This is the story of the richest ground on earth and what it did to the men who found it and the tens of thousands who stampeded on their heels. recreates the blind fever, knavery and occasional heroism of the last, and greatest, international gold rush, in
The man in the poling boat slipped silently down the river, moving swiftly with the stiff current of the grey Yukon, keeping close to the shoreline, where martens darted from the high clay banks and willows arched low into the water. Beneath him the waters hissed and boiled. Above him thrush and yellow warbler fluttered and caroled. And all around him the blue hills rolled on toward the rim of the world to melt into the haze of the horizon. Between each line of hills was a valley, and in the bottom of each valley a little creek gurgled its way down to the river. Below the wet mosses of some of those creeks, the man in the poling boat knew, there was gold. But, in this summer of 1894, he had no more stomach for it. For twenty-three years he had been climbing the hills of the world and trudging down the valleys, picking away at quartz and panning the black sand of a thousand creek beds. Always, the gold had eluded him.
MACLEAN’S: Canada’s National Magazine
A MACLEAN’S BOOK-LENGTH FLASHBACK FIRST OF FOUR PARTS
He was a lighthouse-keeper’s son from Big Island, off the tattered coast of Nova Scotia, and he could scarcely remember the
CONTINUED ON NEXT PAGE
International controversy still surrounds these three men, whose discoveries led to the gold rush . . .
Carmack, an American, prospected Bonanza on a tip from Henderson, a Canadian, but did Carmack— or his Indian crony, Jim—actually make the strike? One thing is sure: Henderson didn’t get a cent.
time when he had not thought of gold. As a child he had read Alaskan histories and wandered about Nova Scotia searching for gold but finding only white iron.
“Well,” he would console himself, “it’s a kind of gold.” As a youth of fourteen he made the deliberate decision to spend his life seeking it.
First he signed aboard a sailing ship to search the seven seas, panning and picking to no avail in New Zealand and Australia and other corners of the globe. Then, after five years, he tried the northern hemisphere, working his way up through the Rocky Mountain states to the mines of Colorado, and then, after fourteen years, he was borne north with the human tide flowing toward Alaska. It was characteristic of his nature that while other men rushed to familiar creeks where earlier gold strikes had been made, he had chosen to press his search in unknown country on the upper reaches of the Pelly. But he found no gold on the Pelly; and now, out of funds and out of grub, with two equally disconsolate companions, he was drifting.
His name was Robert Henderson. He was tall and lean, with a gaunt, hawk’s face, fiercely knit brows and piercing eyes. His full mustache, drooping slightly at the edges, accentuated the dour look that betrayed his Scottish ancestry. He wore his broad-brimmed miner’s hat proudly all his life, as if it were a kind of badge.
Henderson and his companions had drifted for about one hundred miles when they
reached the mouth of the Sixtymile River. Here, on an island, they espied a pinprick of civilization—a few cabins and tents, a sawmill and a big two-story trading post of square-cut logs.
The trader, Joseph Ladue, was on the bank to greet Henderson—a swarthy, stocky figure of French-Huguenot background, and a veteran of the river since 1882. He too had been obsessed with the idea of gold for most of his life. It had a very real meaning for him, because without it he could not marry his sweetheart, Anna Mason, whose wealthy parents continued to spurn him as a penniless drifter. She was waiting faithfully for him three thousand miles away while he sought his fortune here in a starkly furnished log post on the banks of the Yukon.
For twenty years Ladue had pressed the search — from Wyoming to New Mexico, from New Mexico to Arizona, from Arizona to Alaska. He was one of the first to scale the Chilkoot Pass, the gateway that led to the Yukon country, and in the next half dozen years he dipped his pan into scores of gravelly creeks, including one gurgling stream whose name would later become world - renowned as “Bonanza.” But, for Ladue, there was no bonanza. Yet he was a confirmed optimist, wiry, keen-eyed and cheerful to the point of enthusiasm. It pleased him to see prospectors arriving, for, with his promoter's mind, he foresaw that sooner or later one would find what all were seeking, and then each would be rich. If
there had been a chamber of commerce in the Yukon, Ladue would undoubtedly have been president.
Ladue’s post lay roughly one hundred miles upstream from the mining camp of Fortymile which had been producing gold since 1886. Between the two settlements, two other rivers flowed into the Yukon from the opposite side: the Indian River, about thirty miles downstream from Ladue, and then the Thron-diuck River, another thirty miles farther down. Ladue had explored the Thron-diuck in the old days, and had gone so far as to take out an affidavit swearing that there was no gold on its streams. In spite of this, he now professed to believe that the neighboring Indian River country was ankle deep in nuggets, and had been extolling its possibilities to every prospector who stopped at his post.
Henderson and his two companions, in their thick gumboots and fraying mackinaws, were welcomed into the trader’s spartan quarters. They sat down at a rickety table, and over beans and tea Ladue talked of the Indian River.
“Let me prospect for you,” Henderson said. “If it’s good for me, it’s good for you. I’m a determined man. I won’t starve.”
His two companions were less enthusiastic. They chose to quit the north and return to Colorado. But Henderson stayed on, lured by Ladue’s promise of a grubstake, and for the next two years he stubbornly combed the Indian and its tributaries for gold. He found gold, but not enough continued on page 32
Klondike! continued trom page 14
Henderson was suspended over the rushing torrent like a slab of beef on a butcher’s hook
to satisfy him. On the surface bars of the main river he found gold as fine as sifted flour. On Australia Creek he found gold as delicate as lace. He dragged his sled up Quartz Creek and here he found gold as coarse as sand. It still was not
what he was seeking. It is possible, indeed, that had he found a cache of twenty-doliar gold pieces, or a mountain of solid gold, he would have felt a vague chagrin, for with Henderson it was the search itself that counted.
Ill fortune and misadventure served only to stiffen his resolve. He suffered the agonies of leg cramps from constant immersion in the chilling streams, and of snow-blindness from the ceaseless glare on the white slopes. On Australia Creek
he endured a harrowing experience when, falling across the broken branch of a tree, he was impaled through the calf and suspended over the rushing torrent like a slab of beef on a butcher’s hook. For fourteen days he lay crippled in his bivouac; then he was away again, living off the land, eating caribou or ptarmigan, limping through the forests or traveling the shallow streams in a crude boat made from the skins of animals. Occasionally he would raise his eyes northward to examine a curious rounded mountain whose summit rose above the other hills. The creeks of Indian River flowed down the flanks of this dome, and Henderson guessed that on the other side more nameless creeks flowed into another river—probably the Thron-diuck. or “Klondike” as the miners mispronounced it. At last his prospector’s curiosity got the better of him. He climbed the dome to see what was on the other side. When he reached the summit a breathtaking sight met his gaze. To the north a long line of glistening snow - capped peaks marched off like soldiers to vanish beyond the lip of the horizon. In every other direction the violet hills rolled on as far as the eye could see, hill upon hill, valley upon valley, gulch upon gulcheach hill of almost identical height with its neighbor, so that the whole effect through half-closed eyes was of a great plateau creased and gouged by centuries of running water. Eight cents to the pan! From the summit on which Henderson was standing, .the creeks radiated out like the spokes of a wheel, with himself at the hub, three falling off toward the Indian River and three more, on the far side, running to some unknown stream. He could not know it, but these were six of the richest gold-bearing creeks in the world. They wound through beds of black muck and thick moss, bordered by rank grasses from which the occasional moose lifted its dripping snout; they twisted in sinuous curves across flat valley floors whose flanks, notched by steep gulches, rose in tiers marking the concourse of once mighty tributaries. Almost at Henderson’s feet a deep gorge dropped off. He walked down a little way and dipped his pan into a small creek. When the gravel and sand washed away there was about eight cents' worth of gold left behind. Eight cents to the pan! This was a good prospect; he felt that he had found what he was looking for. Back he went over the divide to the Indian River where about twenty men, lured by Ladue’s tales, were toiling away on the sand bars. He persuaded three to return with him to the creek which he named “Gold Bottom” because, as he said wistfully, "I had a daydream that when I got my shaft down to bedrock it might be like the streets of the New Jerusalem.” By midsummer of 1896 the four men had taken out seven hundred and fifty dollars, and it was time for Henderson to head back to Ladue’s post for more supplies. To each man he met, he told the story of a V-shaped valley back in the hills; for this free interchange of information was part of the prospector's code to which Henderson fiercely sub scribed. He not only told strangers of the
gold, but he also urged them to turn back in their tracks and stake claims. In this way, he emptied the settlement at the mouth of the Sixtymile.
His order filled, Henderson drifted back the way he had come, in his skin boat. It was late summer and the water was low. The Indian River was so shallow' that Henderson, fearing he might tear his craft to shreds trying to navigate it, determined to continue on down the Yukon toward the Thron-diuck, guessing correctly that Gold Bottom creek must flow into it. Thus, on a fateful summer’s day, he approached his historic meeting w'ith a man named George Washington Carmack. The memory of that moment, bitter as gall, was to haunt Henderson all the days of his life.
As he brought his boat around a broad curve in the river and past a rocky bluff, he could hear to his right the roar of the Thron-diuck, or Klondike, as it poured out from between the flat-topped hills to join the Yukon. Directly before him now, just beyond the Klondike’s mouth, rose a tapering mountain, its pointed peak naked of timber. Slashed across its flank was an immense and evil scar, in the shape of a stretched moose-hide. At its base a wedge of flat swampland covered with scrub timber stretched along the riverbank for a mile and a half— unprepossessing, fetid and mosquito-infested. An almost impossible place for settlement, yet this was to be the site of the gaudiest city in the north.
The Thron-diuck was known as the finest salmon stream in the Yukon — hence its name: an Indian word meaning “Hammer-Water” which, pronounced in the native fashion, sounded like a man in the throes of strangulation. It was so called because the Indians had hammered stakes across the shallow mouth in order to spread their nets. Henderson could smell the stench of the fish drying in the sun. and on the bank just below the river’s mouth he could see a white man moving about.
The idea of anyone fishing for a living when there was gold to be had appalled him. He later recalled his first thought: “There’s a poor devil who hasn’t struck it.”
As w'as his habit, he determined to share his good fortune with the fisherman and a moment later he was up on the bank talking to George Washington Carmack, or “McCormick,” as the men at Fortymile called him.
The two who now faced each other, who vvoidd later be dubbed "co-discoverers of the Klondike,” and around whom so much controversy was to swirl, were opposites in almost every way. Henderson, lean and spare, with his keen chiseled features, serious and intense, bore little resemblance to the easygoing, ever-optimistic Carmack with his heavy jowls, his sleepy eyes and his rather plump features. But they had one trait in common: an incurable restlessness had dominated their lives.
Carmack was the child of an earlier gold rush. His father had crossed the western plains in a covered wagon in ’49, heading for California, and Carmack had been born at Port Costa, across the bay from San Francisco. He had gone to work at sixteen aboard the ferry boats, shipped to Alaska as a dishwasher on a man-of-war, jumped ship at Juneau and pushed steadily north.
Within a few years Carmack could speak both the Chilkoot and the Tagish dialects, and was exerting considerable influence over the Stick Indians from the interior or “Stick” country. At a time and place when every man was a prospector, Carmack appeared to be a misfit. He alone of all men did not want gold.
Instead he wanted to be an Indian in a land where the natives were generally scorned by the white man and the word Siwash was a term of opprobrium. His wife, Kate, a member of the Tagish tribe, was the daughter of a chief, and it was Carmack’s ambition to be chief himself. He worked with the other Indians, as a packer on the Chilkoot Pass, and by the time he moved into the interior with his wife and her two brothers he had three or four half-breed children. He had grown an Indian-type mustache that dropped over his lips in Oriental style,
and when anybody said to him, “George, you're getting more like a Siwash everyday," he took it as a compliment.
While other men scrabbled and mucked in the smoky shafts of Fortymile and Birch Creek. Siw'ash George was slipping up and down the river with his Indian comrades. When it suited Carmack, he bragged of gold discoveries he had made. It was certainly true that he had discovered a seam of coal on the Yukon River, but nobody took him seriously as a prospector, including Carmack himself. In the words of a Mounted Police
sergeant at Fortymile, he was a man "who would never allow' himself to be beaten and always tried to present his fortunes in the best possible light.” The men at Fortymile summed him up more tersely with a new nickname. They called him “Lying George.”
Yet he was no wastrel. He had an organ, of all things, in his cabin near Five Finger Rapids on the Yukon, and a library which included such journals as Scientific American and Review of Reviews. He liked to discourse on scientific topics and occasionally, as on Christmas
Eve in 1888, he wrote sentimental verse.
A whisper comes from the tall old spruce,
And my soul from pain is free:
For 1 know when they kneel together tonight,
They'll all he praying for me.
He was also something of a mystic. In May of 1896 he was sitting on the bank of the Yukon near the ruins of old Fort Selkirk, and here, if one is to believe his later recollections, he had a premonition. He stared into the blazing sunset and came to the conclusion that something unusual was about to take place in his life. On a whim he took his only coin, a silver dollar, from his pocket and threw it in the air. If it came down heads, he told himself he would go back up the river; but if it showed tails he would go downstream to test whatever fate had in store for him. Tails it was and Carmack loaded his boat and started to drift the two-hundred-odd miles to Fortymile, an old-time Yukon gold camp.
That night he had an extravagant and vivid dream in which he saw himself seated on the banks of a stream watching grayling shoot the rapids. Suddenly the fish scattered in fright and two enormous king salmon shot upstream and came to a dead stop in front of him. In place of scales they were armored in gold nuggets and their eyes were twenty-dollar gold pieces. It reveals a great deal about Carmack that he took this as a sign that he should go fishing; prospecting never entered his head. He determined to catch salmon on the Thron-diuck and sell it for dog feed, and so here he was, with his catch hanging to dry under a small birch lean-to when Henderson encountered him.
His Tagish friends had joined him at the Klondike’s mouth: Skookum Jim. a giant of a man supremely handsome with his high cheekbones, his eagle’s nose and his fiery black eyes — straight as a gun
barrel, powerfully built and known as the best hunter and trapper on the river; Tagish Charley, lean and lithe as a panther and, in Carmack’s phrase, "alert as a weasel”; the silent, plump Kate with her straight black hair, and Carmack’s daughter known as Graphie Gracey because no white man could pronounce her real name. It was this group that Henderson approached with news of the strike at Gold Bottom. Carmack later set down his version of the conversation which does not differ substantially from Henderson’s briefer account:
“Hello. Bob! Where in the world did you drop from and where do you think you’re going?”
“Just came down from Ogilvie; I'm going up the Klondike.”
"Got any kind of a prospect?”
“We don’t know yet. We can get a prospect on the surface. When I left, the boys were running up an open cut to get to bedrock.”
“What are the chances to locate up there?”
Henderson glanced over at the two Indians who were standing nearby. Then he uttered the phrase that probably cost him a fortune.
“There’s a chance for you, George, but I don’t want any damn Siwashes staking on that creek.”
He pushed his boat into the water and headed up the Klondike. But his final remark rankled.
"What’s matter dat white man?” Skookum Jim asked, speaking in Chinook, the pidgin tongue of the traders that prevailed on the river. “Him killet Inchen moose, Inchen caribou, ketchet gold Inchen country, no liket Inchen staket claim, wha for, no good.”
“Never mind, Jim,” said Carmack, lightly. "This is a big country. We’ll go and find a creek of our own.”
And, as it turned out, it was to be as simple as that.
Carmack did not immediately follow Henderson’s suggestion to go upriver
The richest ground in history
and stake at Gold Bottom. He was less interested in gold than he was in logs, which he hoped to chop on Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Klondike, and float down to the mill at Fortymile for twentyfive dollars a thousand feet. Skookum Jim had already reconnoitred the creek and in passing had panned out some colors, for just as Carmack wished to be an Indian, Jim longed to be a white man —in other words, a prospector. He differed from the others in his tribe in that he displayed the white man's kind of ambition. He had, in fact, earned his nickname of Skookum (meaning husky) by his feat of packing the record load of 156 pounds of bacon across the Chilkoot Pass. In vain he tried to interest Carmack in the prospects along Rabbit Creek; the squaw man was not intrigued.
It was as much Carmack’s restless nature as his desire for fortune that took him and the Indians to the site of Henderson’s strike some days after the meeting at the Klondike’s mouth. They did not follow the river, but decided to strike up the valley of Rabbit Creek, which led to the high ridge separating the Klondike and Indian watersheds. The ridge led to the head of Gold Bottom.
“I no see um gold”
They poled up the Klondike for two miles, left their boat in a backwater, shouldered their packs and began to trudge through the wet mosses and black muck and the great clumps of grass “niggerheads” that marked the mouth of Rabbit. As they went they prospected, dipping their pans into the clear water which rippled in the sunlight over sands white with quartz. As Carmack sat on his haunches, twirling the gold pan, he began to recite Hamlet’s soliloquy, “To be or not to be," for he felt that all prospecting was a gamble.
