Seattle, Canada, and the Klondike Gold Rush

chilkootpass_steps-1

Prospectors ascending the Chilcoot Pass, 1898, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

100,000 prospectors joined the Klondike Gold Rush stampede between 1896 and 1899, most of them, embarking either from Seattle or San Francisco. They followed either the Chilcoot or White Pass trails to reach the Yukon River and wait for the ice to melt before they navigated the Klondike River to reach the gold fields.

Canadian authorities required the prospectors to bring a year’s supply of food, or they would have starved. Most of them spent the winter carrying their supplies, weighing close to a ton, in several trips over the passes themselves. Some, who fell, just careened back down the mountain.

My father, Hans Pederson, a pioneer Danish immigrant, was one of the 30,000 who actually reached the Yukon. After a bout of pneumonia, he did make it back to Seattle, although with empty pockets. He later bought stock in the Alaska Reindeer Company, and today I have several of his worthless stock certificates His partner, who was in more of a hurry to leave the Yukon,  abandoned Pederson and drowned when his ship sank on the way back to Seattle.

Seattle Libraries Contain History

After his Woodinville homestead burned to the ground in 1892, Hans Pederson, my  Danish immigrant father moved back to Seattle and spent the winter studying English and American history in the public library.  He died in 1933, one month after my birth.

When I decided to write about him from my home in Maine, I called the the Seattle library to request information. They sent passages from city histories along with newspaper articles about Hans Pederson. I had to wait a year for other articles that had been archived in the state library in Olympia since the building had been damaged by the 2001 earthquake. Finally, for the sum of $30, they sent me priceless information I could not have found in any other way.

Today you can read a book in e-format on a Kindle, buy one for $.99, or listen to an audiobook on your smart phone. Many believe that the internet has now supplanted physical libraries.

No way. Grand or humble, stone, wood, or fiberboard, these vital spaces are the repository of our history and our culture.

In 2013, a Parade Magazine annual salary survey listed a princely $8,840 salary for Mary Stenger, the Lost Creek West Virginia Director of America’s best small library. In this world of increasing noise pollution, a library can sometimes seem as peaceful as a mountain stream.

E-books are convenient for some. Audiobooks help multitaskers. Some readers still prefer the feel of a physical book. I mark mine up so I can find my favorite passages. Libraries are important. I don’t believe anyone has hacked one yet.

Hitler built a bonfire and burned books in one of his pre-World war II acts as Fuhrer.

640px-2009-0604-19-seattlecentrallibrary

Seattle Central Library Photo by Bobak Ha Eri, June 4, 2009 courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

Today’s Seattle public library is worth the walk. The building will take your breath away when you see it. But to reach it from the waterfront you have to climb four blocks up  Seattle’s ever-present hills. The natives surely must develop strong legs.

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.”

%d bloggers like this: