The Yukon Story

[ The Chilkoot and White Pass ]

The Chilkoot and White Pass, Coates and Morrison, 2005

During the autumn, coarse gold was discovered on the Forty mile and a stampede to the new diggings left only about fifty men on the Stewart. About two hundred were soon prospecting on the Forty-mile. Among the prospectors along the Yukon was Robert Henderson, commonly known as "Bob". At the age of fourteen he had left his home in a fishing village in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, and set out to shift for himself. After spending several years in the New England States, he returned home. In 1880 he again set out and worked for fourteen years in the mines of Colorado. Then he decided to go north and landed at Dyea, in April, 1894, with a small party.

They crossed the divide to Lake Lindeman, where they whip-sawed lumber and built a small boat. Reaching the mouth of the Pelly, they found prospects and rocked out $54 in fine gold. In search of better prospects, they proceeded down the Yukon to Sixty-mile post. Here Joe Ladue gave them the latest news about strikes and discoveries which had been made in this district. As a result of this information, Henderson, with Jack Conlin, proceeded to Indian River, which enters the Yukon on its right limit, about half way between Sixty-mile and the present Dawson City.

During the next year they prospected on the creeks entering Indian River. Poling up this river they prospected on different bars and found fair returns from panning. However, the gold was very fine and they pushed up Indian River about forty-five miles to what became known as Quartz Creek. Here they found ten cents to the pan, and decided to stay and work for the winter. In going down to Sixty-mile for supplies, forming ice compelled them to leave their boat and travel over the hills on foot. After a few days rest at Sixty-mile Henderson was ready to return but Conlin decided to stay at the post, so Henderson bought his supplies for the winter and returned alone to Quartz Creek, where he prospected during the winter of 1894-5 until February.

Finding fair prospects so general, he felt assured that prospecting would be better near the source of the creek, and for several days, in extreme cold, he relayed his outfit on a hand-made sled. He was snow-blind when he reached a creek, which he called "Wounded Moose". As soon as his eyes were better he did some prospecting and when spring was approaching, he returned down stream for more supplies. On the way down the snow began to melt and water ran on the ice. His outfit became soaked and he made camp to dry out. While there some caribou passed and he got fresh meat for himself and hides for a canoe which he built. As the loaded canoe would become stranded in the shallow water running over the ice, he got out and waded, letting the canoe drift ahead while he held it by a rope of caribou skin. He could travel only a few hours in the icy water when his legs would cramp and he would have to get out and make a fire and dry his clothes.

Before reaching Indian River, when falling a spruce tree for a foot bridge, he snagged his leg on a broken limb and was suffering from the wound when he reached Indian River. He had to interrupt his gold hunt and go to Sixty-mile for treatment. When his leg was well enough, Henderson purchased his supplies and returned to Quartz Creek, and worked there during the winter of 1895-6. Burning holes to bedrock in the frozen ground and drifting underground in search of the paystreak, he cleaned up over six hundred dollars. In the spring of 1896 Henderson crossed over the summit to a creek he called Gold Bottom.

After finding fair prospects and returning to Quartz for his outfit, he found eighteen men there, whom Joe Ladue had told of his find. They accepted Henderson's invitation to go to Gold Bottom, but soon became discouraged and all but three who stayed with Henderson, returned to Sixty-mile. Working on Gold Bottom Henderson found thirty-five cents to the pan-the best he had yet found. When provisions became low, Henderson again returned to Sixty-mile for supplies and as water, in the meantime, had become too low for poling up Indian River, he reasoned that the creek he called Gold Bottom must empty into the river called by the Indians, Thronduik (Klondike) flowing into the Yukon some distance below Sixty-mile. He decided to try to go up that stream. . . .

At the mouth of the Klondike he met George Carmack fishing for salmon with his Indian wife Kate and her two brothers, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie. Henderson told Carmack of his find on Gold Bottom, to which he was returning, and invited him to stake there. He also suggested to Carmack that if he would take a short-run across the divide, by way of what was being called Rabbit Creek (later Bonanza) and find anything there, to advise him. Carmack promised to do so and taking Henderson's advice, took the short cut and found in Bonanza Creek the richest pay thus far discovered anywhere the Yukon. Several stories have been told of the discovery and its richness. One is that while the men were pitching camp, Carmack's wife, Kate, took a gold pan and filling it with gravel from the creek bed, started to pan it out. The gold was so plentiful that the yellow particles were plainly visible in the unwashed gravel. Carmack had never seen anything like it and washed out about four dollars from the pan. They immediately staked Discovery and Number One Below for Carmack, Number One Above for Tagish Charlie, and number Two Below for Skookum Jim, and hurried to Forty-mile Recording Office to file their claims on the creek, which, owing to its richness, was officially named Bonanza. When this was done Carmack told others of his fabulous find, but failed to advise Henderson, as he had promised.

Source: Walter Hamilton, "The Yukon Story" (Vancouver: Mitchell Press, 1972), 66-7

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