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Sample Interpretive Tour Program:
Skookum Jim Tour

Hello, Welcome to Carcross.  My name is _____ and I’m with the Caribou Crossing Adventure Company, run out of the Koolseen Centre.   This short tour will last ten to fifteen minutes and will be focusing on Skookum Jim, who first discovered gold in Bonanza Creek, leading to the Klondike Gold Rush.  Please feel free to interject or ask questions throughout the tour!  I’m going to begin the tour by describing Skookum Jim and his background and after that tell the story of how he actually discovered the gold.

Skookum Jim (Keish), also known as James Mason was described by George Carmack as “straight as a gun barrel, powerfully built with strong sloping shoulders, tapering…downwards to the waist, like a keystone.  He was known as the best hunter and trapper on the river, in fact he was a super-specimen of the northern Indian” (Skookum Jim Oral History Project- Archives). Pierre Berton similarly described him as “a giant of a man, supremely handsome with his high cheekbones, his eagle’s nose and his fiery black eyes”(Ibid).             

Skookum Jim was particularly known for his strength, acquiring the name “Skookum”, which means ‘strong’ or ‘powerful’ in the Chinook coastal language, after achieving a packing record of carrying 156 lbs of bacon across a pass which “might be considered a load anywhere on roads, but over the stony moraine of a glacier, as the first half of the distance is, and then up a steep pass, climbing more than 3000 feet in six or seven miles, some of it so steep that the hands have to be used to assist one up, certainly is a stiff test of strength and endurance” (William Ogilvie, in Skookum Jim: Native and Non-Native Stories and View about his Life and the Klondike Gold Rush).

Skookum Jim was a member of the Tagish Nation and member of the Daklawedi clan.  Out of the original five who discovered the gold at Bonanza Creek- Dawson Charlie, Patsy Henderson, Skookum Jim and Kate Carmack were all from the Tagish Nation, while George Carmack was the only white man.  

Angela Sidney, a respected Tagish elder and Skookum Jim’s niece, has recorded the story of how it was that Skookum Jim was the first to discover gold in Bonanza Creek.  While living with his family in Dyea, Skookum Jim stepped outside of the log house one day to hear a funny noise.  The noise was coming from a ditch near the side of the house where a frog was trapped, jumping yet unable to escape.  Skookum Jim saw this and laid a board down the ditch, allowing the frog to climb on.  He then took the board down to a creek and freed the frog.  About a year later, Skookum Jim was suffering from stomach problems, after getting kicked in the stomach by a drunkard causing festering.  He was so sick that he couldn’t even walk.  His stomach was bandaged up, but this one morning in June, the injured area would stop burning.  So Skookum Jim called Maria John over.  They took the bandages off and saw the frog licking the sore place.   His mother put the frog on a board, surrounded it with silk thread, beads and swan down feathers and took the board and frog down to the creek and left it there, as payment for Skookum Jim.  After a few days Skookum Jim was completely healed.  Later, Skookum Jim went to see his mother in Carcross, about a 4 day journey.  He went to sleep one night while traveling and dreamt about a shining lady.  She told Skookum Jim “I come for you now, I want you to marry me”.  Skookum Jim said that he couldn’t marry her because he already had a wife.  “Well” she said, “If you can’t go with me I will give you my walking stick”, which was gold.  The lady was the frog in a different form.  She said that he had helped her when she was starving and about to die, which is why she helped him, giving him medicine when he was sick.  She said “you're going to find the bottom of this walking stick.  You’re going to find it this way”.  She pointed toward Atlin and said, “that’s not for you though, that’s for somebody else.  Then she pointed to Dawson and said, “you go down this way, and you’re going to have luck, your walking stick”.  Skookum Jim woke up in the morning with snow on him.  When he arrived in Carcross everyone asked where he had been.  He thought he had only been gone for four days, but eleven had passed.  He didn’t think about the dream any more after that until his discovery of gold in 1896.

