The Yukon Territory
Chapter 1. Historical Sketch


In the extreme northwest of Canada and as far removed as possible from the early settlements on the Atlantic seaboard, is a vast triangular-shaped tract of territory, which, until the early forties, had not been penetrated by the undaunted traders of the Hudson's Hay Company. This, at that time unknown territory, is bounded on the south on the northern line of the province of British Columbia, at a point on the extreme southwest by a part of the littoral belonging to the United States Territory of Alaska, on the west by the eastern line of the Territory of Alaska, on the north by the Arctic Ocean and on the east by the 130 meridian and the northern ranges of the Rocky Mountains. The Yukon Territory contains, approximately, an area of 190,970 square miles, 649 square miles of which is covered by water.

Robert Campbell, the founder of Fort Selkirk, 1838-1848.

In I838 one Robert Campbell, in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company, had established a trading post at Dease Lake, about ninety miles south of the boundary line between the territory above defined and the province of British Columbia. Dease Lake post was abandoned in the following year, and Campbell was commissioned by Sir George Simpson, who was then the resident Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, to explore the north branch of the Liard to its source and to cross the height of land in search of any river flowing to the westward.

Mr. Campbell writes: 'In pursuance of these instructions, I left Fort Halkett (on the lower Liard) in May, with a canoe and seven men, among them my trusty Indians, Lapie and Kitza, and the interpreter Hoole. After ascending the stream some hundreds of miles, far into the mountains, we entered a beautiful lake, which I named Frances lake, in honour of Lady Simpson. Leaving the canoe and part of the crew near the southwest (sic) extremity of this (west) branch of the lake, I set out with three Indians and the interpreter. Shouldering our blankets and guns, we ascended the valley of a river, which we traced to its source in a lake ten miles long, which, with the river, I named Finlaison's lake and river.

From this point Dr. G. M. Dawson says, 'Mr. Campbell struck across to the Pelly, which he then named in honour of Sir H. Pelly, a governor of the company.'

While Campbell was exploring this part of the Pelly, the members of his party, whom he had left at Frances lake, had built, a house between the two arms of the lake and established a post which was named Port Frances. In 1842 a fort was constructed at Pelly banks, and in June, 1843, Campbell, accompanied by two French Canadians and three Indians, descended the Pelly to its continence with a river which Campbell called the Lewes. At this point there was a large camp of Wood Indians, who told Campbell alarming stories of the numerous savage tribes on the lower river. Campbell decided to return to Pelly banks until he could obtain more reliable information of the numbers and character of the people north of the confluence of the Lewes and Pelly. From information obtained by hunting parties, who were sent down the Pelly to obtain provisions and trade with the Indians, Campbell was convinced that the danger was not so great, as the Indians would have him believe, and early in June, 1848, he again descended the Pelly, and established Fort Selkirk at the confluence of the Pelly and Lewes rivers.

In 1842 Mr. J. Fell, who some years later was in charge of the Hudson's Bay post on Peel river, had descended the Porcupine for a considerable distance. In 1846 he again descended the Porcupine to its mouth, and saw the great river, which the Indians in the vicinity called the Yukon. In the following year Fort Yukon was established at the mouth of the Porcupine by Mr. A. H. Murray, who was also in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company.

In 1850, Campbell descended the river from Fort Selkirk to Fort Yukon, and thus proved beyond all doubt that the Pelly and Yukon rivers were identical from Fort Selkirk to the month of the Porcupine. On this trip Campbell ascended the Porcupine and returned to Fort Simpson by way of the Mackenzie.

Some seven or eight years before the establishment of Fort Selkirk it appears that the Russians had been exploring inland from the month of the Yukon, as the following facts ascertained by Mr. Dawson will show: 'The estuary of the Yukon appears to have been first explored by the Russian, Glasunoff, in 1835 to 1838, and the river was then named by the Russians the Kwikhpak, which name according to Mr. W. H. Fall, is in reality that of one of the channels by which it issues to the sea. The lower part of the river, however, continued to he known under this name for a number of years, and it is so called on the Russian map of Lieut, Zagoskin, made from reconnaissance surveys which, in I812-43, he carried up as far as Nowikakat.

Destruction of Fort Selkirk, 1852.

