While countless thousands of prospectors panned for gold in the Klondike valley, only a handful realized that the motherlode did not lay in the shallow waters of Bonanza, Eldorado, Hunker and other creeks. Oliver Millet was not really a prospector, yet he discovered the real source of Klondike riches.
Oliver Millet left his home in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia at age 14 to roam the seven seas. He was working in a saw mill in Seattle in 1897 when the steamer Portland arrived with a ton of gold. He quit his job and headed for the Klondike arriving in mid-October of that year.
He ended up with a claim on Eldorado, the richest creek in the Klondike. But his claim produced no gold. Why, he wondered, when all the other claims below his were rich. He was 33 years old and in poor health when his idea struck. Maybe the source of gold was in the high hills overlooking the creeks.
He climbed the hills overlooking George Carmack's claim on Bonanza Creek and began sinking shafts into the benches. When he had sunk three shafts to a depth of no more than nine feet, he knew his theory was right. But miners working the creeks below looked up at the solitary figure and called him crazy. They even derided him by calling the hill Cheechako Hill.
His third shaft produced unmistakable gravel...gravel so white it could only have been part of an ancient riverbed which had long since disappeared. Millet had discovered the White Channel, the original source of Klondike gold. In his diggings he found gold so rich that on his first day with a rocker, shaking out the gravel, he wound up with more than $800 worth of gold.
Millet was suffering from scurvy, but on he worked until his legs turned black. His claim was still unregistered as he made his way to the town of Grand Forks to seek medical attention. In the town, he asked an old Nova Scotia friend Bill Norwood to stake and register his claim. But by the time Norwood got back to what was now called Cheecako Hill the news of the find was out. Most of the ground had been staked. Oliver Millet was too sick to work his single claim on the hill, but he sold out for 60 thousand dollars. It brought the new owners over half a million. By the summer of 1898, most of the hills around Bonanza and Eldorado were staked. Oliver Millet, the lucky Cheechako, had pointed the way to the ancient White Channel.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin