Tag Archives: Alaska
On 17 July 1897, word spread like wildfire through the streets of Seattle over the cargo in the hold of the S.S. Portland. The S.S. Excelsior had already docked in San Francisco, bringing news from the Yukon.
“A ton of gold!” The arrival of the S.S. Portland was about to cause a mad rush to the Klondike.
68 miners and over a ton of gold had boarded the Portland in St Michael, Alaska. Fresh from the Klondike in Canada’s Yukon Territory, the gold was packed in anything the miners could find: coffee cans, socks, sacks, and boxes. Anything that could get the gold dust to Seattle. The estimates were off: The Portland carried two tons of gold in her hold that day.
At the time, the country was in a recession. Over 5000 people were waiting for the Portland at the dock, when she arrived. The streets were so crowded, the streetcars had to stop running. Reporters, longshoremen and others immediately quit their jobs and booked passage to Alaska. The mayor of Seattle was in San Francisco at the time; he wired his resignation via telegraph, and hopped on the first steamer heading north towards the Klondike. Seattle merchants sold out of mining gear and equipment within hours of the Portland’s arrival.
Today, there is a historical marker near the place where the S.S. Portland docked. The plaque is located between Piers 57 and 59, along the sidewalk that runs beside the road, Alaskan Way. The plaque is mounted on an anchor, and looks down on the boardwalk that runs along the water.
The S.S. Portland served between 1885 and 1910. The above picture shows the Portland in the Bering Sea in 1901. Seamen are out cutting the ice in front of the ship.
The Portland spent much of its life going from the west coast of the United States to the Alaska Territory. In 1910, the ship was caught on a shoal in rough seas. The waves pounded the old vessel, smashing her to pieces. The S.S. Portland remains at the mouth of the Katalla River. The ship was the subject of an episode of the PBS show History Detectives in 2004: Series 2, episode 9.
Historic photos come courtesy of the Alaska State Library Archives
After checking into the Panama, I went out exploring downtown Seattle. First stop was a brewery and lunch. The second stop was the Gold Rush Museum. I have been to the Klondike Museum in Skagway, but this was the first time I have been to its Seattle counterpart.
The museum is located in the historic Cadillac Hotel building. The museum is not large, but they do a great job telling the story of the Klondike.
When word of the Klondike strike reached the outside world, men and women from all over, flocked to the port cities of San Francisco and Seattle. The effort just to get to Alaska was huge, let alone to get to the backcountry of the Klondike.
The museum offers you six people who joined the gold rush, to follow their journey from start to finish. One young man made his way across the country from Michigan when he heard of the strike. Buying passage to Alaska, he was offered either first class accommodations or second. First class slept with the horses, second class slept with the mules. He chose to sleep with the mules.
An estimated 100,000 individuals made their way to the Klondike in search of gold. 40,000 actually made it to the Klondike. Of those, only half (20,000) worked claims or prospected for gold. Roughly 300 Klondikers made more than $15,000 in gold, which would be around $330,000 in today’s dollars. Of that number, only 50 individuals kept their wealth for any length of time.
The RCMP required that all stampeders entering Canada have a ton of provisions. That’s a lot of gear to haul on your back. That’s a lot of bacon!
Two young men who were visiting the museum at the same time, overheard that I was from Alaska. They hit me with quite a few questions, but it was obvious that they had one thing on their mind: The Chilkoot Trail.
As I’ve written on here before, I have hiked The Chilkoot, which runs roughly from Dyea, Alaska to Lake Bennett, British Columbia. I highly recommended that they get up to Skagway and hike the trail. Hopefully, they will do so, it’s a wonderful hike.
It was 100 years ago on 25 October 1918, when one of the worst shipwrecks on North America’s west coast occurred. The sinking of the Princess Sophia.
A Canadian Pacific Steamer, the Princess Sophia left Skagway, Alaska on 23 October, bound for Vancouver and Victoria, Canada. It was the ship’s final run of the season, and she left the dock three hours late. There were 353 people on board; an eclectic group from the Yukon and Alaska: miners, business men, government officials, their wives and children, along with the ship’s crew.
The Sophia, traveling off course, crashed onto Vanderbilt Reef at 2am on the 24th. The ship was traveling 11 knots at the time of impact. It is not known why or how the ship ran off course, although weather was probably a factor. The ship was cruising through heavy snow and fog, with zero visibility. Procedure called for the speed to be reduced to 7 knots, but the captain kept the pace up, possibly to make up for the late departure. The Sophia’s log was never recovered to provide insight.
A stresscall was sent out to Juneau, and a fleet of rescue boats went out to the reef, and circled the Sophia for several hours.
Initial inspections showed that the Sophia was not taking on water, so the captain hoped that the ship could float off the reef at high tide. Passengers waited anxiously from October 24 to the 25th to be rescued.
The sea began to worsen. A light house tender, The Cedar, could only get to within 400 yards of the Princess Sophia, and was pushed back by the rough waves. By afternoon on the 25th, the storm had increased in severity to the point that rescue ships had to seek shelter themselves.
The winds picked up, the tide rose, and the Sophia’s stern was lifted upward, breaking the hull away when the ship came down. It was now taking on water, and an SOS was sent out from the ship.
The Princess Sophia sat on Vanderbilt Reef for 40 hours, yet sank between 5:30-6:00 pm on the 25th. There were no survivors from the frigid Alaska waters.
There was one Alaskan celebrity on board. Walter Harper, a Koyukon Athabascan, was the first person to summit Denali in 1913, as a member of the Karstens-Stuck Expedition. Harper had just been married on 1 September, and was on board the Sophia with his wife, Frances Wells. The couple were on their honeymoon.
Photos courtesy of the Alaska Library and its Archives
What happens when the cool winds of Alaska meets up with the tropical breezes of Brazil, and a Yankee Clipper from New York State? I don’t know either, but we are about to find out. See you all in Eastern Canada!
”Now the Four Way Lodge is opened, now the Hunting Winds are loose,
Now the Smokes of Spring go up to clear the brain;
Now the Young Men’s hearts are troubled for the whisper of the Trues;
Now the Red Gods make their medicine again…
We must go, go, go away from here.
On the other side the world we’re overdue…”
—- Rudyard Kipling
Cheers, and by all means, Stay Beautiful!