After Campbell had completed the great circuit of the Pelly-Yukon-Porcupiue-Mackenzie route, he returned to Fort Selkirk, which was rapidly becoming a most important trading post on account of its central location in the hunting grounds of the different tribes of Indians on the Lewes, Pelly and Yukon. The traders seem to have been on friendly terms with the Indians in the vicinity of Selkirk, but there is no record of Campbell or any of his parry ever having, up to this time, ascended the Lewes river to any great distance or traded with the Indians in the regions nearer the coast. About this time an unfortunate disaster happened to Fort Selkirk, which misfortune seems to have closed Campbell's career in the Yukon.

Dr. Dawson presents the facts as follows:

'The several ruined chimneys of Fort Selkirk still to be seen, with other traces on the ground, are in themselves evidence of the important dimensions and careful construction of this post. The Establishment consisted, 1 believe, in 1852, of one senior and one junior clerk and eight men. The existence of this post in the centre of the inland or "Wood-Indian" country had, however, very seriously interfered with a lucrative and usurious trade which the Chilcoot and Chilkat Indians of Lynn Canal, on the coast, had long been accustomed to carry on with there people; acting as intermediaries between them and the white traders on the Pacific and holding the passes at the headwaters of the Lewes with all the spirit of robber barons of old. In 1852 rumour was current that these people meditated a raid upon the post, in consequence of which the friendly local Indians stayed by it nearly all summer of their own accord. It so happened, however, that they absented themselves for a couple of days, and at that unlucky moment the coast Indians arrived. The post was unguarded by a stockade, and yielding to sheer force of numbers the occupants were expelled and the place was pillaged, on the 21st August. Two days afterwards Campbell, having found the local Indians, returned with them and surrounded the post, but the robbers had flown. Being now without means of support for the winter, Campbell set off down stream to meet Mr. Stewart and the men who were on the way back from Fort, Yukon. He met them at the mouth of White river, and after turning them back with instructions to arrange for wintering at Fort Yukon, set out himself in a small canoe up the Felly river, crossed to Frances lake, descended the Liard and arrived at Fort Simpson with the tidings of the disaster, amid drifting ice, on the 2'lst of October.

Being anxious to obtain Sir George Simpson's permission to re-establish Fort Selkirk, Campbell waited only until the river froze, when he left Fort Simpson on snowshoes, and travelled overland to Crow Wing, in Minnesota, where he arrived on the 13th of March. On the I8th of April he reached London, but was unable to obtain from the directors of the company the permission he desired.

'In the autumn of 1853 one of ('ampbell's hunters arrived at Fort Halkett on the lower Liard, by way of the Pelly and Frances. This is the last traverse of Campbell's portage of which I can find any record, though it may doubtless have been used by the Indians subsequently. From this man it was learnt that the buildings at Fort Selkirk had been all but demolished by the local Indians for the purpose of getting tin ironwork and the nails, he also stated that the Chilkats, being unable to carry away all their plunder in the preceding year, had taken merely the guns, powder and tobacco. They had cached the heavier goods, which were afterwards found and appropriated by the local or Wood Indians.'

This remarkable journey, which was made by Campbell from Fort Selkirk to London, a distance of about 9,700 miles, over three thousand of which he travelled on snow-shoes in the dead of winter through a practically uninhabited wilderness, is a splendid testimony of the intrepid spirit and determined character of those adventurous traders and explorers, whose unostentatious yet energetic services in the cause of commerce have done so much to open up to civilization the vast natural resources of the great Northwest. To undertake such a journey at that season of the year would indicate the importance from a commercial standpoint which Campbell attached to the trading post at Selkirk, and it must have been a great disappointment to him when the directors of the company refused to re-establish the fort. Upon his return, he took charge of the Athabaska district, where he remained until I863, when he was appointed to the company's post at Swan River. He left the service of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1873 having been in its service forty years, and in 1880 removed to Strathelair, 'Manitoba, where he died in 1894.

In 1869 the Hudson's Bay Company's officer was notified to leave Fort Yukon by the United States government officers, as it had been ascertained that this post was situated within United States territory. A post was then established at Rampart House, but in 1890 Mr. J. H. Turner, of the United States Coast Survey, found that this new post was also in United States territory, and in the following year the Hudson's Bay Company established a post twenty miles further up the Porcupine.

First Gold Discovery.

In I869 'minute specks of gold' had been found in the Yukon by some of the Hudson's Bay Company's men.

In 1873 one Arthur Harper and a party left British Columbia to prospect on several rivers in the Yukon Territory, and the result of this prospecting was summed up by Harper in a conversation with Mr. Ogilvie as follows: 'Nothing on the Nelson, prospects on the Liard, nothing on the Mackenzie, good prospects on the Peel, some on thy Porcupine, and prospects everywhere on the Yukon.'

