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Klondike River, 1898

(from Johnson's Cyclopaedia, 1898, pages 143-145)


    KLONDIKE, THE, a river in the Northwest Territories, Canada, about which gold has been discovered. This stream is a tributary of Alaska’s largest river, the Yukon, and was called by the Indians Throndink, which means "river full of fish." It is a small, shallow stream about 40 yards wide at the mouth, with clear blue water, in which salmon is abundant. The Indian name has been corrupted by the miners into Klondike, which is now the accepted name of the river and the region around it. The basin of the Yukon has about 192,000 square miles, or nearly three times the size of the New England States. Discoveries of gold have been made in many parts of the basin of the Yukon, which lies partly in Alaska and partly in Canada, though the richest finds have been on British ground.

    The first white people who made their way into the interior of Alaska went there in the interest of the Hudson Bay Company. It is believed that they knew of the existence of gold in that country, though they did not suspect the richness of the deposits, and, because miners would have disturbed the animals from whose furs the Hudson Bay Company received a large revenue, they said nothing about the precious metal. In 1840 Mr. Campbell began exploration of the upper Liard and Pelly rivers, but, being told that farther on he would encounter cannibals, he turned home again.

    Fort Yukon, a post of the Hudson Bay Company, was established in 1847 at the head of Porcupine river; but it had to be moved, as it was found to be Russian (now United States) soil. Another post - Fort Selkirk - was established a year later at the confluence of the Pelly and Lewes rivers, but it was demolished by the Indians in 1852.

    In 1867 a steamer of the Hudson Bay Company picked up a wounded man who was drifting in a canoe near Stockade Point. He said his name was Culver, that he had had two partners, one of whom had been killed by the Indians, and that he had discovered gold, and he showed some in proof of his assertion. A party of people at Port Townsend set out in a steamer, the "Louisa Downs," with Culver to guide tbem to the place of his discovery; but when they reached Taku his wits seemed to have deserted him, and when he was threatened with death he quite lost his reason. Returning to Sitka, he died there a few years later, and before dying said to his friends that there was gold where he had been, and some day it would be found again.

    Gold was discovered in British Columbia. in the Cassiar districts, in 1873. The Yukon region was entered by miners in 1882, the entrance being made by the ‘Taiya pass. Several explorers entered central Alaska in the early ‘80’s, and placer mining was carried on with much success on the Stewart, Lewes, Pelly, Hootalinga, and upper Yukon rivers. On the Stewart in 1886 about 40 miners were washing gold, the highest earning of one man being $6,000. The first real excitement in the Yukon country took place in 1887, when Forty-mile creek was discovered and coarse gold was first found. News of this was brought out by Tom Williams, a messenger, who brought letters for the post trader, and who lost his life as a consequence of the hardships of the journey. In the spring of 1888 mining on Forty-mile creek began, and now nearly all accessible gold has been got out, but rich bars remain to be worked when there are greater facilities.

    Birch creek has, next to the Klondike, the richest placer diggings yet found in that region, and consequently the second richest in the world. These were first worked in 1894; and Mastodon, Greenhorn, Independence, Deadwood, and Eagle creeks, all tributaries of the Birch, promise rich rewards to the explorer. In fact, the whole valley of the Yukon and its affluents is a gold-bestrewed region.

    Gen. Duffield, of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, says: "The gold has been ground out of the quartz by the pressure of glaciers, which lie and move along the courses of the streams, exerting at all times a tremendous pressure. The force is present to a more appreciable extent in Alaska than elsewhere; and I believe that, as a consequence, more placer gold will be found in that region than in any other part of the world. When gold is precipitated it sinks; it does not float far downstream. It is therefore to be looked for along the small creeks and about the head waters of the larger tributaries of the Yukon. There is no reason why as rich finds may not be made on the American side of the line as in the Klondike region.

    It is true that the small streams are the ones found to be rich in gold, which is generally at the bottom of thick gravel deposits. But the ground is not of equal richness, and the gold of this northern region has in combination more of the baser metals - iron, silver, and lead - than the gold of California, Yukon gold being worth $17 to $18 to the ounce, while that of California is worth $1 more.

    After Williams's news there was a rush made for Gastinaux channel. Claims were staked out on Gold creek, and a town was established which was named Juneau - after one of the men who first explored the region.

    Cook’s inlet, 600 miles west of Sitka, was rumored to be a gold region, and in 1895 many persons searched there in vain for wealth. Later, rock and gold placers were reported to be in the same vicinity, and Cook’s inlet became again the resort of miners. Few of these work for wages, and some claims yield $10 to $40 daily.

