Hardly two years ago the names Dawson and Klondike were entirely unknown to the outside world, and geographers were as ignorant of their existence as was at that time the less learned laity. To-day it may be questioned if any two localities of foreign and uncivilized lands are as well known, by name at least, as these that mark the approach to the arctic realm in the northwest of the American continent. One of those periodic movements in the history of peoples which mark epochs in the progress of the world, and ...
Hardly two years ago the names Dawson and Klondike were entirely unknown to the outside world, and geographers were as ignorant of their existence as was at that time the less learned laity. To-day it may be questioned if any two localities of foreign and uncivilized lands are as well known, by name at least, as these that mark the approach to the arctic realm in the northwest of the American continent. One of those periodic movements in the history of peoples which mark epochs in the progress of the world, and have their source in a sudden or unlooked-for discovery, directed attention to this new quarter of the globe, and to it stream and will continue to stream thousands of the world's inhabitants. Probably not less than from thirty-five thousand to forty thousand people, possibly even considerably more, have in the short period following the discovery of gold in the Klondike region already passed to or beyond the portals of what has not inaptly been designated the New Eldorado. To some of these a fortune has been born; to many more a hope has been shattered in disappointment; and to still more the arbiter of fate, whether for good or for bad, has for a while withheld the issue.
In its simplest geographical setting Dawson, this Mecca of the[Pg 2] north, is a settlement of the Northwest Territory of Canada, situated at a point thirteen hundred miles as the crow flies northwest of Seattle. It is close to, if not quite on, the Arctic Circle, and it lies the better part of three hundred miles nearer to the pole than does St. Petersburg in Russia. By its side one of the mighty rivers of the globe hurries its course to the ocean, but not too swiftly to permit of sixteen hundred miles of its lower waters being navigated by craft of the size of nearly the largest of the Mississippi steamers, and five hundred miles above by craft of about half this size. In its own particular world, the longest day of the year drawls itself out to twenty-two hours of sunlight, while the shortest contracts to the same length of sun absence.
During the warmer days of summer the heat feels almost tropical; the winter cold is, on the other hand, of almost the extreme Siberian rigor. Yet a beautiful vegetation smiles not only over the valleys, but on the hilltops, the birds gambol in the thickets, and the tiny mosquito, either here or near by, pipes out its daily sustenance to the wrath of man. The hungry forest stretches out its gnarled and ragged arms for still another hundred or even three hundred miles farther to the north.
Up to within a few years the white man was a stranger in the land, and the Indian roamed the woods and pastures as still do the moose and caribou. To-day this has largely changed. The banks of the once silent river now give out the hum of the sawmill, the click of the hammer, and the blast of the time-whistle, commanding either to rest or to work. A busy front of humanity has settled where formerly the grizzly bear lapped the stranded salmon from the shore, and where at a still earlier period—although perhaps not easily associated with the history of man—the mammoth, the musk ox, and the bison were masters of the land. The red man is still there in lingering numbers, but his spirit is no longer that which dominates, and his courage not that of the untutored savage.
The modern history of Dawson begins with about the middle of 1896, shortly after the "public" discovery of gold in the Klondike tract. Three or four months previous there was hardly a habitation, whether tent or of logs, to deface the landscape, and the voice of animate Nature was hushed only in the sound of many waters. At the close of the past year, as nearly as estimate can make it, there were probably not less than from fourteen thousand to fifteen thousand men, women, and children, settled on the strip of land that borders the Yukon, both as lowland and highland, for about two miles of its course near the confluence of the Klondike. Many of these have located for a permanence, others only to give way to successors more fortunate than themselves. Some of the richest claims of the Bonanza,[Pg 3] now a famed gold creek of the world, are located hardly twelve miles distant, and the wealth of the Eldorado is discharged within a radius of less than twenty miles. Over the mountains that closely limit the head springs of Bonanza and Eldorado, Hunker, Dominion, and Sulphur Creeks thread their own valleys of gold in deep hollows of beautiful woodland—fascinating even to-day, but already badly scarred by the work that man has so assiduously pressed in the region. This is the Klondike, a land full of promise and of equal disappointment, brought to public notice in the early part of 1897, when intelligence was received by the outside world regarding the first[Pg 4] important gold location on Bonanza Creek in August of the year previous.