We Become Squatters

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

And now we are squatters on the land staked out by Mr. J---- and his partner. Our tent attracts the greatest amount of attention from each side of the river. Tents, as a general thing, run from eight to perhaps twenty feet--but one this size!!! The Klondike Nugget wrote of it: "West Dawson is taking metropolitan strides. From this side of the river can be seen a large number of cabins going up, and within a few days has been erected the largest tent in the district. The West Dawsonites are to have the first church services in the town there next Sunday, which will be conducted by the Rev. Dr. D----." The same sheet added in its personal columns: "Miss Van Dorn and Mrs. Admiral (!) Hitchcock are the latest additions to Dawson society. The ladies are wealthy and are very well known in the United States. They travel for pleasure, and are simply 'doing' the Klondike country as they have done many other famous points of interest in Europe and America. They came in by way of St. Michaels, and expect to go out again before the freeze-up, and possibly by way of the Chilkoot Pass."

To return to the subject of the tent. It took four men to transport it from Dawson. Our neighbours worked under the direction of an experienced man at fifteen dollars a day, with his assistants at one dollar an hour. We had given an order for planking the entire ground, but when we saw as we entered, the wild flowers and plants, or rather weeds, two feet high, the place looked so picturesque that we concluded to allow it to remain in its natural state. The pigeons, permitted to fly about, looked so pretty in the high grass and perched upon the screen; the canary and the parrot made the interior attractive and homelike--the general effect that of a conservatory. Mr. L---- sent us a large bearskin, while our neighbours contributed half a dozen smaller ones. Mr. J---- sent radishes from his garden, and after they had all worked hard and were ready to enjoy a well-earned rest, we started the graphophone which many of "the boys" (they are all "boys" here) had never before heard. How delighted they were and how quickly the evening passed! As they left at 11 P.M., we hooked the flap of our tent and made preparations for retiring. It seemed impossible that I, who had insisted, when at home, upon having doors locked, bolted, and barred, and who had never gone to bed without looking under it, as well as in the wardrobe and every conceivable nook and cranny, and who had also started for the Klondike with revolver, cartridges, and belt, should now be entirely free from fear, realizing that the tents of honest miners were all about us, and that, were a burglar to present himself, one call from us would bring the man to justice so quickly that he scarce would have time to repeat a prayer.

We had been advised to purchase air mattresses, as being lighter and more convenient than any other. Ours came from one of the best-known firms in San Francisco. We had them made to order, ordering at the same time canvas hammocks with a boxing all around so that they should be firmly held. Imagine, then, our indignation to find that this boxing was too flimsy to stand, while the air-pumps or bellows had been forgotten, although we had repeatedly charged the clerk not on any account to fail to pack at least two with the mattresses. Let me say just here that it is almost necessary to watch one's goods put into the box and the cover nailed down, no matter where one may outfit nor how responsible the firm, for it rarely happens that articles arrive with everything needed. Then begins a search in the stores and junk-shops for the one essential thing, and should one be so unusually fortunate as to find it, the cost would surely amount to five or ten times more than one would pay for it at home. Edith and I spent an hour in trying to "blow up" our mattresses, but laughter at the funny situation retarded work. Finally we rolled up in two ten-pound blankets each and tumbled into the hammocks on one side only to roll out on the other side, as our novel bed swung, landing us on the soft ground. After a little practice, however, we managed it and slept a few hours until awakened by the icy wind. We then bundled up in heavy wraps, and, as our air pillows were too cool, we substituted those of down from our deck chairs, which were decidedly more comfortable. After another short sleep we again wakened, shivering with cold. Edith called to know if it were not time to start the fire, as it was so light it must be late, so we prepared for breakfast and then looked at our watches--2:30 A.M.!!!