    The Klondike district consists of the valley of the river of that name, which flows westward into the Yukon, and extends 30 miles south to Indian river, also flowing into the Yukon. Midway between Klondike and Indian rivers is a hill called the Dome, and streams flow into them from the height of land between. Bonanza, 23 miles long, Bear, and Hunker creeks are tributaries of the Klondike, Eldorado of Bonanza, and Gold Bottom of Hunker. Quartz creek, No Name, and Dominion flow into Indian river. More than 500 locations have been made on this river, but it has been found very difficult to take provisions up to it.

    The head waters of the Klondike are unknown, though explorers have ascended it 150 miles, and find it there still larger than a brook. The region is mountainous and very rugged, and is covered with a heavy growth of spruce, birch, and poplar.

    The earliest reports of the wealth of the KIondike were from Indians, and a white man, George W. Carmack, located the first claim in August, 1896, on Bonanza creek. Here three men washed out $14,200 in eight days. Later one claim yielded $65.30 to the pan. On Eldorado $100, and then $280, to the pan was taken. A pan is two shovelfuls, and while miners consider dirt containing 5 cents to the shovelful, if three feet deep, is rich soil, in these creeks $1 to the pan is thought small. A nugget worth $583.25 was found on Eldorado.

    William Ogilvie, Dominion land surveyor, has been making a topographical survey of the British possessions on the Klondike. A census made by him of the production shows that 23 claims yielded $826,000. He estimates that $79,000,000 will be produced by Bonanza, Eldorado, and Hunker creeks in three years.

    After Carmack’s discovery many left the Forty-mile creek and Circle City diggings for the new fields. Mining was apparently not so good there, for there are few diggings on the Klondike that can be worked by sluicing, as the gold-bearing strata lie from 5 to 20 feet under ground. One of the first miners, dissatisfied with his claim, which appeared to him unprofitable, sold it for $85. It was again sold for $31,000, and when worked by the third owner it yielded $130,000 in six weeks. A claim on the Eldorado was sold for $45,000, $5,000 to be paid on the day of sale, $15,000 a month later, and the remainder to be due six weeks after the second payment. The second payment was made four days early, and the third ten days. One miner, who considered that he had done "pretty well," had drifted a plat 24 by 14 feet, making $8,000 as the result of two months and a half of labor. Claim No. 9 on Eldorado has immediately above bed rock 3 or 4 inches of almost pure gold. An offer of $1,000,000 was made for 10 adjoining claims on this creek, but was declined. A claim is 500 feet long, measured in a straight line in the direction of the valley, and is the width of the bottom. Bench claims on Eldorado run 200 to 300 feet up the mountain. One of these paid $600 a day, with one man taking out material and one rocking. Good prospects have been found 400 and 500 feet above the bar.

    The ground here freezes solid, and only two feet of it thaws in summer. The miners build fires over the area where they wish to excavate, and when these have burned about twenty-four hours remove the softened muck, and then light fires again. In this way they sink a shaft to bed rock, and then tunnel by the same process. This method of mining is expensive, and not all claims are rich enough to pay the cost. Where the bed rock is smooth there is no gold, but where it is rough the gold is lodged. Often the shafts do not strike a pay streak. Unless the ground yields $15 a day to a man it is not profitable to work it, miners’ wages being $1.25 an hour, and the day six or seven hours long. When a shaft yields not more than 10 cents to the pan it is abandoned. About Dawson City the bed rock is a soft shale, and this is often worked to a depth of 2 or 3 feet. The material taken out is left in a heap until spring, when the torrents are flowing, and it is then panned and cradled.

    In the summner of 1897 there were only two traveled routes into the gold regions - one by Lynn Canal, Taiya pass, and descending the Yukon; the other by St. Michael, Alaska, and ascending the Yukon. There are now six principal routes by which to reach the Klondike: The second already mentioned; the Dalton trail from Haines’s Mission to Fort Selkirk; the Dyea, via Dyea to Lake Lindemann; the Skagway, via Skagway to Lake Lindemann, or Lake Bennett; the Taku river from Juneau to Lake Teslin; and the Stickeen to Lake Teslin, by way of Fort Wrangel. The Dalton is a fair trail for horses and cattle. The Dyea or Chilkoot pass has always been used by the Chilkat Indians, and all the early explorers entered the Northwest Territories by this pass. It is very hard to get ....
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