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Captain D. C. Bayse - An Alaska Cave, 1899

Arctic & Northern Biographies

Northern Ships and Shipping

The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) - Friday, October 13, 1899


The Discovery Made by a Skipper Ice-Bound on the Yukon

From the New York Sun.

    Capt. D. C. Bayse of the Yukon river steamer Oil City was one of the skippers caught midway between Dawson and St. Michael by the freezing of the Yukon last October. He spent the winter hunting and exploring, often making long trips into the interior from the steamer. On one of these trips he had an exciting bear hunt and discovered traces of ancient Alaskan history that may prove valuable when properly investigated.

    "The beginning of last winter on the Yukon found the stern-wheel steamer Oil City midway between Dawson and St. Michael with a big cargo of oil on board," he said to the Sun correspondent. "There were unmistakable signs of an early closing of the stream. In consequence I ran the steamer into a short but deep stream that flows into the Yukon opposite the Russian mission. We got everything in good order before the river finally closed on October 15.

    "It was a case of killing time until the river opened, six months later, and there were few ways of doing it. Hunting was not good, as game was scarce, but we had no choice. A few white grouse now and then, a large white rabbit or a red fox were about the only targets that presented themselves on an ordinary day's hunt. My companion on these trips was usually Lin Que, the Americanized Chinese steward of the steamer. Lin had cut off his queue and was a good Baptist. Moreover, he was fond of hunting and did not mind carrying the heavy pack of provisions that sudden changes in Alaskan weather made necessary to have at hand always.

    "About midwinter we decided on a longer trip than usual. After a hard morning's travel over the snow we finally made the crest of a low range of white sandstone hills. From the marks of wear on their straight, white sides, where one could see through the snow, I judged that they had once been washed by a mighty river. We made a detour for the purpose of reaching a higher ridge of the same kind of rock, and finally found ourselves in a sort of cove entirely shut off by rocks, except for the entrance which we had made use of. While I was resting Lin went out on a private prospecting trip. I was soon aroused by hearing him call.

    "Captain! Captain! Come 'long quick; heapy hole in rock!"

    "I found him peering fnto what I took to be the entrance to a bear or fox den. I asked Lin how far he had gone in and he replied about twenty feet, but that it was too dark to see anything. I told him we had not lost any bears or wild animals in the cave, and did not care to look for one in so dangerous a place. Giving the Chinaman my revolver with which to back me up, I fired my Winchester several times into the cave. The report sounded like a cannon, and I waited patiently for the appearance of some wild animal. Nothing came out and we decided to go in.

    "After clearing away some of a fresh rock slide that almost blocked the entrance and making an improvised torch, we entered the hole cautiously. With Lin in advance, we crawled some six feet and found ourselves in a sort of room. It was about twenty feet square, with a high rock in the center which had evidently been used as a table. On the north side was a crude sort of fireplace. Going further back, we noticed the entrance to a somewhat larger chamber.

    "We had no sooner entered this than I saw six balls of fire glaring out of the darkness directly ahead. Lin moved his light to one side, and by its glare I saw a monster form rise and come toward me with a rush. The beast was almost upon me before I remembered the Winchester. I raised the weapon, and with no aim at all pulled the trigger. As luck would have it, I killed the bear.

    "In the excitement I lost sight of Lin, who was having a touch of excitement on his own account. He, too, had seen balls of fire approaching. He took one hurried shot with his revolver, but fired low, and hit the bear that was making for him in the loin. He threw away the gun, and, whipping out his long cooking knife, prepared for a hand-to-hand struggle. His opponent, a half-grown bear, was on him in an instant. The pair rolled over and over. Whenever Lin was on top he plunged his big knife in to the hilt. I could not shoot, as the Chinaman and the bear were too mixed up. The Chinaman finally won out, but not until the flesh about his arms and limbs had been badly torn. The other cub was easily killed. We decided to return to the boat that night and send Lin and our dog drivers after the meat the next day.

    "As soon as the arctic sky indicated a stretch of good weather Lin and I started out to investigate our discovery. We hauled two days' rations, an oil stove and blankets on a sled and found the cave with little trouble. The day was very cold and we were very tired after our five hours' trip. Lin soon had a refreshing dinner ready, which he served on the ancient stone table. It was while smoking my pipe after this meal that I chanced to notice the peculiar drawings on the walls, which made our discovery most interesting.

    "After carefully brushing off the wall with some hay that we wore inside our Arctic socks, a carefully drawn panorama which I judged to be the history of the people who occupied the cave in former times, was disclosed. The first scene drawn in red on the white sandstone, was very plain. It showed three small boats with three people in each, putting out on a stormy sea from a rugged coast. On the shore stood a crowd of people waving farewell. About three feet further along was another drawing in which the same three boats figured. The boats had evidently crossed the sea and were landing on a low shore. Between the pictures were drawings of whales, walrus and seals. The third drawing was four feet from the second and showed the three boats coming up a wide river.

    "After examining these scenes closely Icame to the conclusion that the natives had crossed Bering sea and come up either the Yukon or Kuskokwim river. Or it is quite probable that the Yukon once flowed along the bluffs in the side of which we found the cave, and entered the sea by the passage now known as the Kuskokwim river. The map shows a low flat country between the two rivers, with a chain of lakes that empty into the Yukon, and that are fed by a small river during the high water season. This river is called the Talobaksok, and is but sixty miles distant.

    "Further investigation showed other sketches, of the chase after buffalo, deer, bear and moose. The hunters always appeared with dogs and canoes. In none of the sketches was there any indication of sleds or snow. This led me to wonder if the Yukon country at that time had the same terrible winters it now has. It seems strange that the ancient historian would forget the cold winters when he was so accurate in putting in other details.

    "Investigation of the inner room proved equally interesting. It had undoubtedly been cut out years before, and had a concave roof. The walls were very smooth. Three bunks had been cut into the sandstone walls. They were shaped like canoes, and the rock above had been hewn out in the shape of a half moon. The bunks were all on one side, and measured five by two and a half feet. The walls were elaborately carved. There were monsters of the sea and strange-looking animals. A compass and a square, quarter moon and a number of stars decorated one side of the room. In one corner we found a deep, well-like hole that had evidently been used as a reservoir for storing water at one time.

    "Near this we found a Chinese coin with a square hole in the center. It was different from the ordinary Chinese cash. Lin had never seen anything like it before, and said it must be very old. I will have it examined by authorities on such matters and see if it will not give some clue to the ancient inhabitants of the Northland. In one corner of the room lay a pile of bones. I believed them to be from some human being, but could not tell for certain.

    "Both the Chinaman and myself saw spooks in our sleep that night. Lin dreamed that a band of wild Chinese were after him for cutting off his queue. I imagined that we were smothering in the cave. When we finally got ready to leave the next morning we found the entrance to the cave blocked by a snow slide. We cut our way out with difficulty."

Yukon River sternwheeler Oil City at Dawson ca. 1899

Sternwheeler Oil City at Dawson ca. 1899. Yukon Archives #4037