Column No. 70

Jack’s Great Alaskan Adventure - III

Bob Ring, Al Ring, Tallia Pfrimmer Cahoon

This is the third and final part of the story of Jack Fraser’s great Alaskan adventure. Jack was one of over 100,000 optimistic “stampeders” participating in the Alaskan Klondike gold rush that started in 1897. We tell his tale as a composite of several of Jack’s letters to his brother Al and his sister Annie, written between the fall of 1897 and the spring of 1898.

Dear Al and Annie,

We finally got back to Dawson the land of gold, where I was headed in the first place – this time with provisions – but what a “holy terror” of a trip from Circle City. Looking back on it, it seems as if I had been in a nightmare all the while. We started on the first of February, reaching Dawson on the 21st. All through February the cold was intense. I pulled a sled loaded with 300 pounds of supplies and slept on the trail. Every night we camped in the snow, our clothing wringing wet with perspiration and still damp when we started in the morning. For over a week, nearly two, the thermometer registered 40 to 60 degrees below and even greater than that. I don’t want any more of it!

The famous mines are about seventeen miles away and are situated on Bonanza Creek, which enters the Klondike about three miles from Dawson, and Eldorado Creek, a tributary of the Bonanza. It is probable that for their extent, the Eldorado mines are the richest that were ever found and have furnished good stakes for a whole lot of poor men, but the richest of them, both on Eldorado and Bonanza, will be worked out this winter and unless some new rich diggings be found the Klondike boom will be apt to explode.

Thus far nothing comparable to Eldorado has been found although thousands of men have been scanning the country in every direction since last winter. The good ground on these two creeks and in their vicinity was all located in the fall of 1896 by mostly tenderfeet. When I was there the creeks were lined with cabins and tents and men, but a great many have gone out this winter, but I suppose their place will be taken by others coming in.

Of course prices of everything except air in the gold fields runs from 5 to 20 times higher than outside and so far only the cheapest grade of goods has been brought into the country. The tea, for instance, that is sold here at 50¢ to $1.00 per pound costs 5¢ a pound in San Francisco. This is a fair specimen of the goods sold in this delightful land. Miners’ wages have been cut from $15 a day to $10 and at a time when all other prices were going the other way. Just now no flour or in fact any supplies are being sold and flour is worth $200 a sack - a while ago candles were bringing one dollar apiece. But in ordinary times flour sells at the companies’ stores for $6 a sack of 50 lbs, bacon 40¢, beans 15¢, rice 20¢, sugar 40¢, roles, oats, wheat and like cereals at 25¢, canned goods 50¢ per can, dried fruit 35¢ and everything else in proportion. The companies make less profit on flour than other things which of course is the reason why they do not bring more in and as a consequence it is same every year. Most of the flour we use now is damaged flour. Whiskey, and poor stuff at that, costs 50¢ a glass.

Deaths are constantly occurring in the mines and in Dawson. Pneumonia and typhoid fever catch the most of them. This winter there will be great suffering as about 2500 people had not provisions for the winter. Many have gone down the river and of these a great number did not have grub. Like every booming camp, the Klondike has been overrun since last spring. One of Artemas Ward’s sayings was: “When the war broke out I was one of the first to stay at home.” That is about the best thing to do in the case of a gold excitement.

We eat two meals a day at 8 or 9 am, and 3 or 4 pm, and our living consists largely of beans and bacon, oatmeal and rice, with a little fruit, no vegetables. The rice we make up into pancakes consisting of rice, which has been previously boiled, and a little flour (which was very scarce of a time) mixed with a little baking powder, in the same way as the ordinary flap jack and the result is, or we think it is, extremely satisfactory when eaten with brown sugar syrup. We have had hardly any bread to eat and do not hanker after it since the coming of the rice cakes. Wood has to be hauled about two miles on a sled. The Yukon furnishes the water near our door.

Dogs do the work that horses and mules do in other lands, and prices of the animals are of course, like everything else, rather altitudinous, averaging some 150 to 300 dollars per dog and very scarce even at these prices. They are good workers and of a cheerful and kindly disposition.

The “long artic night” is a fraud. On the shortest day, December 21st, there was about seven hours of good daylight. Which of course includes the twilight, as the sun was above the horizon only about an hour.

What a vast luxury a newspaper would be! Not a word has come to us from the outside world since we came here. Rumors float in now and then but they usually turn out to be pure fabrications. The Yukon liar is the most robust of the species to be found anywhere. After the lack of provisions experience we do not believe anything we hear anymore. Most of the gold fields reports that appear in the newspaper outside are inventions of newspaper men and all the stories of the fabulous wealth of the Klondike and Alaska are pretty near all dreams.

Much of the mail sent last fall has not reached here yet and not likely will before the river opens in May. The mail’s comings and goings, like everything else in the remote region, are very uncertain.

I would not advise anyone to come to this country unless he makes up his mind to stay three to five years and to be possessed, besides of considerable cash to stay with, of the very best sort of a constitution. There is no doubt of the existence of great gold fields here, hardly a stream in the country but shows in color, but, pay gold is just about as elusive here as anywhere, and, as in all mining camps, the majority go broke. Many are called but few are chosen.

Two steamers are going out tomorrow - down the river to St. Michael’s and I will send this letter to you.

It is likely I shall go out this summer, stake or no stake, as I don’t want to spend another winter in this country - and so I shall not be likely to get an answer from you - but be sure and write anyhow - perhaps I may strike it rich and not hurry away.

Here’s hoping you are both in the best of health and enjoying yourself to the best of your ability and within the limits of the law. Good bye. Yours Jack

Note: Jack did “go out” that summer, unsuccessful in the Klondike Gold Rush. He returned to mining in Colorado, where he met his future wife Ines in 1902.

(Sources: Fraser family records, courtesy of Connie Fraser Kiely)

Gold Mine

This was a typical gold mining operation on Bonanza Creek in the Klondike. (Courtesy of Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, 1898)

Next Time: Ines Fraser’s Courtship and Marriage

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