MP-0000.2024.1 | Dead Horse Trail, Alaska, about 1898

Dead Horse Trail, Alaska, about 1898
H. C. Barley
About 1898, 19th century or 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
17 x 12 cm
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Photograph (77678) , Transportation (2517)
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Keys to History

Dead Horse Trail was part of the trail that led to the White Pass, the alternative to the Chilkoot Pass. It was a lower pass, but the trail was longer and very rough, as this picture shows. Because so many horses died on this crude and narrow trail, it was soon known as the Dead Horse Trail. Stampeders were advised that no matter which trail was chosen, "You would soon wish you had chosen the other." The American author Jack London wrote of it that men worked the horses to death, "and when they were gone, went back to the beach and bought more. Some did not bother to shoot them, stripping the saddles off and the shoes and leaving them where they fell. Their hearts turned to stone-those which did not break-and they became beasts, the men on the Dead Horse Trail."

Source : Off to the Klondike! The Search for Gold [Web tour], by William R. Morrison, University of Northern British Columbia (see Links)

  • What

    The trail was seemingly just a path running alongside a rocky cliff, but actually it was a place of death.

  • Where

    The Dead Horse Trail is part of the White Pass Trail, between Skagway and the White Pass summit.

  • When

    The caption suggests 1898, but it was probably a year or two later, after the railway had opened.

  • Who

    Hundreds and hundreds of pack horses were worked to death on this terrible trail, which was bad in the summer and worse in the winter.