Tag Archives: Tlingit

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.

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. 

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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.

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.

Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit Activist

Young Peratrovich 420 res“No Natives Allowed” read the notice on a hotel door in Douglas, Alaska.

Elizabeth Peratrovich and her husband, Roy, Tlingit natives, had seen such signs before, growing up as they had in a segregated Alaska, with separate schools, hospitals, theaters, restaurants and cemeteries for whites and for natives. But this time something stirred within them, and so they wrote to territorial governor Ernest Gruening, and began their campaign to fight discrimination in Alaska. It would be a long, hard fight. An article in the Nov-Dec, 2019 issue of Alaskan History Magazine tells Elizabeth’s story.

Elizabeth Peratrovich (1911-1958) was born in Petersburg, District of Alaska, a member of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan, in the Raven moiety of the Tlingit nation. In 1931, at the age of 20, she married Roy Peratrovich, (1908–1989), also a Tlingit, of mixed native and Serbian descent who worked in a cannery. They lived in Klawock, where Roy was elected to four terms as mayor, and they had three children. Looking for greater opportunities, they moved their family to Juneau, the capital of what was by then the Alaska Territory. 

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Alaska Native Brotherhood, 1929

In Juneau, the Peratroviches found extensive social and racial discrimination against Alaska Natives, and signs banning Native entry to public facilities. The Peratroviches were active in the Alaska Native Brotherhood and its counterpart, the Sisterhood. By 1944, Roy and Elizabeth were leading their respective sides of the organization.

They petitioned the territorial governor, Ernest Gruening, to ban the “No Natives Allowed” signs then common in that city and elsewhere. Gruening agreed with the Peratroviches, and they joined forces. In 1943, they attempted to usher an antidiscrimination bill through Alaska’s Territorial Legislature. It failed, with a tie vote of 8-8 in the House. Undaunted, the Peratroviches traveled across the territory urging Natives to get involved, to run for political seats, to challenge the status quo and work toward change. 

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Alaska Native Sisterhood

As leaders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood, the Peratroviches redoubled their efforts, and a new antidiscrimination bill reached the Senate floor on February 5, 1945. By then two Natives had been elected to the territory’s legislature, including Roy’s brother Frank, and Alaska’s House had already approved the bill. There were so many onlookers that the crowd spilled out of the gallery doors and into the hall. 

An article in the March 20, 2019 New York Times explained what happened next: “Senator Allen Shattuck argued that the measure would ‘aggravate rather than allay’ racial tensions. “‘Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?’ he was quoted as saying in Gruening’s 1973 autobiography, Many Battles.

Elizabeth_Peratrovich 420 res“When the floor was opened to public comments, Peratrovich set down her knitting needles and rose from her seat in the back. Taking the podium, she said: ‘I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind the gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.’

“She gave examples of the injustices that she and her family had faced because of their background and called on the lawmakers to act. ‘You as legislators,’ she said, ‘can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination.’

“Elizabeth’s calm, measured, and eloquent testimony shamed the opposition into what The Daily Alaska Empire termed a ‘defensive whisper.’ The gallery broke out in ‘a wild burst of applause,’ and the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act was passed by a vote of 11 to 5. Governor Gruening signed the bill into law on Feb. 16, a date now honored by the state each year. The new legislation entitled all Alaskans to “full and equal enjoyment” of public establishments, set a misdemeanor penalty for violators of the law, and banned posting of discriminatory signs based on race.

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Territorial Governor Gruening signs the legislation, Feb. 16, 1945. L to R: Sen. O. D. Cochran, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Rep. Edward Anderson, Sen. Norman Walker, and Roy Peratrovich.

In 1954, Roy Peratrovich accepted a position with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the family moved to Oklahoma. Two years later Elizabeth learned that she had breast cancer, and they returned to Juneau. When her illness worsened, she was admitted to a Christian Science care center in Seattle, where her son, Roy Jr., was attending college. She died on Dec. 1, 1958, at the age of only 47, and was buried in Juneau’s Evergreen Cemetery.

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Fighter in Velvet Gloves is the story of Elizabeth Peratrovich, by Annie Boochever and Roy Peratrovich, Jr., published in February, 2019 by the University of Alaska Press. Annie writes on her website, “As a former librarian and teacher in Juneau, I had long wished for a book about Elizabeth Peratrovich that was accessible to younger readers. When Roy said he would help me document his mother’s legacy, I was thrilled.”

Elizabeth’s son, Roy Jr., would become the first Alaska Native to be registered as a professional civil engineer, designing the original Brotherhood Bridge over the Mendenhall River near Juneau. The Brotherhood Bridge symbolized the bridging of the gap between Native and non-Native Alaskans, and among those attending the dedication of the original Brotherhood Bridge were his father, Roy Sr. who represented the Alaska office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and his uncle, Frank Peratrovich, a state senator from Klawock.

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Ravenworks Art

A gallery of the Alaska House of Representatives has been named in honor of Elizabeth Peratrovich, the only one named for someone other than a former legislator, and a bronze bust sculpted by her son Roy Jr. is on permanent display in the lobby of the State Capitol. Roy writes on his website, “I have shown my mother in an evening wrap, as she looked the night she and Dad celebrated the passage of Alaska’s first Anti-Discrimination Bill. They danced all night at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, February 16, 1945.”

Peratrovich coin 420 resIn 2018, Elizabeth Peratrovich was chosen by the National Women’s History Project as one of its honorees, and in 2020 the United States Mint will commemorate her legacy on a one dollar coin. From the U.S. Mint website: “The obverse (heads) design retains the central figure of the “Sacagawea” design first produced in 2000.

“The reverse (tails) design features a portrait of Elizabeth Peratrovich, whose advocacy was considered a deciding factor in the passage of the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Law in the Alaskan Territorial Government. The foreground features a symbol of the Tlingit Raven moiety, of which she was a member.”