A massive movement of people to the Northwest took place during the 19th century. As my Danish immigrant father, Hans Pederson, forged his way through Canada to an Alaskan mining camp during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, my mother’s Ukrainian immigrant grandparents, the Tokaruks, and her parents, the Huchulaks, claimed their homestead in Andrew, Alberta, Canada. Having crossed Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, and then much of the North American continent by railroad, the promise of free forested land meant more to these pioneers than the considerable risk of searching for gold—if they even knew about the gold.
Years later in Seattle, my father told Linck, his biographer, that he and his partner pulled their belongings on a sled over the mountains until they reached the Yukon River mining camps. He didn’t tell Linck that the trip probably too three months. Lungs seared with each breath. Tearing eyes froze eyelashes. Wet feet brought frostbite. Pederson and his partner labored slowly, encountering howling winds and crashing ice. They ate cold beans and fatback bacon. Dysentery, scurvy, or spinal meningitis stopped half the prospectors. Others became disoriented by snow blindness.
The ice finally heaved its way to extinction in May. The thaw brought mud and rain. The prospectors who had readied their rafts left for the treacherous trip down the Yukon River rapids to the mining camps. Of the 100,000 who prepared to go, my father and his partner were among the fewer than half who reached a mining camp.