Until that time, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie had been working with William Ogilvie, a government surveyor who was later appointed Commissioner of the Yukon and was one of the first white men to meet Skookum Jim.   Ogilvie first met Skookum Jim while leading a Canadian geological survey party, surveying the White Pass.  The scout for the group was a Carcross- Tagish man- Kesh, or Skookum Jim.  There was great competition between the various native groups for packing in this area, with the peak of the packing dispute, the ‘Packing War’, occurring in 1888.  Keish was able to pack for both sides of the pass as his father claimed all the territory from Carcross to the summit of Chilkoot on the interior side of the pass, and because of his kinship ties with the Lukaxh adi, who owned the coast side of the trail.

Skookum Jim originally headed up to the Klondike not to find gold, but rather to locate his sisters, as their family hadn’t heard from them in two years.  One of Skookum Jim’s sisters, Kate Carmack was married to the prospector George Carmack, and another of his sister’s Age was married to Mr. Wilson, all of who had set out prospecting together.  Their mother became worried about Kate and sent Skookum Jim to look for her.  He took his nephews: Patsy Henderson (Koolseen) and Dawson Charlie (Kha Guxh) with him.  They went down the Yukon River eventually finding Kate and George Carmack in the Klondike region.  However, instead of going back home they had set up camp for the summer while waiting for the river to freeze over.  One day, while hunting, Skookum Jim was washing a dish by what was later known as Bonanaza Creek when he found heavy yellow rocks.  He took them back to George Carmack and asked if that was what he was looking for (and it sure was!).  The claim was staked on August 17, 1986. (Patsy Henderson did not get any share of the claim since he was back at the camp watching the fish trap and the dogs when the gold was discovered).

While George Carmack was the one to actually stake the claim, he shared the claim fairly.  Despite being rich, Skookum Jim kept prospecting.  Carmack, realizing millions, went to Seattle and San Francisco and bought a grand motorcar and went about the state with a big placard attached to his car announcing “the discoverer of gold in the Klondike”.  Skookum Jim is said to have thoroughly enjoyed throwing gold nuggets out of the window of his hotel room while he was in Seattle in order to watch the near-riot that would erupt on the street below. Dawson Charlie gave up his status so that he could own a hotel and be able to drink.  Pasty Henderson stayed in Carcross, not having any claim in the stake at Bonanza Creek, putting on a public show for tourists by the train station.

Skookum Jim died in 1962 of kidney problems leaving money to Kate Carmack (1000), Patsy Henderson (1000), his cousin Caribou John (1000), Tagish Jim (500) and control of his estate to his Daughter Daisy Mason.  He also established a large trust fund, which still exists today, called “The Skookum Jim Indian Fund”.  The interest generated by this money was to be used to obtain a better standard of health and education for First Nations people in the Yukon. 

The interest generated by the money was to be used to help obtain a better standard of health and education for Indian People in the Yukon. The trust fund is still in existence today and the interest generated is used to provide awards and recognition to Indian People who have helped their community.

(Talk about Scandal?  Angela Sidney describes the situation while Skookum Jim was in the hospital in Whitehorse, and how there were no Indian witnesses- her husband George and Tagish Jim were supposed to be witnesses…when they came in Skookum Jim told them they [the Anglican Church] made the will and he wasn’t supposed to tell anyone.  The only Trustees of Skookum Jim’s will were the Anglican Church (Sgd. W.L. Phelps and Sgd. W.B. Clarke and the Commission of the Yukon Territory) “really crooked people”.




Sample Interpretive Tour Program:
Town Tour

Hello, Welcome to Carcross.  My name is ________ and I’m with the Caribou Crossing Adventure Company, run out of the Koolseen Centre.  This tour will last approximately 25 to 30 minutes and we will walk through the town and look at some of the key historical buildings.

