On April 25, 1898 at 5pm a group of 25 men and one woman boarded a westward-bound C.B.&Q. passenger train and left Galesburg with plans to get rich. They were headed to Alaska's gold fields to prospect on the Tanana River. These people were the stockholders of an Illinois corporation known as the "Galesburg Alaska Mining and Developing Company." This company, formed in January of that year, was reportedly capitalized at $17,500. The original affidavit attached to the state license places capitalization at $15,000.
Gold had been discovered August 17, 1896 by "Siwash" George Washington Carmack, his wife Kate and his two Indian brothers-in-law, Tagish Charley and Skookum. They were fishing for Salmon and had killed a moose which they were hauling to camp when four gold nuggets of significant size were seen in the gravel on Bonanza Creek. They staked four claims. Kate and George stayed to protect their find while Jim and Charley hurried to Forty Mile where the claims were recorded. The word flew quickly in all directions and the frenzied Klondike Gold Rush was on. Guide books for the gold fields were published in 1897 and many dreamed of finding fortune.
The Galesburg prospectors took with them 65,000 pounds of provisions. A short list of which included 20,000 pounds of flour, 7,500 of bacon, 4,500 of dried fruits, 5,000 of beans, 1,000 pounds of butter in cans, and 3,000 pounds of condensed cream. The seemingly endless list of food and provisions made special note of the mere 3 pounds of saccharine which would take the place of 1,500 pounds of sugar. They were determined to avoid paying high Alaskan prices for what they needed, claiming that everything the group would need for two years was sent from here by rail.
The expedition was well documented with photographic records due to Jasper Newton Wyman. Born in Persifer Township December 20, 1869, he was known as "Jap." Wyman was an accomplished photographer. The Arctic cold put his skills in handling the equipment and chemicals to the test and he was more than equal to the challenge. His compositions were generally visually appealing and are today appreciated for both aesthetics and historical documentation. In spite of the climatological adversity, Wyman left a record of nearly 400 photographs. To his photographs, daily diary, and letters home we can attribute most of our knowledge of this adventure.
Wyman had grown to manhood on a Persifer Township farm where during his late teen years he experienced the building of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway within view of his family's home. Appleton was founded just to the east and that became their address. The age at which he began pursuing photography in a serious way is not recorded.
Galesburg architect, Norman K. Aldrich suspended his practice here for two years to go on the journey. He and Wyman worked closely together, each especially devoted to the other. Aldrich had grown up on a farm in Henderson Township.
The original seven organizers of the company were, Fred R. Allen, a plumber who possessed some knowledge of geology, Claus Rodine, A. E. Anderson, S.S. Soper, F.G. Burtt, Thomas Land, and Fred R. Anderson, about whom little is known as he apparently sold his stock and did not go with the others. The next three to join were George V. Messplay, W. H. Vanscoyk, and William Albert Olson.
The names of the 26 members of the Galesburg-Alaska Mining and Developing Company, occupations, and former residences follow:
1. N. K. Aldrich, architect, Galesburg
2. A. E. Anderson, banker, Galesburg
3. J.M. Hewitt, physician, Galesburg
4. Thomas Land, housemover, Galesburg
5. Charles Rodin, real estate and loans, Galesburg
6. Fred K. Allen, geologist, Ottawa
7. S. S. Soper, barber, Wataga
8. W. H. Van Scoyk, butcher, Altona
9. George V. Mesplay, engineer and electrician, Galesburg
10. F. G. Burtt, cook, Galesburg
11. W. M. Pendergrass, housemover, Galesburg
12. S. Weinberg Jr., University of Illinois student at
13. William Olsen, machinist, Galesburg
14. J. N. Wyman, rancher and photographer, Appleton
15. H. Winchester, Victoria school principal, Elmore
16. J. N. Gault, carpenter, Moline
17. H. L. Hall, farmer, Bowen
18. Eli F. Judy, farmer, Golden
19. F. M. Wall, pilot, Moline
20. Elmer Hoogner, farmer, New Windsor
21. Allen Gustafson, farmer, Ophiem
22. A. N. Venberg, blacksmith, Ophiem
23. Orvill D. White, assayer, Camp Point
24. Ed. R. Berguson, farmer, Lynn Center
25. Stuart Forbes, U. of I. student, Champaign
26. Mrs. Hewitt, wife of Dr.Hewitt, Galesburg
Dr. and Mrs. Hewitt left the group before any mining started and he became a U. S. Army surgeon, remaining in the military until he retired in 1931. The group was reduced to 22 persons. In addition to the Hewitts, Soper, the barber left. Soper put another in his place but the substitute's name isn't mentioned, nor is it known if he stayed. This list is in the order Wyman placed the members. Though Wyman never complained openly about Mrs. Hewitt's inclusion, her name at the end of the list may be revealing.
