yukon, at its inception, followed the provisions of the North-West Territories’ Act, providing for a commissioner and a wholly appointive council. Its personnel consisted of a chairman (who was commissioner), and five senior government officials —a federal judge, a controller, a gold commissioner, a registrar and the commanding officer of the North West Mounted Police. Later, however, in response to the continued demand of individuals, miners’ meetings and delegations, the government at Ottawa doubled the size of the council by authorizing the election of five additional members, thus providing for five appointive officials and five that were elective.

The first commissioner to preside over the Territory was Major James Morrow Walsh, of Brockville. He was very properly an officer of the police, for it must be obvious that a specialist in the maintenance of law and order was the man for the post, at that time. The assistant gold commissioner was Oswald Stirling Finnie, of Ottawa, a graduate of McGill (B. Sc., ’96) and now director of the North-West Territories, Yukon Branch, He is also president of the Professional Institute of the Civil Service.

The first English sovereigns minted in Ottawa were

made from Yukon gold that was sent to the capital by Finnie.

The second governor of the Yukon was William Ogilvie, one of the straightest men who ever crossed the Dawson trail. His position offered rare opportunities for material gain, and there would have been few to know whether or not he was picking up half a million. Indeed, few would have criticized him if he had. But he was magnificently honest, and tried to hold others to his fine principles of living, an attitude for which he forfeited that reward of smaller men —popularity. Respected, he undoubtedly was; and feared, perhaps. But Pe was not popular.

. “I’m just a plain surveyor, an outdoor man,” he used to say. “I have no faculty for diplomatic detail. But I know a little about measuring up a creek —or a hill-side.”

When tenders were called for public works, Ogilvie used to examine them with hawkish eyes—down to the last decimal. Should he suspect they were too high— a not infrequent occurrence

he would proceed to the locality specified, and measure the entire “job” with a foot-rule ... the site of a proposed bridge, for example. Then, his suspicions confirmed, he would call for new tenders, disappointing many a contractor who felt that for friendship’s sake, a little “velvet” should have been pushed his way.

“I know to a dollar what materials and labor cost,” he once told a disgruntled acquaintance, “and I’m not going to throw government money into the pocket of some fellow who talks loudly about making an ‘honest’ dollar!”

His summary treatment of the venal element was prompt and decisive. A certain Thomas Blank’s letter will serve as an illustration. Mr. Blank’s extraordinary form of address was obviously intended to be flattering: That it missed fire should be a warning to others.of his kidney.

Skagway, Alaska, June-, 18c-o Silverhorn Hotel.

Hon. William Ogilvie,

Governor Yukon,

Dawson, Y.T.

Whorty Sir: I am writin you to know if you would look favorable on a proposition fer me to come in ther and start a brewery. I am well acquainted with the business. Thers big money in it. If you can say the word at Ottawa and get me a license, I’LL SPLIT IT UP WITH YOU FIFTY-FIFTY. Hopin to here from you,

Yours etc.,

Thomas Blank.

Ogilvie’s reply was prompt and pointed:

Thomas Blank,

Silverhorn Hotel,

Skagway, .Alaska.

Sir: I have your letter of the —st. inst., and note contents. You may congratulate yourself that you are on the American side of the line, where you had better remain; because I assure you, that if you ever come into this Territory, it will give me much pleasure to endeavor to land you behind the bars.

Your obedient servant,

William Ogilvie, Commissioner.

Continued on page 46

Continued, from page 9

One of the strongest executives the Yukon has ever known was the Hon. James Hamilton Ross, now a member of the Senate of Canada. He succeeded William Ogilvie, and the only unfortunate feature of his commissionership was that it was so brief. Mr. Ross was commissioner less than two years, and it was during his commissionership that the tragedy of his life occurred.

The Government of Canada provided a splendid official residence for this governor, and appropriated a considerable sum for furnishing the mansion. Mr. Ross was given carte blanche for the purchase of everything necessary. His wife and children accompanied him to Dawson, and although Mrs. Ross had been but a week in the north, she willingly consented to take the long journey back, to do the required buying.

It was the will of Providence that she should set sail on the ill-starred steamer Islander, which went down in deep water, off Juneau, Alaska, after striking an uncharted rock. Not only was Mrs. Ross drowned, but also her little daughter, and a niece who was with them. Among the list of passengers saved, the names of Senator Beicourt, and C. C. Ray, of Ottawa, are conspicuous. L. S. Robe, engineer of the North American Transportation Company, escaped as did many others who were more or less well known to the “outside.” •

The blow was so severe that many feared for Mr. Ross, and after a long period of indisposition, he gave up the Northland and his position there. Subsequently yielding to great pressure, he was induced to accept nomination for the House of Commons. Two years later, he was appointed to the Senate, where he may still be found.

Money was one of the commonest

commodities in the Yukon. Not only did successful miners make fabulous sums each year, but impressive fortunes were accumulated by persons operating contributory enterprises—hotel proprietors, bar-tenders, managers of dance halls, and the girls who helped to popularize these picturesque institutions. Why, a girl could easily cash in four hundred dollars’ worth of tickets on Saturday night, and she could earn this sum without doing anything she’d be ashamed to tell her mother!

Bar-tenders frequently worked without salary, just for the privilege of collecting the sweepings of dust that fell on the floor. It was not unusual, in the early days before currency made its appearance, for a hundred dollars a night to slip between the cup and the lip. The bar-tenders got it.

I well remember the amazement of a reporter from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at an incident which occurred in one of the most conspicuous saloons along the waterfront. There were a dizzying number to choose from, for saloons— and nothing else but—occupied the entire block.

A young man rushed in, and making straight for the bar-tender cried:

“Say, pard, deal me out a twenty-dollar bill till I come round again, will you?”

The bar-tender took a quiet, appraising look at the young fellow, then chalked up $20.00 on the mirror and passed a bill across the counter.

“A friend of yours?” asked the reporter, as the door swung after the retreating figure.

“Nope,” said the bar-man. "Never saw him before.”

“What? You don’t know him. and pass him out a twenty-dollar bill?”

Continued on page 48

Continued, from page 46

Said the other, “Oh, he’ll come through. It’s part of our business to size men up, and he’s a good risk, all right. He’ll likely go out to the creeks and make a home-stake . . and then we want his trade. See?”

Just then, Clement Burns, the territorial secretary—now the Supreme Court librarian at Ottawa—came in.

“How are your subscriptions coming?” asked the man behind the bar.

“First rate,” replied the secretary. “I’ve nearly fifty thousand dollars on this—the second day . . . I’m organizing a club for Dawson,” he explained to the reporter. “Skating rinks, bowling alleys, card rooms and a bar. The building will be furnished in—excuse me,” he broke off, running to the door. “Solly?” he shouted. “Solly Spri-ng . . . Come here, a moment, will you?”

A youthful newsboy of patently Semetic ancestry appeared at the saloon door.

“Vas y’ callin’ me?” he asked.

“Yes,” Burns replied. “Have you heard about the new club for Dawson? We’ll need all sorts of papers and magazines, and I thought you might like to buy a share, and beat the other boys to it. Get in on the ground floor, so to say.”

“How much iss it?” asked the lad, shifting his huge bundle of papers.

Burns explained that the shares cost one hundred dollars, but that half that sum could be paid down and the rest in twenty-five dollar instalments. His manner was anxious, as though fearing the bdy would collapse at the mention of so much money.

“Veil, now you lissten to me,” said Solly. “Iss it any obeheeshion to a fella payin’ de whole hundred down?”

“Of course not!”

“Aw-right. Den, here’s yer dough!” And he peeled off a hundred dollar bill, from a huge roll the size of an overgrown cucumber, he carried in his jeans. “S’long!”

“Wait,” called the organizer. “Don’t you want a receipt?”

Solly was well away, whistling, moistening his fingers and flinging papers in each doorway.

“Vat?” he called. “A receipt fer a hundred dollars? Nix! Y’ can keep it!”

Who Wouldn’t be a Lawyer?

