first grizzly. Bear, mountain sheep, and caribou. A canyon of pure copper.
For the hunter or the lover of wildlife, Alaska is a
veritable Paradise. Through the entire expedition we saw many game birds, and at
this camp especially there seemed to be an abundance of feathered game all about
us. Mountain sheep in flocks filed along the cliffs above, and at no time did we
fail to see animal life in some direction from our camp. One red fox came within
a few yards of the camp, but he reached cover before Davis could rush from the
tent with the rifle.
In the afternoon I took the gun and made for the timber that
bordered the meadow below us, remarking that I would try to get some ptarmigan
that appeared plentiful all about. I had hardly gone two hundred yards when
among the trees I saw what appeared to be one of the horses, and I wondered why
it had strayed from the rest of the bunch. The animal had its head down in the
tall grass, and I drew nearer with the intention of driving it back where it
belong, a short distance behind the camp. I had approached within fifty yards
when suddenly, to my astonishment, the animal raised its head, and I saw with
consternation that instead of it being one of the horses it was a glacier
It was the first time I had ever seen a bear outside the
menageries. My hair rose up like bristles, and I was almost paralyzed with
fright as I contemplated that I was face to face with the most furious beast in
Alaska, not excluding the Kodiak bears. These grizzles do not have to be hungry
in order to attack a person. They are simply downright mean, and usually when
encountered it means a fight to the finish, as they are not afraid of anything.
Also, it quickly recurred to me that these bears have a way of going through
prospectors’ camps and scattering everything in the way of food among the
scenery, an experience that would be almost fatal at this stage of the trip. An
injured bear is of course more ferocious, and I hesitated to shoot, fearing that
I would miss the target. As I backed away, the bear calmly returned to his
grazing, and it looked as if he had not even noticed me. Returning to the camp,
I shouted: “Ho, Anderson, here’s a bear. What shall I do with him?”
Jim Davis called out not to shoot, as Bruin might make for
the camp and we had enough trouble for the time being, but Anderson whooped: “Shoot
the ---- -----! Kill him!”
At that I dropped on one knee, pointed the gun and took
careful aim - and missed! The bear started to run, and I shot again. This time
the big fellow lunged forward, his head went down, and he crumpled up on the
grass. We all crept up but stood at a respectful distance and pelted the carcass
with rocks to make sure he was not shamming; then closed in, peeled off the
skin, transferred the best of the meat to our larder, and called it a day.
That was a wonderful country for grizzles. While looking for
horses, Anderson said he saw a very large one, which he designated as “Pa,”
and was sure that “ma” was not far off.
Later in the day I counted eighteen mountain sheep in the
rocks opposite our camp, and bear and caribou signs were plentiful. In the
morning the sheep were still there, with a venerable old bighorn keeping guard.
I directed the men to take the gun and get one, and they started off. The old
ram was smarter than they were, however, as he gave the alarm, and shortly the
hunters returned to camp.
“Well, what about the sheep?” I inquired.
“They saw us coming and got away, so we thought we would
get that bear over there!”
I looked around, and there within one hundred yards of me, in
the middle of a draw running up the mountainside, was a big grizzly calmly
digging for roots. This time I was not so frightened, and hastily opened my
camera, motioning the men with the rifle to keep back. Stealthily I crept within
fifty yards, but the bear pricked up his ears and moved behind a clump of bushes
in the middle of the draw. There he stood upright and peered over the bushes at
the men with the gun, paying no attention to me. Having taken the picture, I
motioned to Davis to fire away, which he did and missed! The bear started over
the rim of the draw and along the mountainside on the lope. Jim kept firing and
the bullets would strike the rocks just behind the grizzly, who would look
around at each shot, while we were holding our sides in merriment and Jim was
cursing a blue streak. If the animal was wounded he did not show it, so we
returned to camp.
After a meal of boiled bear, I took the rifle and wandered up
a hill to get a shot at some different kind of meat. I had gone only a short
distance when I stumbled on an immense vein of rich copper ore, in places twenty
feet wide, and I could see it outcrop for half a mile along the mountain. The
rest of the day was spent in staking out six claims.
We broke camp the next day, leaving such bear meat as we
could not take along for the benefit of other pilgrims. Our course lay down the
bed of the river to the right fork of the Chisana. This was the locality in
which the Indians had told me there was copper, so we decided to camp. About
three miles away was a gulch running south and heading up a tall mountain with a
crest of snow. I carefully prospected this to the snow line, as Indian Joe said
the copper was up there. There was plenty of lime and greenstone, with the usual
diabase and volcanic material of the country, but no mineralization, and panning
the gravel brought no better results. Ten mountain sheep watched me from a cliff
as I hiked back to camp for supper.
At a point four miles below the glacier we crossed the Tanana
River, fording the different channels, none of which were more than four feet
deep, and then passed over a low divide between the Tanana and the White. On the
way down we killed two caribou, and now having plenty of fresh meat we threw
away what we had left of the bear. Later we saw twenty-nine more caribou, but
did not molest them. The sun was bright and hot as we continued down the creek,
which was assuming the proportions of a river. Soon we came to an ice overflow,
at the end of which was a narrow canyon. One horse got his leg in an ice crack,
and we narrowly missed losing a good pack animal. Then another floundered into a
stream of flowing mud, and was swept down the slope with his pack. We finally
fished him out all covered with mud, and he was a sorry-looking object by the
time we got him straightened up again. And then it began to rain torrents!
Looming ahead of us was another box canyon, so we crossed the river to a clump
of timber and unpacked the horses.
If the reader had ever had the experience of finding himself
in an absolute virgin country, where “the hand of man has never set foot,”
so as to speak, he can visualize our camp as it appeared the following morning.
Our tent was pitched in a small clearing among the trees, a log fire built with
uprights and a crosspiece for the convenience of the cook, and a table
improvised from the box containing our provisions. As the aroma of our old
stand-by, the bacon, sizzling in a pan, mixed with the pungent incense of the
burning logs, tantalized our appetites, my gazed wandered to the west where the
hills were still shrouded in mist, and heavy clouds hung over the great range,
while the sharp peaks protruding through gave the impression of a second layer
of clouds ready to relieve the low ones as soon as the sun appeared to dissipate
them into the fog below. The great patches of grassland about us were spotted
with miniature lakes, with vast stretches of timber in the distance that would
delight the eye of any timber cruiser, although it will be generations before
these giant logs of spruce will be called upon for the use of civilization.
While the men were drying out their clothes, bedding, and
making repairs to our dilapidated outfit, I left the camp to reconnoiter and to
find a way out of the pocket we were in. Climbing to the summit of a hill to the
southeast, I crossed a wide plateau and then circled around a lake to the top of
a ridge to the east, from which I could look out over the beautiful valley of
the White River. The Russell Glacier was directly ahead of me, part of it
pouring from a canyon to the southwest, where it heads in the saddles of the
hills known as the Scolai Pass. Below the glacier the river is diverted into
many channels through the valley, and forty miles below it empties into the
This was the region which I had been directed by my syndicate
to explore. At the headwaters of the White had been reported many discoveries of
copper, not only by prospectors, but also by responsible engineers, and the only
drawback to their operation was the extreme inaccessibility of the deposits. We
therefore moved the camp to a desirable position on the riverbank, where we had
a fine view of the White for at least Twenty miles. With two packhorses to carry
tools and emergency supplies, we proceeded up the river, with a man paralleling
the pack train a mile or so distance on the lookout for indications of mineral
and also for the camps of the prospectors who had reported the discovery of
Suddenly we changed out course from the main channel to a
small creek running up into a basin in the mountains. Bright nuggets of copper
were shining in the water! We followed the float until the narrow canyon opened
out into a basin half a mile wide, surrounded on all sides by precipitous rocks.
The upper walls of the basin had the appearance of a monster vein of mineral.
Erosion of the softer parts of the deposit had left the quartz in all sorts of
fantastic figures. The whole was covered with a heavy green stain of the
carbonate of copper. Chunks of copper, pure as the metal ever comes, lay
scattered everywhere, much of it peeping out from the debris of the finely
granulated quartz, and tons of the red metal lay in such big slabs and grotesque
forms that all three of us combined could not turn them over. One especially
large mass was in the form of a mushroom, with its root in the solid quartz.
Among the odd shapes of the metal, one piece weighing about sixty pounds
attracted my attention, and I determined to take it along. It was in the shape
of a ham, with the knucklebone and hole through it in exact counterpart of those
hanging in the neighborhood butcher shop. I had been led to expect a large
deposit of copper somewhere in the district, but this wondrous exhibit in this
basin far surpassed anything that had yet been discovered in Alaska.
The procedure was to put up several mounds for our location
notices in the name of the corporation. I then secured my specimen on one of the
horses, and we returned to our base camp, well satisfied with our discoveries.
Following up our success of the day before, we roamed over a
large section of country below the glacier, but found no more copper. We avoided
the main stream, which was swift and too deep to wade, but we climbed hills,
crossed deep and precipitous canyons, and scaled almost perpendicular cliffs.
The only result of our effort was a bighorn sheep with a record pair of horns.
This specimen I nailed to a stump and took a picture of it, which picture later
found its way into the New York Herald.
Never was there such a country for game! Anderson brought in
the hindquarters of a young caribou, and we were happy. . On every mountainside
were mountain sheep, foxes, caribou, bear, and ptarmigan. We caught two cross
foxes and one silver, but fur was out of season, which applied to all game at
that time of year. Approximately one hundred and fifty sheep were grazing on ram
Creek as we passed, and Jim Davis his behind a rock and caught one as it trotted
by. They were on the slope of a hill, and Jim, with one arm around the sheep’s
neck and the other clutching a hind leg, had the fight of his life. Over and
over they rolled down the hill, the sheep in its struggles cutting a deep gash
in Jim’s cheek. The sheep was strong and so was Jim, but the latter was badly
out of breath when they reached the bottom of the hill. However, the sheep had
reinforcements! Along came an old ram to the rescue. Lowering its head as he
charged, he gave Jim such a jolt that it loosened his hold on the sheep, and it
scampered away, leaving Jim hors de combat! I washed and dressed Jim’s wound,
and we resumed our tramp.
The most friendly and affectionate of the fauna of Alaska are
the mosquitoes. They followed us everywhere faithfully! However, we forgot about
them for a short time while we chased a small grizzly, which we killed and also
a young caribou.
This about concluded our exploration of the
headwaters of the White. On a side hill Anderson uncovered a ledge of
chalcopyrite or copper sulphate, forty feet wide, from which we broke some
specimens, but we made no locations. After a little more hunting, we made
preparations for the return trip, little knowing what dangers and suffering we
were to encounter before at last reaching civilization.