A Trek to the Gold Fields

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

Trying to make order out of havoc is an unpleasant task with the mercury at 80º, but we close tightly our tent flap, so that those whom we should otherwise be glad to see may think us still in the arms of Morpheus, and work with a will. Isaacs, busily engaged in once more putting up kitchen shelves and utensils, looks for newspapers with which to cover them. Holding out one he asks, "Ave you read this, mum?" and then exclaims, "'Oly Moses, May 30th! 'ave you been on the road ever since then? Well" (sympathetically), "I should think you would be tired." "May we come in?" said the voice of John Jones, "I want to make you acquainted with Mr. M----," [probably Alex McDonald] and one of the great men of the Klondike entered, and was made welcome, and remained for an hour or more, telling stories so interesting that we deeply regretted it when it was time for him to take his departure. John Jones said, "I was tellin' Mr. M---- as how you ladies was so very kind to me whiles I was ill, and how you wanted to see a 'clean-up,' and pan some gold yourself; so he is going Monday to one of his mines and has come to invite you to go with him" - "Just what we've longed to do, but we never expected to have so fine an opportunity. Please explain the road, however, so that we may judge whether we are capable of such an undertaking."

"My plan is to start Monday between noon and four o'clock," said M---, "go over the trail two miles to the ferry, cross the Klondike River, and land at the mouth of Bonanza; there Miss Van Dorn may take a horse, and if you can walk three miles an hour that will be a sufficiently rapid gait; after twelve miles we reach the Grand Forks Hotel, Bonanza. You will find it very rough; the men are only screened off from the ladies, but you can rest assured that every man would defend you with his life in case of need." "Oh, I intend to take my tent along for the ladies," said John, "it's just big enough for the two of them and they'll be much more comfortable than shut in with us men." "The next morning," continued M----, "we'll take a short walk before breakfast down to some mines very near there and see a clean-up, and you can pan out your first gold; later in the day we'll go to B----'s clean-up, from there to my claim at El Dorado, only three miles; then to another claim of mine at El Dorado, which yields pretty good-sized nuggets. You know ten claims make a mile, so you can easily tell how much you will have to walk there; there are some bench claims near that have not been located, so that you and Miss Van Dorn can stake them (now that you have your miner's license), and return to the Forks that night, unless you care to go on and stake on Dominion and Sulphur." We were filled with delight and excitement at the prospect, particularly as the rain had prevented from going on the first stampede, not that we minded the rain, but it made the ground in such a condition that --- told us his horse sank to its neck in mud. . .

. . . . We lunched hurriedly, after which the neighbours came to inquire what they could do for our pets during our absence. Mrs. T--- kindly offered to care for them, and to take charge of the tent. Jones had a boat in waiting at the foot of the bank. Isaacs carried the pack, consisting of fur robes, blankets, flannel wrappers, and toilet articles. We were soon across the Yukon, where we were met by "Big A----," Edith went to purchase a cowboy hat for the trip and Isaacs a harness for his back, so we appointed the usual place of rendezvous, the Alaska Commercial Company's stores, from which point we were to be ready for the start in half an hour. Many of our friends were there to help Edith on to the horse and to see the start. "No horse for me," said I; "walking is far more enjoyable." So Edith rode alone in her glory, while M----, Jones, and I tramped by the side of the horse when the road was sufficiently wide, or single file, with Isaacs in harness bringing up the rear. At first, it was a gradual ascent on a good road; we were soon high on the hills back of Dawson, and were astonished to see so many log houses, while many more were being built. After a long tramp, we reached a bridge of logs. Edith's horse forded the stream, while I clung tightly to the hands of M---- and Jones, who assisted me in maintaining my balance, as the logs threatened to turn at each step. Then we paid one dollar each to cross in a scow on which even Edith's horse was carried. We stopped a moment on reaching the other side to photograph a tavern, and were then off on a corduroy road which the miners had made, winding round beautiful mountains, looking down upon gorgeous scenery, over stones, through springy moss, then over more log bridges, deep bogs, precipices, until we reached Half-way House, eight miles, where we had supper of roast moose, mashed potatoes, corn, cabbage, delicious bread and butter, Spanish and apple-pie.

The mean finished, Mr. A----, of Chicago, and Mr. ---- were presented to us. They were also on their way to stake claims, but concluded that they had done enough for one day and so pitched their tents. How proud we were to be able to outdo them as we continued our tramp. We next met a Mr. C----, who had just found some rich ground while prospecting, and told us where to stake; he also showed us a large piece of rock filled with gold, which he had taken from a mine near the Forks, and from which the owners were getting a thousand dollars a day, but being "Chee Charkers" (newcomers) and homesick, they wanted to "go out" and would sell for thirteen thousand dollars. He had n't the money, but if anyone would "put it up" and let him take charge, he was sure that he could son dig out a fortune for "all hands." A man from Illinois next joined us on the trail; said he was working for wages, but had had time to do some prospecting and to stake out a number of claims for himself-some of them very rich-but he found it impossible to get into the Recorder's office to record them. He offered a third in each to anyone who could have done for him. While Edith, on horseback, and M---- by her side, were following the horse-trail, our Illinois man said that he could conduct us through high dry ground on the other side of the river. Once there, he said that he should like to tramp with us, as it did him so much good "to hear the sound of a lady's voice."

At last came the "yodel," which meant that someone in our party was exhausted and wanted to pitch tent for the night. We joined forces at Gordon's Camp, where we were surrounded by tents. While Isaacs was pitching ours, M---- took us to the cabin of Mr. and Mrs. ---- to pay a short visit. Their quarters were nice and comfortable, and even the baby had a modern cradle into which we peeped, but, as it was late, we bade them good-night the moment Isaacs announced that all preparations had been made for us. Pine boughs had been spread on the ground, and our robes and blankets over them. After crawling in, M---- and Jones lighted a bonfire at our door, and then sought the cabin in which they had been offered bunks.

No fear felt we, though surrounded on all sides by unknown men. One has but to know the honest miner to recognize that he is ever ready to assist woman, and that sad would be the fate and speedy the death of one who should offer her an insult. As the bonfire died out, we watched the new moon rising over the mountains opposite, and lighting the valley below, and felt that the wonderful and beautiful works of the dear Lord are everywhere present.

Tuesday, August 9th

My ears were greeted on awakening with, "Flour's gone to hell! What fool tied this horse up here! We'll make M---- give us another bag," and then came the folding of tents, the tramping of men and the departure of the prospectors for another day's work towards fortune or disappointment. As we continued our tramp, Edith's horse floundered and stumbled so in the mire and over the rocks that, after several hairbreadth escapes she also concluded to walk; so Isaacs was relieved of his pack and the horse received the burden. At 10 a.m. we reached a restaurant at the forks of the road. We four sat on a bench and, with Isaacs at our feet, devoured bread and butter and coffee. When the irrepressible said, "Had no time to wash my face; is it dirty?" he was snubbed, as he could have been, by hearing, "No time to look at it." Another long tramp over rolling stones, mossy grounds, narrow ledges on the edge of a precipice from which a tiny rolling stone would have precipitated us to instant destruction, but the unvarying kindness and assistance of M---- and Jones made us repress all signs of fear for very shame. We came to sluice-boxes with signs prohibiting people to walk therein, but the owners of which invariably gave us the desired permission, which we enjoyed until we reached Bonanza, where we "panned out" and shouted with joy as the stones and gravel disappeared and we saw the rich gold gathering in the bottom.

We were promised another pan on our return, so, as the miners were just about to blast, we went to Skookum Creek, in which M---- had also a half-interest. Here we were filled with excitement and joy as our pans came to seven and ten dollars each, and we picked up a few nuggets besides. Then came the worst trip of all, to Grand Forks Hotel, which we reached about midday, ready to drop into the first seat that offered itself. A fee to the cook secured a tub of hot water, which was most soothing to my poor blistered foot. Here we met a large party of miners, owners of several mines. An agent from the Alaska Commercial Company, soliciting orders, had an excellent luncheon cooked by a Japanese, who confided to us that he had been nine years in the country and was now "going out" and that almost every customer had given him a nugget.

In the meantime Jones, instead of resting, had gone to the thirteen-thousand-dollar mine and brought me back some of the rock which he had hammered off; it showed gold in every part. M---- said he would accompany us to pass judgment on the proposition, so we climbed up the steep hill where we broke off rock which M---- pronounced of unusual richness, but said that the mine had been so thoroughly worked that there was little left. On we tramped, stopping at one claim after another, never knowing that the greater number of them belonged to modest M----, until some employee of his told us. We stopped at B---'s mine, where B---- was brave enough to go down the very steep incline to see the panning and was rewarded by the gift of a couple of nuggets as a souvenir of the occasion. My blistered foot kept me on the top of the hill with no nugget. On the road I stopped to chat with one of my fellow-passengers, who gave me the numbers of three bench claims to locate, and then asked if, on his return the following day, I would introduce him to the great man of the country, M----. A little farther on, a miner stopped to chat with me. Not having seen a woman for ages he was anxious to ask me about his sore throat for which I promised him a remedy on my return to the tent. He then told me of his son, who had met his death in one of the mines of S---- of Colorado, and how the generous owner had educated his remaining son, who was prospecting near by, but had had no luck as yet.

Towards eight in the evening we reached M---'s mines. There were two brothers in his employee of the same name as our guide and host, but not related to him. In a comfortable, nicely floored cabin sat pretty, refined Mrs. M---- at her sewing-machine, with all about her as clean and attractive as though she had a dozen shops at hand upon which to call for supplies. There was but one room, according to the custom of the country, with the stove for cooking purposes outside in a sheltered nook, and a chache like a closet adjoining. Mrs. M---- welcomed us with her soft, pleasant voice, and cooked some ham, fried some real potatoes (which she told us were described in this part of the world as "human potatoes"), gave us some delicious bread-her own make-with equally delicious butter and tea. After we had done full justice to these viands we were treated to something which made our mouths water-a light, feathery, cream layer-cake. The repast finished, we sat outside in the two home chairs, the men on boxes, and enjoyed the grandeur of the scenery, with its magnificent mountains opposite, on which bench claims are already staked and given forth good pay. At our feet was the El Dorado River, filled with sluice-boxes through which the water flowed rapidly, while the piles of rock and stone on eather side showed how quickly the ground was being dug out. The men who were introduced to us said it was not at all necessary for us to pitch our tent, as there was a vacant one near by, which they could assure us was thoroughly clean as the boys who lived in it were most particular, and they were now on the trail. We found a bed inside, raised about one foot from the ground made of evergreen boughs, boxed in by the tent on one side and a board on the other. It was wide enough to bunk four men. Our man Friday had thrown Edith's blankets across the boughs for us to sleep on, and my fur robe to cover us. Fortunately we had brought our down cushions which served as pillows.