After they arrived, Ethel spent two months alone in a tiny cabin in Forty Mile while Clarence worked out on the creeks. Ethel spent the winter of 1896-97 housekeeping, Klondike-style. "When I got there the house had no door, windows or floor, and I had to stand around outside until a hole was cut for me to get in... We had all the camp-made furniture we needed: a bed and stove -- a long, little sheet-iron affair, with two holes on top and a drum to bake in. The fire burns up and goes out if you turn your back on it for a minute. The water we used was all snow or ice, and had to be thawed. If anyone wanted a drink, a chunk of ice had to be thawed and [the hot water] cooled again."
With no luck at prospecting, Clarence was tending bar in Bill McPhee's saloon in Forty Mile the August night George Carmack arrived to boast of his discovery at Bonanza Creek. The Berrys immediately headed for the new discovery and staked a claim on nearby Eldorado Creek; theirs would become one of the most valuable claims in the Klondike.
When the Berry's got to the gold field Clarence staked a claim on number Five Eldorado. Later it was discovered that the Berry's claim was 41 ft. too long. This section of the claim held all of Clarence's paydirt for the winter. That meant that the Berry's didn't own that fraction of land and they couldn't stake it either, because their staking rights were used up. As it turned out the Berry's got a friend to stake the claim for them and then transfer the rights to them.
On that claim the Berry's were able to produce $140,000 in one season. Once they washed out a pan of gold; on it was $119 worth of gold. The Berry's wages later totalled at one point $140,000 worth of gold a day. Whenever Ethel needed money she would just go outside smash a few dirt clods and pull out the nuggets.
Later the Berrys saved their money and decided to return to the States. They planned to buy a farm, a diamond wedding ring, and have a real honeymoon. They were on the now famous Portland when it docked in Seattle. When they arrived 23 year old Ethel was wearing men's clothing. Her bedroll was so heavy she couldn't lift it. Inside the bedroll was nearly $100,000 in gold. Ethel Bush Berry was rich!
Newspaper headlines told of the arrival of the ship with it's "ton of gold." Reporters interviewed Ethel claiming that she was the "The Bride of the Klondike,". Her story was featured in papers all over the world. Her advice to other women who wanted to go North was this:
|"Why, to stay away, of course. It's much better for a man, though, if he has a wife along. The men are not much at cooking up there, and that is the reason they suffer with stomach troubles, and as some say they did, with scurvy. After a man has worked hard all day in the diggings he doesn't feel much like cooking a nice meal when he goes to his cabin, cold, tired and hungry, and finds no fire in the stove and all the food frozen."|
Just months before, Ethel had lived in a wooden shack on Eldorado Creek. She had panned the miners pay dirt for them in a washtub. She and her husband had lived in primitive conditions.
|"I put on my Alaskan uniform . . . the heavy flannels, warm dress with short skirt, moccasins, fur coat, cap and gloves, kept my shawl handy to roll up in case of storms, and was rolled in a full robe and bound to the sled, so when it rolled over I rolled with it and many tumbles in the snow I got that way,"|
Now she and Clarence were living in the lap of luxury back in the States.
The Berrys Klondike claim became legendary. Despite the hardships of that first year, Ethel and Clarence returned to mine again in the spring of 1898. Ethel ascended the treacherous Chilkoot Pass a second time, this time with her sister Tot, amidst the chaos of thousands of stampeder whose dreams of riches were inspired by her own story. While many, if not most, of the "Klondike Kings" squandered their money, Clarence and Ethel Berry continued to work hard and invested their fortune wisely. They developed rich claims in Ester, Alaska, about nine miles west of Fairbanks. And beginning around 1907, the Berrys began a successful large-scale dredging operation in the Circle Mining District. For display at the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle, Ethel loaned $70,000 worth of gold nuggets that she herself had picked up on their various gold claims. Clarence later sent the nuggets to Tiffany's to be fashioned into a dresser set.
Ethel, who in 1897 had declared she would never go north again, couldn't stay away. She traveled each year up the Yukon River by boat, horse, and wagon over Eagle Summit to visit their claims until her beloved Clarence died in 1930. The wealthy widow lived in Beverly Hills, California until her death in 1948.
© Copyright 1997 Elizabeth Beckett and Sarah Teel
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