The True Story of the Discovery of Gold at Bonanza Creek

[ Hillside, Bonanza Creek ]

Hillside, Bonanza Creek, H.J. Woodside, 1903-05-19, NAC, PA-016506

Skookum Jim, dying of the coughing sickness, lying on the bunk in the cabin his brothers had built, heard the ravens talking in the woods and wished that his luck would return to him. He slept and woke and slept again as sick men do and waited for the death he knew was near.

One night he woke and heard a woman crying. He could see no one and he called to know who was crying but no one answered—just the sound of weeping, weeping in the dark. . . . every night he heard to weeping woman who never answered when he called.

One morning he dragged himself outside to use the toilet hole his brothers had dug for him close by the cabin because he was so weak. The sun was shining and it shone into the hole and Jim saw a frog that had fallen in. “I’ll be your luck, little brother. No need for you to die too.” He found a fallen branch and lowered it into the hold. The frog clung to the branch and Jim lifted it to safety.

He put the small creature on a shovel and, stopping often to get his breath, he dragged the shovel with the frog to a swampy place. There he found a pool of water and washed the frog clean.

When he finished he tore a strip from the bandana he wore around his neck and tied the strip around the neck of the frog for a gift. He put the frog on the ground and said, “Wish me luck, little brother. Wish that I get well again.” The frog looked at Jim closely for a moment then hopped off into the underbrush. Feeling strangely stronger, Jim returned to the cabin and crawled into his bunk where he slept without coughing, a long, restful sleep such as he hadn’t known for a long time. . . .

Every day Skookum Jim grew stronger. He could chop his kindling and cook his own food now and the cough was gone. But the Frog people came every night to keep him from being lonely. They told him strange and wonderful Frog stories and sang Frog songs for him. . . .

“Now,” said the Shining Woman, “it is time for you to claim your luck. When you feel strong enough you must pretend that you’re going hunting. Go in the direction of the mountain. When you reach the mountain you will see a reddish streak a little way up the mountain, not far, just a little way. A creek runs out there. Dip your face in the water and drink, but keep your eyes open and you will see something in the bottom of the creek. It is your luck and it is for you.” Then the Shining Woman disappeared.

Next morning Jim gathered up his rifle and his other hunting gear and set out for the mountain. It was a fine day and it was good to feel the sun on his back and the strength returning to his legs. He walked for a long time. When he came close to the mountain he could see the reddish streak and the small creek coming out of it. He walked up the stream a little way, then knelt and put his face in the water.

He drank and opened his eyes under the water and saw an opening in the bottom of the creek, and something shining in the opening. The opening was about four inches wide, and it was gold all the way down. Jim didn’t know what it was but he thought it was pretty stuff, so he took out his knife and pried out a nugget the size of his thumb and put it in his pocket. He remembered what the Shining Woman had said: “You will find something but don’t tell anyone where you found it.”

Jim went home and found his brothers there. He showed them the nugget he had found and they were very excited about it, but Jim remembered what the Shining Woman had told him and pretended that he didn’t know where he had found it. They were upset about that but Jim held fast. The brothers went away at last, but they returned in a few days with prospectors who were even more excited about the nugget Jim had found.

But the Shining Woman told him to wait until the prospectors paid him well before he told them where he found the nugget. So the prospectors gave Jim a lot of money and took him to Seattle and bought him new clothes and showed him the city, but Jim was afraid of crowds and the noise and the overheated hotel. He threw some of his paper money in the street because he didn’t know what it was.

At last Jim got back to his home place where he built a new cabin. He tacked bright colored labels from cans and twenty dollar bills to his walls, “ . . .to make it decent . . .” he said, when they asked him why. He was a simple man but the Frog people always looked out for him and saw that his luck stayed with him and he was a happy man all his life.

The prospectors named the creek where Jim found the gold “Bonanza Creek”, and this is the true story of the discovery of gold at Bonanza Creek which started the Klondike gold rush.

Source: Dale B. DeArmond, "The True Story of the Discovery of Gold at Bonanza Creek" (Juneau: LapCat Publications, 1997), 1-27

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