Carcross, like many of the towns of the Yukon, was established during the gold rush.  However, area is located on Tagish land, and was known to the Tagish First Nations as Todezzane, “blowing all the time” and to the Tlingit as Naataase Heen, “water running through the narrows”.  Just recently, in May of this year, the Carcross Tagish First Nations approved the land claim, so that they will be self-governing rather than an Indian Act band.   The C/TFN will also own over 1554 square kilometers of settlement land.

In 1899 the community was officially named Caribou Crossing, referring to the spot where the local woodland caribou herd crossed the narrows.  However, due to frequent mail mix-ups with other communities in BC, the Yukon and Alaska with similar names, in 1904 Bishop Bompass, the town’s Anglican Bishop, requested that the name be abbreviated to ‘Carcross”, a change which was approved in 1906.

While originally an outpost for the North West Mounted Police, Carcross continued to grow as it became an important stop for supplies for people involved in the Gold Rush, as gold was found in the Atlin, Bennett and Conrad City.  It further becomes a stop along the White Pass and Yukon Route railway in 1900.  It was also a minor shipbuilding centre for sternwheelers and for a short time it has the largest sawmill in the territory, owned by Mike King, who also built the boats and scows for the gold rush trade from early 1897.

Carcross is also important in that it was the home of Skookum Jim, from the Tagish First Nation, who was the one to first find gold in Bonanza Creek, spurring the Klondike Gold Rush.  Kate Carmack, Dawson Charlie and Patsy Henderson similarly lived in this area.

At the height of the Gold Rush in 1897 it became evident that a more efficient method of crossing the passes of the St. Elias Range from Alaska to Lake Bennett was needed, as the White Pass Trail was difficult to traverse and both it and the Chilkoot Trail were clogged with Stampeders.  There were a number of attempts to do this including aerial tramways, and a disastrous attempt by George Brackett to build a wagon road.  (Problems included insufficient funds and lack of properly prospecting the route…he only able to complete 8 miles before he ran out of money.  After this he left for a year to raise funds, returned and put a toll on the road.  However the stampeders refused to pay and Brackett, using his influence in Washington, had the U.S. Army send troops from Dyea to maintain order and keep the roads open.) 

The idea for the railroad was born in the early part of 1898, however the first man to survey the mountains for the prospective railroad, named Tancrede, concluded that due to the rugged terrain a railroad was not feasible.  Michael Heney (who was known as "Big Mike" or "The Irish Prince") thought differently. After a night of talking in Skagway's St. James Hotel bar, he got Tancrede to agree to begin the project with financing from British backers. They agreed it would be an expensive undertaking, but could be done with tons of equipment, thousands of men and reasonably good weather, items that were all lacking right from the start. However, construction began in April 1898.

(There were several problems building the railways (other than the difficult terrain, weather and lack of materials):  it hard to get men working for labour prices considering all the gold they thought was waiting for them in the Klondike.  However, men often ended up working with the railroad wither to earn enough money to get to the gold fields, or to return home.  Additionally, whenever there was a rumour of gold, the labour for the railroad would rapidly deplete.  Other problems included an international dispute over the location of the Canadian/US border and a gang of outlaws operating out of Skagway under the direction of “Soapy Smith” (Jefferson Randolph Smith). The gang robbed new arrivals at Skagway, usually by confidence tricks, and caused trouble at the railroad work camps. But the problem disappeared abruptly on July 9, 1898, when citizens of Skagway organized Vigilantes.  One of them, Frank Reid, shot it out with Soapy on the Skagway waterfront wharf of Skagway. Both men were killed.)

While railway construction was under way in 1899, gold was discovered in Atlin and another stampede occurred. As a result, all would-be miners, goods and services destined for Atlin went through Carcross.  The town was further established by the WP&YR to maintain the rail line and connect freight and passengers to Atlin and points around the lake via the sternwheelers.  Previous to this, the town had consisted only of North West Mounted Police Post and was associated with a reserve on the north side of the narrows and a First Nation community on the south.

The Carcross area is a part of Tagish First Nation’s Land, and Skookum Jim, of the First Nation, having gained fame for his role as the one who discovered gold in the Klondike, was the one to make a deal with the railway.  He game permission for the railway to build across his land in exchange for jobs for the people in his community.   So in 1899 J.H. Brownlee surveyed the town site for the White Pass & Yukon Route.

The first train ran the 40 miles from Skagway to Lake Bennett on July 6, 1899 while other crews started working south from Whitehorse.  At this point freight could now be sent by train to Lake Bennett, put on lake steamers to Caribou Crossing and then hauled to Whitehorse on wagons or by rail as the roadbed construction progressed. The railroad connected Carcross and Whitehorse in June 1900, and the entire line was completed on July 29, 1900, with a golden spike celebration at Carcross, Yukon Territory.   Many dignitaries attended this ceremony in which a real golden spike was placed on a rail.  There were many attempts were made to drive it in with no avail. The spike ended up a twisted piece of gold.

It took 27 months to build this 110-mile rail line: A very long time for a short distance. But considering the terrain, weather, manpower and machinery problems that the builders had to contend with, it is a tribute to their persistence and dedication that the railroad was completed at all.  Carcross was a major depot for the WP&YR, running from 1900 until the railway ceased operations during the recession of 1982

The White Pass and Yukon Route railroad depot was built in 1910.  It is a designated Canadian Heritage Railway Station and operates as the Visitor Reception Centre.  The Koolseen centre, the warehouse behind the Visitor Reception center was used for freight storage during the later years.  It is named the Koolseen centre after Patsy Henderson (Koolseen), who also played a role in the discovery of gold at Bonanza Creek with Skookum Him.  He used to stand outside of the train station, greeting tourists with public lectures, explaining traditional ways by describing traditional traps and how to light fires without matches, doing various animal calls and telling the story of the finding gold in the Klondike.

Caribou Hotel
The Caribou Hotel has quite a colourful history and bears the distinction of being the oldest operating hotel in the territory.   The previous owner, Bob Olson decided to paint it, but only got about half way through before running out of paint.  He owned and operated the hotel from the early 1990’s until December 2004, when he was murdered in the hotel.  As you can see, the hotel is currently abandoned. 

The Caribou Hotel most likely started its life as the Yukon Hotel in Bennett and was transported from Bennett to Carcross on a scow by the owner W.A. Anderson.   At this time William Walmsley’s ‘Caribou House’ was the only operating hotel in town.  Anderson opened the hotel as the ‘Anderson Hotel’ in May 1901.

In 1903 Anderson’s bar, hotel and store were bought for $9000 by Dawson Charlie, one of the discoverers of gold in the Klondike along with Skookum Jim and George Carmack.  Dawson Charlie had to give up his status in order to both own the hotel and to be able to drink at the bar. 

After Dawson Charlie’s death on January 26, 1908, Edwin W. and Bessie Gideon rented it from his estate.  The hotel prospered until it burned to the ground in the fire of December 24, 1909.  The temporary hotel was moved to Colonel Conrad’s house until, Gideon built a new hotel on the same spot in 1910 using material from a building in Conrad City. 

The famed Polly the Parrot moved into the hotel in 1918, when Captain James Alexander asked the Gideon's to take care of him while he and his wife went on a trip; they were subsequently killed on the wreck of the Princess Sophia.   Polly resided at the Caribou Hotel for more than 50 years, gaining international fame for singing opera and for shocking unsuspecting hotel guests with colourful profanity.  He died in 1972 at the age of 126 and his grave is marked with a fine bronze marker.

Bessie Gideon, the owner’s wife, died in the hotel in 1933, and the hotel has been reported to be haunted by her ghost, a shy spirit who resides on the third floor.

Through the Gold Rush years, Carcross became a minor  centre of shipbuilding in the area, alongside Lindeman Lake and Bennett. In late May of 1898, the North-West Mounted Police counted 198 boats under construction at Caribou Crossing and Tagish Lake. It was further estimated that another 1,200 boats were built in these three areas over the next few weeks.  

