Page images

casins, causing us the greatest pain. I knew that we had to keep going at our very best speed if we hoped to reach Dawson at all. The cold became more intense every day, and when nearing Sixty-Mile river we experienced 40° below zero for a short time. Our tent in the evening looked like an ice-cave, the frost, penetrating the canvas, covered the inside walls with a white coating over half an inch thick. The ice on the river was about 10 feet in depth, and it would have taken an hour's digging to reach the water, so we contented ourselves with using the ice itself for cooking purposes: our difficulty was to get it melted, as unless the stove was at a white heat it took several hours to get into liquid form. We travelled at the rate of twenty-five miles a day, sometimes more, but seldom less. Ten days after leaving Major Walsh's encampment, the frozen waters of the broad Stewart river opened out before us. The mountains were not nearly so high as those we had passed, and the country generally had a flatter aspect; the huge ranges had disappeared, and in their place smaller mountains, forming many watersheds, bounded our view.

The last hundred miles was the worst of all; the trail at the best was rough and jagged, and coated with a white frost that stuck to the iron runners like glue. Almost every other mile barriers of blown ice stretched across our path; gradually these obstacles became more and more frequent, until at length we were plunging through deep layers of

thin shelving ice at every step. At one point, where a small unnamed river enters the Yukon about seventy miles from Dawson, the piled ice reached a height of over 50 feet. We struggled on. Slower and slower became our progress as we neared the El Dorado of the North, and if our destination had been much more distant, I am afraid we would have given out altogether. Mac's fingers were severely frozen, and Stewart's nose had a marblelike appearance that did not at all please him. We wrapped some of our furs round Dave, and he thanked us in a practical manner by pulling at his sleigh with fresh zeal. Dave evidently suffered least of us all, and positively seemed to enjoy the severity of the weather. When we had journeyed for half an hour after striking tent in the morning, not a part of our faces could be seen; our breath froze as it issued from our lips, and dropped in long icicles from our chins; our cheeks were covered and our eyelashes fringed with the powdery frost that filled the atmosphere. It was extremely painful to open our mouths, as the effort cracked the icy film. on our cheeks, causing a sharp stinging sensation. We moved persistently forward in grim silence. From morn till night I led my little cavalcade over that terrible icy trail without a word being spoken. Not until we had kindled our evening fire and thawed our frozen features did any of us dare to talk, and then Mac and Stewart cursed the country in unison

for several minutes without a wis bad enough, but naething break. compared wi' this. Look at my hauns," he continued ferociously; "they're twice as big as they shud be." "Bit hoo wad ye like to hae ma adornment?" howled Stewart, pathetically clutching his frozen proboscis, and looking very sad indeed. "These are only little worries common to the country," I interposed, "and you'll get used to them in time," but they would not be comforted.

"There's no use kicking," I said one night, after my companions had tired themselves out in eulogising the country in their own forcible manner. "We're fighting the elements, and if we do suffer a bit, we've got to take it as a matter of course." "A hae travelled in mony countries, but this is the maist God-forsaken o' them a'," began Mac. "Sooth America


[ocr errors]


We had now begun the last I knew that he was doing twenty miles of the dreary his utmost. By two o'clock trail, and I was anxious to I could see the smoke of the reach Dawson before nightfall. encampment on Klondike river; "Do your best, boys," I said, another half hour and I could as we started, "we're close distinguish several log-houses on the promised land, now ;' in the distance. Now we were and they did their work nobly. within a mile, now half a mile Both of them, using all their vast strength, strained and tugged at the sleigh ropes and drew their heavy loads over the rough ice in a way that I have never seen equalled. Dave seemed to know that something special was required of him that day, and pulled like a horse. We were making very good progress, and if it were kept up we would reach our destination that night. At twelve o'clock we had done twelve miles, but the trail was becoming worse and worse. "Only another eight miles!" I cried, as we clambered over an unusually high mountain of ice. Mac groaned dismally, but exerted himself manfully; and by the deep laboured breathing of Stewart behind,

less and less the distance grew, as we struggled on in Indian file over the now continuous fields of blown ice. I now saw crowds of men gathering outside the nearest loghouses and gazing in our direction. "Keep it up, boys; we're just there," I shouted, and my companions looked up to see before them the straggling array of houses and camps that, beside the Yukon and stretching up by the banks of the Klondike river, constituted Dawson City. A few minutes more and we drew up amid an excited and curious assembly of miners, who hailed us with loud cheers. We must have presented a strange spectacle with our clothing, torn and cut by the blown ice, hanging

in rags, our moccasins bound in tatters to our feet, and our white visages framed in icicles.

We were immediately surrounded by a crowd of men, who took our sleighs in tow, escorted us to a good camping

ground, then helped us to erect our tent; and, while Mac and Stewart attended to the cooking of our evening meal, I went outside and detailed to an appreciative audience of miners the latest news from civilisation.


Klondike goldfields, properly speaking, are limited to the basin of the Klondike river, which is a hundred miles long. The mines are chiefly on the tributaries, and not, as is generally supposed, on the main stream, the Bonanza and its feeders, especially the Eldorado, being the richest creeks in the district. I have read prospectuses of companies formed to work various claims in the Klondike district that I know from experience will never yield an ounce of gold; indeed, beyond a few miles radius from Dawson City there is very little gold to be found in the valley.

