As told by Si Dennis Sr.
from Skagway: City of the New Century
I don’t know how authentic this story is. It was told to my brother and me years ago by my mother. The story is about the two Tlingit Indians who found the gold that started the stampede that was later known as the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s not the story of the gold rush itself, but events leading to the discovery of gold.
The story goes like this. It seems that one of the men was out hunting one day, and during his travels through the woods looking for game, he came upon a pool of water. He decided to rest by this pool, so he sat down. He noticed that this pool had high, steep sides, mostly clay, and it was awfully wet and slippery. And as he sat there, he noticed something moving in the murky water. He just sat there and watched it. It swam over to the side of the pool and started to climb out, and he noticed that it was a frog.
Now the frog almost made it to the top before he slid back into the water. So the man just sat there and watched to see what he was going to do. The frog made several attempts with the same results, and he noticed that the frog was getting tired. He figured that the frog must have been trying for a long time. So the next time the frog started to climb out, the man walked over and lay down and reached down and grabbed a hold of the frog and took him out. He carried him over to a stream of water nearby and proceeded to wash the clay off the frog. While he was doing this, he was talking to the frog like he was talking to another human being, telling him why he was out there, looking for game and food for his family.
I don’t know if the frog found him any luck in his hunting, but that night when he went to bed and went to sleep, he had a dream. He dreamt that he was standing by a body of water, and as he stood there he watched the frog swim directly toward him. When the frog got so close, it stood up and turned into a man like himself, and this man started talking to him. He said, “You saved my life, and now I want to repay you.” And he pointed and he said, “You see that mountain?” When the man looked, it was like looking into a big screen or picture, and he could see that mountain. Then the frog-man told him, “Study that mountain, memorize it. Because you’re going to start off from here, and you’re going to find that mountain, and that’s where your luck is going to be.” He tried to ask which direction he was supposed to be going, and the frog-man said, “Don’t worry, you’ll find it.”
So the next day he told his friend about what he’d done with the frog the day before, and about the dream he had. And his friend said, “Let’s go and I’ll go with you.” So they got their provisions together, and they took off. Their hunt went for days, looking for this mountain with no luck, and they traveled a good many miles away from home. They got down to the point where they had to take inventory to see what they had left. They were getting pretty low on their provisions, and they knew they were a long ways from home. So they finally decided they were going to hunt one more day, and if they didn’t find that mountain, they were going to start back for home.
So the next day they started out. All this time, this one man had a feeling, for some reason, that he was always going in the right direction. And as the day wore on he became discouraged. Then, all of a sudden, he looked up, and he looked right at that mountain. He told his friend, “There it is.” And his friend asked him, “Are you sure?” The man said, “That’s the mountain. I recognize it.”
They went over there and discovered this gold that started the stampede that was later known as the Klondike Gold Rush.
Si Dennis Sr., the grandson of a Tlingit packer, for years was elder of the local Native community. He “walked into the forest” in 1997. This story has been told in many forms over the years as a dream that came to gold discoverer Skookum Jim Mason. Some accounts say the dream occurred in Dyea, where Jim and his family traveled to often from their Tagish home. One of his children is buried in the Dyea cemetery. Present with Skookum Jim at the discovery on August 16, 1896 were his nephew Dawson Charlie and brother-in-law George Carmack (he had married Jim’s sister Kate, who was nearby). Carmack, being the only white man in the party, filed the discovery claim on Rabbit Creek (now Bonanza), a tributary of the Klondike River near Dawson City. Jim and Charlie were given the ground above and below discovery. Many newspapers of the day and subsequent histories credited Carmack with the discovery, but it was really a shared discovery in which Jim should be given the most credit. It was his dream after all.