In addition to being a minor boat-building centre, Caribou Crossing was also a station for the Royal Mail and the Dominion Telegraph Line, and it served as a communications point on the Yukon River.

Silver and gold were first discovered in the Windy Arm area of Tagish Lake in July of 1899, sparking an intensive mining era in this part of the Yukon. By 1905, American mining promoter Col. John Howard Conrad had acquired control of most of the newly discovered gold-silver-lead deposits. By 1906 the boomtown of Conrad employed more than 200 miners. It included stores, churches, hotels, restaurants, baths and laundry, a post office, a mining recorder's office as well as regular steamboat service from Carcross.

Conrad's most ambitious and extravagant undertaking was construction of a tramline to carry the ore down from his mine on Montana Mountain--then the longest aerial tram in the world. It rose 3,700 feet, extended for four miles and cost $75,000 to build at a time when the average miner was earning $3.50 a day. The sternwheeler Gleaner provided steamer service between Conrad and Carcross twice a week, and a telephone line linked the mines, Conrad and Carcross.   Luck ran out however when the world price for silver dropped in 1914 and the mines were discovered not to be as extensive as previously thought.  The mines were closed and the town was abandoned.

Carcross however, benefited from this when a major fire destroyed the downtown core in 1909, as over the year’s buildings from Conrad City, Bennett City (abandoned after 1900) and other abandoned mining communities in the area were relocated to Carcross.  

Interestingly, the homeowners along Bennett Ave and the Bennett Lake beachfront were considered “squatters” until the regulations changed in 1983, allowing these properties to be titled.

Skookum Jim’s House (not on route, can point in direction)
Skookum Jim had this house built in 1899, after discovering the gold at Bonanza Creek that spurred the Gold Rush.  This was the only house that he ever owned. The imported lumber and furniture was brought from Skagway to Lake Bennett by White Pass & Yukon Route and then rafted up the lake to Carcross.

After spending time in the Whitehorse hospital with kidney problems in his old age, he returned back to Carcross until his death.  Four years after Skookum Jim died, the Anglican Church disposed of the property. Johnny Johns bought the house in 1920 in trust for the wolf clan who gradually paid him back. Johns never lived in the house, which is owned by the Wolf (Daklaweidi) People. Joe Schinkel largely reconstructed the Skookum Jim House after a fire that occurred around 1967.

History of Schools
The first primary school in Carcross was probably built in 1910 and may have only lasted a year. The second school building was rented from Matthew Watson in 1928-9 and Adele Sansom was the teacher that year. The Bishop of the Yukon constructed this building in 1939-40 for use as a territorial school and was used until 1953. It later became a Parish Hall for the Anglican Church.

The regular Carcross School had burned down in July 1936, spreading from a fire originating in the old Scott Hotel.  The entire school was demolished in only forty minutes.  While some of the school equipment was saved, many of Patsy Henderson’s relics of the North, and items used in connection with his lectures-, which were often given out of the hotel-, were lost.

The town of Carcross has an interesting history of schooling.  There were two sets of schools, the day schools, found in town and for white children, and the residential boarding school, found just out of town on Tagish road, for the First Nation children. 

In 1903, the Anglican Church, under Bishop Bompas, opened the Indian Boarding School, later to become known as the Choutla Indian Residential School (Choutla meaning “laughing water”).  In 1911, the Canadian Government Department of Indian Affairs, funded the construction of a new school building, which was placed at the disposal of the Church of England.  A new building was built after a fire in 1939 and classes were held in various temporary locations until 1954 when a new building was built to accommodate 160 students.  By the late 1960s the Canadian government had changed its policy of assimilation of native people into mainstream society and residential schools were phased out.  The school was closed in the early 1970s. After being used as a private school for a couple of years, it was demolished in the mid-1980s.

