In the 1950s, millions of North American kids owned land in the Klondike. They dreamed about mining, farming, fencing, building cabins, raising sled dogs. They dreamed the dreams of early Klondikers, and like the majority of the gold seekers of 1898, the kids of the 50s had their dreams turn to dust.
It was one of the most successful public relations campaigns of its time. In 1955, the Quaker Oats company bought a parcel of worthless land six miles downstream from Dawson City. A deed to one square inch of the land was available in every box of Quaker Oats. The “Klondike Big Inch Company” took the children of the 50s by storm. The kids urged their parents to buy boxes of the cereal - and buy they did. The kids snapped up more than 21 million boxes of puffed cereal containing the deed to Klondike land.
The cereal and the deeds became outrageously popular because they were promoted on one of radio’s most successful kid’s shows. “The Challenge of the Yukon” starring Sergeant Preston and his dog, Yukon King, sledded across the airwaves from 1947 to 1957, loaded with Quaker Puffed Wheat. In 1955, Sergeant Preston offered the deeds during commercial breaks in the program.
The promotional scheme made the company number one in the very competitive breakfast cereal market. The kids wanted to know more about their land. They wrote the company in record numbers seeking details of the exact location of their one square inch. They wanted to know how to mine it, if they could fence it in, what they could build on it. The kids of the 50s were proud and possessive of their land in the Klondike. One deed-holder had amassed 10,800 deeds.
Alas, none of the land was ever developed. Years later, Quaker Oats let the land lapse for back taxes. It was listed for sale for 37 dollars in back taxes. I don’t know if anyone picked up the option.
Maybe Erik Nielsen knows. You see, he was the lawyer retained by Quaker Oats to buy the land for the Klondike Big Inch Company. If you happen to have a deed to the land, it’s worth about $45 to a collector
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
'Put Whitehorse on the map' was the motto of the local Jaycees club back in the summer of 1955. They couldn’t find a better way of doing that than to sponsor a local woman in the Miss Canada pageant.
Dalyce Smith was the pride and joy of the Yukon in 1955. She was bright and beautiful. The Junior Chamber of Commerce had sponsored her entry into the Miss Canadian Rockies beauty pageant earlier in the year. She won and was dubbed Queen of the Rockies.
However, an even bigger prize awaited the Whitehorse resident. On July 1st, in London, Ontario, she was acclaimed Miss Canada and put Whitehorse on the map she did. Preparing for the event, she had brushed up on all aspects of the Yukon’s history and development potential, and she spent much of her time 'outside' correcting false impressions about the territory. She was quite the ambassador.
When she arrived back in Whitehorse on July 23, 1955, the Jaycees and the Junior Chamber held a gala welcoming ceremony at the airport, followed by a cocktail party and dance at the Whitehorse Inn Ball Room.
At the party, Maxine Dermondy read a poem on behalf of former and present members of Taylor and Drury’s, where Dalyce worked.
Our heartfelt wish has just come true
You went and did what we hoped you’d do.
We weren’t in doubt, not for a minute
We’d seen your stuff and knew that you’d win it.
Well maybe not in a league with Robert Service, but a fitting tribute to Dalyce Smith, who dazzled Canada and put the Yukon on the map in that summer of 1955.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
It was a kinder and gentler time, and everyone agreed there were no kinder nor gentler Yukoners than Otto and Kate Patridge. Their home at Ben-My-Chree was a garden oasis in a vast wilderness.
Otto Partridge was born on the Isle of Man, emigrated to the United States, and eventually made his way to Lake Bennett during the Klondike Gold Rush. There he formed the Bennett Lake and Klondike Navigation Company, and built the first three sternwheelers in the Yukon. When the White Pass Railway began operations in 1900, Otto and his wife Kate moved on to Milhaven Bay, on Lake Bennett near Carcross, where they lived on a houseboat.
At Milhaven, they set up a sawmill and supplied the White Pass with railroad ties. She was a gifted musician; playing a portable organ that she had carried on her back when she climbed the Chilkoot Pass.
Otto became interested in mining when a prospector named Stanley McLellan staked a promising gold find near the southern tip of the remote Taku Arm, in the isolated northerneastern corner of British Columbia.
Otto agreed to provide supplies in exchange for a stake in the mine. In the summer of 1911, the Partridges sailed their houseboat down Taku Arm and started a mining operation at the spot they named Ben-My-Chree, Manx for "girl of my heart".
Stanley and his wife Anne McLellan lived near the mine shaft in a small stone house, about a mile above lake level, while the Partridges lived in a log cabin near the lake shore. The Ben-My-Chree mine employed between 10 and 60 men. On October 5, 1911, tragedy struck. An avalanche roared down the mountain and buried the Ben-My-Chree mine. The McLellans were killed instantly.
