Letters of John Franklin Zimmerman - Bob Zimmerman's WEB Page
The Letters and Diary of John Franklin Zimmerman
Zimmerman family from Illinois My grandfather, who went by the name of Frank (John Franklin Zimmerman) is pictured in this photo in the back row, second from the left.

He wrote a number of letters to his mother in Harvel, Illinois, to outline his experiences during his trip to Alaska. The letters and diary give an account of his journey to Alaska to make his fortune prospecting for gold in the late 1890's.

Frank made Alaska his home and later sent several letters to his brothers, one to Arthur and another to Walter. These letters are included here as well. I have also included a few photos taken by others to give a flavor of what life was like for those who dared to explore the Northwest Territory.

Index to Letters - click on the letter of your choice below:
1898, February 12 - Letter to mother written from Fort Wrangle (near Victoria, B.C.)
1898, January 24 - Diary of Trip to Alaska
1898, June 20 - Letter to mother written from Dawson, N.W. Territory
1920, July 15 - Letter to brother Walter written from Eureka Creek, Kantishna, Alaska
1926, March 23 - Letter to brother Arthur written from Fairbanks, Alaska

Other interesting links:
Fort Wrangle - a common stop on the way to Alaska. Additional letters.
The Klondike Gold Rush: Curriculum Materials for the History of the Pacific Northwest in the Washington Public Schools

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Pacific Ocean, Thurs.
February 12, 1898

Mrs. Wm. J. Zimmerman
Harvel, Illinois

Dear Mother:-

Routes to the KlondykeEnclosed you will find the diary of our trip up to the present time. I did not put down what Brunkey bought. The groceries, hardware, etc. we will share together. I could not separate them so I put them all down without making the division. Brunkey has his own sled, blankets rifle, etc. which do not appear on the list. I believe I told you that Brunkey bought him a heavy fur suit at Chicago for $22.50. Sugar, blankets and clothes were cheaper at Victoria than at Tacoma. Flour and many groceries, however, were much dearer. Take it all in all, we bought our outfit as cheap if not cheaper than we could have bought it on the American side.

Tobacco is about three times as high in Canada as in the U.S. In many things, it is very inconvenient to the Canadian that Canada and U.S. are not one country. Many, many things that they need, they have to get from U.S. on which they have a duty, which makes it high to the consumer. Evaporated fruits, molasses, tobacco and lots of manufactured goods are much higher to them than they would be if Canada was annexed to the U.S. There is no use talking, Canada is a dependent country. She is too far North. She can not raise every thing she needs like the U.S. can. The separation of the two countries is a great inconvenience to Canada. I will cite you an instance. We were buying some mosquito netting. We noticed that it was three or four times higher than in Tacoma and we asked the storekeeper the reason. He got the duty list and showed us at once that it was the duty causing it.

Alaska outfittersNow Victoria is only a few miles from Tacoma or Seattle yet the mere fact that there is an international boundary line between these, the above cities causes the difference in price to the consumer. I could cite many other special cases besides the above would I take the time, molasses for instance. Sugar and woolen goods are cheaper in Canada than in U.S. because they have free trade on them while we have protection. I had to pay $4.00 duty on my box and gun; Brunkey, I believe, paid $4.75 on his box and rifle. Brunkey says that this duty business is robbery and that if he gets back home, he is going to vote for free trade hereafter.

We had a little trouble in getting the draft cashed. The hotel keeper got a grocery man from whom we later bought our groceries to endorse it by which means we got it cashed. The bank telegraphed to Chicago to see whether the Harvel bank had money deposited in the Drovers National Bank. This cost $2.75. Then there was another charge of 25 cents a hundred; $1.25 on the $500 note. If we had got it cashed in Tacoma, this charge would have been 15¢ a hundred or 60¢ on the $500. In all then the charges on that $500 note were:

2.75 for telegraphing
0.50 charges by the Harvel banker

In all $4.50

This is undoubtedly pretty dear. What Mr. Ball ought to have done was to have made the draft on a Seattle, Tacoma or San Francisco bank, some coast city. Then the draft could have been mailed to the bank and the banker could have gotten an answer within a day or two. To have sent the draft by letter to Chicago from Tacoma and got an answer by telegraph would have taken five days. Then again, the Harvel banker should have written us a letter of introduction and had one of us to put down our signature. Then all we would have had to do, would have been to present the letter of introduction, given them a sample of our hand writing and if satisfactory, the draft would have been checked.

Our intention at present is to go to Dawson, that is if we do not hear of a new strike while on our way there. In case we do hear of a new find on this side of Dawson, we will switch off, stake us off a claim and see what we have got. The latest news are that there has been two new discoveries on Stewart river. We shall aim to let some one else do the prospecting and when we hear of a new discovery, strike out for it. We want to keep steady at work as much as possible.

The coast cities at present are full of professional gamblers. Seattle is also full of thugs, some Klondikers being held up almost every night. The great outfitting place at present seems to be Seattle and that is where the crowd is. The professional gamblers don't try to get hold of the money by force but simply gets his victim to playing cards. 25 cts. is put up to buy chips with and at each turn of the game if he looses one needs twice as many chips as he had before to save himself and by thus doubling and redoubling, great sums of money are put up during the progress of the game. It is hard to tell a professional gambler from a Klondyker for they dress the same and every once in a while, if a person is not careful, he finds himself with a sharper.

The horse cost us $30.00; freight on horse $35.00 and add this to the cost of 700 lbs. of feed, harness, blankets, freight on the feed to Skagway, etc. will make the horse cost us $90.00 in all. We paid freight on nearly two tons. Paid $26.45 in all. Freight on a ton is $15 00. We did not have two tons by weight but by measurement. 40 cubic feet is allowed to the ton. If a ton of provisions measures more than this, it goes by measurement.

We are now at Fort Wrangel, three and three fourths days since we started from Victoria. There is about six inches of snow on the ground. Mountains are thick around the town. They claim there is about 500 inhabitants In Fort Wrangel: 100 whites,400 Indians building a large new wharf. Most of the buildings are new.

The pages of the diary are numbered so that you can find your way thro'. When you get thro' reading it, please pin the pages together and preserve them for it might be that I would want to keep part of it. Will write again just before we leave Skagway. Address my future mail to Dawson, Northwest Territory via Skagway. If you write within a month, it will get there before I do.

Your son,

J. Franklin Zimmerman,
N.W. Territory.
Via Skagway

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John Franklin's Diary - Trip to the Klondike

Harvel IllinoisJanuary, 1898. Harvel. Mon. 24. Ther. Weather, Warm & muddy.
Left home for Klondike on the 7.20 P.M. train. A nice crowd was at the station to see us off.

January, 1898. Chicago. Tues. 25. Ther. Weather, windy & cold, 8 inches snow.
Arrived at Chicago at 7:30 A.M. Took our things to Conroy's Hotel where Brunky stayed during our stay in Chicago. Saw Ella in the evening.

January, 1898. Chicago. Wed, 26. Ther. Weather,
Went to the dentist and got my teeth filled. It took from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. Got three teeth filled with gold, Cost - one dollar a piece. Did some collecting in the evening. Brunkey went to the theatre. Said he liked it fine.

January, 1898. Chicago. Thur. 27. Ther. Weather,
In the afternoon, we bought our ticket to Vancouver. Cost - $51.50. Will take the Union Pacific. Leave Chicago on the Chicago & North-Western Railroad which connects with the Union Pacific at Omaha, Neb.


1 Revolver Harrington & Richardson 38 Caliber 3.00
1 Diary .15
1 Writing tablet .10
1 Memorandum book .10
1 Pr. Low rubber boot socks .25
1 Pr. Felt boots  
2 buckles 2.45
1 Pocket knife .75
Large safety pins .11

Brunky and I spent evening with Ella

January, 1898. Chicago. Fr. 28. Ther. Weather,
Spent the day buying Klondike clothes:

1 Suit heavy wool underwear 5.00
1 chamois skin 8.00
1 Mackinaw shirt 2.75
1 Pr. Mackinaw drawers 2.75
1 Sheep lined duck overcoat 10.00
1 Pr. German socks 1.00
1 Klondike cap 1.35
1 Pr. Snow glasses .20
1 Pr. Suspenders .45
1 Box Cartridges .54
1 Pocket Dictionary .10
New works for watch (7 jewels) 4.00
1 Heavy Sweater with hood 4.50

Left for Victoria on the 10:30 P.M. train

January, 1898. Iowa. Sat. 29. Ther. Weather, 3 inches snow
Woke up this morning by conductor calling out Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (5,45 A.M.). At central and Western part of Iowa, everything seemed to be corn. At Ogden, Ia. the whole town from one end to the other was covered with corn-cribs, filled with corn. Iowa is very rolling, much more so than I expected it to be. There are large and beautiful bluffs along the Missouri River near Council Bluffs. They are really beautiful. Nice bottom land. Just crossed over Elkhorn River. Land rough.

January, 1898. Sat. 29. Sun 30. Ther. Weather, Snowing 6 o'clock
Nice level farming land., Seems to be an excellent country for corn. Have not seen any timber all day except a little on the bluffs near Omaha. Just left Freemont.

1. January, 1898. Sun 30.Ther. Weather, Place - Wyoming
Country very rough. Country we passed thro' not much good for farming but a good ranching country. The ranches are very large. The land's still very largely owned by the government and by the railroads. Every thing open; very few fences seen. Cattle and horses run wild during the winter. Week before last, there were some new finds of gold made in this state. Said to be very rich.

2. January, 1898. Mon. 31. Ther. Weather, Cool
Place - Idaho & Western Oregon. Country hilly and mountainous. In western part of Idaho, saw herds of sheep numbering up in the thousands. There were generally one man on foot and a Shepard dog with every herd. No cattle seen; few horses.

3. February, 1898. Tues 1. Ther. Weather,
Place - Eastern Oregon & Washington. The most noticeable thing we have been seeing all day are the tall straight pine trees. Most of them are 6 to 12 inches in diameter. In Portland, we saw some nice gardens. Along the coast, it is very rainy and wet during this season of the year. Arrived at Portland, at 7:20 o'clock. 3½ days from time we started from Chicago. Our train crossed Columbia River on a ferry boat. Arrived at Tacoma at 4:40 p.m. Stayed at the Grand Central hotel.

4. February, 1898. Tacoma., Wed. 19, Ther. Weather, warm
Called on Professor Crowell, an old school mate of mine at Blackburn. He is teaching Latin in the Puget Sound University. He has two brothers in Klondyke. One is working in Dawson city for the North American Transportation & Trading Company of which Cudahy & Weare of Chicago are at the head. The two Crowell brothers started for Klondyke last May to take provisions to Dawson city. When they arrived at Dawson city, they got out of money so they had to sell part of their load. Eggs being very high there at the time, they sold their eggs at $4.50 a dozen which they bought for twenty cents a dozen., They got $16.00 for their eggs.

5. February, 1898. Thur. 20. Ther. Weather, Warm
The Crowell Bros. have four claims. One of their claims is on Sulphur Creek, a branch of Indian Creek; another claim is on Skookum gulch, a branch of Bonanza. The Prof. is going out himself in the spring and mine on shares with his brothers. He told me that a man in Tacoma is going to furnish him with $1,000; he in turn to give him one half of what he can make out of the one thousand. Four or five years ago when I saw Walter Crowell at school, I never once thought that he would ever permit himself to take hold of the spade. I have a letter of introduction to Charles Crowell of Dawson.

6. February, 1898. Thurs. Ther. Weather
Left Tacoma last night at 8 o'clock on the Kingston & arrived at Victoria at 6:30 this morning. Took quarters at the Queen hotel. Out west here, there is always a free ride to and from the hotel. A night's lodging SO far has always been fifty cents for the two of us. Looked around during the day & got quotations on groceries, hardware, shoes, etc.

