Cusp of 20th Century Klondike Gold Fever

Boat_on_the_Upper_Yukon

Boat on the Upper Yukon River, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

One of my favorite books of all time is Pierre Berton’s Klondike Fever, the Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush. My father, Hans Pederson, a Danish Immigrant to Seattle, succumbed to the Klondike fever before he returned to Seattle to become a major early 20th century builder. The April 14 Delancey Place blog quotes one passage where Berton describes some of the characters who stayed.

“Who were these men who had chosen to wall themselves off from the madding crowd in (Fortymile), a village of logs  deep in the sub-Arctic wilderness? on the face of it, they were men chasing the will-o-the-wisp of fortune . . . But they seemed more like men pursued than men pursuing, and if they sought anything, it was the right to be left alone.

“They were all individuals, as their nicknames (far commoner than formal names) indicated: Salt Water Jack, Big Dick, Squaw Cameron, Jimmy the Pirate, Buckskin Miller, Pete the Pig. Eccentricities of character were the rule. There was one, known as the Old Maiden, who carried fifty pounds of ancient newspapers about with him wherever he went, for, he said, ‘they’re handy to refer to when you get in an argument.’ There was another called Cannibal Ike because of his habit of hacking off great slabs of moose meat with his knife and stuffing them into his mouth raw. One cabin had walls as thin as matchwood because its owner kept chopping away at the logs to feed his fire; he said he did it to let in the light. Another contained three partners and a tame moose which was treated as a house pet. , , ,

“Fortymile, in short, was a community of hermits whose one common bond was their mutual isolation. ‘I feel so long dead and buried that I cannot think a short visit home, as if from the grave, would be of much use,’ wrote William Bompas, a Church of England bishop who found himself in Fortymile. . .

“Fortymile’s residents enjoyed a curious mixture of communism and anarchy.”

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