Get Rich Slow

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February 17, 1898. Left home this day for Alaska 4:35 P.M.” Thus did a thirty-four-year-old Nebraskan named George Cheever Hazelet note in his diary his departure for the Klondike. Gold had been discovered along the Yukon River two years earlier, and thousands of prospectors were spilling into the immense, empty reaches of Alaska to get some. Hazelet thought it beat teaching high school. A year later he was not so sure, and his melancholy, sardonic diary entry on the anniversary of his leave-taking is a perfect encapsulation of the usual luck of the gold fields:

Feb. 17 ’99. Just one year ago today at 4:35 PM I took train for Seattle. What an age it seems! All day long my thoughts have been of H [Harriet, his wife] & the boys.…I’ve already been gone three months more than I expected & cannot tell yet when I can go home. One thing is sure. I’ll go home this fall if I live—gold or no gold will not keep me from my family longer than the coming fall. By that time I will have completed 38 years of my fool life & it will be time to reform if I am ever going to.

In looking back over my existence (for such it has been) I can find but one thing or act to praise myself for and that is my marriage. In that & that alone I showed the only wisdom which I can be accused of since 1 become a living breathing animal. I have a darling wife. … All day long I’ve lived over the past ten years—all day long, whether 20 ft under ground digging frozen muck or climbing over snow drifts 10 ft high [or] chopping wood to thaw the ground—my thoughts have been with her & of her. God grant that she and our boys may be kept safely till my return.

Now for a short resume of the years’ work since the day I said the sad goodby. First, we, A. J. Meals & I, have traveled by rail & water 3500 miles. Have pulled sled loaded with from 200 lbs to 800 lbs 930 miles.

Have sawed lumber for two boats & built one. We have cordelled boat 52 miles. We have shot boat on Klutina, Copper & Chistochina rivers 223 miles. We have towed boat loaded with from 1000 lbs to 2500 lbs 193 miles. We have packed (packs running from 50 lbs to 80 lbs) 450 miles and have not up to date reached a point North of Valdez to exceed 250 miles. We have sawed 800 ft of lumber for sluicing and built 96 ft of sluice box constructed on dams on Chistochina 110 ft long, dug a ditch 75 ft long and sluiced 39 1/2 yds of river bar gravel from which we took $2.25 worth of gold. All of which an Indian stole.

We have panned 300 pans of dirt in 95% of which we found from one to 30 & 40 colors. Have made at least 50 tests of rock & sent two specimens home for assay. We have built 3 rafts two of which we wrecked.

Built one house on Chistochina 18 x 20 consisting of 138 logs—chinked it with moss & covered it with dirt. Made furniture for same, consisting of chairs, table, tub-bunks-shelves, etc.

Started 11 prospect holes—being driven out of 10 of them by water after reaching a depth of from 6 ft to 10 ft. We are still at work on the eleventh having reached a depth of 19 ft today with good show to go on down.

Have run one tunnell into side hill 25 ft on top of bedrock-tunnell 7 ft high & 5 ft wide—got not to exceed one color to each two sq ft of bedrock. We have thus excavated at least 105 ft of dirt in depth being 7 ft long & 5 ft wide making a total of 3675 cu ft of dirt removed. To thaw the same we cut & burned 50 cords of wood hauling a part of it ¼ mile.

We sawed lumber & made one pump 18 ft long which we used two days trying to exhaust the water from a prospect hole but failed. We have sawed lumber & made 7 pairs of skiis.

So much for the work—now as to results. Must say we have nothing definite. Have found two ledges—or loads —from which we have not yet got the assay. We still have one dry hole & hope to reach bedrock here & determine whether or not there is any gold.

In the way of food we have consumed during the year 1,000 lbs of flour—400 lbs of bacon—100 lbs cornmeal—50 lbs rice—200 lbs of beans—25 lbs D.S. pork—100 lbs sugar & been out half of the time—16 lbs B. powd—21 lbs soda- 13 dpz yeast cakes—50 lbs salt—75 lbs dry apples—75 dry peaches—50 lbs E. potatoes—40 lbs coffee—10 lbs tea—1 can E. tomatoes—25 lbs pea meal & a number of other groceries sund’s.

We have each worn out 3 prs overalls —1 jumper—2 heavy overshirts—2 suits heavy wool underwear—2 suits of light underwear—5 pr heavy wool sox—6 pr light sox—2 prs. German sox—2 prs. rubber shoes—2 prs hip rubber boots- 2 prs prospectors’ leather boots—1 pr mucklucks—3 prs mitts—2 prs gloves- 1 rubber coat—2 hats & sund other small things such as suspenders, handkerchiefs, etc. We have smoked 12 lbs of tobacco & been out half of the time.

Have spent no time in idleness except 10 days at Copper Center last of Oct. waiting for our mail prior to pulling on to Chistochina for winter quarters. Jack & 1 put in 2 days hunting moose but failed to find anything larger than a prairie dog—which we had to eat as we were out of supplies & 50 miles away from any. Spent 1 day shooting salmon in July & got 6 large ones. Have seen no moose or caribou—I saw one bear at a distance of at least 2 miles. Have killed & eaten a few squirrells, ptarmigans & pheasants —outside of these we have had no fresh meat except about 50 lbs of moose we bought of some Iowa men on Copper River.