With the Gold Hunters

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Morning Herald/March 15, 1899

A Missionary Tells of Church Work in the Klondike—Shovel for Collection Plate

Rev. S. Hall Young, missionary to Alaska, lectured last night at Lafayette Square Presbyterian Church on “Gold and the Goldseekers.” He is on a tour of the Eastern States, for the purpose of securing funds with which to equip five missionaries, whom he desires to have sent to the Klondike region, Mr. Young went to the gold fields with the first rush of prospectors in 1897, and has, until recently, been in charge of the mission at Dawson City. Of his work there he said:

“The effect of the privations and hardships encountered on the trails is demoralizing in the extreme. Although the men who thronged over the Chilkoot and White Passes were, on the average, equal if not superior, to any similar body of their brothers at home, yet the constant struggle to forge ahead and to gain at the expense of others, made a large proportion of them lose nearly every vestige of the polish and honesty and the saloons attracted successful and unlucky alike.

“When the first church at Dawson City was organized it was with difficulty that a suitable building for it could be found. Every large house in the town was already either a dance hall or a saloon, and all were crowded to over-flowing day and night. But after much trouble a rough, barn-like structure was build, which though lacking in grace, and comfort, still answered the purpose. Pews were made of stovewood; the pulpit of an upright log. A broken stove was borrowed from a gambler, and the backyard of a saloon furnished whiskey bottles for candlesticks. The collection plate was a dust shovel, and the offering was weighted instead of being counted, as at home. The original congregation consisted of 59 members, 52 men and 7 women. Ten of the former were college graduates, three of whom surprised the pastor by bringing Greek Testaments to the service.

“The present condition of the Presbyterian Church in Alaska is very encouraging, there being eight successful missions in the southwestern part, near Dyea and Skagway, and several more in the wilder northern region.”

The lecture was given under the auspices of the Presbyterian Woman’s Home Mission Society.


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