Johnnie Johns was born at Tagish on July 10, 1898. He was the eldest son of Maria and Tagish Johns and was a member of the Crow clan of the Deishheetaan tribe. His Tlingit name was Yeil Shaan, which means Old Crow.
During his lifetime, his contributions towards the development of the Yukon have been numerous. At the age of 19, he started his own guiding outfit. During his time as an outfitter he was known as one of the top ten guides in the world. As a life-long trapper and fisherman, these talents were second to none. He helped blaze the way for the construction of the Alaska Highway.
He was one of Yukon's best gems and most widely respected elders, who generated warmth and kindness. His domain was the outdoors and all it had to offer. He sang, drummed and danced the stars to bed.
The Klondike Gold Rush was in full swing. The tiny village of Caribou Crossing was witnessing first-hand the largest mass movement of humanity in North American history. Johnnie Johns was born that year. One time, in the '50s, the Duke of Edinburgh asked him where he was born. In typical Johnnie humour he answered, “Under a spruce tree.” Not quite, but the village, later known as Carcross, was his life-long home.
Young Johnnie grew up with the greats of the gold rush all around him. Skookum Jim, Patsy Henderson, Tagish Charlie: they were all there in Johnnie’s formative years.
By the time he turned 17, Johnnie Johns had become a full-fledged big-game guide. In 1918, years ahead of his time, he placed an ad in Outdoor Life magazine. Soon, the young man had more rich American hunters knocking at his door than he could handle. He quickly became known throughout North America as the guide who could guarantee a trophy.
By the 1930s, he was guiding as many as a dozen hunters at a time - each paying 100 dollars a day. Huge money back then. He loved to say that as a guide he provided everything needed for a hunt, except “liquor and women - bring your own, ” Johnnie told his guests.
Hunts with Johnnie often yielded Boone and Crockett records of Dall Sheep, woodland caribou and southern lakes moose. One photo shows Johnnie dwarfed by a massive moose rack. He recalled that photo was taken in the Wheaton River valley on the last day of a hunt in 1942. He remembered that he let loose his patented call over a moose pasture and 12 moose stood up to have a look.
When Alaska Highway construction brought another wave of newcomers to the Yukon in the form of the American Army, Johnnie was hired as a guide to help survey the route between Carcross and Teslin. The US government paid him 26 dollars a day plus two dollars for each of his eight horses. Forty-two dollars a day was big money then. With his guiding and other work, Johnnie Johns was rarely short of that necessary commodity, but he was also generous to a fault.
He had three children, including Art Johns, who learned the big-game trade working with his dad, and many grandchildren who in his later years gave Johnnie great pleasure when they would show up en masse and unannounced at his home.
In the early 80s, he finally gave up his life-long career of big-game outfitting, though he still took visitors to his favourite fishing holes in the southern lakes that he loved.
The last time I saw Johnnie Johns in 1986, he was singing and telling stories at the kitchen table of our mutual friend Willard in Carcross. Willard asked Johnnie to recite a poem he had written while on a hunt with a long-time American friend, William Buchan. Johnnie said that he and Buchan decided to sit around the camp instead of hunting, and they composed the poem that sums up his attitude to life.
I remember a tear in Johnnie’s eye as he recited the poem; the last verse of which goes:
I’ll tell the piper what to play
Until the fates my threads have spun
Death never takes a holiday
It’s time to get some living done.
Johnnie Johns did some living.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
He was in the Yukon long before almost anyone knew where the territory was, long before it was a territory, for that matter. Leroy "Jack" McQuesten rightly earned the nickname, Father of the Yukon.
He was born in New Hampshire in 1836. He worked on a Puget Sound-based schooner owned by his older brother. That’s where he got the nickname, "Jack", which was later prefixed with the title "Captain." And why not - when he entered the Yukon district, McQuesten skippered one of the first steamboats that plied the Yukon River.
In 1874, McQuesten established Fort Reliance, six miles down the Yukon river from what would later become Dawson City. He used Reliance as his trading post for about a decade. While there, he made the first recording of Yukon weather in 1880-81. In 1879, McQuesten was hired by the Hudson's Bay Company to manage their trading posts. In 1893, he founded Circle City, Alaska.
McQuesten was one of the first white men to marry a native Athabascan woman in the Yukon Alaska district – Katherine McQuesten. He proudly told his relatives in the southern United States how much he loved his dark-skinned children. McQuesten came into the country with his partners, Arthur Harper and Al Mayo. They established trading posts at Stewart City, Fort Reliance, Forty Mile, Eagle, Circle City, and Fort Yukon, and McQuesten’s patience with native trappers became legendary. The trading posts also served as meeting places.
Before the Mounties arrived in the Yukon, McQuesten, Harper or Mayo presided over miners’ meetings. This is where the law was established and enforced in the mining camps. At the post in Forty Mile in 1894, the Alaskan and Yukon Order of Pioneers were formed, with Captain Jack McQuesten as the first President.
As a businessman, McQuesten did well. His philosophy was that if everyone is digging for gold, someone has to sell them the shovels. After twenty-five years in the North, he could afford to move his family into a palatial Victorian home at Berkeley, California, and educate his children in the best schools. Leroy Jack McQueston died in 1909 and his wife Katherine in 1921.
A tributary of the Yukon River is named the McQuesten River. The area also features the McQuesten Mineral Belt. Yukon Jack, the 100-proof Canadian whiskey is said to be named after McQuesten. Leroy “Jack” McQuesten was also inducted into the Yukon Prospectors’ Association’s Hall of Fame in1988. His name is engraved on the goldseeker statue in Whitehorse.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin