Celebrating a tough Christmas in the Klondike – Yukon News
It was 1897. Gold had been discovered in Bonanza Creek a little over a year ago, and the bustling little town of Dawson City was suffering from growing pains. In the mad rush to reach the Klondike before winter sets in, many newcomers have traveled light, neglecting to bring their much-needed winter supplies.
Add to this the fact that supply ships sailing up the Yukon River could not reach Dawson with their cargoes of food and other essentials, and the Dawsonites faced a winter of famine. Hundreds of people have left the city in haste, hoping to find safety before winter sets in with vengeance. In the end, there was enough food for those who remained, but barely enough to survive the winter.
For many, that meant a monotonous diet of beans and cookies. Even whiskey has become scarce and sells for a dollar a shot (that would be $ 35 today), very diluted with silty water from the Yukon River. Candles were selling for a dollar each, charcoal was selling for $ 25.00 per gallon ($ 5.50 per liter, or $ 190 at today’s price), and flour was selling for $ 125 per bag, if you have any. found. All the restaurants were closed due to lack of supplies.
Even the richest of the Klondike miners were hungry because they couldn’t live on a diet of nuggets. Food, not gold, was the Klondike’s most precious commodity that winter.
The outlook for Christmas did not look very good, but Lena Huson decided to organize a Christmas rally to boost morale. She and her husband, Bill, a professional musician, had arrived in Dawson City from Juneau earlier in the year, bringing with them the first piano to reach Dawson City. It was carried by the Chilkoot collar, taken apart, carefully wrapped in woolen thread, covered with blankets and finally enclosed in a waterproof canvas.
When the Husons arrived in Dawson, they sold the piano, which cost $ 125, to Harry Ash, co-owner of the Northern Saloon, for $ 1,800. The piano was played in the first dance held in Dawson City in 1897, to celebrate the completion of the Alaska Commercial Company’s first building. Within a month, all the girls in Dawson’s dance hall had their names engraved on the piano. Over the next three years, Billy Huson made a living as the conductor of the Pete McDonald Saloon and Ballroom Orchestra.
“Ma” Huson’s preparations for her Christmas dinner began quite humbly. Lacking even the most primitive decorations, it adorned the outside of their cabin with spruce branches. These had little impact on the festivities during the short daylight hours and were barely noticed. There was no turkey, no chicken, oranges, or cranberries to be had at any cost, but Captain Hansen, the director of the Alaska Commercial Company, upon hearing of the feast, said sent over half a dozen boxes of plum pudding, canned fruit, and candles.
John J. Healy, store manager for the Northern Transportation and Trading Company, followed suit, sending in a few hams, powdered potatoes, sugar (a rarity in Dawson) and five gallons of burgundy. Using an empty kerosene that could be opened lengthwise to serve as a punch bowl, they made a punch by adding canned juice, citric acid and local house beer. provided by some elders. Someone had brought a lone lemon to the event, but the ladies agreed that he should go to Father Judge’s hospital to help a patient with scurvy.
The punch didn’t last long, and a local tinsmith added a second punch bowl, while another man was busy hauling water up the river. Several miners brought jars of beans to the business. As with food, just about everything else was missing, including pots suitable for cooking beans, until an employee at one of the department stores discovered an offer of chamber pots, which was quickly sell to miners and end up being used for food. preparation instead.
Wealthy miners from the creeks have arrived. Howard Hamilton Hart, who rented the Discovery concession from George Carmack, introduced each of the ladies involved in the organization of the party with the nuggets of his mine. Other miners who fell added food to the pantry. By this time, the intimate party originally planned had turned into an event in which the whole community was involved. Word of the party quickly spread and soon the Huson Cabin, located just behind Front Street on Second Avenue, was overflowing with guests, so neighbors to the cabins on either side opened their doors to welcome the surplus.
Later that afternoon, some callers made their dog teams available to the ladies, who quickly arranged a supply of ham sandwiches.
These, along with sweets provided by one of the traders, some of their precious punch and the lone lemon were transported to the hospital to brighten the day for patients and staff.
Despite the shortage of just about everything (including cooking pots), this Christmas party brightened up the celebrations with countless sourdoughs and cheechakos, who were stranded far from home and their families.
Lena Huson has been described as a charitable and friendly person who is also remembered in Dawson for her fundraising efforts for the Dawson Fire Department with another woman, Ms Yaeger. The firefighters named the two honorary women members.
They received special badges adorned with Bonanza Creek gold. Lena and her husband Billy then moved to Nome, Alaska, where he served on Nome City Council for two years, along with fellow Klondike veteran Tex Rickard.
Years later, Billy and Lena Huson returned to Washington State, where they ultimately retired to a berry farm in Pierce County.
He kept in touch with his sourdough friends and performed in the orchestra at a sourdough reunion in Seattle in 1929. On another occasion, Henry Ford heard Huson play on the radio and invited him to Dearborn, Michigan, all expenses paid to perform before the industry mogul. Huson declined the invitation due to his wife’s poor health.
Lena Huson died in Sumner, Washington in 1942, but her husband survived her 15 years, also in Sumner, at the advanced age of 95.
Michael Gates is the first recipient in Yukon history. He is the author of six Yukon history books. His latest, “Dublin Gulch: A History of the Eagle Gold Mine”, received the Axiom Business Book Award silver medal for corporate history. You can contact him at [email protected]