The world hungered for news from the glittering towns near the great gold fields. What people wanted to hear most were confirmations of the region's mineral wealthparticularly reports of new gold discoveries and favorable accounts of the community's well-being. Further confirmation of the existence of bountiful gold answered a deep need. Easily accessible sources of wealth promoted optimism among would-be stampeders and investors and even among nonparticipants aware of the Klondike's benefit to the economy. Dawson's well-being was also very significant to those who worried about family members or friends in the north. Thus, news from Dawson was eagerly soughtany news, trivial or significant would do, and the public's heart opened equally to either stories of high jinks or those of stern purpose among the argonauts.
Returning Miners Report
Stories of all kinds abounded. No one doubted that high-minded, steadfast prospectors would fare better in the pursuit of gold than careless plungers, but reports on either class were fascinating. Who could resist the thrills of hearing about Swiftwater Bill Gates and his ilkthose prodigal spenders who defied copybook maxims yet gained great fortunes? Men and women who struggled every day of their lives for a modest living were excited by characters like Gates, whose triumph fulfilled a romantic need.
But what was to be believed of Dawson with so many conflicting stories? Did one who planned to go, or to invest, or who was involved only in cheering for another, have any reasons for optimism? On any day, in any city, a couple of pennies for a newspaper provided much food for thought. Edgar Mizner, one of a famous San Francisco family, and a Dawson employee of the Alaska Commercial Company, told of unlimited wealth. He calculated that the gold field extended 300 miles and expected $5,000,000 to be taken out in 1897. Some estimated $10,000,000, "but I have noticed a local inclination to brag," wrote Mizner for a San Francisco newspaper, "and I want to be entirely within the facts in any information I send out from this camp of marvels." Dawson reminded him of Tombstone and the California camps Bret Harte celebrated in stories, but this one showed better qualities. There were boisterousness, gambling, and dance halls by the score, but fair mining laws and the presence of Mounties prevented much of the fighting over claims that erupted in earlier camps. 
Gestures spoke louder than words as the excitement over one returning Klondiker in New York indicated. James D. Clements knew how to stir up folks. As the "El Dorado King" he checked into the Continental Hotel with his wife and two children and chatted easily with newsmen who were awed by his wife's bracelet of large gold nuggets. Clements told how he had devised the first tramway over the Chilkoot, showed three caribou skin sacks stuffed with $30,000 in gold, and expressed full faith in the Klondike's long-term prosperity. Clements, Clarence Berry, Frank Phiscator, and Anton Standen were the El Dorado discoverers and among the region's first monied men. But he said that he would not go through the suffering he experienced again unless certain of a big find. 
Clements moved to the Lafayette Hotel in New York before Christmas and displayed there a glittering Christmas tree decorated with nuggets, $20 gold pieces, and presents valued at $50,000. Visitors were given nuggets from the tree for souvenirs because Clements, who estimated his fortune at $2,000,000, was not a miserly fellow. The Christmas tree had been conceived in a dream experienced by Clements a year earlier after eating a cold hunk of caribou with his fingers while celebrating the nativity. He vowed then that he would treat himself and family to just such a tree if he survived with his wealth. Proudly, Clements told everyone how he had quit his job as a brake man on the Southern Pacific in March 1896, then "discovered" the Chilkoot Pass after disembarking at Dyea. 
Some returning gold kings uttered sober, practical warnings. Clarence Berry's success had attracted much attention, particularly because his wife had been with him at Fortymile when the Klondike strike news reached the camp. The Berrys had happened to be at the right place at the right time, but Clarence, the employer of many less fortunate miners, questioned the plans being formulated by stampeders. Bachelors could take their chances in '98, but "I would not advise any married man to go to the Klondike in anticipation of being able to earn money to send back to his family." This was sensible advice. Most stampeders were able to find work when they did not find gold, but few earned enough to support households Outside. Berry was dismayed to hear of families selling their homes to raise money for the trip: "They will make a big mistake in doing this. There is a chance that a man may remain there several years without striking anything, and on top of that comes the danger of starvation. In a way, I think that the people are excited without cause." Berry's distaste for the excitement extended to a weariness with being one of the most celebrated men in San Francisco. As he looked at a stack of letters and telegrams arriving at the rate of 100 daily, and learned that 1,500 people called at the Grand Hotel hoping for a chat, he grew irritated and tried to keep out of sight. "The thing is something terrible," he complained. "It is practically impossible for me to go to my meals without being interrupted." On the street he was accosted at every step "by people who pretend to know me, and who invariably give me the glad hand." 
Charles E. Meyers of Illinois, a veteran southwestern prospector before trying Alaska, considered Clarence Berry too optimistic. Meyers had found gold, too, but he insisted that newcomers had no chance at all. Old-timers found the gold because of their knowledge. "People are very foolish to go there now. They will be sure to suffer very much. Many of them will die. There is really no way for them to live." 
Even men who had not been North could advise as if they were experts. "Don't hurry," said U.S. Senator George Shoup of Idaho, an experienced mining man. History shows that "big money is to be made by people who follow the miners and speculate in claims . . . what the pioneers bring back is insignificant compared with the fortunes made by later arrivals." Of course, Shoup was addressing himself to monied men so his wisdom had little impact on the masses who knew they had to be early on the ground; their hopes rested in findingnot speculating. 
Journalism and the Klondike
The acclaim successful miners experienced in 1897 illustrated the public's fixation with the distant North. As the drama of the Klondike discoveries unfolded it is possible to trace the spread of the excitement across the nation. Charges were made at the timeand have been repeated sinceagainst newspapers' role in exaggerating reports of wealth, making light of difficulties facing stampeders, and in other ways encouraging a mass migration. Among the flood of information published in newspapers, magazines, and guidebooks were some inaccuracies and exaggerations, but fewer than might be expected. A review of newspapers published in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle does not show irresponsible coverage of northern events.
Public interest in the Klondike was very high for good reasons. Gold stories appealed to readers because they suggested that quick fortunes could be won by ordinary folkswhich was true enough. Equally appealing was the lure of the exotic. For the first time since the acquisition of Alaska by the United States a wave of interest in the North erupted. Quite suddenly, everyone wanted to know about the Yukon region and the most commonplace facts regarding climate, distances, and events fascinated them. On the whole writers sought the best information on hand in reference books or through interviews with northern travelers and passed it along to their readers. As with any major new event the press helped sustain interest through lively coverage, but the stampede could hardly be called a newspaper-inspired event any more than any other newsworthy national or international episode.
One of the appealing aspects of the journalistic coverage of events was determined by geography and climate. Reporters flocking North shared the rigors of the trail with stampeders and readily fell in with the spirit of their quest. They were not detached observers of the mass movement but participants, and most sent pretty lively copy back to their editors.
Klondike bustle on the Seattle waterfront was obvious in 1897-98 as ships readied to sail north. On any day residents could view "the now familiar every-day scene of a big boat loaded indiscriminately almost with a teaming assortment of freight and passengers for the gold fields," a newspaper observed. It was expected that the pace would quicken from February '98 as parties from the east reached the Puget Sound port. Seattle transportation companies could handle 15,000 passengers each month. Ships available on the sound and an estimated 40 other ocean and river vessels under construction would be augmented by vessels expected around the Horn from eastern ports. Estimates of 100,000 gold seekers departing from Seattle created an optimistic mood among skippers, although some guessed that the tide of stampeders might hit 300,000. Each passenger would have about a ton and a half of supplies which meant that an immense fleet of Yukon boats and barges would be required. Riverboats would average two round trips, carrying 200 tons of cargo; some would push up to three barges carrying 200 tons each ahead. Statisticians were kept busy figuring the traffic; one steamboat man concluded that 375 vessels would be needed to insure every Klondiker three squares a day for a year and a half. 
New ocean ships were readied for the '98 Klondike traffic. At a shipyard in Philadelphia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, once the mainstays of passenger service between Liverpool and Philadelphia, were altered for stampeders and northern cargoes. Smaller vessels were readied as well, and steam yachts from the Atlantic Coast were shipped by flatcar to the Pacific Coast.
After shipwrecks on the northern run called attention to the unseaworthiness of some vessels, the collector of customs began restricting passenger loads on ships from Puget Sound. In San Francisco, newspapers called for similar regulation. Perhaps nothing could be done about heavy freight loads, editors argued, but passengers should be protected from their indifference to good sense. Ships were wallowing out of the bay that should not carry passengers. "Their cargoes alone had sunk them to the line of their port holes," and, though listing, their decks swarmed with men, women, and boys. "There were three times as many as the lifeboats could carry," wrote a report of one ship. If the government could not regulate shipowners then, a writer said, insurance companies should refuse policies unless safety precautions were taken. 
Some of the northbound ships had long and unusual histories. Eliza Anderson, known as the oldest vessel on Puget Sound, was a side-wheeler built in 1830. After serving for many decades, the vessel rested in a boneyard at Olympia for 16 years, as her timbers bleached and movables were removed by vandals. Returned to service again she sank in Seattle's harbor and lay at the bottom for a year before being raised and readied for northern service. It is not remarkable that the northern voyage of the Eliza Anderson proved to be long and unpleasant for its passengers.
The Polly or Politkofskey, had been a Russian gunboat at Sitka and was acquired by the U.S. government at the time of the Alaska purchase. Later the Port Blakely Mill Company used her as a tug on Puget Sound. With the Klondike rush, owners dismantled and remodelled the old boat, removing boilers, machinery, and superstructure, for service as a barge on the Yukon.
The famed goldship Portland, formerly Haitian Republic, had been in the West Indian trade before moving to Puget Sound for coastal trade service. Smuggling activities brought her to the attention of the government. Seizure, condemnation, and sale followed. The North American Transportation and Trading Company renamed the ship to obscure her lawless past and fitted her for northern service. 
Shipowners, desperate for vessels, scoured the boneyards for possibilities. Fifty-year-old hulls presented some dangers on the runs to St. Michael and Kotzebue Sound, but there were great profits to be made. Some wary passengers insisted on inspecting the hold of old ships, assuming that if no signs of leaking were visible that all was well. One shipper covered the hold with tar paper, installed half-inch flooring, and scattered dirt and stone as "ballast" to avoid close scrutiny.
Seattle newspapers warned against such old hulks. Most "floating coffins" preparing to leave Puget Sound had been brought up from San Francisco or Portland, according to the Seattle Times, "and Seattle is not very far behind either one of them." The newspaper dispatched its own team of "inspectors" to the waterfront and warned against the Guardian of Seattle: "while laying in port, calmly and steadily at her dock, she is kept dry by her sheathing . . . this will not avail her when she gets to rocking at sea." 
By July 1897 many businessmen were considering better means of transport to the Yukon. Capt. Charles M. Goodall had shipped livestock to Juneau for conveyance by Jack Dalton over the Dalton Trail and believed that this route from Pyramid Harbor to Fort Selkirk would become the major entry. He did not believe that the proposed Chilkoot tramways with connections to steamer services from Lake Lindeman would be successful because handling and portage costs would be too high. He also was dubious about the various railroad schemes because approvals and construction would take too long. 
Whatever the uncertainties of transport, the stampeders of '98 headed North. Those who read widely about the Klondike might have avoided some pitfalls and frustrations by preparing well and anticipating conditions, but their care did not necessarily eliminate all risks and woes. Success in the Klondike turned on good luck, sturdy character, sufficient resources, wise choices of transport, and particular conditions encountered en route. Stampeders whose preparations, resources, and abilities were inadequate were, naturally, more likely to be misdirected by erroneous information or the lack of information, and to be defrauded by transport companies and others. It is no wonder that many stampeders gave up before reaching the Klondike and returned home, and others, abandoning their Klondike dreams, scattered throughout the North in hope of striking riches elsewhere.
Who were the Stampeders?
Among those lured North were the obscure; the well-known; the impoverished; the wealthy; those who were well-prepared and those woefully ill-prepared; men fleeing from the law or their families; men keen to uphold the law and provide support for their families; and men whose wives and children accompanied them. Of the cast of thousands participating in the great exodus we know the individual stories of a remarkable number because many kept diaries, wrote letters that have been preserved, or published accounts of their experiences; and because a small army of journalists joined the stampede. Dispatches from newsmen and celebrities on contract proliferated in the newspapers of the United States, Canada, and Europe, but space was always made for newsy letters sent by ordinary folks.
Stampeders had many experiences in common. Problems of outfitting, marine transportation, and trail travel were similar for all stampeders, and their vicissitudes after reaching the gold fields (if they did) fell into one of several major patterns. Of course, stampeders were still unique as individuals, even if they were components in a mass movement.
To understand the appeal of the Klondike and Alaska to most stampeders, it is only necessary to recall the economic conditions of the 1890s. In 1893 a sharp recession slowed the economy and caused a high level of unemployment, a situation that had not been mended by 1897-98. If economic reality was grim for many people, their expectation of fulfilling the old American dream of improving their lot dramatically still bloomed freshly. Thus, psychologically, they were ready to uproot themselves and make other sacrifices to grasp at fortune.
Marshall Bond, a wealthy, young college-educated man whose father made a fortune in mining, was in Seattle when Portland docked after its historic voyage. Bond craved adventure as much as the notion of seeking gold, which was part of the family tradition. With no need to wait, because money for necessities was no problem, Bond and his party boarded the Queen in San Francisco just a week after he had watched the Portland's passengers arrive. 
Joseph Gibson started off in '97 too, leaving his wife and two sons behind. Before long they joined him at Dawson. The Gibson family later moved to Fairbanks and remained despite that they did not succeed in mining or even in marriage. 
Like Marshall Bond, Kirk E. Johnson of Wisconsin was a bachelor. His poleman's job for the telephone exchange bored him, and he hoped to do better in the North. Before setting out he wrote about his expectations to his mother: "I don't think gold is easy to pick up. I expect to work and earn a living for us both. There is no more danger than now in falling off a pole." 
An Illinois man, Ed Kingsley, tried the Valdez Glacier route to the Copper River country in '98. Kingsley gave up after one season of hardship and disappointment, as did Alfred McMichael after a short stay in Dawson and a start of mining near Nation City. McMichael was one of the witnesses of the tragic avalanche on Chilkoot Pass that ended the dreams of more than 60 stampeders.
Among the thousands of stampeders were many old-time miners. C.H. Gale of Sonoma was one of these. At age 60 "Old Hank" still yearned for the gold he had been chasing and "since he was able to distinguish colors." He was a Forty-niner, then stampeded to Kimberly in South Africa for diamonds and elsewhere for gold. He sold some of his California interests to finance his trip even though his Jackson Hill mine had given him $60,000 over the previous eight years. "Why go?" friends asked. "Because there is plenty of gold there," he answered, "and it does not cost 60 per cent to get it out, as it does here in California." Old Hank said nothing about "adventure" or "irresistible lures," yet seemed clearly to relish the novelty and expected hardship: "I expect to rough it, of course. A part of the time I will live on rabbit tracks, and that's thin diet, you bet, but I know how to draw my belt tight about me when grub is scarce." 
Most stampeders dipped into savings or borrowed money to make their trips, but others tried, with varying degrees of success, to work their way to the gold fields. Men took jobs as sailors or salesmen or offered services to newspapers and others to get their initial grubstakes. Singing for one's supper had a Klondike variation when Col. Fred Wilson, a 60-year-old minstrel man, earned travel money over the winter of 1897-98 by performing. First he wrote a song, had it published, and set out from New York City for upstate New York. At Elk and Masonic lodges and elsewhere he entertained with music, stories, and comedy and sold copies of his Klondike song. 
Klondike madness triggered some desperate acts. James Cullen, office boy for the National Security Company in New York, took $2,000 of his boss' money to the bank for deposit, deposited $1,000, and disappeared. He had often been heard to say that no one should start for the Klondike unless he had at least $1,000. "The boy had the Klondike fever in an exaggerated form," observed his employer. 
Another form of desperation resulted from disagreements among marital and business partners. Some partnerships broke apart. There were even some fatal results, as when farmer George Schofield of San Jose quarreled with his wife because he wanted to sell their homestead. She refused; he choked her, then went for his shotgun. Hired man Daniel Dutcher intervened with his rifle and shot Schofield dead. 
If you were lucky someone else might pay your fare. Two men benefitted from a Klondike contest sponsored by the New York Telegram. Two hundred candidates competed for two prizes consisting of a year's outfit and all transportation expenses. Newspaper readers voted for their favorites, and the winners, F.A. Louis and R.C. Dodge, represented organizations that put a major effort into their election. Louis, a fireman, got 299,088 votes while Dodge, a railroad conductor, polled 267,792. 
Some groups included individuals who were caught up in the general Klondike hysteria. A party of 48 German mechanics from New York set off for Seattle after a joyous parade through the city on three beer wagons displaying banners inscribed "Auf noch Clondyke." The men, who wore fur coats and carried revolvers, presented an agreeable spectacle to bystanders. They were a jolly lot, singing folksongs of their Fatherland as they toasted their gold future in pilsner, then, after stuffing themselves with liverwurst and kartoffel salad at Fritz Klein's saloon, continued by beer wagon to the rail station. Organizers had only collected $200 from each man, a low cost for getting to Circle with nine months of provisions. Before very long the German argonauts lost their joyous thrust. A fire in one of their railroad cars erupted at Glencoe, Ontario, destroying $12,000 in fur garments, mukluks, picks, shovels, dynamite, pickled herring, gaesseburst, limburger cheese, 14 barrels of sauerkraut, and other arctic supplies. Railroad officials uncoupled the supply car but would not permit the men to rescue any provisions because custom seals had been placed on the car. Before legal formalities could be overcome and water applied the car was demolished, leaving a "smoking, steaming mountain of truck that smelled like a second avenue restaurant behind a saloon during lunch hours." 
The Germans went on to Chicago where their treasurer advised them that the expedition's coffers were empty. August Dinger sent a telegram to New York, "Klondike is musgespieit and the railroad is verdammt. Send me $50 to come home." While party members believed that a custom officer's cigar had ignited their supplies and hoped for compensation from the railroad, they could not afford a wait in Chicago. Forty-three other messages similar to that of Dinger's were sent to New York. With such a general collapse of expectations, sorrow and frustration reigned among the Germans' families. Mrs. Walter Haferborn, however, was happy. She had married Haferborn the day before his departure and resented her short honeymoon. Also pleased was Lena Haferborn, Walter's sister, the betrothed of stampeder Theodore Schepp. Lena wanted to marry before the expedition started againin the unlikely event that a fresh start could be made. Earlier Theodore had argued that there was no time to marry, now fate had given them a second chance. "There is plenty of ice there," Lena advised him, "and the Klondike will not spoil." 
Stampeders included those eager to provide recreation for miners. Half the gambling fraternity of Tacoma started north to join those from San Francisco and elsewhere who were concerned about the lack of recreation opportunities in Dawson. "If the successful miners do not part with a good share of their wealth over the gaming table," a newsman commented, "it will not be the fault of the knights of the green cloth now speeding northwards." Gamblers were not narrow in their interests. "King" John Malone had the backing of a New York syndicate authorizing him to invest in mines as well as games of chance. Malone was a veteran stampeder who "has been in every boom or mining excitement since the first sailboat was built west of the Mississippi River." 
Tom Eckhart of Seattle's Union Club led the parade of gamblers from that city because police had recently closed him down after a player whined about a $5,000 faro loss. Police had confiscated much of Eckhart's equipment, but he bought more. Since Eckhart "is an old Leadville gambler and has the reputation of being the straightest man that ever sat behind a table in Seattle," he expected to do well. He would call his Dawson place "the Union Club, which will certainly make the Klondike more homelike for many of the prominent business, political and professional men who have gone to Alaska from Seattle." Bill Langdon and other gamblers left too on Portland's return voyage: "About the only gamblers left in the city are the Chinese, and they would not prosper should they go to the Klondike." 
Con men in Seattle and elsewhere caught the spirit of the stampede. "Rebel George" Knowlton, a well-known gold brick vendor and all-around confidence man introduced himself to Jacob Haver, who was outfitting for the Klondike. Knowlton described his scheme for dredging on the Yukon and flourished some gold nuggets from the Stewart River. Wisely, Haver got a second opinion from a veteran prospector who doubted Knowlton's scheme and questioned the authenticity of his nuggets. Police were notified and arrested the con man. 
Most stampeders left for the North with the minimum of provisions and equipment, but some expeditions were heavily financed. A party of former military and naval officers took along a dredging steamer built by one of its members, 60 tons of mining machinery, 40 horses and 40 bob sleighs, and eighteen month's provisions. The prospectors planned to ascend the Stikine and work on the Stewart, Pelly, and other rivers. Another large enterprise, the Alaska Klondike Cooperative Mining expedition, was formed by 60 individuals who put up $500 each. They purchased two bucket dredges, a sawmill, a large metallic gold pan, and two boilers and engines for a steamer to be constructed on the Stikine River. While some members moved towards the Klondike from the Stikine, others prospected in the Stikine region. 
Some travelers planned exploration as well as prospecting. Two old-timers, Felix Seghezza and D.R. de Simone, left New York in midwinter to survey the Ashcroft, British Columbia route. Their mapping would open up unexplored country, establish the superiority of winter over summer travel, using dogs and sleds, and result in new gold discoveries. "We intend to combine practical exploring with a scientific study of the geological, the floral and general conditions of the country," Seghezza told newsman, "we shall not neglect to prospect." The men entrained for Vancouver and Ashcroft, then Quesnelle by wagon road and by trail along the Fraser River. Whether the wealthy scientific adventurers achieved any of their goals is not known. 
Inventive minds set to work on easing the way and making profits on the unique mass movement. A Chicago company projected an electric sleigh service from the Yukon headwaters to Dawson and was willing to accept money from investors. Sleighs furnished with upholstered berths and electricity for heating and lighting would carry contented passengers at 60 miles per hour along the frozen river. The first such trip was expected to be comparatively difficult, so the sleigh would carry "a number of men who will smooth over the rough places, and after the pilot becomes reacquainted with the road a fast trip will be possible." Individuals who preferred to travel independently could purchase small sleighs propelled by a motor, capable of taking a prospector "anywhere he may desire on the ice." Each such vehicle would be fitted with a motor-driven diamond drill which "can be driven fifty feet through the ice, and in this way bars and placer ground only accessible in the summer and at lower water can even be prospected in midwinter. If the diamond drill indicates gold in quantities, the prospector can stake off his claims." For both transport and prospecting the company's product would certainly have benefitted miners, but, unfortunately, production planned by winter 1897-98 was not realized. 
The electric sleigh-diamond drill machine was too ambitious a scheme for the day's technology, but its promoter was trying to answer obvious needs. Miners called on inventors to eliminate one of their most vexing tasks by providing a means of melting ice and frozen gravel by a more expeditious method than that of wood fires. A clever inventor was certain to make his fortune and the fortunes of thousands of others by some simple and cheap melting process. Finding gold was no problem, miners assured newsmen, but thawing ground at the bottom of shafts delayed their dreams. Inventors responded with a great variety of equipment although no effective machine was developed in the early Klondike development. C.J. Berry did start using steam points for thawing at Dawson in 1898 but the process was expensive and not widely employed. When dredge operations became extensive the need for a low-cost thawing system led to further experiments. In 1917 an engineer demonstrated that cold water points could be used at less cost and higher efficiency than steam points.
Departures to the North
From 1897 through 1900, and in later seasons when the latest gold excitement sparked an exodus, the waterfronts of Seattle, San Francisco, and other Pacific coast cities presented lively scenes. On July 28, 1897, the famed Excelsior departed for its return voyage north after bringing down the first of the "Klondike millionaires" and the news that had swept the world. Needless to say, the ship was packed and the Mission Street pier was thronged. Some 20,000 folks turned out in the sunshine to either say good-by to relatives and friends or simply to experience more fully the joyful fever that held the city and the nation in its grip.
The first party of argonauts was leaving for the Yukon, taking with them the affection and envy of those who remained. Cheers echoed after every man and woman who boarded the ship, as cargo handlers weighed luggage, then hoisted it aboard. Some pieces of luggage were tied with rope, others were strapped, and some were done up in canvas sacks, in which the owners proposed to sleep when they reached their destination. Mackintoshes and heavy coats were more commonly carried by passengers than fur coats, and everyone seemed to be packing firearms and ammunition. It is likely, a newsman wrote, "that the game in the country will be at least scared to death if not killed outright."
Photographers snapped the scenes continuously. Loud cheers erupted whenever an argonaut was presented with farewell gifts. Bouquets of flowers and flags vied with gilded horseshoes as the most popular presentations.
Little bits of descension did not dampen the enthusiasm of the good-natured throng. In fact, they rather enjoyed the flurry of excitement when one passenger, the first to have boarded, showed pensiveness, then extreme agitation as he commanded the recovery of his baggage, by then stored deeply in the hold. When flustered cargo handlers found his possessions the man stormed down the gangplank, refusing to answer the question hurled from all quarters: "Why?" "Why?" "Why?" Well, he had his reasons, but never mind, let the joyous show go on.
The arrival of revenue officers who treaded up the gangway and down into the ship's depths with a mysterious air caused a stir. Soon the officers emerged packing 15 kegs containing 60 gallons of whiskey. It seems that Excelsior's firemen, alert to trade prospects in contraband booze, had smuggled the kegs aboard. Someone must have informed on them. The crowd cheered the whiskey, the intrepid officers, and the resourceful firemen.
Two men arrived late, glowing with whiskey imbibed in waterfront saloons, slipping and falling in desperate struggles to remain upright. One fell in a hatchway and hurt his head. Doctor John Hartley hurried aboard, cheered by the watchers who thought he was the captain, probed the stricken seaman and pronounced him sound but for drunkenness. Capt. Tom Higgins appeared, fired the seamen, and watched while police helped them ashore.
Sad scenes were observed as tearful couples said their last farewells. Finally, the little ship of the Alaska Commercial Company was ready. "Cast off the stern rope," shouted Higgins loudly. As the engines shuddered into explosive life and the whistle pierced the air, pandemonium burst from the dock: "Such a yell went up as had never been heard in San Francisco." Thousands of white handkerchiefs fluttered at the 100 argonauts "while those not possess of this article flung wildly over their heads hats, umbrellas and parasols." Argonauts, "heroic figures" all, waved in response. Other boats in the harbor sounded whistles as Excelsior headed for the Golden Gate, steaming "for the country of riches, hardships and privations." 
It was quite a send-off. Many others, somewhat less attended, followed as the flow continued. No one attending any of these departures questioned the momentousness of the great northern migration.
Sailing from Seattle did not attract such huge crowds, but early ones were well attended and, as novelties, were described by the press. When City of Kingston departed July 27, 1897, with 200 passengers, some 7,000 interested folks visited the Yesler Wharf in the course of the day. "There were some tears spilled on the rough boards that floor the warehouse," a newsman noted, "but the wives and sweethearts as a rule bore up bravely and said nothing to make the grind in leaving home harder than it naturally was." Two young men, smartly dressed in gray cadet suits, attracted attention. One was George Allen, a "brilliant" University of Michigan student whose father, the former U.S. Senator from Washington, and other family members were seeing off. The cadets expected to win a fortune before returning to academic life and would perhaps be the youngest miners in the Klondike. Allen got into minor trouble in Skagway and concluded his Alaska adventure a few years later at Nome after being convicted of armed robbery. Another young man had been preparing for hardship ever since the gold-heavy Portland had arrived with nightly hikes up Queen Anne Hill wearing rough miners' clothes, hob-nail boots, and carrying a pack. Others told of sleeping outside at night to "harden themselves." Generally, the passengers seemed serious; only a few were drunk. "It seems to be too serious a matter to start on in a drunken condition," a reporter said. 
Another observer at Seattle's dock as Mexico departed in July '97 with 300 passengers likened the separation of families to that common during the Civil War. But differences lay behind the good-byes; a "different spirit" flowed on dockside and on deck than if the men were going off to war. "His heart was light with the prospect of success which he might win, and the other had only to fear the natural hardships which would necessarily attend him whom she loved and waved adieu." 
Cautionary notes which appeared in the newspapers amply suggested that the path to the Klondike was not strewn with roses. J.B. Kerfoot of New York reported that he did not even land from Queen when it reached Skagway in August, but he knew all about the travails fellow passengers faced. He was amazed that so many parties brought along riverboats for the Yukon passage and only learned on landing that the boats could not be transported to the headwaters. "Hundreds of those boats are on sale or are being burned . . . Many have given up, and outfits costing $300 and $400 are being bought for a song, $33 in one case. Scores will die on the pass or in the bitter cold beyond." On the beach the hastily dumped stampeders and their baggage presented a pitiful sight: "Think of being thrown out at 5 p.m. on a ledge of rocks, with an impossible precipice behind you and an oncoming 29-foot tide in front, your things somewhere in a heap of stuff fifty feet deep covering half an acre, and a nice, fine rain falling the while." Yet the hopeful men gave three cheers as Queen departed "and every mother's son thinks he is going to find a fortune. Half of them will be lucky if they get buried." 
An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle carefully explained that much of Alaska and the Yukon should be considered terra incognita, and that would-be travelers must beware of "trails" marked on maps. Most such trails had been scarcely used and were not necessarily passable: "When a trail is spoken of as existing between any one given point and another, it has no further meaning than that a man, and possibly a beast of burden, may travel that way over the natural surface of the ground. It may consist of nothing more than a blazed path through the almost impenetrable wilderness" of dense forest. Such occasional editorials tempered exuberant news stories with calm assessments and warnings. In "The Frozen Facts" the San Francisco Chronicle gave "the sober truth . . . that 10 times as much gold has been talked of there and on the road from there to civilization as anyone has ever seen." Also sobering was the fact that no authentic reports of rich discoveries had been reported of anywhere else but the Klondike. What such facts suggested to reasonable folks is that stampeders should not join the fall '97 dash then under way but wait until spring '98 to see if other rich ground existed in the North. 
The proliferation of schemes for transport to the gold fields was understandable. Promoters were eager to attract inventors by announcing plans for roads, railroads, and novel means of reaching the Klondike. Newspaper readers needed wariness to distinguish promises from reality. Chimerical projects, including a bicycle road over the Chilkoot and a road by the Stikine River way from Fort Wrangell to Lake Teslin were reported by the press but remained visionary. Also soberly reported but never built was a railway from Montreal to the Klondike via the Peace, Liard, Finlayson, and Pelly rivers to the Yukon. The road would extend 1,600 miles, and the company proposing it promised that the first 1,100 miles to the Pelly would be completed within 20 months. Other fantastic schemes were proposed by daring individuals like C.W. Vosmer, a man "with dreamy blue eyes and a high forehead" who exhibited a small balloon in San Francisco and planned an air voyage to Dawson. His airship, the largest ever constructed, would start from Cincinnati. "If we get the proper kind of encouragement we can go to the Klondike easily," Vosmer said. Perhaps Vosmer did not get the "encouragement" or money he needed as nothing more was heard of the balloon flight. 
Helen Dare of the New York Journal voyaged to St. Michael in August 1897 with "gold crazed" stampeders whose obsession seems appalling: "It's 'the Klondyke, Klondyke, Klondyke, gold, gold, gold' from early morning until drawing eve." No one seemed to care for the beauty of nature or anything else: "Gold possesses every mind, all other interest and incidents are like broken twigs on a swollen stream." This sickened her: "Gold is pretty and good to have, but one grows to hate its yellow sheen when one sees how it draws men on and plays pranks with them like a mocking devil." At St. Michael two shiploads of stampeders heard all about the starvation threatening in Dawson, yet the travelers refused to turn back. "'I'd rather die than turn back now' is the grim determination of everyone, and some of them are very clear headed." Many expressed the belief, however, that others should give up. 
Dare's negative comments suggest the possibility that women generally resisted the Klondike lure or, at least, remained level-headed amidst the hysteria. On examination, however, it appears that Dare's disdain for gold-hunting was relatively rare. Women, in considerable numbers, headed north individually, with husbands, as members of mixed groups, and as members of all-women ventures. The law did not restrict the right of women to hold any gold they found, and those who succeeded were widely respected in the north. Naturally, prevailing attitudes towards women influenced the men who considered their roles.
Jack McQuesten, the Yukon pioneer, eagerly interviewed when he visited New York in November '97, made light of hardships women stampeders would face. Earlier it had been different. On his first ventures in the 1860s he went for months without speaking to a soul. A man then had few "companions in misery, and if he fell by the wayside, he stayed there, with no helping hand to give him aid." Now the country was fuller and friendlier. Any capable women could do well at dressmaking, laundering, mining, or other work. And, if she wished to marry, "there are whole armies of nice fellows with fine claims who are looking for wives, and unless a women is unspeakable she seldom leaves Alaska unmarried." McQuesten apparently did not like "new women," those who were assertive about their rights and questioned traditional fashions and everything else. He advised them to stay away as there was no demand, particularly those who wore short dresses which police banned in Dawson. 
A much-publicized women's expedition headed by Mrs. Hannah S. Gould of New York was treated with due respect in the newspapers, although one Seattle reporter pretended that it threatened the plans of a former minister in Seattle for auctioning women in Dawson. Gould did not see the humor of the story. She was a serious businesswoman with experience in railroad construction who was commissioned by New York capitalists to report on Klondike possibilities. Some 25 other women were eager to go with her to establish various enterprises including a hospital. Gould set age limits of 25 to 56 and she also reserved the right to send back any women who misbehaved.
Each woman was required to bring a complete outfit of supplies. Only one long dress could be taken by each, but plenty of warm clothing and a kind of bicycle suit was mandated. This corduroy suit consisted of a belted jacket, knickerbockers, a short skirt, Klondike hat and high, stout shoes. For summer work a tweed jumper and skirt with a long gingham apron and old-fashioned sunbonnet was recommended.  "Our object," Gould stated, "is to make money, but we are not going to be any more uncomfortable while trying to do this than is absolutely necessary."
Gould expected to reach Dawson by April, although she was somewhat optimistic in expecting the Yukon River from St. Michael to open early enough for her schedule. The party, which left New York on City of Columbia, consisted of widows, for the most part, who were not looking for husbands. Gould did confess, or so newsmen alleged, that she would consider a gold millionaire's offer, if made, and her disciples echoed the same view. Most were women of means, women who liked to read and converse on cultural topics. 
Mrs. T. Webb Taylor, a beautiful, Harlem society woman, headed for the Copper River "because she was dared to do so." Her husband accompanied her, and she had his tailor make two suits of Eskimo style clothing. The couple's outfit also included the entire furnishings for a cabin, including carpets. Newsman were skeptical of the woman's chances: "She has no more idea of the misery she will be called upon to endure than a July butterfly has of the signs of December." Mr. Taylor only agreed to go because she insisted against his most persistent warnings and, presumably, because he believed she might soon lose her zest. "He does not relish a three years' residence in the wilds of Alaska and he has no yearning whatever to explore the Copper River or any other river." 