It is interesting to note the variety of job skills represented by the members. One senses that more than the possession of the requisite capital was required to become a member. The farmers possessed a rudimentary knowledge of many skills acquired through necessity on the farm. Wyman was never a true rancher until after the expedition; growing up on a farm, locally known for his love of the outdoors, adept in all the skills of a hunter and trapper.
The need for so many skills is apparent when considering the entire cargo which went west from Galesburg. Materials for a steam powered sidewheeler, 75 feet long and 16 wide, a smaller steam boat referred to as the launch 41 feet long, and a barge 14 by 50 feet went on flat cars.
The group travelled first to Seattle and from there loaded themselves and all their possessions on a sailing ship called G.W. Watson bound for St. Michael, a city on St. Michael Island on the Norton Sound of Alaska.
They were loaded on board May 14 but their departure was delayed four days waiting on the delivery of 100 tons of coal. The launch was built in Seattle, named the Silver Wave and secured to the deck of the sailing ship with heavy chains and ropes. On May 19th the ship pulled out of the Sound.
The trip from Seattle to St. Michael generally took from 35 to 65 days depending upon weather. Rough water and threatening storms were encountered. The Silver Wave and the ten men sleeping in it, including Wyman nearly went overboard. The men made a mad dash for safety in their underwear, leaving clothes behind. Fortunately all lives and the small boat were saved. Many of the group, including Wyman were quite ill. Wyman's diary leaves quite a few pages without entries due his weakness. In spite of all this the Galesburg group arrived at St. Michael in record time 27 days.
If there were any men in the group who opposed the inclusion of a female miner it is not recorded. Five decades later, Dr. Hewitt, then living in Beverly Hills, Calif., would write a novel based upon the adventure. Since he and his wife had bailed out early, he borrowed Elmer Hoogner's diary to "refresh his memory." There were problems in the group and Wyman mentioned several times in his diary that they might disband. No elaboration on the problems was mentioned. There was tension between Dr. Hewitt and the rest of the group, perhaps not entirely related to his wife's inclusion. Hewitt's novel included a character, Riley Cullen, who was an alcoholic engineer. The doctor in the novel defends the alcoholic Cullen when others in the group wished to vote him out. This fictional "Cullen" stayed behind in St. Michael and prospered while the others went off to look for gold. It is likely that Cullen was based upon a real life character. Wyman was not fond of the doctor and wrote back to his relatives near Appleton that they didn't need a physician if each man took care of himself. Another controversy was the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. Some lamented that they had put so much money and effort into the mining expedition that they couldn't quit but really wished they could do so to join the military. Wyman and Aldrich pledged that they would be each other's "pards" no matter what happened to the rest. The mathematics indicates another person left but the name is not recorded; he may be the person fictionalized as Riley Cullen.
The sidewheeler was completed on the shore at St. Michael, in spite of the worsening tensions within the group. It was christened the Illinois. When finished, the riverboat, launch, barge, 26 persons and 150 tons of cargo headed for the mouth of the Yukon.
The Klondike was where most prospecting took place. Dawson City was the hub of activity, located where the Klondike River flows into the Yukon. A city only two years old with an estimated population of 40,000 persons. The Galesburg group had decided to follow the Yukon only as far as the Koyukuk River as the Klondike region was becoming too crowded. The original plan to prospect the Tanana was abandoned for unstated reasons. They navigated the Yukon up to the confluence of the Koyukuk which they reached on August 8th. Their goal was to get to Arctic City, the point on the Koyukuk where it was thought navigation beyond would be impossible. This was accomplished on August 21. Going farther than anticipated, they went on the Alankat River which entered the Koyukuk just above Arctic City. They were then well above the Arctic Circle. This stream was narrow and winding. It took five days to travel 40 miles with the prospectors using ropes to pull the boat through the narrow channels.
August 28th marked the end of the upstream journey for the Illinois. Six more trips through treacherous rapids were required to get their belongings from the boat to camp, ten miles farther. On September 3rd, Soper, Allen, Winchester and Wyman took their share of goods and provisions and moved down the Alankat River in a pole boat in an effort to return to Arctic City. The bickering had become too much and these four men were leaving. Aldrich later convinced Wyman to rejoin. The first prospecting party which included Wyman, Judy, Forbes, Pendergrass, White and Van Scoyk left on September 6th. They started up the Alankat in two pole boats with the intent of going until freezing made passage impossible. There were at least five other steamer parties on the Alankat. It was found that even so far inland that many claims had already been staked. They were disappointed but decided to split up into two groups of three, being then able to cover more area and drive stakes where the gravel was of proper color not already claimed. They were to regroup at camp each night. In one instance Wyman returned to camp but no others were there. He spent a restless night, knowing his companions had no sleeping gear. They did not return until later in the morning. Good color gravel was found and they drove stakes until dark overtook them. It was too dark to find their way back to camp. When they got back they found Wyman had the good fortune of killing three partridges and had them dressed. The next morning Wyman and a man named Kuhne from another group continued with 80-pound packs on their backs, wading the stream, watching for prosperous looking gravel and driving claim stakes. The second morning out Kuhne and Wyman found their blankets covered with snow when they awoke. The late September snow signalled the onset of Arctic Winter. The scenery was reported as spectacular but due to the urgency of staking claims Wyman did not have his camera equipment with him. Wyman arrived back at Help-Me-Jack Creek on September 26 and found three of his companions building simple cabins for Winter use. Aldrich and others rejoined Wyman and his companions for a total of 15 at Help-Me-Jack. They moved in their quarters on October 8th.
