Excerpts from "Two Women in the Klondike"
by Mary E. Hitchcock
First Day in Dawson
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:
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.