"The Strangest Story Ever Told"
by Harry D. Colp
1900, Thomas Bay, Alaska,
During the years the Devil's Country Story had been passed along by word of mouth so often that the details had become obscured. It was then a very pleasant surprise when Mother found the manuscript just a short time ago and gave it to me to read. I found it fascinating and I was left with a feeling of curiosity. I wonder if any of you readers will be curious--I wonder--Well, I'll just let you wonder.
The spring of 1900 found four men batching together in a shack at Wrangell, Alaska. All four were broke, as is usual with prospectors. As luck would have it, I was one of the four. For reasons which will be quite obvious, I will just call the other three John, Charlie, and Fred.
Charlie came into the shack one night in April; all excited, and said, "Fellows, I have been on the trail of an old Indian for the last month trying to get him to tell me where he picked up a piece of free gold quartz he has at his camp.
I never said anything about it before, because I wanted to get the story from him first, and today he spilled the beans. He told me to go up to Thomas Bay* and camp on Patterson River on the right side, travel upriver for about eight miles and then turn to the high mountains, and after traveling about a mile and a half, I would find a lake shaped like a half-moon. 'Plenty of stone like I found on a slide there,' he said. (*Thomas Bay is known by the Native Americans in Alaska as ‘the Bay of Death.' )
About one hundred and fifty years ago, a slide down one of the mountains wiped out a village, killing over five hundred of the inhabitants.) Well, of course a prospector is ready to stampede on a whisper of gold any place, and we were no exceptions to the rule. We all talked the matter over, and finally it was decided that we would ‘run our faces for an outfit’ and send Charlie to look the prospect over. While he was gone, John, Fred and myself would hustle work somewhere for another grub stake and to pay the old one off.
The fore part of May, Charlie loaded his outfit into a canoe and having favorable weather, left Wrangell for Thomas Bay, which lies northwesterly about fifty miles. He had three months' supplies but was to come back any time sooner if he found anything; but if he didn't show up in that time, we were to put out a search for him.
John and Fred took a contract to get out wood, and I got a job in the Wrangell sawmill. Things went along until the first part of June, when, on a Sunday in the late afternoon, we all being home, and in walks Charlie without a coat or hat and looking as if he had been through hell. He didn't give us any greeting whatever; just heaved a piece of quartz over into a corner of the room and said, "Get me something to eat; I'm all in and want to rest." The fellow looked it, and after he had eaten, he turned in without telling us a thing about his trip.
We picked up the piece of quartz, and say, boy, it sure was a pretty thing to look at for a prospector. It was shot through with gold specks just like a badly freckled-faced kid. Were we excited? --I'll say we were! Just before dark we walked down to the beach to bring Charlie's outfit, as he had come up to the shack with only that piece of quartz in his hand, but there wasn't a thing in the canoe; except the oars.
Not much sleep for us that night, but Charlie never stopped sawing wood. We had hard work getting Charlie up for breakfast next morning; but when he did roll out, he just ate, borrowed a coat and hat, and left the house without saying a word or even answering one question out of the many put to him by us.
All of us, being excited and feeling ourselves worth a fortune, did not go to work that day, but sat around the shack and passed that blamed piece of rock back and forth to each other while we talked and waited for Charlie to come back and make his report.
Believe me, we were anxious to hear it. Along in the afternoon he came in and said, "Fellows, the SS Drigo will be in on her way south early tomorrow morning. Can you give me enough money for my ticket to Seattle? I'm through with Alaska and never want to see it again. I'll tell you about my trip to Thomas Bay and where I found that quartz, but my advice to you is to forget about it. It will never do you any good and will only cause you a lot of mental and physical pain. If we were not partners, I would never open my lips about this trip or what I found; but if you promise never to mention my name in connection with what I tell you or mention the name of Thomas Bay to me again, I'll give you the straight of my experience up there.
"Judge for yourselves as to my saneness, because this is the most astounding thing you ever heard and, as far as I am concerned, is beyond me to reason it out. Don't ask any questions to prolong my story any longer than it takes to tell it, as I want to leave Alaska and forget it if I can. I will try to make the one telling plain enough."
This is Charlie's story:
"Broke camp on Ruth Island the next day and moved up to the place I picked out the day before; put up my tent, packed up my outfit and left the canoe on the river bank. The next day I spent cooking beans, cutting wood and making things comfortable for a long stay. As it looked like rain, I wanted to get things fixed to keep dry. "It started to rain that night and just kept it up for days. I lost track of time, as each day was just like the one before. Had nothing to read, was all alone, couldn't do anything without getting soaked, and the roar of the river and wind through the timber just about drove me bugs, so I put in most of my time sleeping.
"Finally the weather broke and I got out. Spent several days in trying to find the old Indian's half-moon lake, but couldn't get it spotted. I did find- about two miles from camp up the river and about a mile from it- a lake shaped like the letter S. On the creek coming out from the lower end, I panned some pretty good colors; but, as I figured, not enough to get excited about; yet, an indication of gold in the country. "Talk about a dead country- that sure is.
"I left come the next morning, which was a fine sunny day. I took only the rifle with me, and when I came to the ridge, sure enough there were a few grouse hooting. I shot two and had gotten them when I bagged another one, which fell down the ridge about a hundred yards before it hung up.
"While on my way down to pick it up, I found that piece of quartz. Up to that time I had paid very little attention to what the country I was in looked like, as it was so heavily timbered and brushy. The formation didn't show up and I had no tools with me to uncover it. The top of an old snag had broken off and fallen, scraping the top moss and loose dirt for a space of about eight feet wide and eighteen or twenty feet long, uncovering this quartz ledge which is where I found this piece.
"This ledge was worked smooth by a glacier at one time. I couldn't find anything to break a piece off with, so I used the butt of my gun to get that piece. In so doing, I broke the stock of my gun, thus ruining it for further use. This didn't worry me any, as I knew there was not game in the country larger than a grouse and damned few of them. "My first thought was of the richness of the quartz and of you fellows and getting back to town to round you all up so we could get busy on it. After looking over and enjoying the feeling of knowing I had made a rich find, I covered the ledge up again with moss, limbs, and rotten chunk.
"I looked down below me and picked out a big tree with a bushy top, taller than the rest and about fifty feet to the right of the ledge. Looking over the top of this tree from where I stood, I could see out on Frederick Sound, Cape of the Straight Light, the point of Vanderput Spit (Point Vanderput); and turning a little to the left, I could see Sukhoi Island (Kodiak) from the mouth of Wrangell Narrows.
"Right there, fellows, I got the scare of my life. I hope to God I never see or go through the likes of it again. Swarming up the ridge toward me from the lake were the most hideous creatures. I couldn't call them anything but devils, as they were neither men nor monkeys-yet looked like both. They were entirely sexless, their bodies covered with long coarse hair, except where the scabs and running sores had replaced it. Each one seemed to be reaching out for me and striving to be the first to get me. The air was full of their cries and the stench from their sores and bodies made me faint.
"When I came to, it was night; and I was lying in the bottom of my canoe, drifting between Thomas Bay and Sukhoi Island, cold, hungry and crazy for a drink of water. But only to satisfy the latter urge, I started for Wrangell, and here I am. You no doubt think I am either crazy or lying. All I can say is, there is the quartz. Never let me hear the name of Thomas Bay again, and for God's sake help me get away tomorrow on that boat!" So passed out Charlie from our lives. We put his story down as a fantasy caused by loneliness and morbid thought.
5 TH Edition by Pilot Publishing Inc.,
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