Tag Archives: Klondike

The Early Settlement of Valdez

valdezFrom the March-April issue of Alaskan History Magazine:

The Pathfinder is the official publication of the Pioneers of Alaska, a fraternal group which traces its history to the Yukon Order of Pioneers, organized at Fortymile in 1898. The following article on the early settlement of Valdez is from The Pathfinder, February, 1920. The issue is available to read or download at Google Books.

On the 22nd day of September, 1897, the schooner Laninfa sailed from San Francisco with 33 passengers aboard enroute to the mouth of the Copper River in Alaska. They had been told that they could navigate this river with small power boats and were fully equipped to make a trip up that turbulent stream. On their arrival at Orca they learned that it was impossible for them to ascend the Copper River with any kind of boat, so about 20 of the men in the party chartered a cannery craft and came on up to Valdez Bay having been told that men had gone to the Copper River by that route thus landing above the glaciers and rapids of that river. The cannery boat carrying 22 men came into Valdez Bay on the 10th day of November, 1897 and landed its passengers at the place now known as Swanport, just below where Fort Liscum now is built. This was the first settlement on the shores of Valdez Bay.

Sch. Moonlight on Valdes Bay

Schooner Moonlight in Valdez Bay, March, 1898. Neal Benedict [ASL Neal D. Benedict Collection P201-009]

Sometime in December, about a month after the landing of the Swanport party, the schooner Bering Sea hove into port with a large number of passengers bound for the Klondike by way of the Copper River.  In February, 1898, the steamer Valencia arrived in the Bay with 600 passengers, and crafts of all kinds then came thick and fast until there were over 4,000 men climbing over the glacier bound for the Copper River enroute to the Klondike. In 1898 Capt. Abercrombie arrived in Valdez Bay for the purpose of opening a road from the Bay to the Interior. 

In the winter of 1898 a group of gold seekers traveled to Alaska aboard the schooner Moonlight, bound for Valdez and the Copper River country beyond its great glacier. Among these prospectors were Charles Margeson, who would write a book of their adventures (Experiences of Gold Hunters in Alaska, 1899), and Neal D. Benedict, who took many photographs. 

Arriving in Valdez Bay in March, 1898, Margeson was dismayed to find not the wharf they’d expected, but a large shelf of ice extending a long ways out into the bay. He described their landing and unloading, and what they found when going ashore: 

“About a mile from where the schooner was anchored was a piece of timber containing two or three hundred acres, and running down through this was a clear stream of pure water. In the edge of this timber, and near this little stream, were about one hundred tents, clustered together, and others were being set up. This unique camp—for it was about that—presented a scene of unusual activity. Some were tramping down the snow, preparing a place to put up their tents; some were cutting tent poles, and others were cutting firewood, while others were getting their dog teams ready for hauling their goods up to the foot of the glacier, which was five miles away.”

Learn more about early Valdez

Valdez Museum & Historical Archives  

Experiences of Gold Hunters in Alaska, Charles Margeson 

History of the Valdez Trail National Park Service 

History of Valdez 


March-April 2020 Cover 600You can subscribe to Alaskan History Magazine via PayPal at this link, you can also order a single issue for yourself or a friend, or order any back issues you may be missing.

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The Chilkoot Trail

 

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

Packers 1897 LoC 420

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

Long Wharf HEG117 420

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.

GOLD GOLD 1897

GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!

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. 

Chilkoot Pass PC

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.”

Long Wharf piers 420

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.

RESOURCES

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.

Still More Classic Alaskan Books

Classic Alaskan books from the Sept-Oct and Nov-Dec issues of Alaskan History Magazine:

Conquering the Arctic Ice, by Ejnar Mikkelsen (1909)

Eijnar MikkelsenIn October 1907 the Danish polar explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen, co-leader (with Ernest de Koven Leffingwell) of 1906-1908 Anglo-American Polar Expedition, which established that there was no land north of Alaska,  set out on a formidable journey, which would take him west along the Arctic coast from Flaxman Island to Barrow, Nome, Fort Gibbon, Manley Hot Springs, Fairbanks, and then down the Fairbanks-Valdez Trail to Valdez, where he boarded a ship for home.

His trip was detailed in his book, published in London in 1909 by William Heinemann. Available to read online at Google Books.


A Dog Puncher on the Yukon, by Arthur Treadwell Walden (1923)

Arthur T. WaldenArthur Treadwell Walden was a dog driver during the Klondike and Alaskan gold rushes. He would become a respected trainer and freighter on Admiral Byrd’s 1928-29 expedition to Antarctica, but thirty years before, in northern Canada, he gained  fame as a sled dog driver and freighter over the northern gold rush trails near Dawson City, Circle City, and Nome. 

After returning to New England Walden began a breeding program which produced the Chinook breed, based on a dog by that name which he knew as a sled dog driver in the North.


Dog Team Doctor, The Story of Dr. Romig, by Eva G. Anderson (1940)

Dr. Joseph RomigIn 1896 Dr. Joseph  H. Romig traveled to Bethel, Alaska, and opened the first doctor’s office and hospital west of Sitka, at a time when there were very few non-native people living in remote southwest Alaska.

 For a time, Dr. Romig was one of the only physicians in Alaska, and he became known as the “dog team doctor” for traveling by dog sled throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in the course of his work. Four decades later a book would be written about the good doctor’s adventurous and life-saving exploits across the vast northern territory.


Seward’s Icebox, by Archie W. Shiels (1933)

Sewards IceboxArchibald Williamson Shiels, born in Scotland, emigrated to the US in 1893. He became chief of staff to railroad contractor Michael Heney, supervising the construction of the White Pass & Yukon Railway, and was later involved in the construction of the Copper River and North Western Railroad. Shiels joined the Pacific American Fisheries in 1916, the largest salmon cannery in the world, and served as President of the company from 1930-1946.

Shiels collected a vast amount of informational material, from which he researched and wrote many historical manuscripts, books, and speeches. His well-researched Seward’s Icebox begins in 1867 with the transfer of Russia to the United States and continues to the date of publication. 


Tillicums of the Trail, by George C. F. Pringle (1922)

Tillicums of the TrailSubtitled ‘Being Klondike Yarns Told to Canadian Soldiers Overseas by a Sourdough Padre,’ this is a collection of true stories from the Klondike and nearby regions, as told to troops by the Chaplain to the 43rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Forces, at Avion, France, during the First World War. Pringle was a pioneer bush pilot and United Church minister and this book contains some classic northern tales, “….because in every man there is something that stirs responsive to tales of the mystic Northland, vast, white, and silent.” 

Pringle’s true stories to his men included his first trip by dogteam, the legend of the Lost Patrol, the story of Skagway’s notorious “Soapy” Smith, a trip down the Yukon River by scow from Whitehorse to Dawson City, Christmas and wedding celebrations in the Klondike and more. Available to read online at Project Gutenberg.


Ploughman of the Moon, by Robert W. Service (1945)

Ploughman of the Moon, ServicePloughman of the Moon: An Adventure into Memory is the autobioigraphy of Robert Service, famed Bard of the Yukon whose popular poetry includes The Spell of the Yukon, The Cremation of Sam McGee, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and countless others.

This warmly personal account traces the first half of his life, from his boyhood in Scotland to his emigration to Canada at the age of 21 with his Buffalo Bill outfit and dreams of becoming a cowboy, drifting around western North America from California to British Columbia, being sent to Whitehorse and later Dawson City by the Canadian Bank of Commerce, and gaining fame for his captivating way with words. The book is available to read online at Project Gutenberg 


Alaska Days, by Erastus Howard Scott (1923)

EH Scott book 420 resPublished in 1923 by Scott, Foresman & Co., this slim 100-page volume is the photo-rich recounting of a journey taken by Erastus Howard Scott and his wife as they travelled from Chicago to Seattle and boarded a ship which took them across the Gulf of Alaska to Katalla, Valdez, and finally Seward.

From Seward they rode the newly-built Alaska Railroad to Fairbanks, photographing and describing everything along the way, including a memorial stop for the recently departed President Harding. Available to read online at Google Books.


Alaska The Great Country, by Ella Higginson (1908)

Ella Higginson book 420 resElla Rhoads Higginson (1862-1940) was one of America’s most celebrated early 20th century writers, and the first Poet Laureate of Washington State, 1931. Her book ‘Alaska, the Great Country,’ an annotated history of Alaska and an absorbing  travelogue of Higginson’s adventures there, was published in 1908 and went through several editions.

Higginson describes her trip with the less than politically correct mores and values of her time, but her keenly written observations of territorial Alaska make this a fascinating account. Available to read online at Project Gutenberg.


