Frederick Schwatka.

Exploring the great Yukon. An adventurous expedition down the great Yukon River, from its source in the British North-west Territory, to its mouth in the territory of Alaska online

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Online LibraryFrederick SchwatkaExploring the great Yukon. An adventurous expedition down the great Yukon River, from its source in the British North-west Territory, to its mouth in the territory of Alaska → online text (page 1 of 25)
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Member of the Paris Geographical Society, and of the Geographic

Society of Russia. Honorary Member of the Bremen

Geographical Society, etc.. Commander

of the Expedition





These pages narrate the travels, in a popular sense,
of rtie latest Alaska exploring expedition. In Apiil
the expedition was organized with seven members
at Vancouver Barracks, Washington Territory, and
left Portland, Oregon, in May, ascending the inland
passage to Alaska as far as the Chilkat country ; there
the party employed over three score of the Chilkat
Indians to pack its effects across the glacier-clad pass of
the Alaskan coast range of mountains to the head-waters
of the Yukon. Here a large raft w^as constructed, and
on this primitive craft, sailing through nearly a hundred
and fifty miles of lakes, and shooting a number of rapids,
the pan y floated along the great stream for over thirteen
hundred miles, the longest raft journey ever made, in
the interest of geographical science. The entire river,
over two thousand miles, was traversed, the party return-
ing home by way of Bering's Sea, and touching at the
Aleutian Islands.

5002 43


I. Introductory,

II. The Inland Passage to Alaska,

III. In the Chilkat Country,

rV. Over the Mountain Pass,

V. Along the Lakes,

VI. A Chapter about Rafting,

VII. The Grand CaiJon of the Yukon,

VIII. Down the River to Selkirk,
IX. Through the Upper Ramparts,

X, Through the Yukon Flat-lands,

XIc Through the Lower Ramparts and

OF the Raft Journey,

XII. Down the River and Home,

XIII. Discovery and History,

XIV. The People and their Industries,
XV. Geographical Features, .

Appendix, . . t • •










Dayay Valley, Nourse River 73

Day AY Valley, from Camp 4 77

Lake Lindeman 93

Lake Bennett 101

Lake Marsh 121

Grand Canon 163

The Cascades 169

LoRiNG Bluff 193

Kit'l-ah-gon Indian Village 197

Ingersoll Islands 201

Mouth of Pelly Eiver 209

Looking up Yukon from Selkirk 213

Ayan Grave at Selkirk 217

Ayan Indians in Canoes 231

Konit'l, Ayan Chief 230

Klat-ol-klin Village 253

Steamer "Yukon" 276

Nuklakayet 307

The Raft, at end of its Journey 313

oonalaska ....... • • 344

Map 1, Map of Alaska Exploring Expedition ... 55

FROM sketchp:s by sergeant gloster.
Crater Lake, British North-west Territory, the source

OF Alaska's Great River . . . Frontispiece.

Canoeing up the Dayay . . 65

Ascending the Perrier Pass 85

In a Storm on the Lakes 90

Lake Bove 116

"Stick" Indians 127

Among the ' ' Sweepers " 134

Prying the Raft off a Bar 1*5

Grayling , .... 154


In the Rink Rapids 175

Clay Bluffs on the Yukon 176

Outlet of Lake Kluktassi 184

The Rink Rapids 191

The Ruins of Selkirk 205

In the Upper Ramparts 207

Moose-Skin Mountain 243

Roquette Rock 250

Boundary Butte 261

Lower Ramparts Rapids 295

Mouth of Tanana 303

Falling Banks of Yukon 319

Anvik 330


The Inland Passage 12

Scenes in the Inland Passage 19

Sitka, Alaska 29

Chilkat Bracelet 36

Pyramid Harbor, Chilkat Inlet 43

Chilkat Indian Packer 53

Methods of Tracking a Canoe up a Rapid ... 64

Salmon Spears 76

Walking a Log 80

Chasing a Mountain Goat 82

Snow Shoes 87

Pins for Fastening Marmot Snares 112

"Snubbing" the Raft 131

Banks of the Yukon 135

Scraping along a Bank 140

Course of Raft and Axis of Stream 152

Whirlpool at Lower End of Island .... 153

Alaska Brown Bear Fighting Mosquitoes .... 174

Ayan and Chilkat Gambling Tools .... 227

Plan of Ayan Summer House 229

Ayan Moose Arrow 231

Ayan Winter Tent 23;'

