The Alaska Commercial Company and the North American Commercial Company, which have had almost a monopoly of the Alaska trade, are to have a rival in the North American Transportation and Trading Company. This corporation has entered the field for the trade in the great Yukon basin; and since Seattle will be the basis of supply, the operations of the new company will undoubtedly be an important factor in Seattle's commerce.
The North American Commercial Company, which previous to 1899 had leased
from the government the exclusive sealing privileges on the Pribilof islands, and the Alaska Commercial Company, which since that time has held the lease, have virtually controlled the trade of the vast and as yet undeveloped territory of Alaska. Those
famiiar with the situation declare that the companies have kept back the development of
Alaska, for were the territory more completely settled, the maintenance of the monopoly would be impossible. Until within about a year Alaska has had no law by which land could be acquired from the government, and even now the Alaskans bitterly complain that the law is so defective that commercial activity is much hampered. Whether or not the companies have used their influence to retard the progress of the territory, certain it is that they have made large profits out of their monopolistic enterprises. The plan of the new company is perhaps to secure a part of the present business, and certainly to open fresh fields.
The active manager of the undertaking Is J. J. Healy, who has spent the last six or seven years trading in Alaska. Lately he has been occupied chiefly at Chilkoot and Chilkat. He has succeeded in enlisting the interest and support of P. B. Weare, a wealthy and enterprising Chicago commission merchant; J. Cudahy, the well-known packer, and other men of means and influence.
For several months they have been quietly working at Seattle, and tomorrow they will probably sail for Alaska. They have built a steamboat, to be called the P. B. Weare, for the navigation of the Yukon river. Her frame was laid and her timbers fitted at Ballard, while the Washington Iron Works made her boilers and engine. The various parts of this vessel are now loaded on the Alice Blanchard, which lies at the Schwabacher wharf. The Blanchard has in addition to a cargo of general merchandise, supplies of food and clothing, mining tools, mining pumps, a saw mill and two billiard tables.
In two weeks the Blanchard will be at St. Michael's, at the mouth of the Yukon. There the P. B. Weare will be fitted together and made ready for her work - a process which will probably occupy a month or five weeks. She will be a stern-wheel steamboat, 175 feet long and of 29 feet beam inside. It is estimated that she will be capable of carrying at least 250 tons of freight.
When she is complete the merchandise on the Blanchard will be transferred, and she will start on her cruise up the Yukon. This river - one of the largest in North America - is ten miles wide in some places, and can be navigated
without difficulty for 2,000 miles. In latter August she will sail from St. Michael's, and
will dispose of her goods at the various camps where there may be demand for it. When she
has reached the head of navigation, or as near to it as it may be profitable for her to go, she will be lifted out of the water by machinery carried specially for the purpose, and the winter will be spent on the Upper Yukon.
In the spring, as soon as tho river opens, she will return to St. Michael's, and will probably make three trips up and down the river during next summer. The Upper Yukon opens in May, but the ice gorges that form in the lower part of the river do not clear until June. So there are practically but three months of navigation on the river - July, August and September.
The present purpose of the company is to have a second steamer run from Puget sound to connect with the P. B. Weare at St. Michael's. Thus supplies of all kinds can be taken from here to the head waters of the Yukon in a month during the summer.
There seems every reason to believe that with such facilities for trade and transportation the mines of the Yukon basin will become extremely productive. At present these mines are difficult of access. Miners start in the spring over the Chilkoot pass through the Coast range, and have their supplics and tools carried by Indians, who are untrustworthy at best, and who charge $15 a hundred for the portage. After the mountains are crossed, the miners reach the lakes and take their stuff down the Yukon by raft and boat. To reach the mines by this route occupies much time, and if a man wants to get in and out again the same season, he has but a few weeks left for actual work. Some go into the Yukon in the fall and winter there, so as to be on hand as soon as spring opens. Supplies are difficult to obtain, and to get heavy machinery in is almost out of the question, for whatever is taken into the diggings has to be carried by men across the
mountains or in boats up the Yukon. Three small vessels are now on the stream, but as they
are boats of from ten to twenty-five tons, these are of but little use in opening the mines.
The Weare, however, will be able to bring to the head of navigation, even beyond Forty Mile creek, all the machinery needed for working the mines. She will by regular mails give the region communication with the outer world; and she can take up supplies so steadily and cheap'y that the miners can cross Chilkoot pass or take passage on her with comparatively little baggage, and can buy all the stuff they need when they have reached their destination. In short, the plan of the North American Transportation and Trading Company is to lengthen the season on tho Yukon and furnish every facility for working the mines.
Under the most unfavorable conditions and with but few miners at work $70,000 were taken out of the Yukon diggings last season. The placers there are said to be as rich as any in the world; and there seems to be no reason why with easy transportion and abundant supplies for the worker the output should not be increased ten or even an hundred fold.
The profit of this vast business ought to come to Seattle.
The Blanchard will take with her to St. Michacel's P. B. Weare, the president of the company, and his son, William Weare. They will go up the Yukon and come back in the fall by the Chilkoot pass, for Mr. Weare wishes to examine the country thoroughly and ascertain its possibilities. J. J. Hoely will also go up the Yukon and his young and pretty wife will accompany him. She will enjoy the distinction of being the first white woman to make the cruise into the heart of Alaska. J. C. Barr, of St. Paul, an old naval officer and afterward a steamboatman on the Mississippi, will be captain of the P. B. Weare: Charles H. Hamilton, of Chicago, is to be bookkeeper, and William Coates engineer; W. F. Cornell, who has spent his life thus far in the mines and the newspaper offices of the Coast, goes with the expedition as assayer, metallurgist and prospector. Twenty-five men, mechanics and crew, will be taken to put the Weare together at St. Michael's and run her on the Yukon.