This school, like most residential schools of this era, often forcibly removed children from their families, keeping them apart for months or years at a time.  This caused problems as the children were cut off from their own culture, but at the same time were not accepted by white society.  Many of the children left the school before graduation, but faced enormous problems in the traumatic transition adapting to life back in their home communities.  The residential school system in effect left these children “potential outcasts of their own people and not quite up to the standards of white intellect”.

(A 1931 pamphlet of the Choutla school notes “The main object of this School is to send boys and girls back to their own people not Europeanized, and contemptuous of their old surroundings, but able to stand along, living sober, well-instructed, high-principled Christian lives, and there gather others around them by daily exhibition of a standard of truth and goodness never known before” (6).)

The school's academic program was limited to basic writing and arithmetic, and it promoted loyalty to Christianity and the British Empire. Indian culture and traditions were considered irrelevant and students were forbidden to speak their native languages. They also suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse. (During construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942, two black American soldiers entered the girls' dormitory of Choutla School. The two soldiers were later found guilty of having sex with under-age girls and were fined $24 and $20 each by an American military court.  In 2001, other lawsuits were filed against the Anglican Church and others for abuses against the students in the 1950s and 1960s)

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church
St. John the Baptist Church was brought from Conrad City to this site in the early 1940s. William and Winnie Atlin were the first couple to be married here. A pastoral worker conducts regular Sunday Communion services.

St. Saviour’s Anglican Church (not on route, can tie into talk about St. John the Baptist Church)
Bishop Bompas and his congregation constructed St. Saviour’s in 1904, just two years before his death, on the south side of the Narrows. (Previously, services were held in the Mission House, which was much too small).  The funds for the new church were raised by Mrs. Charlotte Bompas (wife of the Bishop) in eastern Canada.  The church was moved to its current location, here on the North side of the river in 1917 (1914 in booklet?), following a donation of the property to the church by the WP&YR.  It was moved across the water on a scow and hauled up the BYN steamboat ways.  Skookum Jim’s daughter, Daisy, was the first person baptized here. The church was brought across the river by scow to its present site about 1914.

Bishop Bompas’ House (not on route)
Bishop William Carpenter Bompas first came to the north in 1869 as a missionary at Fort Yukon.  Throughout his life in the Yukon, the education of First Nations children was a prime focus, believing that “residential school was an important component in the Anglican Clergy’s program for the moral and cultural improvements of the Indians of the Yukon District”.  He first opened his Forty Mile mission to child boarders in 1891, although this mission didn’t act as a true boarding school as the students were primarily orphans or abandoned native children.  He and his wife relocated to Carcross in 1900 with the intent of opening a mission school; continually applying to the Department of Indian Affairs for support and funding.

They rented this Canadian Development Co. bunkhouse and purchased it shortly thereafter. At that time the building was much larger and T shaped, extending back into the bank. School and church services were held here until separate facilities were built for the mission school and church in 1903/04.

Bishop Ridley of Caledonia, visiting Carcross in 1903 gave his description of the Bishop’s house noting that the "Bishop's house (was) built of logs, on the sand. The flooring boards were half an inch apart; so shrunken were they that it would be easy to rip them up and lay them down close together. Then the roof; it was papered, with battens across the paper. I was anxious to see inside less of the light of heaven through the rents. Ventilation is carried to excess. Everything around is as simple as indifference to creature comforts can make it, excepting the books, which are numerous, up to date, and as choice as any two excellent scholars could wish.”

The Grant family lived here in the 1940s and the Baptist Church used it in 1980 for services given by Mr. Dickie.

The Carcross Barracks
Johnny Williams, a section foreman on the White Pass & Yukon Route railway, built the Carcross Barracks in 1920 as a private residence. He used local logs, a large roll of ship's canvas and other odds bits that he gathered. Most of the large trees in the area had been cut down to build boats during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897-1898, so small logs had to be used. They were placed vertically, and then unusual pieces were used to make the quaint rounded facade and porch.   The cabin later became the barracks and office of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment, and you can still have your picture taken in the jail cell.