MENTION of Solly reminds me of the fee that Ole Nelsen paid Alex. MacFarlane—formerly of Winnipeg, and registered on the Dawson census as a broker—to draw up a simple agreement. Ole had been offered to lay on a supposedly rich piece of ground, and he was violently agitated at the prospect of acquiring it. Working a “lay” was the Yukoner’s manner of saying working on a percentage. Sometimes, they said working on tribute. Old-timers will remember the trio who took out an eighty per cent, lay from the North American Trading Company, and each man received over $60,000 as his share of the winter’s work. Thereafter, they were known as “the lucky laymen.” But to return to Ole. Time was a deciding factor in the offer he had received, and Alex. MacFarlane, the only man who could complete the transaction, was absorbed in a game of billiards.

Ole followed him around the table crying.

“Now, Allik, please to fix up de paper, or I lose de lay!”

But Alex., whose commission on a recent little business deal with a powerful mining company, had netted him an amount running into five figures, was not interested.

“Aw, please, Allik. Joos stop a minute.

I give you twenty dollar.”

“Go ’way,” growled the broker. “Don’t you see I’m busy?”

“Fifty dollar, Allik ...”

MacFarlane made a bad shot and swore. “Get out,” he cried. “You put me off my game. Get!”

Ole looked at the clock, and then back at MacFarlane.

“Make me dat paper, Allik,” he cried, in despair, “and I give you one hundred dollar.”

Mac seized the printed forms that Nelsen thrust at him, and between two or three turns with his cue, scribbled in the necessary words. He didn’t count the bills that Ole gave him, but swept them into a drawer and continued his game. This concluded, he left the building and the money. When he required it, he knew it would be there!

Even more fantastic was the faith in human nature displayed by the late Joe Boyle, one of the most remarkable men that Canada has produced. Among his other claims to distinction was the fact that at his own expense, he outfitted a machine gun company, composed of men from the Yukon, and parcicipated in the Great War. It was he who saved Prince Carl of Roumania from the Russians, and earned the undying gratitude and warm friendship of the world’s most famous reigning queen. It was he who took the first output from his dredge to the Royal Mint, at Ottawa, driving over the winter trail more than four hundred miles to get to “the outside.”

Stopping one night at a roadhouse, Boyle left several thousand dollars’ worth of gold, which was packed in boxes, unguarded, outside the cabin!

“No one will touch it in this country,” he said, in answer to the anxiety of the proprietor. “Besides, nobody could lift the boxes.”

The King of the Klondike

NOT quite so trustful was “Big Alec Macdonald.” He was right on the job from the time he left the Creeks until he was adequately protected in the city of Dawson. It was a great sight to see him coming into town with his winter’s cleanup. He created a picture comparable in its magnificent simplicity, its contrasts, its dramatic values, with any of those tales that Scheherazade recounted to her whimsical overlord.

Take a strong pair of glasses and focus them on the thread of road that girdles the distant mountain. Do you see something crawling along—something about the size of rabbits? There! They’ve topped a rise and stand silhouetted against the bright yellow glare that has succeeded the deep shadowing of winter days. Black, they stand . . . and now, larger . . .fifteen curiously shaped beasts, with slender legs and bulging sides.

Mules, they are, wearing saddle-bags as picturesque as ever graced a camel, and worth, per animal, twenty thousand dollars . . . or a grand total of three hundred thousand dollars!

Single file, they wind their way in from the creeks, and Big Alec marches behind them, a repeating rifle slung across his shoulder.

This picture was all the more unusual because many companies and individuals employed convoys, and decoys. Not infrequently, the latter would be shot at or attacked. But Alec came alone, and Dawson gathered on the street to watch his entry, much as we now gather to watch the parading of a circus.

Big Alec was a man of large operations, and when the fever for acquiring property was on him, he would think nothing of borrowing fifty thousand dollars from the bank, for a few days.

He was informed as to the methods of business as well as the ways of mining, for when the Dawson post office burned down, he rented a building to the Government—a simple log structure, for which he received a monthly sum of three thousand dollars. This building was subsequently sold under the hammer for five hundred.

An annual visitor to the camp from its inception, was J. G. Morgan, of Winnipeg, representative of a large insurance company. He, too, was a man of large operations, concerning himself with nothing less than gold bond policies, $50,000 short term endowment, and up. One season, Morgan wrote up,Big Alec for $150,000 with three years’ premium paid in advance—in gold dust. From another successful miner, one Jimmy McNamee, he took the same amount upon the same terms, and then accepted a small $50,000 policy from a third man. All of this dust was packed for shipment to “the outside” and stowed on the ill-fated Islander.

The ship and dust are still at the bottom of the sea, but Mr. Morgan, who escaped, had not neglected to safeguard the interests of his company He had taken the precaution to insure the gold before the steamer set sail for the south.

He Wasn’t Out After Dark

T SPOKE of Clement Burns, and his A campaign for the erection of a clubhouse in Dawson. Burns is now the Supreme Court librarian at Ottawa. It was on a June 21 that he arrived at

Dawson to take over his duties as territorial secretary. That may not seem to have any special significance to the “outsider,” but in the Yukon June 21 is the beginning of “the long day”—and that means a good deal.

Time, in that isolated country was measured by light and dark, by freeze-up and clean-up, rather than by calendars and a daily whistle. Out on the creeks, miners would frequently hail a visitor with the questions, “Say, pardner, is this Toosday or Wensday? We’ve been arguin’ about it till we ’most come to blows. You settle it . . . there’s a pinch of dust for the right man.”

And the visitor would usually say, “You’re both wrong. This is Thursday.”

On this particular June 21, Burns was taken in hand by Weldy Young, a former Ottawa hockey player, Tom Hinton, one of the family after which Hintonburg, Ontario, is named and Casey Moran, the Nugget reporter.

Curiously enough, only the other day, I came across news of Casey. He’s still traveling, as witness this extract:

“A newspaper called The Tropical Sun, has been started in Maracaibo, Venezuela, by Mr. Casey Moran. The editor is â well-known journalistic wanderer, who will be remembered by all former Klondikers. Moran started one of the first papers in the north, having been for the past thirty years a pioneer newspaper publisher. He has on three different occasions started publishing papers in Mexico only to be expelled from the country. On two of these occasions, he reached the United States Mexican border only a few seconds before a pursuing file of Villa’s men.”

But to get on with the story. Burns remarked to his three new friends that the town looked dead. They laughed and explained that everybody had gone up on the mountain to celebrate the beginning of the long day. Burns asked the three why they had passed up the festivities. Hinton explained that he did not feel the urge to revel. “The fact is,” he added, “we gave Percy Stevenson a farewell banquet last night, and to-day I’m stricken with overpowering languor.”

Mr. Stevenson formerly occupied the manager’s chair of one of the principal banks at Ottawa and now occupies a similar chair at Montreal. He occupies it very well. Distinction fits him neatly, but one can’t suppress the hope that there are times when he, like the rest of us, would exchange his dignity and success for one riotous day in the Yukon.

Somewhat strengthened by refreshments secured at “The Green Tree,” Young suggested that it was a pity to miss the party on' the mountain. It wasn’t fair to Burns. Burns should see how Dawson ushered in the summer. Here was something to write home about.

Up an almost perpendicular path the quartet struggled, to be greeted by cheers when they reached the summit. Here, an interesting scene presented itself. Nearly as far as the eye could see, the ridge was gay with merry-makers in holiday regalia, the smart uniforms of the mounted police offsetting the white ducks and sport costumes of civilians. Close at hand, a group surrounded a picnic basket; farther away, card games were in progress; yonder, couples danced to the thin strains of banjos and mandolins. Bonfires blazed at intervals, and Mexican saddles, strewn about on the grass, gave evidence that some of those present had come on horses by the wagon road.

At midnight, the community singing abruptly ceased. From all quarters arose the cry.

“There it is! I see it!”

It wasn’t, and they didn’t! The sun, owing to Dawson’s latitude south of the Arctic Circle, actually disappeared for a short half hour, but argument was futile. It always is, with those whose robust imagination enriches their physical vision, and enables them to see that which does not exist. There were many people in Dawson who avowed that the solar body never dropped out of sight.

But even approximation can be useful at times. .Some time after his arrival. Burns advised an anxious family that they need have no concern as to his habits, for he hadn’t been out after dark since coming to the Yukon.

The second instalment of Mr. Dill's raniniseences will follow in an early issue.