N. A. Beddoe - One Mail Contractor's View

In the U.S. Post Office Department's 1896 annual report, officials included two letters from their new Alaskan contract mail carrier, N. A. Beddoe, regarding travel conditions in the territory.

Written from Circle City, Alaska Territory, July 15, 1896

I have to report the safe arrival of the first mail at Circle City under the contract with this company. I personally took charge of the expedition, and had it been otherwise I could hardly have credited the dangers and difficulties of the trip. The season this year was very late, and while the snow was too soft to permit the taking of our launches over the pass, the lakes were not sufficiently open to allow of their use. I therefore did what I thought best under the circumstances–purchased lumber for two boats, intending to build them the other side of Chilkoot Pass and launch them on the lakes. This lumber I succeeded in getting halfway to the summit by Indians and they absolutely refused to take it farther, and I doubt very much whether it was possible to do so. I paid $87.50 to pack the lumber this distance, and there I abandoned it. I pushed on with my supplies and the mail, and at the lakes I cut logs, made lumber, and built a boat, and from there down, going day and night, we met with no mishap, but the seething waters of the canyons and the terrible rapids to be passed through add years to a man’s life.

Written from Juneau, Alaska Territory, September 23, 1896

If you were familiar with the conditions which obtain in the Yukon you would be in a better position to regulate the dates of departure and arrival for said service. For instance, I left this point on June 10 for Dyea; for sixteen hours it was impossible to land owing to storms, and as the landing is made in small boats the conditions must be favorable. I took with me sufficient lumber to build 2 boats; the ones I had already built could not be taken over the summit in consequence of excessive snowstorms. Upon my arrival at the base of the summit the Indian packers refused to go over with the lumber. I was compelled to abandon it there, having paid $67.50 for packing it. The packing of supplies, etc., cost $320 additional. However, I pushed on and upon arriving at Lake Linderman, a distance of 30 miles, I built a raft, there being no lumber in that locality, and upon this raft we journeyed to Lake Bennett, where we found sufficient lumber to build a boat. A start was made in five days after arrival, although the lumber had to be cut from the trees, and from there we traveled day and night until our destination, Circle City, was reached and the mails delivered in good order.

The question now was to get the return mail to Juneau the quickest moment. It was impossible to start up the river in consequence of the rapid water, the current averaging 8 miles an hour for 500 miles. If I remained in Cricle City until July 30 it would probably take 45 days to pole the boat up the river. I therefore decided to go down to St. Michaels and come out through Bering Sea. I was fortunate in getting there in time for the steamship Portland, which sailed form that point to Seattle, via Unalaska–3,500 miles. At Seattle I took the Alki and reached here in due course, having traveled 6,500 miles in addition to the regular trip, and saving thereby over a month of time in the delivery of the return mail; and I owe it to myself to say that I was the last man into the Yukon and the first one out this season, which is evidence that no unnecessary delay occurred.

This Yukon trip is a terrible one, the current of the river even attaining 10 miles an hour. Miles Canyon is a veritable death trap into which one is likely to be drawn without notice, and the White Horse Rapids, known as the miner’s grave, to say nothing of the Five Finger and Rink Rapids, both of which are very dangerous. All of these dangers are aggravated by reason of the defective maps and reports of the country.

It is my intention to submit to the Department a map with many corrections, although in the absence of a proper survey it will necessarily be only an approximate reflection of the river’s course. You are probably not aware that for a distance of 150 miles, commencing at Circle City and going north, the river is 50 miles between banks and contains thousands of islands, very few of which appear on any map.

It is impossible to perform this mail contract without having at least three parties fully equipped, the distance being so great and it being out of the question for the first party to return in time to depart with the exceeding mail, and the expense of each will be about the same. I shall have made four round trips by the end of this month. The last mail in should arrive at Circle City in one week from now. The return mails I am looking for daily. At the end of this month the north end of the Yukon River will freeze and the ice will gradually form to the south, and the same, as a waterway, will become impassable and remain so until midwinter.