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The Upper Yukon River in 1897

Arctic & Northern History

New-York Daily Tribune, Sunday, January 24, 1897


    A recent report of the Geological Survey officially confirms the stories of the last few years about rich gold fields along the Yukon River. As long ago as 1865 some of the Hudson Bay Company's men found small quantities of the precious metal on the Pelly River and other tributaries of the Yukon, but no attempt was made to follow up the discovery.

    George Holt, in 1878, found gold along the Hootalinqua River. Two years later a prospecting party went from Sitka, by way of Chilkoot Pass and the lakes, down Lewis River to the Hootalingua, but found little. In 1884 and 1885, however, work was begun in earnest and with profitable results on the Hootalinqua, Pelly, Stewart and other rivers, and in the fall of 1880 the centre of interest was transferred to the Yukon itself by the discovery of gold at Forty Mile Post.

    Since that date progress has been steady, and several million dollars worth of gold has been taken out by American miners, besides a probably equal amount secured by Canadians. The present report declares the existence of auriferous deposits along the Yukon and its tributaries from Forty Mile Creek, on the boundary line between Alaska and Canada, down to the Ramparts, 300 miles below. How far the field extends into British territory is not known, unless to Canadian prospectors, nor how far westward beyond the Ramparts. That it does extend a considerable distance in both those directions is highly probable, as also that it includes the valley of the great Tannanah River, which joins the Yukon below the Ramparts and which has never yet heen explored.

    Entrance is had to this region from Juneau chiefly by way of Chilkoot Pass, which latter affords the shortest cut, though at an elevation of a thousand feet or more above White and Taku passes, in the same region. All of these passes lead directly into British territory. After crossing the mountains the route is along a remarkable series of long, narrow lakes forming the upper part of the Lewis River. These, with the connecting links of river, are navigable, though with some difficulty. They are subject to furious storms and rapids abound in the narrow parts.

    The Lewis finally leads to a junction with the Pelly River, and thenceforward the united stream is known as the Yukon. Nearly 200 miles below the junction the boundary line is crossed, and thereafter the river flows through Alaskan soil. The route as deseribed leads across British soil from the crest of Chilkoot Pass to Forty Mile Post, a distance of something more than 600 miles. This fact explains the circumstance, over which something of a bother was raised a year ago, of mails being carried between two points on United States soil, namely, Juneau and Forty Mile Post, by British agents. They had to be thus carried, as the route lay across British territory; just as British mails from Nova Seotia to Ontario, if sent straight across through New-England, must be carried by United States carriers.

    One of these days, no doubt, there will be a route to the gold fields exclusively on United States soil, by way of the Atna or Copper River. This will afford a very short cut across the Alaska coast range to the headwaters of the Tannanah River, and thence to the Yukon.

    Some ill-advised talk being heard, now and then, about the disputed boundary and England's attempt to grab the gold fields, it may be well to repeat that no such attempt has been made, and that no such dispute exists. There is not and never has been the slightest question as to the boundary line of that part of Alaska. It is the 141st meridian of longitude west from Greenwich, and is no more to be disputed than is the position of the Equator. All that is necessary is that the two governments should send a joint commission thither, to mark the line with mathematical accuracy. It is merely a problem in geometry, that is all, and is to be solved not by armies, nor by diplomats, but by civil engineers.

    There is a disputed Alaskan boundary, it is true, but it is five hundred miles away from the gold fields. Upon its determination depends the width of the strip of coast land, from Mount St. Elias down to Dixon Entrance, which shall belong to the United States. The dispute is chiefly concerning the lower 150 miles, from Fort Tongass to Port Wrangel, and involves the ownership of Revilla Gigedo and some smaller islands, and the whole Tongass peninsula. It is now in way of settlement, and if the settlement is not favorable to the United States that will be largely because the Washington Government has not, during the last three years, enabled its agents to make as careful a survey and secure as much evidence for their side as the British have done.

    The Government ought to be convinced by this time that Alaska is a territory worth developing. It is by no means improbable that it will one day rank with California, Australia and South Africa as a land of gold. That it contains fine marble and other valuable stones in enormous quantities is well known, and large deposits of excellent coal have also been discovered. Its wealth in timber is incalculable, while its fisheries and furrieries are unsurpassed in the world. The climate is not to be described as delightful; it is cold in winter and hot in summer; and there are miasmatic swamps, and mosquitoes that would put Staten Island and New-Jersey to shame. Nevertheless, it is not nearly as bad as it has often been represented

    When once the country is properly surveyed, and good transportation routes established, it will surely become a favorite resort of tourists and sportsmen, while from the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms it may be expected to repay its purchase price every year, and perhaps far more. It may prove an El Dorado. It assuredly is not a "Sahara of the North."