A Gravel Bank 236

Fishing Nets 258

Salmon Killing Club 259

A Moose Head 264

Moss on Yukon River 267

Indian "Cache" 289

Indian Out-door Gun Covering 313





HIS Alaskan exploring expedition was cclu-
posed of the following members: Lieut. Scliwatka.
U, S. A., commanding; Dr. George F. Wilson,
U. S. A., Surgeon ; Topographical Assistant Charles A.
Homan, U. S. Engineers, Topographer and Photograj)her ;
Sergeant Charles A. Gloster, U. S. A., Artist; Corporal
Shircliff, U.S.A., in charge of stores ; Private Roth,
assistant, and Citizen J. B. Mcintosh, a miner, who had
lived in Alaska and was well acquainted with its methods
of travel. Indians and others were added and discharged
from time to time as hereafter noted.

The main object of the expedition was to acquire
such information of the country traversed and its wild
inhabitants as would be valuable to the military-
authorities in the future, and as a maj) would be need-
ful to illustrate such information well, the party's
efforts were rewarded with making the expedition
successful in a geographical sense. I had hoped to
be able, through qualified subordinates, to extend our
scientific knowledge of the country explored, espec-
ially in regard to its botany, geology, natural history,
etc.; and, although these subjects would not in any


event have been adequately discussed in a popular
treatise like the present, it must be admitted that little
was accomplished in these branches. The explanation
of this is as follows : When authority was asked from
Congress for a sum of money to make such explorations
under military supervision and the request was dis-
approved by the General of the Army and Secretary of
War. This disapproval, combined with the active oppo-
sition of government departments which were assigned
to work of the same general character and coupled with
the reluctance of Congress to make any appropriations
whatever that year, was sufficient to kill such an under-
taking. When the military were withdrawn from Alaska
by the President, about the year 1878, a paragraph ap-
peared at the end of the President' s order stating that
no further control w^ould be exercised by the army in
Alaska ; and this proviso was variously interpreted by
the friends of the army and its enemies, as a humiliation
either to the army or to the President, according to the
private belief of the commentator. It was therefore
seriously debated whether any military expedition or
party sent into that country for any purpose whatever
would not be a direct violation of the President's pro-
scriptive order, and when it was decided to waive that
consideration, and send in a party, it was considered too
much of a responsibility to add any specialists in science,
with the disapproval of the General and the Secretary
hardly dry on the paper. The expedition was therefore,
to avoid being recalled, kept as secret as possible, and
when, on May 22d, it departed from Portland, Oregon,
upon the Victoria, a vessel which had been specially put
on the Alaska route, only a two or three line notice had


gotten into the Oregon papers announcing the fact;
a notice that in spreading was referred to in print by
one government official as "a junketing party," by
another as a "prospecting" party, while another
bitterly acknowledged that had lie received another
'day's intimation he could have had the party recalled
by the authorities at Washington. Thus the little ex-
pedition which gave the first complete survey to the
third* river of our country stole away like a thief in the
night and with far less money in its hands to conduct
it through its long journey than was afterward appro-
priated by Congress to publish its report.

Leaving Portland at midnight on the 22d, the Victo-
ria arrived at Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia the
forenoon of the 23d, the remaining hours of daylight
being employed in loading with supplies for a number of
salmon canneries in Alaska, the large amount of freight
for which had necessitated this extra steamer. That
night we crossed the Columbia River bar and next
morning entered the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the southern
entrance from the Pacific Ocean which leads to the in-
land passage to Alaska.

* The largest river on the North American continent so far as this
mighty stream flows within our boundaries. . . . The people of
the United States will not be quick to take to tlie idea that the vol-
ume of water in an Alaskan river is greater than that discharged by
the mighty Mississippi ; hut it is entirely within the bounds of honest
statement to say that the Yukon river . . . discharges every
hour one-third more water than the " Father of Waters." — Petroff's
Government Report on Alaska.



Alaska is tlie fjord -like
1| cliannel, resembling a great
river, which extends from
the northwestern part of
Washington T e r r i t o r y,
through British Columbia,
into southeastern Alaska.
Along this coast line for
about a thousand miles, stretches a vast archipelago
closely hugging the mainland of the Territories named
above, the southernmost important island being Van-
couver, almost a diminutive continent in itself, while to
the north Tchichagoff Island limits it on the seaboard.