7. February, 1898. Victoria. Fri. 4. Ther. Weather, Rainy & mild
Bought the following:

1 Bottle Pierces Golden Medical Discovery 1.00 1 Bottle Turpentine .15
1 Bottle Friars Balsam (for cuts to stop bleeding) .50
1 Camphor .25
1 Box Capsules .25
1 Bottle Chlorodyne .50 (To calm ones nerves & give rest - especially during a hard or long spell of sickness)
Chlorate of Potash .10
Citric Acid (for Scurvy) .50
(Uncle Henry gave me an ounce of Quinine and a bottle of Dr. Pierces Purgative pills. This with the above I believe will make up a pretty good medicine chest.)
1 Pr. Rubber boots 3.00
1 Pr. Hip boots (rubber) 5.50
1 Pr. Miners shoes 3.00

8. February, 1898. Victoria. Fri. 4. Sat. 5. Ther. Weather, Rainy

1 Shovel .75
1 Magnet .40
1 Steel pick 1.50
1 3½ foot Cross-cut saw 2.25
1 Gold pans .75
Fish hooks & lines .90
1 Extra pick handle .25
1 Ticket to Skagway 35.00
750 lbs. Snowflake flour @ 5.25 19.69
25 lb. Evaporated apples 2.50
50 lb. Breakfast Bacon @ 13 6.50
50 lb. Salted bacon @ 9½ 4.75
50 lb. Smoked Side @ 10 5.00
1½ doz. Price Baking Powder 6.00
2 lbs. Extract of Beef 1½ 4.75
15 lbs. Dried beef @ 18 2.70
1 Tin Creamery butter (5 lbs. @ 27½) 1.38
3 Tins Creamery butter (6 lbs. @ 27½) 1.65
50 lbs. Corn meal 1.25
40 " Candles 4.00
10 lbs. Coffee @ 25 2.50
10 lbs. " @ 30 3.00
5 lbs. Tea @ 35 1.75
5 lbs. Tea @ 30 1.50
10 lbs. Currants @ 7½ .75
1 doz. Condensed milk 1.50
1 lb. Colman's mustard .50
1 lb. Black Pepper .25
50 lbs. Evaporated potatoes @ 18 9.00
50 lbs. Split peas 2.00
30 lbs. Salt .30
3 doz. pkgs. Yeast cakes 2.40
1 bottle concentrated vinegar .50
1 tin Vegetable biscuits 1.00
100 lbs. Sugar 5.00
150 Yankee Beans @ 2½ 3.75
25 Brown Beans @ 3 .75
25 Lima Beans @ 3 .75
20 Oat meal @ 3 .60
21 Rolled oats @ 3 .63
50 Rice @ 5 2.50
1 doz Evaporated Soup vegetables 1.75
5 bars Laundry soap 1.25
1 box Matches .25
1 Tent 8 ft X 10 ft 6.50
1 Sheet steel stove & pipes 5.00
1 Draw knife .90
5 lbs. Oakum .50
5 lbs. Pitch .35
13 lbs. Nails .65
50 ft 3/4 inch Rope .75
100 ft 5/16 inch Rope .55
1 Tape measure .25
1 Compass .75
1 Pr. Moccasins (Shoes) 1.75
22 Duck sacks .@ 12½ 2.75
10 " " @ 17 1.70
6 yds Burlap @ 10 .60
1 Sleigh (Tobogan) 5.00
Drayage & Wharf age 1.25
1 Agate Pail 8 qt. .65
1 Agate Plate .20
1 Agate Quart cup .25
1 Agate Pint .15


1 Agate Sauce Pan .45
1 Agate Dish .70
1 Agate Coffee pot .75
1 Knife & fork .20
1 Butcher knife .40
2 Spoons, 1 tea, 1 table .15
1 Basting spoon .15
1 Fry pan .50
1 Axe & handle 1.00
1 Spare axe handle .25
1 Hatchet .65
1 Jack plane .75
1, Brace & set of bits ¼ - ½ - 1 in. 2.25
1 Hand saw 1.25
6 - 3 flat files, 3 taper files .75
1 Emery stone .50
1 Whip saw 4.50
1 Shovel .85

12. February, 1898. Victoria. Ther. Weather, Rainy
Bought following articles

1 Sleeping Bag 6 .75 2 Pr. Overalls 1.50
1 Shirt (blue) .75
1 pc. Mosquito-net 1.00
1 Suit Mackinaw - 1 coat - 1 pr. pants 6.50
1 Rubber Tarpoulian 7½ ft. X 7½ ft. 1.95
2 Ten Pound Blankets @ 3.90 7.80
1 Pr. German Socks 1.00
1 Hat 1.00
2 Pr. Cotton Socks .25
1 Drifting Pick .75
1 Box Mixed rivets .30
1/2 lb. Powder .25
4 lb. Shot .35
Lead pencils .05
1 Box 38 Cartridges .60
1 Comb .25
1 Thermometer .25


1 Mirror .25
1 Pr. Mittens .35
1 Agate, Pint cup .15
2 Towels (rough) .25
1 Pr. Buckskin gloves 2.00
1 Clothes bag (rubber) .85
1 Miners Certificate 10.00

14. February, 1898. Victoria. Weather, Rainy
Got up early, looked at some of the horses in the livery stables & then walked two miles out in the country to see a Cayon Indian horse a milk man had to sell. Liked the horse very well. Weight about 850 lbs. Bought the horse for $30.00. The horse is from the mountains of British Columbia & I believe can stand the coming cold trip to Dawson. By going out in the country, we got the horse at least ten dollars cheaper than we could have bought him here in the city.

15. February, 1898. Purchased the following during the day.

1 Harness (Collar, Harness Traces & Bridle) 4.50
1 Singletree 1.00
Shoes for horse & shoeing the horse 1.50
Horse feed .75
170 lbs. Hay @ $18 a ton 1.55
192 lbs. Oats 2.40
115 lbs. Cracked corn 1.45
123 lbs. Corn 1.45
1 Oil suit - coat and pants 2.00
Oil Hat .50
1 Pack saddle (for man) 3.25
1 Pick handle .35
Bolts .40
1 Pad lock .20
1 Chisel .60
1 Candle holder .20
1 Ball of wick .05
1 Box Carpet tacks .05
Wax .05
Thread .15
Awl & haft .20


Papper & salt casters .10
Hinges .30
1 Door latch .20
Staples .05
6 pkgs. Pancake meal .75
6 lbs. Pea flour .50
1 pkg. Matches .05
2 tins Corned beef .25
2 lbs. Barley .15
5 pkgs. Cocoa .50
3 lbs. Baking soda .25
1 lb. Evaporated onions .55

17. Purchased the following:

1 Horse blanket 2.00
1 Horse blanket (oil cloth) 1.00
1 Lung protector .75
1 Sleeping hood .75
1 Small rubber sheet 1.25
1 pr. Mittens-, .35
1 pr. Ice-creapers 1.50
Freight on horse to Skagway 35.00

Shipped our horse off on the Fees. Boat left 12 O'clock at night. Horse has to stand on deck the whole way. He was hoisted on board. Kicked like a Texas steer while hanging in the air.

  1. Bummed the town all day, waiting for the boat.
  2. Left Victoria at 12 O'clock for Skagway on a big boat by the name of Cleveland. Boat was over three days late. There are two hundred fifty passengers on board, all bound for the land of gold. They have got us packed together like sardines. The bunks are double & are three tiers high. The government inspector at Seattle had sixty five berths taken out of this boat yesterday. The law requires so many cubic feet of air to each passenger. The Pacific coast here is full of islands. The boat has to pick its way through the whole distance. Had Irish stew, potatoes with their jackets, bread, butter & coffee for dinner. The men ate like threshers. This afternoon a good many were sick & some few threw up. Arrived at Vancouver at 8 o'clock. Went up town & mailed a postal card home. Raining hard.
  3. It has been one constant going all day. Haven't stopped all day. Raining hard as usual. In the winter season, the wind blows from the sea & there is almost constant misting or rain along the coast up to the mountains. In the summer, the winds are from the land & the coast is subject to long droughts. Saw more ducks today than I ever saw before in my life. The water along the coast is almost black with ducks. Would like to take a month's hunt here sometime. Had fish chowder for dinner today.
  4. Was awakened at two o'clock by the heavy rocking of the boat. Many got up, dressed & went to the deck to avoid getting dizzy or sick. Most of the time we are sailing between the islands but for several hours early this morning we were exposed to the big waves from the sea. Our boat, the Cleveland, is 265 feet long, 32 feet wide. Met five or six boats today returning from Skagway & Dyer. Passed the Indian town of BellaBella. Their houses are nicely built, painted white. Had a large church in town. They wrap their dead up in blankets & hang them in houses which are built in the cemetery. In front of the houses are tombstones.
  5. Only went twelve miles last night, one mile an hour. Too dark & foggy to go faster. Passed the wrecked boat, Carona at 8 o'clock this morning. The bow of the boat struck the rocks. These rocks supported the front end of the boat but as the boat gradually filled up, the stern end went down until now only the upper front half of the boat can be seen. Boat was wrecked at 4 o'clock in the morning, caused by a heavy fog, the pilot being unable to see where to go. The way it looked, the boat was running into an island & was wrecked as it turned to get away from it.
  1. There were 402 passengers on board besides the crew. We were within half a quarter from the boat, the wrecked boat itself being about fifty yards from land. Today is Sunday, my first Sunday at sea. We passed through a terrible rough sea this afternoon. We were passing thro' Dixon's Entrance & were exposed to the big waves from the sea. It was not a storm but a strong wind like we sometimes have at home, I have it on to Brunkey. He had to throw up once this morning & three times this afternoon while I, so far, have been able to hold my own.
  2. Brunkey did not eat any dinner nor any supper; his is a real case of sea sickness. But Brunkey was not the only one sick. I saw as high as three & four at a time, leaning over the railing, trying to feed the sea gulls. Every body was sick, vomiting, vomiting on deck & down below wherever they happened to be. It was something terrible; that is the only word that will describe it. I was glad that it only lasted 3 or 4 hours for I was getting awfully weak & very glad to again get to the narrows where the water is calm.

(The following are notes of the overland trip to Dawson)

1. May, 1898. Last night after supper, the wind being favorable, we broke camp & set sail, going down Marsh Lake ten miles when we were stopped by ice. This morning we crossed over to the other side of the lake but could find no passage. This evening I counted 185 boats all waiting here for the wind to blow a channel thro' the shifting ice. Today on the side of a hill, I saw some wild gooseberry bushes in bloom & at the foot of the hill, some real arctic moss over three inches thick. It looks much like that at home excepting that it is very long & stringy, from one to four inches.

2. May, 1898. Got thro' the remaining nine miles of Marsh Lake & fifteen miles down the river. An east wind drove the ice from the east shore & that is how we got thro' today, sooner than we expected. Over 300 boats are now caught up with us. The Bennett people are coming in thick & fast. As we were passing some mountains along side the river, we spied a black bear on a cliff. Brunkey, Dysle & Brown got their rifles, went up the mountain & fired four shots at him at a two hundred yard range. Brunkey shot once. None of the shots hit the mark. It stopped us an hour & a half.

Canyon Rapids 3. May, 1898. Went down the river about fifteen miles when we came to the canyon & the rapids. The former is about fifty feet wide with perpendicular walls and about two hundred yards long. The rapids in the canyon are pretty rough. The White horse Rapids are about three hundred yards long and at the ends the roughest place only wide enough for one boat to go thro' at a time. There were eleven of us together & we gave the Macauley Tramway Company $110.00 to take our six boats thro' the canyon & the rapids. In the former, they furnished a steersman, in the latter both a steersman & a bowsman. Brunkey & I did the rowing thro' both.

4. June, 1898. Our loads were lightened one half at the rapids & the goods taken over the tramway. On the other side of the river, a man by the name of Hipton has also a tramway. His tramway begins at the head of the canyon & goes to the foot of the rapids. He will take the empty boat as well as the goods over the tramway if a person is willing to pay for it.

5. June, 1898. Went thirty miles on a slow river & ten miles on Lake LaBarge, quiet waters.

6. June, 1898, Today has been the most exciting & dangerous on our trip, thus far. Went the remaining eighteen miles on Lake LaBarge & thirty two miles on the river to the mouth of Hootalingua. Miners here say that LaBarge must be crossed in the night. So we got up at one o'clock, a good breeze blowing. Took us till twelve o'clock to get over. Every hour the wind & the waves got worse. Near its outlet, at the beginning of the river we ran on to a submerged sandbar, exposed to the firece waves from the lake. Nearly upset when we struck the hidden bar. Both of us sprang into the water & with the help of the crest of each succeeding wave, got the loaded boat into deep water and continued our course till we could find a landing place which was not short of the river.

7. June, 1898. Had to leave our stuff behind but went back for it with a borrowed skiff. Trailing the skiff is what made matters worse on the lake during the storm. It was heavily loaded & jerked the stern of the big boat out of line every time a wave struck it. I handled the big sweep which steers the boat & when I got thro' my hands had more blisters on than they ever had before, all put together. On the river, we had several hair breadth escapes but got thro' just the same. The river is very swift & is full of big rocks, sand bars & drift wood. Lot and lot of boats were in distress. Our big boat struck a big rock & is all but turned over. A horse on board was forced to swim to shore. At this place the river is almost a canyon and the horse got half way up the bank & he could go no further, neither up nor down & there he stood trembling with fear. Great scenes & exciting times.

8. June, 1898. Made from the Hootalingua to the Little Salmon today, 70 miles. had a five mile current all day & smooth waters excepting in first part of the morning. The river here has a pretty even width of about __ feet. The mountains are low & some places almost out of view. Timber all along the banks.

9. Went 75 miles today. Passed thro' the Five Finger Rapids & the Rink Rapids today. The dangerous waters of the river are now passed. The Five Finger are so many huge walls or masses of rock in the river. Brunkey & I rowed & Dan Hogan piloted us thro. They are pretty rough rapids but the Rink Rapids along the right shore is almost perfect calm. On the left is as rough & dangerous. We went thro' these rapids by ourselves. Made the distance from Little Salmon to Five Finders in the fore noon 57 miles. River is very swift.

10. June, 1898. Went about 75 miles again today. Delayed an hour on account of rain. Pulled in at five o'clock to do some baking & cooking. Stopped an hour at old Fort Selkirk to view the ruins & take a peep at the Indian houses or rather log huts. There must be a hundred two Indians here. A man by the name of Harper has a trading post and ware-house at the fort. He trades flour & other provisions with the Indians for their furs, skins, dried Salmon, etc.

11. June, 1898. Went a good deal over a hundred miles today. Pulled in at 4:30 on account of a strong head wind. Blackburns overtook us here. They will perhaps go up the Stewart, so bade them a last farewell adieu & continued our journey two hours longer, the wind having gone done. Stopped an half hour at Stewart River. About a hundred boats assembled there. Three men who had gone prospecting up the Stewart about six weeks ago had just returned for more provisions. They found a prospect 75 miles from mouth of Stewart on a creek which they thought would turn out pretty good. Had gone down twenty feet, still above bed rock, the dirt panning ten cents to the pan. They claimed this was the best that they had come across. Only about a dozen men wintered on the Stewart last winter.

Dawson 12. June, 1898. Arrived at Dawson at about three o'clock. Nothing artistic about this city as yet. The streets are crowded, with men. They are a rough looking crowd yet can see all kinds of people, the well dressed & the slouch, the miner & the gambler. Prices vary and are very unsteady. Yesterday, a man in a boat near us sold a (50 lb.) sack of flour & a can of baking powder for $38.00 while just two days before a man sold his surplus flour for $6.00 a sack. Saw a man buy a sack of (raw) potatoes & paid $1.00 a lb.

13. June, 1898. Are packing our goods about a quarter of a mile & half way up a hill where we will put up our tent. From here it takes about ten to fifteen minutes to get to the main part of the city. We have full view of the city for Dawson is below us at our feet. Dawson is located on a swamp over a mile long & about a quarter wide. A week before we arrived here, there was not a foot of ground in Dawson that was not under water. A big ice jam in the Yukon further down caused the river at Dawson to raise over ten feet.

Dawson area14. June, 1898. Packed steadily all day, hard work. Potatoes sell rapidly at a dollar a pound, Eggs are selling for $200 & $250 a case, 30 dozen in a case.

15. June, 1898. Finished packing up the hill. Put everything in the tent & built up net work of logs for two feet to keep out the dogs.

16. June, 1898. Took ten pounds of butter to The Forks, a name given to the place where the Eldorado flows into Bonanza. Got $8.00 for two pounds & $24.00 for eight pounds of it. This is some of the butter I had left which I got from home & was afraid it would spoil if left in the bucket during the warm weather of the summer.

17. June, 1898. Went back to camp for my pack to go out prospecting. Am now doing my traveling at night & sleeping in the day-time so as to avoid carrying blankets.

18. June, 1898. Got to the Forks today with my pack, heavy work. Packing will take the fire out of any man if he keeps it up long enough. Packing is acknowledged to be the hardest work in the country. The mountains here are rather low, old & worn out. The sides are riot craggy, but of gradual slope & covered with moss & a layer of soil.

19.June, 1898. Got to the Dome last night. Traveled again today after a few hours of sleep this morning.

20. June, 1898. Traveled all night last night. Got off the Sulphur trail on to the Hunker trail. Lost a day & a half of time by the mistake. Was led astray here by the carelessness of a man here who gave me an outline of the route.

21. June, 1898. Got to Claim 8 Above on Sulphur where the Crowell Bros. from Springfield are located. They put me on to some bench claims. Staked two claims for both Brunkey & myself. Bench claims are hillside or hill claims. Good placer strikes have been made on the top of the mountains & on their slopes or sides as well as in the creeks and gulches. The bench or hill claims on French Gulch, a tributary of Eldorado is richer than anything ever found on Eldorado Creek.

Prospector in Dawson22. June, 1898. Charley Crowell & I started for Dawson this morning. He & his brother both staked a bench claim for themselves & we are enroute to have them recorded. The theory is that the gold got here by glacier action. When a person gets on top of the mountains, he can see the great Rock Range, only 150 miles away, stretched along the northwest like storm clouds at sun-down. The mother lode is supposed to be located in these mountains & the gold from there carried here during the gracler periods. Wherever the ice carried the gold it was left & deposited, on the mountain tops, on their sides & in the valleys.

23. June, 1898. The gold in this district did not come from the quartz in the mountains here for none of the quartz in the mountains so far discovered is any where in comparison to the richness of the placer. After the glacier periods there was a great interval of time when the gold was concentrated in the river bottoms. Since then there has been another change in the contour of the country & the old river bottoms with their gold are now traced on top & on the sides of the mountains & even in some places, dipping lower than the present river bottoms.

24. This shows great folding of the surface & a change of course in the rivers. Now one of these old river bottoms is found along the banks or hill sides of Eldorado & Bonanza; another along Donarnion & Sulphur. This accounts for the richness of these streams for for ages these prehistoric streams were quietly depositing the gold of the region upon their beds.

25. The richest bench claims on Eldorado & Bonanza are also located on the gravel of the old river beds. In a few words, the placer diggings on Eldorado & Bonanza come from the placer of the old river bed, the gold in the latter came from the glacier deposits, the glaciers from the Rockies.

26. I got back to Dawson this evening.

Mining in Dawson27. Brunkey got back this morning. We both went out together, he to work & I to prospect. He earned $26.00 & then went out prospecting with another man he met on the trail, he didn't find anything. Wages are $1.00 and $1.25 an hour for new men & $1.50 an hour for Old men. At the mines, ten hours is called a day & many places where they are sluicing, I they work two shifts of ten hours each a day. At Dawson City the wages are ten or less a day.

28. June, 1898. Decided not to record the claims but go back to prospect them first. The days here are warm but the nights are cold, often frosting & sometimes freezing ice in the pans. The sun is down only about three hours & the darkest part of the night is about like it is in summer at home five or ten minutes after sundown. It is light now the whole twenty four hours.

  (Note added by Bob Zimmerman 2-7-00: For an excellent description of the methods used to dig out the gold from their claims, see an Excerpt from the diary of F. Hiscock, Bonanza Creek, November 1898.)

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Dawson, N.W. Terr. June 20 - 1898
Mrs. Wm. J. Zimmerman Harvel, Ill.

Dear Mother:

Rec'd two letters from you day before yesterday, June 18th. They were dated Mch 20th and April 29th. Rec'd one from Ella dated April 26th. These two letters together with the one I rec'd at Victoria make all that I have rec'd from home since I started. There is one letter missing that you speak of. Got a nice letter from Minnie Horme. She has been elected editor-in-chief of the Blackburnian & as she graduates June 2nd, I take' it that she intends to continue her studies at Blackburn next year. She asked me to write an essay for the 'Burnian to be put in her first issue next fall. She suggested the title "Life in Klondike". Of course I will have to write one being as it will be helping her out.

The Blackburn party split up at the mouth of the Stewart. Mr. Blackburn & Dan Hogan went up that stream & Dysle, Fisher & Brown went up Indian River. The latter is a good river. bit. Fisher was with us yesterday afternoon & stayed over night. After a month or so of prospecting on Indian River, they will come to Dawson to make it their head-quarters. Brunkey & I will build us a log cabin at Dawson & another one where we will be working next winter.

You can't tell how glad I was to hear that Mollie was going to take sewing lessons this summer. When Mollie learns that trade, we will then have a professional cook & a dress maker in the family. To make it complete there ought to be one good musician in the family & Minnie ought to try for it. We need one. Then by helping each other, all can learn more or less from the other & thus help to uplift the whole family to a higher intellectual scale. Every one in the family ought to have some ambition in life & be good in some one thing. I am glad to see the showing Ella made last winter. By a little determination, she pushed her way through & she came out of it alright. If I had her here now, I could get her good places where she could earn at least $5.00 a day & board. There are more signs for female cooks than for anything else. A professional cook or baker gets $15.00 a day straight, board & room thrown in. They are more scarce of cooks here than of anything else.

Was sorry to hear of the death of Uncle Edd Adden. I was hardly expecting it to come so quickly. This will be pretty hard on Aunt Hilka. Will she not get an insurance? I believe he was insured in The Modern Woodman for $3000, was he not?

Like this country pretty well but it is hard on one's health & constitution. There are exposures here which a person must meet & be willing to meet. My only regret is that I did not get here a year sooner. Could have been worth a good deal of money by this time had I been. But I am not going to give up the ghost but will keep my eyes open to make something yet though it may be much less than had I been here a year sooner. I have never once yet regretted that I came to this country. But had it not been for me, it would have been St. Louis repeated with Brunkey; he would have gone right back. When we arrived here, everything seemed gloomy, the prospects did not seem flattering, many were going back; he didn't know what to do; everything was strange & new to him; he was tired of the country & wanted to go back. We have decided to be partners straight through in everything for a year & I am not very fearful but that we will make it alright.

Tell the girls to write too. I like to hear the news concerning the young folks around home. Suppose Johnny Zia married by this time. Tell Lizzie, I will send her a gold nugget for a wedding present.

Give my regards to Sam. Was sorry to hear that Pa had such a bad attack of Rheumatism. His system, particularly his digestion seems to be pretty much run down & there are times when he needs to be careful & watchful of himself. My love to all at home.

Your son,


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My dear brother:

View from KantishnaWe are having a general all day rain to-day and I have a good opportunity now to write the letter I promised to write when on the boat coming up here.

The diggings are about 30 miles from the landing on the Kantishna and we lost 8 days coming over, building a bridge over bear creek. Three of us salvaged the wrecks of two former bridges which were put in last year and out of the two we made a good substantial bridge. The bridge has two 30 foot spans and two approaches of the same length which make 120 feet of decking altogether. Quite a bridge. Three big teams with two loaded wagons, about 6 tons, went over it before we got through working on it. We expect to get paid for this work by the road commission. Almost too much time to donate. We built the bridge while the teams ere relaying the freight up to that point. As a rule in a pioneer place like this, we make it a practice to stay with our notifier. Then a person knows he is going to get it over. Last year there were no teams in here and it took me nearly a month to get 1250 lbs. Over with my pack horse. This year I brought in but 750 lbs. as I had my prospecting outfit here and quite a little provisions left over from last year.

I am about 20 to 30 miles north of Mt. McKinley and it is a wonderful sight to behold. It unquestionably is the nicest piece of scenery in North America. Aeroplanes no doubt will be encircling it this year but they will scarcely dare to rise to a height equal to its summit.

The question of aeroplanes brings up an interesting subject to me. Late arrivals from Fairbanks tell me that a company with two aeroplanes, carrying 12 passengers are going to make the run this summer from Seattle to Valdez, Fairbanks, Ruby and Nome. The fare to Fairbanks from Seattle will be $90.00 and they will make regular runs. When such a service is established a person could spend his winters in the States and prospect in here during the summer. The fare is but a nominal charge and the time spent enroute from the gates here would be but three days at most. There is some class to this kind of traveling. The distance form Valdez to Fairbanks is between 3 and 400 miles. Our airship expects to make this distance in 3 hours.

Mr. Inigley, a prospector in here and his wife who have their quartz locations optioned for $230,000.00 expect to go outside this fall by the air route.

If the service becomes established this summer and proves a success, what is the matter with one of you boys spending the summer with me next summer at my work? Whatever we find I would share equally with you and during the brief time of six months from home until the time you could be back, you could decide on the ground here for yourself, what you think of the opportunities. You would have full advantage of my experience in quartz for over 10 years which believe me, has cost me a lot of money and time to acquire. It would be almost like dropping into your father’s shoes on the farm, which he had spent the efforts of a lifetime to get under cultivation. I suppose Arther will call me down again for making this remark, but the fact remains that the advantages of his experience and what he got together makes it much easier for you boys although you pay in full out of the ground what you buy. You will not have the disadvantages, hardships and trials of pioneer life that father and mother had nor what I have gone through up here in the north. But, I myself, like the opportunities of a new country and like to grow up with it. Like Jim Hill put it, "Every person who has really lived has during his life time had some great work he wished to accomplish and the Northern Pacific has been mine." I have decided that for me the best opportunities are in prospecting for quartz mines and I am going to hammer away in my effort until I make my winning. Can I but keep my health and have enough of the whereinthal to keep "the home fires burning". I do not fear the outcome. To lose the rainbow was a hard blow and the most unexpected and unjust thing ever happened to me. To do a Good Samaritan act and have such to be the cause of one undoing is something new to me.

Since arriving here, I have found a big antimony deposit and within a distance of 500 feet the trace of another. Antimony was very high during the war but is down now caused by importations from China and other places where they have cheap labor. I believe, though the American Mining Congress of which I am a member has succeeded in educating Congress to the fact that the American mines need protection from cheap oriental and foreign labor. That is one thing I hold against the Democratic administration in their failure to protect us. We must have protection in the American markets, at least tot he extent of the difference in our standards of living. The west and its mines are going to demand that protection or throw the Democrats overboard. I am a great admirer of President Wilson but the authorities in control of the policy at Washington failed, blundered when they failed to protect American metals after the signing of the Armistice from the deluge of same from foreign markets. Big deposits of any metals will be worth money sometime and I am going to patent the antimony of which I spoke and if nothing more, leae it as a heritage to my children. Metals, like lands are scarce and limited and it will be but a question of time when there will be as big a scramble for the metal mines, as there is for the lands that are left. I intend to patent my tungsten proposition also.

The silver proposition I found last fall is on ground which has been blanketed by stampeders and I am going to keep my find a secret until the first of the year by which time their location will lapse as I feel certain if I "lay low" they will not do the required annual labor which event they will loose all claim by the end of the year. I pursue this policy to avoid a possible lawsuit. The blanket location of which I speak is not a valid one but some people right or wrong will put up a fight anyway if there is anything in sight worth fighting for. I expect to land some more silver propositions this summer.

Although this is a rich district in silver and antimony, I expect to be at Dixon’s Fork on the Kushozium River next summer where still better opportunities seems to exist than here. There the veins are rich in gold and copper. The Treedwell Mine of Juncan sent a representative in there this spring with a $50,000.00 check and he tied up 12 claims in there on a $350,000.00 option and from what I hear the deal will go through. At Dixon’s Fork, they ship ore to the smelters on the coast that goes $80.00 per ton while here it must go about $180.00 per ton. The transportation charge from here alone is $100.00 per ton. At Dixon’s Fork with stamp mills and concentrators, they can handle low grade rock. The mineralized district is said to be extensive and they have the best looking quartz ever found in the interior of Alaska. Wish I was in there this summer but I got my information too late to get there this summer. I expect the Butte of interior Alaska to be at Dixon’s Fork.

A prospector to be successful, must look for the proper thing at the right time. The richest is none too rich for the pioneer and the prospector must go where the metal is no matter what inaccessible place it is. And he must get there at his first opportunity. He must keep in the run. Such is the work I am in. Do one of you three think you would like to take a try at it next summer? Come by aeroplane, go back by aeroplane and be home within six months. Make your trip a visit as well as one of renumeration. This will be prospecting up to date. As soon as I can afford it I am going to do likewise. Think it over, talk it over, and let me know what you think of the idea. In the meantime the aeroplanes will demonstrate whether they are feasible or not.

I haven’t made a howling success, so far, of my prospecting but prospecting for quartz is something that takes time to learn. I spent too much time in the Fairbanks district and it was not a quartz district. McCarty spent too much time there too in quartz. I can see now, it never will make a quartz country as the veins are too narrow and too low grade. But it was lack of experience that caused us not to see that earlier. A person in my line of work must not marry any particular district but keep himself free and ready to go wherever prospects are the richest and the chances for success are the greatest.

Got a letter from Mary recently which stated that sister Minnie and the children were going outside this fall. I went through Nenana coming up here but the boat passed there at 2 o’clock in the morning and did not stop long enough for me to hunt her up. Saw her for one hour last fall on my way out of here to Fairbanks. She was much disappointed that I did not stay longer. Dave misinformed me as to the distance to the railroad station so I would miss the train and it was only by running a mile that I caught it. Only two trains a week and 40º below and I was anxious to get back home after being away for six months.

I believe you spoke in one of your letters about taking three days rations and about the size of your pack and of having a rubber blanket, etc., etc. I wish you would tell me more about the ready made food you had, the size and weight of your tent and your bed covering at night. What were considered essentials for three days equipment and what foods did you have and how were they put up? I use a quart thermos bottle quite a great deal, particularly in the winter and next year I am going to have one or two pint thermos containers which will keep soup and other foods warm. I have seen the latter advertised, but that is all. I have seem advertisements about "one can a meal" which would be a great thing for my kind of work. Seems to me that’s just what a person would want when on a jaunt for a mid-day lunch. If you know anything about food put up in such shape, please write me and also who put up the best. The merchants here are not very much up to date in such matters.

I saw the first "balloon silk" tent in use on my way in. A man who had been in the employ of the Railroad Commisson and on his way in here, had it. Seemed to me bulk and weight had been cut in two, twice. That means something in here when it costs 10 cts per pound during the summer to get your goods hauled 30 miles from the landing. The government is going to spend $10,000.00 on this road during the summer.

Received a letter from Mary which contained a letter from MRS. W.H.H. Hovine, her mother, stating that she is a patient of the Baptist Sanitarium where she is under treatment by a specialist for blindness. If mother is in St. Louis at any time, she ought to look her us. I hope part of her sight will be retained at least, as it is an awful affliction to be blind. To be deaf if bad enough, to be blind is worse.

I believe mother wrote in one of her letters that sister Ida had the "flu" in Kansas city and that she left her there to recuperate on her way back from California. Did she get over it alright? 800 people in Fairbanks had the "flu" this spring and not one of us in our family had it.

Mames children are all working. Dorothy is working in a restaurant in Fairbanks for $70.00 per month and board and stays at home. Willie the youngest is getting $90.00 and board and Lawrence who walks on crutches is getting $92.00 per month and boards himself. I think the latter is with his father keeping house. McCarty gets $200.00 for running the Nanana meat market. Willie and Lawrence are working for the Railroad Commission.

Give my best wishes, regards and love to all at home and the kin away from home. Sit down Walter and write me like you did when in the service. We enjoy your letters. Write.

Ever your devoted brother

J. F. Zimmerman

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Fairbanks, Alaska, March 23, 1926
Mr. Arthur Zimmerman,
Harvel, Montg. Co., Ill.

Dear Brother Arthur:

Your interesting letter received and I was very glad to hear from you. Glad to hear that you and Walter are going well and that both of you are making a success of your farming. I know it would be very interesting to go back now and see the changed conditions to what they were in 1893 to 1896 when I was on the farm helping father. Remember that we threshed over 3000 bushels of wheat one fall and wheat was selling at 50 cts., oats at 19 cts. And corn 27 cts. per bushel. Hogs were selling at a little over three cents, eggs at about 12 cts. per doz., butter delivered to our customers around town at 25 cts. Father and whoever was working for us then, took tow loads of potatoes to Harvel. Had two side boards on each wagon and they were loaded rounding full to the top. At milking time in the evening, I saw them come back and dump both loads in the hog lot. Father said, "he had been offered but 10 cts. per bushel for the potatoes and that they were worth more than that to feed to the hogs." Those were hard times for the framers and it happened that I was on the farm just those particularly hard years. We raised good crops but got nothing for them.

How different the prices were up here when I had to buy the very same articles that I have just spoken of as having no value. How in 1907 when we had a crew of 45 men all summer, paying them $6.00 per day for 9 hours and buying potatoes at $15.00 per hundred pound sack and not very good potatoes at that. How during the winter months in doing development work, we had to feed the men on 25 cents, sugar and milk at $15.00 per case. But worse still, we were paying the claim owner on third of the output of gold and at the same time bucking live water with three pumps, one of two inch discharge, one of three inch and one of four inch. The two inch working at full capacity could just barely handle the water. And at that we did not loose any money, nor did we make any. We paid the claim owners on this proposition, $38,000 royalty. Two and three years later, on another proposition, we paid the claim owners $75,000 royalty on a $300,000 production for two years. But those were good times, wish we could have them back, even if we did have to pay big prices for potatoes, milk, butter, etc., that had no value in Illinois back in the 90’s. For the last 10 to 15 years, I have been prospecting trying to land something for myself where I, in turn, might collect royalty, but so far have not made good. The interior of Alaska has been a disappointment in a prospecting way for mineral. Outside of the placer gold, which was quickly mined out, mineral developments have not materialized to expectations with the result that prospectors have not prospered. Along the coast of Alaska they have done much better.

We have had the mildest winter in years. The snow-fall has been light, not to exceed 18 inches.

The Wilkins outfit is here to fly with their planes to Point Barrow and from there over the North Pole to Spitzenberg. A newspaper alliance and Detroit capitol is financing the expedition. They have two large planes.

franklin_and_mary_horine_zimmermanMy family is in Los Angeles. Mary is there to take care of her aged mother and give the children better school advantages than they could get here. After Mrs. Hovine lost her only son, nothing would do but that her remaining child should be with her during her declining days. She is now 86, I believe.

Heard from brother Bill last week. Seems to be having a good time. He spoke very highly of you and Walter as up-to-date, successful farmers. Glad to hear it. Never hear anything about uncle Henry and his wife.

My regards to you and your own. Remember me to the rest of the folks. Write when you can.

Your devoted brother,

J. F. Zimmerman

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