The first prospectors on the Stewart River found enough fine gold on the gravel bars and in the side streams in 1883 that two of them returned in 1884. By 1885, there were about 100 men in the country and about $75,000 worth of gold was taken out of the Stewart River gravels.
An industrious Stewart River prospector could make from $30 to $100 a day. The excitement spread when these men came into contact with other prospectors and miners at Juneau and Sitka, Alaska.
The discovery of coarse gold in the Fortymile River in 1886 drew prospectors and miners out of the Stewart River drainage and the region received little attention until the Klondike Gold Rush. Klondike stampeders knew of the gold in the Stewart River but the Fortymile and Klondike drainages proved richer. The Stewart River was largely abandoned again until gold was discovered at Duncan Creek in 1901.
Duncan Creek gold miners established the Mayo Landing townsite, which was surveyed in 1903. That same year, Jake Davidson discovered silver-rich galena in the area. Although the Silver King mine was not developed until 1913, the importance of lead, silver and zinc to the Mayo region was to far outweigh that of gold.
Navigation on the Stewart River
Piloting Yukon’s riverboats required a great deal of skill and local knowledge. The swift-flowing Stewart River is very shallow after spring’s high water and has many rocks, shifting shoals and sharp turns.
The sternwheelers possessed great steering power. Four to five main rudders and two small rudders were operated by hydraulic or steam-powered gears. Oversteering on the wheel would send the rudders back and forth across the stern to act as a brake. This could be disastrous in a sharp turn.
Pilots of loaded boats and barges going downstream followed the main channel and the strongest current by “reading” the water. Most errors occurred in slow upriver travel. Pilots watched for a spit or reef before a bend and shallows on the short side.
The sternwheeler Keno was built in Whitehorse to haul silver ore concentrate from Mayo to the mouth of the Stewart River, where it was transferred to the larger Yukon River boats. In 1938, S.S. Keno crew handled more than 9,000 tonnes of ore. (YA, Claude and Mary Tidd fonds #7402)
The Keno has been restored by Parks Canada and is open to visitors in Dawson City from mid-May until mid-September.