Memoir tells of adventures mining for gold in the Klondike
BRIDPORT — It all started at the Bixby Memorial Library in Vergennes, where Monkton resident and author Ivor Hughes was giving a PowerPoint-driven lecture about the Klondike Gold Rush in northwestern Canada, which reached its apex at the end of the 19th century.
At the lecture Hughes was approached by Bridport resident Gary Payne, a grandson of George G. Shaw, who in the mid-1890s ventured to the West Coast from Long Lake, N.Y., where he eventually heard of the gold rush.
Payne was excited to talk about the gold rush.
“A guy came up to me afterward with this frickin’ big pile of paper, and that was Gary,” said Hughes. “He said that his grandfather had gone on the gold rush, and I thought, ‘Whoa, no way!’”
That evening at the Bixby, Payne gave Hughes his grandfather’s autobiography, which today is titled “To the Klondike and Back (1894-1901),” adorned with the quote “I am in here to get all I can.”
The story of Shaw’s travels in the Canadian Yukon had been handwritten by his family, and later typed in 1980 by George G. Shaw’s son, George B. Shaw, and George B.’s daughter, Erin Shaw Pastuszenski. Gary Payne — George B.’s nephew and Pastuszenski’s cousin — wanted to see his grandfather’s story published so everyone could read it. He thought Hughes might be able to help make that happen.
“I told him how difficult it was to get stuff published,” Hughes said. “I had a book published myself, so I had a contact in the publishing business who published my book down in Bennington.”
That contact was Images from the Past, a publishing company that specializes in historical events and personalities.
Before Hughes submitted Shaw’s Yukon manuscript to Images from the Past, he pored over it. Having been on the Chilkoot trail to the Klondike Gold Rush sites himself, Hughes really liked the memoir.
“Having been on the hike I thought it was a really exciting book, because here’s somebody who actually went on it in the late 1800s,” Hughes said. “And having been on it, and sort of understanding the logistics and challenges of it, I thought it was a real good story, very adventurous and it was well written.”
It took a while for the book to be published, but Images of the Past put it out earlier this year.
The autobiography follows the then 22-year-old George Shaw on his travels to Seattle in 1894, and then on to Alaska and the Yukon Territory. In the Klondike, Shaw’s gold claims totaled up to around half-a-million dollars by today’s standards; this financial success in itself made his experience unusual.
“The majority of people never made anything,” Hughes said.
Payne has his own opinions about what is the most interesting part of his grandfather’s tale.
“The adventure part, I’d say,” he said. “Also almost getting killed a number of times.”
Indeed, the danger in the story is what makes it so captivating. After Shaw’s gold mining expedition, he trekked through remote Alaska, and was even stranded in Russia’s Siberia after a storm drove his whaling schooner off course.
The journey that Shaw endured, while ultimately profitable, wasn’t easy and there were times he considered simply giving up.
“At one time while I was packing there on the Chilkoot I began to think that perhaps I wasn’t going to be able to keep going either — that I, too, might have to give up, the same as those many other not-so-fortunate fellers who had been forced to do,” George G. Shaw told his son, George B. Shaw, who transcribed the story.
Hughes agrees that the adventure tale is the book’s strong suit. But he also believes the Vermont tie-in will appeal to local readers. Upon his return to the Northeast in 1901, George. G. Shaw came to Bridport, Vt., where his father had moved the family from Long Lake. He eventually settled there, putting down roots as a farmer.
He died in 1958, leaving behind an adventurous manuscript marking Vermont’s small, but special role in the Yukon Gold Rush.
“What’s interesting is that, you know, this was a guy from here,” Hughes said. “The story should be of particular interest for people around here. But it also appeals to a broader audience.”
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