By Matt Piersol, Researcher, History Nebraska – Collections
The Klondike Gold Rush of 1896-99 was truly a ‘Children’s Crusade’. Thousands of ill-prepared fortune-seekers from the lower 48 headed North expecting adventure and easy gold. What they got was dangerous terrain and hundred-dollar loaves of bread. With an influx of mouths-to-feed the local merchants weren’t prepared at all for the droves of novices – most of whom hadn’t prepared for the trip or the weather or the work, and were low on supplies and cash.
The public read with concern the accumulating stories in newspapers that reported deaths from overloaded and sinking boats, avalanches , dangerous and deadly trails, robbers and swindlers and price gouging, deaths from exposure and starvation… and everybody knew someone who had left with a smile and returned gaunt and bewildered. “Don’t go.” were the words on the lips of most that went. And still there were ads by the railroads and ship lines, urging them to come North for the opportunity of a lifetime. And newspapers still printed stories of the tiny percentage of miners who had struck it rich.
Ada Braxton, through foresight, luck and planning was one of the few who returned with new wealth, to Omaha, Nebraska, where the Omaha World-Herald interviewed her after the rush was over. (Scroll down past the newspaper clippings to read the transcribed interview.)
“Mrs. Ada Braxton, her husband, Frederick Braxton, and their daughter, Hazel”
Ada Braxton, an Omaha Woman, Tells How She Found Gold in the Klondike
Omaha World-Herald, Dec. 3, 1905
Mrs. Ada Braxton only just returned to Omaha from the Klondike where she has been for the past year, claims the distinction of being the first woman who ever walked over the famous Challey trail. She and her aunt Mrs. Shepard were the only colored women in the city of Atlin near Skagway. Mrs. Braxton’s aunt was the first colored woman ever in the Alaska gold fields, having walked there from Seattle twenty years ago and has been there ever since.
Just a year ago Mrs. Braxton and her husband went to the Klondike at the request of their aunt who offered them two of her mines at that place. Mrs. Braxton a plump and pretty little woman who looks far too young to be the mother of a 10 year-old girl. She has been married thirteen years. The little girl was left with her grandmother while her parents were in the gold fields. And it was her great desire to see the little girl and her mother that brought Mrs. Braxton home for a visit.
“Yes, indeed,” said Mrs. Braxton to the World Herald, “I walked over the Chilcoot pass (sic) and carried my bundle on my back like the rest of them. There are not many colored people up there [illegible] body was surprised to see me going with my husband. I only weighed ninety pounds when I went up there and you see how well I am now….”
[The Braxtons began mining for gold.]
“You see, she said, “first you have to take your pickax and start your digging, then you blow the boulders [with dynamite, presumably]. Then you must build the derrick, the flume and your sluice boxes. I built my own sluice boxes myself. When I went there I was so frail I could not do my own work, but I had not been there long until I could whipsaw my own lumber… The mere sight of a gun scared me but it was not long before I could go out and kill game as well as anybody. I killed a mountain goat one day and they are very hard to get.”
This plucky little woman fainted several times going over the Chilcoot pass but she would not turn back, although she saw the way strewn with the bleached bones of over 200 horses. She slept on the ground at night wrapped in bearskins and side by side with her husband went through every privation he did.
[Mrs. Braxton discussed wearing trousers for convenience. “Everybody does as they please up there in regard to their clothes.” She told of walking ninety miles over unbroken trail to prospect. At last they found a creek that looked promising for mining.]
“…We named it ‘Abe Lincoln’ creek. It was at the end of a long trail, and when one of the miners asked us why we had named it that we told him because we were so glad to find the end of our trail and the prospect of gold in sight that we felt that we were out of bondage, and so we named it for Abe Lincoln.
“We have four mines, and we have named them ‘Lucky Dog,’ ‘Last Chance,’ ‘Little Spruce’ and ‘Carmeneita’…”
[Mrs. Braxton told of other adventures. She brought home some large nuggets of gold, one worth $65, but said food prices were high in Alaska, with steak and butter both selling for $1 per pound, and machinery and hired labor were also expensive.]
Mrs. Braxton declares that she is delighted to get back to Nebraska where she can have plenty of milk and butter and eggs and all the other Nebraska good things to eat. But still she likes her new home so well that she is planning to return in the spring….
[But she warned of hardships and suffering.]
“I remember one man who came into camp dragging the dead body of his wife on his sled. She had given birth to a child on the trail and both had frozen to death. He had been chased by wolves, who had devoured the little dead baby and he had saved the body of his wife by dragging it into a tree. Then he put it on the sled and staggered into camp with that pathetic load of sorrow on the sled. And that is only one of the many terrible stories you hear and see up there.
“If people could only realize the absolute necessity of being thoroughly equipped for such a journey such scenes would not be so frequent. I would not have missed my trip for anything, for all the hardships.”