A Riveting 1898 Alaska Gold Rush Saga
A Riveting 1898 Alaska Gold Rush Saga
United StatesKlondike News April 1, 1898: articles From an article of "Klondike wisdom": "Whether to go" and "How to go"...describing the various routes to the "gold fields" in the Klondike. "Whether to go." The man who is still debating with himself as to the advisability of going to the Yukon is still very much in evidence. He is still undecided as to whether he can stand the cold and endure the hardships of the trip, and also as to whether he can make anything if he does get there. We would advise all such to stay at home; they are not the stuff that pioneers are made of. He is in much the same fix as the young man who thinks he is in love, but is not quite sure; who has doubts as to the advisability of getting married, as well as to his ability to support her if she says yes. Our advice to this young man would be, DON’T. If he were really in love there would be no room for doubt in his own mind on the subject, and the only question that would present itself would be, "Will she have me?" The man who will make a success in the northern mines has no fear of cold, dangers, nor of his own ability to succeed, and the only question he asks himself is, "Can I get there?" Any young man in good health, who is without family ties and who has no prospects in life other than a steady job and a living, is very foolish if he does not take a rough-and tumble chance up North for a few years. It will broaden his mind, harden his muscles, improve his health and possibly gain him a fortune. And even though he returns to civilization (?) at the expiration of two or three years without a dollar, he will be better off than the man who remained at home and did not save a dollar. This of course applies only to those who can land upon the river with a year's provisions. "How to go." The Copper River Route We warn our readers against any attempt to reach the Klondike country by way of Copper River. No living man ever made the trip, and the bones of many a prospector whiten the way. In the first place it almost impossible to ascend the Copper River. There are trackless mountains to cross, by the side of which the Chilcoot Pass trail is a boulevard, and rapids that would make the White Horse dry up and quit business. Finally the White River is not navigable for loaded boats. Certain unscrupulous parties operating steamboats up that way are issuing gaudy pamphlets with nicely worded directions of how to travel over a country that white man never set foot in. This is worse than murder, and such crimes deserve to be punished to the full extent of the law. We would suggest that they be hung, drawn, quartered and fed to a pack of hungry Malamute dogs.
Distant PastBy 1900 the American nation had established itself as a world power. The West was won. The frontier -- the great fact of 300 years of American history -- was no more. The continent was settled from coast to coast. Apache war chief Geronimo had surrendered in 1886. Defeat of the Sioux at the battle of Wounded Knee in 1891 had brought the Indian Wars to a close. By 1900 the Indians were on reservations and the buffalo were gone. Homesteading and the introduction of barbed wire in 1874 had brought an end to the open range. The McCormick reaper had made large-scale farming profitable and, in 1900, the U.S. was by far the world's largest agricultural producer. The first transcontinental rail link had been completed in 1869. Three decades later, in 1900, the nation had 193,000 miles of track, with five railroad systems spanning the continent. The world's first oil well had been drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859. By 1900, major oil fields were being tapped in Kansas, Illinois, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. The supply of American oil seemed limitless. John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Trust dominated the world's petroleum markets and controlled more than 90 percent of the nation's refinery capacity. At the turn of the century, the strength of a nation's industrial capacity was measured by the number of tons of steel it produced. In the 1880s Andrew Carnegie had constructed the world's largest steel mill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and by 1900, the United States was the largest steel producer in the world, turning out 10,000,000 tons a year. Henry Ford had built his first gasoline engine car in 1892 and the world's first auto race was held in Chicago in 1896. With the founding of the Ford Motor Company in 1903, the age of the automobile was underway. By 1900, telephones were in wide use. Cities were being electrified. Moving pictures were a curiosity. Guglielmo Marconi was conducting experiments that would lead to the development of the radio, and the Wright brothers were at work on a heavier-than-air flying machine. Cities were growing. New wealth and devastating fires produced a boom in urban construction. Architects Richardson, Hunt, McKim, Mead, and White flourished; Sullivan pioneered the skyscraper and his protege, Frank Lloyd Wright, was beginning his career in Chicago. Alaska was and still is the "last frontier." A story yet to be captured for generations to come.
Agent: John H. Clark IV
Name of agency: Old Stone Press
This is no staid diary. Step aside Jack London and make room at the bar for George Cheever Hazelet. There are forest fires, floods, gunplay and many other death-defying episodes. These journals penned during the 1898 Alaskan Gold Rush are every bit as exciting and authentic as The Call of the Wild.
An Uncommon Entrepreuneur
George Cheever Hazelet was born in the small frontier village of Senecaville, Ohio in 1861. He arrived at a time in America’s history when no more than a handful of people were called a town and a city might scarcely count 1,000 residents. It was a time of migration and discovery, of wagon trains and mud huts, of new lands extending the size of a nation that was as yet less than 100 years old. But what times they were. In 1803 the United States paid France $11 million for 289,000 square miles of land between The Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains nearly tripling the size of the nation, although no one knew exactly what lay to the west of the Mississippi River. To untangle the riddle of the Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the great Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore this new part of the nation with a mandate to find a northwest passage to the Pacific Ocean. The Louisiana Purchase was quickly followed by an agreement with the British that favorably settled the boundaries of Canada to the north and a series of treaties with Spain that ceded Florida to the United States in 1819. The territory of Texas was annexed in 1845 triggering a war with Mexico which ended with a treaty that gave the United States California, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. In 1867 Alaska was purchased from the Russians for 7.2 million dollars and in 1898 Hawaii was annexed, although they too were largely mysteries.
No doubt emboldened by what amounted to endless horizons, American’s began to move. Wagon trains clogged the Oregon Trail to the pace of some 5,000 new families migrating west a year. Within four years of the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave any family willing to settle in the west 160 acres of land to live off, the nearly lifeless plains of Nebraska were populated by 72,000 homesteaders. Trains stitched together communities in a dizzying array of routes and lines, some as short as 30 miles and one as long as the nation when the first transcontinental line opened in 1869. The Civil War had ended, “Flim-Flam” deals and “carpet baggers” were prevalent and scheming—taking advantage of this new energy of a nation healing and being reborn -- abounded. Millions of people were in motion, most migrating out to the west, each with a dream, a place, a better life in mind.
George Hazelet would be one of those men. Hazelet would earn a college degree in Iowa, he would become a teacher and eventually the principal of the Atkinson, Nebraska school district then the O’Neill, Nebraska school district. During those years, he would serve as an elected official in local government, marry and raise a family, and would be marked by those that knew him a man on the move, a man who would one day be a town leader, a state leader, an icon of Nebraska. But Hazelet saw it differently and ever so slowly but ever so certainly he began to place his life on to an entirely new trajectory. Well before he turned 40, George Hazelet would abandon the security of the classroom for his first businesses and when those failed, he would seek his fortune in Alaska in what would be known as the Klondike Gold Rush. Hazelet the school principal would walk across glaciers, survive storm tossed seas, forest fires and earthquakes and navigate rivers scarcely seen by a white man. He would come to know coal, copper, oil, the gold mines and the deep wells that pried these minerals free from the reluctant Earth -- but he would also walk with confidence down the streets of New York, Washington DC and Chicago and Omaha would be familiar in the workings of the law, US Congress and the formation of corporations including several of his own. George Hazelet, the product of the smallest of hardscrabble towns, would impossibly come to know captains of industry, finance, banking and Presidents. His life would become a narrative of America at the turning of the centuries, a story writ large across face of Alaska, a story where resolve and integrity were as important as money, and the Golden Rule was nothing less than a man’s key to survival.
George Cheever Hazelet’s family arrived in Guthrie Center, Iowa, in 1868, a new town just 12 years old started by a pair of enterprising land developers seven days by coach to the west of Senecaville along the main track of the Milwaukee Railroad some 60 miles outside of Des Moines. Guthrie Center had framed buildings, grocery stores, saloons and a real schoolhouse, a vast improvement over the low-slung, mud-and-log huts back in Ohio over the tops of which one could hear the wolves running at night.
