Skookum Jim's Later Life

So this first winter there they dug down, this ground down there in permafrost and he'd have to build a fire there to thaw the ground. At night he'd build a good fire there, and next morning he'd take out the coals and stuff, he'd dig it out and it would have thawed down two or three feet so he'd get that muck out. Of course he panned it all the time to see if it was paying ground, and with panned gold well he just made a pile on this gravel he stop piled it because when spring time comes then they wash that you see in sluice boxes because you can't sluice in the winter because it gets iced up. So in the course of time there was another white man who was married to a native women, this native woman was from the Tagish area by the name of Jenny. The white man name was Cook. So this Mr. Cook, he got pretty friendly with Skookum Jim this would be the following summer probably, this would be 1897, so they heard of a stampede, of some new diggings in Alaska, over in Fairbanks country so Skookum Jim says to Mr. Cook, "I'll give you $50,000.00 to go there and investigate some of it was in gold, and some gold money. It was $20.00 gold pieces in those days I remember some of it could have been paper money I don't know. Anyway, Mr. Cook went into the Fairbanks country with the $50.000.00 and no word from Mr. Cook at all in the course of time.

Anita: Did he take his wife with him.

Johnny: No he didn't take his wife. His wife never saw Mr. Cook again and Skookum Jim never saw Mr. Cook again never heard nothing more from him, so I don't know, he probably just took off, probably didn't make it. Flew the coup. So that’s one story I know of.

Well after putting the winter in on Bonanza Creek, the winter of 96-97, Spring come along so they washed up a lot of gold all the stop piles they had they washed, they were getting a little material to work with from Forty Mile and then they wintered there again the winter of 97-98. They were really getting into lots of gold then, lots of money, they all were, Dawson Charlie, Skookum Jim, George Carmack they were all together there anyway, right close together. Finally the summer of '98 Skookum Jim sold out and I don't know the name of the party, Patsy didn't explain that part to me so he sold out, I don't know how he sold it or in what way but he sold so towards Fall they were through, Skookum Jim, George Carmack, Dawson Charlie, Skookum Jim had his wife, Dawson Charlie had his wife, George Carmack has his wife. Patsy Henderson was young he wasn't married so they all took a steamer down the Yukon River. There was no steamers [?] Dawson yet no transportation the only way was down to the mouth of the Yukon River to St. Michael, was a small town. From St. Michael, in them days, them boats came direct from Seattle right out on the open ocean not the route they have today, inside passage, they call it, the route was on the west side of Vancouver Island, so from Point Barrow and those places [?] mean from St. Michael and those places it was a direct line headed headed for Seattle. So the boats weren't very fast in those days seems like and a lot of rough water, couldn't see land at all for days, Skookum Jim of course he'd be half shot he didn’t mind it too much but the rest of his party was always worried, but he was worried too, so he told Dawson Charlie, Patsy Henderson, he says, "You watch out which way we're going, keep track of the sun, night time you keep track of the stare you know which stars we wish to travel by . . .

But in the meantime Skookum Jim and all them they made their stake and their all through, their taking a little holiday, a little trip so they visit around Seattle quite a bit and George Carmack show them the white man world down there. So one of the things that was brought to my mind by Patsy Henderson. He was in Seattle, in a big hotel and he was up a couple of stories somewhere and he see all this crowd of people on the street always when he look out through the window so he had a lot of loose gold around, so he throw out some gold and lots of silver money and some dollar bills and the people on the street would almost fight for it and pretty soon they just went crazy and the hotel people called the police and had them stop Skookum Jim from throwing gold and money out the window, he set up there and laughed and had a good time, enjoyed it all. So they go down to the markets and Kate Carmack she was along with them this day and she got sick and tired of eating restaurant food, white man food, well she saw all this meat, half a beef hanging up in the butcher's shops here and there so she told the butcher she want half a side of ribs one side, a whole side of beef ribs, looked nice to her, O.K. they wrapped it up for her, delivered it at the hotel so she taken it out, she had all this figured out, the back of the hotel, she pile a big pile of boxes there, pieces of lumber and stuff so she broke up some of these boxes and built a nice big fire she roasted this side of ribs decided to roast this side of ribs over a big stick or a piece of timber or a piece of lumber or something stuck up against the fire had a good campfire roast, she was hungry for a campfire roast. My golly somebody saw the big fire up there and they called the Fire Department, the Fire Department came by and she was sitting there just as peaceful as could be roasting her ribs so they didn't have the heart to put her fire out so they stood by until her ribs was all cooked and she walked back into the hotel.

