An interesting collection in the Archives of the Sherburne History Center consists, in part, of letters from Clarence McNeil to his wife Laura Keasling, the third daughter of George Keasling.
Clarence McNeil grew up in Livonia Township in the 1870s and 1880s. He was born in Lake City, Minnesota. His family moved to Sherburne County when he was only 15 months. He was an intelligent young man, after his education in the public schools, he trained to be a civil engineer. All of this led up to his travel to Alaska in 1898. McNeil found himself in the midst of the Klondike Gold Rush. Some of his letters describe the excitement and hard work in Alaska.
On March 7, 1898, he wrote to his wife both exciting news and details of struggle and hard work.
“…by the way I am no ordinary Engineer anymore. I am now Chief Eng. Of the Chilcoot Railway and Transportation Co. What do you think of that(?) …Herb and Lester are hauling freight with the dog teams from the summit down to Lake Lindeman. They get 3 cents a lbs and haul nearly a ton a day when the weather will admit of it. …I am feeling pretty well but I am rapidly losing flesh. I am 25 lbs. lighter than I was when I left for Alaska.”
Lake Lindeman was the headwaters of the Yukon River. From this point gold rushers would follow the river into the gold fields of the Klondike.
Shortly after this letter was written, Clarence McNeil was killed in an avalanche in the Chilcoot Pass. According to reports, he died April 2, 1898. His letters in the collection (1996.023) of the Sherburne History Center provide interesting insight into his young life and hazardous work as a civil engineer. The photo included here is Clarence McNeil in about 1893.
More from these letters will be posted in coming months. Be sure to check back often.