fans of the old-west know John P. Clum as the Mayor of Tombstone
and the publisher of the Tombstone Epitaph during the Wyatt Earp/Doc
Holiday era - the early 1880's. The "aficionados" know
him as an Apache Agent at the San Carlos Indian reservation in
the mid-1870's. But not everyone knows that he spent a considerable
time in Alaska during the height of the 1898 gold rush, and the
early settlement period that followed. Keeping a journal during
his first trip in the summer of 1898, Clum provides some fascinating,
first-hand accounts of that exciting period in American history.
This is the first of 12 articles chronicling Clum's adventures
in Alaska, and what it was like to live and travel in a land with
such weather extremes, in such an exciting time in history.
Alaska From The Beginning
Secretary of State, William
H. Seward under then-President Andrew Johnson had been negotiating
for some time with Russian Minister Edouard de Stoeckl over the
purchase of Alaska from Russia. Alaska was a cold, desolate place
consisting of 586,000 square miles; twice the size of Texas. And
as forbidding as Texas can sometimes be in the summer heat and
dust, Alaska was an even more difficult place to live being socked-in
by cold, snow and ice seven to eight months of the year.
On March 23, 1867, both
parties reached a tentative purchase agreement for the price of
$7,000,000. On March 29th, Stoeckl received approval from Czar
Alexander to sell the real estate with a few minor provisions.
Seward ignored the Russian Minister's requested concessions and
offered Russia an extra $200,000 if the deal could be consummated
The Russians capitulated
and the final agreed-upon price was $7,200,000 or about 2.5 cents
per acre - the real-estate deal of a lifetime!
Over the next few months,
Seward struggled with Congress to appropriate the necessary funds.
Meanwhile US newspapers began calling the transaction Seward's
Folly or Seward's Icebox, thinking that Alaska was a worthless
piece of property with little or no potential.
Finally, on the afternoon
of October 18, 1867 in the Alaskan city of Sitka, the Russian
flag was lowered and the stars and stripes were raised marking
America's latest land acquisition and newest territory.
But few would brave Alaska's
harsh climate in subsequent years; except those in the fur trade.
In the early 1870's, gold was discovered there, but it did not
turn into the rush and frenzy that marked the founding of places
The Wheels Fall Off The Wagon
The closing decade of the 19th century may
have been revered as the "Gay 90's" for some, but certainly
not for all Americans. In fact, for many, you could say it was
a time when the proverbial wheels were falling off America's wagon
and the country began to skid along on its axles. Almost from
the first year of the last decade of the century, events were
taking place, which would set the stage for the country's last
big frontier adventure, the Klondike Gold Rush!
During the 1880's the US had experienced considerable
economic growth through industrialization, expansion of the railroads
and increased foreign investment. But the railroads expanded recklessly
producing more track and more passengers and freight carrying
capacity than was needed. This produced price wars and drove earnings
down considerably. Further stock manipulation by various railroad
barons for their own personal gain drove many rail lines to near
Farmers were hurt as well. In farm-belt regions
a deflationary dollar combined with overproduction impoverished
In July, 1890, US gold reserves dipped below
the "magic" $100 million mark, a psychological barrier that, when
breached, further eroded the public's financial trust. The US
was quickly headed for a deficit.
The US economic picture began to look increasingly
bleak. Then, in January 1893, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad
failed. As the railroads fell, so too did all the businesses along
the rail lines. With the railroad went the economic stability
of many towns and businesses.
On June 27, 1893, the New York Stock Exchange
crashed and the Panic of '93 was on. Visitors to the World's Columbian
Exposition in Chicago got a brief respite from the worsening economic
conditions but when they returned to their homes, things were
At the end of July, the Erie Railroad failed
and the stock market went into deep decline. Not unlike a string
of dominos, one failure led to another in 1893. Nearly 15,000
companies failed, 500 banks went out of business and fully thirty
percent of the country's railroads were insolvent. Fearing further
collapse, foreign investors pulled out of the US furthering the
misery. But it did them little good as depression soon gripped
the other side of the Atlantic.
Denver luminary and financier Horace Tabor
found himself over $2 million in debt overnight. The agricultural
depression deepened in the South and West and many people in the
cities were out of work, many near starvation. To make matters
worse, immigrants were pouring into New York in droves, many with
no marketable skills and little or no command of the English language.
People in the northwest were especially hard-hit.
Unemployed Seattle residents were reduced to living on clams dug
from the sands on the beaches. Fear remained wide-spread while
people horded gold coins. It was desperate times for many!
Money was scarce and credit so overstrained
by 1895 that some of the most powerful businesses in the country
went under. Despite four million unemployed, President Cleveland
did little to relieve the suffering. Instead, he took the tact
that most politicians of that time took; that economic conditions
of the time were a natural occurrence of the business cycle and
that eventually, things would turn around and the fittest would
survive. The term "bailout" evidently had not been coined yet.
The nation had seen economic downturns before,
but nothing this deep. The poorer strata of the populace believed,
and perhaps rightly so, that they had been "abandoned" economically
and culturally and needed a change.
Time dragged on and so did the depression.
People were ready for a change - for a new beginning. Having struggled
for many years in poverty they were ready for something more -
something to lift them out of their doldrums. They were ready
for a better life - for a way out of the merciless stagnation
that held them fast.
Change sailed into San Francisco harbor on
July 14, 1897 on a steamer named Excelsior…arriving from a land
of cold… and gold!
...Continued next month in Tombstone