A Summer in Alaska (Along Alaska’s Great River) F. Schwatka (1893)

Schwatka book 420 resPublished by J W Henry, St. Louis, in 1893, ‘A Summer in Alaska, A popular account of an Alaska exploration along the great Yukon River from its source to its mouth,’ by Frederick Schwatka, is the enlarged edition of his ‘Along Alaska’s Great River, published in 1885. 

The book details Schwatka’s explorations along the Yukon River, from its source in northwestern Canada to its mouth on the west coast of Alaska, the first full-length navigation of Alaska’s greatest waterway. Available to read online at Project Gutenberg.




 

Trailing and Camping in Alaska

Addison Powell coverTrailing and Camping in Alaska, subtitled Ten Years Spent Exploring, Hunting and Prospecting in Alaska – 1898 to 1909, was written in 1909 by Addison M. Powell, an adventurer, prospector, hunter, and a former guide for Captain William R. Abercrombie’s 1898 Copper River Exploring Expedition, which was one of three military expeditions organized under the direction of the Secretary of War with directives for exploring the interior of the new territory of Alaska. Powell’s familiarity with the land made him a valuable addition to Abercrombie’s efforts over the next several years, and brought him into contact with many men who would help to shape the future of Alaska.

Powell and Co. copper rock

Addison Powell, resting his chin in hand second from the left, with friends and a large nugget of copper found on Nugget Creek, in the Wrangell Mountains, summer of 1902. [Photos are from Addison Powell’s book, Trailing and Camping in Alaska, Wessels & Bissell, 1909]

The May-June 2019 issue of Alaskan History Magazine included selected excerpts from chapter 21 of Powell’s book, on his explorations around the Copper River country and the Wrangell Mountains. In the spring of 1898, Abercrombie was directed to organize his men and supplies at Valdez, on the coast, and to explore northward into the valley of the Copper River and its tributaries, and farther north to the Tanana River, seeking an all-American route from coastal Alaska to the Klondike gold fields.

The Copper River

The banks of the Copper River.

The following year Abercrombie would be responsible for constructing a military road from Prince William Sound at Valdez to Eagle on the Yukon River, a route which became known as the Eagle Trail. Powell, who had been exploring and prospecting in the country, once again joined the effort as a guide and surveyor. The following years are filled with exploration, adventures, and a continuing search for a lost gold strike. 

Addison Monroe Powell was born November 25, 1856, in Clinton County, Indiana; he was 42 years old when he joined Abercrombie’s 1898 expedition. His sub-report, published in Abercrombie’s 1899 Government Report on the Copper River Exploring Expedition, appears as chapters of this book. Powell passed away in Santa Barbara, California, on January 29, 1932, at the age of 75.

Trailing and Camping in Alaska, Ten Years Spent Exploring, Hunting and Prospecting in Alaska – 1898 to 1909, by Addison M. Powell. Originally published in 1909 by Newold Publishing Company, New York, New York. 300 pages, 30 b/w photos, published September, 2018 by Northern Light Media. $24.95 (plus shipping). Click here to order via PayPal.

Classic Books on Alaska

Six non-fiction books briefly noted in the inaugural issue of Alaskan History Magazine, presented here with links to their digital versions, free to read online, where available.

The Ascent of Denali (Mount McKinley), by Hudson Stuck (1918)

Ascent of DenaliHudson Stuck, an Episcopal Archdeacon, organized, financed and co-led the first expedition to successfully climb the South Peak of Mt. McKinley (Denali). With co-leader Harry Karstens (later the first Superintendent of Mt. McKinley Nat’l Park), and four native youths, Stuck departed Nenana on March 17, 1913 and reached the summit of McKinley on June 7, 1913. Walter Harper, a native Alaskan, reached the summit first. Illustrated with Stuck’s photos from the journey and published in 1918 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, “The Ascent of Denali” is Stuck’s fascinating account of that pioneering expedition.

 Project Gutenberg Edition


A Woman Who Went to Alaska, by May Kellogg Sullivan (1902)

Woman Who Went to Alaska“Two trips, covering a period of eighteen months and a distance of over twelve thousand miles were made practically alone. Neither home nor children claimed my attention. No good reason, I thought, stood in the way of my going to Alaska…”

With these words the plucky and determined May Kellogg Sullivan opens her book, recounting her extensive travels to Yukon and Alaskan gold camps and beyond, seeking adventure and her fortune,  at a time when few women ventured anywhere alone. Published in 1902 by James H. Earle & Co.

