Report on an Exploration in the Yukon District, NWT and Adjacent Northern Portion of British Columbia, 1887

In 1883, some mining was again in progress, but details respecting it have not been obtained. It was in this year that Lieut. Schwatka crossed the Chilkoot Pass and descended the Lewes and Yukon to the sea. In 1884 a little mining was done on the Pelly and on the Tes-lin-too, and possibly also on the Lewes. In 1885, mining was begun along the Stewart River, and in the following year, the greater part of the mining population was engaged on that river. Cassiar bar, on the Lewes, twenty-seven miles below the Tes-lin-too, was discovered in the spring of 1886, and actively worked during the same summer.

Late in the autumn of 1886, “coarse gold” was found on Fortymile Creek (Cone hill River of Schwatka) still further down the main river than the Stewart, and the announcement of the fact drew off nearly the entire mining population to this place in 1887. In the attempt to bring out the news of this discovery, a miner named Williams was frozen to death on the Chilkoot Pass in January, 1887.

Taking a general view of the gold discoveries so far as made in the Upper Yukon country, we find that, though some small bars have been worked on the upper part of the Lewes, and “prospects” have been obtained even in the stream flowing into Bennett Lake, paying bars have been found on this river only below the mouth of the Tes-lin-too. The best of these are within a distance of about seventy miles below this confluence, and the richest so far has been Cassiar Bar. This is reported to have yielded, in some cases, at the rate of $30 a day to the land, and gold to the value of many thousand dollars has been obtained from it, chiefly in 1886. In 1887 only three or four men worked here. All along the Lewes below the Tes-lin-too, many bars occur which, according to the reports of prospector’s, yield as much as $10 a day, and the same is true of the Tes-lin-too itself, both below and above Teslin Lake. Bars of this kind are, however, considered scarcely remunerative at present.

Gold has also been found for a long distance up the Big Salmon River, and on the Upper Pelly as far as it has been prospected. The Tes-lin-too, Big Salmon and Pelly have each already afforded some good paying ground, but in consequence of the rush to Fortymile Creek only about thirteen miners remained in 1887 on the first named river, four on the second and two on the Pelly. On the Stewart River, as much as $100 a day to the hand was obtained in 1885 and 1886, and probably over $100,000 worth of gold has already been obtained along this stream. It has been prospected for a distance of 100 to 200 miles from its mouth, (according to varying statements) and the gold found furthest up is said to be somewhat “coarser” than that of the lower part.

Fortymile Creek is reported to be a river of some size, but more rapid than most of those in the district. It has, according to miners been prospected for about a hundred miles from its mouth, gold being found almost everywhere along it as well as in tributary gulches. The gold varies much in character, but is quite often coarse and nuggety, and very large amounts have been taken out in favourable places by individual miners. Few of the men mining here in 1887 were content with ground yielding less than $14 a day, and several had taken out nearly $100 a day for a short time. The amount obtained from this stream in 1887 reckoned by some as high as $120,000, but I believe it would be safe to put the entire output of the Upper Yukon region for the year, at a minimum of $75,000, of which the greatest part was derived from this stream.

The number of miners in the whole Upper Yukon county in 1887 may be stated at about 250; of these, 200 were on Fortymile Creek, and it was estimated that at least 100 would winter on the creek to be ready for work in the spring.

Fortymile Creek is what the miners term a “bedrock creek” i.e., one in which there is no great depth of drift of detrital deposits below the level of the actual stream. It is so far the only locality which has been found to yield “coarse gold,” but from the extremely wide distribution of “fine gold,” it may safely be predicted that many more like it remain to be discovered.

Mining can scarcely be said to have begun in the region more than five years ago, and the extent of country over which gold has been found in greater of less quantity is already very great. Most of the prospecting has been confined to the banks and bars of the larger rivers, and it is only when their innumerable tributary streams begin to be closely searched, that “gulch diggings” like those of Dease, McDame and other streams in the Cassiar district, and possibly even on a par with Williams and Lightening creeks in Cariboo, will be found and worked. The general result so far has been to prove that six large and long rivers, the Lewes, Tes-lin-too, Big Salmon, Pelly, Stewart and White, yield “fine gold” along hundreds of miles of their lower courses. With the exception of the Lewes, no part of the head-waters of any of these have yet been prospected or even reached by the miners, and scarcely any of their innumerable tributaries have been examined. The developments made up to this time are sufficient to show that when means of access are improved, important bar mining will take place along all these main rivers, and there is every reason to anticipate that the result of the examination in detail of the smaller streams will be the discovery of much richer auriferous alluviums. When these have been found and worked, quartz mining will doubtless follow, and the prospects for the utilization of this great mining field in the near future appear to me to be very promising.

I must not, however, omit to state that great difficulties and hardships have to be overcome by the miners now entering this country. The traverse of the Chilkoot Portage is itself a formidable obstacle, and over this pass most of the provisions and requisites for the miner must be carried. There is at the present time a trading post belonging to Messrs Harper, McQuesten and Co., (established in the spring of 1887) at the mouth of Fortymile Creek, but the supplies are brought to this point by small stern-wheel steamers which ascend the whole length of the Yukon. Goods do not arrive by this route till late in the summer, and any accident or detention may prevent their arrival altogether. The winter in the country is long and severe, and the season of low water suitable for working on river bars is short. It is also found that beneath its mossy covering, the ground is often frozen, presenting difficulties of another character to the miner, which have prevented the working of many promising flats and benches. This, however, is likely to be remedied before long by the general burning off of the woods and moss in the mining camps. Frozen ground was found in the same way in the early days of the Cassiar mines, (see p. 82B) but the destruction of the timber has now almost everywhere allowed the summer heat to penetrate to the lower layers of the soil. It is not likely that this great inland country will long want some easy means of connection between the coast and its great length of navigable lake and river waters, and when this is afforded, there is every reason to believe that it will support a considerable mining population.

Source: George M. Dawson, "Report on an Exploration in the Yukon District, NWT and Adjacent Northern Portion of British Columbia, 1887" (Montreal: Dawson Brothers, 1888), 181-3

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