National Geographic : 1975 Dec
Harry Havrilack. At the age of 65 Harry runs a small placer mine along a creek not far from Rampart, using a bulldozer to scoop up pay dirt for his sluice box. "Mostly dirt and not much pay," Harry said with a shrug. "If you were to work this claim with a pick and shovel at $1,000 an ounce, you'd go broke." I could almost hear my grandfather talk ing. When I was ten, I had offered to scare up the gold pans and shovels if he would finance our joint mining venture. "While you're at it," my grandfather had said, "don't forget food for a year, horses, oats, a steam boiler, dynamite, the other tools, tent, and...." Our partnership died a-borning. Bird Sings a Hopeless Tune Harry kindly offered us a few tips on pan ning, and we set to work while he discussed the life of a solitary miner. "Nobody wants to live alone," he said, "but it's hard enough to support yourself, not to mention a family. A partner? What would I want one of them for? One fellow's got one idea, the other's got a different one, and before they know it, they're at each other's throats." He eyed Bob. "Bring that pan here, boy, let's see what you've got." The results were disappointing-a few flecks, or "colors," as Harry called them. After a time we said good-bye. As we walked back toward the river, a familiar note sounded in the branches overhead. "Hear that call, Bob?" I said. "My grand dad used to tell me that was a finch saying, 'No gold here, no gold here....' " However dim the prospects for panners, each summer still brings bounty to Alaskans along the Yukon. That's when the salmon re turn from the Pacific to spawn. Downriver from Rampart we encountered growing numbers of gillnets set close inshore and fish wheels anchored on rafts. Fish wheels are ingenious contraptions fea turing two mesh baskets connected to a pair Patience rewarded, Valerie Honea (left) pulls in a whitefish at her family's camp near Ruby; salmon fillets dry behind her. Each summer Pacific salmon head up the Yukon to spawn, providing vital income for people along the river. A prized king salmon (right) is bagged for the journey to market, where it may bring $5.00 a pound. of wooden paddles. Driven by the current, the paddles lift the baskets in and out of the water so that they scoop up salmon and dump them into a large hopper. We stopped above Ruby to visit John Honea, an Athapaskan Indian, at his smoke house by the river. We found John, his wife, Lorraine, and a young daughter, Valerie, filleting the huge fish and hanging them in a three-story smokehouse. Amid the flash of knives in bright sunlight John described the different kinds of salmon and the ways his people prepare them. "There's 'dogfish' for dog food," he said of a less appetizing variety. "Then just plain eating fish, salmon bellies, smoked strips, eggs, and 'stinkfish'-stuff that's left to rot for baiting animal traps." Inside the dark smokehouse a cottonwood log smoldered like a giant cigar. Beneath long rows of amber fillets I noted large numbers of fish tied in bales. "Those are the dogfish," John explained.