Steaming into Dawson

Excerpts from "Two Women in the Klondike"
by Mary E. Hitchcock

Wednesday, July 27th.

We made such fast time during the night, that we are now nearing Dawson at a rapid rate and find the scenery on all sides far grander than we had anticipated. Here is Dawson at last! No pictures we have seen, no descriptions we have read or heard, compare with the reality. Those who were here last year tell us that it has grown at least one hundred percent. The three long wharves are so packed with people that we expect to see them precipitated into the water by the addition of a feather's weight. Miles and miles of tents of all sizes and descriptions fill the town, and are pitched everywhere on the hillside. Skeletons of many warehouses which are being constructed and a few log cabins are also to be seen. Stores of all kinds line the main street and river-front, some being less than ten feet wide, as rent for ground is ten dollars a foot per month, we are told, in this business part of the town. From the landing up to the Klondike River, boats of every style line the water-front, reminding one of the house-boats about Canton, although those belonging to this settlement are of a much more primitive character, but a better description might be given after a more thorough acquaintance with this unique and wonderful place, which I christened at sight "Circus Town." As we neared the wharf of the Alaska Commercial Company we searched in vain for a familiar face among the thousand before us. Such perfect discipline seemed marvelous. We tied up at the dock, but not one man stepped on board, no one attempted to land, and yet there were only two Canadian officials on duty. There was much handshaking across the boat's side, shouts of "Hulloa, Bill!" - "Why, there's Jim," etc., for every man is known by his Christian name in this part of the world. Upon inquiring for the two men to whom we had letters, and who had promised to look for us, we were informed that they had "gone out" on the steamer which had passed us in the night.

At that news we felt indeed that we were strangers in a strange land, when who should evade the police and jump on board, after having rowed around the Leah in a canoe but Mr. M-----! A case of the bread which we had cast upon the waters returning to us in a moment of need. We had become interested in him when we were in California. He was land poor and just about to go to Dawson over the Pass. He looked delicate, and after all the tales that we had read of the hardships of that terrible trip, we felt that he might never live to reach there, so Edith and I talked it over and finally decided to send him in by steamer and allow him to "pay up" when his mines should prove valuable. How glad we were to receive his cordial, hearty greeting! After lunching with us, he accompanied us on shore to look at accommodations.

We first went along the main street to a new hotel which was to be opened that evening with a big dinner, followed by a dance. The house, built of wood, and three stories high, quite towered above the tents and cabins of its neighbors. The only entrance that was finished was through the new and elaborately furnished barroom, within those walls many a sad history will probably be recorded during the coming year, as we are told that "the liquor business here is bigger pay than the richest mine," and that "even the smallest barroom realizes between five hundred and a thousand dollars a night." Separated by a hallway from this saloon is the dining-room, beautifully clean, table covered with damask, and even napkins (something unusual in this part of the world) at each place. The menu, beginning with "oyster cocktails," caused us to open our eyes wide with astonishment, after all that the papers have told us of the starvation about Dawson. We next visited the kitchen adjoining, where there was a stove that would have gladdened the heart of any cook at home. The chef was said to be from Marchand's, of San Francisco. The proprietress [Belinda Mulrooney] explained to us that she had sent for chairs, which had arrived without legs, they having been left on the dock at St. Michaels, one of the inconveniences that one has to bear through the negligence of transportation companies, so she had carpenters at fifteen dollars a day manufacturing new legs.

On the second floor, a long, narrow hall separated rooms that were about double the size of an ordinary cabin on shipboard. Each room contained a primitive wooden bedstead, but there was no space for wardrobe, closet, or dressing table. Evidently the pride of the hostess's heart was centred in Brussels carpets and fine lace curtains, to which she called our attention as having been introduced into Dawson for the first time. The price of one of these tiny rooms was six dollars and a half a day, food five dollars extra, or two dollars a meal. On the third floor the carpenters were busy preparing for the evening dance, after which the large hall was to be partitioned off into small rooms, at five dollars a day each, providing that the sojourn of the guest should be at least of one month's duration, otherwise terms to be increased accordingly. We were cordially invited to return for the dinner at 10 P.M., and also for the dance. Noticing that there were no panes of glass in the windows, which were simply covered with cheese-cloth, we asked what happened in case of rain, and were told it very rarely rained, but that when it did there would probably not be sufficient to do any damage. Glass also had been ordered, but, as usual, it was impossible to tell when or by what steamer it would arrive.

From the hotel we continued our walk as far as the banks of the famous Klondike River. But of it and its attractions later--in case we have the courage and good fortune to tramp in that direction to pan out gold on a claim of our own. Then to the other end of town, to a small cabin 12 x 18 on the hillside, it being the one upon we had an option for two thousand dollars. As it was crowded in by tents on all sides, with the sun beating down upon it, and as we were exhausted by the long tramp after a six-weeks' voyage, we were finally persuaded to row across the Yukon to West Dawson, which was described to us as being on high ground, healthy and cool, and just the place for our tent. Our guide invited the Doctor to accompany us in his canoe. Going over is very easy, as the current carries the boat at the rate of at least five miles an hour, if not more, but the return trip requires strong oars and stout arms.

We landed at the foot of a picturesque bank, which was already in its favor, as compared with the marshy swamp on the opposite side. Plenty of room there was for an ordinary tent, but it was difficult to find space sufficient for our 40 x 70. Finally, we came to a bit of ground belonging to Mr. -----, who told us that, as he was leaving the following day, he would gladly give up to us his rights of possession, before starting on a prospecting trip. The miners from all the tents in that vicinity were sitting outside, enjoying their evening meal, from which they rose to give us cordial welcome, and to tell us that in case we were prevented from turning up on time they would allow no one else to "jump" the site. They also begged us not to hire men to pitch the tent, as they should like the pleasure of doing it for us. Although they were clad in rough miners' costumes, their gentle and kindly manners showed that at home they occupied positions of no slight prominence. At 9 P.M. the sun was still lighting us on our way, and we decided that with three steamers in port, it would be a fine occasion for "doing the town" as it is called here.