To Alaska for Gold/Chapter 31
DOWN THE YUKON AND HOME.
Foster Portney knew that the regular terminus of travel on the Yukon steamboats was Fort Cudahy, which was situated forty-eight miles below Dawson City. But owing to the rush to the new gold fields, which was now stronger than ever, two small boats were making regular trips between these two points.
When the party reached Dawson City, now the scene of great activity, it was found they would have to wait a week before they could secure passage to Fort Cudahy, as the tickets for the two following trips were all sold. This wait, when they were impatient to get home, was not an agreeable one, yet it gave them a chance to look around the settlement and become better acquainted with the various persons who were there.
"Dawson is bound to grow," said the doctor, who had hired a room at the so-called hotel and hung out his sign on the day he arrived.
"See, there are actually three streets already, two stores, three saloons, a barber shop, and a reading and pool room; and I understand that a fellow has just arrived who is going to open a clothing store, and another is on his way with medicines for a drug store. We are bound to boom!"
"'We' is good!" said Earl, with a laugh. "I guess you had better strike up a partnership with that druggist when he arrives."
"Not much. Earl! I'll put him in the way of getting the gold fever, and when he is ready to strike out, I'll buy his outfit and run the whole thing myself. I'm bound to make money." And it looked as if the doctor was right, for during their stay in Dawson City he had eleven calls for his services, for which he charged the fee of five dollars per call, which was moderate for that place.
At last came the day to part, and with a hearty hand-shake from the doctor the Portneys and Fred boarded the little side-wheeler Alice, and the long homeward trip was begun. The boat was crowded with returning miners, and as nearly all of them had struck gold, it was a happy congregation which spent the time in eating, drinking, smoking, playing cards, and "swapping yarns." "Swapping yarns" went on continually, and many were the wonderful stories told of great finds, perilous climbs, and escapes from starvation during the awful winter.
"I've made seventy thousand dollars, boys," said one elderly miner. "But I never did so much starving in my life, an' ten hosses couldn't drag me back to put in another such winter—hear me!"
"I'm with ye," said another; "leas'wise, I think I am. But thar's no tellin' wot I might do ef the gold fever struck me ag'in," be added reflectively.
Fort Cudaby was a small settlement on the Yukon, at the mouth of Clinton Creek. Just above the creek was another settlement, called Forty Mile. Between the stores in the two settlements there was a fierce rivalry, and consequently prices here were more reasonable than at Dawson City.
The party was fortunate in obtaining immediate passage to Fort Get There, on St. Michael's Island, which is situated sixty miles above the entrance to the Yukon. An offer was also made by the agent of the transportation company to take charge of their gold from there right on through to San Francisco, but as the commission for doing this would be fifteen per cent, this offer was declined.
"I think we can get it through," said Foster Portney. "At any rate, I am willing to risk it." And the boys agreed with him.
The next stop of importance was Circle City, of which the boys had heard through Mr. Portney. In former days Circle City had been the banner mining town on the upper Yukon, but now its glory was departed, for over three-quarters of its inhabitants had pulled up stakes and moved on to the Klondike district.
From Circle City the river, already broad, widened out to such an extent that it looked more like a lake than anything else. It was dotted with numerous islands, and the pilot of the boat had his head full with keeping track of the proper channel to pursue. The run was north to the ruins of Fort Yukon, the highest point gained by the mighty river upon which they were sailing.
From Fort Yukon the run was mostly to the southwestward, past the settlements of Shaman's, We Are, Nulato, and a dozen similar places, Indian villages, the home of fur traders, missionaries, and of fishers. At many of the places the main things to be seen were the totem poles stuck up in front of the Indian huts—poles of wood, curiously carved with hideous-looking images and undecipherable hieroglyphics.
At last St. Michael's Island was gained, and here they found themselves again in luck, for an ocean steamer was in waiting to take the passengers from the river boat. The transfer was made before nightfall, and at dawn of the day following the steamer started on her long voyage down Norton Sound, Bering Sea, and the Pacific Ocean to Seattle. But one stop was made, that at Dutch Harbor, on one of the Aleutian Islands, and then one glorious afternoon early in the fall they steamed through the Straits of San Juan de Fuca and swept into the grand harbor at Seattle.
"The United States at last!" cried Randy. "Oh my, how good civilization does look!"
"We don't know what we have at home until we miss it," said Fred, but in such a low tone that nobody heard him.
They stopped in Seattle two days, and then took steamer direct for San Francisco. The trip down the coast was an uneventful one. They were impatient to finish it, and a glad cry rang everywhere through the vessel when land was sighted and they ran through the Golden Gate.
A crowd was at the wharf to receive the latest news from the gold fields. "How are the diggings up there?" "Is there any show for a fellow staking a good claim?" "How much did you bring along?" "Is it true about provisions being scarce?" These and a hundred other questions went the rounds, as the fortunate ones came ashore. Foster Portney managed to keep the boys together and get them through the jam, and quarter of an hour later found them on the way to the mint with their precious burdens. Here they were given receipts for their nuggets and dust, and then they turned away with a big load lifted off their minds, for they knew that their fortunes were now safe.
And here properly ends the tale of the fortune hunters of the Yukon. How Fred Dobson returned home a penitent runaway, and how he was readily forgiven and later on allowed to study for college, I will leave my readers to imagine. As for Earl and Randy, there was nothing which called for their return to Basco, and they remained with their uncle in San Francisco until their gold was reduced to coin and they received a check on the treasurer of the United States for its value. Then they paid a visit to Colorado, remaining there until the following spring. During the winter a company was organized to work their claims by machinery, and early spring found them again in the land of gold. And there we will leave them, wishing them all the success that their pluck and industry deserve.