Papers From the Klondike and Alaska, 1897-1917 MS 13-4
Processed By: Staff
1.3 linear ft.
Introduction The Fred W. Best papers in Alaska and the Klondike, 1897-1917, were donated to the Alaska Historical Library in 1974 by Dorothy M. Prescott of Belmont, Massachusetts. Mrs. Prescott, a niece of Fred Best, prepared typescripts for many of the journals, letters and others items in the collection.
In 1897 Fred Best had been working aboard ships (he had a mate's license), but wrote to his brother John H. (Jack) Best of his interest in going North. Both brothers went to the Klondike to seek their fortunes. Some of-the letters in this collection were also written by John Best until his departure in 1901.
Fred's letters and journals reflect his love of the North and his appreciation of the opportunity to improve one's lot and to be one's own boss. He returned to Massachusetts to visit on several occasions, but returned North to seek his stake in various ways: -through mining, freighting, fishing, trapping, cutting wood for steamers, operating a roadhouse, and working in stores and sawmills.
In letters to his parents in Stoneham, Massachusetts, Fred wrote in detail of his activities and of the people with whom he associated. His personal standards are also evident throughout his writings. In August 1899 he wrote,
Since I finished working at the brickyard, I had a good job offered me in a gambling house, but-would not take it as I don't want to get mixed-up in that business. A fellow I knew well in Forty Mile runs the place and offered me the job, but I can make a living some other way even if I have to work harder, so don't worry about my morale as I have been around the world plenty and am getting too old now to learn bad habits.
And in March 1901 he wrote this letter:
In your last letter you say that Jack blames you because he went out. Well, when he left Forty Mile you couldn't have held him back with a 5-inch hawser, for he was heartily sick of this country. If Jack keeps on, he'll be a chronic kicker, and no mistake.
On May 26, 1902, (Journal) Fred Best and Annie, a native woman, were married at a mission near Forty Mile, They have various problems, Later, Annie's fifteen year-old daughter, Lily, who had been living with missionaries down South came to live with them.
In June 1903 Fred Best and Frank Purdy purchased the Cassiar Road House, 16 miles above Forty Mile and 36 miles below Dawson, They put in gardens, and Annie and Frank did the cooking for Road House guests. The last letters written from Cassiar Road House are in 1906 (?). There are a number of photographs of Cassiar House, and of Fred, Annie, and Lily.
Through 1911 Annie and Fred were seldom together and Annie was often ill. They were divorced in May 1912. In June 1912 Annie was locked up in Dawson as insane, and then taken outside to an asylum. Fred wrote of his concern for Annie and Lily, who was on her own.
Fred and his partners--N.P. Nelson and Billy James--traveled up the White Pass River to Scolai Pass, hunting and living off the land. The journey took them from September to December of 1912.
In August of 1913 newspaper articles documented gold strikes from Shushanna and Fred Best is listed. Letters home in 1914 tell of life in the gold camp at Bonanza Creek near Shushanna and tell of Fred's claims.
During October 1914 Fred leaves the North to visit his folks in Massachusetts, returns to Shushanna until 1917, and then goes back East to stay and to attend the navigation school of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
A 1935 newspaper article in the Stoneham Independent tells of Fred's experiences in the North; Captain Best later travels around the world and these experiences are reported also.
Inventory MS 13
BOX 4a I. Best, Fred. Journals. 1900-1917. 12 volumes with typescript for the years 1900-1903 and 1911-1912. Folder 1 Journal, 1900-1901. Fortymile andJack Wade Creek (with typescript). Best engaged in odd jobs, mining for wages, freight and mail hauling from January to Summer months to the numerous mining camps between Dawson and Eagle City, Alaska. Occasionally, he worked for the Alaska Commercial Co. He set-net fished during Summer and staked first major claim at Miller Creek near Glacier Creek.
Winter employment remains same with crew working claim at Glacier Creek.
Sept. 6. 1901 - Steamer "Islander" lost.
