Patsy Henderson's Version of the Discovery

Patsy Henderson, a nephew of Skookum Jim, was the only original member of the Discovery Party (although he was back at camp at the time of actual discovery) to record the history of the discovery on tape. Henderson also worked with the anthropologist McClellan and recorded a version of his encounter with Wealth Woman, an aspect of gold rush history that he "never touched on" in his public lectures to whites (McClellan 1963:122-123).

In the CBC radio interview, Patsy is introduced "As a boy... [who] was in on the discovery of gold on Bonanza Creek, Yukon Territories, August 17th, 1896 along with George Carmack, the discoverer." The narrative itself is very detailed and clearly places each of the major figures in the discovery of the gold rush.

Way before `98, way before `98, four years before `98 and George Carmack he come from the outside and this Pass, Chilcoot Pass, that's where he come, George Carmack. When he come around here amongst the Indians Tagish, that the Indian Village from early days, way back, Tagish lot of Indians there and George, he come from the outside, George Carmack, when he come there George Carmack, he stay among the Indians before `98 four years he stay around there amongst the Indians. But the first year George Carmack, he don't understand which way the Indian live. Pretty soon the first year he stay amongst the Indian, George Carmack, he know which way Indians live that time. That time we don't work for nobody, work ourself, but George he like `em, he don't work for nobody, and nobody boss him, boss his self, he like that. He married Skookum Jim sister, my aunt, Skookum Jim sister, that's my aunt, she married George Carmack. Well he stayed four years around here amongst the Indians and after a while he went down the river, from Tagish, go down the river. When he left here he tell us, `I go down the river. If I don't like it down the river I'm going to come back next summer,' and he tell us like that when he left. Him and his wife go down the river. When he went down the river he don't come back on two years, we got no way to hear him. That time before `98 this country, not many people travel on. Sometime on a warm summer, two or three or four people come up the river and go outside, we don't see no more. Sometimes we see somebody come up the river, we ask them, `You see George Carmack down the river someplace? "No.' They don't know George Carmack, nobody know. Well we miss him, George Carmack, we miss him, so we start here from Tagish, go down the river, look for George. We don't look for gold. We don't know the gold that time. We start from here, go down the river look for George — Skookum Jim, Dawson Charlie and myself, three of us, we go down there from Tagish, look for George down the river. I think we left the first of July I guess from Tagish. We go down slow, no machine that time. Anyway we row a boat, we row a boat all the way down. The two people, the two old people, they sit down in the boat, me I row all the way down five hundred and fifty miles from here to Dawson, and I row the boat for that far, row boat, row down. Then we start from Tagish, we come through the Canyon on a row boat, row boat, I pretty near half water full our boat when we come through this canyon on a row, and we land on the other side, the other side we land there, make fire, dry ourself. When we land there I come this side, hunt for rabbits, round here. No white man here, nobody, just us. So I got five rabbits, I shot five rabbits around here, so I took it home for supper. We start from here all the way down. We don't see no white man, but we see Indian too, some places down Lake Lebarge, way down the river, so we see Indian. No white man yet, we don't see no white man yet, all the way down. Well we come down on the Klondike, and a big bunch are camped there, Indian is a Dawson Indian. They land there all the time that Indian, Dawson Indian, different language. We don't understand, got to talk the English so he understand us. George stay there among the Indian, no white man beside him, him just him alone, George Carmack he like that way. Well we told George, `We come down look for you,' and George says, `Too bad you fellows come down a long ways to look for me.' When I tell him, he says we can't get back now till winter time. When the river froze we try to get back this a way with a dog team, he tell us like that, George Carmack. All right, so we stay there, so we build and fix a fish trap, we build a fish trap on the Klondike River and we dry fish for our dog for winter. Well after a while he tell us, George Carmack, `Before you fellows come down, months ago, one man he come up the river, that man he told me he found gold last Fall, away back. That man his name Bob Henderson, he's a white man.' We don't see, but George he do, but, George he tell us you know? George Carmack, and Skookum Jim, Dawson Charlie and Bob Henderson and myself, first people in Klondike, we find the gold, five of us, but all these people, they all die, all die except a me. That time when we find Klondike and gold I'm just kid, that time. I'm an old man now. I just kid that time. Well so George he tell us, `That man he went this a way months ago, Bob Henderson. Let's go look for him, maybe he found lots of gold,' he tell us like that George Carmack. All right, so we go look for him, so there's Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie and George Carmack that three people look for Bob Henderson, but I stay home in the camp on the Klondike. I stay home, I look after fish trap, I look after dogs, I stay home. When that three people start off look for Bob Henderson, same day they left same day to find em gold, and Dawson Charlie, he's the man who find em first gold on the Bonanza Creek, on the Bonanza Creek. No Bonanza Creek yet, going to be a Bonanza Creek pretty soon. When they start off from the camp, the first gold they find eight miles from camp on the Bonanza. Ten cents nugget, they find him, Charlie, that the first to find him, ten cents nugget on the Bonanza. Well same time they look, they went same time they look for gold. They got some gold pan, they got some shovel too, and three people. They went up the Creek, every time they try some place they see gold, but they look for good place, they look for rich place, nobody bother, but [?] half way up the Creek, going to be Eldorado, no Eldorado yet, going to be Eldorado yet, but the three people they went up on this Creek. First when they went up this Creek and they don't see no gold, is no gold on the top, no, but lots of gold on this Creek too, on the Bonanza. When they went to went up this Creek, no gold, that the richest creek, Eldorado, the richest Creek, but no gold on top. Before the rest come, I went up lots of times and I'm prospecting, just play around, but don't see no gold, but a lot of gold this one, that's good. So then three people, then went up on this creek, they look for Bob Henderson. They find em Bob Henderson on the way back, way back some Creek, Hunker Creek, I don't know where, Gold Bottom. I don't know where, they find him, Bob Henderson. Bob Henderson['s] is good Creek, and he prospect around there and he got a little gold. He stayed there, Bob Henderson he's alone, he got gold too, he prospect around there. So then three man, the three man, George Carmack, Skookum Jim and Charlie, they stayed there Bob Henderson's camp one night. Next morning they turn back, three people, they turn back, but different Creek, they went up this Creek first, when they turn back, but different Creek and they see gold again when they turn back, but different Creek and they see gold again when they turn back, the three people, but they look for good place, they look for rich place, nobody bother, they take time. Fell they come down but they been here, they went up Russell Fall, they cook here, then going, to cook this way they been here when they come up, but they come back, again, the same place them three people. They don't find very good yet, they don't find a good place yet, but a quarter mile below the Fall, down below a quarter mile they took a rest them three people on top of the bank. When they took a rest one man go down the Creek, drank water. Skookum Jim, he's the man, go down the creek, drunk water. When he took a drink of water, he see gold on the rock, on the rock. When he get through drink water and he call a George. `George! Come down here, bring down gold pan and shovel, we try here,' he says, Jim says, so George come down the Creek and when he come down the Creek he told him, `Look here George, just like a gold here, see that rock?' `Well,' George says, `that's gold' and he put the gold pan there, he put the gravel in the pan and he pan him. First pan and good pan. Good coarse gold and he tried down below. Lot of gold and he try way above, lot of gold. Then George says, `I guess we got a good place here, we're going to stake a claim.' So they stake a claim them three people, on the Bonanza, on 17th August, they stake a claim. They give a name too, the Creek on the Bonanza. Well he got $5.00 gold, good gold, good coarse gold. George said, `This gold no lie, is good gold,' he says, so they stake a claim three people on the Bonanza, but I don't stake the claim. I'm too young, but I been in the camp, I'm too young, I can't stake a claim. Well they come back on the Klondike them three people, when they come back they got gold. George he got gold scale, he weighed it, the gold. $5.00 he said, that's a $0.50 a pound off it he says, rich he says. When I see the gold first just like I don't care, I don't savvy the gold. No this time, I like to see gold all the time, I never see gold again, yes. So George says `Lets go down Forty Mile,' Forty Mile but before `98 and a mining camp there small tho[ugh], not bit small tho[ugh]. `Let's go down Forty Mile, let's record a claim.' He tell us like that the Recording Office there Forty Mile. Well we go down, row boat, one boat, four of us we go down. So we going to record a claim and we come down Forty Mile. George Carmack he tell all his friends you know, we find a gold, good gold. Some people don't start, no, just a few people start maybe ten maybe four or five people start when we go back, you know.

