Volume 1 - The Gold Rush Days
The Gold Rush Days
TrailBreakers Volume 1
An important part of the story of the fabulous gold rushes of the North is the story of that transportation over the trail. Without winter movement, their discovery and development would have unfolded much differently.
During the harsh, sub-arctic winter, the towering bastions and deadly glaciers of the greatest mountains on the continent bar the way to interior gold for a thousand miles along the ice-free shipping waters around Alaska’s southern coast,. Only five rifts—just five cracks in the mountain fortress—provide useful corridors for moving men, freight and mail into the heartland mining districts. The last one found, over Rainy Pass, is the most remote and most primitive, taking travelers and their loads through some of the wildest country and most majestic scenery on the continent on their way to the gold fields of Iditarod and Nome.
Excerpts from Volume 1
"As a trail it began, as a trail it lived gloriously, and when the gold petered out and the rush was over, as a trail it died.
Rod Perry: That no road was ever built over the route and that the country it traverses remained largely raw wilderness would preserve its primitive character and its colorful, romantic gold-rush luster through the decades of abandonment as if the trail had an appointment with destiny.
To the trail’s romantic allure may be attributed one of the main reasons the Iditarod would one day live again. A half century after heavy trail use died out, in a man-and-team- against-the-wilderness setting, the old path would experience a glorious rebirth. From its long slumber it would awake once more to hear the barely audible hiss of runners and the creaking of sled joints, it would feel the staccato footfall and listen to the panting of trotting huskies. The world’s longest, most grueling sled dog race, termed “The Last Great Race on Earth” would be held over its spectacular course, capturing international imagination.
But I forget myself at times and stray, as this is all so alive
to me. Back to the Iditarod Trail’s founding ". . . .
"In the Yukon and Alaska, fiendish hordes of blood-sucking insects billowed out of the vegetation at every footstep to follow along in clouds so dense that any encounter suffered in the “South 48” may be dismissed with a wave of the hand as comparatively insignificant. Many ranked mosquitoes as the worst obstacle of all. At their thickest, with no modern repellants yet available, they were almost impossible to cope with. Pack horses were covered with canvas sheets and their nostrils had to be periodically cleaned to keep them breathing clearly. After several horses on one expedition drowned in a river trying to escape the hordes, the men kept smudge fires burning when they camped for the night so the horses could gain relief. Then the animals grew so thin and weak refusing to leave the smoke to graze that some had to be shot. Some of the early prospectors reported their head nets becoming so covered with insects seeking entry they could hardly breathe. Not a few who had previously conquered all other hardships gave up the country, driven raving mad by the onslaught of the pests that pressed them with no respite day and night."
“Those historians that write about our prospecting expeditions up or down a river never mention that first we had to build a boat. If the library guy does mention it, he doesn’t put in what it takes to do it. He couldn’t set up a sawpit, and he wouldn’t know the first thing about whipsawing boards from rough logs. Fact, most wouldn’t know a whipsaw from a two-man misery whip. Huh! And the logs aren’t always very good. Sometimes they are small, or knotty. But you’ve got to have a boat so you take whatever the country gives. Man on the scaffold pulls up, man in the pit pulls down. Stroke by stroke, terribly hard and pure misery. Every minute your motions and body heat draw mosquitoes, no-see-ums and black flies by the thousands, maybe millions. The man on the scaffold works like a dog hauling the saw up, but I’d rather man the upstroke any day. The pitchy sawdust that showers down is torture. The itchy stuff sticks to the sweating body and it blinds the eyes of the man in the pit as he looks up to keep the cut running true to the line. I’ll tell you, whipsawing lumber’s the greatest test of a friendship I can think of. Put two angels straight from Heaven on opposite ends of a whipsaw and they’d be fighting before the first board’s finished."
U.S. Mail Teams at Iditarod Trail Stop