On Eagle’s Wings . . .
A fascinating mostly factual tour of early Gold Rush Days in Juneau, showcasing art by local artists, alive and dead. Eagle’s Wings explores the literary mystery surrounding the life of the Lucky Swede, one of the miners who struck it rich in the Klondike in 1898
Hi. Welcome to On Eagle’s Wings, a fascinating, mostly factual tour of gold rush days in Juneau. This tour also showcases art by local artists, one who is a pioneer long dead. Also included are samples from the premier writers of the gold rush era, Robert Service and Jack London. A little bit of Mark Twain, America’s own comic genius, is thrown in just for fun. Eagle’s Wings Tour also explores the mystery surrounding the life of the Lucky Swede, one of those handful of men who struck it rich in the Klondike.
The tall dark Indian, his skin the color of dusky copper, his face half painted black to appear more fearsome and a shard of ivory pierced through his nose, paddled his oversize dugout canoe through the calm inland waterway.
He is dressed in a gorgeous robe, emblazoned with the images of his tribe, the Raven. His unkempt black hair has a small white ermine pelt knotted into it. The art of the Northwest coast Indian is found nowhere else in the world and changes slightly from village to village and tribe to tribe all the way through what is now British Columbia.
The man squinted his eyes, sniffed and detected the odor of the black bear. Beside the canoe, a humpback whale dove gracefully and almost silently for food, so close the Indian could have touched it. His keen ears heard a twig snap on shore. His piercing eyesight revealed the slight movement of a beautiful Sitka black-tailed deer, this buck close to three hundred pounds.
The warrior, Chief Eagle’s Wing, wears solid gold bracelets on his muscled upper arms. The bracelets are finely worked pieces of art. He values them for their bright color. This gold is in great contrast to the somber woods and ocean, so often cloaked in a light, misty rain.
Chief Eagle’s Wing, the Tlingit who lived in this wilderness, was not the owner of the land, he was one with it. Unlike his counterparts in the far North, Chief Eagle’s Wing never knew a day of famine because of the abundance of food in the lush forests and the continual feasts the ocean provided. The Indians have a saying to this day, “when the tide is out, the table is set.”
Not having to spend much time in mere survival, the Tlingits developed a huge trading empire that extended all the way down to Northern California. This great trading empire was rivaled only by the Incas of ancient Mexico. Aside from trade, the Tlingits used the luxury of their free time to war with each other and take slaves from each other’s tribes. When one village conquered another, it was common practice to impale the heads of the defeated warriors on stakes around the village until they rotted away.
Leaving the great Chief Eagle’s Wing for the moment to live out his life in the splendor of this Northern paradise and the complexity of his own savage nature, we begin our art/history tour with a trip back down the boardwalks of Juneau’s own earliest days.
The beautiful spruce covered mountains and peaceful inland waterways along what is now called Gastineau channel in Southeastern Alaska were virtually untouched until the middle of the 1800’s. Prior to that time, although the land itself was unchanged, the aboriginal people had already been greatly impacted by first the Russians in the 1700’s and then the American whalers who came around the tip of Africa and sailed up the coast. They were also affected by English explorers, the most notable of whom was Captain Cook after whom Cook Inlet up near Anchorage, is named. Other famous explorers were men such as George Vancouver and John Muir, the well-known naturalist.
The Russians were mainly fur traders at first and decimated the Southeastern waters of many of its fur-bearing animals. At one time, the otters, seals and beavers were thick in these waters to the point that they were in actual crowds, dense and wonderful to behold. Although the main Russian settlement was in Sitka, their influence on the Indians remains down to this day. The Russians brought in vodka, muskets, but also a high level of culture, introducing the tribal people to literature, classical music and the Russian Orthodox religion. It’s pretty interesting that this religion has churches all over Alaska and their priests and congregations tend to be the indigenous people of the state.
Of course, all these world travelers intermingled their blood with that of the Indians so, especially here in Southeastern, most people of native descent have a Russian last name such as Dementieoff or Sobolof. You would have to search Dostoevsky to find more Russian names than there are in S.E. Alaska. Along with the good was the bad . . .there were fierce fights between the Tlingits and the Russians and much blood spilled on both sides. The Russians, of course, had the advantage because of their muskets. The individual skirmishes are really too long for this tour but it does make some interesting reading. Baranof, the governor of Russian America, was a short, bald man that held an absurd little wig on his head with a kerchief. However funny he looked, he was a very canny business man and ruled with an iron hand.
Along with their names, of course, the Indians also became some percentage white so that you can find a copper colored Indian with the blackest hair and startling blue eyes. With some of my Tlingit friends, sometimes I swear I am talking to a Russian Jew, because their mannerisms and facial characteristics have been so obviously stamped on their face as being of Russian origin. In modern times, it is virtually impossible to find any Indian that is 100 per cent of Indian blood. The features are very anglicized compared to the earliest known photos of these people, when their skin was very dark and they looked almost oriental with almond-shaped eyes but a sturdier build than the average oriental person.
Rumors of gold lured miners to the area in the 1870’s. There was found to be an one hundred and twenty mile belt of gold from Windham Bay to Berner’s Bay. This gold was interwoven with the quartz found in these once glacier covered mountains. Wherever you see a rounded mountain top, that means it was once covered by a massive glacier that rounded the mountain off as it receded, sort of like a huge grater grating cheese as the bottom of the glacier is full of sharp rocks and silt. As you drive towards the glacier, just imagine a huge wall of ice covering the very tops of the rounded mountains. The Mendenhall valley was created by the retreat of this massive glacier. River gravel below the peaks sparkled with yellow particles washed down from the mountain mother lodes.
The Alaska-Juneau mine, abbreviated from now on in this tour as the AJ mine, was first developed by the German mining engineer, George Pilz. It was in operation for 47 years, from 1897 to 1944, when the price of gold fell due to WW II. One author said it was a beautiful sight to see the mine in operation at night on the mountain side because you could see the headlamps of the miners making long trails of golden globes, shimmering and dipping as the men hiked. The AJ mine is the rather large collection of ruins you may have noticed as you sailed into the harbor, just on the right hand, before docking in Juneau.
The Tlingits, Chief Kowee in particular (a direct descendant of Chief Eagle’s Wing . . . just kidding), were promised 100 Hudson’s Bay blankets if they would show the miners, Harris and Juneau, where the gold was located. The miners must have rather greedily noticed the bright golden baubles the Indians sported so casually. Chief Kowee was also his tribe’s shaman or witch doctor/medicine man as many of the tribal chiefs were.
A Tlingit elder who now lives in Juneau recently said the oral history of her people differs with the white man’s history in that the Tlingits assume the first person to discover gold was not Chief Kowee but a woman!
Miller said, “When Kowee was inquiring about gold around the Tlingit summer fish camp at the mouth of Gold Creek, Sheep Creek Mary was there. She was the caretaker of Fish Creek but she was probably fishing at Gold Creek. She had a pouch around her neck. Kowee, being the shaman, asked, “Is that your medicine?” and she said, no, and showed it to him. It was a gold nugget as big as a bean and he got excited, so she took him up to the Basin and showed him where she found it.”
One can assume Sheep Creek Mary did not realize the value of the yellow rock whereas Kowee knew the white man placed much importance on it. It is a very arduous journey up the mountain to the valley on the other side which the miners quickly named Silver Bow Basin.
Only the Indians knew a safe route up this rather forbidding mountain. Ironically, not only did the Indians not receive a penny of profits from the gold, they didn’t even get their promised 100 Hudson’s Bay blankets. To add insult to injury, the U.S. Navy forced the Tlingits out of their own land, which had turned into a tent miner’s camp, to live in nearby Auke Bay.
Auke Bay is a very beautiful area where the University of Alaska/Juneau is located. It is really worth taking a look at as if was named one of the ten most beautiful college campuses in the U.S. Locals call it UAS (University of Alaska in Southeast). Auke Bay is a charming harbor and UAS is small but has some interesting architecture, notably the library and the new outdoor performing arts arena. Some of the buildings are built so close to the giant ancient spruce that they are reminiscent of the way Frank Lloyd Wright married architecture and wilderness. Of course, this is on a much smaller, less elaborate scale than that of the famous architect.
Getting back to the history, a small Indian village was established on what is now Willoughby Ave. and it is still there although there are no signs posted. It is easy to spot because it is a collection of homes and trailers in what is otherwise a commercial area, near the Tlingit-Haida Building and not too far from the State Office Building or what the locals call the S.O.B. (no pun intended)
You can easily walk to the S.O.B. from downtown and it is well worth exploring because inside the lobby there is an authentic totem pole and a fabulous porch that extends out over the ridge of the mountain so you can see way down the channel for some great photos. This building, unprepossessing on the outside, is built around a glassed-in open atrium with plants and benches. The only drawback is that it is only open during working hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Mon.-Fri. Also, there are two great libraries in the S.O.B., one an Alaska historical library just full of interesting articles and photos of early Alaska.
Returning to the history, the Indians who had come in from all the surrounding villages at the excitement of all the white miners who were encamped here to look for gold, so far outnumbered the whites that apparently the miners feared an uprising and begged the Navy to officially rule against them. The Indians were culturally miles from the whites so you really can’t blame the miners for being fearful and suspicious. Remember, these were the days of the Wild West in Arizona
and California. Indian uprisings were common in the young nation and the Tlingits were known to be a proud, fierce, warlike people.
The first claim staked by Harris and Juneau after being shown where it was by Chief Kowee they named the Fuller First. In 1893, a five stamp mill was brought over from Douglas. A stamp mill is a rock crusher that stamps ore into small pieces so gold can be extracted by a process using mercury and/or cyanide. There is a larger roller over crushed rock that is coated with mercury. Mercury picks up the gold flecks. These are skimmed off and boiled in a huge vat. The mercury is distilled to another vat and the gold is left in the bottom of the first vat. It sinks because it is heavier than the mercury.
In 1896, the five stamp mill was replaced with a thirty stamp mill that could handle 150 tons of ore in 24 hours. In 1900, Frederick Bradley became president of the AJ mine, and, under him, the AJ mine became the largest low grade mine the world has ever seen!
One extremely interesting fact about this huge mine is that there was a tunnel built called the Gold Creek tunnel which is one and one-quarter miles long and 425 feet above sea level. When this tunnel met from either side of the mountain, the calculations were off by ONLY ONE INCH. Folks, even today, considering this mountain is solid rock, this is quite a feat of engineering. The main engineer on this project was B.D. Stewart.
A rail system was installed to connect the tunnel to the mill. Eventually, the mine honeycombed Mt. Juneau, the main mountain you see from downtown, with 108 miles of horizontal tunnels. This is more than twice the miles of the main highway in Juneau, which only amounts to about 40 miles. Yes, we drive to the end of the road and it really IS the end of the road. The road just stops and wilderness looms up. There is no road out of Juneau, although the town is not an island but connected to the mainland. It is the only state capital with no road access.
The various legislatures, through the years, have argued about this subject and appropriated 400 million dollars in environmental studies as to the feasibility of this project. Folks, for 400 million, this mere forty miles of road needed to connect Juneau to the rest of the state, could have been built ten times over. But why not flush that money down the tubes, right? Not as if we could use it in the school system or to give some of our villages plumbing.
Back to the history, the AJ mine had to crush 22 TONS of ore to get just one single ounce of gold. So it follows that there is going to be a lot of throw-away rock or the mining term is tailings. AJ was an enormous mill, the largest in the world at that time, that crushed thirteen thousand tons of ore per day and it ran 24 hours per day.
The obvious reason the AJ mine was built on the side of the mountain by the ocean and not in the original valley where the gold was first discovered is that this unbelievable amount of tailings would have filled the high mountain valley up very fast, as you can well imagine. The Gold Creek tunnel was built to transport rock from the valley to the mine.
There is a local tour that goes up Preseverence trail to Ebner Falls. This trail is maintained all the way to Silver Bow Basin, where the gold was first found. It follows the old mule trail that used to go to the mine. However, that is quite a hike, about two hours each way unless you are a runner. Ebner Falls, however, is only about half hour to 45 min. each way and the scenery is simply stunning. It is our favorite hike in the area and we have been here over a decade. It is a little strenuous as the trail goes up very steeply.
Here is a little about local tours. The float trip down the river sounds great, however, August and September have historically been very rainy months and we see the poor tourists coming off the float trip practically in hypothermia, despite their warm coats and life vests. Not too many locals would enjoy such a trip in those months. There is no way to know if a particular day will be nice or not so it is best not to plan ahead on a float trip. On a halfway nice day, it is a fun thing to do. However, in April, which is usually our driest month, it would be a different story. The problem is, no cruise ships come up that early. They even have a warm up tent and hot drinks ready for the brave tourists.
Now it is your money, spend it on what you want but another tour that sounds better than it is, is the horseback riding tour anywhere in Southeastern. We never know when we will have a very rainy day and this is just not horse or cow country. Some people do have them but they must be boarded in barns most of the year. If you want to really have fun on horseback riding or river trips, either go up near Anchorage and North, where it is much less rainy or towards the interior from Southeastern, which would not be Alaska any more, but British Columbia. Fairbanks is actually considered a Northern desert, with ten inches of rain or less a year while Southeastern is a Northern rain forest, with over 100 inches a year in Juneau alone. Some towns have more than this. A river trip near Fairbanks would be fabulous and you could see both deserted and current villages on the river and every day would be sunny.
If you want to be guaranteed to have an interesting tour in this area, I would put my money into Allen Marine Tours. It leaves the Tram by bus and goes out for about two and a half hours to watch whales. The boats are all glass enclosed, very cozy as the open deck can be quite cold even in summer. They have a catered dinner which is what you would get at a very nice restaurant with things like salmon mousse and shrimp dishes that are to die for.
The boats are manufactured in Sitka and are just beautiful, two and three story catamarans. A nice feature of these boats is that they are very fast so they just zoom you out to where the whales are. The design is so successful, some have been sold to New York City for their ferry system. What I like about the trip is that the captain and ample crew are very knowledgeable about the names of all the islands we are passing, extremely polite and gracious – they will even take your plates for you! They answer all questions easily and the whole experience is just not boring and very pleasant.
There is another whale watching tour that lasts about five hours and takes you out to a very nice lodge and fresh salmon dinner. However, the boats are smaller and personally, I prefer the meal on board as the main thing is more to see the whales than to see the lodge, although the lodge is very nice.
Very recently (July ’04) I went out on Allen Marine and it was just awesome. We saw so many whales we had to stop counting the tails. A rainbow showed up on the water and we witnessed the phenomenon of bubble feeding in which the whales cast a net of bubbles to catch a school of fish. We saw this several times and they dropped a hydrophone (water microphone) in the water so we could hear the whales sing! It was just a thrilling experience, almost spiritual in nature. There are literally hundreds of whales out there who come up here to feed for the entire year. When they return to warmer waters in Hawaii and off the coast of California and Baja, they fast until they return to Alaska in the Spring. So, chances are pretty good, no matter what boat you take out, you will have a whale sighting.
Having lived here so long, I’ve seen lots of them through the years but, you know, it is just so exciting and new each time. They were within 8 feet of the boat and there is an open observation deck. The captain and crew went out of their way to make the whole experience very pleasant. In fact, Allen Marine even provides binoculars on each seat that you can use as well as a map so you know what you are looking at. I never heard so many oohs and ahhs as in that two and a half hours.
Ebner Falls is just unbelievably beautiful. You can easily hike this without a guide, once you get to the trail head and the falls is just the first right off the main trail. There used to be a wooden sign marking it. Go up Gold street and hang a right on Basin road to get to the trail head. Basin road itself is quite scenic, like something out of a dream, it’s so startling and gets you so close to the mountains right away, with minimal physical effort as if you were a mountaineer who had scaled the cliffs for hours to reach the top.
Back to the problem of what to do with so many tons of tailings, the engineers found that they could be conveniently dumped in the channel because the channel is so extraordinarily deep, carved out by glaciers eons ago. Another interesting fact is that much of present day Juneau is built on tailings as there was no flat land to build on. Also, there was a problem at the beginning in the tent camp with sewage washing back with the tide right up to the flaps of their tents.
Using the tailings to fill in the tidal flats solved this problem, however, environmentalists today would be aghast as such a simple solution, certain it would doom the wildlife. And, yet, here we are over a hundred years later and the animals seemed to have survived.
The tunnels in the mountain were constructed to take the gold-bearing ore to the mine on small trains. There is one tour that will take you right inside one of these tunnels and explains the mining process. There is also another mine tour that highlights some interesting old mine buildings out on Thane road which has a very thorough, educational tour.
In 1913, there was a tax agreement between the city of Juneau and the AJ mine. The AJ was declared exempt from city taxes, although it was within city limits. These taxes would have amounted to 18 thousand of their dollars per year (or seventy times that in today’s dollars) . . . over half a million of their dollars over the 47 year life of the mine. That is quite a bit of money to give up.
In exchange, the water system still in use today was actually laid down by the AJ mine for this generous tax exemption. Also, the electrical system in use today was first begun over one hundred years ago as a partial payment for the tax exemption. So, when you see the lights flickering in the stores, now you know why (just kidding).
The brand new city of Juneau wanted good fire protection which the AJ helped fund as part of the deal for the privileged tax exempt status. The city did pay for half the pipes laid under its streets and the AJ mine paid for the other half of the system.
Interestingly, these pipes were laid by the same engineer who had done Gold Creek tunnel a few years earlier, B.D. Stewart, who was now the mayor of the infant Juneau.
The AJ paid its miners in gold coins, therefore, Juneau did not feel the effects of the depression because of the gold standard which did not fall with the stock market, the plentiful jobs at the mine and the abundant wild food that could be hunted or fished.
There are many original miner’s homes still in the older sections of the city, notably Starr hill and Chicken Ridge. These were built by the AJ mine for the miners and these sturdy little houses are still occupied to this day.
In the first two decades of the twentieth century, technology in Alaska reached the state of the art for small hydro electric plants that were unsurpassed anywhere in the world at that time.
The AJ mine built Salmon Creek dam to meet its own hydroelectric needs. This dam was built between 1912 and 1914 and is 172 feet high and 648 feet across. It is called a Variable Arch dam or a Thin Arch dam and was the first of its kind in the world! Today, there are hundreds of these dams world-wide designed after the Salmon Creek dam. There is a hike that goes about 45 min. straight up to the dam but it is not near as scenic as Preseverence trail.
The original bridge from Juneau to Douglas was designed by O.H. Stratton, who later on designed the famous San Francisco Bay Bridge. Actually, this earlier bridge looked exactly like the San Francisco Bay Bridge, so I surmise he was testing out his design. However this beautiful bridge was replaced in the early 80’s for the one you see now.
