Journal - The Yukon

In 1932, Captain Loomis spent several months capturing the story of his life in two journals. I found the journals in the Sierra Madre Public Library, where they are part of the Wandalee Thompson Collection in the Sierra Madre Historic Archives. The Journals are not a complete record or his life or accomplishments, but contain unique glimpses into some of the Captain's many adventures.

One of the most complete stories he wrote describes his 1898 trip into the Yukon in search of gold. Captain Loomis provides a vivid description of his journey and the hazards he and his companions had to overcome to survive in the Alaskan wilderness. If you would prefer to read a less detailed description of his adventures, see Quest for Fortune.

[Note: What follows is based almost verbatim on the account Captain Loomis wrote in his journal. He used a somewhat cryptic style of writing in some portions of his journals, often omitting articles, using dashes rather than punctuation, and he used many abbreviations. I have tried to preserve his style of writing, making changes where I feel it makes reading or understanding easier without sacrificing the original style or meaning. I have added articles and punctuation to make complete sentences, and have expanded most of the less common abbreviations. In a very few places, I have made changes to the ordering of sentences to clarify a sequence of events. Unclear items that I could not transcribe have sometimes been omitted without notation. When an unclear passage is present, it is followed by a question mark and enclosed in brackets. My added notes are italicized. If you prefer to read my unmodified transcription of the original journal, please contact me.]


by Lester Loomis

In 1898 along with thousands in L.A. I got a Klondike Gold fever. Fred Dohs, Victor Ponet, Elliot and myself each signed for a quarter of the expense for the trip to Alaska, each to hold 1/4 interest. I also arranged that my wife would have full charge of the cemetery during my absence.

I still think to this day that I did wrong by leaving her with all this responsibility to shoulder. We had three girls – the youngest Anna 2 years old. We had lost a boy when he was not quite a year old.

I took as a partner Mark Warner, who had worked for me for some time. We combined with 2 other men, Frank Benedict and Charley Moffatt, both from the LA Police Department, for traveling companions. The night before we left L.A. Chief of Police Glass gave a banquet; a major part of the Police Department was present wishing us luck. We left from San Pedro on board the steamer “Queen”.

Gold rush reached its height then. We went to Seattle and bought our outfit, food, and everything in Seattle. Busiest place I ever saw. Our complete outfit was a little over 4 tons for four of us. We calculated it would last us two years.

About 30,000 went in ’98 to Alaska and the Yukon, most of them via Seattle, where like ourselves they equipped. We soon found out that in the way of clothing we took everything that was wrong. Each of us had two suits made; the complete outfit was blanket lined. We also had six sets of wool underwear. Footwear was a dozen pair of light wool sox, 6 med heavy cotton sox, 3 or 4 pair of heavy wool sock to wear on top – reach to knee, 3 or 4 pair of moccasins apiece, gunboots, and artics. Took along about $30 of drugs, a small case of surgical instruments, and a dental outfit. Each sleep bag was a canvas bag with 3 heavy wool blankets in sack form fitting into each other. My wife thought it wasn’t enough and gave me a light woolen bag besides, which showed our ignorance because we almost froze to death. After up there awhile cut up blankets and the three of us slept together. As to clothes we threw most of the clothing away retaining only coats. We wore heavy woolen underwear, woolen trousers and over that a pair of overalls, a heavy sweater, an overall blouse and after that a parka made of regular bed ticking with hood and tie string. Food was a complete outfit of staple stuff – condensed when possible – so as to cut down weight. Bought an artic sled apiece.

In buying supplies, one window was decorated with all shapes of maple sugar. A sign in the window said it was 40¢ a pound. We told the clerk waiting on us we wanted 50 lbs. He went to the window and got 50 lbs out. The store had a small compartment for each order. When he brought the sugar the manager called him away. We overheard their conversation. “You know not to be taken out of window. Go to the backroom to get sugar. Clerk returned. Have to get sugar out of storeroom, none out of window. So I said, "Well let’s go back there and take a look at it." Terrible stuff – colored sugar. Talked it over with the manager. “Give me that sugar or cancel order." Order about $200 total. Got sugar. Had all goods that could be sacked with finely woven canvas sacks, then a waterproof sack over that.

Stayed in Seattle for about week. While there ran up to Blaine [Washington] to see my father and brother [Charles], who ran grocery store there. They came and helped us buy and saved us money. Father and brother been up there.

We left on the Queen again, which after making a return trip to L.A had returned to Seattle before departing for Dyea. Stopped at Vancouver and bought Canada Stamps. Went through the Inland Passage – beautiful trip – clear to Juneau, month of January. Cold and rainy at Juneau. Boat loaded to more than capacity - could not get another soul on. Sleeping even on deck, below full of horses and dogs. Beef in quarters hung along the promenade deck.

Got well acquainted with the Captain and two pilots. Spent most of my time on the bridge. Continued through Inland Passage to Wrangell Narrows – going half speed, saving a lot of time. About 4 PM I was on the bridge with the Captain. The Quartermaster called to the Captain, “Can’t move her." "Try hand wheel." "Can’t budge her." “Try steam again”. But no good. There was a big rock about 100 feet ahead, dividing the channel, just room for a vessel to pass on the right hand side for which we were heading. When the tide is in the Narrows rises 23”; it was going out at the time. Captain was a good man but lost his head. "My God – were lost."

From where I stood I saw the first mate - San Francisco Barbary Coast tough but a good sailor - waiting for orders. None came. “Heave over starboard anchor". The anchor held and the ship swung to shore. As the tide went out the ship tipped gently over. Mate took boat sounding. Everybody was hanging on – couldn't walk - screaming and yelling. Horses, cattle, dogs all slid over to one side - hundreds killed – later thrown overboard. One of the pilots and I were sitting on top rail wondering how much longer it would take before ship would keel over. Sitting in mud on a rock reef – water shooting past. Laid there until next morning. When the tide came in the boat righted. The jammed rudder cable was repaired. Turned around and went through Queen Charlotte’s Sound; took 2 or 3 days longer.

Going through Queen Charlotte Channel we had a continuous snow storm. A reef ran across the channel with space of only about 100’ where a vessel could pass. At Juneau took on number of men wrecked on “Corona”, among them a bunch of gamblers. One in particular was a nice fellow who had plenty of money. After we got through narrow passage the snow was so thick we could hardly see the bow of the ship from the bridge. Going half speed. Sounded horn all the time – listen for echo – sound dead on account of snow. I was just about to go to bed. Captain yelled through telegraph. "Full speed astern, solid rock wall right ahead." Weren’t over 20' from wall when boat stopped.

The gambler's state room was right aft of bridge. Came running out in his underwear yelling. After we landed I got better acquainted with the gambler on the trail. He had an organ; was going to start a saloon and gambling house in Dawson at the foot of the Chilkoot Trail. At Sheep Camp there was no way of getting this melodian over the pass to Lake Linderman, about 10 miles. Somebody told him an Indian would pack the 250 lb instrument over. "Can you pack it over?" The Indian agreed – for 4¢/lb. He just lifted it and grunted. "We'll start out now so as to get over by time you get there." The Indian said "I’ll be over before you get there." They took the longer and more gradual Peterson Trail. The Indian got there ahead of them.

In Dyea, the steamer stopped 3/4 mile from shore and anchored. Pretty good harbor. Unloaded all goods on to scows which ran up to about 200 yards of shore. Mud. Every man had to carry own goods to shore – through ice cold water. After we got all the goods ashore, had them hauled to Sheep Camp in wagon - 4 miles. Boys set up tent and piled everything inside; all in all about 4 tons.

Mark Warner and I had both taken pretty sick and had to go to hotel. Hundreds of fellows in pain, dying by hundreds. Some kind of flu – from exposure. Stayed there a week. Nice landlady - fine woman. Had doctor called once or twice a day, $10.00 a call. Hotel just a place where you could hear everything.

The doctor came and took temperatures. Heard doctor say their temperature was 106°. No use coming any more, both’ll be dead by morning. After he left, I whispered "Did you hear what that fellow said?" Marc said “Yes I don’t give a damn. Well, you can lie here and die I’m going up to see boys." We both got out bed. Waited till sled came along. Took a ride and walked part of the way. Thermometer was 15 below zero. Got up there and went into our tents and never lost a day.

Started packing our goods. Each of us took from 50 to 100 lbs. Traveled 3/4 mile from bottom to top. Steps cut into ice and snow. Line – heavy rope stretched. About each 50 feet place was dug out by the side of the trail. If tired could sit down to rest. Took about 1 hour to the top. We packed all the time, from early morning until late night. Saw every conceivable thing carried – bales of hay – machinery – provisions, everything. It was a sight to see. When we got to top made cache – carried 2 tons up that way. Made about 5 trips a day for 4 days. All tired out – hired rest of it carried over at 4¢ lb.

Canadian Police ended on American Territory. Saw first NW Mounted Police. Had to pay duty.

Going down we fastened canvas or old pair of overalls on to us. Gulch snow about 60’ deep. We sat down – went down like we were shot out of a cannon – almost took breath away. Didn’t take over 2 min to get down. Had to dig a fellow out that we found in deep snow. When we were packing, there was no water and we got very thirsty. On top there were a number of places selling water – 10¢ a drink – melted snow.

One woman up there had a 5 gallon oil can full of melted snow. It was free – a good hearted woman. She later died a horrible death. The second day after we went over the pass there was a snowslide. The first slide covered her tent and buried her. They dug her out. She was buried a second time - dug her out again. Then buried a third time - never found her. Many others found dead - others never found. Didn’t hear this until two days later.

Loaded sleds – about 500 lbs – almost as steep as coming up. Had [?] 500 on sled. 500 in tarp and let drag or you won’t get down. Guiding with [g?] pole. Found out it wasn’t a picnic going down. Continual mixup either we were going too fast or somebody else. At bottom of grade Crater Lake, 6 miles to Lake Linderman. Take load from top and down to bottom and made cache for goods in tarp. After getting all of goods down used crampon to get back to top, dragging sled. Three trips a day - didn’t take long to get stuff down. When all our stuff was at Crater lake we took the tent and what we could carry. Go six miles, set up tent again and camp there that night – headed for Lake Bennett. In the morning get another load until all was there till we reached Lake Bennett.

Established camp and started cutting lumber for boats. Mostly spruce – some pine – spruce being best. Made sawpit by cutting four trees 8-10 feet apart one way and 20 feet the other. Cross pieces across top – 7 ft to top. Used a whip saw - one person on top and one below. Each of us had been in the sawmill business, which helped a lot. Sawed 1500 ft of board to build a scow and skiff.

None of us knew about building a boat. We watched others who knew. The scow was 8’ feet wide and 24’ long. Both ends battered. Rowboat 16’ long 4’ wide. Made trip to L’indern to get pitch and oakum. Couldn’t buy any. Oakum was $5.00 lb – 15¢ on the outside. Fellow I bought oakum from I had known well in L.A. Watched him sell. He bought the outfits of people going back – buying for little of nothing. Sold for 1000% higher. One fellow came – "Have you any chalk lines?" Ordinarily 10-25¢ - $2.50 “Say, how’d you reg. prices.?" "I don’t - first thing comes to my mind I name. Take it or leave it."

Traveling together we soon found out we had a difference of opinion. We had one man in camp – Jim. Didn't think he wasn't getting his share and was wasteful. Our grub was to last 2 years and of course I tried to regulate so it would. We had canned milk - Eagle brand. He had to use higher condiments and sweetener. We used 1/2 teaspoon full for coffee. Jim always took big spoonful. Everything else about the same. I spoke to him but he didn’t like it. Kept on.

One boy said "I’ll fix him." Put Chile Calpin’s hottest stuff in a can of beans. Each of us took a whole can of beans for supper. Jim: “What you got there?" Took a handful. My god he went up in the air. "Gosh Almighty, what indignities are you heaping on to me?" "Well, a man who isn’t a hog takes just an ordinary amount – but you always have to hog it all." This, however, didn’t made any difference with him.

We had to wait until the ice went out. Our camp was right on the shore of the lake. Right in back of tent was a mountain about 1000’ high. One day about 3 P.M. heard a roaring sound and we all ran out to see. On the very top of the mountain saw snow moving. A few days before our party had gone over – saw overhang on all the ridges. We crossed right there where the break occurred. As it started down it kept increasing in size, breaking trees like matches, headed straight for camp. We were on a little rise that turning the snow. Deafening sound – everything cleaned slick and clean. It stopped off to one side about 200’ from camp, where the ground was level. No one caught.

100’s camped – all building boats the same as we. Coming down the lake a lot of clear ice. Wherever we could we put up sails on the sled; speed of 10-15 miles per hour. After making one camp, in front on the lake about 300 feet out was an air hole about 30 ft wide and 200-300’ long. It was right in the path of anyone going down the lake. We were standing out there one day and saw a boat with 3 men heading for us. We waved and yelled but they didn’t hear us; went right into the air hole. We never saw sign of them again. We went out and put up poles with flags. We saw 4 different outfits lost in it. Nobody could tell who they were, where they were from or bound to. Thousands died and no one ever heard what became of them.

There were a great many disputes and arguments among partners. Each would select a man and those two a third man to divide their outfits. I was called in on a number. One was a man about 45 and a young man about 20. I had got to know them on the trail. They had a lot of trouble – threaten to kill, etc. The boy was all right; tried to patch things up. They started to divide – easy with numerous things. All odd things laid aside – then divided even-odd.

Finally came to the stove. They couldn't agree. The old fellow was stubborn. "All right - cut her in two." Smashed the stove with an axe. When we got to their boat – they had made a good boat. "Cut her in two." They did and each went down the river in half a boat.

After a terrific ice break we waited until everything was clear. It took about 4 or 5 days. We knew nothing about water, etc; only a few knew. Hundreds of boats were ahead of us – boats of all shapes and sizes. All going down with sails up. Our sail was an 8 x 10 canvas. It had a rigged pole – with lowering top beam – and a line on both lower ends.

I was appointed helmsman. Our rudder had an 18’ sweep with a 1’ blade. I stood in the stern. It was some job swinging the boat when we made a turn. When there was no wind the other 3 would man the oars – about 10’ long – also hewed out of timber. After we got well towards the end of the lake we were in a quandary about where to head to. We were trying to follow the other boats but they suddenly disappeared.

Finally left the lake (Bennett) and entered (6 mile river?) a very rapid river run about 8 miles an hour. We were followed by a big scow some 60’ long and 20’ wide. About 10 people on board. Among them 2 women. They had 2 horses and 2 cows, and one stove right in the bow of the boat. As we made a turn in the river we saw a lot of wrecks on either side. People hollering to keep to this side. I kept looking ahead. I had heard of plowshear rock – looked just like it too. I ignored the hollering and steered to the farther side from our course. All the wrecks were caused by the rock. Many drowned – never found. We didn’t stop. We just missed the rock by not over a foot – went shooting past it.

Well, my first thought after passing the rock was the big boat. We pulled in close to shore. Looked ahead - all clear - then looked back knowing they weren’t far behind. It finally rounded the bend. They had 3 men at the sweeps pulling toward our side but they hit the rock right smack center. Cut the boat in 2 like it was cut by a knife. Everything dumped into the icy water. Two women hung to a rock.

As soon as we could we pulled in to shore and landed. I guided as close as I could to the shore. One man jumped out; another one would throw rope and the man on shore would snub it to a tree or a bush. We landed about 3/4 mile below the rock. A little [piece?] steamer on bar on opposite side – many people [working?] to get it off bar Everybody did all they could to rescue people – goods and animals. Everybody saw the two women hanging on to the rock – nothing seemingly could be done. A little old Indian, looked like 75 years old, had been working on the steamer. He had a birch bark canoe about 10 feet long. Put it on back up shore carrying boat on head – paddle in hand. He went about 100 yards above rock and put the canoe in the water and started paddling. He worked like lightning. Shot out into the river, got right alongside rock, and grabbed one of the women. Threw her into the bottom of the boat and pulled for shore. He went up to the same place again and picked up the other woman. Cheering all along the river – a marvelous feat. They recovered the horses and cows. No one was killed but everything was a total wreck. Lot of sulphur matches spread out drying . All ready to help.

We then got into Lake Labarge - a big lake, very rough when the wind blows. and very high waves. Terrific wind came up after we had entered. On my part all rough high rocky sides. The wind was blowing from an island in center. We pulled hard to get to the lee of the island. Jim and Marc Warner were pulling on one side, Benedict on the other being better oarsman. On way down Jim showed signs of loosing his mind; he was nervous and unreliable. We pulled for almost 8 hours but we didn’t seem to gain a foot but had to do it to keep off a rocky place. Every little while Jim would say “No use – let her go cap – no use.” Every time he did that we lost ground. I had a big club – hel the steering oar between my legs. “Pick up that oar you" – he would pull again. Finally got into lee and made for windward shore. Got in about 6 o’clock.

Met a Mr. Johnson from Pasadena and another man. We kept there for 4 days before we could go on. Prospected while staying there, going up a canyon and panning some of the creek right on the lake edge. Getting 4 to 5 colors out of one panning - all fine cold. Followed creek up for 4 or 5 miles. Bank after bank of sand - every place we tried found fine gold. Had we stayed right there and sunk holes to bedrock – we would have done better than going on as we did.

After leaving Lake Labarge we tied up on shore and looked at the condition of the water. All of the Lewis River ran through the narrow canyon, a space of 60 or 70 feet. There was a volcanic basin in the center. The crater created a whirlpool. We looked it over and it looked bad. Suggested hiring pilot. All our passengers in the boat decided to get a pilot, who charged $25 to take us through and Whitehorse rapids. We turned the boats over to the pilot and started to walk. The pilot didn’t come for quite awhile. On the left bank was a high reef passage about 25 feet, very deep. All of Lewis River runs through this narrow space. Spray so high we couldn’t see.

Watched and saw the little boat come first – no one was in it. The scow followed with 2 men in it. Jim in despondent mood - everything lost. Took our boats below Whitehorse – water just boiling up. Had eng. above river below. Told us about Squaw Rapids – big boulder clear across. Foaming – leaping water. Told us keep to right all the way – round bend smooth passage all OK. Got down 2 miles below 5 finger rapids. Half a mile above saw pilot flag – tied up - nice fellow. Dangerous? No – take boats through all the time. If you follow my directions – but, mind you, you follow them - everything OK.

He told us to keep to right until reach great big whirlpool. Keep right on crest, pull like hell while on it. When you reach bend you’ll see opening - 4 foot drop – pull like the devil. While on crest opening right ahead. Hundreds went through never seen again. Just heading for it when I saw other one. Trouble with Jim – when we got on to whirlpool he quit. Lay down in bow or I’ll take a shot at you. He did so. We shot way out over top and hit like a thousand tons – small boat tied on and skiff pulled halfway under scow. Had awful time pulling it out.

Went on down river to where the White river came into the Lewis River, one of the main branches of the Yukon. When we struck White river, Lewis River very clear – White river – one side white, other clear. Where they mix the Yukon starts. Went on down until we struck Stewart River, where we camped. Stayed there about 1 month. Did some prospecting up canyon but did not find much even after sinking some holes. Made trip up camp every day - 3 miles.

Mark Warner and I took rifles one day to hunt – bear, caribou, and some moose. In our travel up and down creek always thought one ridge solid. Traveled along what we thought was ridge until 10 at night – sun still shining. Let’s go up to Bald Mt. to look for Stewart River. Got there and sat down. Looked down - saw red spots all over - wondered what in dick those were. Picked up small strawberries – very sweet - ate our fill. Found out we were about 5 miles above camp - no game. Sun went down 11:30 to rise again shortly after at about 1:00.

After we quit work on claim laid around camp. Party of 3 or 4 started out prospecting, pick and shovel and pan tied on to them. About noon 2 came running back yelling – all excited - saying partner killed by a bald faced bear. A dozen of us took our rifles to find out – gone about mile - met other 2. Didn’t look like dead men. Said all 4 were walking along talking, going thru brush. Ran right on to bear – didn’t run nor attack. Yelled at bear who came for them. When he started for them found tree too big to climb – started running around tree. Got tired so beat gold pan wildly. Bear took fright and ran down the mountain; all were saved.

One of our party went out all alone about 5 mile from camp - killed a moose. Bear came out of a thicket so he left for camp – scared. He had a knife – blazed bushes and trees as he hurried back. 6 of us went back to get meat. Moose dressed about 1000 pounds. Bear had chewed just a bit and left. Cut in 6 pieces being careful to keep it clean and nice - not bad meat for about year. Carried along through worst bogs – awful job. Careful to keep clean. Carried about a mile. Whenever we came to hill would let it slide. Getting to camp, no telling what was meat or dirt. Trimmed our part 200 lbs. Made stew - had that night. Regular process of friends getting up and going out. Wondered what happened. Got up to look - all stew gone.

Mosquitoes and “No see ‘ums” – terrible pests - almost ate us alive. Even cheese cloth couldn't keep them out. When I was panning or prospecting had to have head bare and take veil off. Mosquitoes so thick one man on either side and one man in front with willow twigs – so I could see what I was doing. That was the finish of Jim. We packed our boat and went on down to Dawson.

On the way down, Jim kept asking to send him home, He didn’t have any money. When we anchored at Dawson, he jumped off and ran down. Shore lined with boats – just as thick as they could be, often double rows of them. He had been gone about 1/2 or 3/4 of an hour. He came back - I was on boat - came aboard and got down on his knees. Boat going out that P.M. Said he didn’t have money and didn’t know how long it would take to get. Well, Cap, you are a Mason. You can find somebody.

Begged so long until I said “All right let’s go and see what we can find.” Walking along the bank looking down at the boats I saw a familiar face – fellow selling stuff out of scow. You had to take a number of looks to recognize people on account of dress and beards. This fellow was selling common brooms for $2.50 each. Went as fast as he could hand them out – everybody wanted a broom. Then sold 15¢ of flour for $2.50. While he was selling those he looked up and said “Hello there, Captain Loomis.”

I thought then he would be good [?] for Jim. Asked him how long he would be busy. He said he would call it off right now - come on down. So Jim and I went on his boat. I explained things to merchant who had sold stuff at Lake Linderman (former L.A. barber). Well anyhow, how much do you want – fare to Seattle $125.00. Jim said better make it 175.00 which merchant gave me in gold dust for which I stood good.

Took him to purser on boat and bought ticket and gave rest to purser with instructions to put him on a boat in Seattle. Good sized river steamers. On way down river. purser killed himself (committed suicide). Complicated things for Jim but he reached L.A. all right.

Looked around trying to find cabin site and decided to build on west side of river - West Dawson. Got permit from gold commission for logs. Six of us all L.A. men went in together. George Grey, [Biddy?] Mason, Ed Cruze, Benedict, Mark Warner and myself. Start in building cabin, carrying logs mile to mile 1/2. Put up 20x30 cabin, built in bunks, windows with white celluloid – windows double. Tore scow all to pieces – making good floor, tables, shelves and bunks out of them. Door constructed of two layers of wood diagonal – with canvas between. Had to cut supply of wood for winter. Used small poles 1 1/2 to 2” for roof. Then gathered moss. Covered with 6” and about 6 or 8” of dirt – tight and turned water – warm.

All took trip to Dawson – crossing over 3/4 mile wide river in skiff. Dawson stretched along river 3/4 mile running towards hills about 200 yards deep. One main street with small side streets running off to the side. In going up the street nearly every other building was a saloon or gambling house. Stores and restaurants of all kinds - all shacks – built of logs, many out of old boats.

Mark and I went into a large saloon - Monte Carlo. Good large room, bar just as you came into room, gambling tables in rear. Place packed tight. When we got in front of bar, saloon keeper had bought all the looking glasses he could get - all tacked together - largest about 20” by 36”.

Mark nudged me and said: Cap, I bet you can’t pick yourself out in that looking glass. By then we hadn’t had shave or haircut for a year. I looked and looked all alike – tough looking bunch – as tough as you wanted to find them. Finally gave it up. Held hand up and then I could tell. One of the worst looking types I ever saw – black beard and hair down to shoulders - horrible sight. Let’s hunt barber shop.

Barber quite a joker – he start in on hair first all of a sudden handed [out …?] Did you lose this? Had laugh over that. When he got to my beard he tried to comb but couldn’t. Handed me a gold pan saying: You may need this.

After we looked like white men - 1.50 for hair cut, $1.00 for shave – he earned money all right. Along edge of river above high water mark saw lots of shacks – cutting boats in two and doubling them – scows and skiffs alike. Hundreds of them just big enough for 1 man to sleep in.

Mounted Police kept splendid order. At twelve Saturday night every saloon and gambling house closed for business, but kept open and turned into reading rooms. Curtain was drawn over the bar and gambling lay outs. This kept up until Sunday night 12 when opened again. Saloons and gambling houses never closed.

About 30,000 reached Dawson and territory that year – no telling how many perished. We looked around and got a so-called lay claim – which meant getting somebody's claim on a percentage basis. Claim located on n Nugget Gulch, a small gulch off El Dorado. 5 of us went up there and worked the claim for several months, thawing ground and punching several shafts 15 to 20’ deep to bed rock through frozen ground. Build a fire, start 2 or 3 shafts, let it burn till out then dig down until strike frozen ground, 1 – 2’. Keep on building fires until reach bed rock. Very poor success – gave that up. Other 3 boys left before Mark and I quit; we followed a few days later.

Big finds in El Dorado – full of gold. Finally when we broke camp – 500-600 pounds of grub apiece - went back to our cabin. Our load good and heavy, temp about 60 below 0. Got down to Bonanza - claim 12 - 14 miles from Dawson. Before getting to Klondike loads heavy and I hadn’t been very well. As we got on to Klondike barely a breeze – fearful cold – Mark ahead. I had been sitting down for a few minutes. Sat down - just a movement of air –no wind in winter time. Felt to me as though I got warm as soon as I sat down.

First thing I realize somebody was slapping me, cussing me, knocking me about. After awhile was drowsy. Dammit fool, don’t you know better than sitting down.

While we were at Nugget Gulch a few days before breaking camp 3 fellows with sleds on way to Dominion Creek. We had a very small cabin for 5 of us. Fellows pretty well tired out – fearful cold. Asked them to come in and stay till morning. They wouldn’t stop – saying they had to go on. Decided they had to travel 1 to 1 1/2 mile beyond us. Next day 2 fellows came down from that direction and asked us if 3 fellows had passed by before. We told them yes – wanted to know who they were or if we knew anything about them. No, what is the matter? 3 of them sitting on sleds frozen solid. Nobody ever found out who they were. Hundreds went same way.


I over took Mark just on the other side of the Klondike where a foot bridge had been put across. Had to go right near it with our sleds. Around one of bends of bridge was an air hole. Mark called to me - don't go near it – something in it. Looked - man in it. Had tried to get out – broke ice for feet around. Frozen stiff can still see face with horrible expression.

That night when we reached Dawson we went in to a saloon and drank two egg nogs apiece. These were the first and only drinks we took while in Alaska. Can't travel up there and use liquor - worst thing you can do.

Got to our cabin stayed 2 or 3 days got things fixed up. Prospected the balance of winter around Dawson - Fresno and Moosehide Creeks. Some of our friends – ex sheriff Ed Gibson of L.A. - told us of a strike made on Jack Wade Creek on the American side. He and a friend of his had a claim there. Six of us made preparations to go 50 miles down river to where 40 Mile River comes into the Yukon, then up 40 Mile River about 15-20 miles.

Took Ed Gibson’s dog team and his partner went with us to go to his claim. Went about 20-25 per day. Pulled all our load. We helped where possible – dogs pulling from 125-200 lbs – we helped when necessary. Didn't keep track of days hardly when we heard of strike.

Coming from Nugget, the river was open. When we got to 40 Mile River ice had begun to form on edges of 40 Mile River. Put bridle on boat and pulled up shore to Steel Creek. Had to travel over ridge in Jack Wade Creek; boats almost cut in two by ice. At mouth of Steel Creek was a small cabin build years before less than 6' high with a flat roof and about 16' sqaure. That night we got in about 18 men including ourselves in that cabin.

I noticed one man didn't seem to have anything or do anything. Kept away from everybody. After we had supper we rolled up – like sardines in a box. In the morning after breakfast all left. We were the last to leave with exception of man. I got to talking with him. He had nothing, just a roll of blankets. He had started with a partner who had left him. We gave him what we could – not much- and told him to start for 40 Mile.

Anyhow we went on. First night out we camped on a flat sheltered place - no tents - slept out in the open. getting colder all the time. Snow about 2' deep. Just getting supper when we heard a wolverine and within 15 minutes could hear them all around us. We only had 1 rifle – kept up fire. They came pretty close, but never bothered us.

Finally reached Jack Wade Creek, located 5 or 6 different claims, and started in to work. We had one tent. Our party (4) stayed in tent, while Graham went below to his camp. Put down 6 different holes – before we left – cross cutting creek.

During that trip I got scurvy due to poor provisions - not the right kind. Kept getting worse and worse. My body from feet up to hips almost black. Only work I could do was to lie on bed and do the cooking. I kept in bed not caring whether I lived or died. Boys were out getting wood for claims. A man came along - Indian - poked his head into the tent. "What's the matter you?" I told him. Came right into tent – pulled covers down looked at me – my teeth also. "Me fixum you."

He left – came back 1/2 hour later carrying an arm load of tender spruce bows. Had a 5 gallon oil can on the stove melting snow for water. He crowded all the boughs he could into the can and told me to let it boil and then told me to drink all I could and drink it all the time, not drinking anything else. I followed his instructions. Within a week I felt a change and in 3 weeks time could almost travel as well as other boys could.

I was out one day helping the boys to get wood. When I came in to get supper ready I opened the tent and found 23 letters which had followed me all over the country, some almost year old, all from my wife. We had arranged to number all our letters so as to be able to tell if any were missing. All complete. I never knew who brought them. Somebody in passing had left them. We were practically isolated being 7 miles to nearest neighbors and 50 miles from anybody else. Among the letters there was one $200 draft.

We were about out of grub; expected to go return to cabin in few days. Claims looked pretty good and we wanted to stay longer but our provisions were running low. One of the other boys took the sled. Gave him the $200 and told him to get grub at 40 Mile. He was to be gone 3 days. We divided grub giving him enough to go to store. What we kept was to keep us 3 days – but he got into a storm and was gone 6 days.

After he had left a fellow came over the trail and stopped for a little while. "Boys I've seen the sun today.” We were in a cañon where for 9 months the sun was never seen. Had a terrific affect on us. I walked about 2 miles to a ridge. Got there, sat down, and watched for light. When sun came up there were 3 and I hadn't anything to drink either. Looked at it and tears rolled down my cheeks. I can't explain the feeling that came over me. It seemed like the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. No one can realize what it means to go without sun for such a long time.

Before he came back I went to recorder's office - good days trip. Took a rifle 40-82 along. On the way down shot a penguin; shot his head off. Tied him up in tree. I was tickled to death. First meat since we had moose. Recorded claim. Looked for penguin in camp. Robbers had cleaned it; not a scrap left. Got back to camp and ran out of grub – some salt pork and bacon left, and 1 cup of rolled oats. Dug out old bacon rind; almost starved to death. Ed Cruze came during middle of night. Grub lasted just 18 days – enough to get us back to cabin. Never went back; didn't have means to keep up work. Claims turned out good later.


Charles Moffat returned to Los Angeles in October 1898. Captain Loomis and Mark Warner arrived back in Los Angeles on July 29, 1989. Frank Benedict returned the following month.

[Source: Lester Loomis Journals - Wandalee Thompson Collection (2002.1.23)]