Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/February 1900/A Year's Progress in the Klondike


TWO years ago the difficulties of reaching the Klondike were thought to be of such a nature as to preclude the probability or even possibility of Dawson ever becoming a place of permanent habitation. The trials of the Chilkoot and White Passes were exploited in magazine and journal from one end of the continent almost to the other, and the wrecks of humanity, and particularly of the thousands of beasts that lay scattered along the trail—the tribute to the Sahara turned to shame—were appealed to as grim testimony of the almost insuperable barrier which separated man from the object of his search. To-day, and since July 6th of the past year (1899), a steam railway traverses the full forty-two miles of the White Pass trail, and the traveler enjoys the beauties of the subarctic landscape in much the way that he enjoys the trip through the Alleghany Mountains in the East, or of the prairies in the West. Deposited at Bennett, on Lake Bennett, at virtually the head of navigation of the mighty Yukon River (otherwise known as the Lewes), he engages passage on one of several commodious steamers heading down stream or northward, and with one change—at the Miles Cañon and White Horse Rapids, where there is a five-mile portage—reaches Dawson after a voyage, delightful in its change of scene and novelty of experience, of from four to six days. It is a fact, therefore, that with a strict timing of departures the traveler from New York may make the journey to Dawson in summer time in twelve days, and exceptionally even in less; and the journey has indeed been made in eleven days and a half. Such is the change which the effort of less than two years has accomplished.

The Dawson of 1899 is no longer the Dawson of 1898, and much less that of the year previous. The thousands of bateaux that were formerly lined up against the river front, in rows six

deep and more, and comprising all manner of craft from the small canoe to sliced sections of scows, have mostly disappeared, and in their place we now find the graceful and ungraceful forms of varying types of steamboat. It is no uncommon thing to find five or more of those larger craft tied up at one time to the

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Bartlett Brothers' Pack Train, Dawson.

river front, and the amplitude and majesty of the Mississippi boats gain but little in a comparison with some of the larger craft of the Yukon River. Overhung signs call attention to the flying queens of the river, the Bonanza King, Canadian, and Sibyl, and thousands are offered upon the result of the race to the White Horse Rapids. So here, as in the olden days of the Mississippi, the struggle for supremacy has led to the opening of the throttle and to the scraping of the fire box. Upward of a hundred arrivals from down the river were registered at Dawson during the season of open water of 1899.

Dawson has been further put into comparatively close touch with the outer world by the entry of the telegraph, and since the early days of October messages have been freely going to the seaboard at Skaguay. It is true that a cableless stretch of hundreds of miles still separates this town from the nearest port of importance on the continent, but doubtless before very long even this blank in the line of communication will have been supplied. It may be first by means of wireless telegraphy, as it is mooted that the Canadian Government looks with favor upon experimentation with the Marconi system; or, what is more likely, the desired end will be brought about by the laying of a continuous wire. The extraordinary rapidity with which the five hundred to six hundred miles of land wire were laid—five and seven miles per day—speaks well for the morale of the Canadian sapper and engineering service.

In its commercial and residential aspects the city has made vast progress. The days of ingulfing mires are virtually over, and from one end of the town almost to the other, one may safely tread the streets on secure board sidewalks. Not alone the main street is furnished in this way, but also several of the streets running parallel with it, and parts of streets that run across at right angles. A wise enactment, not perhaps absolutely just in its details, has swept off the shacks and booths from the river side of the front street, and one now enjoys an almost uninterrupted view of the opposing bank of the stream, already marred by giant advertising letters announcing bargain sales in merchandise, and directing to particular shops in the metropolis of the North.

The shops of Dawson have risen to the dignity of establishments having corrugated-iron covers, plate-glass fronts, and redwood shelves and counters. Following closely upon the pioneer constructions—department stores, they might be classed—of the Alaska Commercial Company are the depots of the North American Trading and Transportation Company, the Alaska Exploration Company, Ames Mercantile Company, and the Yukoner Company, several with retaining warehouses placed beyond the reach of a city fire and with dimensions that would lend dignity to locations of much larger size than the emporium of the North. Many of the smaller shops also carry a varied line of goods, but others are restricted to a specialty, and their wares are now offered at rates which are in the main only reasonably in advance of the "high" rates of the Western coast towns. There are exceptions to this rule, however, especially where skilled local labor is called into requisition in a manufacture. Thus fourteen dollars for a pair of trousers made to order strikes the imagination rather forcibly, when a

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Dawson’s Great Fire. April 26, 1899.

first-grade quality of boot or shoe can be obtained for five dollars and six dollars. Really good meals may be procured almost everywhere for from a dollar to a dollar and a half, and the best hotels supply twenty-one meals for twenty-five dollars, and these do not absolutely reject delicacies of one kind or another. Cow's milk can now be had as a regular adjunct to coffee, since the milcher is no longer a stranger to the country. The price of rooms in the hotels still remains high—from four to six dollars per night, without meals—but the character of these rooms has materially improved, even though they would be considered with us decidedly third rate. In a few establishments of a more private character, lodging for a certain amount of permanency may be had for fifteen dollars the week, or, where the condition of the surroundings is not closely scanned, for even less. A new and capacious hotel, the Hotel Metropole, reared from the wealth of the "King of the Klondike"—Alexander MacDonald—has recently been added to those of less pretentious design which served the community last year. A heavy cut in rates is promised.

The conflagration of April 26th, through which perhaps one quarter of the business portion of Dawson was burned to the ground, has given opportunity for the introduction of improvements, and the most important of these is that which has resulted in the removal of houses and resorts of evil repute from the heart of the city and consigned them and their inmates to a localized area or "tenderloin" district. Women of refinement may now parade the streets without having their finer sensibilities offended through the public intrusion of the immorals of the lower world. The tone of the public places of amusement, the theaters and dance houses, has also been in a measure elevated, even if far from sufficiently so, and some real talent occasionally sparkles behind the footlights. A new "opera house," with a seating capacity of perhaps seven hundred or eight hundred, but advertised for two thousand, was thrown open to the public last August, after a construction, it is claimed, of only two weeks. Its season's répertoire included, among other plays, Michael Strogoff and Camille, both of which, even in their crudest type of presentation, felt well of the public pulse.

School education plays as yet little part in the morals of the Dawsonites. The greed of fortune has left scant time for the consideration of educational matters, and what little of school training is imparted to the youth of tender years comes largely in the shape of a beneficence from private hands. If the issuance of newspapers be properly classed as belonging to education, then Dawson has made material advances during the past year, for, in addition to the three weeklies which more than supplied all the information that was needed to the inhabitants of 1898, it has now a daily (the Dawson Daily News) and a Sunday paper (The Gleaner), while the pioneer Nugget has been converted into a semi-weekly. Some of these journals, which in typographical detail stand fully equal to many of the foremost journals of the United States, are devoted largely to a vilification of the Yukon government, and secondarily to the nonpartisan interests of the community. But little space is given over to murders and daring deeds of robbery, since occurrences of this kind, thanks to the continued vigilance and efficiency of the Northwest Mounted Police, are all but unknown, and the safety of possessions is as well established as that of the person. The shooting of an actress by her lover, followed by the suicide of the murderer, furnished the sensation for the year; but previous suicides, also in the ranks of the theatrical profession, had already paved a way to this form of excitement.

Two or more lines of telephone unite Dawson with the nearer mining region, and a partial city service has also been established. The city remains as yet without an electric-light plant, but it is by no means unlikely that before the present season has passed the darkness of the winter night will be lifted by the arc light, and much of the oppressiveness of the closed season thereby removed. After two winters of experience, the Dawsonites continue to think lightly of the "terrors" of the cold, and to but few apparently is the extreme of temperature a deterrent to exercise. Sleighing continues to be a pastime, with the temperature marking 40° to 50° below zero, but only with this season does it enter into the category of a fashionable recreation. Hitherto dog-sled teams performed the full service of winter travel, and divided with skating and "ski"-ing the winter exercise; but this year the snow causeways will be lively with the jingling of cutter bells and the rapid pacing of the horse.

One can not help remarking the vast improvement in the general tone of Dawson society, if by that term we may include all that constitutes the population of the city. More particularly is this marked in the case of women, among whom it is no longer a rarity to meet with strict refinement and culture. Musical soirées register among the events of the week, and literary recitals are not exceptional. The male portion of the population has also undergone a refining process through the departure of hundreds or even thousands of "bums," who only too late for their comfort discovered that their presence was neither a necessity to Dawson nor a mainspring to the extraction of gold from the soil. By their departure the city has probably suffered a decrease in its population of some three thousand to four thousand, but has more than received compensation in that stability of purpose which such elimination always insures. As a city of about thirteen thousand inhabitants, it enters upon its history in the year 1900 with principles cast largely upon a pure business basis, and witH a future that is bound in with the product of the soil.

The gold resource of the Klondike region seems fully to sustain the anticipations which had been put forth touching the product of 1899. The better-known creeks, such as the Bonanza, Eldorado,

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Midnight View of Dawson, June 21, 1899.

and Hunker, have kept well up with their record of the previous year, and give indications of continuing as important factors in the calculation of output for some time to come in the future. The introduction of a certain amount of mining machinery, such as steam drills, thawers, and powerful pumps—applied more particularly to the deposits of the benches and hillsides—coupled with a more definite method of conducting extensive operations on a comparatively economic basis, has given fresh impetus to the work of mine holders, and made largely remunerative that which had promised to be little profitable. A more just administration of the mining laws has helped to a considerate feeling among the miners, and reduced very materially the grievances which formerly fell with thick force upon the offices of the Recorder and Gold Commissioner. Access is now easily had to the records of claims, and individual "cases" receive an early and proper hearing. Electric plants have been introduced on some of the claims, so that there need be no interruption in work for the full twenty-four hours of the day.