The AJ mine produced an astounding 13 thousand TONS of tailings each day. Through the life of the mine, this translated into 90 MILLION tons, most of which was deposited in the channel itself or the rock dump which goes 15 feet into the channel and 2,800 feet along Thane road.
There is a beautiful little side trip down Thane road to a single very interesting restaurant called Thane Ore House. It is right on the beach. Because of its very authentic Alaskan décor, many locals favor this establishment above others. The batter fried halibut and chips are always fresh, delicious and reasonably priced. The atmosphere in the restaurant is that of an authentic early mining camp, with many artifacts around the building and grounds.
Personally, I always feel like I have stepped back a hundred years when I go to eat there as even the building itself is an old mining building that has been fixed up. It is very low-keyed and casual and you almost expect some grizzled old miner to come from around the corner of the building, with his pick axe and shovel. In addition, there are some very neat area photos. The food is prepared fresh while you wait. Thane Ore House has its own free van that will pick up people near the Tram and take them both ways but many tourists do not discover this place as it is not associated with any big tourism company. Photographic opportunities abound, both of the restaurant and the scenery.
Another word to the traveler in Juneau. . . you may or may not know many of the gift shops in Juneau are actually owned by the cruise ship companies, especially the more expensive places like those selling diamonds. On each cruise, there are coupons to these stores and I’ve even heard some of the tourists are told that the local gift shops are expensive and try to cheat people. Very cleverly, the cruise ship staff are trying to steer the visitors towards their own stores. This summer (July, ’04) a diamond was sold worth one million dollars! So, apparently, there are some high rollers on the cruise ships.
However, for those of us fond of bargains, I have to tell you, many of the stores sell identical or nearly identical items. The prices can vary wildly for the very same thing. I’ve seen a one hundred dollar mark up and in more than one case, the mark up was exactly double. The cruise ship stores are often NOT the cheapest stores (despite the coupons), even for diamonds. It really pays to spend a few extra minutes to shop around whether you are in the market for some T shirts for the kids or your next million dollar diamond.
For instance, I have seen the exact same printed T shirt on “sale” for $18.95, a few stores later, on “special” for $12.95, and further “only” $10.00. So ladies, if you like to search out a bargain, start out a few blocks down from the docks, near the McDonald’s, and work your way BACK. Compare your prices before you buy and as this may be pretty boring to the average guy, maybe he can find something else to do but, believe me, when you show him your bargains, he will be very happy. The stores are counting on you blitzing the ones closest to the docks, which doesn’t mean they are necessarily overpriced, but if you want things that might be a little unusual and made in Alaska, you need to resist impulse buying at the very first place you see.
Those shops owned by locals could not possibly survive in this competitive market by cheating people. Often, they offer the best deals because they want to earn a good reputation. Also, only the local gift shops stay open all winter. This is true whether the locals are selling the more inexpensive souvenirs or the nicer jewelry.
Interestingly, the stores closest to where the cruise ships dock charge more rent than those stores further down the street from the ship docks. To me, this spells some awful big bucks coming into those stores selling souvenirs that are mostly made in China. Like the supermarkets that put all the candy on the lower shelves so that children will grab it and force their parents to buy it, there is a bit of a psychological game going on here.
If you just stop and take the time to search out some very charming little mom and pop stores hidden in the corners, you might find something very unique and affordable, made in Alaska. One Indian woman has a wonderful store with everything in it hand made by local Tlingit artists. However, by the time most tourists get that far down the street, they are usually “shopped out” and you never see the big crowds in her store that there are in the stores right next to where the cruise ship docks. Consider this, if you put all your spending money into stores actually owned by the Cruise ship conglomerations, you may end up paying for your trip twice to the same company or its’ subsidiaries. Of course the big companies want to make money and they surely know how to do it, but don’t discount hardworking ordinary folks that live here and don’t have a chain of similar stores all over the world.
The AJ mine operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for 47 YEARS. Folks, even today this would be considered a phenomenally successful business. The Treadwell mine in Douglas operated round the clock for 29 years from 1882 to 1917 and extracted 70 million dollars in gold – at today’s prices that amount would be seven hundred million mind-boggling dollars.
In 1906, the governor and state capital moved to Juneau from Sitka (which was the capital of Russian America), probably partly because of the success of the AJ mine.
In 1912, the governor’s mansion was built. This is just a short walk from downtown and well worth taking a look at as an example of period architecture of that era. Our governor still lives there and it is only open to the public a few days around Christmas. The interior is as beautifully restored as the exterior. On holidays, they have fancy snacks and special music. It keeps the chef busy for days to prepare for this occasion.
In 1959, the U.S. Congress voted to have Alaska become the 49th state. Of all the states, one can truly say Alaska is the last frontier. Although Hawaii came in after Alaska, it does not have the same pioneering spirit. You never need to chop up a Palm tree to keep warm! This frontier spirit is most prevalent in Fairbanks. For years, there was a sign painted on the side of a building, COME HELL OR HIGH WATER, FAIRBANKS AND ROSS KIMBALL ARE HERE TO STAY ! Having never met the good Mr. Kimball, I thought it was an interesting piece of graffiti as there was a flood there in ’67.
You might wonder whatever happened to the two original miners who found the gold with the help of the shaman/Chief Kowee. Well, Joe Juneau sold his claims, went north to Dawson City with the next gold rush and opened the Joe Juneau restaurant. Supplies were overpriced in Dawson at the time so it was probably a pretty good business for a while. The rush only lasted two years and when it was over, his restaurant went bankrupt. Thousands rushed to the Yukon from all over the civilized world but only a few were fortunate enough to make all the hardships worthwhile.
Joe earned 18,000 dollars from his original claim, Fuller First, in Silver Bow Basin but died broke in Dawson City in 1899. He could possibly have drank himself to death although history does not record this we do know from earlier accounts that he was given to “tying one on”. Dawson City, at that time, was very rough and ready. Old newspaper articles record drinking and fights just about every day so it appears a man could very easily be overcome by his drinking habit. However, he was also 73 so his clock probably just ran down. His body was sent back to Juneau and he is buried in Evergreen cemetery (just a block or so from the governor’s mansion). Joe was of French Canadian origin so he spoke with a thick French accent. Personally, I think he looks somewhat like a rascally pirate with his big mustache and flashing dark eyes.
Richard Harris earned $75,000 from his claim but got embroiled in a lawsuit over contested claims and lost most of his money, probably to lawyers. He died in 1905 down south and is buried right along side of his erstwhile partner, Joe Juneau.
As an interesting sidelight along this line, my maternal grandfather just happens to be the Lucky Swede, who made one of the richest strikes in the Klondike. Jack London mentions the Lucky Swede in his book, Gold Hunters of the North. Since it is only three paragraphs and Jack London is so well known, I will quote it here:
“A Swede named Charley Anderson had been
at work on Miller Creek the year of the strike,
and arrived in Dawson with a few hundred dollars.
Two miners, who had staked #29 Eldorado, decided
That he was the proper man upon whom to
“unload.” He was too canny to approach sober,
so, at considerable expense, they got him drunk.
“Even then, it was hard work, but they kept him
befuddled for several days, and finally inveigled
him into buying No. 29 for $750. When Anderson
sobered up, he wept at his folly and pleaded to
have his money back. But the men who had
duped him were hardhearted. They laughed at
him and kicked themselves for not having tapped
him for a couple hundred more. Nothing
remained for Anderson but to work the
worthless ground. This he did, and out of it
he took over three quarters of a million
Before this incident, one miner had sold his
half interest in #29 Eldorado for a sack of
flour! The mine turned out to have a value
of a thousand dollars for every foot of it.”
Interestingly, the fact emerged from this short quote is that Anderson wept over his folly. Never having personally met him, this shows me what a tender heart he must have had. Keep this in mind as we explore further this literary mystery.
Also, please notice London states Anderson came in from working another mine on Miller Creek. This is also a clue to unraveling the mystery. Also take note that London says there were two miners who made a job of getting the Swede drunk. There is no logical reason for London to fabricate this story even though he was a writer of fiction as this account was well known in the gold camps. So we can safely assume Anderson was a man not used to drinking, who had to be talked into drinking too much, over a period of days. To me, this indicates a stubborn, strong willed man.
Also, looking back through the telescope of history, a person can assume, from such a spectacular find, that the circumstances of Charlie’s fall from grace were well known and repeated many times among the rough and tumble miner’s camps. This is just human nature to want to gossip about an unusual event, much like we are curious today about the circumstances of those who win big lotteries.
However, Charlie himself, being basically a good person who believed in God, was ashamed of this brief episode in his life. Through the intervening years, he effectively killed the original story of what happened. In fact, I know for certain, he never once came back to visit the Yukon. Since he had found his fortune there, I always wondered about that. However, as an adult, I understand it better. He had suffered greatly in the forbidding wilderness, working himself almost to death before the chance discovery. To deepen the mystery, all my relatives told me he never once spoke about the whole experience except to mention how cold it was. You’d think, especially as he got older and steadily prosperous, he would want to regale the children and grand children with tales of the far North. I believe he was a little embarrassed about the whole incident.
I did some literary sleuthing and found a poem by Robert Service that I believe might have been inspired by my grandfather’s life. In the factual, historical account of the life of Robert Service, I found out that Service was a bookish, bespectacled bank clerk who actually lived vicariously through his writing, as many authors do. Service would go up and down the river, stopping at each miner’s camp and listen to their stories.