July 30th

The "boys" promised to find us a cook, but as he failed to materialize, Edith made some delicious soda-bisquit and we managed with great difficulty to open a tin of butter and of sardines. We had some nails, so drove one with a log of wood into one of the posts supporting the tent, and what do you suppose was the first thing we hung up? Why, a mirror, of course. Some of the "boys" had opened boxes for us the previous evening, and we had as much fun and excitement in looking through them as though they had been Christmas boxes from home. As we had neither shelf, nor peg, nor table, we could only look onto them in order to know where to find things when needed. By ten, the sun came out and shone with such power that it was too hot to continue the inspection, so we placed our chairs where we could get the breeze in the door of the tent, from which we had an unobstructed view of the river, the mountains, and Dawson nestling at the foot of this magnificent background. We began to read the three latest papers from San Francisco and Seattle, but were soon interrupted by visits from our neighbors, the miners whose tents surrounded ours. One of the men was particularly interesting. He was just about to start out on the trail, and had with him his dog carrying a pack. He had been mining in California, he said, with Senator J---- and Senator T---- and was now on his way, with provisions, to join his son, who was working claims on some bars where he had found rich gold. He promised to prospect for us, and in case he found anything of value, to post our names there until we could tramp out and stake for ourselves. People came during the morning from all parts, to have a look at our wonderful tent, the fame of which seems to have gone far beyond Dawson. As they showed a disposition to see the interior, we gave them permission to enter, which they did in the most respectful manner, hats in hand. Their pleasure at sight of the pigeons and our other pets was most touching, and their delight in hearing music from our Criterion was unbounded.

We may be surrounded by rough miners, but never have we met men more courteous or more ready to lend a helping hand, not only to women but to men. Before starting from California we had read that here each man was for himself and had no time to assist his neighbor, nor was he willing to offer him the smallest portion of "grub." All untruths! For no such generosity exists in any other part of the world. Lunch-time and no cook! We are beginning to feel the pangs of hunger, but do not dare attempt filling the coal-oil stove. We look outside and see our neighbor cooking a delicious-smelling mess on his stove out in the open air. He glances towards us and asks if we would like some stewed oysters. We are divided between a longing for them, and the fear of robbing him and his partner, but his offer is so cordial that we accept, upon condition that he will take our box of sardines, which he does reluctantly. How we relish the oysters, and with what an appetite we devour them! Truly it is worth the trip to enjoy food as we now do. Edith borrows a place on her neighbor's stove and makes herself a cup of cocoa. Another neighbor goes to town and brings us two loaves of bread at twenty-five cents each, accepting the money most reluctantly, as they all want to be not only hospitable but generous. Another neighbor presents us with lemons; still another with oranges, which are given in such a way that we cannot offer to pay for them without fear of offending these kind souls. One of the "boys" tells us that in a tent near by lives an English physician who had the pleasure of meeting Edith in Yokohama, when her father was consul-general to Japan; that he wishes to call on her, but has no "boiled shirt" ready, nor "store clothes." To this we exclaim, "But our visitors must not stand upon ceremony. We find that we must keep to jerseys and short skirts while here, and the men must make no changes in their costume on our account. We are all roughing it and camping out, some for one purpose and some for another, and we desire to be treated as are others in West Dawson." In a very short time the Doctor made his appearance, handsome in his jersey, and needing no "store clothes" to show him to better advantage. How we did enjoy talking over the Orient and those we had known in China and Japan! Thus occupied, the afternoon sped by rapidly.

Towards 5 P.M. the tent grows delightfully cool. M---- appeared with delicious salmon steaks for dinner and we could hardly wait for him to fill the coal-oil stove, so famished were we. It did not take long to light the fire and to heat some of Van Camp's delicious tomato soup. This is one of the articles of food we brought in which more than equals our expectations. Edith also cooked the salmon and heated a tin of corn, all of which we enjoyed more than any feast. Edith was then allowed a well-deserved rest, while M---- and I washed and wiped our aluminum dishes and hung them up on the high weeds. Poor M--- had been scouring the town all day for a cook but the search was in vain. "The boys" came and sat in the tent door after dinner, while we had some of our best Criterion music, and it was delightful to see how they enjoyed Lohengrin and Tannhäuser, as well as Italian opera and Sousa's compositions. All parties break up here at eleven. So at that hour our tent flap was closed, and we followed the directions given to us by our neighbors and had a fine night's rest. We put rugs under the hammocks this time, so that the dampness from the ground should not rise; then we made a bag of one pair of blankets, stepped into it, and rolled into the other instead of getting into a carefully made bed, and, although the night was quite as cool as the previous one, we slept as warmly and comfortably as if at home. One amusing thing occurred. The fur robe was under Edith's hammock, while under mine was placed the pair of blankets purchased for Ivan, but which we were told he ought not to be allowed to use so early in the season. Hardly had we fallen asleep before the dog recognized his blankets and tried to crawl under my hammock in order to take possession of them. As he pushed under on one side, the hammock tipped over on the other and sent me rolling out in the grass, which caused me quite as much merriment as it did Edith, whose laughter was soon hushed, lest our neighbors should be disturbed.