Letter to Mr. B. Frank Kennerly from Wm R. Bacon
Dawson City, N.W.T
July 20, 1898
I take the time to write you a few lines to let you know how we are getting along.
We got in Dawson July 9th, too late for the Fourth fun. Had a fine trip down. Was fifteen days on the water our fourth was spent on the banks of the Lewie. Dismal and Dreary? I should say yes; rained all day.
The rapids are not what lots of people imagine, and the worst piece of water on the whole route is the little stream between Lakes Lindman and Bennett. Next is Thirty Mile river. No one ever heard of it before, and no one expected to get in any trouble there. There is one rock in Thirty Mile on which more outfits have been lost than in all the rapids combined. We paid $13 for a pilot through Miles Canyon and White Horse and came through O.K. We ran Five Fingers and Rink rapids ourselves. Five Fingers is all right if you keep to the right. Rink Rapids are not much as the swells are only about two feet high.
I was disappointed in White Horse, it is a nasty bit of water when the water is low, that’s what they say, but when we came it was not half so bad as Miles Canyon. The land is low and level and in fact from an artistic point of view is not worth seeing.
The waves on Lake Lebarge were 10 to 13 feet high when we crossed. One that was never on it in a wind storm could never believe they could roll so high. We had a passenger, a Mr. Jo Langraham, he and Will got sea sick, I didn’t have time for anything like that, had all I could do to keep our little 18 ft boat from swamping by the waves breaking over the stern. I found my little knowledge of boating, gained while at Bivalve was worth more to me there than my life. But we got here safe and here we are, but not for long; will start for Uncle Sam’s territory tomorrow and will winter, as far as we can tell now, down about “Seventy Mile,” on the American side of the line about 100 miles from here.
Dawson is dead, at least for this year; mis-rule the cause of it; Major Walsh and his Northwest mounted police are the cause of the mis-rule.
Mine owners are not working their claims on account of the Royalty of ten per cent on everything. A man pays $10 license and then is not even allowed to catch a log drifting down the Yukon and should he go out and cut a tree down they charge 50 cents stumpage, and if you sell the wood you are liable to be fined or the wood taken away. Get a permit to build a cabin and after you get it built some one gets a grant for that piece of land and orders you off. Catch a fish and sell it and you get “pulled”, and dozens of other things. Of course you can get a permit for all these things, if you are in the ring or have a friend who is.
The miners have a meeting every two or three days and have sent a delegation to Montreal, or Otttawa rather; or wherever the head of government is.
There are thousands of people here and in a week or two men will be working for $5 a day. Now no man can afford to stay here for $5 a day and I am going to Alaska, where I am almost sure of making my expenses, as well as looking out for a good claim for myself. They are getting very scarce and the prospectors are getting discouraged. Hundreds have already gone home and they will number thousands before summer ends. None of the river boats have come up yet although one is reported 40 miles below on a sand bar. Four that were froze up came up the first of July but they were frozen about Circle City.
Dawson is not the Hot Town that they say of it ( thermometer only 110 in shade on July 18th). You never see a man packing more than $300 worth of gold at the most, and $50 to $75 is like the average. Of course the big companies handle lots of it, and I have seen $75,000 worth of gold lying on an old box in the corner of their office, just like you would throw that many sacks of tobacco.
When you buy and pay with gold dust you hand your sack over, the man takes out what he wants. When a man goes in a gambling house and buys chips, he puts up his bag, gets what chips he wants. If he loses they take out enough to pay, if he wins put it in. But gold is not flowing around like the papers use to say; and if a man loses a $100 gambling here it hurts him as bad as in the States. They call a man who uses paper money “checkawker” but everyone wants “Checkawker’ money and will even discount their bills if given that instead of dust.
Everything very cheap here: flour $12 per hundred, was $50 one while last winter, fresh beef 50 cents per pound, turnips and potatoes 25 cents each, beans 10 ½ cents, bacon 25 cents, fresh beef was $1.50 to $2 per pound in June, lots of cattle in now. A simple iron wedge can’t be bought and an 8 X 10 glass sells 75 cents to $1, we paid $1.50 for two, and paid $10 for a small grind stone without handle or trimmings. It’s the supply and demand that regulates those things.
I did not intend to write so much, but one more thing, “Swiftwater Bill” is broke, has built the finest house in town, but didn’t pay for it, so it belongs to someone else now; same way with a piano he brought in. He is at the end of his rope and a mere nobody now. Never was much but a famous liar as was lots of others that helped the Klondike boom.
You’ve heard of Berry Bros. and you would think they would have to cart their Gold down. Well they run their sluce box all day long and some time two or three days and never examine it to see if there is any gold there and when they do it is not choked up by any means, and they might run it a week or more if they liked. Lots of dirt they got out last winter not worth washing. Spent all winter drifting it out to let it lay where they put it.
Some few men have mines that pay and have got a good thing out of them but they are very few, and they don’t throw their money away and would kick as much over a dollar as you would or I would. But I still feel sure I will go out of the country with a little dust and at least be as well off as when I started, and the trip is already worth more than the expense.
W. R. Bacon