Beginning of the Stampeders' trail

Skagway, AK

July 16th, 2002

The town of Skagway lies some dozen miles or so from Haines but it would take over 350 miles of driving to get from one to the other by road. Our answer was to take the "fast ferry" for an uplifting high-speed catamaran ride up the channel, around islands and other obstacles to this famous town. We elected to combine the trip to town with a ride on the White Pass Railroad. This narrow gauge old passenger car train carries hundreds of people each day from Skagway to either White Pass, or beyond to Whitehorse. We acquired our tickets for both at the ferry terminal. We elected to take a mid-morning boat ride even though the train didn't leave until 4:30P. This gave us some 6 hours to wander the city and see the sights. Arriving in good order, we hiked the quarter mile from the ferry terminal to the center of town. Skagway is not a big town. It boasts of 250 fulltime residents. The sign on the outside of the train terminal explained the history. As it is told, On Aug 17, 1896, George Carmack and two Indian companions, Skooham Jim and Dawson Charlie, discovered gold in the Klondike Valley of the Yukon Territory, an event which triggered the Klondike gold rush of 1897-98. It was evident from the start that the Klondike could not be serviced without a permanent transportations system. By chance, British engineer, Sir Thomas Tancrede, Samuel H Graves and Michael Henry were meeting in Skagway in 1898. Henry agreed to build a railroad from Skagway to the Yukon if the other two would put up the money. Construction began May 27 of 1898 at Skagway and by mid-July a passenger train was placed in service and operated a distance of four miles. It was the first train to ever run in Alaska. By February of 1899 the track crossed the summit of White Pass and was at Lake Bennett, BC, by July of that year. The first train to make the full run from Skagway to the Yukon capital of White Horse was completed on July 29, of 1900. When the knowledge of gold in the Yukon hit the United States, literally thousands of men from all walks of life flocked to Seattle Washington to catch a steamer northbound to Skagway. Once in this lawless town, they quickly found out that they needed supplies for the arduous hike up over White Pass and on to the Klondike Valley, a distance of more then 400 miles. This left them in town for some time. Meanwhile, the few successful stampeders, as they became known, to have a little gold in their pocket worked their way back down the mountains to the only town where a miner could get what a miner hadn't had in some time, and which was available for the right amount of gold dust. The town exploded overnight. There was no law other than the quick of hand and the speed of a gun. It was every bit as wild and free as the gold rush towns of the southwest such as Tombstone, AZ. Wood framed shacks were thrown up overnight. At its height it boasted of having over 80 working bars on its main street. It was a place where a man with a past didn't have to worry about it catching up with him. Today the town brags about its boardwalk sidewalks along the main street. It still has its thousands of people, but they’re not there after the gold. Four to six cruise ships land here daily. I found it easier to walk in the street rather then compete with these buying-crazed tourist with nothing to do but spend money they had saved for years just so they could buy something in Alaska. There were the usual retail shops, each proclaiming that they had different stuff, NOT! - cheaper prices, sometimes? or better stuff, Rarely! I found some amusement in the window signs proclaiming that the retailer did not give "kickbacks" to the cruise ships so they could pass the savings on to the customer. I couldn't find any sufficient difference in the prices. 

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