Bonanza Creek empties into the Klondike about one and a half miles from the mouth: it is twenty-five miles in length, and has its source at the foot of a large mountain called the "Dome." Eldorado, its tributary, is seven miles long, its confluence with the Bonanza occurring twelve miles from the mouth of the latter. The Klondike itself, in the summer season, is a broad and rapid river, much too deep and rapid to find favour with alluvial miners. In the winter it is frozen into a solid mass, and some miners then work underneath its icy body, although

the gold obtained rarely pays the labour. Nothing is generally known, even in Dawson, of the source of the Klondike, and previous to our arrival no one had explored beyond thirtyfive miles from its mouth, and that point is at the foot of some unknown spurs of the Rocky Mountains.

The claims are pegged out by the sides of the mountain creeks, the most important of which are the Bonanza and Eldorado before mentioned, then Gold Bottom, Too - much - Gold, and Quartz creeks; but I prospected another small frozen stream some distance from the rest, and found it to be very rich indeed. It was soon christened Skookum Gulch, and now contains some of the richest workings in the country. Quartz Creek was so named from the fact of some gold - bearing quartz being found in its neighbourhood, and for some time this little stream was much exploited; but the results were very disappointing, although payable gold was certainly found in several claims.

Too-much-Gold Creek was known only to the Indians, but shortly after our arrival a party of us sought them out in their mountain home and bartered

with them for their knowledge. creeks. They insisted that it contained "too much gold for white man,' but we assured them that its quantity would not trouble us in the least, and after much argument they gave the desired information. It is nearly thirty-five miles from Dawson City, and contains а fair amount of the precious metal, although it cannot be compared with Eldorado or Bonanza.

Placer or alluvial gold is nearly always pure, but in this country it contains traces of iron, lead, and silver: these base metals, of course, decrease its worth, and as a result Klondike gold is nearly a sovereign less in value per ounce than the gold of Western Australia. The country rock is a slate and mica-schist formation, but ironstone is also abundant, and owing to its influence the gold is distinguished by a fine rich colour.

We lost no time in building a log-house near at hand, and then our attention was given entirely to digging the gold from the frozen ground. I should not say "digging," for there is really no digging done, the hard ground being broken up in much more novel manner. No pick or spade can penetrate the frozen crust of the earth, which is of a flinty nature to a depth far exceeding "bed-rock."

A huge fire is made over the place where the prospector intends to sink his shaft, and after burning for an hour or more, it is cleared away, and the ground underneath, which has been thawed, perhaps, to a depth of several inches, is hastily scooped out. The firing process is repeated again and again until bed-rock is finally reached; but this end is not usually attained within several days at least. The shaft, when sunk, as may be imagined is very irregular, being neither square nor round, and is very unlike the deep oblong hole that is sunk with mathematical precision in Western Australia and elsewhere.

Klondike gold is also the coarsest in the world, and there is not much danger of losing it by careless handling if once the pay-dirt is obtained. Unlike that of other countries, the gutter above bed-rock here can be recklessly washed in a goldpan or rushed through a primitive sluice-box without fear of losing even a trace of gold. Here there is no "dust in the correct sense of the word, as that is generally composed of fair-sized specks that in many other countries would be classified as small nuggets.


We were not long in Dawson territory before we had prospected and secured a valuable claim on one of the principal

[merged small][ocr errors]

this done on many occasions. However, by giving careful attention to the many strata encountered, and noting the difference between the usually clayey formation on top, the sandy soil above bed-rock, and the hard metalliferous "country" composing true bottom, the amateur will quickly learn to distinguish the position of the pay-gravel at a glance.

In a week's time we had reached bed-rock in our claim, and then busily engaged ourselves in driving underneath the channel of the stream. Dawson had between 2000 and 3000 inhabitants, but, judging from appearance, there seemed to be a population of only a few hundreds. As the weeks passed the cold became more and more severe, and 50° below zero was quite a common temperature. In this weather all but the younger miners stayed indoors, and as a result very little work was done. Winter

is really the only possible season in which to excavate the ground, for in summer the too plentiful supply of water proves even a more formidable enemy than the frost. The melting ice and snow from the hillsides almost flood the valleys, and no sooner has a hole been sunk a few feet than it is quickly filled with water, and no amount of pumping will keep it dry. The only feasible method of mining, therefore, is by burning out the soil in the winter and accumulating the dump or "pay-dirt" on the surface until the claim is completely worked out; then in the summer season the time can be occupied in washing it through sluice-boxes, which can then be done without difficulty.

Many an experienced miner has found to his cost that this country differs from all others in its method of gold distribution. The goldfields have not been formed, as is generally supposed, by the mountain streams carrying down for ages the precious metal from quartz ledges near their sources. If such had been the case the richer gold would be found near the origin of the creeks, whereas the very opposite is what occurs, and science proves that it would not be so if the streams

When we had got our claim into good working order I left my companions in charge, and harnessing Dave to a sleigh, took long prospecting tours around the country.


were the only agency in its distribution. The rich deposits in this district have been made rather by the glacier slides of former ages, and unmistakable evidence of this would appear to the eye of the geologist. It is a very peculiar fact that no quartz reef of any size has been located in the neighbourhood, and the question naturally arises, "Where did the gold now found in the sands of the streams originally come from?" The original beds of the creeks were undoubtedly the channels by

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »