Tag Archives: Eustace P. Ziegler

The Chilkoot Trail


From the January-February, 2020 issue of Alaskan History Magazine:

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Packers on Dyea Trail, 1897. Photo by LaRoche, Seattle, Wash., from the Library of Congress, [www.loc.gov/item/2016653518/].

“The men take up the packs, and this is what happens: They walk to the base of the cliff, with a stout alpenstock in hand. They start to climb a narrow foot-trail that goes up, up, up. The rock and earth are gray. The packers and packs have disappeared. There is nothing but the gray wall of rock and earth. But stop! Look more closely. The eye catches movement. The mountain is alive. See! They are going against the sky! They are human beings, but never did men look so small.” ~Tappan Adney for Harpers Weekly, 1897

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Freight and supplies unloaded near the Long Wharf at Dyea, circa 1898. Photographer Eric A. Hegg. University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, [HEG117]

The Dyea Trail, or as it would come to be known, the Chilkoot Pass Trail, began on the broad, flat flood plain delta of the Taiya or Dyea River. The trail ascended gently, following the 17-mile-long river through the mountains. After about 12 miles the trail began to rise sharply, gaining over 1,600 feet in just two and a half miles. Then the steep climb over the pass itself, followed by trails leading down the eastern flanks, where long lakes provided easier travel, whether by canoe or toboggan. The route had been used for travel and trade by the local indigenous groups long before the rest of the world discovered this part of the north.



On July 14, 1897 the S.S. Excelsior docked in San Francisco and sparked a fevered interest among the veteran California gold miners. Three days later the S.S. Portland arrived at the port of Seattle with its legendary ‘ton of gold,’ and the west coast—indeed the entire nation—went mad for the Klondike diggings. A special edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer desclared in bold headlines “Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!” and local outfitting stores began emptying their shelves overnight, as men and women hastily grabbed for whatever supplies they could and caught the next ship north. Where there had been a trickle of hopeful prospectors searching for another El Dorado, there was now unleashed a flood tide of humanity in all its incarnations. Over the next few years an estimated 100,000 stampeders would join the rush to the north, and the bulk of them were headed for Dyea. 

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Art by Eustace Paul Ziegler

There were other routes, to be sure, such as the White Pass Trail out of nearby Skagway, of which Samuel E. Moffett wrote in 1903, “By the White Pass route you did not have the precipitous ascent of the Chilkoot, but you had to go twice as far, and you struggled through bogs in which you were likely to leave your horse and, perhaps, your entire outfit as well. The whole trail was blazed by the carcasses of dead horses.” That passage would come to be known as The Dead Horse Trail, but when the White Pass and Yukon Railway was completed in August, 1900, it quickly became the route of choice. 

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Postcard, Library of Congress

Within a few years, as the rush to the Klondike assumed major proportions, the steps cut into the snow and ice of Chilkoot Pass would become known as the “Golden Stairs,” and men would proceed up in lockstep fashion, a image which might be utterly unbelievable if not for the photographs proving it so. Four miles below the summit, Sheep Camp would become a haphazard tent town of more than a thousand souls, with fifteen hotels, innumerable eating places, and even a hospital to tend those wounded on the trail. 

Far below, at tidewater, the boomtown of Dyea grew up around the Healy & Wilson trading post in the fall of 1897, as word of the Klondike gold strike brought increasing numbers of people north. The National Park Service website describes the growth of Dyea: “As late as September 1897, Dyea was still nothing more than the Wilson & Healy trading post, a few saloons, the Tlingit encampment, and a motley assemblage of tents. In October, speculators mapped out a townsite, but Dyea’s biggest growth did not begin until the Yukon River system began to freeze up and the winter storms slowed traffic on the Chilkoot Trail. Without the ability to dash up the trails, people began spending more time in Dyea and it became more town-like.”

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Deteriorating pilings are all that remain of the Long Wharf at Dyea. Photographed in 1986  by Jet Lowe for the Historic American Engineering Record (Library of Congress HAER AK-38)

A long wharf, almost two miles in length, was begun in 1897, shortly after the platting of the townsite, by promoter L. D. Kinney. The wharf was 50 feet wide, 4,000 feet long, and extended from low tide to deep water, being 34 feet deep at the shore end and 60 feet deep at the outer end, with pilings driven 25 to 50 feet into solid ground. Completed in May 1898, the great wharf extended almost two miles across the mud flats and into deep water, and connected to Broadway which led directly into town.

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From an 1897 book

During the winter of 1897-1898, Dyea grew until the downtown area was about five blocks wide and eight blocks long. At the height of its prosperity the town boasted over 150 businesses, mostly restaurants, hotels, supply houses, and saloons. There were also doctors, a dentist, attorneys, bankers, photographers, realtors, two newspapers, two telephone companies, a volunteer fire department, two hospitals and three undertakers, who were pressed into service when a devastating avalanche roared across the trail on Palm Sunday, April 3, 1898, killing over 70 people. 

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NPS map, click to enlarge

The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park was created in 1976, a four unit park comprised of the Dyea and Chilkoot, Skagway, and White Pass units in Alaska; and the Seattle unit in Washington state, memorializing the historical period during the Gold Rush. The site of the town of Dyea and the route of the Chilkoot Trail were designated as National Historic Landmarks in 1978, officially recognized by the United States government for their national historical significance.


The Chilkoot Trail: Cultural Landscape Report for the Chilkoot Trail Historic Corridor, Nat. Park Service PDF, 2011.     

Klondike. The Chicago Record’s Book for Gold Seekers, 1897.

Klondyke facts, by Joseph Ladue, 1897. Library of Congress:

ExploreNorth, A comprehesive online guide      

Klondike Gold Rush National Park

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Klondikers carrying supplies ascending the Chilkoot Pass, 1898. From “The Klondike, a souvenir”, Rufus Bucks Publisher, Seattle, 1900.

Alaskan Artists

The Nov-Dec issue of Alaskan History Magazine featured short biographic sketches of four great artists from Alaska’s past, and with this post I’ll share links to more information and examples of artwork from each of them.

Screen Shot 2019-11-27 at 7.31.02 PMSydney Laurence (1865–1940), probably Alaska’s best-known artist, came north in 1903 and lived in Tyonek, later in Valdez, and in 1915 he moved to the new railroad town of Anchorage. By 1920 he was considered one of the most prominent artists in Alaska and through techniques he had learned in New York and Europe, helped define Alaska as the Last Frontier. There is a very good biography of Sydney Laurence at LitSite Alaska, another at the Alaska History site with photos from his time in Anchorage, and a gallery of his work at Artnet.com. See also: Sydney Laurence: Northern Exposures From A Brooklyn Boy (Seattle Times, 1990)

Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 8.50.50 PMTheodore Roosevelt Lambert (1905-1960), arrived in Alaska in 1925 or 1926 and worked as a sled dog musher hauling mail and freight, giving him insight to the land and its moods which he later captured on canvas. He also found jobs as a miner, logger, and trapper, which honed his observations about people. Lambert worked for the Fairbanks Exploration Company, making enough to study at the American Academy of Art in Chicago in 1931. He spent a winter in Seattle studying art with Eustace Ziegler. He married a young teacher and they had a daughter, but when he displayed paranoia and wild-animal behavior, she took their baby daughter and left. Lambert moved to a cabin on Bristol Bay. He mysteriously disappeared in 1960, leaving a stack of unfinished paintings and a 250,000 word manuscript. No trace of him was ever found. A short bio and a few paintings can be seen at The Antique Gallery, and there is a gallery of his artwork at the University of Alaska Museum of the North website.

Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 8.54.44 PMFred Machetanz (1908-2002) first came to the territory in 1935 to visit his uncle, Charles Traeger, who ran a trading post at Unalakleet. He volunteered for the U.S. Navy during World War II, requested a posting to the Aleutian Islands, and rose to Lt. Commander, responsible for intelligence for the North Pacific Command. He returned to Unalakleet in 1946. In 1947 Machetanz married writer Sara Dunn, and they settled near Palmer and had a son, Traeger. They published several books and collaborated on films for Walt Disney, the Territory of Alaska, and Encyclopedia Britannica. From 1948 through 1960 they made many lecture tours through the lower 48 states. He was named Alaskan of the Year in 1977, and American Artist of the Year in 1981 by American Artist magazine. Machetanz was also awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Alaska and Ohio State University. There is a short bio and many paintings and lithographs at the ArtNet website, and an excellent biography and samples of his art at LitSite Alaska. See also: A Northern Adventure: The Art of Fred Machetanz, introduction to the retrospective exhibition by Kesler Woodard.

Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 9.11.03 PMEustace Paul Ziegler (1881-1969) came north in 1909 at the age of 27 to manage an Episcopal mission in Cordova, one of the first artists from the United States to arrive in Alaska. He was trained in painting at the Detroit Museum of Art, and when his missionary work required extensive travel to the mining communities of the Copper River country, it gave him an opportunity to paint portraits of many different frontier characters, including miners, priests, fishermen and especially Alaskan Natives, for which he became widely known. Ziegler left the ministry and moved to Seattle in 1924, after receiving a major painting commission there. A prolific artist, he once estimated that he had painted over 50 paintings a year for 60 years. Ziegler continued to make trips to Alaska every year, becoming one of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest’s most popular artists. There is a short biography of the artist at the Alaska State Museum site, and over 200 of his artworks can be viewed at ArtNet.

1898 Matanuska Valley

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Original artwork for Alaskan History Magazine ©2019 Jon Van Zyle

Among the great articles in the Nov-Dec issue of Alaskan History Magazine is a look back at the Matanuska Valley in 1898. Captain Edwin F. Glenn, Twenty-fifth Infantry, United States Army, was the officer in charge of explorations in southcentral Alaska in 1898. The main task of ‘Military Expedition No. 3,’ under the War Department, was to explore the country north of Cook Inlet in order to discover the most “direct and practicable” route from the coast to the Tanana River by utilizing passes through the Alaska Range.


Knik Arm looking east [NLM/Helen Hegener]

Captain Glenn was charged with collecting and reporting on all information that was considered valuable to the development of the country, so his descriptions of the expedition are a fascinating look at one of the earliest official government incursions into the Cook Inlet and Matanuska regions, and northeast into the Copper River Basin.

Captain Glenn kept a diary of his travels, which is available to download or read free online at the UAA/UPC Consortium Library website. His sometimes blunt and unvarnished writings illuminate the many trials and travails which beset the expedition, but they also give voice to a keen observer of the world – and men – around him. 


Knik Arm flats [NLM/Helen Hegener]

“We reached Knik Inlet finally, cast anchor, and waited for the vessel to go aground before attempting to unload. We were deeply impressed with the appearance of everything in this inlet. The weather was much more mild than in the lower part of the inlet, and the season more advanced than at Tyoonok or at Ladds Station by at least three weeks. The trees were in almost full leaf, and the grass a sort of jointed grass resembling the famous blue grass of Kentucky was abundant and at least a foot high. The length of this arm is about 25 miles. Coming in at the head of it were the Matanuska and Knik rivers, the former from the east, the latter from the south. The valley there is quite flat and about 20 miles across. In fact, the valleys of both streams are in full view from just above the trading station.”

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Walter C. Mendenhall, USGS

Geologist W. C. Mendenhall, a member of Captain Glenn’s expedition who would go on to a distinguished career (including Director of the USGS from 1930 to 1943), made the first rough geological survey of the Matanuska Valley and the routes followed by Glenn. He mentioned the guide, Mr. Hicks, who had been prospecting in the area for three years, in his highly detailed official report, A Reconnaissance from Resurrection Bay to the Tanana River, Alaska, in 1898 for the Twentieth Annual Report for the USGS, Part VII, Explorations in Alaska in 1898 [Mendenhall’s report begins on page 265]: “Among the prospectors at the head of Cook Inlet but one was found who was acquainted with the Matanuska country. This gentleman, Mr. H. H. Hicks, Captain Glenn was so fortunate as to secure as a guide for the expedition, but neither he nor anyone else could give us any definite idea of the character of the interior beyond the head of the Matanuska.”

NLM 1898 Mat ValleyMendenhall’s explorations covered areas on the western shore of Prince William Sound and a route extending from Resurrection Bay to the head of Turnagain Arm, thence by way of Glacier and Yukla Creeks– the Crow Pass route between Girdwood and Eagle River–to Knik Arm, up the Matanuska Valley to its head, and then northward to the Tanana River. After describing the the Matanuska River’s attributes and tributaries, relative heights and characteristics of the mountains, and vegetation in the Valley, Mendenhall’s report turns to accessibility:


Matanuska Valley from Hatcher Pass [NLM/Helen Hegener]

“The Matanuska Valley is at present reached from Knik, which is the head of navigation on Cook Inlet, and to which vessels of shallow draft can go at high tide. There is a good horse trail from Knik to the upper end of Matanuska Valley, and the character of the ground and of the vegetation is such that this trail could be made into a wagon road at comparatively slight expense. It takes horses from one to two days to reach Moose Creek, depending on the load, and … a day and a half to go from Moose Creek to Chickaloon River.” 

“The principal trading and mining centers are Sunrise, Hope, Tyonek, and Knik, and in these camps or the mining regions adjacent to them most of the whites may be found. A few each year penetrate some distance beyond the borders of the well-known districts and reach the interior of the Kenai Peninsula or prospect within the Matanuska Valley. Two small parties this year (1898) succeeded in getting nearly across the Copper River Plateau, and a few hardy traders or prospectors in previous years have reached the interior, but they have left no records.”

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Matanuska River [NLM/Helen Hegener]

And finally, Mendenhall described the Valley as an access route to interior Alaska: “From the head of Knik Arm the Copper River Plateau and all of the interior accessible from it is reached by way of the Matanuska Valley. For the greater part of the way from Palmer’s store on Knik Arm to Tahneta Pass, at the head of the river, travel is easy. A sharp climb of 1,000 feet after crossing Chickaloon Creek, a little rough work in getting across the canyon of Hicks Creek, and a short steep climb out of the valley of Caribou [Creek], are the principal obstacles. The Tazlina River heads east of this gap, and by following it the Copper will be reached a few miles above the new town of Copper Center. This route has been followed by the Copper River Indians for many years in their annual trading trips to the stores on Cook Inlet.” 

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“The Runaways,” by Alaskan artist Eustace Paul Ziegler

An example of Mendenhall’s fascinating account of their trip: “Our progress over the rolling forested floor of the lower valley  was without more important incident than the occasional retreat of the pack animals overnight and the consequent delay next day, until we came to the ford of Kings Creek on July 29. This stream, like all those on the western slope of the coastal mountains in Alaska, is turbulent, but ordinarily its volume of water is not great; recent rains, however, had raised it to much beyond the normal. Just below the broad and comparatively shallow ford is a reach of swift, wild water, where the stream is confined in a narrow channel, across which a couple of logs had been placed side by side to serve as a footbridge.

Ziegler detail

Pack horses were a favorite subject of Ziegler’s. Detail of “The Goldseekers.”

“Canwell, the ex-cavalryman of the party and an excellent horseman, volunteered to try the ford and mounted the bellmare for the purpose. Everything seemed to be going well until he reached the middle of the channel, when his mount stumbled over a bowlder in the creek bed. She fell far enough for the swift current to catch her pack, and then in an instant was swept off her feet and carried stumbling and struggling into the rapids, Canwell clinging to her and trying to direct her struggles toward the shore. In the swift water she was rolled over and over, now head and pack, now heels, appearing above the muddy current, until man and horse crashed into the footbridge. For an instant it resisted, and then was carried down by the weight. A few yards below Canwell was pulled out, shivering, bruised, and half drowned, but there seemed no hope of saving the old mare. She was rapidly weakening, and even when she regained her feet in the quieter water farther down the stream she could not stand. Fortunately she had on a riding saddle instead of a pack saddle, and the pack finally loosened and came off. Thus relieved of her load, she succeeded in getting ashore, but 200 pounds of our precious provisions were on their way to the Pacific; later we would have given much for them. Further move was out of the question for that day. We spent the afternoon drying out, for some of the pack mules had followed their leader, and nursing our invalids.”

Screen Shot 2019-10-25 at 1.48.24 PMSubscribe to Alaskan History Magazine for great articles in your mailbox with every issue! Among the articles featured in the Nov-Dec issue are the Ed S. Orr Stage Co. which ran from Valdez to Fairbanks, the startling history of the remote Woodchopper Roadhouse, Tlinget activist for Native rights Elizabeth Peratrovich, and the 1935 WPA Guide to Alaska. Also Alaskan artists, old postcards, and classic books on Alaska’s history! 