From the little town of Olympia at the head of Puget
Sound, in Washington Territory, to Chilkat, Alaska, at
the head of Lynn Channel, or Canal, one sails as if on a
grand river, and it is really hard to comprehend that it is
a portion of the ocean unless one can imagine some deep
fjord in Norway or Greenland, so deep that he can sail
on its waters for a fortnight, for the fjord-like character
is very prominent in these channels to which the name of
" Inland Passage " is usually given.

These channels between the islands and mainland are
strikingly uniform in width, and therefore river-like in


appearance as one steams or sails through them. At
occasional points they connect with the Pacific Ocean,
and if there be a storm on the latter, a few rolling swells
may enter at these places and disturb the ec[uili})rium of
sensitive stomachs for a brief hour, but at all other
places the channel is as quiet as any broad river, what-
ever the weather. On the south we have the Strait of
Juan de Fuca and to the north Cross Sound as the limit-
ing channels, while between the two are found Dixon
Entrance, which separates Alaska from British Colum-
bia, Queen Charlotte Sound, and other less important

On the morning of the 24th of May we entered the
Strait of Juan de Fuca, named after an explorer — if
such he may be called — who never entered this beautiful
sheet of water, and who owes his immortality to an
audacious guess, which came so near the truth as to
deceive the scientific world for many a century. To the
left, as we enter, i.e., northward, is the beautiful British
island of Vancouver, the name of which commemorates
one of the world's most famous explorers. Its high
rolling hills are covered with shaggy firs, broken near
the beach into little prairies of brighter green, which are
dotted here and there with pretty little white cottages,
the humblest abodes we see among the industrious,
British or American, who live in the far west.

The American side, to the southward, gives us the
same picture backed by the high range of the Olympian
Mountains, whose tops are covered with perpetual snow,
ajid upon whose cold sides drifting clouds are con-

Through British Columbia the sides of this passage are


Liovered with lirs and spruce to the very tops of the steep
mountains forming them, but as Northing is gained
and Alaska is reached the summits are covered with snow
and ice at all months of the year, and by the time we
cast anchor in Chilkat Inlet, which is about the north-
ernmost point of this great inland salt-water river, we
find in many places these crowns of ice debouching in
the shape of glaciers to the very water s level, and the
tourist beholds, on a regular line of steamboat travel,
glaciers and icebergs, and many of the wonders of arctic
regions, although upon a reduced scale. Alongside the
very banks and edges of these colossal rivers of ice one
can gather the most beautiful of Alpine flowers and
wade up to his waist in grasses that equal in luxuriance
the famed fields of the pampas ; while the singing of the
birds from the woods and glens and the fragrance of the
foliage make one easily imagine that the Arctic circle
and equator have been linked together at this point.

Entering Juan de Fuca Strait a few hours were spent
in the pretty little anchorage of Neah Bay, the first
shelter for ships after rounding Cape Flattery, and here
some merchandise was unloaded in the huge Indian
canoes that came alongside, each one holding at least
a ton.

Victoria, the metropolis of British Columbia, was
reached the same day, and as it was the Queen's birth-
day we saw the town in all its bravery of beer, bunting
and banners. Our vessel tooted itself hoarse outside the
harbor to get a pilot over the bar, but none was to be
had till late in the day, when a pilot came out to us
snowing plainly by his condition that he knew every bar
in and about Victoria. AVith the bar pilot on the bridge,


8w aa to save insurance should an accident occur,
we entered the picturesque little harbor in safety,
despite the discoveries of our guide that since his last
visit all the buoys had been woefully misplaced, and even
the granite channel had changed its course. But Vic-
toria has many embellishments more durable than bunt-
ing and banners, and most conspicuous among them are
her well arranged and well constructed roads, in which
she has no equal on the Pacific coast of North America,
and but few rivals in any other part of the world.

On the 26tli we crossed over to Port Townsend, the
port of entry for Puget sound, and on the 27th we
headed for Alaska by way of the Inland Passage.

For purposes of description this course should have
been designated the "inland passages," in the plural,
for its branches are almost innumerable, running in all
directions like the streets of an irregular city, although
now and then they are reduced to a single channel or
fjord which the steamer is obliged to take or put out to
sea. At one point in Discovery Passage leading from
the Gulf of Georgia toward Queen Charlotte Sound, the
inland passage is so narrow that our long vessel had to
steam under a slow bell to avoid accidents, and at this
place, called Seymour Narrows, there was much talk of
bridging the narrow way in the grand scheme of a Can-
adian Pacific Railway, which should have its western
terminus at Victoria. Through this contracted way the
water fairly boils when at its greatest velocity, equaling
ten miles an hour in spring tides, and at such times the
passage is hazardous even to steamers, while all other
craft avoid it until slack water. Jutting rocks increase
the danger, and on one of these the United States man*


of-war JSaranac was lost just eight years before we
passed through. At the northern end of this pictur-
esque Discovery Passage you see the inland passage
trending away to the eastward, with quite a bay on the
left around Chatham Point, and while you are wondering
in that half soliloquizing way of a traveler in new lands
what you will see after you have turned to the right,
the great ship swings suddenly to the left, and you find
that what you took for a bay is after all the inland pas-
sage itself, which stretches once more before you like
the Hudson looking upward from West Point, or the
Delaware at the Water Gap. For all such little surprises
must the tourist be prepared on this singular voyage.

The new bend now becomes Johnstone Strait and so
continues to Queen Charlotte Sound, with which it con-
nects by one strait, two jjassages and a channel, all alike,
except in name, and none much over ten miles long.
At nearly every point where a new channel diverges
both arms take on a new name, and they change as
rapidly as the names of a Lisbon street, which seldom
holds the same over a few blocks. The south side of
Johnstone Strait is particularly high, rising abruptly
from the water fully 5,000 feet, and in grandeur not
unlike the Yellowstone Canon. These summits were
still covered with snow and probably on northern slopes
snow remains the summer through. One noticeable
valley was on the Vancouver Island side, with a con-
spicuous conical hill in its bosom that may have been
over a thousand feet in height. These cone-like hills
are so common in flat valleys in northwestern America
that I thought it worth while to mention the fact in this
place. I shall have occasion to do so again at a later


point in my narrative. Occasionally windrows occur
through the dense coniferous forests of the inland pas-
sage, where the trees have been swept or leveled in a
remarkable manner. Such as were cut vertically had
been caused by an avalanche, and in these instances the
work of clearing had been done as faithfully as if })y the
hands of man. Sometimes the bright green moss or
grass had grown up in these narrow ways, and when there
was more than one of about the same age there was quite
a picturesque effect of stripings of two shades of green,
executed on a most colossal plan. These windrows of
fallen trees sometimes stretched along horizontally in
varying widths, an effect undoubtedly produced by
heavy gales rushing through the contracted " passage."

One' s notice is attracted by a species of natural beacon
which materially assists the navigator. Over almost all
the shoals and submerged rocks hang fields of kelp, a
growth with which the whole ' ' passage ' ' abounds, thus
affording a timely warning badly needed where the
channel has been imperfectly charted. As one might
surmise the water is very bold, and these submerged and
ragged rocks are in general most to be feared. Leaving
Johnstone Strait we enter Queen Charlotte Sound, a
channel which was named, lacking only three years, a
century ago. It widens into capacious waters at once
and we again felt the "throbbing of old Neptune's
pulse," and those with sensitive stomachs perceived a
sort of flickering of their own.

One who is acquainted merely in a general way with
the history and geography of this confusing country
finds many more Spanish names than he anticipates, and
to his surprise, a conscientious investigation shows that


even as it is the vigorous old Castilian explorers liave
not received all the credit to which they are entitled, for
many of their discoveries in changing hands changed
names as well : the Queen Charlotte Islands, a good
day's run to the northwestward of us, were named in
1787 by an Englishman, who gave the group the name
of his vessel, an appellation which they still retain,
although as Florida Blanca they had known the banner
of Castile and Leon thirteen years before. Mount Edge-
cumbe, so prominent in the beautiful harbor of Sitka, was
once Monte San Jacinto, and a list of the same tenor
might be given that would prove more voluminous than
interesting. American changes in the great northwest
have not been so radical. Boca de Quadra Inlet has
somehow become Bouquet Inlet to those knowing it best.
La Creole has degenerated into Rickreall, and so on : the
foreign names have been mangled but not annihilated.
We sail across Queen Charlotte Sound as if we were
going to bump right into the high land ahead of us, but
a little indentation over the bow becomes a valley, then
a bay, and in ample time to prevent accidents widens into
another salt-water river, about two miles wide and
twenty times as long, called Fitzhugh Sound. Near the
head of the sound we turn abruptly westward into the
Lama Passage, and on its western shores we see
nearly the first sign of civilization in the inland passage,
the Indian village of Bella Bella, holding probably a
dozen native houses and a fair looking cliurch, while a
few cattle grazing near the place had a still more civilized

As we steamed through Seaforth Channel, a most
tortuous aflfair, Indians were seen paddling in their kagfc



canoes from one island to another or along the high, rocky
shores, a cheering sign of habitation not previonsly

The great fault of the inland passage as a resort for
tourists is in the constant dread of fogs that may at any
time during certain months of the year completely
obscure the grand scenery that tempted the travelers
thither. The waters of the Pacific Ocean on the sea-
board of Alaska are but a deflected continuation of the
warm equatorial current called the Kuro SiwO of the
JajDanese ; from these waters the air is laden with
moisture, which being thrown by the variable winds
against the snow-clad and glacier-covered summits of
the higher mountains, is precipitated as fog and light
rain, and oftentimes every thing is wrapped for weeks
in these most annoying mists. July, with June and
August, are by far the most favorable months for the
traveler. The winter months are execrable, with storms
of rain, snow and sleet constantly occurring, the former
along the Pacific frontage, and the latter near the
channels of the mainland.

Milbank Sound gave us another taste of the ocean
swells which spoiled the flavor of our food completely,
for although we were only exposed for less than an hour
that hour happened to come just about dinner time ;
after which we entered Finlayson Passage, some twenty-
five miles long. This is a particularly picturesque and
bold channel of water, its shores covered with shaggy
conifers as high as the eye can reach, and the mountains,
with their crowns of snow and ice, furnishing supplies of
spray for innumerable beautiful waterfalls. At many
places in the inland passage from here on, come down the


steep timbered mountains the most beautiful waterfalls fed
from the glaciers hidden in the fog. At every few miles
we pass the mouths of inlets and channels, leading away
into the mountainous country no one knows whither.
There are no charts which show more than the mouths
of these inlets. Out of or into these an occasional canoe
speeds its silent way j^erchance in quest of salmon that
here abound, but the secrets of their hidden jDatlis are
locked in the savage mind. How tempting they must be
for exploration, and how strange that, although so easy
of access, they still remain unknown. After twisting
around through a few "reaches," channels and passages,
we enter the straightest of them all, Grenville Channel,
so straight that it almost seems to have been maj)ped by
an Indian. As you steam through its forty or fifty miles
of mathematically rectilinear exactness you think the
sleepy pilot might tie his wheel, put his heels up in the
spokes, draw his hat over his eyes and take a quiet nap.
In one place it seems to be not over two or three hundred
yards wide, but probably is double that, the high tower-
ing banks giving a deceptive impression. The windrows
through the timber of former avalanches of snow or land-
slides, now become thicker and their effects occasionally
picturesque in the very devastation created. Beyond
Grenville Channel the next important stretch of salt
water is Chatham Sound, which is less like a river than
any yet named. Its connection with Grenville Channel
is by the usual number of three or four irregular water-
ways dodging around fair sized islands, which had at
one time, however, a certain importance because it was
thought that the Canadian Pacific Railway might make
Skeena Inlet off to our right its western terminus.


On the 29th of May, very early in the inoiiiing, we
crossed Dixon Entrance, and were once more on Ameri-
can soil, that is, in a commercial sense, the United States
having drawn a check for its value of $7,200,000, and
the check having been honored ; but in regard to govern-
ment the country may be called no man's land, none
existing in the territory. Dixon Entrance bore once a
Spanish name in honor of its discoverer, a name w liich
is heard no more, although a few still call the channel

Online LibraryFrederick SchwatkaExploring the great Yukon. An adventurous expedition down the great Yukon River, from its source in the British North-west Territory, to its mouth in the territory of Alaska → online text (page 1 of 25)