"Wa for you talket dat cultus wa wa?” Tagish Charley asked him. “I no see um gold.”
"That’s all right, Charley,” Carmack told him. “I makum Boston man’s medicine.”
He raised the pan with its residue of black sand.
“Spit in it, boys, for good luck.”
They spat, and then Carmack panned out the sand and raised the pan to show a tiny streak of color.
On they trudged, stopping occasionally to pan again, finding minute pieces of gold, wondering whether or not to stake. They came to a fork in the frothing creek where another branch bubbled in from the south and here they paused momentarily. At that instant they were standing, all unknowing, on the richest ground in the world. There was gold all about them, not only beneath their feet but in the very hills and benches that rose on every side. In the space of a few hundred feet there was hidden gold worth several millions of dollars. The south fork of the creek was at yet unnamed but there could be only one name for it: Eldorado.
But they did not linger here. Instead they hiked on up the narrowing valley, flushing a brown bear from the blueberry bushes, panning periodically and finding a few colors in every pan, until they reached the Dome that looked down over the land of the Klondike. Below, in the narrow gorge of Gold Bottom Creek, a pale pillar of smoke marked Henderson’s camp.
"Well, boys,” said Carmack, "we’ve got this far; let's go down and sec what they’ve got."
Exactly what happened between Carmack and Henderson has long been in dispute. Carmack later insisted that he
urged Henderson to come over to Rabbit Creek and stake a claim. Henderson always swore that it was he who urged Carmack to prospect Rabbit—and if he found anything to let Henderson know.
Two facts are fairly clear. First, Carmack did promise Henderson that if he found anything worthwhile on Rabbit he would send word back; Henderson offered to compensate him for his trouble if the occasion arose. Second, the Indians tried to purchase some tobacco from Henderson and Henderson refused, possibly because he was short of supplies but more likely because of his attitude toward Indians, since it was against his code to refuse a fellow prospector anything.
Carmack tried the prospects at Gold Bottom but did not stake, and the trio headed back over the mountain almost immediately. On the far side of the mountain they floundered into a niggerhead swamp that marked the headwaters of Rabbit Creek, and here they had to hop from clump to clump on their slippery moccasins or sink to their thighs in the glacial ooze. Hordes of gnats and mosquitoes rose about them.
Thus they came wearily to the forks of Rabbit Creek once more, and pressed on for about half a mile before making camp for the night. It was August 16, the eve of a memorable day that is still celebrated as a festive holiday in the Yukon Territory.
Who found the nugget that started it all? Again, the record is blurred. Years afterward, Carmack insisted it was he who happened upon the protruding rim of bedrock from which he pulled a thumb-sized chunk of gold. But Skookum Jim and Tagish Charley always claimed that Carmack was stretched out asleep under a birch tree when Jim. having shot a moose, was cleaning a dish-pan in the creek and made the find.
At any rate the gold was there, lying thick between the flaky slabs of rock like cheese in a sandwich. A single panful yielded a quarter of an ounce or about four dollars’ worth. In a country where a ten-cent pan had always meant good prospects, this was an incredible find.
The three men began to perform a wild dance—a sort of combination Scottish hornpipe, Indian fox-trot, syncopated Irish jig and Siwash hula, as Caimack later described it. They collapsed panting, smoked a cigarette apiece, and panned out some more gravel until Carmack had gathered enough coarse gold to fill an empty Winchester shotgun shell. Then they settled down for the night, the Indians chanting a weird song of praise into the embers of the fire while Carmack, staring at the dying flames, conjured up visions of wealth. In that instant of discovery something fundamental had happened to Siwash George; suddenly he had ceased to be an Indian. And he never thought of himself as an Indian again.
The following morning the trio staked claims on Rabbit Creek. Under Canadian mining law no more than one claim may be staked in any mining district by any man except the discoverer, who is allowed a double claim. Carmack blazed
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a small spruce tree with his hand axe, and on the upstream side wrote with a pencil:
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN I do, this day, locate and claim, by right of discovery, five hundred feet, running upstream from this notice. Located this 17th day of August, 1896.
G. W. Carmack.
The claim, also by law, straddled the creek from rim-rock to rim-rock. Carmack then measured off three more claims — one additional for himself, by
right of discovery, One Above discovery for Jim and another below for Charley which, under the claim-numbering system, became Two Below.
This done, and with no further thought to Robert Henderson waiting for news on the far side of the hills, the three set off through the swamps to emerge five hours later on the Klondike again, their bodies prickling with thorns.
They had moved only a short distance downriver when they came upon four beaten and discouraged men wading knee deep in the mud along the shore line and
towing a loaded boat behind them. These were Nova Scotians who had come to the Yukon valley by way of California and had since tramped all over the territory without success. They were starving when they reached the Klondike looking for salmon, but here they had heard of Henderson’s strike and now, in the intense August heat, their hunger forgotten, they were dragging their outfit upstream, searching once again for gold.
The leader, Dave McKay, asked Carmack if he had heard of Henderson’s strike.
“1 left there three days ago,” Carmack said, holding his boat steady with a pike pole.
“What do you think of it?”
Carmack gave a slow, sly grin. “I don’t like to be a knocker but I don’t think much of it.”
The faces of the four men fell: all were now at the end of their tether.
“You wouldn’t advise us to go up there?” Dan McGillivery, one of the partners, asked.
“No,” said Carmack, still grinning, “because I’ve got something better for you.” With that, he pulled out his nuggetfilled cartridge case, like a conjurer plucking a rabbit from a hat.
As the Nova Scotians’ eyes goggled, Carmack gave them directions to his claim. Without further ado, the four men scrambled upriver, the towline on their boat as taut as a violin string. This chance meeting with Carmack made fortunes for all of them.
“I felt as if I had just dealt myself a royal flush in the game of life, and the whole world was a jack pot,” Carmack later remarked, when recalling the incident.
