Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Skagway and the Klondike Gold Rush

White Pass & Yukon Route Train  Tour

Modern Skagway survives on tourist visits, especially by cruise ship passengers. The day Sherb and I arrived, it was cool and overcast. We signed up for the train tour up to the top of White Pass along one of the two main routes taken by prospectors in 1897 & 1898 to reach the Klondike gold fields along the Dawson River, five hundred miles into Canada from Skagway.  We met the White Pass & Yukon Route train that was waiting on dockside tracks for cruise ship passengers. 

Click for information about the White Pass & Yukon Route

One of many tour opportunities in Skagway, Alaska

Leaving Skagway

Along the route up to the pass

Announcement left by the Buchanan Boys, Alaska Entry Station on the Klondike Highway - photo contrast 

More about the Buchanan Boys

To take a ride on the train on a sunny day

Click here --> Glen Brewer's blog - Gold Rush Narrow Guage 

One of the best sources of information about Alaska is author James Michener's book "Alaska" which describes the formation of the land, the wandering migration of humans and animals from Siberia into North America. 

The town of Skagway and the wild, lawless Klondike Gold Rush period, caused by the United States Congress's total neglect to pass any laws for a legal basis to administer the vast Alaskan territory, are vividly described in Michener's book.

There were no laws, no way to legally purchase land, no way to legally enforce contracts, no official police or other law enforcement agency created by Congress when the United States purchased Alaska from Imperial Russia. Congress had the attitude of not wanting to know, nor deal with anything about Alaska until after the Japanese attacks across the Pacific including landings on some of the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea off Alaska.

Skagway was "Hell on earth" until a small force of Canadian Mounted Police established an office there during the Klondike Gold Rush to bring some order to the tens of thousands of gold crazed innocents who were the constant victims of the con man Soapy Smith and his gang within minutes of stepping off the ships that brought them to Skagway. 

Learn more about Soapy Smith - Click here

Each person wanting enter Canada either by White Pass or Chilkoot Pass had to bring a year's supply, one ton, of food and equipment to be able to pass the Canadian border posts to continue the long journey to the new gold strike.

Click for more Information about The Golden Stairs - the Chilkoot Pass

The list shows a suggestion of equipment needed for prospectors before they were allowed entry into Canada at the summit of the Chilkoot Pass, 1897-1899. Total weight: 1 ton
  • 150 lb. bacon
  • 400 lb. flour
  • 25 lb. rolled oats
  • 125 lb. beans
  • 10 lb. tea
  • 10 lb. coffee
  • 25 lb. sugar
  • 25 lb. dried potatoes
  • 2 lb. dried onions
  • 15 lb. salt
  • 1 lb. pepper
  • 75 lb. dried fruits
  • 8 lb. baking powder
  • 2 lb. soda
  • ½ lb. evaporated vinegar
  • 12 oz. compressed soup
  • 1 can mustard
  • 1 tin matches (for four men)
  • Stove for four men
  • Gold pan for each
  • Set granite buckets
  • Large bucket
  • Knife, fork, spoon, cup, and plate
  • Frying pan
  • Coffee and teapot
  • Scythe stone
  • Two picks and one shovel
  • One whipsaw
  • Pack strap
  • Two axes for four men and one extra handle
  • Six 8-inch (200 mm) files and two taper files for the party
  • Draw knifebrace and bitsjack plane, and hammer for party
  • 200 feet three-eights-inch rope
  • 8 lb. of pitch and 5 lb (2.3 kg). ofoakum for four men
  • Nails, five lbs. each of 6,8,10 and 12 penny, for four men
  • Tent, 10 by 12 feet (3.0 m × 3.7 m) for four men
  • Canvas for wrapping
  • Two oil blankets to each boat
  • 5 yards of mosquito netting for each man
  • 3 suits of heavy underwear
  • 1 heavy mackinaw coat
  • 2 pairs heavy machinaw trousers
  • 1 heavy rubber-lined coat
  • 1 doz heavy wool socks
  • ½ doz heavy wool mittens
  • 2 heavy overshirts
  • 2 pairs heavy snagproof rubber boots
  • 2 pairs shoes
  • 4 pairs blankets (for two men)
  • 4 towels
  • 2 pairs overalls
  • 1 suit oil clothing
  • Several changes of summer clothing
  • Small assortment of medicines

Entering the tunnel

Dead Horse Gulch - The bones of pack animals are still visible in the gulch

The trail to the White Pass was the less steep but longer route out of Skagway. It is estimated that over 3,000 pack horses and mules died of overwork and maltreatment as the Gold Rush stampeders pressed for more speed to get to the top of the pass.

Nearing the Canadian border as we pass a descending train  waiting on a siding.

White Pass and the US - Canadian border - 2,888 feet of altitude gained in a bit more than 20 miles from Skagway

Passing the old wooden trestle as we descend from the pass

Returning to Skagway. The Klondike Highway is visible in the center of the photo.

The Chilkoot pass was an almost vertical trail that required many trips up and back at 50 to 60 pounds per backpack trip to accumulate the 1 ton of supplies needed to enter Canada. It is estimated that to move the one ton of supplies 1 mile, the stampeders hiked 80 miles.

Click here for information about Skagway, Alaska

The History of Skagway

Wikipedia article about Skagway

Click here for information about the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 to 1898.


Next - A visit to Tracy Arm Fjord and Seattle Return

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