More of a teetotaler himself and a religious man, some of the incidents he wrote of in his wonderful poetry so shocked his church they almost threw him out. Like the artist that observes life and interprets it his or her own way, Service took the stories the miners told him and put his own spin on them. The famous Cremation of Sam McGee, for instance, was probably based on a real incident of a man being cremated and some rush of wind or log exploding causing the body to sit up for a moment, giving rise to all the tall tales.
My personal theory about the poem I’m going to share is that Service undoubtedly heard the miner’s tales of the stories about the Lucky Swede soon after the discovery was made, as he was in the area at the time. He got inspired by the somewhat whimsical tale and improvised a poem out of it, using poetic license to change the facts a bit.
There are many tantalizing literary clues that tend to back up my theory. However, since the incident and the poem both happened so long ago, there is no way to know for sure. So, join me on this journey of a bit of literary archeology and judge for yourself if the mysterious unnamed miner in Service’s poem could possibly have been modeled after the Lucky Swede. This theory is brand new as there has never been a person to make the connection between this poem and the actual man himself. But, isn’t it fun to sift the literary sands of time and find something new . . .not quite like King Tut’s tomb, but, eureka (!), it’s still a find.
The first clue that makes me think Service was probably referring to Charlie Anderson is the name of the poem, The Man from Eldorado. Charlie’s mine was #29 Eldorado. In the poem, Service also mentions this miner openly spoke of his longing for a life in the country and ten children when he was extremely drunk.
The real Charlie Anderson had nine children and a life in the country. His Swedish wife died having number nine (my mother) or it would have been ten. Since Robert Service is the unequaled premier poet of the gold rush days, I will quote the whole poem here. It is obvious, following my theory of Anderson as the model, that Service took poetic license and had the unnamed miner go out and kill himself.
So, the mystery is:
Could this nameless miner be the Lucky Swede or not?
I think we can safely say this man from Eldorado is loosely based on Charlie Anderson. Judge for yourself:
The Man from Eldorado
He’s the man from Eldorado, and he’s just arrived in town
In moccasins and oily buckskin shirt.
He’s gaunt as any Indian, and pretty nigh as brown;
He’s greasy, and he smells of sweat and dirt,
He sports a crop of whiskers that would shame a healthy hog
Hard work has racked his joints and stooped his back
He slops along the sidewalk followed by his yellow dog,
But he’s got a bunch of gold dust in his sack.
He seems a little wistful as he blinks at all the lights,
And maybe he is thinking of his claim
And the dark and dwarfish cabin where he lay and dreamed
(Thank God he’ll never see the place again!)
Where he lived on tinned tomatoes, beef embalmed and sour,
On rusty beans and bacon furred with mould;
His stomach’s out of kilter and his system’s full of lead,
But it’s over, and his poke is full of gold.
He has panted at the windlass, he has loaded in the drift
He has pounded at the face of oozy clay;
He has taxed himself to sickness, dark and damp and double
He has labored like a demon night and day.
And now, Praise God, it’s over and he
Seems to breathe again
Of new-mown hay, the warm, wet, friendly loam;
He sees a snowy orchard in a green and dimpling plain,
And a little vine-clad cottage, and it’s—Home
He’s the man from Eldorado and he’s had a bite and sup
And he’s met in with a drouthy friend or two;
He’s cached away his gold dust but he’s sort of bucking
So he’s kept enough to-night to see him through
His eye is bright and genial, his tongue no longer lags;
‘His heart is brimming o’er with joy and mirth;
He may be far from savory, he may be clad in rags,
But tonight he feels as if he owns the earth.
Says he: “Boys, here is where the shaggy North and I will part
I thought I’d never manage to get free.
I kept on making misses: but at least I’ve got my stake;
There’s no more thawing frozen muck for me.
I’m going to God’s country, where I’ll live the simple life
I’ll buy a bit of land and make a start
I’ll carve a little homestead and I’ll win a little wife
And raise ten little kids to cheer my heart.”
They signified their sympathy by crowding to the bar;
They bellied up three deep and drank his health
He shed a radiant smile around and smoked a rank cigar;
They wished him honor, happiness and wealth
They drank unto his wife to be—that unsuspecting maid;
They drank unto his children half a score;
And when they got through drinking very tenderly they laid
The man from Eldorado on the floor.
He’s the man from Eldorado, and he’s only starting in
To cultivate a thousand-dollar jag.
His poke is full of gold dust and his heart is full of sin
And he’s dancing with a girl called Muckluck Mag.
She’s light as any fairy; she’s pretty as a peach;
She’s mistress of the witchcraft to beguile;
There’s sunshine in her manner, there is music in her speech
And there’s concentrated honey in her smile.
Oh, the fever of the dance-hall and the glitter and the shine
The beauty, and the jewels and the whirl,
The madness of the music, the rapture of the wine,
The languorous allurement of a girl!
She is like a lost Madonna; he is gaunt, unkempt and grim
But she fondles him and gazes in his eyes;
Her kisses seek his heavy lips, and soon it seems to him
He has staked a little claim in Paradise
“Who’s for a juicy two-step?” cries the master of the floor
The music throbs with soft, seductive beat.
There’s glitter, gilt and gladness; there are pretty girls
There’s a woolly man with moccasins on feet.
They know they’ve got him going; he is buying wine for all
They crowd around as buzzards at a feast,
Then when his poke is empty they boost him from the hall,
And spurn him in the gutter like a beast.
He’s the man from Eldorado, and he’s painting red the town
Behind he leaves a trail of yellow dust;
In a whirl of senseless riot he is ramping up and down;
There’s nothing checks his madness and lust
And soon the word is passed around—it travels like a flame
They fight to clutch his hand and call him friend
The chevaliers of lost repute, the dames of sorry fame
Then comes the grim awakening—the end.
He’s the man from Eldorado, and he gives a grand affair;
There’s feasting, dancing, wine without restraint
The smooth Beau Brummels of the bar, the faro men, are there
The tinhorns and purveyors of red paint;
The sleek and painted women, their predacious eyes aglow –
Sure Klondike City never saw the like;
Then Muckluck Mag proposed the toast, “The giver of the show
The livest sport that ever hit the pike.”
The “live one” rises to his feet; he stammers to reply—
And there comes before his muddled brain
A vision of green vastitudes beneath an April sky.
And clover pastures drenched with silver rain.
He knows that it can never be, that he is down and out:
Life leers at him with foul and fetid breath;
And then amid the revelry, the song and cheer and shout,
He suddenly grows grim and cold as death.
He grips the table tensely, and he says: “Dear friends of mine
I’ve let you dip your fingers in my purse;
I’ve crammed you at my table, and I’ve drowned you in my wine
And I’ve little left to give you but—my curse.
I’ve failed supremely in my plans; it’s rather late to whine
My poke is mighty weasened up and small.
I thank you each for coming here; the happiness is mine—
And now, you thieves and harlots, take it all.”
He twists the thong from off his poke; he swings it o’er his head
The nuggets fall around their feet like grain
They rattle over roof and wall; they scatter, roll and spread
The dust is like a shower of golden rain.
The guests a moment stand aghast, then grovel on the floor
They fight and snarl, and claw, like beasts of prey
And then, as everybody grabbed and everybody swore,
The man from Eldorado slipped away.
He’s the man from Eldorado, and they found him stiff and
Half covered by the freezing ooze and dirt
A clotted Colt was in his hand, a hole was in his head,
And he wore an old and oily buckskin shirt
His eyes were fixed and horrible, as one who hails the end
The frost had set him rigid as a log;
And there, half lying on his breast, his last and only friend
There crouched and whined a mangy yellow dog.
– Robert Service
Having spent ten years in the far North, I would surmise that someone with a name like Muckluck Mag was probably an Indian, or, more likely, an Eskimo girl. When Service calls her ‘fair as any peach’ one would immediately think of a young white woman. However, many of the young Eskimo girls have a pretty, peachy complexion. Mucklucks are the soft reindeer or sealskin boots the Eskimos sew by hand.
Just to make it even more mysterious and interesting, even as I was typing this poem out, I had an eerie feeling that this really was my grandfather. Blood calls out to blood and I think most of us has a side that wants to believe in the supernatural. There is another quirky twist to the story that will be revealed at the end of this section.
The man from Eldorado’s use of the term ‘harlot’ from Old Testament terminology suggests a person who had a conscience, believed in God and felt convicted about his sins. However, you will notice the poem never says this mystery man took any of these ladies upstairs. This, too, would match with the personality of someone who knew he was doing wrong and didn’t and didn’t want to take it too far, even though he was pretty drunk by that time. Alcohol causes a person’s natural inhibitions to be set aside and yet, the morals were so rigid in this individual that he could not violate his own high standards.
It is rather touching, too, that when enough alcohol had loosened his tongue, the inner man of his heart was revealed. To have this revelation be a desire for a bit of green land, a wife and ten kids was the confession of a Godly, basically innocent man.
Also, it was rather naïve for this man, whoever he was, to spend his whole poke on strangers, just to have a good time. He must have been very burned out on the North and the thankless task of mining.
My mother (Charlie’s youngest child) always told me he worked in a saloon in Dawson City (not Klondike City as the poem says) for no more than a year (but it could have been less), sweeping up and collecting all the gold dust that had fallen on the floor. Klondike City is no longer in existence but it was not too far from the present day Dawson City.
However, both Service and London tell us this man from Eldorado came in from Miller Creek where he was working on his own claims. The truth, perhaps, is somewhere in between. Assuredly, he did come north to mine but perhaps he got weary of mining and got the job in town just to get the money to get out of the gold fields.