Jan. 15, 1902 - Crew building Valdez-Eagle Telegraph line stop at Fortymile on way to Dawson for supplies.
Jan. 22, 1902 - Police enforce game laws prohibiting sales of game meat.
Police prohibit work on Sunday.
May 26, 1902 - Marries Annie
Gold stampedes at Bedrock Creek and at Tanana.
Has poor fishing season and trouble with wife.
Journal, 1903. April 3 - July 28, 1903. Fortymile and Cassiar House.
Matrimonial difficulties dominate early Spring 1903. Annie arrested with others for disorderly conduct and infidelity. Jailed in Dawson.
Best and Frank Purdy purchase Cassiar House for $500. Summer spent preparing road house for winter and fishing. Annie returns to help.
Journal, 1904-1906? (Feb. 7, 1904 - Feb. 6, 1906) Cassiar House
Best's winter activities center around maintaining road house, and providing for numerous stampeder's heading for the Tanana.
In March 1904, Best sleds alone to Valdez to catch steamer south; takes train to East coast and visits at Stoneham, Mass. and vicinity for several months. Returns to Seattle area in early summer and is taken ill. After recovery returns to Yukon via Skagway.
Fall spent preparing road house for winter season. Final pages include addresses of some people met on travels, as well as some bookkeeping. Chronological continuity deteriorates.
Extremely cold January. Frank Purdy marries Susie, Feb. 4. Best takes fur buyer into Tanana County looking for Tetlin Indians with which to trade. In early Spring
he works to fill five wood contracts for steamers. Cuts over 100 cords. Spring plowing, gardening, repair Winter's damage.
Journal interrupted from June 28 - Oct. 2. Two major hunting trips to acquire provisions for winter. Remainder of time, general chores. Frank and Susie Purdy have first child.
Folder 3 Journal, 1910, 1913-1914. (April 5, 1910 - July 2, 1910 Stoneham, Mass. to Dawson; Jan. 11, 1913 - May 24, 1914).
April 5 - May 4, 1910. Visiting family in Stoneham, Mass. Annie is hospitalized in Westminister, B.C. Visits Vancouver area while waiting for steamer North. Arrives Skagway May 29, 1910. Best notes obvious decrease in population. Travels via canoe to Dawson. Ice jams delay traffic at Lake Labarge for weeks; river travelers must report at Fort Selkirk. Arrives Dawson and begins work as longshoreman.
Iditarod Stampede in progress.
Journal, 1911. (March 25 - Sept. 27, 1911 with no entries between July lst and August lst, 1911 with typescript).
Best and wife Annie at Anacortes. Sister Lizzie arrives for school. Best anxious to return to Klondike. He travels to Whitehorse via Inside Passage. Skagway and Klondike communities are depressed, no work.
Best labors at docks as longshoreman making $4.25 for one days labor.
Moves to Dawson.
"C.A. France" lost on Thirtymile River.
June 28-30, 1911- Dawson smallpox epidemic.
Three week freight trip up White River.
Best contemplates return outside.
Journal, 1912-1913 (May 21 - Dec. 31 and Jan.1 - Jan. 11, 1913? with typescript for 1912). Dawson, Y.T.
May 1912 leaves Seattle for Dawson. June 1912 Annie is locked up and insane so will be sent outside. Best takes Mr. Jennings, a Democrat running for political office to Eagle. References to Annie who is south at asylum and Lily at Fortymile. Makes trip up White River, hunting activity, and selling trap lines. Found body of unknown man and his effects on a trail he had blazed. Later writes Mounted Police about dead man. Trading with Indians.
Folder 4 Journal, 1914, 1916. Shushana, Alaska. No. 3 Bonanza Creek, May 25 - Oct. 9, 1914 in back of Journal
Making trip South for a visit to folks. Also poetic expressions, addresses and supplies at No. 7 noted in back of book. Jan. 1 - Feb. 1, 1916 – trail travel and general comment.
Journal, 1915. (Mar. 3 - Dec. 31)
Ready to leave Boston, Mass. after visit home. Arrived at McCarty on April 2, got an outfit and headed on trail with 18 dogs. Went over the glacier and then to Bonanza. Mining and general activity. Got a subpoena on Aug. 17 to go to Valdez for Jimmy Kingston's trial, Sept. 14. Trapping in the winter.
Trips over, trail, glacier, hauling wood, mining activity and hunting.. Nov. 15 tells how dogs helped save his life on the trail and narrow escape. At end of journal, writes a will dated Nov. 16 telling where his gold dust is located and disposal of possessions in case -of his death.
Journal, 1917. (Jan. 1 - Dec. 5)
Hunting and mining activity. Sept. 23, 1917 in Chitna and going back East to see folks. No entries Oct. 10 - Nov. 26. Goes to Boston on Nov. 27, and on Nov. 30 received letter from U.S.S. Board to start schooling in Navigation at M.I.T. Received letter from Bill Spaulding who got his mate's license renewed.
II. Letters from Fred Best to his parents and family in Stoneham, Mass. 1897-1914.
Also some letters to brother Jack (John H.) and later Jack--goes North and also writes letters home which are included here and one from William Hurd.
2 letters from Fred in N.Y. to Jack (To John H) Best (working as mate-on cargo vessels and Klondike plans). Letter from John Best in Skagway to Mother (winter in Skagway with partner Wm. Hurd who is sawmill watchman). Letter from Wm. Hurd to Mother. Letter from Fred Best? (Arrives Seattle - will crew on barge to Skagway). Letter from John H. Best from Lake Tagish.(Fred is about to start for Skagway to sell horse, get mail, etc. They are going to build boat for Yukon River trip when ice breaks. Letter from Fred in Skagway (tells of camp at Lake Tagish and packing in 2½ tons of gear). Letter from Fred at Fortymile Creek, July 31, 1898. (Jack and Fred prospecting up Stewart River, tells about Dawson and Swift Water Bill. Also Ed Duncklee with them.) Letters from Fred and John at Fortymile in Oct. 1898, tells of freighting jobs on Fortymile River and work in town, cabin and wood supply, mail service, and problem with "grayback" insects. Undated letter tells of trapping on Stewart River with Tom Banks and incident with bear.
Folder 7Letters, 1899. Forty Mile, N.W,T. and Dawson, 9 letters with typescripts:
John H. (Jack) Best writes two letters from Forty Mile. (Tells of prospecting, mail received, moving outfit up river, and that Fred has job in Dawson.) Fred writes 4 letters from Dawson in April and July to Jack. (Tells Jack to stake claims and he will try to earn a grubstake and then if Jack should come to Dawson, he should stow some of their gear in A.C. warehouse and tells of jobs.) Fred writes from Dawson, August 27 to parents. (Jack came to Dawson from Forty Mile 6 weeks ago and has a job. Fred is working in brickyard for $100/month and board, prospecting plans.)
Fred writes parents from Jack Wade Creek, November 30. (Jack is in Dawson after losing big raft with load before getting to Eagle; prospecting on this creek in partnership with Charles Royer and describes cabin.)
Folder 8 Letters, 1900-1901. Jack Wade Creek and Forty Mile, 14 letters and typescripts.
Fred-writes five letters to Jack at Forty Mile about joining him at Jack-Wade Creek, and then offers to help with Jack's debts as Jack leaves for Nome and then Massachusetts.
The letters to parents tell of his carrying mail between Dawson and Jack Wade -- 115 mile trip each way, taking 8 days. No luck with prospecting at Jack Wade Creek and talks of Nome. Writes about his dogs, and about freighting on Moose Creek. He hasn't sent out any nuggets: as not safe to mail. Also puts in a bid for the police wood contract and transported prisoner to Dawson for the police. In February 1901, works for the Alaska Commercial Company in Forty Mile. Also sells fish he caught and dried and in April stakes a claim on Glacier Creek. Speaks well of Mr. White, the recorder in the area.