Project Gutenberg Edition


Golden Alaska, An Up-to-Date Guide, by Ernest Ingersoll (1897)

Golden Alaska

Subtitled “a complete account to date of the Yukon Valley; its history, geography, mineral and other resources, opportunities and means of access.” 

The Dial, a literary journal of the time, noted in their July 1, 1897 issue that Ingersoll’s book was “a timely publication just issued,” citing the author as “a well-known writer of books of travel,” and noting the book was “well printed and contains numerous half-tone reproductions from photographs of Alaskan scenery.” Published in 1897 by Rand, McNalley & Co. 

Project Gutenberg Edition


The Alaska Railroad 1914-1964, Bernardine Prince (1964)

The Alaska Railroad 1914-1964Bernadine LeMay Prince, who joined the U.S. Government-run 470-mile Alaska Railroad company in 1948, worked with seven Alaska Railroad managers. In the early 1960’s she used her almost 20+ years of experience and knowledge of the railroad to compile a remarkable two-volume photographic record of the construction and growth of the Alaska Railroad.

Utilizing photos from the Alaska Engineering Commission’s photographers, among others, she traced the railroad’s history from it’s beginnings in 1914 through decades of sometimes difficult change, to the earthquake of March, 1964. Included are over 2,100 b&w photographs and line drawings. Published by Ken Wray’s Print Shop, Anchorage, 1964.

Not available in digital format. 


Compilation of Narratives of Exploration in Alaska (1900)

Collected RepostsBy the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, United States Congress, 1900. An important gathering of reports by Frederick Schwatka, Ivan Petrof, W.R. Abercrombie, Henry T. Allen, and many others, comprising the records of expansion of non-natives’ knowledge of the territory. Assembled to facilitate a review of territory covered, and the possibilities of opening all American routes to the interior of Alaska. 

“Henry Allen in his report of the reconnaissance of Copper River and Tanana River valleys states that the Indians drew a number of maps. The one he reproduces …. shows the route to Cook Inlet via Suchitno river.” Sixteen reports with 27 folding maps and 33 b/w plates. U.S. Gov’t. Printing Office, 1900. 

Google Books Edition


Old Yukon Tales-Trails-Trials, James Wickersham (1938)

Old Yukon Tales-Trails-TrialsTerritorial judge James Wickersham describes his career as a pioneer attorney, judge, and later as a congressional representative, assigned to a district extending over 300,000 square miles. He made the first recorded attempt of Mt. Denali in 1903; the summit he attempted is now known as Wickersham’s Wall. 

Once seated as a congressional delegate for the District of Alaska, beginning his term in 1909, Wickersham orchestrated changes to Alaska’s relationship with the federal government, in passage of the Second Organic Act in 1912, establishing Alaska officially as a United States territory with a legislature. Wickersham would go on to serve several more terms as Alaska’s delegate to Congress, his last term running from 1931-1933. Published by Washington Law Book Co., 1938.

Not available in digital format.



 

Ed S. Orr Stage Co.

Orr Stage leaving Valdez PC

A popular hand-tinted postcard circa 1910 depicting the Orr Stage leaving Valdez for Fairbanks.

The Edward S. Orr Stage Company, also known as the Fairbanks-Valdez Stage Company, was only one of several stage lines which operated along the Valdez-to-Fairbanks and Chitina to Fairbanks Trails in the early years of the twentieth century, but it was uncontestably the most successful. When the Klondike gold rush started, Ed Orr was in the right place and quickly made his way north. He formed a small freighting company with William V. Tukey, of Boise, Idaho.

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Pack train, Chilkoot Trail, 1897.

Their string of packhorses hauled goods for the Chilkoot Railroad & Transport Company over the Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, at tidewater, to Sheep Camp, where the cargo was transferred from horseback to buckets and sent to the summit via a cable tramway. In 1899, after completing their narrow-guage railroad over White Pass, the White Pass & Yukon Railroad bought out the Chilkoot Railroad & Transport Company, effectively ending Orr and Tukey’s freighting company.

In August, 1899, Orr and Tukey loaded 28 horses and 70 mules, along with a dozen people and several tons of goods, into nine scows and sailed them from Lake Bennett down the Yukon River to Dawson City, arriving to great fanfare on August 21st. Orr’s wife Jennie and their young son, Thorold, were among the passengers. Business was brisk in Dawson City, and Orr & Tukey advertised that they would carry “All kinds of freight, to any of the creeks, safely and quickly delivered,” utilizing horses, mules, and dogs, pulling various types of wagons or sleds.