Click here for details! 

A People at Large

Copper-TintsThe following is a chapter from a slim book titled Copper-Tints: A Book of Cordova Sketches, by Katherine Wilson, illustrated by Eustace P. Ziegler, and published in 1923 by the Cordova Daily Times Press.

A People at Large

That more or less indefinite region north of the Yukon known as the Chandalar Country owes its name to one given by the early French-Canadian traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company to the singular native tribes that ranged there. Because these came from none knew where, recognizing no boundaries and taking to themselves no local designations, they were called gens de large––people at large. With peculiar fitness the name applies to all Alaskans, for in more ways than one we are a people at large. Coming from everywhere, we go vagrantly here and there, ranging over a great area. A vast country is ours, and in appropriating it to ourselves we recognize no local limitations. Perhaps this is nowhere more true than with us of the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound. Here, midway of all adventurings into and out of the Territory, from contact and habit we think in terms of far places. And so, in our common concerns we speak an itinerant tongue. 


by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

To us, all the world is divided into two parts: Alaska and Elsewhere. And in reference to either, one talks in none but generalities. That portion of the globe which in a definite and specific way stands for civilization must never be specifically named; far too remote and magical is it for that! Seattle, San Francisco, New York, are never referred to as such, but with grandiose cosmopolitanism as “The Outside.”

Similarly, the country to the north in any direction is “The Interior.” The Tanana, the Koyukuk, the Iditarod, the Kuskokwim or the Porcupine Country, each a remote and vasty section of the great Territory, is definitely enough, Inside. And so with Coast destinations. En route to Anchorage or Kodiak, Nushagak or St. Michaels, a difference of a thousand miles or two one way or the other calls for no special designation; one journeys nonchalantly “to The Westward.” Even a jaunt to Juneau or Ketchikan is “to the Panhandle.” Speaking judiciously, the terms may be varied by reference to the First, Second, or Fourth Division. But to particularize on their respective centers as Sitka, Nome or Fairbanks is to confess a perspective unworthy of any but a chechako! 


by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

Long accustomed to measure his journeys by the hundred miles, his time by weeks and months, the real Alaskan is aware only of magnificent distances. Excursions by canoe and dog-team through regions noted only for their part in leading to the place he is bound for, have evolved in him but a passing interest in way-stations. It is a habit of years, which the coming of rapid transit and the consequent shrinking of space have failed to alter. A few hours’ trip by railway to Chitina, Strelna or Kennekott is invariably a run “up the Line,” while to continue to Gulkana or Paxson’s Roadhouse, even by automobile, is to go in ‘over The Trail.” By the same incorrigible vagrancy have the very railway stations been tagged, the place at which the trains stops to take on water or let off a lone prospector bound for his diggings being denoted no more specifically than as Mile 39, Mile 72, or Mile 115! 

The truth is that there is an engaging picturesqueness about all this. Alaskan names are in themselves all compact of romance. Traces left by the geography of early navigators and the mixed jargon of sealers and whalers, the marks of the Muskovite and the Oriental, remain in the nomenclature of a land that was an Eldorado long before the Pilgrims stepped on Plymouth Rock. Always the Mecca of adventurers, the country is permeated with the tang of the Seven Seas. To this the modern Alaskan instinctively reacts, his own inordinate love of the wilderness plunging him naturally into the language of Vagabondia. 


by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

How long will this continue, who knows? The land is fast taking on the meagerness of civilization. Into it is coming the settler with his stationary mind, his paucity of imagination. And so, in the not too distant future we may see certain transformations. We, too, may have our Smith’s Coves, our Jonesville Crossings, our Schaefer’s Creeks; our Christianias, New Warsaws. Already the signs appear. But for a little while yet the land is ours. And until progress claims it for its own, it is our delight in our speech of it to indulge the inborn romanticism of the pioneer. 

~from Copper-Tints: A Book of Cordova Sketches, by Katherine Wilson, illustrated by Eustace P. Ziegler, and published in 1923 by the Cordova Daily Times Press.

The entire book can be read at this Google Books link.