Thursday, November 20, 2014

Montana Creek, Big Dreams, And Last Wishes.

Eureka Creek Yukon, June 1980.
We had been sluicing all day at the remote placer gold mine, and had fueled up and checked-over the equipment after a well earned dinner.  The days are long this time of year, and as long as things were not broke down too badly there was often spare time in the evenings. Our sluice-box tender that season was a good old character named George, a box-tender is responsible for keeping large rocks moving down the sluice line, using a long handled, two pronged tenders hook, and guides the dozer operator on how fast to feed material. It was a great evening and I suggested to old George we take my Landcruiser for a drive up top of Eureka Dome to where we have a good view down over the Montana Creek watershed.
"I'll drive slow" I added as an afterthought.  
"No you won't, ya young bugger, I told you I wasn't riding again in that goddamn hot-rod of yours!"
George had taken a few days off awhile back and I had given him a ride to Dawson City and was in a particular hurry to get there. I forget the reason, but I was usually in a hurry to get there, and for a couple terrifying hours, a wide-eyed George gripped the dash of the open roofed, broad-sliding Toyota Landcruiser. He didn't say much the whole way, but on arrival requested I drop him off at the nearest establishment. I skidded up to the front door of the old Westminster Hotel in a cloud of dust, George calmly unstrapped himself, and on shaking knees disappeared through the swinging saloon doors and probably for the first time in his life, really had a good excuse for a drink.
    A local character around Dawson City, he had been knocking about the country for decades, spending the off season as a regular at the Westminster, and during the mining season outfits would take him on in some capacity to get him out of town and dry up to some extent.
"I'm serious" he states, "I'm not getting into any for'n hot-rod with some young orangutan."
"OK then" I said, "If anyone is looking for me, I'm just going up to look off the dome over that area we have those claims staked, have a beer and look at Haystack Mtn. for a bit, I'll be back before dark!" That was an inside joke around the country, it didn't really get dark.
George suddenly showed some interest in the excursion,
"How many you got?" he asked eagerly.
"Well, let's see..." I pondered, "theres those claims on Stowe,....and the leases over on...".
"How many beers!" he says, cutting me off.
"Oh..., just the two." I lied.
We tried to run a dry camp, except for one night of the week. This wasn't it, but it was alright to go have a beer someplace else. 
"Aw always wanted to see that there Montana valley," he tells me with renewed interest, "...but you got to put the windshield up, I don't wanna get hit in the face by a grouse or something!"
   There was a road bulldozed up and around Eureka Dome that serviced a few small mining outfits over in the Henderson and Black Hills Creek area, and once up the side of the Dome we had a commanding view of the next drainage. I needed to bushwack off the road a little to see over the crest to get a better look down into the Montana Creek watershed.
"What in hell are you doing?" my passenger asked as I engaged 4-wheel drive and start to crawl over the roadside berm.
I explained to him I wished get a better view.
"Theres no road!" he exclaims.
I told him we didn't need one,  pushed the windshield down onto the hood and away we went, bouncing over the hummocks and ducking branches.
George is hanging on for all he's worth and bouncing in his seat, but he had his priorities in order,
"Your foaming up my beverage!" he hollers.
   We got out to a crest to a better vantage point and bumped to a stop, I reached in back for the tube of staking maps I carried around, fished out the one marked Haystack Mountain, spread it out on the Landcruiser hood for George to study, then stepped off and took these pictures.

I got out the binoculars and scanned the region below, then offered them to George, who takes them and looks around for some time, his head swinging in great arcs, muttering to himself.
"I can't see a dang thing." he finally grumbles.
"Turn them around...," I suggested, "your lookin' through the wrong end!".
"By jezuz," he says, "...that's a little better".

   In our youthful optimism, my partners and I had staked up nearly 25 miles of claims and gold exploration leases scattered around the distant drainage.  From the hillside I pointed out the different creeks, benches, and old channels we had staked to a near-sighted George. 
   The turn of the century found a few hardy individuals working in the Montana Ck. area. Placer gold had been discovered on our Stowe Creek claims in 1901 by an A.F. Stowe.  He and the other claim holders were lured away the next year to the new discoveries in Alaska. In 1914 Chris Fothergill prospected a gold-bearing hard-rock conglomerate deposit on upper Stowe and blasted a few test trenches and 2 deep shafts before moving on. Like many placer and hard rock discoveries, the pay was too lean to work by methods of the day, or maybe they just missed that elusive golden pay-streak, and the country was left to the wolves, bear, and moose once again.

Shafts and remains of old cabins were still evident out there.

  A most obvious feature across the valley was Haystack Mountain, sticking out like its namesake. There was a miner named Carl Hafstad who arrived in the Dawson area about 1901. He owned the Gay Gulch Saloon and held several claims around the Klondike.
From his workings at Quartz Creek he could see distant Haystack Mountain.
   He passed in a Dawson City infirmary, June 24 1915, age 55, after a 2 month illness.
Carl, being a practical man, and knowing the end was near, had a strong, lightweight coffin constructed to his specifications, and left instructions for his burial.
He wished to be laid to rest on top of Haystack Mountain. He must have been a great old guy, 40 miners attended a service at his roadhouse on Gay Gulch, and half of those volunteered to take him to the distant hill, a feat that must have taken several days to accomplish. Crossing the Indian River, and following the McKinnon brothers pack-trail up McKinnon Creek they hauled old Carl as far as they could by horse and wagon, but it was all manpower from there on. He had known the effort involved, and knew the boys were going to need some special inspiration at this point in the procession. Carl, I'm sure with a certain degree of humor, had made arrangements for a barrel of beer to be brought along to be cracked open here. A gallant effort was made to lighten the barrel as much as possible before the next part of the journey.
   His friends, the younger ones I would imagine, picked up his coffin, and with sloshing beer barrel in tow, trekked overland with him towards the base of Haystack Mtn., stopping on occasion for further barrel lightening. From there, the tipsy bunch alternately carried, pushed, dragged, and literally rolled poor Carl up the steep climb. A grave was ready when he arrived, these were men accustomed to hard work, and a crew had gone on ahead to pick and blast one out on the small, rocky flat top of the hill. He was laid to rest there, and a Union Jack was raised that blew tattered in the wind for decades.
In his final days, Mr. Hafstad had a plant by his bedside that he had become very attached to, as were his wishes, his beloved flower was packed along and set atop his grave.
He must have been a great old guy indeed.

   That was 65 years before, almost to the day as George and I sat across the valley in our bucket seats swatting mosquitoes.
"That reminds me!" says George, "Wheres them beers?"
 So we toasted old Carl, resting over there in his rocky cairn. He had the region pretty much to himself all this time, but within a year, that would change, a tote-road would be roughed-in down the side of Eureka Dome to the valley bottom, and a helper and I would be roughing-it out there test-drilling the frozen gravels of the remote Montana Ck. tributaries.
But that's another story. 


  1. Great story/recollection. Did you ever see the grave?

  2. Thanks. We did hover around there in a helicopter once having a good look, but the guys were never too keen about landing on top of a grave site. I didn't take any pictures, now I really wish I had of.