1897 Yukon Nuggets
Tucked away in a quiet residential neighbourhood in Minneapolis, Minnesota, lies the twelve-acre Brackett Park, an urban escape in this big American city. Brackett Park was named in honor of George Brackett, one time mayor of Minneapolis.
And what does the former Mayor of Minneapolis have to do with the Yukon? Quite a lot actually. George Augustus Brackett arrived in Skagway in 1897 with a plan to build a railroad to the Klondike gold-fields. This was almost a year before Michael Heney and Sir Thomas Tancrede agreed to build the White Pass railway.
In 1897, the White Pass and Chilkoot trails were clogged with people and cargo heading for the gold fields. The old trails would not do. As he was once involved in the Northern Pacific Railroad, George Brackett knew a railway was needed. But money and expertise were beyond Brackett's means in 1897, so he decided to build a road up the fabled White Pass and into the Yukon interior. Work on "Brackett's Wagon Road" began on November 8, 1897. Brackett paid the startup costs himself.
By the end of the year, eight miles of road had been opened and Brackett was broke. He travelled to Montreal, where he met with Sir William Van Horne, president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, who used his influence with the Canadian government to let Brackett, an American, build his wagon road through Canadian Territory to Lake Bennett, with no interference from Canada. Van Horne also loaned him some money.
Brackett also wanted permission from Canada to charge tolls on his road. This was not forthcoming. He did, however, convince the hastily elected town council of Skagway to give him exclusive use of the right of way through the down town core. He was able to build about eight miles of wagon road up the steep incline of the White Pass. He set up toll gates and began charging for passage. But a private toll road in the mountains of Alaska did not sit well with the packing outfits and freighting companies. The packers said that Brackett had no authority to build a road in the US or to charge a toll.
They occupied the road and tore down his toll gates.
Meanwhile, in Washington politicians had heard that a group of rowdies had taken possession of a wagon road and were holding Skagway in a state of terror. Senior officials informed Colonel Thomas Anderson, officer commanding the US troops in Skagway, to help out. He did.
But some packers resisted and were charged with trespassing. Brackett's Wagon Road to the White Pass summit was now operational and earning twelve hundred dollars a day. But George Brackett was always just one move away from bankruptcy so when builders of the White Pass railway came along, he sold his wagon toll road to the railroad for $110,000.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.