Harper and his party prospected for some distance up the White river, but not being successful they descended the river to St. Michaels, where some of them entered the service of the Alaska Commercial Company, then trading in the valley.

The Alaska Commercial Company for many years subsequent to the retirement of the Hudson's Bay Company had a practical monopoly of the trade of the Yukon, carrying into the country and delivering at various points along the river, without regard to the international boundary line or the customs laws and regulations of Canada, such articles of commerce as were required for the prosecution of the fur trade, and latterly of placer mining, these being the only two existing industries. With the discovery of gold, however, came the organization of a competing company known as the North American Transportation and Trading Company, having its headquarters in Chicago and its chief trading and distributing post at Cudahy. This company has been engaged in this trade for over three years, and during the past season despatched two ocean steamers from Seattle to St. Michaels, at the mouth of the Yukon, the merchandise from which was at the last: mentioned point transhipped into river steamers and carried to points inland, but chiefly to the company's distributing centre within Canadian territory. Importations of considerable value, consisting of the immediately requisite supplies of the miners, and their tools, also reach the Canadian portion of the Yukon district from Juneau, in the United States, by way of the Dyea inlet, the mountain passes and the chain of waterways leading therefrom to Cudahy. Upon none of these importations had any duty been collected, except a Bum of J,248.80 paid to Inspector Constantine in 1894 by the two companies mentioned above, and it is safe to conclude, especially when it is remembered that the country produces none of tlie articles consumed within it except fresh meat, that a large revenue wis being lost to the public exchequer under the then existing conditions.' (Extract from report of Deputy Minister of Interior, 1895)

Dr. Dawson states that the first white man who crossed from the coast to the headwaters of the Lewes was one George Holt, who did some prospecting in 1878.

In 1880 a party of nineteen men organized at Sitka, crossed the Chilkoot pass to Lake Lindenian, and descended the Lewes to the mouth of the Hootalinqua, which they descended for some distance.

In 1881 a party of four miners crossed the Chilkoot pass and descended the Lewes as far as the mouth of Big Salmon. This party ascended the Big Salmon, and found gold in the river bars along the course of the stream.

In 1882 two prospecting parties ascended the Pelly to Hoole canon.

In 1885 mining was commenced on the Stewart river, and in 1886 the greater part of the mining population was mining on this stream, as much as $100 a day being made to the hand.

In 1886. Cassiarbar, 27 miles below Hootalinqua, was discovered, and actively worked the same summer. In the same year coarse gold was discovered on the Fortymile river, about 23]2 miles from its mouth and near to the boundary line. In 1887 it was estimated that about 250 miners were working in the Yukon, 200 being on Fortymile creek and 50 prospecting and mining on the upper Yukon and its tributaries.

In 1887 an expedition was organized by the government to explore that portion of the Northwest Territories which was drained by the Yukon river. This expedition was placed in charge of Dr. G. M. Dawson. To Mr. William Ogilvie was assigned the work of conducting! instrumental measurements and astronomical observations in connection with the determination of the position of the first meridian which, by the Treaty of St. Petersburg, is designated as the boundary line from the vicinity of .Mount St. Elias to the Arctic ocean.

Dr. Dawson entered the interior by the Stikine, Telegraph creek and Dease lake, which practically the same route covered by Campbell in 1840, nearly fifty years before. He ascended the Frances river and crossed Campbell's portal to the headwaters of the Pelly, which he descended to Fort Selkirk. He then ascended the Lewes, crossed the Chilcoot pass and readied the coast at the head of Lynn canal. Dr. Dawson's report of his exploration in 1887 throws a flood of light on the country through which lie traversed, he gives an excellent description of the Pelly river and its tributaries, and also a full description of the geological and general features of the country.

In the same year Mr. R. G. McConnell commenced at the continence of the Dease and Liard, and made an extensive survey of the Mackenzie valley to Fort MacPherson. McConell then crossed to the Porcupine, the course of which he followed to its confluence with the Yukon, which he ascended to the site of old Fort Selkirk.

