Excerpts from "Two Women in the Klondike"
by Mary E. Hitchcock
Thursday, July 28th.
The Alaska Commercial Company is very generous in allowing passengers to remain on the boats until they have found comfortable accommodations. On returning to luncheon we were greatly interested in the different plans. The old fiddler said: "There ain't nothin' here for me. The whiskey business is overdone-saloon on every corner, an' a dozen thrown in between; restaurants everywhere; houses with only one room, the cheapest on 'em a hundred dollars a month; me an' my wife's goin' back on this same steamer." One of the most energetic passengers was a German, who, with her daughter and two sons, had already visited every available site in town, had purchased a controlling interest in the swimming-bath, and was planning to partition from it one side, which she intended to run as a laundry; the other for her daughter to serve ice-cream, cakes, and "soft drinks." The Colonel's wife was most unhappy, as the German had engaged the two "servant-girls which I've raised and brought up here," said she, "and now they won't go back with me."
Before leaving San Francisco, we had supplied ourselves with certificates of deposit on the Bank of California, worth fifty dollars each, which we were told were not only "as good as gold," but "command a premium of from ten to fifteen percent in Dawson." Imagine, then, our surprise at being obliged to pay two dollars and a half a hundred for the privilege of exchange. Another surprise was when, after luncheon Edith and I started on a shopping expedition, she was greeted by a man who had traveled through Egypt with her party in '95. After dinner we were asked to accompany a few friends on an exploring expedition, but, feeling exhausted, preferred sitting in our easy chairs on top of the barge, from which point we commanded the entire town. Our first visitor was Mrs. ----, a former passenger, whose husband is a Dawson physician. He accompanied her, and we were greatly amused by the experiences which they related. "Our cabin, although large for Dawson," said she, "is too small to contain trunks, furniture, and a stove, so we do without the latter and take our meals at restaurants, but oh, how I hate to see four dollars passed out three times a day just for our food! As for the Doctor, he is so accustomed to receiving seventeen dollars for a visit that he doesn't mind."
Good Father R---- joined our party and told me that one of the Sisters at the hospital here had been in the hospital at St. Josephs, Victoria, during my stay there, and that she was anxious to see me. How delightful it will be to meet her again in this far-away corner of the world! Mr. L---- then presented the correspondent of the New York Herald and a Mr. J----, who we were informed was the rightful owner of the land which we have been inspecting in West Dawson. He told me that he and his partner had staked out one hundred and sixty (or perhaps many more--have forgotten the number) acres. They had paid the commissioner a deposit of fifty dollars on the land, which he had accepted. They had spent many thousands in clearing it and in starting a garden. Just as radishes, and many other delicacies (for that part of the world) were springing into life, the squatters came, and as the Government had failed to protect his rights, this garden would had been abandoned, and he would be delighted to have us as neighbors. Some miners were introduced, among them one of the "Klondike Kings." I begged for a story, whereupon he said that one of the most amusing things that had happened to him was the receipt of the following letter, which he kindly allowed me to copy:
Doubtless you will be surprised to receive a letter from your native land in far-off America, but seeing your picture in the paper with details of your sojourn in the Gold Regions, and pleased with your courage and Perseverance thought I would like to make the acquaintance of one that has spent 8 long years in the Yukon after so many reverses becoming the Mining King. How true if you don't succeed at first try try again and you surely have been rewarded for your trials and hardships endured which I suppose was many and hard at the same time. Yet wherever we are, there are more or less hardships to bear. Though my younger days were spent with much Happiness having everything that Heart could wish. Then I married one of the best men of the world and my life was a pleasant Dream of love, until he died leaving me alone in this cold, cold world. Not having children, I have spent most of my time with relatives here and in the West. I am very fond of traveling, and have been fortunate in that respect. The paper speaks of your Wandersome disposition. True, that is very well when we are young. My experience is that there is no place like a Pleasant Home, with a loving and devoted husband and it seems to me that a bachelor of your age, would conclude that life was not worth living, without a dear little Wife to look after your Happiness in sickness and Health with plenty of this world's goods, to make everything comfortable. I have always been use to plenty and have an income that keeps me very comfortable, but the Loneliness of this life. I have been of a bright and Lively disposition and enjoyed Life until the passed 3 years but now every thing seems faded and life not worth living. I cannot enjoy anything without some one to share that Happiness. I am rather tall, brown hair, and blue eyes, fond of music and the fine Arts; have studied both. Now that you have almost finished reading my letter, I hope you will reflect and think kindly of me, and answer this poorly composed and written letter through Friendship and that some day, some where we may meet and not be sorry that this letter was written. I can give the best of References and of course expect the same. Thinking you would be pleased to see your picture in the paper, I enclose the same then you can tell me in return if its really you. I wish you would send me a Photo--then I will return the compliment. Since July, I have constantly been with my Invalid Mother who has been very ill most of the time and not expected to Live long, as she is 75 years old and one of the Sweetest in this world and I feel that when her Spirit leaves that poor old lady that it will get to the Land of Rest where all is Peace and Happiness. If you are pleased with this letter and wish to answer I will promise a Better one in return Respectfully your true and unknown Friend.
Mrs. ---- "
Friday, July 29th
As the Leah and the barge were about to pull out of the harbour this morning, carrying many of our former passengers, J---- (who had concluded to Try Dawson rather than Rampart) said, "Mrs. Hitchcock, if you're going to live across the river you'll want a boat and there's a man 'going out' on the Leah who will sell one for ten dollars." "But I know nothing of boats; let me wait and consult M----." "You can't," said J----, "he's off now." The owner then sang out, "You may have it for five," and with a woman's love for a bargain, after a hasty glance at the boat, I handed out the money and was very proud to be told afterwards that in this part of the country the lumber alone is worth between twenty and thirty-five dollars, and still more proud that the Joseph was able to hold all our household goods and provisions, weighing over a thousand pounds.
We spent the morning at the Custom House, paying about one hundred dollars in duties. Our tent had already been taken across and was being prepared for our reception, but as it weighed over four hundred pounds, we engaged men to put it up carefully, unwilling to impose upon the good nature of our neighbors. Finally everything was cleared, and a kindly, helpful crowd escorted us and our boxes to the Joseph.