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Charles Engel and family in the Klondike, 1895-97

The Klondike Gold Rush

Arctic & Northern Biographies

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) - November 14, 1897

Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) - November 14, 1897

IN THE HEART OF THE YUKON. The Adventures of a Man With His Wife and Children, 1897.

Written for the Democrat and Chronicle.

    New York, Nov. 14. - Having been in the Yukon during the years preceding the recent rich strikes, and, with my wife and family, having participated in all the stirring scenes of the excitement attending the extensive gold discoveries, I feel that of all men I am best fitted to give advice to those who intend to join the throngs that will head for the Klondike in the spring.

    My first advice to the majority of these who are preparing to seek gold in Alaska, is precisely the same as Punch's famous advice to those about to marry - don't. To begin with generalities that are facts, it is certain that, for every dollar's worth of gold taken from the Alaskan mines, a dollar is spent. Some one must lose. A few are lucky and come out rich. It is a lottery in which, besides the element of luck, the ability of the gold seeker to work hard is the winning factor. There will be awful hardship among the people of Dawson City, and every town in the gold district. I came East because life with my family in such a starvation center became unbearable. And I had money and owned a paying claim. What then can become of the poor wretches who have been drawn to the loadstone rock by the magnetic influence of the yellow metal and find themselves in a region where the thermometer registers eighty below zero, without food, adequate clothing or money. When the snows of winter melt in the Yukon, bleaching bones will tell the story of how their dream of wealth ended.

    There is no escape from Yukon until the spring comes, and there is no admittance. The ice king has placed an impassable barrier around the gold district. Letters just received by me from the West state that all the boats are frozen in at various points along the Yukon river and will not be released until spring.

    To tell of all my interesting personal experiences in Yukon from the time when I landed in the Alaskan territory three years ago, until I brought my wife and family to New York and surprised the people in the assay office on Wall street by walking in on them with samples of Klondike gold, would require a great deal more space than that allotted me. There is one thing that I may be forgiven for telling with pride: I am the father of the first two white boys to be born in the Klondike gold district. I went to Alaska with my wife and two little ones, and returned with the addition of two to my family, both children having been Klondike babies.

    When I struck Yukon with my wife and children three years ago, I made for Glacier creek on British territory. I and a partner had a claim which didn't pay particularly well, and in order to add to the earnings I took a position as clerk to the North American Transportation and Trading Company. This was my employment when on June 28th George Carmack, one of the miners who had been grubbing along like the rest of us, took two Indians and struck up country in search of better paying dirt. He found it. George thought he was in unheard of luck when he turned over dirt worth $1.50 to the pan. What were his feelings when he located a claim where the dirt was worth $16 to the pan. George kept on climbing until he struck gold in such quantities that he got $1,200 worth in two weeks, the dirt having all been carried down a bank fifteen feet high by one of the Indians. Pretty soon rumors of George Carmack's luck reached us, and the stampede in the direction of what is now Dawson City, began.

    I was then with my family at Fort Cudahy, my wife and Mrs. Constantine, the wife of the captain of the Canadian police garrison, and Mrs. Strikland, the wife of the inspector, being the only white women there. My partner and I struck for the new-found fields and located claims. Now mark the peculiar fate that forced riches upon the new comers, the greenhorns and the tenderfeet who flocked to the Klondike at the first news of the strike, and left the experienced old hands to flounder along in a spot where only ordinary returns could be had from the miner's toil.

    When we old hands followed George Carmack's trail and reached the spot where he had located, we all jumped to the conclusion that he had hit the hub of the yellow wheel, and we clustered around him, naming the spot Bonanza creek and holding on jealously to our claims, totally unaware of the fact that a short distance away there was a tract of soil so laden with gold that in comparison to it our Bonanza mine was a delusion. Then came the rush, and every one crowded around us old miners and would have crowded us out, but we drove the intruders away. Finding only a cold welcome and no nuggets at the spot that was supposed to be the richest in the district, the newcomers took what they could get and struck for the small side gulches, and the creek they named El Dorado. It was from these claims that the big fortunes were taken; fortunes that we old hands, like the fools we were, had forced upon the newcomers. It is a fact that claim No. 31 in the El Dorado mine which sold last fall for $385, was resold for $31,000, $1,000 for each number in its denomination. Another claim that sold for a song is now held at $200,000, and innumerable instances could be given of similarly striking extraordinary rises in value.

    I remained at the gold fields long enough to see Dawson City rise in the wilderness like magic. The boss of Dawson City - and of the whole of the mining district on the Canadian side, for that matter, is Captain Constantine of the Canadian police. His word is law. He ruled with a rod of iron, but there was no murmuring. Women came to Dawson City with the first rush from the outside world, and some of them were not particularly scrupulous regarding their attire or morals. Captain Constantine, however, proved to be a Yukon Parkhurst. I have heard him order off the streets on penalty of arrest, a woman who ventured to appear outdoors in Dawson City wearing bloomers. One girl paraded around dressed in man's attire, but Captain Constantine quietly got after her and compelled ber to change her trousers for petticoats. According to the Northwest territorial law, only one saloon is allowed to 1,000 inhabitants, and certain hours must be observed for opening and closing. Captain Constantine saw that these restrictions were carried out.

    I am aware that there has been some talk in the newspapers of the miners of Dawson City resisting the fulfilment of the Canadian decrees regarding claims in the Yukon. It is all nonsense. In the first place the miners of the Yukon are all law-abiding citizens. There are none of the Brete Harte variety of men there and no one goes around bristling with bowie knives and revolvers, spoiling for some one to give them a fight. The miners know that behind the handful of police under Captain Constantine there is the whole military strength of the Dominion and they are not foolish enough to attempt any opposition to the carrying out of the law.

    During this time my wife and family of four children had been at Fort Cudahy, about forty miles away, where I had a log house comfortably fitted up. It would have been pleasant enough, and I should probably have stayed there this winter, but starvation seemed to face everyone. I had to buy condensed milk for my two Yukon babies. It cost me $1 a can and we used two cans a day. Flour cost $1 a pound. Moose hams were from $40 to $60 apiece, and bacon cost from $1 to $1.50 per pound. It was ruinous, so my wife and I decided to pack our belongings and come on to New York for the winter.

    Since reaching New York I have been bombarded with questions from friends and relatives who are anxious to try their luck in Alaska. So much nonsense has been written about the Klondike and so many erroneous ideas are abroad, that I intend to start an information bureau to prevent the mining district being overrun next spring by people who have no business to go there.

    I have my plans laid for returning to the country in the summer and together with a few others I am going to prospect on the American side of the gold country. We are building a boat of our own in Seattle and will have everything in shape by the spring. We call ourselves the Yukon Gold Dredging Company and I hope we shall have luck enough to justify the name.         CHARLES F. ENGEL