For Part I of “The Klondike Stampede,” see Sins of Omission in the December 2017 issue.
The 250 Indians who inhabited Dyea on the eve of the gold rush were Chilkats, members of the Tlingit tribe. They were short and stocky, and excellent packers. They commonly carried packs of 100 pounds or more. They charged by the pound and were never caught with their prices down. Most stampeders could not afford to hire Chilkats, though, and hefted their own loads.
During the summer of 1897 the population of Dyea reached 3,000. By fall it was pushing 10,000. Lining Dyea’s main street were clapboard hotels, log-cabin restaurants, and tent saloons. Twenty miles distant was 3,500 foot-high Chilkoot Pass, the gateway to the interior.
About five miles out on the trail from Dyea, the Finnegans, an Irish family led by Patrick Finnegan, had built a bridge over the swift Dyea River. Finnegan allowed Indians to use the bridge for free but charged a toll for whites. As the numbers of stampeders swelled they began to push across the bridge without paying the toll. The big, ruddy-faced Finnegan waded into the crowd, but before he could do much damage his sons restrained him, convincing their father he couldn’t fight thousands. Finnegan...