He reached the salmon camp at the Klondike’s mouth and here he hailed two more discouraged men — Alphonse Lapierre, of Quebec, and his partner, another French Canadian. These two had been eleven years in the north and now, en route downriver to Fortymile, almost starving, out of flour and bacon, their faces blistering in the sun, they had reached the nadir of their careers.
“If I were you boys I wouldn’t go any farther,” Carmack told them as they beached their boat. “Haven't you heard of the new strike?”
"Oh yes, we know all about heem. I tink hees wan beeg bluff.”
"How’s this for bluff?” Carmack shouted, producing the gold. Again the effect was electric. The two men unloaded their boat, filled their packs and fairly ran across the flat, gesticulating with both hands and chattering in a mixture of French and English. The abandoned boat would have floated off with the current if Carmack had not secured it.
As Carmack made preparations to set off for the old mining camp of Fortymile to record his claim, he continued to tell anyone he encountered about the gold on Rabbit Creek. He made a special trip across the river to tell an old friend, then sent Jim back to guard the claims and drifted off with Tagish Charley down the Yukon, still spreading the news. He told everybody, including a man who on hearing the tale called him the biggest liar this side of hell.
Only one man Carmack did not tell. He sent not a whisper back to Robert Henderson.
Late in the afternoon he landed at the mining camp and went straight to Bill McPhee’s saloon. It was crowded with men for autumn was approaching and many had come in from their claims to secure their winter outfits before snowfall—a ragged, tattered group living almost from day to day in a settlement that had become a poor man’s camp.
Carmack was no drinking man, but on this occasion he felt the need for two whiskies and it was not until he had swallowed these that he was ready to break the news. After more than a decade, his moment had come and he savored it. He turned his back to the bar and raised his hand.
"Boys, I’ve got some good news to tell you. There’s a big strike up the river.”
“Strike, hell!” somebody shouted. "That ain't no news. That’s just a scheme of Ladue and Harper to start a stampede up the river.”
Nobody believed that Lying George, the squaw man, had made a strike
but his gold was new gold
"That’s where you're off, you big rabbit-eating malemute!” Carmack cried. "Neither Ladue nor Harper knows anything about this.’’ He pulled out his cartridge full of gold and poured it on the blower by the gold scales on the bar. “How does that look to you, eh?” “Is that some Miller Creek gold that Ladue gave you?” someone asked sardonically. A wave of suspicion swept the room. Nobody believed that Lying George, the squaw man, had made a strike. Nevertheless they crowded to the bar and examined the gold curiously. A seasoned prospector could tell from which creek a given amount of gold came simply by looking at it, and this gold was undeniably foreign. It did not come from Miller Creek, nor from Davis, nor from Glacier; it did not come from the bars of the Stewart or the Indian. In texture, shape and color it was different from any gold that had been seen before in the Yukon valley. The men in Bill McPhee's saloon looked uneasily about them. All of them had been on stampedes before and almost all of those stampedes had led them up false trails. And yet . . . One by one, on one excuse or another, they started to slip away. Some went to see William Ogilvie, the Canadian government surveyor, to ask his opinion, and Ogilvie pointed out that Carmack must have found the gold somewhere. That was enough. Silently, in the twilight hours of the August night, one after another, the boats slid off. By morning Fortymile was a dead mining camp, empty of boats and empty of men. Even the drunks had been dragged from the saloons by their friends and tied down protesting in the boats that were heading for the Klondike. The lure of the salmon stream Carmack and Charley crossed the mouth of the Fortymile and went into the police post to record their claims. The recorder took one look at Lying George and laughed at him. Once again. Carmack produced his shell full of gold dust. The recorder stopped laughing. From that moment on. few men laughed or called him Lying George again. Up and down the Yukon valley the news spread like a great stage whisper. It moved as swiftly as the breeze in the birches, and more mysteriously. Men squatting by nameless creeks heard the tale, dropped their pans and headed for the Klondike. Men seated by dying campfires heard it and started up in the night, shrugging off sleep to make tracks for the new strike. Men poling up the Yukon toward the mountains or drifting down the Yukon toward the wilderness heard it, and did an abrupt about-face in the direction of the salmon stream whose name no one could pronounce properly. Some did not hear the news at all but, drifting past the Klondike’s mouth, saw the boats and the tents and the gesticulating figures, felt the hair rise on their napes, and then, still uncomprehending, still unbelieving, joined the clamoring throng pushing up through the weeds and muck of Rabbit Creek. Joe Ladue already was on the scene. His quick merchant’s mind had swiftly grasped the essence of the situation. Others were scrambling to stake claims, but Ladue was more interested in staking out a townsite on the swamp below the tapering mountain at the Klondike's mouth. It was worth all the gold of Bonanza; within two years lots sold for
as much as five thousand dollars a front foot on the main street. Ladue named it Dawson City, after George M. Dawson, a government geologist.
By this time Rabbit Creek had a new name. A miners' meeting hastily convened on a hillside had given it the more romantic title of “Bonanza.” Carmack's strike was scarcely five days old but already the valley was a scene of fren-
zied confusion. Men were ramming their stakes in anywhere, jumping their neighbors' claims, arguing and scrambling for ground and convening mass meetings which, in spite of their grass-roots democracy. served only to produce more anarchy. It took six months to straighten out the tangle.
At the Klondike's mouth the boats piled up on the beach, day and night.
arriving as if by magic from the silent forests of the Upper Yukon valley. Many who tumbled from them and floundered up the river acted like madmen in their desire to stake and this was strange for there were few who really believed that any gold lay in the region of the Klondike. They staked from force of habit, as they had staked so often before, and once this ritual was completed, often enough
they forgot about it, or failed to record their ground, or sold it for a trifle. A Klondike claim was considered virtually worthless. If a man had enough food he stayed on, but many returned hungrily to Fortymile thinking they had found nothing.
And some did not bother to stake at all. Two men arrived at the mouth of the Klondike from the Indian River country and debated about going up. “I wouldn't go across the river on that old Siwash's word,” said one, recalling Carmack's reputation, and on they went to Fortymile and oblivion without further ceremony.
Uly Gaisford, a barber from Tacoma, passed by the Klondike, still sick at heart over the infidelities of his wife, which had driven him to Alaska, and stunned by the boat wreck on the Pelly River that had cost him everything but the clothes on his back. He staked on Bonanza. but thought so little of the claim or of his own personal prospects that he went on to Circle City to take up barbering. To his later astonishment, his property produced for him fifty thousand dollars within a year.
It was the old-timers who were skeptical of Bonanza. The valley was too wide, they said, and the willows didn't lean the proper way and the water didn't taste right. It was too far upriver. It was on the wrong side of the Yukon. It was moose pasture. Only the cheechakos were too green to realize that it could not contain gold, and this naïveté made some of them rich. In that first winter, two thirds of the richest properties in the Klondike watershed could have been purchased for a song.
Carmack himself could not start work at once. He was forced to cut logs for the sawmill Ladue had floated in to earn enough to feed himself: even then he was so short of funds that he could build only three lengths of sluice box. He had no wheelbarrow so he carried the gravel in a box on his back for one hundred feet to the stream to wash out the gold. In spite of this, he cleaned up fourteen hundred dollars from surface prospects in less than one month.
But by the end of August all of Bonanza Creek had been staked, and new prospectors, arriving daily, were fanning out across the Klondike watershed looking for more ground. None realized it, but the richest treasure of all still lay undiscovered.
Down Bonanza, in search of unstaked ground, trudged a young Austrian immigrant named Antone Stander. For nine years, ever since he had landed in New York City from his home province of Unterkrien, Stander had been seeking his fortune in the remote corners of the continent, working as a cowboy, as a sheep herder, as a farmer, as a coal miner and now as a prospector. When he arrived in the New World, unable to speak a word of English, he had just one dollar and seventy-five cents to his name and after mastering the language and walking over most of North America on foot, he was no richer. All his funds had been spent on the trip north in the spring of 1896. Now. on this last day of August, he was embarking on a final gamble.
He was a handsome man. just twentynine years old. with dark curly hair and sensitive, romantic-looking features. As he reached the south fork of Bonanza Creek, a few hundred feet above Carmack's claim, he stopped to examine it curiously. The narrow wooded ravine, with a trickle of water snaking along its bottom, still had no name. The prospectors referred to it in Yukon parlance as "Bonanza's pup.” It was soon to be known as Eldorado.
Stander arrived at the forks with four companions, all of whom had already staked on Bonanza. They had little faith in their property but, on an impulse, they walked up the pup in a group and one of them sank a pan into the sand. Like Stander, each had reached the end of the line, financially. Now they stared into the first pan and to their astonishment saw that there was more than six dollars’ worth of gold in the bottom. They had no way of knowing it, but this was the richest creek in the world and each of the claims staked that day eventually produced one million dollars or more.
Gold lying in the gravels on the creek’s edge did not necessarily mean that the valley was rich. Before that could be determined, someone would have to go through the arduous labor of burning one or more shafts down at least fifteen feet to bedrock, searching for the "pay streak” (which might not exist), hauling the muck up by windlass to the surface, and washing it down to find out how much gold there really was. This backbreaking labor could easily occupy two months. And until the spring thaw came and the rushing creek provided enough head of water to wash thoroughly the gravels drawn up the shaft all winter, no one could really say exactly how rich Eldorado was—if, indeed, it was rich at all.
To most men. then, Eldorado was as much of a gamble as the Irish sweepstake. Some, such as Stander, determined to take the gamble and hold their ground and work it to see whether it really did contain gold. Nobody knew that this was the richest placer creek in the world, that almost every claim from One to Forty was worth at least half a million and that some were worth three
times that amount and that a quarter of a century later dredges would still be taking gold from the worked-over gravels.
So the roulette wheel spun around on Eldorado. AÍ Thayer and Winfield Oler had staked out Twenty-Nine and believing it worthless returned to Fortymile, looking for a sucker on whom to unload it. They found their quarry in Jimmy Kerry’s saloon in the person of Charlie Anderson, a thirty-seven-year-old Swede with a pinched face, who had been mining for several years out of Fortymile. Anderson was so doubtful of the Klondike that he had delayed his trip to the new field until all the ground was gone. Now he was drinking heavily, and Oler, a small and slender man from Baltimore, saw his chance. Anderson woke up the next morning to find he had bought an untried claim for eight hundred dollars. He went to the police post to try to retrieve his money; but the deal was legal. Anderson glumly headed for Eldorado. He had no way of knowing yet that a million dollars’ worth of gold lay in the bedrock under his claim and that for the rest of his life he would bear the tag of “the Lucky Swede.” As for Oler, he became the butt of so many jokes that he fled the country in disgust.
Next door to Charlie Anderson, on Thirty, the groundwork for the most staggering fortune of all was being laid. The claim had been staked by Russian John Zarnowsky, who thought so little of it that he let half of it go for a sack of flour and a side of bacon. The purchaser was an elephantine Nova Scotian known as "Big Alex” McDonald, who until this moment had known neither w'eal nor leisure. But the pay-streak on Thirty was forty feet wide and a man could, and did, pan five thousand dollars from it in a single day.
With this purchase, McDonald began his lightning ascent from unlettered day laborer to Klondike aristocrat. Any ordinary creature would have been content with this single piece of ground, but McDonald was not ordinary. His fortuitous acquisition unleashed within him some hitherto inactive daemon, which drove him on for the remainder of his days with an intensity of purpose in sharp contrast to his ponderous appearance.
