Parkersburg’s Klondike saga continues

Last week’s item about the men from Parkersburg on a quest for Alaskan gold continues with a letter from Dr. Rolla Camden sent from St. Michaels, Alaska, Sept. 15,1897; the men were then in a quandary. They had sailed from Seattle to St. Michaels. From there they were to travel overland, traversing the infamous Chi kook Pass to the Yukon River where they would take a small boat, each with their required year’s supply of food and materials, up the river nearly 400 miles to Dawson City; they didn’t get that far. The ship they traveled on from Seattle had been condemned, thus they were forced to bide time at St. Michaels. The ship that rescued them from the ill-fated Eliza Anderson was the revenue cutter, Bear. Ironically, Rolla and Ritchie Camden’s brother, Bernie, was a crew member of the Bear. Thus, several times while the gold-seekers were stranded at St. Michaels, Bernie made arrangement for them to dine on, and enjoy the comforts of the ship.

Excerpts of Dr. Camden’s letter continues:

Here we are still – have been here for eight days and cannot get away for at least three more days. The weather is beginning to grow cold. If we were to go on, some people say we may reach Manook Creek, 800 miles up the river, while others, and I must confess they are the best authority, say we cannot go above Russian Mission, about 300 miles up. Again some say we can get diggings at Russian Mission that will pay $6 a day, and others say we cannot. Some of our fellows will not attempt the trip up the river, and will return to Seattle for the winter. Capt. Tuttle, of the Bear, advises us to turn back. Charlie, Dick and I are getting all the information we possibly can and will weigh it carefully and then act as we deem best. We are sort of between the “devil and the deep blue sea.”

To pass time, Dick and I traveled a couple miles away to see a native village; the most interesting thing we saw was their common living house for winter. They all live in it all winter, and it answers the purpose of bath house, hotel, dance room, etc. There were five old fellows taking a bath when we went in. In the center was a pit and around this pit was a sort of platform, above which were shelves on which they sat. Down in the pit was a pile of green wood which smoked terribly. They were sitting around stark naked, a duckskin feather cap on their heads and a mouth piece of old straw in their mouths to prevent the smoke from getting in their lungs. They were a very jolly set. They live on fish principally, either raw or cooked.

The natives are a very lazy lot, and among themselves are very honest. They admire honesty and thrift, but do not practice it themselves.

The Parkersburg Sentinel

Oct. 8, 1897

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The Wood County Historical Society works to preserve yesterday for tomorrow. For more information, contact P.O. Box 565, Parkersburg, WV 26102