Another women, "Mrs. Flemming," a.k.a. Mary Alice Almont Livingston, previously acquitted of charges of murdering her mother in a much publicized trial, made it to Dawson but sent back urgent appeals for help: "All the money I took with me has been swallowed up. Send me help. I am in peril." 
Miss Mary W. Board of New Jersey organized another women's expedition whose ambition was to found a city in the Copper River region. She was considered a formidable woman because, several months earlier, she had achieved some notoriety after capturing three would-be burglars in her home. It was her understanding that the climate resembled that of New York: "There are vegetables and game in plenty," she believed, "the Copper River Indians plant their gardens late in April, and live comfortably in their huts in winter." Each expedition member would receive provisions for one year and two lots for those wishing them. Board planned to bring a portable house, portable sawmill, and portable hospital, plenty of garden seed, a camera, a chaplain, and "last but not least," the American Flag. "The city would be a woman's town in every sense of the word," although some men would be permitted there for the heavier work, Miss Board explained. Men definitely would not participate in community management. In other respects, too, the Board City would look to the future. A much-publicized inventor named Nicholas Tesla had developed an electrical plant using the power of the sun's rays, and Board City would utilize such a plant for its needs. Mary Board's plans understandably attracted a lot of interest: "Here at least," wrote one newsman, "is a woman who has gone more deeply into the question of escaping the indolence of man than any other known in history." 
What should women wear? Mrs. R.E. Craft, the Chicago wife of an experienced Montana miner, chose brown corduroy bloomers, an outfit that shocked the more conservative while attracting the attention of more open-minded gawkers. "The matter of a proper costume for this trip gave me considerable trouble," said Mrs. Craft, who had given her husband trouble when he tried to leave her in Chicago when he went north. "When I determined on bloomers as the only fit thing to wear, I modelled my entire outfit on the same plan." With warm flannel underclothing, stout shoes, etc., she was ready for climatic rigors, "especially as I have never been sick a day in my life." 
Plenty of women went to the Klondike on their own. A Middletown, New York, woman told the press that she was dissatisfied with her husband's income as a tailor and would seek a better fortune. He would take care of the three kids and expressed every confidence that his wife would succeed.
Martha Louise Purdy wanted to go along with her husband, Will, and her brother on their venture to the Klondike in 1898. She was enchanted by the prospects and jaded with society life in Chicago. In Seattle Will Purdy left Martha for a few days to attend to business in San Francisco. Soon he wrote her that he had changed his mind. Terrible tales of hardships on the Klondike Trail had set him on another course. "How about Hawaii," he asked? We could make a fortune there under better conditions. Or she could go back to Chicago and wait for him. Martha Louise rejected Hawaii and Chicagoand Will Purdy as well. By failing to share her northern vision he had proved himself "undependable," and she wanted no more of him and found her own way north.  Forty years later she would become the first woman governor of the Yukon Territory.
The first professional baker on the Yukon was Mrs. J.T. Wills who also ran a laundry at Circle in 1895. Her oven could only handle two loaves at a time, but the demand kept the fire hot all day. She baked 14 loaves daily and sold them at $1 a loaf. Wills also provided the first shirt-starching service in the North and did mending for miners. She had pioneered in New Mexico, Colorado, and Washington before going north. She joined the Klondike stampede, bought a valuable claim, fought claim jumpers in the courts, and found time to cook for the Alaska Commercial Company at $15 daily. 
Women went as showgirls, housewives, nurses, cooks, prospectors, whores, missionaries, and schoolteachers. Mrs. L.C. Howland of San Francisco was not content to be idle while her husband worked for a northern trading company. She intended to open a school in Dawson for the "forty children unfortunate enough to be there." Children need to learn "something besides the way to cook beans with a quantity of fat pork or to pan gravel." She would also offer advance courses to adult miners who had leisure for study during the winter, using a variety of texts and works by Hawthorne, Scott, and Lamb. "I will charge just as much for tuition as I can get," said the pretty brunette. Mrs. Howland also arranged to write some Klondike articles for the San Francisco Chronicle." 
Mrs. W. Place of San Francisco planned to work on a lay with her husband and others. "I want to get rich and will do so if I can," she said, showing reporters a lightweight pick and shovel set. Although her first concern in clothing was comfort rather than style she had chosen "becoming" colors for her bloomers, short skirts, and other items. At St. Michael she figured that she would buy fur garments. In case work with pick and shovel provided irksome and the miners' demand for sewing warranted it, she brought along a sewing machine. 
Miss Blanche King of New York planned mining speculation but did not favor primitive living conditions. She took along three sealskin costumes, several trunks of clothing, provisions for two years, a cook, a horse, two St. Bernard dogs, one spaniel, four canaries, a piano, and $10,000 in cash. "I always travel this way," said the young woman. Prospecting was difficult for women, "but with a little capital I think I can do better than the average prospectors" by buying part interests in active claims. The press thought it worthwhile to report that Miss King's piano was not to be boxed up on the voyage from San Francisco to St. Michael so that guests visiting her splendidly furnished suite on the steamer North Fork would enjoy music to relieve the tedium of the voyage. Unquestionably, Miss King enjoyed the publicity that her luxurious quest sparked, then, unaccountably, she changed her mind. "Women miner funks," noted a newspaper, "Miss King has failed to appear" at the scheduled sailing of North Fork. 
Some women were only assertive in traditional, romantic ways. The postmaster of Dawson received poetic declarations of romantic longings from six "California girls," Monterey residents, who asked that their individual messages be given to different Klondike miners. Each missive was tied with a lover's knot of different colored ribbons and contained a pointed offering. Verses were of uneven quality but nice sentiments:
Still another promised:
Miss Ellen Mayburn was named as the addressee for any miner wishing to respond. 
