ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog Arctic & Northern Books About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

























Ballads of the Northwest

by Thomas Brooks, 1954
(Caribou Crossing) Carcross, Yukon Territory

Thomas Brooks biography

Preface

The author, Thomas Brooks, was born in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, on the 29th of March, 1882, and migrated to Canada in the spring of 1899. He worked on a cattle ranch that summer, south of Maple Creek, in the Territory of Assiniboia, and in the fall he went to the Pacific Coast where he worked in logging camps and mines until 1904. He then went north and spent the winter in the mines of southeastern Alaska.

In the spring of 1905 the author, with three other men, bought a small boat in Whitehorse and drifted down the Yukon River to Dawson. The stampede to Fairbanks, Alaska was in full swing and there was a motley crew afloat on the river that spring. Approximately eight hundred small boats and numerous barges left Whitehorse for Dawson, Fairbanks, and other camps down the river. One barge carried forty dance-hall girls as well as a number of gamblers and other sporting element, bearing a banner advertising the party as the "Happy Hooligans."

There was one bad actor in the party of four, and he showed his hand when they camped at the halfway point on Lake Lebarge. The party had been pushing the boat for two days on rotten ice on the upper part of the lake, using a couple of poles as runners for sleigh purposes; it was a tough, wet job. Beyond where the party camped, the lake was free of ice.

While cooking supper that night, a member of the party made the remark that the author was cutting the bacon too thick; to which the author replied, "If you don't like my style, you know what you can do about it." Whereupon the first party decided to do it by way of a large sheath knife he carried belted to his waist! The only firearm carried by the group was in the bow of the boat. The author made a sprint for it and got there two jumps ahead of his opponent, covered him with the rifle, and made him drop the knife.

"According to Hoyle", the group should have turned him in at the next Police Post, there being a detachment stationed every thirty miles on the river between Whitehorse and Dawson. However, one member ot the group had been in on the staking of claims in the fall of 1904 at the new strike at Fairbanks, and he was anxious to reach the location before the big crowd of stampeders got there. In those days, claim-jumping was common, and to retain ownership one had to be on the claim to protect his interset.

He explained the position he was in, stating that if they turned the knife-weilder over to the police, all of them would be held as witnesses for the trial, and the delay might mean the loss of his claim in the new camp. The author and the other fellow agreed with his thinking and the decision was made that one of the group of three should always have the rifle handy, and stay awake while the others slept. They made the knife weilder take a position in the bow of the boat so he would always be in front of them, enabling them to watch until they got to Dawson.

The four men landed on the beach at Dawson at 2 o'clock in the morning, nearly two weeks ahead of the steamboats. The Police Patrol checked their papers, counted heads, and gave them clearance.

The author heard indirectly, at a later date, that the man who drew the knife on him, was involved in a killing in Alaska for which he was given a long term in the penitentiary.

For the past thirty years the author has been mining and prospecting around Carcross, Yukon, (Cariboo Crossing) and became intimately acquainted with members of the Indian band that accompanied George Carmacks on his trip down the Yukon River, which voyage led to the discovery of the Klondike Gold Fields. Only one member of this Indian band is alive today, his name being Patsy Henderson. He was the youngest member of the party; today he is an old man and nearly blind. His home is the Indian Village at Carcross (Cariboo Crossing) Yukon.




Yukon Memories

No snowshoe mars the silent waste, and lonely lies the snow
Where sleigh-dogs tolled for scanty fare, and wailed aloud their woe.
No camp fire sheds its cheery gleam, or voice is heard in song
And hardships then are now forgot, for the days are long since gone.

A scar in the lonesome land, is the trail of Ninety-Eight
Marked by the graves of men, who lost in the gamble with fate.
From Chilkoot Pass to Linderman, roam grizzlies gaunt and lean
O'er a trail that is silent and lonely, and mankind seldom is seen.

In this land where the cold is deadly, and fit for the inmates of hell
Are the men who gambled and lost, in the Yukon forever they dwell.
Prospectors sleep in her graveyards, and miners alongside them lay
But the slickers who handled the rake-off, sleep in lands far away.

Gone are the frock coated gamblers, who spun the roulette ball
Where the girls of the Golden North, danced in the Dawson halls.
Gone are the lower river packets, with their cargoes of silk and wine
For girls lilke Diamond Tooth Lil, who rolled in wealth from the mines.

Miners, gamblers and aristocrats, they were brothers under the skin
Where ladies sold their favours, for wealth of Klondyke kings;
Land of table and story, where flowed the Klondyke streams
Gone are your days of glory, sleep with your golden dreams.





Alaskan Land

From a lonesome Yukon mountain, where time had left its brand
I gazed north-west o'er the ranges, to where lay Alaskan land.
Range after range of mountains, with hidden valleys between,
A lonely land of memories, beneath the sunset's gleam.

There miners sought for golden wealth, and westward lies the land
Where rollers sweep the lonely shores, to sift the gold from sand,
And countless hordes of salmon swim, to fill the nameless streams
Where waters brawl the spawning call, and nature seems to dream.

There girls worked in dance-hall days, some miner's poke to hole
Till gods of love would stay their hand, so they could save their soul
And gamblers sought the boys to fleece, in camps where gold was lure
To laugh at fate that wiped the slate, when claims they held were poor.

The whalers roamed the polar seas, their lookouts scanned the floes
And hearts were gay on whaling ships, at the cry of "Thar she blows"
Their love was kin to caveman love, and fur-clad maidens knew
No saints would sail on Frisco ships, with a hell bound whaling crew.

And ballads sung in barrooms gay, were songs of long ago
By minstrel tramps from Arctic camps, who sang in old Juneau
Their ballads like their bodies lie, in graves where markers rot
No records troll the sourdough lays, that men have long forgot.

The glory from the sunset's gleam, has faded from the sky
As I look upon the lonely land, and think of days gone by
And my thoughts go back to men, for whom no bells were tolled
Some in graves beside the ocean, and some by streams of gold.





The Frontier Dive

The night was rife with the sounds of life, in an old time Juneau dive
Where wine and song would right a wrong, and a hope in life revive
There was lilting beat to the music sweet, for all joys of life were there
And rhyming feet kept time to the beat, with the blind piano player.

It was Sunday night and the lights were bright, but no Godly men were there
To hear the click of the poker chip, where the games were fair and square
Or hear the call as the roulette ball, fell in the guilded bowl
To find a slot where the sign was ought, and warm the houseman's soul.

There were men at the bar who came from afar, with never a thought or a care
They were Killisnoo men with money to spend, like whalers ashore everywhere;
And one sang a song of a mate who done wrong, to a man in a whaleship crew
He was dated by fate in the Bering Sea Strait, with a knife that was shiny and new.

And the ladies were there to pick up their share, of drinks and money to boot -
Like Maggie the Finn, the original sin, where money was easy to loot,
Or the Oregon tough who never got rough, she was only a prune picking gal,
But she knew all the ropes to financial hopes, with men in a free for all.

And the Red River Breed who never knew greed, she would blow her nightly take,
Was a sucker to fall for a hard luck call, and she'd cry like her heart would break;
Her claim to fame was her Ping Pong name, and her sister far afield
Who mowed a swath through a gamblers path, and shared in a Klondyke yield.

They were lambs grown bold who had strayed from the fold, on a path that was easy to go.
Just dance hall dames with phoney names, so the folks at home wouldn't know.
Though often was strife and the flash of a knife, or the roar of a Forty-Five
They were happy enough though a life it was snuffed, as they worked in the Frontier dive.





The Drifter

He was a drifter from the south, weary and saddle sore
And stiffly he dismounted, at the hitch rack by the store.
The marshal eyed him grimly, for his belted guns hung low -
About this silent gaunted man, there were things he'd like to know.

A scar showed on the saddle, that a bullet could have made
Perhaps this silent stranger, followed the gunman's trade.
He asked for shells and tobacco, and paid for them in gold
The storeman asked no questions, for a look had froze him cold.

A Strange thing then did happen, as the stranger left the store
The Marshall held his questions, and an oath he softly swore
For the weary horse had whinnied, and the rider's face lit up
Then taking both his hands, the horses head he gently cupped.

The Marshal standing close, could hear the words he said
As he whispered to the horse, "Sandy - do not be afraid."
Again the low pitched whinny, had this horse second sight
Of questions to be asked, and answered by gun fight?

The Marshal turned away, for he also loved a horse;
Better the benefit of the doubt, than live to feel remorse
So the rider and his Sandy horse, passed northward up the trail
And the shadow of death dissolved, for love will never fail.





Porcupine Pete

He was handsome and neat was Porcupine Pete, a picture from out of a page
And the horses rejoiced in the rum laden voice, that sang of the cattle and sage.
As a lover he shone with his gift of a song, and the maidens were many who strayed -
Their doom he would seal by his youthful appeal, till wise to the game that he played.

As a skinner De Lux he was king of the bucks, that drove the six horse teams
And he handled the mail on the Cariboo Trail, bound for the golden streams.
But whiskey and love dont go hand in glove, whilst another was clocking his time
For Oregon Dan was a wealthy man, with plenty of gold in his mine.

In Barkerville Town lived a dame of renown, by the name of Cariboo Lil
Whom Porcupine Pete often would treat, and the drinks were charged to his bill.
But Oregon Dan was a generous man, and paid for his drinks in dust
And he spoke of his love for the Barkerville dove, whose life was devoted to lust.

So things went along and Pete sang his song, and Lil played Oregon Dan
And rumour would roam that Pete lost his home, and Oregon Dan was the man.
But Pete didn't say he was wise to the play, that soon would shake up the town:
For Lil got the gold and Dan was out cold, in the joint where Lil won renown.

Porcupine Pete was up on the seat, of a stage that was outward bound
And safe in the boot was Lil's private loot, and Oregon Dan wasn't around.
So the stage rolled along to the sound of a song, a song of the cattle and sage
And the horses rejoiced in the rum laden voice, that sang to his love on the stage.





The Wheaton River

The river in flood flowed swiftly, dark was the overcast sky
Hidden from view were the depths, no sign where shallows would lie.
A prospector rode his horse, in the swift flowing water to cross
He was drowned and soon forgotten, there were few to mourn his loss.

Somewhere on the lonely river, a gravel bar is his tomb
A nameless mountain his monument, "overhead" the cry of the loon.
Song-birds will sing where he lies, wild-flowers in summer will bloom,
The snows of winter his shroud, silent and white beneath the moon.

Others will follow the trails, of those men of days gone by
And few will ever give thought, that in unmarked graves they lie.
All of them dream of wealth, a hope of Eldorado their pay
Hardships and poverty their due, their dreams but a rainbow's ray.

Forever in the lonely valley, the river will wend its way
Haunted by the ghosts of men, who seldom if ever struck pay
Their restless spirits will wander, through the hills till reckoning day
When paradise will take the place, of Eldorado and the Rainbow's ray.





The Throbbing Drum

The last of the Indian band
He waits the Manitou's call
To leave the silent land
And join his comrades all.

He beats the Tom Tom slowly
That thrilled the ancient foe
Who laid the Taltans lowly
When arrow sped from bow.

He thinks of the silent land
And of tales his mother told
When drums of hostile bands
Throbbed in the land of gold.

She told him of the strangers
With bearded faces pale
Who braved the hostile dangers
And travelled the Chilkoot trail.

His comrades wait for silence
They hear the throbbing drum
Far from mankinds violence
They wait for him to come.





The Whaler

I was bos'n on a Whaler, sailing out of Frisco Bay
But I left her in the Arctic, when Susie came my way.
An Arctic belle was Susie, her clothes had fancy tucks
Like a battle-ship in dry-dock, she filled her mukaluks

Her face was flat and homely, and snuff she loved to chew
But when she sailed her Kayak, her stuff she surely knew.
She had no table manners, but her belch was quite genteel
For her graces were related, to the Walrus and the Seal.

She took me to her village, to be safe from whaling crews
And there I met her Papa, and fat Mama Oo ga loo.
Her Mama was a genius, whose art was pass the buck
When she held all the aces, and I was out of luck.

But Susie was no slacker, and her needle rose and fell
Thank God she was a tailor, for the Arctic cold is hell
With a Parka out of dreamland, and art in Mukaluks
Her calfskin bag of Caribou, was worth a hundred bucks.

Though the years have passed away, I n'er regret the day
That I left the Frisco Whaler, and shipped the Kayak way.
The Cache is full of ivory, and fur is stacked like hay
Whilst out upon the Tundra, the yelling grand-childs play.





The Mission Cowboys

Where Tagish Pass lies smiling, in the Yukon summer sun
You can hear the childrens voices, as they romp and play in fun.
There is pasture in the valley, and a creek flows through the land.
They have plenty grass and water, for their Circle Diamond Brand.

The Diamond's but a dream ranch, for riders young and gay
Who roam the rolling ranges, where their cattle love to stray.
When Diamond cows are stolen, and bad men strut and pose
The Sheriff rides the ranges,where the Carcross river flows.