Dr. Dawson, writing of the geographical data obtained and the length of route travelled by Messrs. Ogilvie and McConnell and himself, says: 'Mr. Ogilvie's instrumentally measured line from the head of Lynn canal to the intersection of the Yukon or Pelly by the 141st meridian, will form a sufficiently accurate line for further surveys. In addition to this, we now have an instrumental survey of the Stikine from its mouth to the head of navigation (Telegraph creek), which is connected with Dease lake by a carefully placed traverse. This is eon-tinned by a detailed running or track survey following the lines of the Dease, Upper Liard and Pelly rivers, and connecting with Mr. Ogilvie's line at the mouth of the Lewes, the total distance from the mouth of the Stikine to this point, by the route travelled, being about Oil miles. Adding to this the distance from the mouth of the Lewes back to the coast at the head of Lynn canal (377 miles) the entire distance travelled by us during the exploration amounts to 1,322 miles.

Discovery of the Klondike Gold Fields.

In 1894 Robert Henderson and two other miners prospected the gravels at the mouth of the Felly, where they rocked out $54.00 in fine gold. They came down to the mouth of Indian river, which Henderson ascended alone, and prospected on Quartz and Gold Bottom. Having found good prospects on Gold Bottom, Henderson and a party of five returned to this creek in the spring of 1S95, staked claims and commenced to work. During the summer of 1S9G Henderson prospected on Gobi Bottom Creek, eventually made a trip to Ladue's trading post at Ogilvie to obtain supplies, and returning to Gold Bottom by way of the Klondike river, he came upon a number of Indians fishing in the Yukon river at its confluence with the Klondike. Living with the Indians was one George W. Carmack, whom Henderson invited to stake on Gold Bottom. A few days afterwards Carmack and two Indians arrived at Gold Bottom, and staked claims near to where Henderson and his party were working. Returning across the divide by way of Bonanza, Carmack and the two Indians did some prospecting, and found rich prospects on what is now Discovery Claim on Bonanza creek. Carmack staked Disc overy and No. 1 below; 'Charlie,1 an Indian, No. 2 Below, and 'Tagish Jim' the other Indian, No. 1 above. Before loa\ing Gold Bottom, Carmaek told Henderson that he would send an Indian to inform him if rich prospects were discovered. Carmaek, however, did not fulfil his promise, and he and the Indians at once proceeded to Fortymile, which was the recording office at the time, and filed their applications with Inspector Constantino. Cp to this time the majority of the miners in the territory had been working on Fortymile, but as soon as the discovery on Bonanza became known all the miners in the Fortymile district stampeded to the new strike, and in a short time Bonanza creek was staked from end to end. "Meantime Henderson and his party were working on Gold Bottom, and did not hear of the new discovery until the whole creek had been staked. Extensive prospecting at once commenced on Bonanza and its tributaries, and in a short time many of the stakers began to realize the marvellous wealth which their claims contained.

As soon as the news of the rich strike reached the outside world, thousands of gold seekers immediately started for the Klondike. Probably never before in the history of gold mining camps has there been such a rush of people from almost every vocation in life, as was seen in that irresistible stream of fortune-seekers, who climbed the Chilkoot pass and pressed on to Lake Lindeman, where the most rude boats and other flimsy craft were constructed for the journey of 500 miles down the Yukon river to Dawson. One of the saddest events in the history of this great stampede occurred one morning on the trail between the summit of the Chilkoot pass and Sheep Camp. For some distance between these two points the trail leads along the bottom of a steep mountain, and a long line of gold hunters were laboriously toiling along this stretch of the journey, some bearing their heavy burden of supplies in packs and some on sleds, when suddenly a huge mass of snow came sliding down the mountain side, striking the line of travellers and burying between 50 and 60 men. Those who had escaped the catastrophe at once commenced to dig for their comrades, very few of whom were rescued, and some of the bodies were not found until the snow melted in the spring. Such is an instance of the dangers which confronted in the early days the thousands who had contracted the gold fever, and who were unaware of the innumerable hardships to be encountered on the journey to the new diggings.

In the spring of 1890 nearly all the creeks in the Klondike district had been staked; and in a few years this remarkably rich district produced millions of dollars. Though rich gravels were discovered on Gold Run, Hunker, Dominion and Sulphur, and much gold has been and is being taken from those creeks, yet no creek has been discovered that can be compared in richness with Bonanza and its tributaries. Creek claim No. 10 Eldorado (a tributary of Bonanza) containing an area of four acres, alone produced $1,500,000. Creek claim No. 17 Eldorado, containing an area of 0 '4 acres, produced $1,300,000. The richest gravels so far discovered in the district, however, are gradually being worked out, and several large companies are acquiring, under the placer mining law, large numbers of claims on the different creeks, for the purpose of operating on a large scale by dredges and the hydraulic process.


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