“Abundant Fish” and the “Dead Horse Trail”
This in order to ensure no one thinks the pursuit of gold is or
ever was an easy thing.
August 17, 1896. Siwash George…a.k.a. George Carmack…is also
known as The Squaw Man. He’s looked upon with derision. He
married an Indian chief’s daughter. Lousy injun lover. He’s a
salmon fisherman…and a moose hunter. He’s an outcast. He’s
considered strange. Heck…he reads Scientific American. He has
an organ in his hunting cabin. He composes couplets. One night he
has a dream. A huge king salmon is shooting up the
rapids…standing on its tail. The fish has gold scales. Its
eyes are twenty dollar gold pieces.
He goes fishing the next day–the 17th. He is told of a creek
that might…just might…have gold. The name of the
creek–translated from the Indian language–is the Abundant
Fish. A difficult word for the white man to pronounce. His
interpretation…Klondike. Siwash George finds a gold nugget the
size of his thumb. And the last of the great American gold
Word spreads. Across the Yukon comes the cry of gold.
Settlements empty out. Villages become ghost towns overnight. A
town springs up as close to the North Pole as northern Siberia.
It’s called Dawson City. The call for gold is camouflage for the
call of death. A few get rich. The rest–when they’re
lucky…when they’re extremely lucky --only lose an extremity or
two. An arm. A leg. An ear. A nose. Frost and greed are the
killers. The few that strike it rich lure in the others. Ya hear
about so and so? He pulled in $50,000 last year alone. And
him…what’s his name…he’s takin’ in $850 a day. All true
stories. All one of a kinds. Passage north from Seattle…$1000
per person. That’s back in the mid 1800’s folks. It’s a fortune.
Everybody goes. Lawyers, pimps, bankers, enterprising women,
ministers. Two routes exist to the Klondike. The cheapest…a
ship to Juneau, or Skagway, or Dyea. From there…a 600 mile
trek into the interior. Sled dogs are first choice for travel.
Cost…$250 each. In less than a micro-second in relative
time…there are no dogs to be had. Second choice…horses.
Old…feeble…decrepit equines…normally destined for the glue
factories are imported from the States and sold at premium
prices. Of 3000 that set out on the trail, less than a dozen
survive. They are left to rot by the thousands where they drop
along the trail. They starve…they freeze…they fall and break
their bones…they fall in rivers and drown under the weight of
their packs. If they fall and are not yet dead…they are left to
a lingering death. A bullet used is a bullet wasted. The
prospectors’ hearts had frozen. In their quest for gold and
untold wealth…they became brutish creatures. They were the men
of the “Dead Horse Trail.”
Out of 100,000 who start out…30,000 hopefuls make it over
sheer walls of ice and into the interior. It’s a spectacle
DeMille could not have envisioned. The lust for gold is
unquenchable. Temperatures fall to 40 below. Winds hurl splinters
of ice on to exposed skin, lacerating the flesh. Sweat
freezes…binding clothing to skin in one step…and ripping the
frozen skin off the bone in another. Ah yes… to what end will
man go in order to gain wealth? Any end at all, folks. When the
weather warmed…multitudes died of hunger and fever brought on
mosquitoes drawn in by the putrid smell of carcasses dead on the
trail. Those that didn’t die of hunger or disease, were murdered
for the belongings. This was the beginning. By 1900, 5000 pounds
of gold had been extracted from the ground. The rampage was over.
The big shiny nuggets that lured men to their demise were
depleted enough to discourage all but the most foolhardy.
Well…there it is folks…in microcosm. The Klondike…despite
the hype…was never the immense source of gold most thought it
was. However…it did bring about some successes. And they are
and weRe: Augustus Mack…founder of the Mack automobile
company. Sid Grauman…who built Hollywood’s Grauman Chinese
Theater. And the three Mizner brothers–whoever they are or
And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.
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