They have no boots and saddles, or spurs to stomp their way
Like cowboys who ride broncos, that buck on roundup day
But when they ride the ranges, a game they love to play
They sing their songs like cowboys, with a Ye I Yippe I Ya.

And girls sing the cowboy songs, as guitars they sweetly play
For they to ride the ranges, with a Ye I Yippe I ya.
They would love to roam the prairies, and hear the cattle low
For the ghostly herd is silent, where the Carcross River flows.

When its moonlight in the valley, and shadows refuge seek
The Diamond cows lie bedded, where Mission cowboys sleep
And a rider sings in dreamland, his voice is sweet and low.
He is singing to the cattle, where the Carcross River flows.





The Prospector

On Lake Bennett's lonely shore
Where the south wind piles the surf
There's a tale in the Indian lore
Of a white man bearded and rough.

He crossed the coastal range
From the Chilcat Indians' land,
His ways and actions strange
To the braves of the Taltan band.

He talked the Chinook language
And the Taltans understood
What he wanted was safe passage
And a canoe to carry his food.

He said he came from a village
Where the bitter water's flow
And fireboats made the passage
To this place he called Juneau

He told the braves of gold in rocks
And many creeks he panned
He paid no heed to wild game flocks
That were spread all o'er the land.

Soon he followed the water
That flowed to unknown lands
Where roamed the beaver and otter
And hostile Indian bands.

Of him there is no record,
Only a Taltan Indian tale,
And death was the only reward
For those lonely men who fail.

The first of untold thousands
On Bennett Lake to sail
Who came from distant lands
And travelled the Yukon Trail.





The Gunman

When men did slay in a fast gunplay, along the frontier towns
Bill Dougherty's gun a record won, and his knife held great renown.
No tears were shed for eight men dead, with their boots on they had died.
Their lives they gave for boothill graves, and only widows cried.

In Bodie town a man went down, before his blazing gun.
By the gunman's code on the Mother lode, the deed was neatly done.
In Butte one night in a barroom light, with a knife two men he killed
As six-gun slugs at his body tugged, and his boots with blood were filled.

His gun did speak at Cripple Creek, in Colorado State,
And he took his share of gunman's fare, and raised the state death rate
Of men found dead and filled with lead, in the roaring gold mine town
There were none to say Bill went astray, and in ambush they went down.

In Coeur d'Alene his gun did flame, and another man went down
For a double-cross and a dance hall loss, that shook up Wallace Town
His gun was law where fast men draw, and marshals gave him room
For they had to kill if they fought with Bill, or they would meet their doom.

The old west gone where gunmen shone, he roamed a quieter land -
An aged man who had never ran, his record showed his sand.
In Alaskan land was life's last stand, and peaceful death in bed
And the holstered gun under armpit slung, was shed when he was dead.





Forgotten Trails

I dream of the days when new was the blaze,
On the trails that I used to know,
Where men that were brave lie moulding in graves.
And wait for the trumpets to blow.
No dog ever wails on the forgotten trails.
Where the moose and the caribou roam
And fires never gleam where men used to dream,
Of folks in the ancestral home.

There were sourdoughs I knew who loved the home-brew,
And some they would howl with delight;
And strangers would dream that our souls were unclean.
But they never were there that night
In the shadow of the pole where the far oceans roll,
Died the mate of the bark "Eskimo" -
And our tears they were shed for a woman unwed,
And a child where the whalemen go.

There often was strife in the sourdough's life
And bullets at times they would fly;
When a claim it was staked and stole by a rake,
Whose gun was his sole alibi;
Then a tree would be found with a limb that was sound.
If the rake he was slated to die,
And a noose that was neat would pick up his feet,
As a volley rolled out to the sky.

The dance hails were gay where we coppered the play,
And the tables were laden with gold
And fortunes were won where a marble was spun,
Or lost where the ivories rolled.
The dames of the dance were queens of romance,
And miners would fall for their guile;
And lovers would dream of their dance hall queen.
And gold at the altar would pile.

The future will dream of camps that have been,
And of trails that I used to know
Where the lone wolf howls to the boot of an owl,
And white lies the mantle of snow;
And the moon it will shine till the end of our time,
When the stars of night are aglow
On the graves 'neath the pines where no preacher said lines,
For the soul of the old sourdough.








A hi-resolution scan of this volume of "Ballads of the Northwest" can be downloaded from our Public directory at Dropbox (4.9 MB).