Getting to the Big Strike

Excerpts from "The Bushes and the Berrys"
by Edna "Tot" Berry

Clarence Berry came to the ranch one afternoon and got to talking about ranches, how little one could make, and how hard poverty was on his folks. He had heard that gold was plentiful in Alaska. If he could only get there! He talked Alaska at home, on the streets, and with anyone who would listen to him. He must have gotten his father's consent at last, because the next time we saw him he had made up his mind to go if he could find the money.

His father helped him by selling a forty he had, and Clarence borrowed money from his friends or anyone he thought had it, promising to pay it back with good interest. In a few weeks Clarence had what he thought was enough to take him in to the gold fields.

I think he had an understanding with Ethel that they would be married on his return, though Ethel said nothing to us. Clarence went first to San Francisco and took a boat from there to Seattle, Washington. He was joined there by others who were getting ready to go; they wanted to be ready by the time the next boat left for Skagway by the inland route. A good many left with him; but not all reached Alaska. The only ones I can name are Mr. Keller, Mr. Lamb, Mr. Edgar, and Mr. Clemons. After they left the steamer, they would have to saw their own lumber and make their own boats to carry them and their supplies. I can't tell you of that trip; but it would make a book all on its own, a book which I should like to have.

Clarence and his party pushed ahead until they finally reached Forty Mile. They pitched camp there and spent most of their time prospecting, when they weren't trying to earn some food. Clarence was gone about eighteen months on this trip, and we could get news from him about every six months.

He decided there was something to stay in Alaska for; and later, when he returned to Selma, his purpose was clear to all. It was lonely so far from home, and he had come back to get Ethel. On March 10, 1896, they were married at the ranch house, where the two families were gathered. Ethel, like Edith, had chosen gray, a very light shade, which she could wear for traveling after the ceremony. Ethel's wedding was much larger than Edith's. The tables for the supper filled the parlor, There were no tears at that wedding! It was fun for all. Not a person left until the bride and groom had departed for the trainwhich would take them to San Francisco

This time Fred Berry, Clarence's youngest brother, went with them. Trouble stalked them just as they were about to board their boat for Skagway, as Clarence came down with the mumps and they almost missed the boat. From Skagway they traveled to Dyea, then to Sheep Camp over the Chilkoot Pass; then, crossing the lakes, they reached the Yukon River, which they intended to follow into Forty Mile.

As written, this sounds like a pleasant honeymoon trip; but after the bride reached Seattle, the gray dress was folded away. This is what her trousseau had in it: long heavy underwear, woolen stockings, rubber boots, heavy shoes, and a flannel dress. Quite different from crepe de chine and satin! The trip was hard for a man, but it was worse for a young girl. Every inch of the trip, which took months, was beset with perils. They walked miles and miles over frozen lakes; they had to do all their own work; and the cold was bitter all about them. They had very little money, and when they reached Chilkoot Pass, Clarence had only fifty cents, which he spent for a cap he thought Ethel needed to wear over the frozen lakes. Then he went out in search of more money, as he wanted an Indian to take some of the provisions over the pass for him. All were well and happy by the time they reached their destination. Six months later, we had news from them. They were safe, and Ethel thought it a wonderful adventure. The ice had melted and the rivers were beginning to thaw. They would camp there at Forty Mile for some time; the boys would work, and when the weather was milder they would do some prospecting.

On their trip they had only a tent to sleep under, even on the ice. They carried their own food and cooked it. They would haul or carry their food for about five miles, cache it, and retravel the five miles for another load. This slow, hard work had to be done over and over. When they reached the lakes, a sail was put on the sled so that the wind could help them along.

One morning, news was brought into Forty Mile by a miner that a strike had been made above Dawson. The boys lost no time in getting ready. They broke camp and took Ethel to the Indian graveyard, which was near the Yukon. She was to flag the first boat coming up the river for Dawson. All that the boys took with them was their bedding and short rations of food. They wanted their boat light so that they could make fast time poling up the river. They were hardened to cold and hard work by now. They hoped to reach the mines and get their claims staked before the big rush started. They reached the Klondike and went on foot nineteen miles up the creeks to Eldorado Creek. Lamb staked No. 7; Clarence, No. 6; Joseph No. 4; Keller, No. 6; Phiscator, No. 2; and Mitchel, No. 8. All of these claims proved to be very rich.

When the boats were running, we would get mail from Ethel quite often. She could write the most interesting letters, just pages and pages. Now she wrote of "our" claim and of the gold they expected to take out. Father just wouldn't believe a word of it; when he saw the gold, he said, he would believe it. He would get quite provoked if he heard mother repeating anything from the letters, saying that he had seen plenty of mines and that there wasn't that much gold in all of California. Ethel wrote to us about all the funny things that happened. She loved to talk to the Indians; they told her she was the first white woman in those parts. They came to see her and greatly admired her clothes, but the one thing they liked most was a small mirror. She traded some of her trinkets for gloves and moccasins.