Tag Archives: Eustace Paul 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.