Ethel Goes to the Klondike

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

Soon spring was very near, and Clarence was making ready to go to Alaska again. Ethel did hate to be left at home; yet she knew what a hard trip it would be. If it was anything like the first one--well once in a lifetime was enough. Clarence bade his family and friends goodbye and left in good time, as he had many things to buy for the journey as well as for the claim before the boat sailed. Then, just a week before the boat was to sail, he sent a telegram to Ethel telling her to come along, as it was too lonesome to go alone. At the end of the telegraph he added: "Bring Tot." I jumped up and down, saying: "May I? May I go, mother?" and just as calm as could be she answered "We shall see," as though I had asked to go to the barn. But Ethel knew she was going. As soon as father came in, he said that he had no objections. That was one thing about our parents, they scarcely ever said no, but took it for granted that we had our lives to live and were always ready with their help.

I was sent to town to buy blue flannel to make us each two suits to wear after leaving Seattle, just a sort of middy blouse and skirt, rather short, for ease in walking. I was so excited that as soon as I was in the store, I had to tell the clerk before I could ask for the flannel. I said: "I'm going to Alaska, and I will see the ocean and sail on a boat!" "Oh," he said, "I suppose you will help to sail the boat." Not knowing any better, I replied: "Maybe the captain will let me help." After getting all my things together, I hurried out and put them in the cart standing nearby; some one told me that was the Nelsons' cart. I took the bundles out and put them into my cart and picked up the reins ready to leave. Somebody else called: "Hey! you'd better untie the horse first!" No, I wasn't one bit excited! We worked all day and part of the night before we decided that we could not finish in time and would have to get a woman from town to help, as it would be time to start in twenty-four hours.

It was a wonderful trip--two whole days and nights on the train, and in the Pullman this time! Some of the places put me in mind of Towle. We saw snow-capped Mt. Hood and Mt. Shasta, and wonderful trees and ferns. I told Ethel it was a shame to go to sleep.

With only a day and a half to outfit ourselves, we went right to work, C.J. keeping right at our heels to see we bought the proper things--overshoes, gum boots, heavy socks, parkas, and flannels. We could take only the things that were really needed; we could not add an extra pound of anything. Each of us had a heavy canvas bag in which to carry our belongings, as these bags would carry well on a sleigh. At the time, we thought C.J. was rather hard on us; but before we reached Dawson I wished that we didn't have any sacks, as many times we were obliged to get into the dog-harnesses to help pull the sled.

There were ten of us in the party, including Clarence, Ethel, William Berry (C.J.'s father), Charley Dearing and myself. We traveled together, ate together, and pitched camp together. The other five had their own tents, sleds, and supplies. Charley was on the train with us, while Pa Berry had gone ahead with Clarence. Seattle was full of people going to the mines. Some had just enough money to get to Seattle and were begging someone to take them, or pleading for a loan to buy a ticket. The boat was already crowded and no more were allowed on it.

How beautiful the ocean looked! I could not wait to explore every inch of the boat, as it was the first time in my life that I had seen one. Our course was called the inland route, as we could see land most of the way, the water usually being as still as a mill-pond. The only place it was likely to be rough was in Queen Charlotte Sound.

I enjoyed every minute of the day, for there were many people to talk to, and there was much to hear. Many on the boat told me it was their first trip also. I spent hours asking questions of the crew.

Arriving at Skagway, we had to take a smaller boat to Dyea, then to Sheep Camp, where we cached our bags and supplies. This was the gold rush of 1898. At every port were thousands of men and only a few women. All the men looked alike; each wore a beard or fuzz on his face to keep him warm, a heavy flannel shirt, parka, and boots. In one line the men were loaded with goods, while in the other they were returning for more.

Sheep Camp was just at the foot of Chilkoot Pass, where everyone was waiting to cross. The weather was still very cold, snow was everywhere, and the lakes we had to cross were still frozen over. We were impatient to be moving, but the Indians had warned us all that the Pass was too dangerous to risk; at any time there might be a snow slide.

I was delighted when we pitched camp on the main street, for I had been afraid C.J. would pick a place 'way back and I should miss seeing things. Everything was new to me and most exciting. We had one tent for cooking and one for sleeping. Mind this--all of our provisions and equipment, tin cups, tin plates, spoons, a sheet-iron stove and a handful of cooking pans, would have to be pulled miles and miles over frozen trails.

It was hard work cooking for so many with the same kind of food every day and so few utensils. Ethel and I did the cooking for our crowd. We had to set up everything twice for each meal, as we didn't have enough dishes. We had brought one sack of potatoes; and when these were used, we should not eat potatoes again until we returned to the States. The cooking smelt so good to strangers passing the tent that they would poke their heads in to ask if it was a boarding-house.

The tent where we dressed had a double flap on the entrance, pinned with six-inch safety pins. Even with that one of us had to stand guard while the other bathed and put on clean clothes. Someone would work at the door trying to get his head in, just to see who lived there. We would call out: "You can't come in! This is private." Then he would ask: "What the hell is that?" One day when a man was talking back to us at the door and annoying us, Clarence stepped up and landed a good blow on the fellow's chin, saying: "Now I guess you know you are not wanted here."