Because of his size and his awkward movements McDonald was known as the Big Moose from Antigonish. He spoke slowly and painfully, rubbing his blue jowls in perplexity, his great brow almost hidden by a shock of sable hair, his heavy lips concealed by a mustache of vaudevillian proportions. But Big Alex was one of the shrewdest men in the north. While others sold, he bought— and he continued to buy as long as there was breath in his body. Within a year he was famous, hailed on three continents as “the King of the Klondike,” sought out by pope, prince, and promoter.
And yet, who is to say which were the lucky ones in the Eldorado lottery? Many who sold out and left the country ended their lives in relative comfort. Many who stayed behind to dig out fortunes lost all in the end. William Sloan, a Nanaimo dry-goods merchant who sold his interest in Fifteen for fifty thousand dollars and turned his back on the Klondike forever, invested his money wisely and rose to become a cabinet minister in British Columbia’s provincial government. His son became chief justice of the province. But the King of the Klondike died both penniless and alone.
All this while, on the other side of the Bonanza watershed, Robert Henderson continued to toil at his open cut on the creek he had wistfully named Gold Bottom. Boats were arriving daily at
Dawson: shacks were being clapped together helter-skelter on valley and mudtlat; Bonanza was staked for fourteen miles and Eldorado for three; and men were spraying across the whole of the Klondike country searching for new discoveries. Henderson knew nothing of this: he had seen no one but his partners since that August day when Carmack had gone off, promising to send word back if he found anything on the other side of the blue hills.
Then one day—some three weeks after the strike—Henderson looked up and saw a group of men coming down from the divide. He asked them where they had come from, and they replied: "Bonanza Creek."
The name puzzled Henderson, who prided himself on a knowledge of the country. Where was Bonanza Creek? The newcomers pointed back over the hill.
"Rabbit Creek! What have you got there?” Henderson asked, with a sinking feeling.
"We have the biggest tiling in the world.”
"Who found it?”
Henderson tiling down his shovel, then walked slowly over to the bank of the creek and sat down. It was some time before he could speak. McCormick! Carmack! For the rest of his life the sound of that name would be like a cold knife in his heart. The man was not even a prospector . . .
Years later Henderson accepted a twohundred-dollar-a-month pension from the Canadian government as "co-discoverer” of the Klondike goldfields. This was his sole reward.
$800 for bent nails
As the town of Dawson slowly took shape around Joe Ladue’s sawmill and saloon, a subtle change began to work among those prospectors who for years had had nothing to call their own. Accepted standards of wealth vanished. There was a desperate shortage of almost everything that a man needed, from nails to women. But there was no shortage of gold. Once the shafts on Eldorado and Bonanza reached the fantastically rich paydirt, those who had struck it rich could claw the legal tender from the dumps with their bare hands; and thus, to many, gold became the cheapest commodity in the world.
No other community on earth had a greater percentage of potential millionaires, yet all its citizens were living under worse conditions of squalor than any sharecropper. The outside world, as yet, knew nothing of the Klondike strike and food became so scarce that all but the most expensive dogs in Dawson had to be killed because the owners could not feed them. Only the arrival of a raft load of beef cattle saved the camp from starvation. Willis Thorpe, a Juneau butcher, sold the meat for sixteen thousand dollars; within a year he was worth two hundred thousand. Salt was so scarce that it fetched its weight in gold. One man paid two hundred dollars to have the tip of his finger amputated. Charlie Anderson, the Lucky Swede, so badly wanted to build a sluice box that he gave eight hundred dollars for a small keg of bent and blackened nails, salvaged from a fire.
There was no writing paper in Dawson and nothing to read save for some old Seattle newspapers and the labels on the packing boxes. 'File only eggs came from two hens owned by a policeman’s wife, and these cost a dollar apiece. Laundry was so expensive that most men wore their shirts until they could no
longer stand them and then threw them away. One French Canadian turned a net profit by retrieving these garments, laundering them and reselling them, often enough to the former owners. The camp's single bathhouse consisted of a small tent with a stove and upended log as a stool; for five minutes in a wooden laundry tub the unclean paid a dollar and a half.
The ante at stud poker was one dollar, but it might easily cost five hundred to see the third card. A night on the town —which meant a night in Joe Ladue’s
bare-boarded saloon, drinking watered whisky — could cost at least fifty dollars. Few minded the expense; it was so easy to pan out a few shovelfuls of dirt from the dump to pay for the fun. One man went to work in the morning and came back to town at night with fourteen hundred dollars in gold. In Ladue’s, he ordered two whiskies, toasting his former self in the one and making believe his former self was drinking the other, then stuck two cigars in his mouth and smoked them together. This behavior was less peculiar than it seemed, since it was
undeniable that every man’s life had been changed by the strike; on the day he reached the pay-streak and realized that he was rich, he became a different person. Some men could no longer eat or sleep at the thought of mining so much gold. One, who had washed out thirty thousand dollars, became so obsessed by the fear of being robbed that he suffered a mental collapse and shot himself.
By April 1897 there were about fifteen hundred people in the community. All winter long a thin trickle of men—one thousand or more—had been scaling the
Chilkoot Pass and hammering crude boats together along the shores of Lake Bennett on the headwaters of the Yukon (see map, page 34). Now they waited on the frozen lake for the spring thaw. They were seeking earlier gold camps farther down the river; if they had heard of the Klondike at all, it was only in the vaguest terms.
At noon on May 14 the rotten ice in front of Dawson snapped with a mighty rumble and the whole mass began to crack and heave and move slowly off toward the sea. For two days a solid flow of ice cakes, some of them the size of houses, drifted past the town until by May 16 the ice had thinned to the point where boats could navigate the river. A few days later two hundred boats reached Dawson with the first news from the Outside: "The Pope’s alive, the Queen’s well, there’s no war and Bob Fitzsimmons knocked hell out of Jim Corbett!"
