PULLMAN, Wash.–In the brutally cold winter of 1897-98, drawn by the glitter of chance and fortune, tens of thousands of gold seekers stampeded north to the gold fields of the Yukon. Their grueling trek from Skagway, Alaska, over the Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett has been captured in words and photographs in a new Washington State University Press book, “Trail to the Klondike,” by the late Seattle television personality Don McCune.
Seven decades after the Alaska gold rush, McCune retraced the route to the Yukon with his KOMO-TV Exploration Northwest crew. Along the trail they found abundant evidence of the Klondikers’ struggle, “left behind for the wind to make music through the ribs of rope and rotten wood and dreams long dead,” wrote McCune.
The resulting television scripts became the basis for “Trail to the Klondike.” The book combines McCune’s observations of the route with Eric A. Hegg’s evocative 1897-98 photographs of the gold seekers, and excerpts from the journals of several stampeders such as Fanny Ostrander, who made the trek with her husband that winter.
Don McCune is known to a generation of Washington residents as the beloved “Captain Puget,” star of the state’s most popular children’s television program during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1960, he became narrator and writer for a new show called Exploration Northwest, a series of half-hour programs filmed throughout the west. Exploration Northwest ran for 21 years, and won 26 Emmy Awards.
Busy with other projects, McCune set aside the manuscript for “Trail to the Klondike” in 1971. After his death in 1993, his widow, Linda Street McCune of Seattle, and her sister, Carolyn Street LaFond of Olympia, rediscovered the manuscript, and found a home for it at WSU Press.
“Trail to the Klondike” is a large-format book featuring more than 120 photographs. Also included are appendices on “The Trail Today” by Street LaFond; the life of Don McCune, by Linda McCune; and the legacy of Eric Hegg, by photojournalist Gary Christenson. The book, $19.95 paperback, $35 cloth, is available in bookstores, or direct from WSU Press,
EDITOR’S NOTE: Linda McCune, the widow of Don McCune and head of the Don McCune Library, can be reached at 206/483-3759. Further information and additional press materials can be had by calling the WSU Press, 509/335-3518.