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John Corbett.

The lake country. An annal of olden days in central New York. The land of gold online

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Online LibraryJohn CorbettThe lake country. An annal of olden days in central New York. The land of gold → online text (page 7 of 7)
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alone, patiently washing the sands and
carefully hoarding the yellow grains



THE LAND OF GOLD. I51

when found. With what is termed a
rocker much more effective work may
be done, a larger amount of soil be han-
dled and greater treasure obtained. If
sluicing be the method employed, the
boxes must first be made, and oftentimes
from lumber manufactured from trees
upon the site by the slow and laborious
process of whip-sawing. With these
crude appliances the treasure-seekers
toil on, their lives brightened only by
the glint of gold they are trying to se-
cure. Away from all home ties with only
simple food rudely prepared, a bed of
boughs and a blanket for nightly rest,
they diligently delve, but they have the
best of health, the clearest air and purest
water, the grandest of mountain scenery,
a summer-tide without a night, their per-
sonal liberty to its fullest extent; an ex-
istence free from the cark of worldly af-
fairs, and almost ideal in its isolation.

THE GOLD.

The Gold of Alaska shows its traces
everywhere throughout the soil, but
aside from the pay-streak the flakes



152 THE LAND OF GOLD.

are very small and widely disseminated.
Where tides rise high along its glacial
beaches, where streams foam over
boulder-beds, where mountains rear
snowy heights, the golden grains may
be found. Yet it is tons of earth to
ounces of gold in the main, and the indi-
vidual miner may expend years of effort
without achieving a competence. Cap-
ital and co-operation are required to
wrest the treasure from its fastnesses,
for whether in veins of quartz or placer
deposits the gold is deep in its affinity to
bed-rock. Nature nowhere has her
treasure-house easy of access, in that
realm of rugged physical characteristics
and forbidding climatic conditions. Be-
neath the evergreens generally of giant
growth, the underbrush thrives thickly,
and in placer ground this forest wealth
must be cleared away, if operations
would extend beyond the bed of the tor-
rent that roars through its boulder-
strew^n course down the mountain gorge.
The moss and mold which hide the sur-
face of the slopes below timber-line, give
place to snow and ice above, and ren-



THE LAND OF GOLD. 1 53

der prospecting for quartz lodes an un-
dertaking fraught with difificuhies, such
as even old miners hesitate to encounter.
The mining of gold in general is con-
ducted on too limited a scale to compass
satisfactory results. The precious metal
is plentiful, and in time modern
machinery moved at the behest of finan-
cial interests will accomplish at a profit
what is now impossible for efforts of the
individual. The Treadwell mine with its
thousand stamps in operation pays divi-
dends on a valuation of millions, but a
miner with pestle and mortar on its free-
milling yet low-grade ore could scarcely
earn his salt. The quest for gold is as
old as the annals of mankind, yet the de-
tails of the process of the separation of
its grains from the soil through the use of
water, are the same as when in barbaric
days its glint first gave suggestion of its
worth. The crude constructions of the
placer grounds cannot retain all the
value of the sands that are washed within
them, and for ages the waste has con-
tinued for the wealth of ancient days
was thus secured. The thirst for treasure



154 THE LAND OF GOLD.

has transformed lives, as when once the
pursuit is engaged in the search for the
elusive substance seldom ceases, and in
the endeavor to wrest fortune from the
reluctant earth it appears as if the great-
est obstacles had to be surmounted
where gold most abounds.

THE SCENE.

The Scene of these sketches is a land
where night has no terrors from the
darkness. No twilight falls at eventide,
no stars appear in summertime even at
the midnight hour, and the dawn is only
known to be at hand through sunlight
gleam on mountain tops afar. The sea-
son for placer mining extends from
early June until late September, and on
the extensively worked claims men are
employed on day and night shifts, no
artificial light whatever being required
for the latter. In this realm of lofty and
snow-clad mountain ranges, the grandeur
of the rising and the setting of the sun
is indescribable, the light flashing from
crest to crest of billowing peaks at morn-
ing, and fading one by one from the



THE LAND OF GOLD. 1 55

view at evening. The mountains are
unique in their magnificence, and rising
abruptly from sea-level the full impres-
siveness of their heights is realized.
About their bases the forest clings;
spruce and fir and birch clothing the
slopes to timber-line, a distance of per-
haps a thousand feet. The grasses ex-
tend their sward and the mosses creep
above, and then the eternal snows. The
reverberations of thunder are never
heard among the peaks, but ever and
anon a sullen boom sounds down the
gorges, the accompaniment of the
tremor of an earthquake.

The clime about Cook Inlet is not in-
hospitable even during the winter
months. The snow falls deeply but the
mercury sinks not much below twenty
degrees, a temperature that is bearable in
an atmosphere of great dryness and so
clear that objects scores of miles away
appear as if just up the valley. During
rain-fall it is as if a mist prevailed; there
are no down-pours and electric storms
are unknown. In early May sleeping in a
tent, rolled in a blanket upon frozen



156 THE LAND OF GOLD.

ground, was attended with no discomfort,
but in camp or cabin during the hours of
night at all seasons warm coverings are a
necessity, and to insure health and phy-
sical comfort woolen garments should
be continually worn. The miners as a
rule are men of fine physique and great
endurance, a result largely due to their
natural mode of life in surroundings con-
ducive to bodily well-being. Miners are
in one sense machines whose wasted en-
ergies require replenishment with hearty
articles of diet, such as whole-wheat
flour, coffee, bacon and beans, v/hich
form the staple food of the camp. Their
arduous work or tramps over the trail
give requisite exercise ; they breathe airs
uncontaminated by the effluvia of civili-
zation, and as a consequence disease and
depression are virtually unknown.