Letters, 1903-1904. Cassiar House. 4 letters with typescripts.
Fred Best and Frank Purdy from Danvers, Massachusetts, buy Cassiar Roadhouse (16 miles above Forty Mile and 36 miles below Dawson), Plan to operate roadhouse in winter, garden and fish in summer; also build a new house 60'x20' inside dimensions. Annie, Fred's native wife, is a good cook and so is Frank; writes of meals served and that roadhouse makes $500 in November 1903. Tells of supplies purchased and his good credit with Northern Commercial Company. Also, Tom White is found dead and a man named Bradley is badly frozen. Talks of what it takes to survive in the North.
Folder 10 Letters, 1906. Cassiar House. 4 letters and transcripts.
File includes floor plan of Cassiar House and general map of geographic area. Letters begin in May. Fred tells of ice breaking in the river, using the tunnel of an old copper mine as a place to store food, They have an ice house and use ice from the river.
Fred and partner Frank Purdy have a series of hunting cabins which they use when hunting game for food.
Cassiar House serves as the Best home, a way station for travelers' and a place to receive emergency medical and nursing care. Annie Best is a midwife, Susan Purdy has a baby boy while Fred and Frank are on a hunting trip.
In a letter written December 3, Fred tells his family briefly of Annie's background, that she has a 15-year-old daughter, Lily, who now lives with them.
Letters, 1911-1912. Forty Mile and Dawson and Bremerton Washington. 9 letters with typescripts and map.
In May 1911(?) Fred and Annie-help man with gunshot wounds at Forty Mile. Fred goes to Dawson in June, hauling freight, as not much work available, In April 1912 Fred goes to Bremerton, Washington, sees Annie, who is sick but would like to go North again, and Lily is all right.
The May 19, 1912, letter tells of Fred's divorce from Annie and leaves, May 23 for the Klondike. Tells of problems, writes of what travel is like on the Yukon River and Forty Mile River.
Fred writes from Skagway in May as ready to go to Whitehorse and down river in small boat,
Fred and partners N.P. Nelson and Billy James will leave Dawson in August on steamer Violette for upriver and later will line and polo to the headwaters of the White River to prospect and hunt. They plan to go to Scolai Pass not far from the Copper River Railroad.
Folder 12 Letters, 1914. Shushana and Bonanza Creek No, 3. 12 letters with transcript. Writes things are busy and using horse for hauling outfits. A number of women in title area, but no children. Talks of sluicing, good ground needed to pay wages of $6/day with board, and mentions some good claims around. Quite a town of tents at Bonanza Creek. Tells price of food and in July 1914 says they have hired about 40 men to work their ground, costing about $400 a day to operate.
In August letters mentions flood damage to some diggings, news of the war in Europe, made a few thousand dollars mining during summer, and plans to be home in October.
Fred is in Seattle, October 14, taking care of business, then will go to San Francisco before heading for Massachusetts,
Folder 13 Newspaper articles on Klondike-Alaska, activity and Letters by Fred Best, reproduced in the STONEHAM (Mass.) INDEPENDENT, 1897-1935. 11 items. Includes 6 items from Stoneham INDEPENDENT, 3 items from Seattle POST-INTELLIGENCER on Shushanna gold strike, and 1 item on birth of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Purdy's baby at Cassiar House, published in Dawson newspaper.
Folder 14 1902. 1 item (5 pages) and typescript. Account of a 1902 incident where two newcomers to the North lacked wilderness
experience and one froze to death on the trail near Cassiar House.
Folder 15 Letter, 1900. Forty Mile - Dawson. I item (7 pages) and typescript.
A tough trip: Best tells of a dangerous canoe trip in the winter of 1900 where he accepted a contract to carry papers for N.C. Company from Forty Mile to Dawson and nearly lost his life in the ice-jammed Yukon River.
Best records food prices at a little store at Forty Mile; record of temperature at Dawson, December 1899-1900.