My mom was the youngest of Charlie Anderson’s nine children. Had not his wife died in childbirth, he surely would have gone for the fabled ten kids of Robert Service’s poem. Charlie came over from Sweden as a teenager, through Ellis Island, right past the Statue of Liberty, as I’m sure many of your ancestors did.
Charlie purchased his passage to America from Sweden by becoming an indentured servant. He worked seven years on a farm to pay the fare back. At least, this was the standard time an indentured servant at the time worked to repay their fares. At the end of the time, the farmer gave him his lunch in a tin pail, a new pair of overalls and wished him well.
Charlie, with his characteristic handlebar mustache, popular in that time, lit out for the West coast and the gold rush. He climbed the Chilkoot Pass, perhaps a couple of years earlier than 1898. Each miner had to traverse this arduous trail four times to get his requisite 2,000 pounds of food and equipment to satisfy the stringent rules of the Canadian Mounties. However, these rules saved many a miner from starving to death or freezing to death in one of the harshest climates in the world. Apparently, the Mounties were at the trailhead, checking each miner before they would let them continue on into the Canadian wilderness.
So many horses died on the pass there is a portion of the trail called Dead Horse Gulch and even a small town called Dead Horse in that general area. The charming train going out of Skagway follows the Chilkoot trail and one can actually look out the train windows and spot the bleached bones of long dead pack animals. This is one of the last steam powered locomotives in the United States and it is like traveling back in time to ride on it.
Charlie was miserable in the North, according to our family history, which again validates Service’s description of him. He wanted to go home and hated the cold. He felt alienated from the wild lifestyle of most of the other miners. The family legend I was told, growing up, is that he had no luck prospecting up on Miller Creek (which fits with the poem) and finally took a job cleaning up saloons in Dawson City after hours.
The miners paid for their drinks in gold dust and Charlie was allowed to keep all the gold dust he swept off the plank floors. After about 8 months, he had saved up almost $800. This was enough to pay his fare back to Seattle and send for his Swedish sweetheart.
My thought, which seems to be a logical deduction, is that, in order to keep his growing stash from being stolen, he kept it on his belt in a leather pouch. Two other miners saw this bulging pouch and chased him around for at least a week, one author states, trying to get him to buy their mine. Here, again, this would imply Charlie would have to have been in Dawson City (or Service says Klondike City) for them to follow him around. He wouldn’t have been up on his claim in Miller Creek.
Also, it backs up what Jack London says about him, that two other miners cajoled him into drinking right there in Dawson City. So, my logical conclusion is he must have already been in town working as the family story goes.
After a week, they finally persuaded him to begin drinking – for the first time in his life, the family story goes. He must have been late 20’s at the most. Contrary to Service’s poem, he did not die in the gutter but awoke with a huge hangover (his very first!), an empty pouch and the deed to what all thought was a worthless gold mine. To my knowledge, he never did get so extremely drunk again, although he may have had a beer after work.
So, here we have this bedraggled man, discouraged at having to start over from nothing, having no choice but to dig further back in the same mine. The rest is history – one of the richest strikes in the Klondike, almost a million dollars in their money, seventy times that in today’s dollars.
Interestingly, I found a crumbling old magazine in the Alaska State Library that said, after the mother lode was found, the two original owners of the mine tried to get it back. They took Charlie to court and swore, under oath, that Charlie was out of his mind drunk when he signed the deed.
Charlie stood up in court, dramatically pointed a finger and yelled out, “Yah, sure, I was drunk, but who made me drunk?”
The judge, bless his heart, laughed uproariously and threw the case out, awarding Charlie the sole ownership of the claim. Now, doesn’t that sound like the same man who so dramatically swung his poke around his head, throwing nuggets and dust everywhere in Service’s poem? I think it does.
When reporters came from all over to interview him, Charlie very cleverly told them he was moving to S. California to build a fancy villa and marry a dance hall cutie. Some gold rush books depict him as doing just that. One book even said he toured Europe with wine, women and song, ended up back in Seattle, broke, and died pushing a wheelbarrow down the streets during the depression.
However, he lied to throw off the inevitable hordes of fortune hunters. In reality, he bought some land in a very small, lovely green town in the mountains of Washington with less than two thousand residents. Another clue to this literary mystery, the man in the poem wanted to live somewhere exactly like Republic. He used his capital to invest in a family grocery store, the only one for miles around in this scarcely populated area. He called it Anderson’s Grocery Store and, if you happen to visit that area, it is still there and still called Anderson’s. In fact, it is run by members of the numerous Anderson descendants.
During the depression, Charlie started giving out food on credit and every person that had to borrow food during that time eventually paid him back to the penny. A good man leaves a good legacy and today there is even a college scholarship partially funded by Anderson’s Grocery Store.
Charlie ate a bowl of raw wheat germ each morning, walked two miles a day and loved making pancakes for all the neighbor kids. He lived hale and hearty into his early 90’s.
He died in the 1960’s and all his inheritance was divided between the original nine children. Some of this was land or a share in the store which never turned into a chain store but is nevertheless steadily prosperous.
My mom received a certain amount of money. My parents invested this in real estate in Alaska, specifically houses. Charlie’s money was traded a couple of times and currently, I own some land near Anchorage, Alaska . . . my heritage from the fabulous fortune of the Lucky Swede !!
Well, as a footnote to this story, I have to tell you, in talking to some of my relatives after I wrote this, which was the truth as I was told it by my mom, they informed me there were several ‘lucky Swedes’ in the gold rush. They said Grandpa was one of them but not the one who made the biggest strike. I’m wondering now why my mom filled me with all those stories which it seemed to me she totally believed. Is there or could there be a germ of truth here?
Could this kind but canny and rather naïve immigrant who stumbled on riches untold be the mysterious man from Eldorado in the Robert Service poem? I even found a photo of Eldorado #29 and Charlie Anderson. All the people who actually knew him said, for sure, this is not him. However, the bone structure in his face reminds me of a couple of my kids and what about those strange feelings I had?
The man in the white hat would be Anderson and it is not a very clear picture. When I compare the only picture I have of my grandfather with the miner in the photo, I can see a resemblance. Is the mystery ending or just beginning? I’m betting there’s a good chance the Lucky Swede who hit it big has got to be the model for this poem, but was he my grandfather? Given all the similarities and clues, what do you think?
Traveling in time back to early Juneau, there were 60 buildings in downtown Juneau before 1904 and 143 buildings after 1914. Twenty per cent of present day Juneau’s drinking water – which, you’ll have to admit, is the best in the world !! – is from old hard rock mine tunnels. Tunnel number three is 2,200 feet long and holds several MILLION gallons of Juneau’s reserve water.
Juneau is rated by the National Geographic Society as having the largest potential for a devastating avalanche as anywhere in the world. So, the city of Juneau shoots off cannons every Spring to bring the snow down before it decides to fall on its own. Having lived here quite a few years, that is a sure sign of Spring when BOOM, we start hearing the sound of those cannons. It sounds like terrorist bombs going off.
Another word to the tourists who take bus tours. The drivers work very long ten to twelve hour days and are paid half of what city bus drivers in Juneau are paid. Representatives of the big companies actually instruct the tourists not to tip their drivers. There is that greedy, grasping spirit again of the big conglomerates. It’s like a dinner at a restaurant. If you feel your driver has given you a good tour, you tip accordingly. One of our drivers here in Juneau is from Russia and teaches history during the school year. In his tour, he pretends to be Baranov and with his Russian accent and historical knowledge, this is a fabulous tour and well deserving of tips. Other drivers overload on the corny jokes and maybe don’t deserve as many tips, but again the decision should be made by the individual tourist, not by some big company.
Personally, I never tip for bad service but I would resent someone coming and telling me whether or not I can tip. It is strictly an individual decision but I have to tell you managing those big buses is not always so easy. Many of them do not have power steering so turning corners gives the driver a little work out and he has to watch all his angles, be very careful to be safe and, at the same time, answer any questions thrown at him. In other tourist places, such as Puerto Vallarta, I noticed the driver does nothing but drive and another person gives the tour. So, actually, for safe driving alone, I would part with at least a dollar.
The driver uses his tips to get himself a mocha and a sandwich and (whew!) When fifty people come up with only two dollars, you should hear the drivers gripe about the cheapskates. I know this because my relatives drove the tour buses a couple of summers and I really have to hand it to those drivers. It’s not as easy as it looks and takes at least three months of rigorous training to qualify. Job service trains CDL drivers here in Juneau but they charge five thousand dollars. Those drivers are very well trained professionals, no matter how young some of them look.
The trip to the glacier is only about half an hour from the tour ship docks. There are the old buses that provide this ride for only five dollars each way. However, the buses are not as comfortable as regular buses and the tourist should expect some sort of tour (from the bigger companies) on the way to the glacier. The five dollar buses are good for younger tourists who want to hike around for an hour or two near the area and catch a later bus back. The glacier is a thrilling sight this close up however you get there, and well worth visiting. There is a very nice informative visitors center staffed by the Forest Service.
Juneau was chosen as a town site for gold alone. Not even the Indians ever built a permanent village here, although they did come in for summer fish camps. In the natural, it would be a bad choice for a town. There are steep mountains, no harbor until tidal flats were filled in by tailings and, we must not forget the often 100 mph Taku winds bursting down from the tops of the mountains in winter. It’s an eerie sight as the bustling streets are mostly deserted because it’s so difficult to walk into those head winds.
