Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Book R & R: Hazelet's Journal

This Book Review and Recommendation is on "Hazelet's Journal" by George Cheever Hazelet, edited by J.H. Clark.

I admit that I predominantly read (and write!) military history. But I also have a fascination for American History of the western frontier. The last true frontier, and the last rush to claim it, was the Alaska Gold Rush. So when I was contacted by editor and publisher J.H. Clark, asking if I would enjoy receiving a review copy of "Hazelet's Journal," I readily agreed.

George Cheever Hazelet was a former school principle and business owner living with his wife and two sons in Nebraska in 1897. His business collapsed that year due to the financial panic and economic downturn that swept the country in the mid-1890s. Hazelet felt his opportunity to get his family back to their previous economic status was to try his hand at prospecting as part of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush. He left his family behind and struck out with his partner, Andrew Jackson Meals, for Alaska. An educated man, Hazelet kept a detailed journal of his experiences.

Hazelet and Meals outfitted in Seattle. Most of the thousands of prospectors who were headed for the Klondike landed in Skagway or Dyea (in southeast Alaska) to take either the White Pass or Chilikoot trails to the Yukon River, then raft down to Dawson (in the Yukon Territory, Canada). The Hazelet party was one of the fewer numbers who landed in Valdez, Alaska to climb the Valdez Glacier and cross over the mountains to the headwaters of the Copper River. In Hazelet's Journal, you'll read about the struggle to overcome the terrain, the climate, and the loneliness of prospecting the Alaska wilderness. Mortal danger exists on a daily basis from river crossings, freezing temperatures, and claim jumpers. Hazelet is straightforward in his entries, his journals are engaging yet hyperbole is refreshingly absent. His descriptions ring true. This is a primary source document at its entertaining best.

George Hazelet did not "strike it rich" in Alaska in that he was not able to set up a commercial mining operation. He and his partner did, however, homestead 720 acres in what is today the city of Valdez, Alaska. Hazelet and Meals returned to Alaska with their families and left behind a legacy that is part of the collective history of the 49th state. Editor J.H. Clark is George Hazelet's great grandson. He is also president of the Port Valdez Company, which traces its history back to those original 720 acres of land and the various other business ventures started by George Hazelet. Clark has done a wonderful job of editing and publishing "Hazelet's Journal," keeping the original voice of the author. I must also comment that the book is beautifully formatted, with dozens of historic photos, and maps that can only be described as works of art. My only criticism of the work is that I would have liked to see a more in-depth introductory chapter on the various gold strikes in Alaska and the Yukon. For those that are not familiar with this segment of American History, I would recommend also reading "Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush" by Pierre Berton. But even still, this does not detract from "Hazelet's Journal," as few are familiar with the exploration of the Copper River Country.