Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Arthur C. Pillsbury Tells His Own Story

Below is the part of Grandfather's Autobiography which tells us about his time in the Yukon

After Stanford came the Alaska Gold Rush. I procured a 22 foot gasoline launch and with almost no knowledge of boating equipped it as a photographic boat, packed film paper, chemicals, etc. in water tight cans, shipped it to Seattle, and then started through those 1500 (closer to 1,000) miles of inland channels for Alaska. Although I knew almost nothing about the difficulties or dangers to over come and my father who accompanied me knew less, we had the large scale charts and pilot book and managed in one way or another to find our way among the many islands and channels, we crossed Queen Charlotte (Queen Charlotte Strait) and Milbank (Milbanke) Sound, two places where there were no protecting islands, then came Dixons (Dixon) Entrance, a 45 mile ocean crossing a thousand miles from Seattle and the beginning of Alaskan water. We made the crossing but in rounding Cape Fox, the last open water, a storm came up suddenly and blew us on shore, before we struck our cabin windows were stove in and we were almost flooded with the great waves that that went clear over the tiny boat. The tide was flood and turned just as an enormous wave, it looked 50 feet high picked up the launch and landed it on top a reef just a little way off shore, the boat broke in two and the engine dropped out, with the anchor line we both scrambled over the rocks on shore and caught the bow from being carried off. The tide receded rapidly and we were able to save a good deal of the wreckage, the film + cameras were not hurt, the food came ashore, the potatoes all peeled from beating on the rocks and the flour formed a crust sealing itself in.

It was in February and there was about a foot of snow on the ground. We build a cabin out of wreckage and dried out everything, the next day at low tide, we raised the engine + cleaned it up and got everything as well protected as we could. our charts were lost but I remembered an Indian village marked some ten miles down the coast. We concluded that was our only hope of rescue so on the fifth day with one dry match and just enough food for lunch I started to find it. Scrambling over rocks, through the snow and thick timber near shore, swimming an inlet 200 yds wide with my clothes on a log pushed in front of me, took all day. Just at dusk across another inlet nearly a quarter mile wide, I could see the village, shouting soon brought a coneau (canoe) with half a dozen very much surprised Siwaskes (sp?).

They took me in and I was the honored village guest. A storm came up during the night, and it was the fourth day before I could rejoin my very much worried father. The wreckage was given to the Indians and they carried us and our equipment in their sloop to Mary's Island, the custom house at the entrance of Alaskan waters. Here was a larger launch with a disabled engine. I took the contract of repairing it and also bought a Columbia River open boat and put my engine into it. Some of the repair work required the use of a lathe, so in a borrowed 12 foot dingey I rowed to a cannery 110 miles away and did the machine work for both boats. The cannery people were so surprised at the job I did on their lathe they offered me a job but I was not looking for that kind of work so rowed back to Mary Island and soon had both launches running.

The trip to Wrangle about 200 miles towing my smaller launch was made and delivery of the 35 footer to the delighted owner accomplished. At this time my father concluded he would return to California and I cruised to the scenic parts of South Eastern Alaska, going into the bottle necked bay to Le Conte Glacier, then to the Windom + Foster glaciers and over to the Muir in Glacier bay. These trips I made alone camping on the beach at night. Often shooting a deer when I needed meat or trolling for salmon, ducks + wild geese were plentyful, and Alaska clams were so easy to obtain you could fill a sack in an area of a square yard in f act while repairing the launches almost every day would swap a sack of clams for a sack of flour or a box of crackers or sugar to the gold rush steamers coming in daily.

After getting what scenic pictures I could I made the trip to Juneau and up the Lynn Canal to Skagway selling the launch as I saw it would be impractable to take it over either the White or Chilkoot passes to the head waters of the Yukon. I had walked from Dyea over the Chilkoot to Lake Linderman (Lindeman Lake) and back to Skagway making pictures there with a permit from the towners was the fifth and last passenger to ride over the aireal tram from Dyea to the Summit of the Chilkoot. the trip starting from tide water at Dyea was some 25 miles over the forest country, sitting in a box just big enough to hold two sacks of grain. The box suspended from one cable on a pulley was pulled by another cable, over the forest section it was just about level with the tree tops up from Sheep Camp to the Chilkoot it (?) went in three long spans the longest 2080 feet from almost sea level to the summit tower at 2500 feet elevation in a long arc that was almost vertical as it went over the summit and you were 1000 feet in the air at one place.

The line of men toiling up over the snow clad summit with heavy packs looked like ants from my swaying perch. if anything happened along the line and it stopped we would soon freeze + no chance of getting out of his box seat. I wanted to make the 2600 mile trip down the Yukon so on Governor Brady's advice I applied to the Census Bureau for the position of official photographer on a roving commission to photograph every City and point of interest on the Yukon, the application was accepted and before starting in the spring of` 99 after the ice break on the Yukon, I made the trip over the White Pass and in to Atlin on my bicycle pulling a 90 LB sled with cameras, food + blankets, this trip which looked impractable was a great success.

I out traveled the best dog teams the lakes were frozen and the miners had made a good trail over the snow, sometimes crossing a mountain range I had to pull the bicycle on the sled but made up for it on the down hill + level lakes. The round trip was over 500 miles and I often made 60 to 70 miles a day. The trip took two weeks.