Between the wind which flips small planes over, the over 100 inches of rain that falls in this temperate northern rain forest and the early darkness of winter months, many hopefuls move out by the following Spring. In addition, the town lies in the direct path of nearly every southerly storm. Sometimes a person feels like they are living underwater as the gorgeous mountains are obscured by clouds and the rain falls in these fantastic sheets, driven sideways by the wind. You wake up in pitch darkness and, in the darkest time, the light is over by three p.m. Many days can pass when, even in the short daylight hours, you never see the sun because all is cloaked in gloom and rain. It is similar to the climate of England and Ireland.
One friend of ours in the medical field stated the prescriptions for prozac were way up in this town, partially because of the climate. Unfortunately, the rate of alcoholism and suicide in Alaska is the highest in the nation as of this year (2004). Because of the isolation and the long winters, I always felt a sense of cultural difference flying in from the rest of America. It’s as if it is a different country. There is definitely more of a car culture in the states, as we call them. A person is identified by the type of car they drive.
Up in Alaska, it’s not so important even to have a car as in most places, like Juneau, you can walk or bike everywhere. Interestingly, because of the maritime climate, cars can turn into rust buckets. However, we don’t look twice at the rust buckets trundling around and quite often the owners are not poverty stricken at all as they would be in the states. It’s just a different culture and a different cultural consciousness.
In 1935, the population was 5,000. In fact, Juneau would probably not exist today if gold had not been found here. Today Juneau has the second highest standard of living of any community in the U.S. (from a study done in 1999). From that same study, the first highest standard of living is Montgomery County, Maryland.
The largest silver mine in N. America is located a plane ride from Juneau. It employs hundreds of Juneau residents who can choose to live on site in bunk houses or go to work each day via boat. A friend of ours actually works at the mine and lives in Tennessee. He just takes a week off every month to fly down south to his wife so I assume the wages are pretty good at the mine. His wife is a Southern girl and she tried living here when they were first married but it just got too tough for her. Many young wives get lonesome for their families in other states because it is so expensive to fly out.
There is only one airline flying out of Juneau and so a trip to Seattle is almost 400 dollars round trip (’04). We have often found it cheaper to fly from Seattle to Orlando than from Juneau to Seattle. However, it is one of the top rated airlines for quality of service. The mine is called Kennecott Greens Creek Mine on Admiralty Island. Admiralty Island also has the largest collection of bears in the world . . . one bear for every square mile, 18 thousand bears on this rather small island.
Juneau is the largest city in the WORLD – land-wise – because its boundaries include 1500 square miles of an ice field that feeds our glaciers and is situated on the tops of the mountains. You may have noticed that we have no counties here, unlike every other state in the union because there is just too much wilderness to subdivide into counties.
Over the 47 year life of the AJ mine, 80.8 million dollars of gold was extracted from the solid rock mountain. In today’s dollars, that would be 800 million dollars !!
Juneau is the first town founded after purchase from Russia. The town site was actually staked on Oct. 8, 1880 by Harris and Juneau. The first 13 years of its existence, it was governed by “Miner’s Law,” as the U.S. government refused to pass any laws governing the new territory – probably because they were too busy fighting Indian wars out west.
That first winter, different names were tossed around for the new town, including Harrisburg, Pilzburg, Fliptown (a miner’s joke) and Rockwell, the local Navy commander’s name.
The rather imposing State Office Building (or S.O.B.) is built on what was once Bonanza Lode Mine. The old cemented-up tunnel that was once an entrance to the mine is on the street below the S.O.B. (right behind the bus stop).
Treadwell mine opened in Douglas in 1885 and hired Chinese coolies because they were such cheap labor. However, the miners became quite enraged at this and 100 armed miners marched into the mill, took the Chinese to the beach and forced them on a schooner which dropped them off at Wrangell.
Today, there are a few thousand Filipinos, many of whom came directly from the Islands. It’s a wonderful little sub culture in the town and their cheerful, can-do optimism offsets the often gloomy Scandinavians and Indians.
The old picturesque Russian church was built in 1893. Also, right across the street is a Catholic church built in 1881. This building is usually open and worth taking a look at for its beautiful old stained glass windows and some old paintings.
In the Organic Act of 1884, the first Federal Government act concerning Alaska, liquor was outlawed to the natives. This bill was pushed by an early Presbyterian missionary named Sheldon Jackson who could see the tremendous harm alcohol was doing to the Indians. Jackson lobbied in Washington, D.C. for this act and he also helped designate Alaska as Indian territory. For the first 25 years of Alaska being a territory, the Presbyterian church was second only to big gold mining companies in influencing Alaska’s culture.
What you see now as downtown McDonald’s is the very same building that used to be a bank in 1899 with over one million dollars in solid gold bars on deposit. That is a lot of happy meals! In 1897, Juneau had a population of 3,000 and a nice house in Juneau would cost $800 so a million in the bank would be seventy million in today’s dollars.
South Franklin Street, where you see all the T-shirt shops now, used to have three houses of prostitution, which, due to the high ratio of men to women, the populace were actually quite proud of these establishments. Alaska’s largest and longest-running red light district was located on S. Franklin. One author even says that S. Franklin was the real gold mine in Juneau during the heady gold rush days of the 1880’s and 1890’s.
We met a very old man in Juneau who used to work in a local bank. He said the floozies came in all dressed up in the finest of furs and velvets. When the houses were finally closed up in the early 1950’s, these same ladies came into his bank dressed in regular clothes and all disappointed at having to do normal work. I thought that was an interesting comment by an eyewitness of those times that seem so far away now.
The girls would sit, all dressed up in their finest, in windows of houses as attractions ‘for sale.’ That explains why many of the older houses have store front windows. There was even an engraved invitation, similar to our high school graduation announcements today, which touted this district:
Yourself and friends are cordially invited
To be present at the Opening of the Red
Light by Miss Gertie Joseph Saturday
Evening, Feb. 15 1896 Main Street
Between Front and Second
Here is a direct quote from Richard Harris on what he felt upon first sighting gold: “We followed the gulch down from the summit of the mountain into the basin,” Harris later said, “and it was a beautiful sight to see the large pieces of quartz, spangled over with gold.”
You can take a city bus over to Sandy beach, half hour from downtown, for some fabulous scenery, if the day is nice. In addition, there is a short hike called Treadwell Historic Mine Trail. It’s just full of sightings of old machinery from the huge mine complex that was once there. It’s pretty easy to find an old shard of pottery or a small bottle from gold rush days. This is an easy, flat trail.
Only 20 short minutes on this loop trail takes you right to the site of the cave-in of 1917 and you can go through the area that was once a sizable gold mining operation that began in the 1880’s.
In 1915, there were 960 stamps crushing 5,000 TONS of solid rock every single day. This was a world record at the time for this type of mine.
In the stamp mills, the rotating cams lifted and dropped the 859-1,020 pound stamps on partially smashed gold-bearing rocks, turning them into powder. Water washed the gritty powder out through screens and over mercury-coated copper plates where the gold flecks, freed at last from their prison of solid rock, were caught in the mercury which attracted them.
The sand and gold-bearing sulfides flowed to the vanners, a device used to concentrate the gold, where the sulfides were saved and the sand became what is now known as Sandy beach. This beach has softer sand than most other beaches in the area.
Interestingly, the crashing of the huge stamps made so much noise that the people in downtown Douglas had to shout to hear each other. When the mill shut down for Christmas and the Fourth of July, the beleaguered populace of Douglas could not sleep because it was too quiet!
There were four mines in the Treadwell complex:
These mines had a working depth of 2,800 feet. Ten million tons of solid rock had been removed from below tidewater by 1917. The land was starting to sink in areas close to the mine excavations. Noticing this, it really should have come as no surprise to the miners when three of the four Treadwell mines flooded on the evening of April 21, 1917. Experts estimated 3 million tons of seawater filled the mine digs in just over three hours, with, fortunately, no loss of life or injuries.
The company just gave up and closed those three mines, however, the foundry and one power plant continued to operate until the AJ mine closed in 1944.
What makes this thirty minute trail so fascinating is that you can still see the 300 stamp mill ruins, the main steam powerhouse ruins, the old town of Treadwell’s office building and the obvious cave-in area. A more detailed brochure about the history of Douglas is available in visitor centers but currently (July ’04), there is no organized tour to this area.
Since it is a self-guided walk, if you do get a chance to go, be sure to stay on the clearly marked trail. There are steep drop-offs hidden by underbrush and, since this area was honeycombed by mining tunnels, it could potentially be dangerous to wander off the trail.
Downtown Juneau looks virtually exactly the same as it did in 1915 except the streets are now paved instead of being planks. Beneath the pavement, however, are the tailings from the old AJ mine. The only reason these old wooden buildings did not suffer a major fire as most of the towns in this era did, was the good fire fighting system, backed up by the good water system developed by the AJ mine in return for the tax exempt status.
Another tip to the shoppers, a store I personally like is locally owned Annie Kaill’s. It is over by McDonald’s and has a very tasteful variety of items at all prices – no junk there! It’s not a very huge place but it has quite a number of prints by Alaskan artists and all kinds of cute gifts that are very original.
In the 1880’s, there was virtually NO flat land except for tidal flats so anywhere there is flat land in the downtown area, you can be sure this is former tidal flats filled in by tailings. Any point the land starts to go up is the true coastline.