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Orr & Turkey Stage at the Ogilvie Bridge over the Klondike River, Dawson, Yukon Territory.

James Wickersham, en route to his new appointment as territorial judge in Eagle, visited his old friend Ed Orr in Dawson City, and in his book, Old Yukon: Tales, Trails and Trials (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1938), he described Orr as “six feet tall, handsome and generous.” In 1901 Orr & Tukey merged their freighting business with the Hadley Stage Line and expanded their freighting and stage business to a small mining camp on the Alaskan side of the border named Fairbanks, and it was soon one of the largest freighting companies in the territory.

edward_s_orr_stage_company_wagon_on_the_chitinafairbanks_road_alaska_1906

Orr Stage, circa 1906.

In 1905 Orr’s partner, William Tukey, retired to Idaho. The following year, 1906, Ed Orr moved his family and his freighting company to Valdez, Alaska. The Orr Stage Company was successful from the start, and Ed Orr bought out the rival Kennedy Stage Company, making his the largest such company in Alaska in 1909. The fare from Valdez to Fairbanks was $150, the return trip was $125, on sleighs which could carry ten passengers on four double seats. Horses were changed out every 20-25 miles, and a telegraph station could be found approximately every 40 miles for safety and convenience.

Keystone Stage not used

Orr Stage, Keystone Canyon.

in 1910 Ed. S. Orr began considering a return to Washington state, as the myriad stresses of overseeing the company had resulted in his health declining. Jesse C. Martin, who had managed the company office in Valdez, was appointed General Manager of the stage line, and Ed. S. Orr and his family returned to Washington, where Orr underwent medical treatment and slowly regained his health. Back in Alaska the Orr Stage Company expanded to Chitina, but by the summer of 1911 the trail had been improved enough for wheeled vehicles to travel it during the summer, and  in April, 1914 a meeting was held in San Francisco at which the company directors gave their written consent to dissolve the company. Six months later, in September, 1914, Robert Sheldon drove the first car from Fairbanks to Chitina amidst much fanfare.

In the 1991 National Park Service’s Historic Structures Report on the Superintendent’s cabin at Chitina, a log cabin which had been built for the Orr Stage Company manager in 1910, the legacy of the Ed. S. Orr Stage Company is made clear:

“Although the Ed. S. Orr Stage Company only operated in Chitina for a short time, the company itself traces its roots deep into the development of the transportation industry in Alaska and the Yukon. Mr. Orr was one of the foremost pioneers in building not only a transportation empire, but through his efforts and good management of his company, he greatly impacted the development of the mining industry in and around Dawson City, Fairbanks, and finally along the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail.”

Orr Stageload Albert Johnson PC

A hand-tinted postcard showing the Orr Stage on the Fairbanks-Valdez Trail, circle 1910.

 

Ezra Meeker in Alaska

oie_2592726OeC5rLmpEzra Manning Meeker (1830–1928) was a pioneer who traveled the Oregon Trail in 1852 with his wife, their young son, and his brother, a journey which took them nearly six months. In his late 70s, after making and losing a fortune, he repeatedly re-traveled the route, meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt and working to memorialize the Trail he’d travelled as a young man.

Once known as the “Hop King of the World” for growing the hops used in making beer, Meeker was the first mayor of the town of Puyallup, Washington, in the Puget Sound region. By 1887, his business had made him wealthy, but in 1891 an infestation of hop aphids destroyed his crops and thereby much of his fortune.

oie_259246VQV1PkkbIn 1896, gold was discovered both in Alaska and in Canada, and the Meeker family, seeing the finds as a possible road to financial recovery, turned their attentions north. After a few less than successful ventures, Meeker was certain there was a way to make money from the gold rush. He and his wife spent much of the winter of 1897–1898 drying vegetables, and Ezra Meeker departed for Skagway, Alaska, on March 20, 1898 with 30,000 pounds of dried produce, His son Fred Meeker and his wife Clara were already across the border in what would soon be designated as the Yukon Territory

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Meeker, far right, stands before his first grocery store, Dawson City, November 19, 1898.

The 67-year-old Meeker, with one business associate, climbed the steep Chilkoot Pass, floated down the Yukon River to Dawson City, and once the ice broke up in late May, and sold his vegetables in two weeks. He returned to Puyallup in July, only to set out again with more supplies the following month. This time, he and his son-in-law, Roderick McDonald, opened a store, the Log Cabin Grocery, in Dawson City, and remained through the winter.

Meeker returned to the Yukon twice more, in 1899 and 1900. Most of the money earned through groceries was invested in gold mining and lost. Ezra’s son Fred died of pneumonia in Dawson City on January 30, 1901, and a few weeks later, in April, 1901, Ezra departed the Klondike for the last time. 

In his autobiographical book, The Busy Life of Eighty-Five Years of Ezra Meeker, he wrote about his northland adventures:

THE KLONDIKE VENTURE.

I had lived in the old Oregon country forty-four years and had never seen a mine. Mining had no attraction for me, any more than corner lots in new, embryo cities. I did not understand the value of either, and left both severely alone. But when my accumulations had all been swallowed up, the land I had previously owned gone into other hands, and, in fact, my occupation gone, I concluded to take a chance in a mining country; matters could not well be much worse, and probably could be made better, and so in the spring of 1898 I made my first trip over the Chilcoot Pass, and then down the Yukon River to Dawson in a flatboat, and ran the famous White Horse Rapids with my load of vegetables for the Klondike miners.

Chilkoot pass

Chilkoot Pass

One may read of the Chilcoot Pass the most graphic descriptions written, and yet when he is up against the experience of crossing, he will find the difficulties more formidable than his wildest fancy or expectation had pictured. I started in with fifteen tons of freight, and got through with nine. On one stretch of 2,000 feet I paid forty dollars a ton freight, and I knew of others paying more. The trip for a part of the way reminded me of the scenes on the Plains in 1852—such crowds that they jostled each other on the several parallel trails where there was room for more than one track. At the pass, most of the travel came upon one track, and so steep that the ascent could only be made by cutting steps in the ice and snow—1,500 in all.

Frequently every step would be full, while crowds jostled each other at the foot of the ascent to get into the single file, each man carrying from one hundred (it was said) to two hundred pounds pack on his back. Nevertheless, after all sorts of experiences, I arrived in Dawson, with nine tons of my outfit, sold my fresh potatoes at $36.00 a bushel and other things in like proportionate prices and in two weeks started up the river, homeward bound, with two hundred ounces of Klondike gold in my belt. But four round trips in two years satisfied me that I did not want any more of like experience.

As I have said, the trips to the Klondike became real adventures. Fortunately detained for a couple of days, I escaped the avalanche that buried fifty-two people in the snow, and passed by the morgue the second day after the catastrophe on my way to the summit, and doubtless over the bodies of many unknown dead, imbedded so deeply in the snow that it was utterly impossible to recover them.

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Whitehorse Rapids

I received a good ducking in my first passage through the White Horse Rapids, and vowed I would not go through there again, but I did, the very next trip that same year, and came out of it dry; then when going down the thirty-mile river, it did seem as though we could not escape being dashed upon the rocks, but somehow or another got through safely while the bank of that river was strewed with wrecks, and the waters had swallowed up many victims. When the Yukon proper was reached, the current was not so swift but the shoals were numerous, and more than once we were “hung up” on the bar, and always with an uncertainty as to how we would get off. In all of this experience of the two trips by the scows no damage resulted, except once when a hole was jammed into the scow, and we thought we were “goners” certain, but effected a landing so quickly as to unload our cargo dry. I now blame myself for taking such risks, but curiously enough I must admit that I enjoyed it, sustained, no doubt, with the high hopes of coming out with “my pile.” But fate or something else was against me, for the after mining experience swept all the accumulation away “slick as a mitten,” as the old saying goes, and I came out over the rotten ice of the Yukon in April of 1901 to stay, and to vow I never wanted to see another mine, or visit another mining country.

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First Oregon Trail marker erected by Ezra Meeker, in Tenino, Washington

Small wonder, you may say, when I write, that in two weeks’ time after arriving home I was able to, and did celebrate our golden wedding with the wife of fifty years and enjoyed the joys of a welcome home even if I did not have my pockets filled with gold. I had then passed the seventy-year mark, and thought my “pet project,” as some people call it, of marking the old Oregon Trail, was hung up indefinitely, but the sequel is shown in what followed and is the answer to my foreboding. I am now at this writing past the eighty-fifth year mark, and cannot see but I am as strong as when I floated down the Yukon in a flatboat, or packed my goods over the Chilcoot Pass, or drove my ox team over the summit of the Rocky Mountains on my recent trip to mark the historic Oregon Trail. 

• Read more about Ezra Meeker’s life

My Busy Life of Eighty Five Years at Gutenberg.org

Meeker Mansion, Puyallup, Washington