That was the end of mining for Otto and Kate Partridge, but they were not about to leave Ben- My-Chree. They built a homestead, including a fine two-storey home, and planted flowers and vegetables. By 1912, lake sternwheelers were delivering mail. In 1916, the Partridges began hosting guests who were brought to Ben-My-Chree from Carcross by the British and Yukon Navigation Company, or BYN as it was known locally.
In June 1917, the company launched the steamer Tutshi, with accomodations for 110 passengers, and began twice weekly excursions from Carcross to Ben-My-Chree. The vessel offered cruise-ship-like luxury.
At Ben-My-Chree, a long gang plank extended out into Taku Arm. Kate, dressed in long formal gowns, welcomed visitors at the garden gate, and Otto would take them on a tour of the impressive grounds.
Kate entertained with organ music and Otto captivated tourists with stories from the gold-rush days. Ben-My-Chree was considered an essential place to visit by the social elite in the 1920s, including the Prince of Wales, U.S. President Roosevelt, and movie stars from the silent-film days. One year, the steamer carried more than 9,000 passengers.
Then, in the winter of 1930, Otto died suddenly in Whitehorse. His wife Katie survived him by just five months. Both are buried in Whitehorse. The White Pass bought the buildings from the B.C. government and the SS Tutshi continued its regular summer excursions until 1955.
Today the old homestead and several other buildings still stand, surrounded by fir trees planted by the Partridges as a wind break. The wishing well is still there and wild flowers (including arcticpoppies) grow, but Ben-My-Chree is no longer a public place. The long voyage down windy Taku Arm make the area very difficult to approach, but the pioneering spirit of Otto and Kate Partridge is still being felt.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
There were many remarkable stories to come out of the Klondike gold rush. Some of the most interesting were first-hand accounts kept as diaries.
Otto Steiner set sail from Seattle, bound for the Klondike, in April of 1898, along with four partners. He eventually made it to Dawson City late that summer, but as with so many other gold-seekers, he found that all the good ground was staked. Along the way he kept a diary. His simple, straight-forward account of the journey remains fascinating to this day. For example he writes:
The Noyo sailed for Skagway on April 3rd, 1898. She proved to be a small boat and no upper deck for passengers. Instead, cattle, hogs, chickens, goats and horses were penned on the upper deck.
Below deck there were bunks for 200 men. The bunks filled the lower deck. They were about two feet wide by six feet long and were stacked four high. After you were in your bunk you had about six inches between you and the fellow above.
Breakfast was called by the ringing of a bell. Pandemonium reigned as all tried to be first. Such a jam, kicking, cursing, punching - the mad crowd was a sight to remember. Fights and fisticuffs were frequent.
After the second or third day out, the floor of the lower deck was such a sight you could hardly imagine. Most of these passengers were sea sick much of the time. There was no way to clean up because there was no room. Some poor devil was in every square inch of space. Happily I was sea sick most of the time and wanted nothing to eat.
When the rickety tub of a boat landed in Skagway, Otto Steiner quickly discovered that if life could be worse on land than on that boat, it would. He wrote:
In Skagway there must have been 10 thousand people and not hotel rooms for half of them. What hotels there were, were crowded to the rail. The so called bedrooms consisted of rooms about 20 feet square. In this would be placed 15 to 20 bunks, just a frame of two by fours with canvas stretched over it. In the morning when I started to dress, I found my pants which contained what money I had - about one hundred dollars - 15 feet away from the bed. I had been robbed.
Later Steiner discovered that he had left his money in his shirt pocket. The thief had missed the money. The party then began preparations to head for the trail.
We finally got our gear to the foot of the Chilkoot Pass. It took some task to pack the nine or ten tons to the summit. Horses, mules, goats, sheep, dogs, men, women, all were packing or pulling sleds. There were fights, cursing, and swearing - it was each man for himself going and coming without hardly room to pass on the trail. Back sore, weary and unsociable, finally we got our stuff to the summit.
There were other aspects of the Klondike trail which were an eye openener for Otto Steiner. He wrote:
Some say that Negroes are a lazy and indolent lot. There were three on this trail who had the stuff in them out of which men were made. They pulled their own sled, loaded heavily, one man to a sled, some 400 pounds to the trip. Each of us had 250 pounds to the trip and thought we were above average. These Negroes camped near us many times. They were always jolly and had two banjos with them and most evenings would play and sing with always a crowd at their tent.
When Steiner's party finally packed their tons of gear over the Chilkoot Pass and down the other side to the first of many lakes on the route, he wrote about a sight which appalled him:
At Lake Lindeman a little water spaniel was pulling a two hundred pound man on a sled. Here the trail was cut up and the dog was stuck. The man had a buggy whip and commenced to use it on the dog. At this stage of the game, a man stepped out of the passing line of men and says Partner Stop Licking That Dog. Of course this meant fight and both men were strong and well muscled. The fight lasted three or four rounds and the man with the buggy whip finally got the worst of it. Blood spouting from this mouth and nose he lay quietly in the snow and gave up. The crowd cheered. The victor gave his parting warning "if I see you licking that dog again, I'll kill you". I saw the same man and the dog on the trail a number of times, but he was never riding on the sled.
