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Wilderness Graves on the Route to the Klondike

by Murray Lundberg


    One of the things that has always made the Yukon "The Land of Magic & Mystery" for me is that there are ghosts everywhere. And the ghosts aren't hiding particularly, they're right out there for anyone who wanders the backcountry to meet. Living in Carcross, the ghosts of the Klondike stampeders have been most visible to me through their graves, which are situated in various remote locations around the Southern Lakes. Here are some of the people who dreamed of golden riches, but only got as far as the southern Yukon.

Luc Richard & Thomas A. Barnes
Jonas Fred Whitcomb, Jr.
R. Saunders


Luc Richard & Thomas A. Barnes

    These two men were drowned when they fell through rotten ice on Lake Bennett on May 10, 1898. They were buried on a high knoll on the largest island in the group of islands at the British Columbia - Yukon border. It is now accessible only by boat from Carcross, although at low water the island is joined to the mainland by a sandbar. The article below from The Caribou Sun, Volume 1, No. 1, describes the accident and burial.


Masthead of the Caribou Sun, Volume 1, No. 1

TWO MEN DROWNED


Lue Richard and Thomas A. Barnes
meet With Death in Lake Bennett


      Last Tuesday a serious accident took place near the Island about midway of Lake Bennett which resulted in the death by drowning of Lue Richard and Thos. A. Barnes. They with O. S. Felton and H. M. Buck were on their way to Bennett with Richard's dog team for supplies. When near the island the party became alarmed at the poor condition of the ice and started toward the shore when the ice gave way; Richard at once sank to the bottom but Barnes hung on to the ice for about ten minutes and made a gallant stuggle for life, but sank for the last time when the rescueing party had almost reached him. The accident was seen from the shore by a number of Yukoners who rendered all aid possible and succeeded in rescueing Messrs. Felton and Buck, who lay flat on a small patch of white ice which barely sustained them. The dog team and sled were lost. All valuables on the bodies were recovered. The body of Mr. Richard was recovered the next day, but the searching party did not find the remains of Mr. Barnes until the day following. A reward of fifty dollars was paid for the recovery of the bodies.

      The funeral took place on Friday afternoon when Mr. C. A. Walsh read the Episcopal burial service and a choir sang Rock of Ages and Nearer My God to Thee. A very large attendance of men and a number of ladies were present and contributed a profusion of wild flowers . The burial took place on the island about forty feet from the water line among a garden of wild roses. Headstones were placed on the graves properly inscribed and a picket fence will enclose the Island's first cemetery.

      Mr. Richard was about thirty-eight years of age, of French descent, and came here from Frenchtown, Montana, in company with Will P. Brayton, Mike Beaulieu and Charles Bouchard also of Montana.

      Thos. A. Barnes was about thirty-five years of age, an Englishman by birth, whose residence was in Axtell, Kan. He was a member of the Iowa-Alaska Mining company who are in camp here.



The grave of Luc Richard and Thomas A. Barnes, who died in 1898 en route to the Klondike goldfields
This photo, looking south, was taken
at 6:15 AM on August 7, 2003.
The grave of Luc Richard and Thomas A. Barnes, who died in 1898 en route to the Klondike goldfields
This photo, looking south, was taken
at 8:30 AM on August 7, 2003.


Jonas Fred Whitcomb Jr.

    "Fred" Whitcomb was born on May 17, 1873 at Keene, New Hampshire, the son of Jonas Fred Whitcomb Sr. and his wife. He had one brother, Charles, and seven sisters.

    In February 1898, he left Concord, New Hampshire with a group of men including Frank Barker from Keene, NH, headed for the Klondike. In California, they joined a larger party.

    In May 1898, Whitcomb and A. P. White, of Houghton, Massachsetts, went ahead to clear a trail from Tutshi Lake to Windy Arm. On the 25th, while leaning over to start a rock rolling down the hill (possibly during a hunting excursion), Whitcomb's revolver slipped out of its holster and fell to the ground, discharging it. The bullet hit Whitcomb in the chest, killing him immediately.

    On May 27th, he was buried in a Masonic ceremony at the south end of Windy Arm. His father sent a brass plaque for the grave, and it was mounted on a piece of slate. His death was briefly reported in the July 2, 1898, edition of The Klondike Nugget.

    There appears to have been two other burials beside Whitcomb - right beside on the left is a slate marker with "H. M. H." chiselled into a piece of slate by the same hand as the initials "J. F. W. Jr." on the back of Whitcomb's slate marker, while several feet to the right is an apparent exhumation. The 1898 diary of Stewart L. Campbell reports that on Monday, May 9th, 1898, "a Mrs. Howe [was] buried at end of lake. 72 years old", and on May 15, "3 men drowned around the point." He also reports that he took a photos of the graves at the south end of the lake, so the deaths he reports are possibly related to this site.

    The graves are accessed from the South Klondike Highway - there is lots of room to park at the south end of Windy Arm . There is no trail, and you have to wade across two creeks (waist deep at mid-summer water levels) and crash through the forest to avoid lakeshore cliffs.

The grave of Jonas Fred Whitcomb Jr., who died in 1898 en route to the Klondike goldfields
The location of Whitcom's grave is marked by the arrow.
The grave of Jonas Fred Whitcomb Jr., who died in 1898 en route to the Klondike goldfields
Whitcomb's grave is marked by a low piece of slate with brass plate.

The grave of Jonas Fred Whitcomb Jr., who died in 1898 en route to the Klondike goldfields
The brass plate on Whitcom's grave.

To the right is the presumed exhumation.

The grave of Jonas Fred Whitcomb Jr., who died in 1898 en route to the Klondike goldfields


R. Saunders

    Mr. Saunders is, so far, largely a mystery man - all I've been able to find out about him is a brief mention in the 1899 North West Mounted Police report, stating that he died of natural causes on June 21, 1899. Note that his headboard states that he died in May, and I got an email from a man who had met Mr. Saunders' son some 30+ years ago in Calgary, and he believed that his father died in a boating accident. Saunders clearly had either some very good friends or a family wealthy enough to afford to hire this level of grave construction. Note that the headboard and fence may have been installed long after a rough initial burial.

    The inscription carved into a piece of marble inset into his headboard states simply that he died in May 1899, at the age of 39. His grave is located on the west shore of Lake Bennett, about a mile north of the mouth of the Wheaton River. It is accessible only by boat from Carcross.

The grave of R. Saunders, who died in 1898 en route to the Klondike goldfields
A general view of Saunders' grave.

Right - the marble insert in the headbboard.

The grave of R. Saunders, who died in 1898 en route to the Klondike goldfields

The grave of R. Saunders, who died in 1898 en route to the Klondike goldfields
The sawn top of a corner post.

Right - the location of the grave is shown by the arrow. This view is to the south.

The grave of R. Saunders, who died in 1898 en route to the Klondike goldfields