Gold, being heavier than the surrounding gravel, gravitates toward bedrock. Fires were built to thaw gravel. The first fire allowed the digging of the top foot which was the hardest and the second fire allowed the rest of the digging in most cases. Bedrock was at about eight feet in this region.
Wyman's birthday on December 20th was very memorable. The temperature was 56 degrees below zero. They had no thermometer but learned this the next day at Rapid City. Wyman said, "Had we known it was so cold, we certainly would have frozen." The harsh temperatures were devastating to morale. None struck even one gold vein in entire Koyukuk drainage area which further dampened spirits. The Galesburg group occasionally found surface gold, nothing more. Christmas day was spent at West Beaver, the name given the place where the Illinois was moored. Most of the Galesburg Company were there, as wells as neighbors from around the region. In addition to feasting there was a shooting match. The target was placed at 125 yards. Aldrich took first place, Wyman third.
Mid-February in 1899 recorded temperatures down to 65 below zero and still not a trace of gold to warm their spirits. It became a matter of waiting until the thaw. The temperature reached 56 degrees (remarkably, above zero) on May 14. The crashing sounds of ice chunks in the river could be heard. By May 25 they were ready to go. The Illinois was ready and the cabins had been torn down and cut up for firewood to be used in the firebox of the steam boiler. Thirteen months had passed and the return leg of a disappointing journey was about to begin. Most were glad to be leaving as the ice finally cleared enough on May 26.
Most other steamers took 50 to 53 hours actual running time to go from Arctic City to Koyukuk, the Illinois made it in 46 and passed 15 other steamers on the way. Less than a month after leaving their camp on the Allenkat they arrived in the bay near St. Michael. Aldrich was quite ill and Wyman took his old pard to a hospital where three days were spent. Wyman made arrangements for Aldrich's return to Seattle on board a steamer, the Roanoke. Wyman left for Seattle a few days later and attempted to look up Aldrich but upon arriving he learned that Aldrich was much better and had returned to Illinois. Wyman returned to Illinois briefly and promptly left for Meeker, Colo. A copy of his letterhead from Meeker states he was a breeder of registered high grade cattle, mules and high class thoroughbreds.
It was at Meeker that Wyman's neighbor, Aurlette Ingman, became aware of his Alaska adventure. She wrote a novel about it, entitled Gold Dust, but never found a publisher. Wyman died July 29, 1939. Ingman moved to Helena in the early 1940s where she passed away in 1946. The glass negatives, diary and other mementoes of his trip were found in a Helena attic by Ingman's grandson. The glass plate negatives are now at the Anchorage City Museum. In 1988 a book, Journey to the Koyukuk, which contains photos, diary, and letters of Wyman's was published by Pictorial Histories Publishing Co. and is the primary source for this article.
Financially, the trip was a dismal failure. Wyman reported he came home with $800 less than nothing. A local newspaper reported that Wyman was on the streets of Galesburg by August 17, 1899; the story commented that he had made some money through the sale of his photos, better than his companions who were writing back home for return fare. Wyman brought back treasures now prized more than gold.
1. (Map) - A map from a miner's guide book. The list of names in the upper left refer to the region where the Galesburg Alaska Mining and Developing Company prospected. The Klondike was where most gold was found but being crowded and farther away deterred the Galesburg group from going on. It was believed that the best claims were already taken in the Klondike region; also Canadian prospecting laws were more restrictive.
2. (Advertisement)- While Galesburg Alaska Mining and Developing Company left on the C.B. & Q., the Santa Fe was also competing for its share of the hopefuls.
3. (book cover) - Guidebooks like this one circulated around. Many were published in Chicago. They contained routing information and distances by different routes, reports on recent discoveries, lists of necessary provisions per person per year, mining laws, etc. Purportedly they were a complete handbook for the miner.
4. (p. 24 Photo of men in tent) - Anderson and Olson relax a bit. Anderson seems to be reading a letter from home. At the left is the Illinois under construction at St. Michael. Other tents are visible on the right side.
5. (p. 115 Photo of taking on wood) - This picture is dated June 14, 1899 on the return trip, just a week before getting back to St. Michael. The sidewheeler, Illinois, has females on board. The Galesburg group had no female members at this point but passengers and cargo were hauled for a fee, a possible explanation.