The party reached Lake Bennett before the ice went out and began the tedious task of building not one, but three boats by whipsawing lumber cut from local trees. Here, Steiner proved he was a very detailed writer of the incredible scene which was unfolding. He wrote:
At Lake Bennett we had been advised not to fly the American flag unless the Union Jack was place above it. Many fellows would not buy a Union Jack and disregarded the advice, with the result they were fined. Some of the men got even with the Yellow Legs, an epithet for the Mounted Police. They would place a US Flag on their mast and above it a British flag about the size of a postage stamp. From a distance of 50 yards the Yellow Legs could not see the small flag so would hale the fellow to shore only to find out the law had been complied with.
When the ice finally went out on Lake Bennett, the hoards of men in their quickly crafted boats - perhaps then a thousand in total - began the journey down the waterways to the Klondike. He wrote:
At this camp at Lake Marsh, we got our first introduction to mosquitoes. It is impossible to describe how thick they were. There were clouds of them. You could grab handfuls. Sleep - none of us slept. We had mosquito nets but they were quite useless. These nets kept the swarms away, but hundreds got through. Yet after we left this camp we were not bothered much for a long time.
The only real obstacle on the rest of the voyage came at Miles Canyon and, just below the Canyon, the infamous Whitehorse rapids.
At the foot of the canyon, the water plunged 20 or 30 feet in height. This is called the White Horse Rapids. Two days before we arrived, a scow had capsized in the canyon. Aboard her were three men. Two of these men were lost and only one body found. While cooking our evening meal, someone spied what looked like a man's coat floating on the water. A boat was sent and sure enough it was the missing man. Quite a few met this fate.
From the rapids and onto Lake Laberge, journey was uneventful. Again, Steiner showed his eyes for detail. He wrote:
We entered Lake Laberge. Here again strung out at intervals of 50 to 100 yards were crafts of all dimensions. On some of these scows were fellows of a musical turn and while waiting for the wind to come up were playing on their favourite instruments. Across the water came the strains of violin, guitar, mandolin and banjo. Also there were human voices, solos, quartets etc. It sounded most beautiful and helped bring cheer, good will, nerve and grit.
We continued down the famous 40 mile, a swift, turbulent stream, many rapids, jagged rocks sticking up some six inches to three feet above the surface. It kept us constantly on the alert. By skillfully dodging around the rocks and then shooting our boat across the stream here and there, we managed to miss these obstructions. Many were the ones who failed to do so and the shores for the whole distance was lined with outfits drying out their wrecked craft, upside down on the beach, being repaired and others being dragged to shore while others were still on the rocks.
Steiner and his party reached the mouth of the Stewart River where a large camp of men living in tents had been set up. Many were prospecting the creeks which ran into the Stewart. The Steiner party decided to do the same and spent three months in the region before heading on to Dawson in September. He wrote:
We finally got our boats loaded and started for Dawson. Arriving there without mishap, we immediately met men with whom we had become acquainted on the trail. Bjork met one of his old Levanworth friends and said come on boys, let's have a drink. We followed him into a saloon. Every second door was a saloon. We all took a beer, a tiny glass which held about three or four swallows. Donahue paid the bill. $2.50 or 50 cents per drink. There were six bartenders. All busy.
Otto Steiner found out quickly that there was no ground worth staking in the creeks around Dawson. So he went to work that winter on a claim owned by two young men whose rich parents in San Francisco were backing them with money. But he soon found out that the money was an illusion.
The claim was a good one. The gold taken out was paid to the packers for supplies. All of us, 20 men, knew the money was being spent as fast as it was coming out. But these boys, having millionaire fathers, having good credit at the stores, we all thought our pay was sure. The bubble broke early in the fall. The old men of Frisco called a halt and we were left holding the bag. None of us had one cent for our summer's work. I had fully intended on going home in the fall, but now was without a cent. Three of us sued and got judgement against the boys. The judgement was for 45 hundred dollars being granted in my name. I had the judgement entered in the Frisco court. The earthquake and the fire destroyed the record and my claim went up in smoke.
Otto Steiner stayed in the Klondike until June of 1900, working odd jobs on the creeks, cutting wood 'til he finally accumulated nearly two thousand dollars. Then he caught a steamer heading down the Yukon river, bound for the gold fields at Nome, Alaska. He spent 40 years in Alaska as a miner and retired to the southern states in 1940. He died in 1955 at the age of 89.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin