Letters of Ella Zimmerman
The Letters of Ella Zimmerman
Zimmerman family from Illinois Ella Zimmerman is my great aunt. She is pictured here in the back row, third from the left, standing next to my grandfather.

My grandfather traveled to the Klondike in 1898 and related his adventures in a series of letters and a diary sent to his family in Harvel Illinois. I have a separate page titled The Letters and Diary of John Franklin Zimmerman.

Ella also traveled north to Alaska and related her adventures in a series of letters. Ella, however, did not attempt the overland route taken by Frank. Rather, she was fortunate to be able to travel by boat. Steam travel was by far the easiest method to get to the gold fields in Alaska, but the trip was long and potentially dangerous as the steamers navigated the Yukon River. For a brief description of steam ship travel and steamers. check out the Steamboat Nenana (PDF format). The Golden Star steam ship (Gold Star) is listed as having worked the Yukon routes from 1898 to 1906. An excellent description of the early steam boats in Alaska has been created by the Carcross School district. It is a "must see." For other views of women in Alaska, see "Stories of the Past, Women in the Gold Rush".
Index to Letters - click on the letter of your choice below:
1900, September 21 - Letter to mother written from the "Golden Star" steamboat
1900, September 24 - Letter to mother written from Dawson, N.W. Territory
1900, September 24 - Second letter to mother written from Dawson, N.W. Territory

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Steamboat "The Golden Star" Sept. 21, 1900.
Mrs. Wm. J. Zimmerman, Harvel, Ill.

My Dear Mother:

steamboat to the YukonArrived at White horse Wednesday evening at 6 o'clock. Happened to be a Steamer at that place when we arrived so went on board at once but it did not start from there until the next morning. The steamers have quit traveling at night as it is too dangerous to travel without a moon.

Quite a number of people stayed at White horse and are waiting for a larger boat, and by doing so they will arrive at Dawson about 2 days later than we do. This steam boat "The Golden Star" is quite small compared with some of the other boats but it is all right if the accomodations are not so good just so we get there. We have 90 passengers on this boat and about half of that number are women. The captain said they had never carried as many women passengers on this boat before as they have on board this time. This is more of a freight boat than anything else but it doesn't look like it now.

Are having a splendid time, do nothing but sleep, eat, play cards and have a good time. Last night a young man brought his graphiphone in the dining room and we had some fine music. Everything is enjoyment from morning until late at night.

Last night we stopped for the night at a little camping place, so quite a, number of us went on land and visited their camps. They invited us in and we had quite a nice time talking about how the people used to have to travel on foot through all these places. Their cabins were pretty well crowded. A bed in one corner made of lumber, not a very nice looking bed but it will answer the purpose for this country and a table and a stove in another besides quite a number of boxes and other trinkets too numerable to mention.

Routes to the KlondikeWe left our stopping place early this morning as soon as day was breaking. I was thinking about you folks last night at about 8 o'clock here it would be 11 o'clock at home so no doubt while I was having a good time you were deep in your slumbers.

We are having beautiful weather. I imagined when I left home that by the time I arrived at Dawson the weather would be freezing cold and be something just terrible but I think quite differently now. We are having nicer weather than we have in Illinois, the weather is however quite cool at nights but nice and warm during the day. If nothing happens will arrive at Dawson tomorrow noon thus making it just 2 weeks that we have been traveling. I have enjoyed myself more on this trip than ever before. I only wish I could have you to take this trip next summer. I know you would enjoy it. The White Pass was something beautiful well in fact I enjoyed seeing the scenery on that Pass more than anything I have ever seen in my life. Such beautiful rocks, waterfalls, and shrubbery, the word beautiful can hardly describe it.

We were above the clouds quite a number of times. Just imagine riding above the clouds and upon the mountains. I don't think I will ever regret having taken this trip. Suppose some more wonderful sights are awaiting me at Dawson.

We had no trouble with our baggage whatever, everything went along as smooth as glass. Everybody seems ready to give us a helping hand. haven't even bought any of our tickets.

Our fare from White horse to Dawson was $40 a piece, thus making our fare from Harvel to Dawson $133 apiece. We still have some over $100 left, but perhaps will need some of that in Dawson. If not will send it home. Everybody carries money and gold nuggets that are going through to Dawson.

People never think of bothering other peoples things out this way. They wouldn't even pick up anything on deck but what they would try to find the owner.

On this boat our parlor and dining room are the same room. We have no table cloths now are getting too far North, have white oil cloth instead. Our meals are just about as good as we had on the other boat only served in a different style. Here we only have 1 waiter and help ourselves most of the time. Do not get our meals served in courses now but have everything set on the table just like we do at home and help ourselves.

We thought at first when we arrived at White Horse that we would wait for a larger boat but lodging is so expensive at that place that we decided we had better start for Dawson if it was a small steam-boat, and I think we did just the right thing. We passed two large steam-boats yesterday evening, going back to White Horse and they will not arrive at, that place before this evening so we would have had to remain there 2 nights and 2 days thus costing us at least $10. More than it does now. Our eating at Skagway didn’t cost us a cent. A couple of young men saw that we had plenty to eat. So far since I have left home I have made more mashes than Mollie, but I don’t stick to any of them very long.