Well when we go back, when we get up on Klondike, our old camp, we move the camp up the Creek we're going to find our richer or not, we're going to work for while. Well we start to move the camp up the Creek. When we get up there we build a sluice box, but ten feet sluice box, we build him, and we turn the water out, we work there. That time, we started work was 1 st September, three weeks time we work there and three weeks time we take out the gold nugget. "We found the gold August too, but we got to go down Forty Mile and back, we used August, we don't do anything, but we started work lst September and we worked there ten foot sluice box, we worked there. Three weeks we worked there and three weeks time we take out gold not on the bedrock on the side, the Creek, side of the Creek, we turn on the water all day, we work on our own on the rock. Three weeks time we take out gold $1,440.00 gold, three weeks time, but the half gold we loose him, the box too short, we hurry, that time, September, Klondike cold, she snow, very cold. "We got to quit," George says, "I guess we got enough for grub stake, $1,440.00 we got enough for grub stake." So we go down Forty Mile again for grub for winter grub. We took two boats two row boat, we're going to bring a lot of grub, so we come down Forty Mile again the second time, down Forty Mile again. We took that gold N.C. you got a store there Forty Mile. We took that gold N.C. store. We sell all that gold N.C. store. We say we take out this gold three weeks time, that's the time the rush start. Not a one stay home, but all go, first time nobody go, all go, and when the rush start come up the river two years summer, winter, somebody come all the time come up the river. After two years when `98 and a big rush start from outside no road that time, just an Indian foot trail. That's the way the gold rush start `98. Trading Post there Dyea, away back, don't know how long, away back, the Mounties there make a Trading Post, Wilson his name, Wilson make a Trading Post, Wilson his name, Wilson make a Trading Post. That's the way we go down and get anything we want for trade. That's the way the gold rush start `98 from outside, but the same time no store yet round here, round this country, nobody bring a store.

Patsy Henderson's narrative of events is similar to that collected by Ogilvie from Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie, but it also includes numerous other details about the exigencies of Native life at the time. Patsy Henderson remained an important figure in the historiography and representation of the gold rush as he was later employed by the White Pass and Yukon railroad to interpret Indian history and life to tourists disembarking at Carcross. The Whitehorse Star (Oct. 2, 1990) recalled his role with fondness:
Whether on the train station platform in Carcross or at his little cabin on the other side of the narrows Patsy continued to tell the story of the Discovery until his death in 1966. A handsome man with snow white hair and twinkle in his eye, his memory still brings a smile to the face of those who knew his puckish sense of humour and indomitable spirit.

Source: Thomas F. Thornton, Patsy Henderson's Story (Ottawa: Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, 2004), 152-177

Return to parent page