So another time they took Skookum Jim out to see these shows you know, they had a lot of shows, and they were all sitting down at this show and here was a big fat woman out on the stage you know, making jokes and they figured she weighed around 600 lbs. and so I guess somebody must have put the woman wise to Skookum Jim because one of her tricks was to come down the aisles and just grab a man and give him a good hug and kiss him. So this woman got off the stage and waddled down the aisle and come to Skookum Jim and want to give him a hug and a kiss, Skookum Jim was scared too big a woman, says "oh no no no, don't touch me please, please don't touch me, I got a wife, I got a wife at home, I got a wife that'll tell, no no I don't want a kiss, I don't want a kiss". The whole house just roared.

Finally they left Seattle, George Carmack was going to take him down to San Francisco. So, of course they took in everything there was to see and everything that money could buy, so around about this time, Skookum Jim he got lonesome for his country, the southern part of the Yukon. Carcross they called it, first, they called it, white man called it Caribou Crossing then they changed it to Carcross when the white man put that bridge across but the Indian name for it was Na-tas-a-heeni, so anyway they started back, you see they travelled by ship those days there was no roads down through there or highways like there is today so they come by ship to Seattle then finally got over to Vancouver and that would be the beginning of 98-99 around about that time from what Patsy Henderson tells me. From Vancouver they heard that they were putting a railroad through from Skagway to Whitehorse, the White Pass and Yukon railway, so Skookum Jim he bought a lot of building material because he planned on building a house at Dyea he knew all the people at Dyea, lots of his friends there where they used to go down there and stay, so he figured he'd build another home at Carcross, Yukon, so he got all this material, furniture, everything in Vancouver and had it shipped on the boat to Skagway because the railroad was starting from there. And then of course some of the lumber was taken over to Dyea and he built a home at Dyea, Dyea was the first village in that area. He built a home there and entertained his friends there, his wife's people.

Of course he was a big shot and he was looked up to. He was never a man that tried to show off or anything like that he was a simple humble man. And he built the house at Dyea and entertained for a while. Finally in 1899 the railroad got to Bennett, so he decided to move back to Carcross. So all his lumber was taken to Bennett on the White Pass Railroad. That was the end of the railroad, but they were working along Lake Bennett and they were working between Carcross and Whitehorse because when the railroad got to Bennett the White Pass barges made and the horses and stuff brought down the lake and then they worked from Carcross towards Whitehorse. And then they worked from Carcross towards Bennett so they were working both ways. So in the meantime he had no way to get his lumber from Bennett to Carcross so he hired some young Indian boys there and they cut a lot of dry logs around somewhere and made a big raft so they put all this building material on this raft and they sailed it down lake Bennett to Caribou Crossing there's one person living right now yet that worked on that raft deal and that Billy Johnson he's the only one alive today that was on that job. So he was happy to be back to Carcross, so he start building his home at Carcross and this lumber's all fir lumber, all the fancy trimmings, mouldings, and everything, in those days they were very expensive. Good furniture, big brass beds, I remember when I lay down, when I grew up I'd see the big brass beds and fancy carved furniture and all that. So naturally, I was told, he had a big Potlatch to celebrate his return home. . . .

After he got his house built in Carcross he did quite a bit of prospecting in the Wheaten River area. So he and Skookum Jim got expensive horses from outside, not just the common saddle horses, real trained race horses they got.

Anita: Skookum and who?

Johnny: Dawson Charlie. I remember that well.

