A Letter From Alaska

Paris Appeal

April 28, 1898                                 

Five of the twenty five members of the Missouri Alaska Gold company of Paris were sent out March 1to make the overland trip to Dawson City and to prepare until the rest of the company arrived on their own boat in June. It was known that they were on the Chilkoot trail about April 3 when the great snowslide caused so many deaths, and grave fears were felt for their safety by their families here. The following letter which was received last night by H. J. Blanton from D. M. Fields brought news that the party had escaped the snowslide, and gives a good account of the catastrophe and the conditions of things in Sheep camp.

"Sheep Camp, April 3. -- I wrote you from here several days ago, but so much has happened since I must write again, yet much of it will be sad news back in the states. An awful snowstorm has been raging for five days and nights and is now five feet deep. Snowslides began and have continued all day. News reached camp that many had been caught in the snowslide. From Sheep camp to the summit there are thousands of tents. Nearly all the men got their goods to the summit and were waiting for a clear day to pass over. Tonight many of them are sleeping beneath thousands of tons of snow and ice. All day 2000 or 3000 men have been hard at work with shovels taking out the bodies of dead comrades. It is estimated that 200 or 300 men and women are beneath this might weight of snow. So far only 25 have been taken out. A few of them were alive when taken out, but most of them have died since. At 2 pm 56 men and 2 women were doming down from the summit when a slide occurred. One woman and 10 men were taken out alive, and nearly all of them died afterward. "

"There are forty more beneath the snow. On the first bench beneath the scales there were 75 or 80 tents, with 2 to 6 in each tent. It is thought all these have perished. Jim Jones and I went near the summit today. The storm was so severe on the summit that it was impossible to work long at a time. The search will continue to morrow, if the weather will permit. The dead are in a long row near our tent."

"Men are dying like sheep at Sheep camp. It is useless to withhold the facts any longer. The hospital is full of dying and dead men, caused from overwork and drinking too much water and whiskey when too warm."

" The only diseased I have heard of here are Pneumonia and spiral Meningitis, which are fatal in all instances. One can live here and keep his health just as well as in Missouri, if he will be careful, not drink too much water when warm and let the saloons alone. But men will pull 800 or 400 pounds all day, comes into camp at night, lie down and die."

" Our goods are under 90 feet of snow. When we will get them out and start the trail again is more than we can tell. All reports are encouraging from those who are coming out. They say gold is plentiful and all are going back soon. I met a man on his way from Dawson City to the states yesterday and saw $100,000 worth of gold nuggets he had taken out."

"We ere eight days getting our 4000 pounds of provisions on our sleds from Dyes to Canyon City. Canyon City, like the city in which we are camped, is a city of tents. It is here today and tomorrow it give way to others. The population to day of Sheep camp is 10,000 to 18,000 people. It presents a beautiful scene at night. We are camped on an elevation above the city, and as I looked over the city in the twilight of evening, I can see 6000 to 8000 tents, each with a little tallow candle burning brightly within."

" It is said by those who profess to know, and I presume it is true, that there are 1500 dead horses beneath the snow and ice of the canyon, yet the people continue to drink the water of this poisonous stream when they could go the base of the mountain and drink sparkling water as pure as it was when it came forth from the hand of God. While passing through this canyon even in midday one is made fearful because of the rumbling sound of running water beneath his feet. Here at the scales is the only place on this trail where the tramway is in operation. At the powerhouse you will see two baskets pass out into space on their way to the summit: when the baskets are loaded and started from the power house two others leave the summit on their return trip. The tramway people charge 1 1/2 cents per pound from the scales to the summit. The packers charge the same. It is one mile from the scales to the summit. When your are loaded for your walk above the clouds with 50 to 100 pounds strapped to your back you take hold of a three quarter inch rope and climb until you get to the summit. Then you pile your little load alongside of tens of thousands of tons of freight that has gone up as yours has, and then sit down and wonder how you are going to get down. Finally you make up your mind to go as others do. You keep your set in the basket, call your wife's name and it is all over in a minute: you get some of the boys to put your eyes back in their sockets and try it again."

(courtesy of Kathleen Wilham)