After the laundry my sister and her husband grubstaked me into the Klondike. It was the
first gold rush into that region, the early fall rush of 1897. I was twenty-one years old,
and in splendid physical condition. I remember, at the end of the twenty-eight- mile
portage across Chilcoot from Dyea Beach to Lake Linderman, I was packing up with the
Indians and out-packing many an Indian. The last pack into Linderman was three miles. I
back-tripped it four times a day, and on each forward trip carried one hundred and fifty
pounds. This means that over the worst trails I daily travelled twenty-four miles, twelve
of which were under a burden of one hundred and fifty pounds.
Yes, I had let career go hang, and was on the adventure-path again in quest of fortune.
And of course, on the adventure-path, I met John Barleycorn. Here were the chesty men
again, rovers and adventurers, and while they didn't mind a grub famine, whisky they
could not do without. Whisky went over the trail, while the flour lay cached and
untouched by the trail-side.
As good fortune would have it, the three men in my party were not drinkers. Therefore I
didn't drink save on rare occasions and disgracefully when with other men. In my
personal medicine chest was a quart of whisky. I never drew the cork till six months
afterward, in a lonely camp, where, without anaesthetics, a doctor was compelled to
operate on a man. The doctor and the patient emptied my bottle between them and then
proceeded to the operation.
Back in California a year later, recovering from scurvy, I found that my father was dead
and that I was the head and the sole bread-winner of a household. When I state that I had
passed coal on a steamship from Behring Sea to British Columbia, and travelled in the
steerage from there to San Francisco, it will be understood that I brought nothing back
from the Klondike but my scurvy.
Times were hard. Work of any sort was difficult to get. And work of any sort was what I
had to take, for I was still an unskilled labourer. I had no thought of career. That was over
and done with. I had to find food for two mouths beside my own and keep a roof over our
heads--yes, and buy a winter suit, my one suit being decidedly summery. I had to get
some sort of work immediately. After that, when I had caught my breath, I might think
about my future.
Unskilled labour is the first to feel the slackness of hard times, and I had no trades save
those of sailor and laundryman. With my new responsibilities I didn't dare go to sea, and
I failed to find a job at laundrying. I failed to find a job at anything. I had my name down
in five employment bureaux. I advertised in three newspapers. I sought out the few
friends I knew who might be able to get me work; but they were either uninterested or
unable to find anything for me.