Yukon Nuggets

  • Looking upstream towards the original dam at the foot of Marsh Lake. A sternwheeler and a scow are docked just above the dam and several cabins are visible. Date: ca. 1920 Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7745.

  • Dam and boat lock at Yukon River Bridge. Yukon Archives. Richard Harrington fonds, #228.

1883 Yukon Nuggets

Marsh Lake


Webster's dictionary says that Marsh means "low-lying wet land with grassy vegetation" - a transition zone between land and water. So is that why Marsh Lake is called ... Marsh Lake?

Nope. Like many geographic features in the present day Yukon, Marsh Lake was named by an American for an American. U.S. army Colonel Frederick Schwatka named the Lake on his journey of exploration down the Yukon River in 1883.

Schwatka was obsessed by the Yukon and Alaska.

He made more than one expedition to these far-off lands in the 19th century. On his journey of 1883, he named just about everything he saw. And since the trip was funded by scientific institutions in the United States, famous men in the scientific world were rewarded with a geographic feature in their honour.

Such was the case of Professor Charles Marsh. Born in Lockport, New York in 1831, Marsh developed a love for the outdoors as a kid. He became a palaeontologist, a scientist who studies fossils, and served at prestigious Yale University from 1866 until 1899.

Professor Marsh founded and was the first president of the American National Academy of Sciences and the chief palaeontologist with the United States Geological Survey from 1881 to 1899.

The professor was indeed a big man in science.

When Charles Darwin published his "Origin of Species" in 1859, there was little evidence that supported his controversial theory of evolution ... no direct proof to show development through the ages; nothing to show how animals - including humans - evolved.

It wasn't until Charles Marsh discovered fossil records of extinct horses that Darwin's theory was taken seriously.

While traveling the American west in search of bones in 1868, Marsh heard reports of "human remains" at the bottom of a well in Nebraska. On viewing them, he knew that they were not human, but rather from small ancient horses. These bones would later be one of the "missing links" in understanding the history of the modern horse.

Marsh wrote papers about the discovery which helped prove Darwin's theory of the "survival of the fittest".

He was also a dinosaur hunter. Each year, teams of researchers led by Marsh scoured the still wild parts of the western states to find dinosaurs and other fossils.

Each year, Marsh's scientific teams headed out into the still wild America - now known as Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, and South Dakota - to find dinosaurs and other fossils, and bring them back to Yale's new - and now world famous - museum for study and display.



Marsh died of pneumonia at his home in New Haven, Connecticut, on March 18, 1899. His tombstone reads: "To Yale he gave his services, his collections, and his estate".



Whether Charles Marsh would find dinosaurs at the Yukon lake named for him is unlikely, but he would find the peaceful nature that he cherished during his long academic life.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.