Those horses were just too high strung sort of horses but they finally sold them and got slower type of horses to do their prospecting with in the Wheaten River and Watson River area and different parts of the country around here. So he was spending a lot of money in all these doings and one of the things he was mixed up in again was, not him alone but I think he put in more money than anybody else did this is around about 1912 he gave the last big Potlatch in Carcross, invited the Champagne people, Aishiak people, Whitehorse people, Marsh Lake people and they came. They did it the traditional way and of course there was a railroad through already and these people had money they come on the White Pass Railroad but they did it the hard way, the walking way which they were used to they came from Whitehorse, squaws . . . and all walking, walking the railroad track. I remember that well because I was then about 14 years old. So my gosh, when they got near two miles out of Carcross and they start shooting off their rifles, just like a war started down there. There must have been about 75 natives you know and their shooting right through the white man's side of town in Carcross right across the bridge, and there was one policeman here, he couldn't stop them. Shot them in the air and went right through, squaws, kids and all. Got down to the Indian Village across the river, and they were guests of the Carcross people, the Wolf Tribe took care of them. They were taking care of Dawson Charlie's big home and Skookum Jim's big home. And this Potlatch lasted for two weeks, they fed these people for two weeks, breakfast, lunch, dinner . . .

Well he made another trip that I know of because I was old enough then. Its a while ago. 1914. He was a wanderer, in the meantime he and his wife had separated and so he was on his own so he headed for the Telegraph Creek country and the only way to get there at that time was he'd have to go to Atlin by boat, I guess he did it that way then from Atlin B.C, then he had to walk 220 miles to Telegraph Creek and I went on that trail myself buying furs a few years later, its just a trail, a telegraph line, a single line, the first line that ever came into the Yukon, that line came into the Yukon in '98, it started in '98, it got in there at about that time. So he travelled into Telegraph Creek country, he heard stories of gold and so on, it wasn't that he wanted the gold, it was just that he loved that life and he knew a little bit about how to go about it, he'd learned. Well in the Telegraph Creek country he went down different creeks prospecting, of course he made friends with the natives there and they're all inter-related distantly so all the Indian people were friendly people they call you brother wherever you come from.

Well he spent close to two years around there in that area, so he headed kind of north east, Dease Lake down Dease River finally got to Lower Post in British Columbia, that was the old Indian Route, Traders Route, so from Dease Lake,in the winter of '15 and '16 he had one great big dog he used to call Dan, it was the only companion he had and this big dog would pull his toboggan behind him and he'd snowshoe ahead heading back towards his home town, Carcross but in that trip he was a sick man, still kept on going, of course he had these trappers trails to help him. People helped him along the trail here and there. Eventually he got to Teslin country, he travelled all winter, stopped here and there for a while. When he got to Teslin, of course the people in Teslin all knew him so Smart Sidney brought him to Teslin with a big dog team, big long string of dogs he wasn't too well a man so he asked for no pay they do it to help you out, glad to so they brought him to Tagish. The way it happened there, I was 18 years old and he was glad to see my Dad, they were cousins. "I'm glad to get back" he said, "I'm sick man and I want to die in my home town, Carcross, Na-tas-a-heeni thats where I want to die." Well we offered to take him to Carcross right away, Whitehorse, send him to the hospital right away, but he says "No, I want to visit here, I'll stay here two weeks with you, my Dad and my Mother, we were staying there all winter, we had a lot of food and everything and I was trapping my Dad was helping me a little bit, he was getting old, so I did most of the work and I remember I used his gun, it was a .25-35 and had gold rimmed sights on it and I really could shoot the necks off wood grouse with it.

Anita. Skookum's gun;

Johnny. Yes, Skookum's gun he says "anything I got you can use it sonny boy" he told me you know. So he stayed with us two weeks and finally we all talked it over that he should go down to the hospital. O.K, so I hooked up my dogs and he left his big dog, his dog's name is Dan, I got a picture of it somewhere here amongst my pictures. He called his dog Dan, beautiful big dog, black dog with a white collar. He gave it to Dad, says "I'm not going to need this dog no more" So I put him on the sleigh, wrapped him up good took-him across Tagish Lake, across Windy Arm, I brought him to Carcross. Of course I couldn't get him on the train to Whitehorse right away, he had to do a little visiting. Kate Carmack was living here, his sister, so he had to visit with his friends in Carcross, he says I'm going to stay here a month. O.K. so I got him back to Carcross. So I guess it was about a month later again this was sometime in April I think it was, it was in May I came back to Carcross and he was still here and I . . . got him on a White Pass and Yukon Passenger train and he went to the General Hospital in Whitehorse. That’s the last time I did see him alive . . .

Source: Yukon Territorial Archives, 88/58 SR Tape 11-3, 11-4, Johnnie Johns, "Skookum Jim's Later Life," Anita, n.d

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