Carmack spreads the good news (from Carmack of the Klondike)

In the morning, after hurriedly washing down a skimpy breakfast with black coffee, the three men set about staking their claims. The Dominion Lands Mining Regulations then in effect for the Yukon district of the Northwest Territories permitted any miner more than 18 years of age, citizen or not, to stake a stream placer claim 500 feet long, measured along the general course of the stream. In width, the claim extended from the base of the hill or bench on one side of the stream to the base of the hill or bench on the opposite side.

On the edge of the flat where they were camped stood a small spruce tree about six inches in diameter. Using his hand ax, Carmack whacked off the top of the tree, leaving a five-foot length of spruce slanting up out of the ground. Singing a few verses of “Home Sweet Home” as he squared up the end of the stump, swinging his ax in time with the tune, Carmack also succeeded in getting Jim to turn his habitual scowl upside down. Charley grinned in approval.

With a stubby pencil Carmack wrote on the upstream side of the squared-up spruce.

To whom it may concern:

I do this day, locate and claim by right of discovery, five hundred feet, running upstream from this notice. Located this 17th day of August, 1896.
G.W. Carmack.

Using Carmack’s 50-foot tape, the men measured off 500 feet upstream from the blazed spruce, marking the limit of Carmack’s Discovery Claim and the beginning of No. 1 Above, which was staked for Skookum Jim. In similar fashion, No. 1 Below was marked off and claimed by Tagish Charley. The Indians could not read or write English, or even read the numbers on the tape, so Carmack did all the marking required to fulfill the legal requirements for staking a claim.

Going back to a tall birch tree near the point of discovery, Carmack peeled off a piece of bark and penciled these words: “I name this creek Bonanza. George Carmack.” After the birch bark notice had been attached to the discovery stake with willow twigs, Carmack placed his shovel and gold pan at the base of the stake.

When Carmack was satisfied that all four claims were properly marked, the three men packed up and started back to their fish camp at the mouth of the Klondike. Tagish Charley wanted to stay and begin mining operations at once with pan and shovel, but Carmack talked him out of that. One man shovelling dirt into a sluice box, Carmack pointed out, could handle 20 times as much paydirt as he could by panning. To build sluice boxes, they needed saws, hammers and nails, all of which they lacked. To get money to purchase the tools and supplies they needed, the logs they had already cut must now be rafted down the Yukon and sold to the sawmill at Fortymile. Only after these operations had been completed, and the sluice boxes built, could the extraction of gold begin in earnest.

After Carmack explained all this, Jim and Charley readily agreed. Carmack began to realize that from now on, in addition to managing his own affairs, he would also have to look after the business concerns of his two partners.

None of them considered backtracking up to Henderson’s camp to tell him about their latest find on Bonanza. After all, Carmack had already shown Henderson the coarse gold from their first few pans along Bonanza. Carmack had declared his intention of staking this creek and had invited Henderson to look at the new discovery. Henderson had declined, saying he would stay with the Gold Bottom claim until bedrock was reached. With so much work to be done before the fall freeze-up, Carmack could not afford to waste two days of travel just to tell Henderson something he already knew. Since Henderson had bluntly stated that he did not want Indians staking on Gold Bottom, Jim and Charley naturally did not want Henderson to stake on Bonanza.

Five hours of hard travel brought Carmack and his companions back to the slough where they had secured their boat. While floating down the Klondike, they met four men wading upstream, pulling a loaded boat. After the usual greetings, the men exchanged names. The newcomers were Dan McGillivery, Dave Edwards, Harry Waugh and Dave McKay.

“Where you fellows heading?” Carmack asked.

“We’ve just come Ogilvie,” McGillivery said. “Joe Ladue told us that Bob Henderson had found a good prospect on Gold Bottom Creek, so we decided to have a looksee. You know anything about it?”

“Yes, we left there three days ago,” Carmack said.

“What do you think of it?”

“Well, I don’t like to be a knocker,” said Carmack with his irrepressible grin. “But I don’t think much of his prospect. Henderson hasn’t found anything but flour gold.”

McGillivery’s tanned and bearded jaw dropped before he replied.

“Then you wouldn’t advise us to go up there?”

“No, because I’ve got something better for you.”

After displaying the coarse gold he had found, Carmack gave McGillivery and his companions full directions for reaching his Discovery Claim. Noticing that the McGillivery party had a whip-saw in their boat, Carmack asked if he might borrow it in a couple of days.

“After the tip you gave us, George, you can have the saw any old time you want it,” said Dave McKay, who would later stake No. 3 Below Discovery. The other members of the McGillivery party would stake downstream a bit, claiming Nos. 15, 16 and 17 Below Discovery.

The two boats separated and the Carmack group continued their drift down the Klondike. On arrival at the fish camp, Jim and Charley began unloading the boat while George broke the news to Kate.

“Looky here, Kate, looky here!” he yelled.

When he emptied the shotgun shell of coarse gold into her hand her dark eyes widened and she screamed out her delight in Tagish phrases, then switched to Chinook.

“Hiyu pil chikamin! Hiyu pil chikamin!”

“Yes, Kate, plenty gold, plenty gold.”

Charley’s brother Patsy came running to see and hold the gold.

“You staket claim for me?”

“No, Patsy, you’re too young to stake a claim. Don’t worry, I’ll see that you get hiyu gold.”

Soon after arriving, Carmack hailed two men drifting downstream in a small boat. They were French-Canadians who introduced themselves as Alphonso LePierre and George Remillard.

“Where you boys headed for?” Carmack asked.

“Down the river to Fortymile.”

“Don’t go any farther. You hear about the new strike?”

“Oh yes, we hear about Bob Henderson from Joe Ladue. I think he is one big bluff,” LePierre said.

“How’s this for bluff?” asked Carmack, showing them the gold.

Once again Carmack told the story of his discovery on Bonanza Creek and explained how to get there. Soon the two French-Canadians raced across the beach on their way to Bonanza. In their excitement they forgot to tie up their boat, which would have drifted away had Carmack not secured it. The next day Remillard and LePierre staked Nos. 11 and 12 Below Discovery.

Prospecting across the broad Yukon from Carmack’s fish camp was Lou Cooper, who had helped Carmack pole his boat upriver from Fortymile only a few weeks before. After supper on discovery day, Carmack rowed across the Yukon to tell his friend his news. Cooper and his partner, Ed Monahan, arrived on Bonanza the next day and staked Nos. 32 and 29 Below Discovery

Source: James Albert Johnson, Carmack spreads the good news (from Carmack of the Klondike) (Fairbanks: Epicenter Press and Horsdal and Shubert, 1990), 78-84

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