Pacific coast cities competed strenuously as centers for outfitting. Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, San Francisco, Juneau, Vancouver, and Victoria were among those proclaiming their advantages as jumping off points for the Yukon. San Francisco's advantages as the largest city on the coast and longtime headquarters of the Alaska Commercial Company were neutralized by the shorter distance from Seattle and aggressiveness of its merchants in seizing on business opportunities. J.J. Healy's choice of Seattle as the North American Transportation and Trading Company's regional headquarters in 1892 helped the Puget Sound town's cause too, but the flood of advertising sent out from the newly formed Alaska Bureau of the Chamber of Commerce in Seattle under energetic Erastus Brainerd provided an enormous stimulus. Other Seattle-based operations before the Klondike boom included the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, which moved from Portland in 1892, and the Alaska Steamship Company, organized in 1895. 
Outfitting and transporting the miners was a matter of serious commercial interest among responsible businessmen but, inevitably, there were elements of misrepresentation and fraud. The average miner started north with 1,000 pounds of food, soap, candles, groceries, cooking equipment, mining gear, clothes, and a sleeping bag. Flour, bacon, beans, and sugar headed the food list but a variety of other foods were also available. Because the food processing and packing industry had developed earlier in the century, shoppers could choose among canned, evaporated, concentrated, desiccated, compressed, liquified, crystallized, and granulated products. 
Opportunists and quacks responded vigorously to Yukon market possibilities. "ARE YOU GOING TO KLONDIKE?" asked the Sander Electric Co. in newspaper ads for Dr. Sander's electric belt. "It requires two kind of capital to make this venture. The man who goes through must have strength and nerve as well as money. Weak men will lose out, but belt wearers will prevail. This is an electric life-giver. It saturates the nerves and muscles with animal magnetism, which is the force that builds up weak constitutions. Many who have already started on this trip have been made strong by this famous belt." Whether many stampeders actually succumbed to this con is not known. Perhaps a few electric belts fell among the trail litter but modest strong men or would-be strong men did not boast if they wore this kind of equipment. 
Newspaper advertisements were as full of Klondike items as were the news columns. Some men asked for grubstakes and others called for miners to represent them. Mining stock was offered from 25 cents to $1,000 a share. Participation in joint stock companies was available from $200 to $1,000; you could either go along or stay home to gain benefits. If one wished to make money without taking part in any Klondike venture there were countless opportunities to buy businesses from men eager to set offor their homes. There were lots of books for those longing for facts on the Klondike, priced from 25 cents to $1.50. If you preferred selling to buying books, positions as book agents were open. Machines could be purchased as well, "sure thing" machines guaranteed to rob mining of hard work, misery, and risk. For $50 daily one could lease a portable device for penetrating frozen soil. Transportation companies made light of logistics and promised to put men in the gold fields with all their supplies at any season of the year.
Mining enterprises of Arizona, Colorado, Arkansas, Kootenai, Sarinam, South America, and Mexico used "the Klondike" in their advertisements as an invidious comparison. "Why go to Alaska?" they asked, "Come to our mild climate and participate in truly rich mines." But most advertisers wanted readers to believe in the Klondike and be ready for opportunities. Among compelling ads were the following from a San Francisco newspaper:
Some outfitting items were not advertised, as, for example, stolen dogs. "If you have a dog you care anything for keep your eye peeled," warned the San Francisco Chronicle in August '97. A "gigantic dog trust," aware of the superiority of dog transport in the interior, were rounding up strays for sale as dog prices soared. Trust members were the poundkeepers of San Francisco, Stockton, San Jose, and Oakland. The Stockton keeper admitted the secret scheme when confronted by a reporter but the Oakland keeper denied its existence, although conceding "it is a pretty good scheme." All he saw wrong with the plan was the poor quality of dogs available. He knew northern travel conditions and calculated that only two of 200 local strays "would be any good." 
Farsighted men thought of everything. One prospector hauled a huge bundle of old magazines. He was a veteran of earlier gold camps and knew the value of reading material where package mail service had not been established. If he was correct each magazine would fetch up to $10 before he reached Dawson.
Another man shipped a stack of bicycles. He had used one earlier conveying baggage over the Chilkoot. Bikes could not surmount the steepest portion of the trail but would be wheeled along carrying 100 pounds for much of the route with more ease than backpacking would entail.
The competing qualities of pack animals were heavily debated. Horse and mules were shipped in quantity, but some innovators insisted that goats would do better. Dogs' success on the trail had long been established, and prices of larger breeds like Newfoundlands and St. Bernards soared to a $75-$150 range.
Modern forms of transit received attention too. A California man organized a company to provide balloon service between Juneau and Dawson. The flight would require only 24 hours. There would be no danger, backers assured the public, because northern air currents are "solid and steady." Ballooning would be much faster than "a stage or even a railroad." The first flight would be made on a balloon then under construction as soon as investors paid in $2,000. As there is no record of the flight it must be assumed that the scheme did not arouse sufficient interest. 
Why dig for gold, reasoned some crafty men? Let's ship a cargo of onions north: It's "a sure thing." Such wisdom motivated many individuals and business managers who reflected upon their place in the Klondike excitement. Favoring provisioning over digging came naturally to those established already as merchants but countless others innocent of any connection with trade reached similar conclusions. Thus a glut of entrepreneurs, carrying a wide variety of goods, joined the good surging north. Those who guessed well on miners' needs and did not suffer unforeseen losses did well, but many others found their timing bad, ran into a market glut, or otherwise encountered troubles that often beset those keen on piling up fast profits.
Outfitting in Seattle for some included carousing in the tenderloin district. By August '97 celebrants en route to the Yukon overflowed the hotels. Police interviewed those who had had too gay a time: "They were robbed, beaten, cheated, and fought," said the Seattle Times, "and they seem in many cases to be proud of the scars they have this morning, and not to mind the loss of a few hundred dollars more or less, although it was taken without their consent." The first flow through Seattle had been western folks, then the eastern arrivals predominated and were free and easy in spending. Some hinted of greater celebration to come when they returned with Klondike gold. 
With this motley tide of adventurers heading north in 1897-98, it is no surprise that the military eventually had to help the destitute. But help did not come until after widespread reports of hardship and deprivation motivated the government to undertake relief measures.
Notes: Chapter 3
Last Updated: 01-Oct-2008