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Cattle Trails

From Wyoming Tales and Trails

This Page: the Dalton Trail to the Yukon, Jack Dalton, The Cariboo Wagon Road in British Columbia. Chilkoot Pass, White Pass.

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Table of Contents
About This Site

White Pass on Way to the Klonkike.

On August 16, 1896, Gold was discovered at Rabbit Creek, later renamed Bonanza Creek, near present-day Dawson, Yukon Territory. By 1897, newspaper coverage of the riches to be discovered in the Yukon was a frequent item in Wyoming newspapers. The Sheridan Post published letters from Wyomingites who had gone to the Yukon, on conditions to be found and the gold strikes they were hoping to find. On August 12, 1897, the Lusk Herald published an entire page devoted to the Klondike. Both of the Laramie papers the Boomerang and the Republican published frequent items on the gold rush, the Republican, November 29, noted that steak when for $2.50 in Dawson City. Even the Burlington Railroad got into the act publishing a pamphlet on the Klondike. Among those from Wyoming who joined the rush was Bonanza, Wyoming, horse herderand future sheriff of Big Horn County Byron F. "Kansas" Wickwire, discussed on a subsequent page. Another was was former murderer, Johnson County Sheriff and cattle detective Frank Canton. At the time of the Gold Rush, Canton was living in Oklahoma. Whether it was a desire for wealth or because things were heating up with a minor scandal in Guthrie (He was indicted for fraudulent accounts as a Deputy United States Marshal and discharged) that drove Canton to Alaska and the Yukon is speculative. Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith moved to Alaska after his criminal enterprises based on bribery in Denver and Creed, Colorado, began to unravel. Smith's gang in Colorado began to fade after the Governor of Colorado brought in the State Militia who aimed two gatling guns at Denver's City Hall to cleanse it from corruption. Others began plans for gaining wealth by providing for the pent up demand for meat other than fish, moose meat, and caribou chuck. With the shortages in Dawson City, ordinary provisions went for very high sums. Rufus Price noted the prices:

It is not surprising to learn that necessaries and luxuries of life command very high prices. Flour at times sold as high as £3° for a sack of 59 lb. weight. Oranges and lemons were worth 6s. each. The first eggs to arrive sold at 6s. each. Worst of all calamities, whisky ran short, and saloon keepers charged 4s. 2d. per drink. The first consignment early in May of 2,030 gallons was sold within an hour at £9 per gallon. This supply was consumed within a few days. At a leading restaurant having seats for thirty-two guests, the chef de cuisine received £20 per week, and his qualifications apparently consisted in being ability to fry beefsteak into a leathery consistency and make deadly rolls of hot bread of an elegant yellow colour by liberal use of baking powder. The rental of this canvas structure, 20 ft. by 40 ft., was £190 per month. At the leading gambling house and dance hall bar-tenders received £3 per day, dealers of the games £4 per day, and twelve ladies in attendance £10 per week and 25 per cent, on their sales of drinks and cigars. Next winter there will probably be some reductions in tariff charges of this kind.

Cattle on the Dalton Trail to the klondike, 1898

But if the Texas Trail and the cattle tracks of Australia were rough, rougher still were the short lived attempts at trailing cattle to hungry miners during Canada's Klondike Gold Rush. At first efforts were made to bring in the cattle following the old Colllins Telegraph Line from British Columbia. The Collins Telegraph LIne was a short-lived 1866 unsuccessful attempt by Western Union to tie the European continent to North America by a telegraph line through British Columbia, the Yukon, Alaska, across the Bering Staits to Siberia, onward to Moscow and thence westward into Europe. It was doomed by the suceessful completion of the transatlantic cable to the United Kingdom.

Crossing the Kluhini River, 1898

In 1898, British Columbia rancher Norman Lee (1862-1931) attempted a 1500 miles drive to Dawson with 5 cowboys, 9 pack horses, and 200 head of cattle. During the drive, Lee's horses died. He continued on foot until winter caught up with him 500 miles short of his goal. He butchered the half starved animals and continued on with the meat by scow. Unfortunately, all was lost in Lake Teslin and Lee returned home with naught to show for his efforts.

Heading north from British Columbia.

Other before Lee attempted to trail cattle to the Yukon including Jim Cornell, Jerry Gravelle, and Johnny Harris. Cornell was the only one who was successful. He stopped at Telegraph Creek, bought a butchershop, and sold the beef to prospectors heading north. Both Harris and Gravelle constructed scows on which to float the cattle northward.

But even earlier during the American Civil War, there was the so-called Cariboo Gold Rush in Briish Columbia after Gold was discovered near Horse Fly Creek. The colonial government consructed at great expense a road northward to Barkerville on which supplies were hauled northward in wagons and on American Army Surplus camels sold when the American Camel Corps was discontinued at the beginning of the American Civil War. Barkerville was where Billy Barker discoveed gold in 1861. Barkerville was the terminus of the Cariboo Wagon Road. At one time, Barkerville was reputedly the largest city noth of San Francisco and west of Chicago. Cattle were driven northward to feed the hungry miners.

American Army Surplus camel in British Columbia.

Reminders of the use of camels to the Cariboo Gold Camps remain in the name of the Bridge of the Twenty-Three Camels over the Fraser River at Lillooet and in the name of the Camelsfoot Range.

Cattle, Barkerville, B.C., 1880's.

Boat Building along the Yukon River, approx. 1897.