Early miners were called stampeders. A miner’s stake consisted of :
A sack of flour
A side of bacon
The first Christmas in the tent city that was to become the town of Juneau, 30 miners ate a special dinner consisting of:
Stikeen pot pie
Chilcat duff w/hooneyiah sauce
These were all Tlingit delicacies, taken from the bounty of the ocean and the wilderness. Like many other indigenous people who make their living from the sea, the Tlingits use certain types of seaweed as food. Prepared properly, it is delicious and full of vitamins. Japanese people also harvest seaweed.
The Alaskan Indians still gather the rather large, brownish speckled eggs of the seagull. Goose grass, which grows on the tide flats between the shore and the sea, is a vitamin rich dark green grass, which is unusually tasty. I don’t believe there is presently (June ’04) a restaurant in Juneau that serves traditional Tlingit food, but, having tasted many of them growing up in Southeastern, they are a rare treat. The baby ferns come out in the Spring and are very tender and sweet in salads. The more mature ferns, however, are not so tasty.
Some other foods that originated with the Tlingit culture are:
Deer or venison (out of this world for flavor!)
Salmon (different types of which the red or sockeye is
Most delicious and best for heart health)
Halibut (a tender, white fish that is just outrageous, don’t miss halibut fish and chips, it’s indescribably delicious)
Seaweed (can be bought at health food stores, an acquired taste)
Fish heads – the Indians make a delicious soup with them
Herring eggs, like caviar, the Indians harvest them by laying hemlock branches in the tidewater near Sitka, Alaska and the
Spawning herring lay their eggs on the branches. . . fresh herring are just unbelievable, nothing like the canned variety
Seals/some of their food is preserved in the extra rich seal oil . . . it is a little too greasy tasting for me
Hooligan oil – this comes from herring
Fry bread – this is simply a sort of glorified pancake, very filling but pretty saturated in oil for my taste
Beach Asparagus – another name for seaweed, of which there are several edible varieties
Hudson Bay Tea – a strong dark tea, can buy some at the local health food store, Rainbow foods, near the Russian church – this tea grows low to the ground and is harvested in the Fall – I’ve never seen it pre-packaged but Rainbow has it loose, not an outstanding taste, but interesting if you like to try different teas
Back to the gold history, French-Canadian Pierre Erussard staked a rich ledge of quartz over in Douglas in May of 1881. He sold the claim to John Treadwell, out of which grew the great Treadwell mine complex which finally sold to San Francisco interests. In 1887, Treadwell mine was worth 36 million dollars, which is FIVE TIMES the cost of Alaska when purchased from Russia.
Some of you may be familiar with the name of Guggenheim, the great financier family of the New York City area. Their money helped to finance the AJ mine and also to keep mining interests uppermost in Alaska politics by keeping politicians in office who were sympathetic to big mining interests. So, next time you go to the Guggenheim museum in New York City, keep in mind that gold from Juneau probably has a stake in this museum.
As a special treat, this tour refers to an original poem written by one of Juneau’s early pioneers, who, in 1939, was writing her memoirs of her younger years in Juneau (which would have been around the gold rush days).
This poem, entitled Ghosts of Old Juneau by Crystal Snow Jenne, is available to Xerox at the Alaska State Library on the eighth floor of the State Office Building up near the governor’s mansion.
Rather than quoting the whole poem here, I will just skim its high points as the information it contains gives us insights into the gold rush era. For instance, stanza 7 mentions the Catholic father and the fact that the pioneers went to church carrying lanterns, something like the Coleman lanterns we have today I would imagine.
Stanza 8 presents the Tlingit as he was then. Stanza 3 tells us the Tlingits painted their faces black. Today the Indians have so intermarried with other races, notably Caucasians, that their appearance is totally different. Jenne describes him as dressed in moccasins, tall, sunburned and bold, in a tribal blanket and with a gold bracelet (like Chief Eagle’s Wing!).
Stanza 9 shows us what the early drugstore was like. She calls it a shack with huge glass urns of purple, yellow, green and gold. Apparently, these were the pioneer version of today’s neon signs.
Stanza 10 tells us they partitioned off the school room between white children and Indian children and also mentions literary nights. From that, we can assume the gold camp turned town was not devoid of culture. Another source mentions there was even an opera house in rough and ready Douglas. Apparently, as the town grew up and men brought in wives rather than red light ladies, the cultural tone of the area improved.
Stanza 12 mentions the first side-wheeled steamers that were on regular mail routes from Seattle to Juneau.
Stanza 13, to me, is the most interesting historically. Here we have what can only be a direct quote from Chief Kowee himself. This saying must have been widely batted around early Juneau. It is as she quoted:
When he saw our first fine courthouse and unsmiling, briefly said, “Skookum big house. Kowwawee like ‘em. Lots of room, as white men wish. Some day Kowwawee’s people have it for a place to dry their fish!”
It is quite ironic that here we find this old Indian – a comic tragic figure worthy of any of Shakespeare’s plays, his broken English an apparent standing joke, dressed in a white man’s police uniform, sporting an authentic tin star painted gold. His shabby uniform and chincy star are the only distinction he was given for the millions taken out of the mountain by the huge AJ mine. A federal agent by the name of Beardslee used highly placed natives to mediate disputes and often appointed them policemen as he did with Kowee, giving them certain duties.
Really, it was yet another mockery to the old, upright Indian who never truly realized he was being cheated, lied to and laughed at. His lack of understanding of the English language and culture made him feel he was one of the town’s heroes and that everyone liked him. There is something in this old man’s character that elicits admiration.
Kowee did all the white men asked of him, willingly and meekly and yet, was not even given the lousy blankets they first promised him. He never was ashamed in front of the conquering white man but held his head up proudly until the day he died, knowing within himself that he had not wronged anyone.
Kowee was born around 1817 and died Feb. 27, 1892. He was cremated after lying in state for four days. Before he died, he asked to be dressed in his police uniform for the two days his white friends filed past his bier and in his Auk regalia for the other two days. A memorial to Kowee stands just off Glacier Ave., across from Harborview school in Evergreen cemetery.
It seems to me that even a small percentage of the 800 million taken out of the AJ mine should be owed to the Tlingit people of the Juneau area. This land is their birthright and their inheritance. Everything taken from this land is really stolen from these innocent people. Whether they stood up for themselves or not has no bearing on the criminal injustice of mistreating an indigenous people.
As another unique feature of this tour, I have a short novel recently published about the suffering of Christ. The cover is an original work of art by my brother Tom Wetzel. He has won many awards for art, including the all-Alaska juried art award which judges art by merit, without knowing who the artist is. He has been selling oil paintings and water colors for years. This particular water color is a modern art representation of the crucified Christ.
Here is an excerpt from the novel to see if it interests you:
I’m with you girl, Jesus thought, I know where you are at now, precisely. I now know exactly how your soul is skewered on the sharp swords of the religious-minded people. Yes, indeed, I observed your sufferings before, but now, now, it’s as if I have gotten inside your skin. I feel what you felt that afternoon I rescued you from death. I hurt just the way you did. I see the false accusers through your eyes. We are no longer separate entities. No, the day you accepted me, I became you and you became me.
Yes, our souls joined, He mused, and there is no difference between us. We will forever be closer than any married couple, than any twin, than any friend can be for I am living through the same punishment that was poured out on you. That day, that afternoon, when the white-robed religious men stared eagerly down at your naked form, taking notes, readying themselves for an orgy of rage to justify killing you: that day, God, I am in that day now.
It is no longer your body – your gender that is under condemnation. It is mine. We live and breathe as one. Oh, my darling, my sweet, sweet Mary, so full of fire and spite and helpless rage. I know, I know, now I know why. Oh my love, I will never leave you, never forsake you. When the world throws that condemnation and rejection on you for the “crime” of possessing a body, I will always be there to lift it off.
(end of quote)
Here are a few excerpts from the press release concerning this book:
Peterson tells the story from the psychological point of view of Jesus Himself . . .
The events unfold from Christ’s point of view as he moves closer to his ultimate sacrifice. The reader will vicariously share in the Lord’s feelings and thoughts as they happened, Peterson says.
Revolving around the thoughts and memories of Christ himself, readers watch as he is persecuted and humiliated by the soldiers and get a never before available look into his mind . . .
A truly original insight into . . . the mind of the Messiah . . . This is a fast-paced emotional and fascinating read.
April is the Cruellest Month is a small portion of a much larger fictionalized version of the life of Christ which will be entitled Baruch Ha-Ba Ha-shem Adonai. This means Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord and is a traditional greeting in Orthodox Judaism, the ‘He’ referring to who they think of as the coming Messiah. Judaism does not, of course, recognize Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.
April is the Cruellest Month can be ordered online at either Barnes and Noble or Amazon.com by mentioning either the author, V.R. Peterson or the title, April is the Cruellest Month.
Finally, we glimpse Great Chief Eagle’s Wing one last time as he sits regally on a fallen log at his summer fish camp. His woman or squaw, as the white man would come to call her, was filleting the chief’s catch to hang up and dry for winter. She worked rhythmically, like the sound of the tides and the water gently lapping at the shore. He set himself aside to merely observe this woman’s work and seemed to hold eternity in his great coal black eyes as he mused of the coming winter and the coming winter’s hunts and battles.
Between the two, he was far more showy and pretentious in his dress and decorations than she was. Great Chief Eagle’s Wing bids all the future time travelers happy journey. He wants you to hear a quote from Mark Twain’s collected stories just to let the white man know that many Indians consider them to not be very bright in the ways of the land and the seasons.