Hazelet’s parents seems to have prospered in Guthrie Center – they would live there all of their lives but make frequent trips to visit their children and grandchildren as they grew up -- and young George was a good enough student to be admitted to the Iowa State Normal School in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Now called the University of Northern Iowa, the Iowa State Normal School supplied a steady stream of accredited, well-educated teachers to the ever growing number of school districts in the seemingly endless numbers of new towns springing up across the Great Plains. George Hazelet, or Cheeve as his family called him, graduated in 1883 and was promptly hired as a school principal for the farming town of Atkinson, Nebraska, 627 miles due west of Cedar Falls. Hazelet packed his bags and for three years taught in Atkinson where he quickly attracted the attention of the city fathers in the larger and more prosperous town of O’Neill, Nebraska, just 15 miles away. Hazelet was offered the job as O’Neill’s school principal and he arrived there in 1886. Here he would meet his future wife, build his first home – and here he would recalculate the entire course of his life
O’Neill, Nebraska in 1866 was the very definition of the prosperity that those who pulled up their stakes dreamed of when they migrated west. The city was a whir of opportunity. Settled by John O’Neill in 1874 as an Irish catholic outpost, the rich soils attracted waves in migration and in just nine years its population had swelled to 1,200 residents. Main Street was crowded shoulder-to-shoulder with merchants of all kinds. there was a newspaper, a hotel, a drugstore with a sign that said “Sundries,” at least one restaurant, a dry goods store, and a new all-brick courthouse about to be built at the cost of $20,000. The Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad had arrived in 1881, two banks were incorporated, and O’Neill had become the county seat for Holt County, Nebraska. New roads were being platted, drainage systems graded, and a second rail head about to open, the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy line from Sioux City, Iowa.
As the incoming school principal Hazelet arrived with professional credentials that were impeccable and Hazelet was promptly elected to the position of Hart County Clerk where he directed a full time staff of seven. He joined philanthropic organizations, married, and built a lovely house on two acres, one of the homes that was regular stop on the O’Neill social circuit and whose parties were frequently mentioned in the social columns. Always clean shaven and well attired, the professor, as he was sometimes called, was also an investor. In 1890, along with two other partners, Hazelet bought 90 acres of land for $5,400 near O’Neill’s town center and began subdividing it into lots. Later that year he was one of the incorporators of the State Bank of O’Neill. Apparently enjoying some early success with his first ventures, the local newspaper reported that school teacher had added a new sidewalk, a new driveway, and had planted new trees around his home. In 1881 Hazelet was one of the incorporators of the Nebraska Land and Investment Company and in 1892 he signed a deal to sell 319 lots in his original development to an investor from Kansas.
Hazelet’s term in the clerk’s office brought him into contact with Andrew Jackson “Jack” Meals. Meals had a pleasing and sincere disposition and was the type of man that liked the people he met and not the other way around, an advantage in frontier towns where education was not the only credential that mattered. Meals was a rough-and-tumble jack of all trades -- part cowboy, part bull whacker; part wagon train foreman, herder of cattle, stagecoach driver, rancher and a prospector who went to California to seek a fortune in the first gold rush. While they were near opposites -- Meals cleared trails, built roads and broke horses; Hazelet organized investors and worked with lawyers– their orbits routinely intersected and when they did they looked upon each other favorably and no doubt made mental notes. In 1894 Jack Meals left his town of O’Neill yet again and went to Montana to prospect for gold.
The lucrative real estate ventures that propelled George Hazelet into the forefront of O’Neill, Nebraska were scarcely enough to contain the educator’s ambitions. Chicory had long been used by Europeans as a substitute for coffee and by the 1840s a blend of chicory and coffee was the preferred beverage in and around New Orleans, the main port of entry for South American coffee beans. When the Confederates blockaded the Port of New Orleans during the Civil War, coffee imports fell to a trickle and priced skyrocketed forcing coffee drinkers around the nation to switch to the more economical chicory substitute.
Convinced that a fortune could made from the chicory root at a reasonable outlay of capital, and knowing that the soils around O’Neill were as rich as any, Hazelet put together a plan to cultivate chicory plants and chop the root into a grind. He would build a processing plant in O’Neill and pay farmers a guaranteed bounty to convert their fields. The plant would bake and grind the roots and sell a blended coffee-and-chicory roast, a chicory roast, and moist chicory plugs. Apparently Hazelet was as good at selling his ideas to investors as he was as a school principal and in 1892 Hazelet had the necessary capital to incorporate a business he called the German Chicory Company. Hazelet and his chicory-blends traveled to St. Louis, Chicago, Kansas City, Des Moines, and Omaha to open up new markets and gain new distributors. Business was off to a robust start growing to over 100 employees; product shipped, the farmers were paid and Hazelet, sensing that his moment had arrived, completed his transformation from school principal to businessman and resigned from the O’Neill school board. By 1894, his business was so strong that he was able to merge it into a competitor in Omaha forming the American Chicory Company. Hazelet promptly packed his bags and moved his family and his headquarters to the largest city in the state of Nebraska. Hazelet would forever say goodbye to the small town of O’Neill but he would draw on his roots time and time again.
The first three years of the chicory business were a near perfect combination of product, pricing, politics and perseverance. The local drought that devastated Nebraska crops in 1892 left unharmed the farmers that grew Hazelet’s root. The Nebraska legislature was so impressed by the chicory business that in 1893 they passed a crop subsidy for any farmer who planted the crop. Hazelet’s travels expanded distribution and the O’Neill factory ran at near capacity but in 1895 the subsidy was unexpectedly dropped and in 1896 a severe drought settled on the Midwest destroying the corn harvest. The unrelated run on precious metals combined with poor banking practices to cause the Panic of 1896 which pushed the nation into a steep but short depression. Farms failed, banks failed and commodity prices plunged. Worse, chicory, a staple that usually enjoyed an increase in demand in depressed times, was suddenly more expensive than coffee as the price of roasted coffee beans plunged, too. With coffee beans as cheap as the dirt they grew in, American’s switched back and the demand for Hazelet’s chicory grinds collapsed. In 1897, Hazelet’s American Chicory Company collapsed, too.
But there was hope. Gold. Seared into the memory of any who had lived on the western frontier in mid-century was the astonishing flow of riches that followed those who had had the courage and wherewithal to join the 1849 California Gold Rush and mine the alluvial flats of the California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Gold had proven to be plentiful, and the goldfields were placer fields, the sort of scrape-it-off-the-ground mining that took little more than a pan and water, and a strong back An ordinary prospector with a decent claim could easily make 15 times the standard of living back home. Six months of back breaking work would put six years of cash in a man’s pocket, and it showed. After just one year steamships bulged with the precious metal and rode low in the water as they brought prospectors home. One ship sank in a storm and left more than $2 billion to be recovered some 80 years later.
In July of 1897, two ships docked in San Francisco with miners carrying heavy bags filled with gold flakes. The nuggets had been found in the Yukon, they announced, and the “stampeders” were suddenly off to Alaska. The Klondike Gold Rush was officially on and it was every bit as breathtaking as the California Gold Rush that proceeded it.
Along with the clear memory of the violent death and loss of close friend and partner, Barrett Scott perported to have been lynched at the hand of vigilantes for significant shortages in the county treasury in December of 1894; the same office he had held and dodged similar charges by reaching a settlement plus the continued drought, low agriculture prices, failing banks—it was time to make some dramatic changes in his life. There was not much left for him in Holt County Nebraska.
Despite the collapse of the chicory business Hazelet emerged with his reputation intact. Hazelet quickly mapped out a plan to undertake an exploratory trip to Alaska to stake claims if he found gold. He received support from his family and his friends and business associates in Guthrie Center, Atkinson, O’Neill, Omaha – 24 in all -- plus a loan from a former British partner. He promptly contacted A. J. Meals in O’Neill and a partnership was quickly formed. On February 17, 1898, George Cheever Hazelet, school teacher, superintendent, land developer, bank organizer and industrialist, boarded a train, met up with his friend Jack Meals and began a journey that would transport him to a world he had never seen to do a job he’d never done before with a family and a life in the balance. He would leave his wife and his two sons age 7 and 9 years old with his wife’s parting words in his ears, “I know I shall never see you again.” He would take with him little more than what was absolutely necessary except for the luxury of a notepad and a pencil to record his incredible journey in what would be called Hazelet’s Journal.
Today, more than 110 years later, Hazelet’s Journal is about the search for gold in Alaska but it’s also about a time and a place long lost to us who live with the conveniences of the 21st Century. There were no airplanes, no roads not even a trail into the Yukon which makes this journal a study of character as much as it is a study of possibilities and human nature and the power of hope.
The extraordinary story George Cheever Hazelet’s timeless journey to seek the fortune that so far had eluded him begins as he leaves his home in Omaha, Nebraska and the door behind him closes.
John Clark These journals would inspire a screen writer that is interested in a true Alaska "Last Frontier" story. America is ready for a real American story that inspires. The two main characters in this story define what a true partnership should be. A story about two uncommon entrepreneurs whose lives show that the true test of a man's character is in how much risk he'll take to keep it intact.
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