Friday, July 05, 2013

3500+ Horses Died from Greed

In 1896 gold was discovered in the Yukon.

Prior to that in 1887 William Moore landed at Skagway Bay and went to work establishing a settlement and discovering an inland route called the White Pass. His rival John Healy had a trading post three miles west at Dyea inlet an area where the natives lived and was the start of a steep pass called Chilkoot over the mountain range and into the Yukon interior.

Chilkoot Pass
When word came out of the interior that gold had been struck, both men knew they would soon be inundated with gold seekers. And the first ship of 200 people, some seeking their fortune in gold others in providing services, landed in the bay. Soon Skagway and Dyea were tent cities with 5000+ people milling about all hours of the day and night.

All the people were in a hurry to get to the gold fields. Many chose Chilkoot Pass. It was shorter by ten miles but it could only be traversed by foot. All 1200 pounds of goods per person, required by the Canadian Mounted Police, had to be hauled over the pass on their backs. This required making multiple trips from station to station. First transporting one load, caching it, and going back to pick up another load. This trail was also the steepest of the two and only navigable by foot.

White Pass also called Dead Horse Trail was forty-five miles long not as steep but just as treacherous with switch backs through boulders, five water crossings,  and a climb of less than a mile that took a person straight up over 300 feet.  The newspapers published misleading information about the trail, saying, while being longer and more time consuming, could be crossed with horses, wagons, or dog sleds.
White Pass

So imagine the dismay of greedy men and women who arrived in Skagway expecting to use a wagon and discover they could not. The trail was so narrow when there was no snow that horses hooves would be caught between boulders on the trail or between rocks in the streams they forded, breaking their legs. If the horses were fortunate to not suffer from a broken leg, the packs were so heavy and lopsided the animal might fall over the edge of the narrow trail into jagged hundred foot precipices. The fortunate horse was put out of their misery. But some avarice fortune hunter's didn't take the time. They just began packing the load themselves.

Also many of the fortune hunters had never handled horses or had little contact with the animals. This inexperience was dangerous. Bad handling of a horse could not only harm the horse but the other travelers packed along the narrow trail.

White Pass- The trail became too narrow for travois
It was said in several accounts they believed some horses committed suicide, stepping off the trail to no longer have to endure the heavy packs and treacherous trail. If a boulder, tree, or avalanche blocked the trail, the poor animals had to stand for hours with the heavy packs on their backs because the greedy men and women who led them up this torturous trail didn't want to waste time taking the packs off and putting them back on.

This trail wasn't kind to humans either, but they made the choice to venture into the Alaskan gold fields the animals did not.

The reason I've been reading all this information is for the book I'm writing. My character, Jeremy Duncan, provides a packing service over the White Pass. His animals are his bread and butter, so you won't see him pushing them to the limit or over-packing them. But the city girl who has paid him to take her to the interior to find
her brother will be appalled by the sights and smells(yes, there were so many decaying horse carcasses along the trail that it became necessary for those traveling the trail to use bandannas to cover their mouth and nose and the drinking water down at the town was no longer safe to drink)

As always when I discover an injustice, I have to include it in my book, hence the thorough research into this trail.

Photos were copied from Wikipedia.


F.J. Thomas said...

Thanks for posting on this piece of history. It's an intriguing but sad piece of history I never knew.

Paty Jager said...

Hi F.J., Yes, when my husband and I were in Skagway four years ago there were photos and information about this in the visitors center. I knew then I would be writing a book that would give more people insight into this part of our history. I believe from knowing your past we can correct the future. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Ginger Simpson said...

What an interesting post, Paty, but then you always find things to interest everyone. I tend to learn something every time I read something from you. Thank you for being so dedicated to research. I shared this on all the available avenues available on the blog, FB, Google and Twitter. Great job!

Alison E. Bruce said...

Like you, Paty, I heard this story first in Skagway. To be honest, I almost didn't read this blog because I knew what would be in it. But I like your writing too much to let a little squeamishness stand in my way.

Rue ALlyn said...

I've seen that pass from the train that goes between Skagway and Whitehorse Yukon. It's not a pretty sight, even now. Your book sounds terrific. I love it when historical events tie into the conflict and motivation.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Ginger, If it intrigues or infuriates me, I have to learn more. It's my nature.

Hi Alison, Ahh, thanks! It does take the wind out of your sails when you are learning all about Skagway and come across this bit of history.

Hi Rue! We took the train too. I can't believe people willingly traversed that trail. And to take horses?? Blows my mind.

Lyn Horner said...

People do the most stupid, cruel things for the sake of greed. All too often animals suffer for it. Thanks for telling us about this shameful episode, Paty.

Paty Jager said...

You're welcome Lyn.

Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

So sad. I tweeted.

Margaret Tanner said...

That was an amazing article. It never ceases to amaze me how people will put greed before the welfare of their animals. It is criminal.



Linda LaRoque said...

Wow, this is depressing, Paty. It would take a dedicated person, or a greedy one, to finish the journey. Excellent post.

Melissa Keir said...

Very sad tale. I can't understand why people would be so greedy and not consider the animals. I'm sure in their rush, and not thinking they did more harm than good. I wonder just how many who set out, actually made it with horses?

Paty Jager said...

Yes, Ella. Thanks!

Hi Margaret. I agree. The things people have done for greed is incredible.

Hi Linda, I agree. Both passes were so daunting that it blows my mind that people would be so desperate or so driven to even traverse them back then.

Hi Melissa, There were some who did. The ones who treated the animals as they should and knew how to handle horses made it over, but there were a lot that didn't make it.

Sharla Rae said...

My husband I took a cruise to Alaska several years back. We both loved the history there but didn't know about all these horses. Thanks for sharing this interesting bit of history.

bn100 said...

That's interesting info

chinwendu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Paty Jager said...

Hi Sharla Rae, You only learn about it in Skagway. They have a museum of sorts with very graphic photos.

Thanks for stopping in Lysette.