|Men and women attempting either route were hoping to reach Lake Bennett, British Columbia where they could build boats and continue their journey to the Klondike gold fields via the Yukon River; a voyage of some 500 miles.
Dyea had been the site of a Healy and Wilson trading post as well as a home base for native packers. With the advent of the Klondike Gold Rush, the population of the small camp grew quickly. People assailed Dyea's beaches day and night, often jumping from their ships into chest deep, frigid water to carry their packs to land. The 7,500 foot wharf was not completed until May, 1898, a few months after the major onslaught of stampeders.
Streets were laid out in a sensible pattern but any appearance of order ended there. Buildings and tents were erected with careless abandon and roads were often littered with packs and gear as their owners scurried about buying up provisions for the journey. Packers and prospective customers haggled over fees.
Gamblers, hotel owners, liquor store keepers and prostitutes set up shop to entertain new arrivals while panhandlers and pickpockets also plied their trade. Law and order was piecemeal and generally administered by the inhabitants of the town. Miner's justice, as it was called, was dispensed by the town's citizens in the early days in the absence of U.S. Marshals or duly-elected judges in those far reaches of the American frontier. In the interest of bringing some level of control to the situation, the miners themselves would sit in judgement of the accused culprit. These 'magistrates' were generally influenced, if not intimidated, by the atmosphere of the assembly. Stealing was the most common crime and punishment for theft. Expulsion into the ruthless Alaskan wilderness spelled certain death. While the sentence may seem unduly harsh, it must be understood that stealing someone else's supplies had very grave implications in the far north where replacement, if they were available at all, were exceptionally expensive. The arrival of a legitimate judicial body into the Alaskan Panhandle brought a sigh of relief from just about everyone, accusers and accused alike.
Some gold seekers never made it farther than Dyea. Stories circulated through town about the hardships to be experienced farther along the trail, along with rumors that the gold fields were already staked. Disenchanted and disillusioned, they returned south on the near-empty boats, often without a penny to their names. They'd had quite enough adventure for one lifetime.
Today, Dyea is a ghost town marked only by the faint traces of a few roads, a few piles of lumber (former buildings slowly being reclaimed by mother nature), the ruins of the wharf and a notice board describing Dyea's heyday and decline. From a population peak of about 8,000 in 1897, Dyea's inhabitants numbered just one by 1903; Emil Klatt, a vegetable farmer, busied himself picking among the ruins of a boom-bust town. With the obvious decline by late 1898, many buildings were dismantled and the lumber sold in Skagway, or removed to Washington and Oregon states to be used in towns with a future.
The Chilkoot Trail is thirty-three miles long, rising from sea level to over 3.700 feet at the Chilkoot Pass at approximately the halfway point. During the winter of 1897-98, thousands of stampeders passed through Dyea and hiked over the trail enduring hardships most of us today can barely envision. Every stampeder was required to pack over a tonne of food and necessities to Lake Bennett and North West Mounted Police enforced this rule at the Canadian boundary at the summit of the pass. The regulation existed for the stampeders' own good since they would otherwise starve or die of exposure. The Mounties were well aware of the situation in Dawson City that winter where earlier arrivals had too little available to support the extra people in the area.
For travelers in 1897-98 there were many amenities along the trail. Of the many camps dotting the route some, such as Finnegan's Point and Pleasant Camp, were simply rest points. In both these places a bridge crossed a creek or river, with a 'modest' toll charged by the builders. Other stopovers were more substantial; Canyon City, a community of log structures almost eight miles into the trail, had been a camp for natives and early prospectors many years before the Klondike Gold Rush and it became a mushrooming settlement complete with freighting services and . . . . . .