Harry Ash, a big florid bartender, was one of the first to benefit from the influx. His Northern Saloon was little more than a plank floor with a tent covering, but the very sawdust on the floor glittered with fine gold. On May 23, Monte Snow, a teen-age boy from Circle, whose father had arrived with a theatrical troupe, walked into the saloon and was greeted by Ash who pointed to the sawdust-covered space in front of the bar.
“Take that sawdust, go down to Joe Ladue’s and get two more sacks. Pan it out. and I’ll give you what you get."
Snow did not think this worthwhile, but when Ash offered him twenty-five dollars for all the gold he could pan from the sawdust he changed his mind. In two hours he took out two hundred and seventy-eight dollars in fine dust which had sifted out of miners’ pokes slapped onto the bar above. All business was transacted in gold. Bank notes, indeed, were so scarce that when the occasional twenty-dollar bill turned up it could be sold for twenty-five dollars.
Blue and white elephants
By June Ash was taking in three thousand dollars a day. On the night that he opened his saloon in a permanent log building he took in thirty thousand, perhaps because he had the only piano in Dawson. The previous fall he had written to an old friend in Juneau, Billy Huson, to bring a piano in to Circle City, and all that winter Huson and his wife had been lugging the instrument over the Chilkoot Pass in bits and pieces, the sounding board carefully wrapped in wool yarn for protection. It was a tiny upright, made in Hong Kong for the steamer trade, and within a month every dancehall girl in town had scratched her name on its surface with hatpins.
Before summer’s end there were ten saloons in Dawson, none taking in less than three hundred dollars a night. Some were only tents, like the Blue Elephant and the White Elephant, so named because of the color of the canvas. Others were substantial log structures like Jimmy Kerry’s or Bill McPhee’s New Pioneer, with its stuffed mooseheads. In front of one saloon there hung a great ship’s bell which rang every time a Klondike King laid down his poke, as a signal for everyone to crowd in for a free drink. Bartenders were paid twenty dollars a day and soon learned to underweigh gold dust so that a customer could expect to lose a dollar and a half for every ten he laid out.
Once the gold was taken, wet and glistening. from the sluice box. it seemed to shift from poke to poke as if carried by the winds. Money ceased to have value. Dance-hall girls were paid a hundred
aoilars a night; town Jots were selling for as high as twelve thousand. The Alaska Commercial Company was planning a warehouse that could have been put up for four thousand dollars in any midwestern town but which cost ninety-three thousand to erect in Dawson. Log cabins sold for as much as two hundred dollars per square foot of floor space. In six months a Pennsylvania cigar salesman turned his small stock into a hundredthousand-dollar fortune. He sold his tencent cigars for a dollar and a half apiece and used the profits to make down payments on a dozen city lots. In less than twenty days he had turned over the lots for a net profit of twenty thousand. He re-invested this money in a number of ingenious ventures, hiring Indians for instance to peddle fresh water at twentyfive cents a pail and women to bake bread at a dollar a loaf, so that by fall he was ready to ship two hundred pounds of gold to the coast. In this fashion he grew rich without ever setting foot on a mining claim.
By summer, with the population nearing thirty-five hundred, with the ring of hammer and axe heard all over town, with buildings sprouting up helter-skelter and the muddy roadways encrusted with chips and sawdust and blocked by newly planed logs, Dawson had lost its original character. The old rules and customs which had made the Alaska-Yukon camps cohesive communities no longer applied. The Golden Rule of the Yukon Order of Pioneers—“Do unto others as you would be done by"—was honored only in the breach, and the old sourdoughs no longer felt free to leave their cabin doors ajar for all who passed by.
Inspector Charles Constantine, of the North West Mounted Police, coming up from Fortymile, looked over the newcomers with contempt and wrote his superiors that some of them "appeared to be the sweepings of the slums and the result of a general jail delivery." He was closer to the mark than perhaps he knew, for that eddying multitude concealed at least one murderer and pressing close behind, in that same throng, his Nemesis, an indefatigable private detective who had traveled twenty-five thousand miles searching for his man, and who now found himself, somewhat to his own amazement, in the midst of a gold rush. Captive and captor left the Klondike behind, manacled together, without so much as a glance at wealthy creeks where fortunes were being made by the hour.
Dawson itself was about to become front-page news, for with the coming of summer its isolation from the world was at an end. The camp waited impatiently for the arrival of the first steamboat in
June. The Klondike's nouveau riche were ready to return to a civilization that some had rejected ten years before. There were almost one hundred of these, each possessed of a fortune that ran from twentyfive thousand to half a million dollars. Some were determined to leave the North for ever and had already sold their claims, content to live modestly but securely for the rest of their lives. Others were intent on a brief but gaudy celebration in the big cities of the Pacific coast before returning to the Klondike for more treasure. All felt the desperate need
to escape from the dark confines of their cabins and tents and from the smoky depths of their mine shafts, just as they had once felt a similar need to escape the smoky, populous cities.
Then, early in June, a shrill whistle was heard out in the river and the Alaska Commercial Company's tiny sternwheeler Alice rounded the Moosehide bluff and puffed into the shore. The entire toum poured down to greet her. She was loaded with equal quantities of liquor and food and the whole community went on a spree, as every saloon served free
drinks across the counter. A couple of days later a second boat, the Portus B. VVeare, arrived, and the performance was repeated.
When the two boats left on the trip downstream they carried with them the men who would bring the first news of the great strike out to the unsuspecting world, it
In the next issue Pierre Bcrton will tell what happened when "Klondicitis” sent the continent half crazy and drove tuen to feats of courage and foolishness.