Apart from the discovery of rich pay-dirt on creeks and gulches, such as Last Chance (tributary to Hunker), Gold Bottom (tributary to Sulphur), and American, Magnet, and Adams (tributary to the Bonanza), concerning which much skepticism was expressed last year, the filling in of assumed barren gaps in the general line of creeks has done much to inspire the feeling that more of the broad area is gold-bearing than the first surveys and explorations "indicated"—a feeling to which particular confidence has been given by the surprising wealth which has been washed out from the hillsides. For a nearly continuous four miles of the "loft limit" of the Bonanza, extending northward from Gold Hill at the confluence of the Eldorado to the "forties below discovery," the crests of the hills at an elevation of some one hundred and eighty to two hundred feet above the creek are laid bare with the work of the shovel, pick, and drill, and the same or a corresponding stratigraphical height is pierced elsewhere along the stream. Gold Hill (and French Hill, on the Eldorado side), Skookum, Adams, Magnet, and American Hills, and Monte Cristo, all have their summits capped by what is now familiarly known as the "white layer"—a feature in the landscape as interesting to the casual tourist as the construction is important to the more fortunate claim holders who are located here.

Up to this time no quartz locations determined to be of positive value have been located, although a goodly number of "quartz reefs," "lodes," and kidney masses have been staked, restaked, and recorded. Some of these have shown gold in small quantity, but in by far the greater number of cases they have proved absolutely barren, and are without promise of yielding anything. The anticipation of many, naturally fostered by individual wish and hope, that an originating or "mother" lode must be present and found somewhere rests without any geological support so far as evidence has been accumulated up to the present time, and there is nothing that looks like a promise to the geological eye. At the same time, it would be premature to assert that such a reef or series of reefs may not be discovered in the future. The hill crests that have

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The Columbian and the Eldorado starting from Dawson, July 4, 1899, on a Race to White Horse Rapids.

furnished so much of the white material of the high benches of the Bonanza and the Eldorado may perhaps be searched with best advantage in this direction, and thence extended to the water parting which surrounds or incloses the upper waters of Gay Gulch. No estimate, naturally, can yet be put to the total gold supply of the Klondike region, but to inquiry that is frequently put regarding the future existence of Dawson as an energetic mining camp one can unhesitatingly answer that this existence is assured

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Street Scene, Dawson, July, 1899.

for many years to come, and there are indications that point to a permanence independent of the simple supply of gold.

The earlier conceptions of the extreme severity of the climate of the Yukon Valley forbade the hope of agricultural possibilities, but a more intimate knowledge of the conditions prevailing m the summer lime—a season of four to five months' duration, with light and day heat protracted far into the normal hours of night—and a comparison of these conditions with somewhat similar conditions prevailing elsewhere, have given hope not alone of a possibility, but of a probability, and there are few to-day who doubt that agriculture may not be practiced with at least a legitimate amount of success in many parts of the Yukon basin. This probability has, indeed, been already emphasized by Prof. George Dawson, and the more recent examinations of Alaskan territory, made by Colonels Ray and Abercrombie, confirm with a conviction the reference to American soil. The feeble but more than promising efforts in agriculture and gardening that were made in the region about Dawson in 1898 have borne surprising fruit in 1899, and while the results may not, for various reasons, have proved in all cases remunerative to the "prospector," they at least clearly demonstrate the possibilities to which the future may lay claim. Cabbages, turnips, peas, radishes, lettuce, and beans are now raised to perfection in favored spots along the Yukon and Klondike, and on scattered hillsides of the Bonanza and Eldorado, and a good promise is also held out for the potato. In the charming spot known as the Acklin Garden, situated on the Klondike about two miles from Dawson, oats and barley, sown on April 26th and May 22d respectively (1899), were grown to beautiful heads, and harvested in the middle of August. No wheat had ripened up to that time, and I suspect that, owing to a light frost which took place on the 19th of the same month, none of this grain came to maturity. Radishes sown on April 24th were collected on May 20th, and string beans, whose seed was scattered on May 26th, were collected on August 1st. Other successful crops were those of beets, onions, and spinach.

The exquisite beauty of the flower garden in this spot rivets the attention of all passers-by, and few there are who do not for a moment lay aside their packs to enjoy the feast of color that is presented to them. Poppies of the size and brilliance of those which adorn the fields about Naples, chrysanthemums, gorgeous dahlias, pansies, the cornflower, mignonette, and centaurea are part of the outside bloom, to which Nature "beyond the fence" has fittingly added the wild rose, anemone, fireweed, and forget-me-not. Such is the aspect of the region which to-day illumines the far North, and carries with itself a hopeful promise to many and the certainty of disappointment to many more.

    Note.—Acknowledgment is here made to Mr. E. A. Hegg for the use of most of the photographs accompanying this article.