Excerpt from A Woman Who Went to Alaska
by May Kellogg Sullivan
My first trip from California to Alaska was made in the summer of 1899. Naturally, my traveling companions interested me exceedingly. There were few women. Two ladies with their husbands were going to Dawson on business. We had all nationalities and classes. At night our steamer was frequently tied up to a wood pile along the banks of the river. No signs of civilization met our eyes, except, perhaps, a rude log hut or cabin among the trees, where at night, his solitary candle twinkling in his window and his dogs baying at the moon, some lonely settler had established himself.
Going to my stateroom I sat down to read, and, if possible, hide my anxiety. As there was no window or other ventilator, and it was a warm day, I could not close the door. While sitting thus the doorway was darkened, and looking up I saw before me the drunken Canadian official, leering at me with a horrible grin, and just about to speak.
At that instant there stepped to his side the tall form of the only really sober man on board—the Seattle lawyer, who, in his most dignified manner motioned the officer on, and he went; the gentlemanly lawyer, tossing his half-consumed cigar overboard in an emphatic way as if giving vent to his inward perturbation, marched moodily on. Catching a glimpse of his face as he passed, I concluded that the situation was fully as bad or worse than I had at first feared. Already we had been several hours at Fort Selkirk and should have been miles on toward Dawson.
The captain and crew were too drunk to know what they were doing, and they were hourly growing more so. Many were gambling and drinking in the salon or dining room and others came from the liquor store on shore a few rods away. The voices of the women were keyed to the highest pitch as they shouted with laughter at the rough jokes or losing games of the men, while red-faced, perspiring waiters hurried back and forth with trays laden with bottles and glasses. Now and then the crash of a fallen pitcher or plate, followed by the shrieks of the women would reach me, and looking through the great cracks in the board partition which was the only thing separating me from the drunken crowd, I could see most of the carousal, for such it now was.
My anxiety increased. I feared the danger of a night on board in a tiny stateroom, without lock or weapon, and entirely alone.
"Mr. H——," said I quietly, a little later, to the man from Seattle, as I stepped up to him while he smoked near the deck rail. "When do you think the steamer will leave this place?"
"Tomorrow, most likely," in a tone of deep disgust.
"Do you not think that the captain will push on tonight?" I asked in great anxiety.
"I doubt if there is a man on board with enough sense left to run the engine, and the captain—look there!" pointing to a… disheveled Canadian wearing a captain’s cap, and just then trying to preserve his equilibrium on a wooden settle near the railing. "It would be a blessing if the brute tumbled overboard, and we were well rid of him," said the gentleman savagely in a low tone. Then, seeing my consternation, he added: "I’ll see what can be done, however," and I returned to my room.
What should I do! I knew of no place of safety on shore for me during the night if the steamer remained, and I dared not stay in my stateroom. I had no revolver, no key to my door. I might be murdered before morning, and my friends would never know what had become of me. There was no one on board to whom I could appeal but the lawyer, and he might be powerless to protect me in such a drunken rabble.
With a prayer in my heart I made my nerves as tense as possible and shut my teeth tightly together. It was best to appear unconcerned. I did it. Suggesting away all fright from my face I watched proceedings in the dining room through the cracks in the wall. It was a sight such as I had never before seen. It was six o’clock and dinner was being served by the flushed and flustered waiters. Probably a hundred persons sat at the tables in all stages of intoxication. Hilarity ran high. Most of them were wildly jolly and gushingly full of good will; but all seemed hungry, and the odors from the kitchen were appetizing.