Folder 17 Map of_White River District, Y.T. (Canada, Geological Survey, 1913). 1 item on cloth. Folder 18 Poems. 9 poems on 8 sheets (1 handwritten, others in typescript).
Poetry of Alaska and the North, believed to have been written by Fred Best, with titles as follows: Untitled ("High in the blue of the Arctic sky..."). "To My Girl," "To My Girl," "A Toast to Alaska," "Bucking the Tiger," "To My Old Lead Dog," "A Man from the North," "A Sourdough's Longing," Untitled ("It was winter in the Yukon....").
Folder 19 Lecture Notes, 1920s (?). 4 pages.
Fred Best outline notes for Alaska lecture in Stoneham, Massachusetts, during the 1920s.
III. PHOTOGRAPHS IN ALASKA AND THE YUKON Folder 20 Fred and Annie Best, Lily (Annie's daughter), and some other people, 1902-1910(?), 28 photos.
Folder 21 Cassiar House - views of the roadhouse with people , dogteams, etc. outside. 20 photos.
Folder 22 Dog teams and dogs. 17 photos.
Folder 23 Pack horses and horse teams. 7 photos.
Folder 24 Ships, boats and rafts. 10 photos.
Fo1der 25 Glaciers and scenics. 7 photos.
Folder 26 Miscellaneous: 18 photos, including views of Dawson, cabin construction, Shushanna mining activity, several people and buildings.
Addendum to the Papers of Fred W. Best MS 13
BOX 4c Folder 27
Letter to Fred Best from Mrs. N.P. Nelson (original and photocopy): "Written by wife of N.P. Nelson, one-time partner w/ FWB in Alaska, 1918, to FWB in the U.S. Navy, World War I." (from note by Dorothy Prescott)
"Adventures in the Yukon" by Fred W. Best (?)
Unpublished manuscript, 2 volumes:
Vol. I. The Alaska Story of Jack and Fred Best
Vol. II. The Alaska Story of Fred Best
"Photographs were found by Linda Moody when cleaning out her mother's things at 31 Pond St. [LaJolla, CA?]" (from note by Dorothy Prescott)
F 30-1 to 4 Forty Mile
F 30-5 Cassiar House
F 30-6 to 9 Shushanna
F 30-10 to 11 Caribou
F 30-12 to 17 Bonanza Creek Mine
F 30-18 to 22 Sled dogs
F 30-23 to 24 Camps
F 30-25 to 26 Interiors
F 30-27 Chisana
F 30-31 Ptarmigan
F 30-28 Paddle wheel boat
F 30-29,30,32,33 Scenics
F 30-34 to 35 Miscellaneous
Folder 31: Duplicate photos
Folder 32: Negatives
Ms 13-4a Fred W. Best Name File from journal typescript through 1911 Ainsley, Bob 1900 01 p. 17 miner on Gold Creek
Allen, Frank 1910, Ap. 8 clerk for NC Co at Dawson; met again in Ny
Anderson, Pete 1912, June 19 p. 13
Austin, Frank 1901 02 p. 18
1904, Apr. 9 p. 10 at Seattle
Bayles, Victor 1904, June 27 at Portland
Berg, Jack Wade 1900 p. 3 Jack Wade Creek Mine owner
Baker 1901 02 p. 15 traveling up Yukon via steamer
Barnard, Ross 1900 01 p. 21
Best, Annie 1901 02 p. 4, 7, 13 marries F.W.B., May 26, 1902
1903 p. 1 4 jailed for infidelity
1904, Feb. 12, 15, 17, 21, 22,
March 4, Oct. Nov.
1910, Apr. 15, May 10 16, June 17
1911, June 17 30
Best, Lilly 1912, June 14 30
Bibber, Van 1903 p. 5 living in Best cabin at 40-Mile
Billy the Horse 1900 p. 4, #1 travels to 40-Mile with FWB
Black, Jack 1901 02 p. 5
Black River Charlie 1901 02 p. 14 Native from Ft. Yukon