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A Trip to the Yukon, 1896: Part 2, Through Miles Canyon

Klondike Gold Rush

A Trip to the Yukon, 1896: Part 1, The Chilkoot Trail

The Pittsburg Daily Headlight (Pittsburg, Kansas) - December 23, 1896

A Trip to the Yukon

Some of the Experiences of Seekers
After Wealth in the Alaska Gold Fields

by J. H. Jones, Galena, Kansas.

    We have our boat finished and are ready to resume our journey to the Yukon.

    It is May 1, - A continual string of men, dogs and sleds are passing camp. We are not short of snow and ice having four feet of the former and six feet of the latter. While yon people in Kansas are wondering how you are going to pay your ice bill, we are burning cords of wood trying to melt enough snow to get drink.

    We have lashed our boat on our sleds and are starting for Ten Mile Lewis river, where we launch them in the first open water we find. The following day finds us, after twelve miles of hard sledding, at the head of the river, where twenty-five more boats are being calked and pitched, making ready for the trip. All conversation among the "tourists" is Box Canon and White Horse Rapids, all being anxious to pass these the most dangerous parts of the journey.

    Here we find a few men that can't agree. Men will even quarrel in Alaska, but it is not a picnic for the lawyers as such occurrences are in the states. It is an old Arabic axiom that if you want to know a man well you must eat a peck of salt with him. That's a good deal of salt and may be a good test, but let me tell you dear reader, that I don't believe anything will better analyze a man's disposition than a trip to the Yukon. Some quarrel about the cooking, some about one thing and another, but they all quarrel. You can't help it. With an atmosphere ranging from 25 to 50 degrees below zero, you've got to do something to keep warm and a little quarreling is the cheapest thing you can find on the trail.

    But the manner of settling some of the quarrels is as amusing as it is ridiculous. For instance, this is the way two "partners" settle their differences. All of the miners were called together (and their decision is final) and they were to divide the outfit. All went well until it came to the tent, camp stove and the balance of the camping outfit. Neither party would agree to sell to the other, so the articles were cut in two - tent, stove, whip-saw boat and all - and each party took half. Of course the stuff was useless, but the litigation was settled by a court from which there was no appeal.

    One fellow in the little band was caught in the act of stealing. He was made to sell all his outfit except enough grub to last him back to Dyea and told to travel. He traveled, and didn't wait for a second invitation.

    But we get away from the journey to the Yukon and must return. After a great deal of annoyance by the ice jam, causing us to lose considerable time, we arrive at the Grand Canon May 8, and make a flying shoot through the rapids.

    I would much prefer to try and give a description of this exciting experience than to demonstrate it by a second trial. For several miles above the canon the river has an average width of 250 yards, while at the canon the channel it is not more than 100 feet wide, cut through a mountain of solid granite formed into all manner of fantastic shapes. Imagine this vast body of water above crowded into the narrow channel described and you can form some conception of the velocity of the trip we are going to take.

    There are two rocks about twenty feet apart at the entrance of the canon between which you must pass, and let me tell you, if you ever think of taking this trip don't get outside of these rocks if you have any strong desire to return to the states.

    We land before entering the canon and get our bearings. It looks fully as bad as represented to us at the camp, and we think about the folks at home while we are lashing everything securely in our boats, and perhaps we think about some things we have done during our life which are not exactly right "on the square," but we don't say much - we take it out in thinking.

    We have made everything ready and take our positions in the boat. The line is hauled inand we make a plunge - perhaps into eternity, perhaps safely on our journey. Luck is with us and we pass safely between the two rocks which stand like sentinels to challenge our nerve and bid us bon voyage. In one mighty leap we are 300 yards belowand are in the boiling, seething mass of rushing waters.

    Here the river makes a slight bend and we launch forward like being shot out of a gun, with the breakers rolling twenty feet high and completely burying us in the trough of the current. We hold our breath as we leap and plunge ahead, wondering if we will be in the boat when it comes up or in the bottom of the river. But she rises like a fish duck, and giving herself a shake like a dog, we again plunge wildly down the stream, but in comparative safety, and venture to draw a long breath and laugh. Our boat has stood the test and we are in smoother water, but still running at a three minute gait.

    Ths canon is one mile from start to finish and it only takes from three to four minutes to make the "shoot."

    One boat containing four men and their outfits struck on the rocks at the entrance. The men barely escaped alive, but they had no more boat, tent or cook stove "than a rabbit." Two other boats capsized in the canon but the occupants hung onto the boats like leeches and came through alright though they lost all their outfits. When we pulled the men out of the river below the rapids two of them were almost insane.

    Three miles below the canon you strike White Horse rapids and a stranger would not know when he enters them but for a friendly sign saying "Danger, stop."

    We are following a man by the name of Chas. Seastrand, who has made the perilous trip before. He shouts "White Horse, save yourselves." Our boat with two others following close behind, try to make a landing but the ice will not permit, and we are in for it, and prepare for the worst. The boat strikes against rocks which threaten to demolish it every second.

    We plunge along for 100 yards when we see ahead of us an ice jam which completely blockades the river. To strike this means sure destruction to both boat and occupants. We have no time to think or discuss what is the best thing to do. We plunge out into the river, which is not deep, and exert every muscle and every nerve to save our boats and outfits. By almost supreme strength we manage to pull our boat out of the current and into safety.

    We are not scared, oh, no. The cold sweat stands out on us and it is about five minutes before we have any desire to speak to one another.

    Old-timers say our chances for coming out safe was not one in a thousand but "men that are born to be hung are not going to be drowned" and we are safe from White Horse rapids.

[To be continued.]

A Trip to the Yukon, 1896: Part 3, From White Horse down the Yukon River