Both ran into the same storm on Teslin Lake in which Lee lost his beef. Harris butchered his beef and when the storm subsided pushed on with his beef raft to Dawson. The been spoiled. Along the way, the River passed through various rapids littered with wrecked boats, scows and provisions. Gravelle made it to shore and was frozen in. Another member of the crew, William Miller, caught a scow heading north and in Dawson made a new grubstake selling firewood. Miller had previously seen service with the Argyle and Southerland Highlanders in Natal. Latter he was in Ceylon and Hong Kong and jumped ship in Seattle. After Dawson, Miller then walked the 1500 miles north to Nome where a new discovery of gold was luring prospectors.

Jack Dalton, 2nd from the left.

The most famous of the trails into Dawson, however, was the 246 mile long Dalton Trail from the mouth of the Chilkoot River, over the Chilkoot Pass to Fort Selkirk. The Trail was first opened by Jack Dalton in 1897 when 350 head of cattle and 1,550 sheep were brought into the Klondike.

Cattle Herd belonging to Jack Dalton.


Dalton (1856-1944) before coming to Alaska and the Yukon had worked in various places in the American west as a ranch hand and as a roustabout in the timber industry of Oregon. He allegedly left the lower states for his health. He was wanted for murder. If caught it would not be good for his health. As indicated in the upper photo, he was short in stature, had a temper and was one tough dude.

An alternative trail was available over White Pass. White Pass was 15 miles longer but the trail over the summit was easier. The American section of the Trail became a toll trail on which Dalton was authorized to charge tolls, $2.50 each for cattle, horses, mules, and burros and fifty cents each for goats, sheep and swine.

From there, cattle would be floated down the Yukon River on rafts to Dawson City.But the trail was used for evrything, not just livestock.

Jack Dalton with horse.

The trail in the winter could be difficult. Jack in the photo is training his horse to wear special horse snow shoes.

White Pass, approx. 1897.

The White Pass Trail out of Skaquay (as Skagway was then called) was frequently referred to as the Dead Horse Trail as a result of the numbers of pack horses that lost their lives on the trail. The trails out of Skaquay (as Skagway was then called) were described by Colonel S.B. Steele in his "Forty years in Canada; Reminiscences of the Great Northwest," McClelland, Goodchile & Stewart, Toronto, 1915.

From Seattle and other points in the south every crazy craft which had been condemned was brought into use again and put on the Skagway route, each of them on arrival unloading hundreds of passengers, large quantities of supplies, mules and horses for packing. The result was that the trail was soon jammed and further progress well nigh impossible. Rain fell in torrents for several weeks, making the trails knee deep in mud; oats and hay became scarce, horses and mules to the number of 3,000 died from ill-usage and starvation, choking the trail with their carcases, and many men became discouraged and returned home.

Jack London was less kind in his description of the White Pass Trail:

Freighting an outfit over the White Pass in '97 broke many a man's heart, for there was a world of reason when they gave that trail its name. The horses died like mosquitoes in the first frost, and from Skaguay to Bennett they rotted in heaps. They died at the Rocks, they were poisoned at the Summit, and they starved at the Lakes; they fell off the trail, what there was of it, or they went through it; in the river they drowned under their loads, or were smashed to pieces against the boulders; they snapped their legs in the crevices and broke their backs falling backwards with their packs; in the sloughs they sank from sight or smothered in the slime, and they were disembowelled in the bogs where the corduroy logs turned end up in the mud; men shot them, worked them to death, and when they were gone, went back to the beach and bought more. Some did not bother to shoot them, — stripping the saddles off and the shoes and leaving them where they fell. Their hearts turned to stone — those which did not break — and they became beasts, the men on Dead Horse Trail.

Her Majesty's Customs House, Head of Chilikoot Pass, 1898. Artwork by G. B. Dobson, based on photograph.

At the head of the Chilkoot Pass, the Northwest Mounted Police had a post to control immigration into the Yukon and collect customs duties. Her Majesty's government required each man to bring in a year's worth of supplies. [Note: Even today, everytime the writer has entered the UK, he has signed a statement that he will not apply for any assistance from Her Majesty's government.] The poles standing in the snow mark a cache of goods for some prospector who has returned back to Skaguay for another load. Prospectors who purchased their supplies in Victoria or Vancouver did not have to pay duties on the supplies purchased in Canada. Those who purchased the supplies in Seattle or San Francisco got hit.

Music this Page:

(Teaming Up the Carbioo Wagon Road)


When you hear that whip a’poppin
you can bet he’s got a load
When you hear that sweet voice singing
stand up rowdy on the cariboo road.

Teaming Up the Cariboo Road
Here comes Henry Currie,
he's always in a hurry
Teaming up the Cariboo road
He makes his horses go
through the dust
and through the snow
Teaming up the Cariboo road
You should see him sprintin'
to the ball at Clinton
Teaming up the Cariboo road
He makes his horses dance
just like the ladies prance
Teaming up the Cariboo road.


The driver’s on the deck
with a rag around his neck
teaming up the cariboo road
While the swamper in the stable,
makes sure the teams are able.
teaming up the cariboo road
When the roads are in a mire,
then the freighters earn their hire
teaming up the cariboo road
but they can beat the weather
when they all pull together
teaming up the cariboo road.


In a wink and a shake,
we’ll be up in William’s lake
teaming up the cariboo road
and we’ll sure be feelin’ swell
once we get to Quesnel
teaming up the cariboo road
no more muck , no more dirt
and I can finally change my shirt
teaming up the cariboo road
And the horses they can rest,
cause they’ve sure done their best,
teaming up the cariboo road.


Writer's notes: Quesnel, the commercial center of the Cariboo Mining District. Clinton, the site of a dance and rodeo held in May. Originally called "47 Mile," the distance from Lillooet.

Next Page, The Trail to the Yukon continued