Chapter 1: North to Gold Country!
Every night in Blacktail Gulch, South Dakota, I said my prayers and stared at Papa’s photograph on my nightstand. My papa was a miner. When I was a tiny baby, he set off to look for gold in the Far North. I didn’t know the sound of his voice. I didn’t know the feel of his scratchy beard. I didn’t even know what it felt like to spend Christmas with him.
Papa gave me my name – Klondy. He named me after the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. That’s where Papa went. He hoped to strike it rich in the Yukon Territory. It was thousands of miles north in Canada. Every few months a letter came. But never my papa. And never any money.
After Papa went away Mama and I lived at a boardinghouse. Mama made Swedish pancakes and meatballs for the boarders. She had learned to cook them in Sweden when she was a little girl. I always wished that Mama and I could cook for Papa instead.
Then one fall day when I came home from school, Mama wore the biggest smile I’d ever seen. She wasn’t fixing supper.
She was packing a suitcase! “Klondy, your papa has moved to a new gold camp. It’s near Nome, Alaska,” she said, hugging me. “He’s sent us money to join him.”
“Papa wants us to come?” I whispered. I was happy. But I also felt scared. Alaska was so far away.
“Finally we will be a family,” Mama told me.
“Oh, Mama,” I said. I didn’t know if I was laughing or crying. I was going to gold country!
Mama kept me so busy, I had no time to worry. We packed our belongings. We bought warm clothes for the trip. We said good-bye to our friends.
A train took us to Seattle. There we boarded a huge steamer ship. It traveled north to Alaska. Mama and I walked the deck. The weather was getting colder. Big icebergs floated in the ocean.
“Mama, what will our new life be like?” I asked.
After ten long days the captain called out, “Land ho!” I ran down the gangplank as soon as the ship docked. The men all had whiskers. They all wore plaid shirts. But no one looked like Papa’s photograph.
Because of the big gold strike, I had imagined that Nome would be like a fairy tale with streets paved in gold. Nome wasn’t like my dream at all. It had muddy roads and rows of dirty white tents. And no Papa in sight.
A little man came over. “You must be Klondy.”
“I’m Blueberry Pete. I’m your papa’s partner.” He laughed and patted me on the head. I pulled away.
“I thought Papa would meet us here.” I blinked so the tears wouldn’t come.
“Your papa’s busy digging up gold so he can take care of you.” Blueberry Pete put a big gold nugget in my hand. “He can’t wait to see his little girl.”
Mama and I stared at the nugget. It didn’t sparkle like I thought it would. It was a dark yellow color and very heavy.
“Now we won’t have to worry about money, Mama.”
Mama put her finger to her lips and shook her head.
“How can we join my husband?” she asked Blueberry Pete.
“When the ocean freezes, a coach will carry you to Council City,” he explained. “Then you’ll take a dogsled to our mining camp at Ophir Creek.”
I looked out at the big wide ocean. “The ocean freezes up?”
“You’ll be amazed at what you see up here. It gets so cold, your nose could fall off.” Blueberry Pete pretended to pull off my nose.
I looked at Mama. Is he teasing me?
Mama laughed. “Mr. Pete, are you coming with us?” she asked.
Blueberry Pete shook his head. “My old bones can’t take another cold winter. I’m going to California. But I’ll see you in June.”
Blueberry Pete took us to the Golden Gate Hotel. Then he said goodbye.