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Reports from the Klondyke, 1897

Arctic & Northern History

Dateline: October 28, 2020.

The Catholic Sentinel, September 19, 1897

>Reports from the Klondyke, 1897

    OTTER POINT, B. C., Sept. 10 - The steamer Cleveland has arrived from St. Michaels, bringing with her from the gold fields a story of distress and disaster. The miners she had on board and the officers in charge of the ship tell a story of disorder and distress at Dawson.

    Winter has set in at the mining city of the frozen north and the two great stores of the place have closed their doors for they have nothing to sell. Those who have been seeking gold must now seek for food or starve.

    While there may be a tendency to exaggerate the actual condition of affairs, there can be no question that famine threatens all venturous men and women who made their way to the Klondike.

    Hundreds of unruly spirits are flocking to Dawson. Threats of violence are being made on every side. Indignation meetings heavy with murmured threats of vengeance have been held at St. Michaels by those who see no hope of advancing up the river, and less of getting back to civilization.

    The first signs of winter are apparent on the river which is beginning to freeze and in a few weeks will be closed against all navigation. Enormous prices are now being paid for food at Dawson and it is impossible that more than four vessels with provisions can reach Dawson before the river freezes.

    A mishap has come to the Excelsior and from the frozen north comes the story of another disaster in which 42 men lost their lives.

    On the Cleveland are 38 passengers who have come from Dawson City. There are a few miners in this party that are able to tell of prosperity. Most of them wish to exaggerate their possessions and if one were to believe the highly colored stories they tell he would say the treasure ship with which they come carried $500,000.

    Captain Hall, of the Cleveland, says he has $100,000 in his safe. The purser believes he can account for $150,000 on board. The Cleveland left St. Michaels August 19. The Cleveland has some passengers of the P. B. Weare on board.

    The Weare left Dawson in time to connect with the Portland, had she not met with a mishap and stuck on the flats above Circle City.

    They report that July 25 the stores of the Alaska Commercial company and the North American Trading company closed their doors and announced that they had no more food to sell.

    When the announcement was made consternation seized upon the people of Dawson with gold seekers crowding in at the rate of 20 to 30 a day.

    Drunkenness and disorder, gambling and idleness were rampant.

    At St. Michaels the condition of affairs also causes greatest concern. There are not enough structures in town to accommodate the crowd and scores of people are living in tents.

    Shortly before the Cleveland left St. Michaels two of the expeditions, those of the Nation City and of the coast, held indignation meetings threatening dire vengeance upon those who had brought them there and then were unable to carry them further.

    On August 26 the Excelsior left St. Michaels with a large number of miners and a large quantity of gold. Reports were current that her treasure amounted to $1,000,000.

    Soon after leaving St. Michaels the Excelsior was caught on the dangerous flats of the Yukon and broke two blades of her propeller.

    When the Cleveland reached Ounalaska she found the Excelsior undergoing repairs. It is probable she left Ounalaska last Monday.

    Shortly before the Cleveland left for Puget Sound on her journey home, the United States cutter Bear put into St. Michaels to tell another story of death and disaster in the ice bound Arctic. The Bear had on board Captain Whitehead, his wife, first and fourth officers and four seamen of the steam whaler Nevach [should be Navarch]. They are all that remain to tell a terrible story of death in the Arctic.

    The Nevach was caught in an ice pack. Of her crew 43 were lost. Thirty-one were crushed in the ice and frozen to death. Tho Bear saw the vessel's signals of distress near Point Barrow and went to her assistance. The captain, his wife, two officers and four seamen were afraid to leave the crippled ship, but nine others positively refused to go. They were left in a desolate field of ice and it is feared perished with their comrades.

    The terrible tale of suffering told by Captain Whiteside and his officers forms but an incident in the story.

    It was believed after she had left St. Michaels she was to learn no more of the Klondike, its dangers and disasters, but the Cleveland had hardly gone 35 miles when she passed a vessel that told of evils to come, of dangerous spirits, ready for any outrage of excited and angry men who have left a black record on the coast on their own pathway to the Yukon.

    The Cleveland and Humboldt had met and stories of the abandoned adventurers she is conveying to the gold fields were sent back to the world.

    When the Humboldt stopped at Unalaska on the journey to St. Michaels, the passengers were in open rebellion. They began to realize it would be impossible for them to reach Dawson before next spring and they knew misery awaited them at St. Michaels.

    There were open threats against W. D. Wood, organizer and manager of the expedition, and it is feared that he may lose his life at the hands of the passengors.

    Captain Hall, master of the Cleveland says: "Two facets should not be forgotten when we tell anything of the Klondike. It is impossible, I think, to exaggerate the richness of the country, and it is quite impossible to overestimate the dangers and prospective disasters at Dawson."