Living High Above the Town
Dawson lies along a flood plain of the Yukon River. After a spring flood in 1898, the hill behind Dawson was white with tents pitched by newcomers and those driven from their cabins on the low ground next to the river. As the waters receded and thousands of stampeders arrived, a bog in the middle of the townsite and a slough running through the south end were the only areas not occupied.
Observers in 1898 described Dawson as nothing more than a swamp or muskeg. That summer, the ground was oozy muck, water, bunch grass and a few stunted spruce trees. The town was a “city” of tents, shanties, and log cabins, with a floating population of about 20,000. Without sanitation services, typhoid was an ever-present threat.
Martha Munger Purdy, later to become Mrs. George Black and the second woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons, was a notable resident of the hillsides. Unable to afford a lot in Dawson, her family erected a cabin on the hill above Tr'ochëk (Klondike City). Their one-room cabin was larger than most hillside homes and had a floor of pounded-in poplar blocks where most had dirt floors. The males had built-in bunks and hanging blankets created a corner room for Martha.
Samuel Whitehouse used to tell a story of a time when prophesy and preparation worked to protect the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in.
Long ago, raiders chased a local man up the hill where the slide is now. He took refuge under some trees and near a pile of rocks and roots that had been piled nearby in anticipation of just this event.
When the warriors got very close, the man pulled out the stabilizing roots which caused a landslide. The rocks crashed down on the warriors and killed all but one man who carried the message back to his people on the upper Stewart River.v
The land slide site is now called the Moosehide Slide in English and Edda dadhecha, literally “weathered Moosehide hanging”, in the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in traditional language.
Trails, past and present
Before the Klondike Gold Rush, Hän-speaking people had a salmon fish camp at the mouth of the Klondike River and hunted for caribou at a site now called Moosehide, just five km down the Yukon River from Dawson. Stone and bone arrow and spear points found in the area are up to 8,000 years old.
The stampede of thousands of gold seekers to the area pushed out the local inhabitants who made Moosehide their principal residence. The village was virtually abandoned after the school closed down in the 1950s and families moved into Dawson. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizens have second residences there now and the village hosts the semi-annual Moosehide Gathering.
The historic church and school are interesting to see but you will need permission from the First Nation before visiting the site. A trail leads from here across the Moosehide Slide and around a relatively hazardous rocky promontory.
The Moosehide Trail branches and you can follow a very steep path to the Midnight Dome. Early Dawson City residents climbed up the hill to take part in an annual June 21 celebration of the longest day. The current road to the Dome was constructed in 1925.
Long ago the “Mahoneys” made periodic raids on the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in at Moosehide. One very smart boy fled over an ice bridge or shelf in the river and the Mahoneys drowned when they tried to follow. The legend says that since that time the water has never completely frozen in front of Moosehide.
The Remains of Lives Past
Tents and then log residences were built into the steep hillside behind Dawson starting in 1898. The hillside homes were located on flat platforms, often quite well built with stone retaining walls. There was no garbage collection so broken and discarded objects piled up next to some of the buildings.
Many of these hillside residences were abandoned as Dawson’s population declined and the swampy land in the flat town site was improved. Most of the log cabin structures are gone, either burned on site or removed for firewood. Only the stone foundations and the artifacts remain.
As you walk along the trail, you might see metal and glass food and beverage containers, pieces of furniture, utensils, and personal objects like toothbrushes and clothing. These objects provide archaeologists with a great deal of information about life in the early years of Dawson.
Historic resources, like the household litter you see strewn along the 9th Ave Trail, are protected by the Yukon Historic Resources Act. Please look but do not touch. Help us preserve the pieces of Yukon history in the landscape.
The Meed Family
Hillside homes in this area included the Meed cabin, 1902. William Meed and wife Mabel arrived in Dawson in 1898 and William became the freight and passenger agent first for the Bennett Lake and Klondike Navigation Co. and then the Canadian Development Co. Around 1900, Meed became the chief owner and manager of the Yukon Dock Co. and then formed the Stewart River Co. which built and operated the sternwheeler Prospector. The Meeds moved to Victoria, B.C. in 1907.
Coming to a meadow near you…
This peaceful place rests upon slow geological change.
Rock rubble in the Moosehide Slide extends from the cliffs above out to the Yukon River. You are standing in a man-made meadow contoured to reduce the slope and stabilize the rocky surface.
The boulders up-slope are relatively stable but they are part of a rock mass that rests on a sloping bedrock surface. The rock rubble is creeping slowly downhill, creating wave-like forms where it flows over bedrock steps. Where it is constricted by the rock buttress on the north side, the surface shows bulges and furrows. You can explore these by walking up into the boulders.
Occasional rockfalls from the cliff above feed the upper part of the slide, particularly during snow slides and after a heavy rain. The fallen rock contains serpentine, a soft green-brown mineral with a greasy texture. Serpentine fractures and slides easily and, where present, water between the slippery rocks aids the sliding process.
Is Moosehide Slide a Rock Glacier?
A rock glacier is a mass of rocks that glide on an ice-rich basal layer. They usually occur on steep, north-facing slopes as permafrost conditions are necessary for the glacier’s slow movement. Moosehide Slide faces south and permafrost is not confirmed beneath it.
There is some permafrost in the west-facing slope behind Dawson. Trail construction has cut through the insulating ground vegetation, thawing soil exposed to warm summer air and causing melt water to drain across the path.
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