Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 69.djvu/132

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128
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
REMINISCENCES OF YUKON EXPLORATION, 1865-1868
By WILLIAM HEALEY DALL

Smithsonian Institution.

OF the human flood which poured over the Chilkoot crest and inundated the drainage basin of the Yukon in the last years of the nineteenth century, Elizabeth Robins, Joaquin Miller and Jack London have given lurid pictures. The thirst for gold drew miners from every western camp, gamblers from every slum, dreamers from three continents, and human parasites from the whole round world. Ignorant of the climatic conditions, unprepared for the vicissitudes of life in the north, often burdened with preposterous machinery, unsuitable equipment and impossible loads—this motley horde invaded the Yukon territory in quest of fortune. With thousands exhaustion, exposure, disappointment, fear and panic dealt harshly in the end.

The interplay of human passions among those stripped thus of every conventionality offered an unrivaled opportunity to the observer. Greed, fear, suspicion, cruelty and selfishness revealed themselves, on occasion, as vividly as did the contrasted courage, kindliness, self-denial and heroic endurance of the nobler souls. On the just and the unjust, the strong and the weak, the coward and the courageous, indiscriminately, played the natural forces. The soft, white, clogging snow, the stinging cold, the searching wind, the claims of appetite—none might forego.

What with the fight for mere existence, the struggle for a paying location, the fitful gleaming of hope, fear, realization and disappointment, few in all that seething multitude may have had eyes for the beauty, the solemnity, the poetry of that wild north land. For most of them memory would picture the weary monotony of the trail, the buffeting of wind and snow, the penetrating rigor of the cold. These things so bit into their experience that all other impressions would seem trivial. Upon these factors fiction and romance would lean for local color, until, in the course of years, they would become to the average man essentially typical of the Yukon country. Under these conditions it seems possibly worth while, for one of the few who visited the Yukon region in its virgin prime, to put on record some of the impressions which it left upon his memory.

Like most great waterways, the Yukon itself has carved its kingdom out from the rude husk of mother earth. Before man was, its waters