Finding Prairie roots for a Yukon adventure

I visited Saskatchewan last week for two specific reasons: first, to give readings from my new book, Dalton's Gold Rush Trail, and second, to learn more about the origins of Prairie cattle drives that headed for Dawson City during the gold rush.

I visited Saskatchewan last week for two specific reasons: first, to give readings from my new book, Dalton’s Gold Rush Trail, and second, to learn more about the origins of Prairie cattle drives that headed for Dawson City during the gold rush.

These were among the longest cattle drives ever undertaken.

I drove west from Regina across the vast prairies with their broad unbroken skyline. The highway ran arrow straight to Moose Jaw, past countless fields of gold unbroken by fences. Most of the crops had been brought in, but I could still smell the organic residue of the harvest, lying in the fields. Memories of my own youth spent on a central Alberta farm washed over me.

The landscape subtly changed west of Moose Jaw. The flat plain became gentle undulations, although a hill with an elevation of 30 metres would be considered a prominent feature. The fields were confined by fences and many contained cattle.

The weather during the days I spent in southern Saskatchewan was unseasonably warm, reaching 27 degrees Celsius. The air was cloudless and calm and filled with a low haze that made the sun a blood-red ball when it cut the plane of the horizon at dawn.

My first stop in Swift Current was the museum, where I met its director, Lloyd Begley. Lloyd provided me with information about cattlemen from his district who brought herds north to satisfy the tremendous demand for beef in the Klondike.

Ed Fearon, from Maple Creek, took 100 longhorns north in 1897, selling five tonnes at a dollar a pound ($2.20 a kilo), and the rest at a dollar and a half ($3.30) to the general public. The price back home was a few cents at the time.

News like that was incentive for others to try their luck. The following year, H.Y. Jones (in partnership with James Smart) trailed a herd from Saskatchewan Landing, north of Swift Current, to Edmonton. From Edmonton, he proceeded northwest, pursuing a course that later became the Alaska Highway.

Jones’ herd never made it to the Yukon; he sold off the last of his steers in the Stikine during the winter of 1898/99.

The third Saskatchewan party to participate in the great gold-rush meat race was that of George Tuxford, his brother Alan, and brother-in-law James Thomson. They departed Moose Jaw by train with a herd of 70 animals on May 24, 1898.

The Tuxford party arrived in Dawson City five months later with part of the butchered herd on a raft. The remainder of their shipment, on two more rafts, which were trapped in Yukon River ice both above and below Dawson City, took another month for delivery.

Tuxford was too late arriving to demand top dollar for his beef. That honour went to the outfits of Pat Burns from Calgary, and Jack Dalton from Haines, who cleared a cool quarter million between them.

But Tuxford was fortunate. Though he did not make the fortune he dreamed of, he returned “well satisfied with the result of their trip, both from a financial point of view and as an experience.”

Tuxford was a Welsh immigrant farmer who homesteaded 18 kilometres north of Moose Jaw. My hostess, Laura Shtern of the Moose Jaw Public Library, introduced me to Amanda Oliver, in the archives, where boxes of early Saskatchewan documents are housed.

For two days, Amanda fielded my questions, and brought me files of documents, photographs and books. She helped me with the microfilm reels of old newspapers. This yielded a treasure trove of information about Tuxford and his cattle drive that I could never have dreamed of finding had I not visited Moose Jaw.

The archival files contained a lengthy narrative of Tuxford’s life between 1888 and 1918. Published in serial form in the Western Producer, the articles, titled Tuxford of the Plains, were derived from the same memoir that I relied upon in my book, but also from 1,100 letters and Tuxford’s diaries.

The content of the Producer series was intriguing, but not all the details meshed with what I had previously uncovered. Names and events conflicted. Even the size of the herd he took north was at variance with my previous information.

Did they take 70 head, or just 55? Was the herd comprised of oxen, as implied in this newly uncovered information, or a mixture, as Tuxford’s memoir stated? Where were the original documents from which the Producer series was derived?

A bit of detective work back in Whitehorse has led me to the source of the letters and diaries. It’s now a waiting game until the photocopies arrive.

When I delivered my presentation at the library on Saturday afternoon, I met Keith Delahey, a resident of Tuxford, a small village north of Moose Jaw which was named after George (in honour of his success in bringing the railroad to town). From Delahey I learned that there are no Tuxford descendants living in their namesake community any longer. He thought perhaps there might be some living in British Columbia.

Despite my disappointment in that regard, I rose before dawn on Sunday morning and drove the highway north to the sleeping village of Tuxford. En route, I pulled to the side of the road to absorb the glorious sunrise.

The eastern sky lightened as I stood in the chilly morning breeze watching the clouds, tinged a rosy hue, slowly turn to gold. Behind me, the full moon faded in the growing light. With my camera, I captured the moment the sun broke free of the horizon, and I then continued to Tuxford.

The village has become a bedroom satellite of Moose Jaw. There is no store or gas station, just two giant grain elevators, relics of an earlier era, and a couple-dozen tree-shaded homes. The rays of the sun saturated the village in colour and painted an unforgettable still life. A short time later, it started to rain, a signal that my journey was nearing its end.

The speculative character of pioneer farming, which led to the establishment of a bustling little settlement on the Prairie, also spawned a venture to the Klondike. Time has passed it by and Tuxford’s gold rush cattle drive is preserved now only as a memory in his papers and by bones that lie scattered on the bank of the Yukon.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book, Dalton’s Gold Rush Trail, is now available in stores. You can contact him at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

President Joe Biden signs executive orders after speaking about the coronavirus, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris in the State Dinning Room of the White House on Jan. 21, in Washington, D.C. The administration announced plans Jan. 20 for a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge after the Trump administration issued leases in a part of the refuge considered sacred by the Gwich’in. (Alex Brandon/AP)
U.S. President Joe Biden halts oil and gas lease sales in ANWR

“Its great to have an ally in the White House”


Wyatt’s World for Jan. 22, 2021

Children’s performer Claire Ness poses for a photo for the upcoming annual Pivot Festival. “Claire Ness Morning” will be a kid-friendly performance streamed on the morning of Jan. 30. (Photo courtesy Erik Pinkerton Photography)
Pivot Festival provides ‘delight and light’ to a pandemic January

The festival runs Jan. 20 to 30 with virtual and physically distant events

The Boulevard of Hope was launched by the Yukon T1D Support Network and will be lit up throughout January. It is aimed at raising awareness about Yukoners living with Type 1 diabetes. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Boulevard of Hope sheds light on Type 1 diabetes

Organizers hope to make it an annual event

City of Whitehorse city council meeting in Whitehorse on Oct. 5, 2020. An updated council procedures bylaw was proposed at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting that would see a few changes to council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse procedures bylaw comes forward

New measures proposed for how council could deal with emergencies

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

Most Read