THE SHORE.

The Shore of Alaska was skirted for
the entire distance from Sunrise to Seat-
tle, on the return voyage. Stops were
made at Tyonik, Snug Harbor, Homer,
Saldovia, Orca, Natchek, Yakutat, Sitka,



THE LAND OF GOLD. 1 5/

Juneau and Ft. Wrangel. Tyonik now
principally an Indian settlement, was a
town of importance when the Russians
were endeavoring to colonize about
Cook Inlet. In the rocky bluffs at the
entrance to Snug Harbor the sea-gulls
nest, and myriads appeared to be in the
air, on the clefts of the cliffs and about
the waters. Salmon which agreeably re-
plenished the ship's larder were taken
off the sand-spit at Homer, and at Sal-
dovia the anchor was cast for a three
days' sojourn before transference to the
second boat of the trip. The resonance
of bells from a Greek Church chapel
floated on the air one evening, the first
time such sound had been heard in
months. It was a sweet concordance
over the quiet waters which were aglow
with beauty as the sun went down, bring-
ing into view nearly one hundred miles
to the northwestward, the volcanoes
Iliamna and Redoubt with the smoke-
banners of their internal fires floating
above their snowy crests. Rounding
Cape Elizabeth, the course was con-
tinued along the shores of Kenia Penin-
sula to Prince William Sound.



158 THE LAND OF GOLD,

The mists hung low over the waters,
which is characteristic of the Sound the
sailors say. The first stop was at a cop-
per mine, at the base of a cliff a thousand
feet in height; at Orca an immense sal-
mon cannery was a feature of interest,
and at Natchek the sails were furled
while a storm raged on the Pacific.
Through the Gulf of Alaska the sighting
of whales was a frequent occurrence, and
before anchoring at Yakutat the course
for sixty miles was along the Malaspina
Glacier, which extends its icy waste from
the coast nearly to Mt. St. Elias, the cor-
ner-post of Alaska. In the island-studded
harbor of Sitka the ship tarried for a
while, and in the finest Greek Church of
America Sunday services were wit-
nessed, most of the worshipers being
Indians. This is a restful spot where life
to the unambitious should be a calm con-
tent. Through tide-fretted straits and
tranquil sounds where eagles hold un-
molested sway along the shores, the sail
was made to Juneau, a town extending
over foot-hills shadowed by rocky
heights with the Treadwell mine across



THE LAND OF GOLD. 1 59

the waters, and all accompaniments of
civilization save the telegraph. Three
days of sight-seeing, and the third ship
of the trip v/as boarded for the inland
passage to Puget Sound. As if over
summer seas the vessel sailed, touching
at Ft. Wrangel and other ports amid
most charming scenes.

THE RACE.

The Race that in time to come may
dominate Alaskan shores, is the race that
has held its own though one nation has
come and gone, and another is now over-
running the land but remaining no
longer than to secure its mineral wealth.
The Indian of Alaska is a patient per-
sonage. The forms of Russian altars are
before him, but he still erects his totem
pole and reveres the rites of his pagan
ancestry. His cabin though of logs has
its central-fire on a pebbly bed with a
smoke-hole in the roof above, precisely
as did the bark-abodes of his race in
days of yore. The skins of moose or bear
cover the ground about the fire-bed, and
squatted amid her half-clad offspring the



l60 THE LAND OF GOLD.

woman of the household performs her
simple duties. Thus are the domiciles
of the older inhabitants, but in the hab-
itations of the younger members of the
tribe may be found some of the articles
of civilization. There is no order of loca-
tion in the construction of the dwelling-
places. Over knolls and through dales
they are erected wherever the fancy of
the owners dictate, but the general ex-
tension of the village is governed by the
trend of the shore of land-locked bay or
mountain stream, whose waters from
their snowy source are life-giving in their
purity.

A canoe race across the waters of the
strait was an event in the celebration of
Independence day at Juneau. The grace-
ful craft were fashioned from the trunks
of giant firs, and each contained nearly
a score of Indians, all young men of
notable athletic appearance. The paddles
dipped, the blades rising and falling with
the regularity of the sweep of wings
when wild-fowl fly, and over the waves
like black swans on their course glided
the contesting canoes. It was a demon-



THE LAND OF GOLD. l6l

stratioti of vigor, training and determina-
tion, that evidenced its participants were
far from the period of race-decadence вАФ
the opinion generally entertained of the
aborigines. A "potlatch" was another
interesting feature that came under ob-
servation. It was given by an Indian
as a preliminary to the erection of a
totem pole, and invitations to members
of his tribe were made by a harangue
from a canoe as it was paddled by their
habitations along the water-front. A
series of dances and feasts followed until
all had been entertained, the festivities
beginning at the evening hour with the
principal partakers bedecked by paint
and trappings. Old usages long prevail
with any people, and time which will ob-
literate barbaric customs will also sweep
away the stunting superstitions, that re-
tard advance of civilization.



3 1898



LIBRARY OF



CONGRESS




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Online LibraryJohn CorbettThe lake country. An annal of olden days in central New York. The land of gold → online text (page 7 of 7)