This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:
"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane —
Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore;
Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core;
Robert W. Service, 1874 - 1958, The Law Of The Yukon *
One of the most beautiful places on earth is also one of the most treacherous. The Yukon is the smallest and westernmost territory in Canada and was named after the Yukon River. This sparsely populated territory is full of lakes created by the melted snows from the perennial snow-capped mountains. The climate is arctic and subarctic, with very dry and long cold winters. The summers are short, but have long hours of sunshine, being so close to the North Pole.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, gold seekers got caught up in rumours of gold to be had by anyone tough enough to withstand the weather and lonely land. It was not for the weak or wary that this land was waiting for. Tales of treachery, death and ghostly hauntings linger on the mists that drift down from the high snow-capped mountains and lurk throughout the valleys. This was a wild and untamed land during the Klondike Gold days. There was a lot more than extreme weather to make a man's blood run cold.
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
Robert W. Service, 1874 - 1958, Cremation of Sam McGee *
With the long, bitter cold winter nights and the extra long sunny days of a very short summer, the lonely prospector's mind back in the early days of the gold rush could imagine some pretty queer sights and spend some terrifying times in wild and abandoned dreams.
There is one folklore tale about a prospector, who while wandering through the Yukon with his dogs became mired down in the muskeg, which is boggy land with water underneath the surface of the semi-frozen ground just above the permafrost. It was a treacherous place and the more he and his dogs struggled the more lost they became. After finally finding a firm spot on a small hill he cooked up some soup for him and his dogs. After eating he fell into a restless and fitful sleep.
He dreamed of a fierce native warrior standing over him with a spear and a threatening look. The warrior told the prospector he had invaded sacred grounds and must leave at once or be killed. The prospector told the warrior he was lost and begged for the warrior to show him the way out. The warrior, who was the protector of the sacred grounds, summoned a guide for the frightened man then vanished.
When he awoke, the prospector saw the glowing figure of a beautiful native woman at the bottom of the hill and chills ran through him. The woman beckoned and the dogs ran to her. Seeing the dogs happy, the fear faded from the prospector and he packed up his gear then made his way down the dark hill with treacherous muskeg all around it.
The woman smiled at him, raised her arms and became a snow white hare. Following the glowing hare, he and his dogs were led east. For several hours they proceeded until the prospector felt solid ground beneath his feet and he knew where he was. The hare once again became the glowing woman who smiled sweetly at him then vanished with the first rays of the sun.
Not all tales, however, have a happy ending. This is a land with a history of death and strange happenings. Whiskey-drinking, gun-slinging men full of greed and little consideration for the rights of others flocked to the land of gold to take what they wanted. Many an innocent prospector searching for his own fortune lost his life to these dastardly outlaws, to the freezing weather, starvation, scurvy and other misfortunes.
With a heavy run-off of snow-melt and ice breaking in the spring of 1898, the shores of Lake Bennett overflowed into the cemetery and a few thousand coffins were uncovered and floated down the Yukon River. These keepers of the earth-bound dead were scattered throughout the woods along the shores, releasing angry, lonesome and confused spirits into the wilderness. On long winter nights the pine trees whisper the secrets of the departed, restless souls.
Alaska, with it's lovely little towns, railroad lines running through the remote wilderness, the relaxed and friendly people, is a wonderful place to be today. Being one of the last vast wildernesses on earth, with it's pristine beauty, it is a place that offers peace and quiet to those fortunate to live or visit there. The unseen and restless spirits seem to linger only in the echoes of the tormented past and the lore of the Yukon.
This is the Law of the Yukon, that only the Strong shall thrive;
That surely the Weak shall perish, and only the Fit survive.
Dissolute, damned and despairful, crippled and palsied and slain,
This is the Will of the Yukon, — Lo, how she makes it plain!
Robert W. Service, 1874 - 1958, The Law of the Yukon *
* Poems by Robert W. Service were written prior to 1923 and therefore are in the Public Domain. Retrieved from
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