I met one young man on the train when we were coming through the states that was too good to me. He is a captain’s son and is said to be quite wealthy. Mollie said she never saw a fellow in her life that was so dead in love with me, as he was. Oh but that is nothing, he will get over that. He just thought he couldn't do enough for me. He bought me candy, grapes and also gave me a book to take to Dawson. He wanted to give me his gold watch and also his gold ring but I wouldn't accept the latter presents. He says he is coming to Dawson next Spring to look me up but I suppose he will forget me by that time. He is a very nice looking young man and seems to be a perfect gentleman; but I do not know whether he is or not. This is not the only fellow I have met several others but treat them all the same way.

Yesterday morning we landed on a sand bar and it took several hours before they could get the boat out of it. Have traveled fine ever since. Passed 2 boats that were wrecked yesterday. They looked pretty bad. One boat sank last week on these waters. All the passengers excepting 3 were saved. The boat was loaded heavier on one side than it was on the other.

Met one young man that had been on the Stewart River. He said he was well acquainted with Mr. Rebham. Their cabins joined and they often went out hunting together. His name is Frank Rogers and he is a very nice young man. He left us at White Horse and is going to his place in a row-boat. I suppose I had better stop for this morning. Will write a few more lines when I mail this at Dawson.


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Dawson N.T. Sept. 24, 1900
Mrs. Wm. J. Zimmerman, Harvel, Ill.

My Dear Mother:

DawsonArrived at Dawson yesterday morning (Sunday) Sept. 23. Found Dawson to be a great city much larger than I expected it to be. The stores are something beautiful, they are prettier I think than the great city stores.

The streets here are paved with saw-dust. I wish you could see Dawson I know you would be surprised and also know you would like this city. Mollie and I and several others took in the town yesterday and saw some wonderful things.

Haven't seen anything of Frank so far. Tried to get into the Post-office but it was closed for the day. Went to the company store and saw Mr. Moore but he said Frank hadn't left any word with him concerning us so I suppose we will find a letter at the office for us in the morning.

Dawson CafeMr. Moore said he would help us so we are all right. Mr. Moore is a fine looking young man. I wish you. could see the style here. The people dress nicer here than they do on the outside. Are stopping at the Yukon hotel $2.50 a day for Mollie and I without board. Have a very nice room. The weather here is fine. A little cool last evening but very warm yesterday. Passed

13 steamers on our way to Dawson all going to White Horse. Are expecting another steamer in here today.

Met Mr. McGraw Ex. Gov. son of Washington and his cousin while on the boat. Had a fine time With them. We know quite a number of people in Dawson now and they are all very kind to us. The streets were crowded with people yesterday. have fine boarded side walks and it is just as nice as a city. Will write a few more lines when I reach the post office.


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Dawson, N.T. Sept. 24, 1900

Dear Mother:

Women in DawsonWent to the Post Office this morning but found no word from Frank. The letter Bertha wrote came on this morning's boat just one day later than we arrived. Franks mail is always taken to him at (Caraba) Post Office just 3½ miles from where he is. The letters I wrote him are all on their way but perhaps he hasn't received them yet.

We are however getting along fine. We intend to take the stage to 27 below upper which takes us within 3½ miles from Frank. Will start for Dominion Wednesday Morning at 9 A.M. and will reach Franks cabin that same evening. The stage will cost us $15 apiece and then we are allowed 20 lbs. of baggage. We will try and carry a great many lbs. on our backs.

We are just making ourselves at home here and are having a good time. We met so many nice people on the boat so we are making calls all the time.

This morning while I was at the post office what do you think I run onto one of my Kansas City friends Miss Treackle, but she is married now. She came to Dawson the 1st of Sept. and was married the 3rd of Sept. She has a lovely home and her husband is a clerk in one of the large hotels here. She was awfully surprised to see me and just begged me to come to see her so Mollie and I will spend the day with her tomorrow. Minnie knows her.

Well I must close as I want this to go on the steamer this afternoon. My love to Ida and all the rest. Will write again before I leave Dawson for Dominion.

Your Daughter, Ella Zm ---

The following expenses were recorded:

Board (Oct.) From Tuesday 8th to Tuesday 15th


Tues Wed
Bread 4
Crackers 8 Thurs
Buns 5 Bread 4
Canned Beef 15 4
Onions 5 Friday
Rice (1 lb.) 8 Milk 3
Beans (3 qt.) 25 Bread 4
70 7
Sat.
Sun.
Mon.
Bread 4
4
Total 85

1st Week 1.64
2nd " .70
3rd " .85
I will get through this month on just about $4.00

Board - From Tuesday 1st till Tuesday 8th
Tuesday
Canned Beef 15
Crackers 8
Milk 3
Bread 4
30

Wed
Milk 3
3
Thurs.
Bread 4
Eggs ½ doz. 9
Buns 5
Milk 3
21
Friday
1 lb. Sausage 10
Milk 3
13
Sat.
Sun.
Mon.
Milk 3
3
Total 70 cents

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