While the White Pass was still snow covered, I loaded my equipment on a sled, it consisted of the panorama camera, an 8 x 10 view box, plates, film, paper, chemical portable tent dark room, blankets, food, gun, fishing tackle etc. quiet a load, nearly 500 lbs and it took 3 days to drag it the 40 miles to Lake Linderman. My census bureau commission allowed me to pass the custom bureaus at the Summit above Lake Linderman, the head waters of the Yukon, here I bought a flat bottom boat made of hand whip sawed, boards from the 6 to 8 inch trees along the lake shore and with a couple of rough oars + a small leg of mutton (sp?) sail I made started on that 2600 mile 9 weeks journey.

The Yukon one of the six mighty world rivers starts with a chain of lakes, Linderman, Bennett, Tagish, each the end of many a mining expedition, then the rapids, Miles canyon, White Horse, and Five Fingers, each the end of many others bravely starting for the mining sections. At Dawson the assistant the bureau allowed me became sick from drinking Yukon water and while I was caring for him some one stole my boat and when I had paid his passage back to Skagway I was broke but a panorama of Dawson + printed on blue print paper soon gave me enough money to buy a beautiful Peterbourough (sp?) coneau (canoe), and with equipment argumented (augmented) with a sheet iron stove, I started to make the 2400 miles to St Michaels alone.

Every few hundred miles on the Yukon on reaching a city would pull the coneau (canoe) on the bank, set up the portable dark room tent made of 3 thickness of canvas and which also served as a shelter tent although I slept in the coneau (canoe) most of the time. I made a panoramic view of the town, and if any mountain was available would climb it and make another panorama of the entire country from it. The miners all wanted copies of the 3 foot views, and as I did not have time to print them there, would take orders from the agent of the Alaska Commercial Co. or the rival North West Trading Co. and deliver to their agent in the next town so many prints, and collect in gold dust at 10.00 per blue print on delivery. In that way I could print while drifting down stream, wash the prints along side the coneau (canoe) + lose no time.

In that way city after city and points of interest were passed. Toward the end of the trip the mighty river widened out, 5-10 miles. The delta 100 miles wide; hundreds of islands, the channel continually dividing, the banks cutting in to the changing stream trees falling, called sweepers ready to upset the coneau (canoe) at any moment. Still the endless river swept on, to make time I tied up to a drifting log in midstream and often drift 40 or 50 miles at night. The Arctic circle and Fort Yukon were passed and still on many 100's of miles and one morning at day light the coneau (canoe) drifted out into the Bering Sea. A Peterburough is no boat for an open sea but the weather was favorable and by following the shore northward with sail + paddles pulling and pushing, at last St Michaels was reached.

It was too dangerous to try to make the newly discovered Nome some two hundred miles to the north so coneau (canoe), gun, and everything except the photographic outfit was auctioned off on the beach, and the trip to Nome made by steamer. It was the first of October the flow ice was due any time but 10 days in Nome gave ample time for a set of panorama's - street scenes, a water front view from a barge a little way off shore, men cradling on the beach, and after a terrible days walk over the tundra to Anvil Creek + mountain, a panorama of the entire country.

Nome in those first weeks of existence was only a line of saloons and dance halls. facing the Behring Sea, a few shacks on stilts that were washed away in a storm just as I was leaving. They were on the sea ward side of the one street, the thousands of miners had rushed in when the news spread that they could in a few yards of beach cradle out some $25.00 a day; they were standing in a puddle of sea water almost in the surf and shoveling sand and bailing water into a rough cradle, catching the fine gold in ripples as the water washed the sand out.

The only fuel was drift wood that had been carried down the Yukon and washed up on shore; as a result the only way to get dried out and warm was to gather in the saloons. every possible gambling game was in full swing, dance hall girls everywhere; a miner would come in, pass his "poke" or sack of gold dust to the bar-tender who acted as banker; It was weighed sack and all and a receipt given on which he could draw for drinks, chips, or meals; a dollar was the medium of exchange for a drink or a chip. Meals were the same or more.

The saloons were square and your dust was safe if you did not squander it, perhaps safer than hid in your own tent on the beach where you were liable to be stabbed + robbed during the night. everything was done to make the saloons comfortable and warm to draw the crowds. you could even rent a wooden bunk in the one room over the dance hall for 3 dollars. there were perhaps 200 others in the same tier of bunks but they made no more noise than the dances + games going on below you which you could watch through the spaces between the floor boards.

Sickness from exposure and drinking the bad water was common. The miners would come in reaching the place on their nerve, spread their blankets in the bunk, and be found dead in the morning. Values were dependent on how badly you wanted an article I paid $5.00 for 5 lbs. of Hypo and a dollar for two quinces, I was so fruit hungry.

The Roanoke, since lost, was anchored 3 miles off shore waiting for the last possible moment to leave, a storm came up and a storm in that shallow Behering Sea is an awful thing. I started for her with 5 others in a row boat, the waves were breaking up the line of shacks on shore, a Yukon river boat that had been acting as a ferry between the steamer and the shore was blown by us and tried to make the narrow opening of the Snake river almost in the center of Nome, she missed the 100 foot opening + was piled up a complete wreck on the beach. We made the ship side as she hoisted her anchor and started for the open sea my stuff was in one big bundle wrapped in my blankets. I managed to tie it onto a rope that was thrown to me and to partly hold on as the line and I were pulled on board, the boat was turned adrift, the steamer at once started full speed for the open sea.