“The noble Red Man has always been a friend and darling of mine. I love to read about him in tales and legends and romances. I love to read of his inspired sagacity, and his love of the wild free life of mountain and forest . . .”
“Noble Red Men, Braves, Grand Sachems, War Chiefs, Squaws, and High Muck-a-mucks, the paleface from the land of the setting sun greets you! You, Beneficent Polecat – you, Devourer of the Mountains – you, Roaring Thundergust – you, Bully Boy with a glass eye – the paleface from beyond the great waters greets you all!”
“. . . I came upon a gentle daughter of the aborigines in fringed and beaded buckskin moccasins and leggings . . .then addressed her: “Is the heart of the forest maiden heavy? Is the Laughing Tadpole lonely? Does she mourn over the extinguished council-fires of her race, and the vanished glory of her ancestors? Or does her sad spirit wander afar toward the Hunting grounds whither her brave Gobbler-of-the-Lightnings is gone? Why is my daughter silent? Has she aught against the paleface stranger?”
From: A Day at Niagra by Mark Twain, The Complete Short Stories
Thus ends On Eagle’s Wings, an art/history tour of the gold rush days in Juneau and the Klondike. Chief Eagle’s Wing urges you to have fun in Alaska!! God Bless.
Bibliography for the Eagle’s Wing Tour
1. April is the Cruellest Month by V.R. Peterson, March 2003
2. A Town Forged by Gold unpublished Master’s thesis, Univ. of
Oregon, 1999, by Mellani Alanna Clark
3. Centennial Gazeeter pamphlet, 1979
4. Ghosts of Old Juneau / poem by Crystal Snow Jenne, c. 1939
5. Gold Hunters of the North by Jack London
6. Juneau’s Historic Neighborhoods volume 1 Starr Hill, by
Glenda Choate, 1986, historian-archivist
7. Juneau’s Historic Neighborhoods volume 2 Downtown
Historic District by Robert N. DeArmond,
Historical Editor, 1991
8. Man from Eldorado poem by Robert Service
9. Shrine of St. Therese, pamphlet, 1989 by Shrine of St. Therese
10. The Complete Short Stories by Mark Twain
11. 90 short walks around Juneau by Mary Lou King, 2002
12. Touring Juneau by Toni Croft and Phyllice Bradner, c.1973
Copyright 2003, all rights reserved, V. R. Peterson
A footnote: This tour is highly opinionated and biased, while utilizing historical facts, obviously the author puts her own spin on them. For instance, the highway runs about forty miles out and just stops so I said forty miles of road. However, if you look at it in a different way and count all the neighborhoods and side streets, you could also say there are a little over 100 miles of actual pavement in the Juneau-Douglas area. This is also accurate. You could also say people actually drive thousands of miles in circles each year. The point is, there is no road out!
I have been in Southeastern Alaska most of my life so just consider this all a sourdough’s chat. I interspersed facts where I read them but if my original sources were not completely accurate, that is out of my control. New information is always being discovered, refining the old. This is not an historical reference book nor a PhD thesis. Consequently, I did not read every last book on the subject. However, by and large, the facts are far more amusing and interesting than any fiction.
Metlakatla, a little village accessible by boat from Ketchikan was once the home of a rather prominent Episcopal priest, Father Duncan (died, 1918). In fact, he was influential in getting that village established as Alaska’s only Indian reservation so that the Indians actually own the land and is one of the most pleasant, well-ordered villages I’ve seen. An air of peace seems to pervade it and the houses look all planned and well laid out, not rather random as happens in other villages.
However, what is really interesting is that Father Duncan had this flaming red hair and only Tsimsian children from the village of Metlakatla come up with this unusually beautiful red hair in every generation. It is so startling I often thought it was dyed except their eyelashes and eyebrows are red too. So, draw your on conclusions on yet another little mystery from Southeastern. Could there have been more than one meaning to the fatherhood of Father Duncan or is there some other explanation for the red hair in the dark skinned, dark eyed Indians?
To those of a Catholic persuasion, spiritually minded or just interested in history, I encourage you to find a way to get out to the Shrine of St. Therese, at 26 mile on the highway. A Bishop Crimont (died 5-20-45) from Lisieux who was to approve the building of the Shrine, actually knew members of the original St. Therese’s (died 9-30-1897) family. St. Therese was a nun in the Carmelite convent at Lisieux, France. St. Therese is called “the little flower” because those who ask her for intercession receive a sign from heaven, beautiful roses, within days of their prayer.
Many protestants have a religious cow about this Catholic practice of praying to those already in heaven to intercede for them. And, of course Bible scholars all know the verse, “there is one intercessor between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” However, I’m just stating the legends, not to argue the theology. An interesting direct quote from St. Therese is, “What matters in life is not great deeds but love.” Many miracles have been attributed to her prayers so you can sort it out with God yourself.
The Shrine was built when there was not a single retreat house in Alaska. The actual building is similar to Mont St. Michel in France, although on a much smaller scale. The causeway to the island that the Shrine is on was artificially built up. There is a nice statue of Christ with His arms outstretched on the island. What’s really interesting is that, along those outstretched arms, on either side of the island, the local fisherman have what is called “the bread line.” That is, the biggest king salmon are caught under the shadow of those arms.
The chapel itself is a total work of art. It was constructed with rounded stones from the beach. The doors are huge, in an arch shape and look quite medieval. The pews are made from Alaska yellow cedar by local artisans. 35,000 feet of lumber was donated by a local company. The original cost was $3,000, mostly for the buildings. It was constructed during the depression, in 1939, and every penny to build it was donated. They started with five acres and finally got up to 46.41 acres ONLY by a special Act of Congress because the Shrine is on National Forest land. The purchase price was $116.25 at $2.50 an acre on July 16, 1946.
What I found fascinating was that, on the date that the Catholic church canonized St. Therese, May 17, 1925, Bishop Crimont declared the new Saint to be Queen and Patroness over Alaska. The man who first dreamed of the Shrine was Father William LeVasseur, S.J. Bishop Crimont, who did so much to bring the dream to reality, did not live to see his dream realized. There are five crypts in the chapel and he is the only one actually buried there.
Also, on the deeply wooded, very tiny island are the 14 stations of the cross in alabaster with onyx carved by R. D. Robinson, who decided to add his own fifteenth station showing a very beautiful depiction of the resurrection. For very devout Catholics, this is one thing in Juneau not to miss.
The Shrine has survived with lots of volunteer help and donations. In 1962, it was closed for repairs and lack of money. It was renovated in 1968-69. It was again closed in 1985 for repairs and lack of money. It was re-opened in 1986 and is now used as a year round retreat for all ages, mostly in connection with the Catholic church.
The Shrine is free to visit and has a very small gift shop connected with it. But, tourists, instead of paying homage to the great god of the cruise ship companies, how about donating to the Shrine so it will never have to shut down again for repairs and lack of donations?
Then there is the famous case of the runaway moose. Throughout Southeastern gift stores, you will notice a very cute, distinctive print of a black moose on a red background. This whimsical design appears on jackets, children’s items, jamies and boxer shorts. You might even say it is the signature print of Southeastern that catches everyone’s eye. However, there actually are hardly any moose in Southeastern Alaska (except on its far Northern edges). It is too warm for them down here. But, hey, moose spells Alaska to most and why not . . . it’s just for fun anyway.
However, there is a little bit more to this whimsical print than meets the eye. The clothes designer who actually originally drew this print sells his very distinctive fleece line of clothing to gift stores in places such as millionaire ski resorts where the prices can be higher because the stores are so exclusive.
However, he has a patent on his designs, so each one is individually numbered. Apparently, scuttlebutt has it that the cute little moose print has “left the herd,” so to speak. It’s being reproduced here, there and everywhere without the original patent number. So, the advantage to the savvy shopper is that the original designer opened an outlet ONLY in Juneau, called Juneau Fleece that has a wonderful variety of his very distinctive line of clothing at rock bottom prices. It does include the whimsical moose pattern in jackets (adults and child), hats and even vests. If you are looking for a good deal on fleece (and many choices, such as baby items in darling prints), search out this little corner store.
To those who like to charter boats to go out and get “the big ones”, if you want to pinch a penny, once you get here (or anywhere in Southeastern), you can just go walk the docks and find some local to take you out for a much cheaper rate than the charter boats. When the salmon are running, they are just everywhere and even the smallest child can throw a hook off the dock and get a good sized one. My mom, who was a totally unskilled fisher person, threw a hook off the end of a dock in Ketchikan and caught a three hundred pound halibut. Folks, it takes no skill to find a fish in Alaska. The waters are teeming with them.
Of course, the advantage to booking a licensed charter is that you will be safe,(no leaky vessels!) you can be sure of a genuine tour, with all the food, bait and poles provided. If you are a maverick type person and interested in adventure, this surely can be done cheaper, with just a row boat or skiff. This might turn into a lot of fun but, on the other hand, it may not be a pleasant experience. Please don’t blame me if your skipper ends up being half soused . . . this is a gamble, but, chances are, it would work out fine.
Now, hunting land animals is a different story. The smart hunter will get a guide so he doesn’t venture out into bear country without understanding his prey. An unsuspecting young couple actually spread their sleeping bags out on a bear trail up North in an area very dense with bears and were mauled to death. Had they had a guide to show them where it was safe to camp, they might have been spared.
So, gentlemen, if you like to hunt or fish, Alaska is the place to come and ladies, if you like to hunt for a different kind of catch, I hope this helps out. To the men : Happy Hunting! And to the women : Happy Shopping!