Hazelet's Journal is a true story that gives us insight into the character of those who went before us, a sense of passion, loyalty, and resilience that was so much a part of the great American spirit that our country was founded upon. It's told in the journalist's original voice, captured for generations to come.
An introspective collection of journal entries from a traveler in the Alaskan Gold Rush.
George Cheever Hazelet was born in Senecaville, Ohio, in 1861, and when it was time for him to attend college, he, like many others at that time, migrated west, receiving his college degree in Iowa. He began a career as a schoolteacher, but eventually, he became the principal of his local school district. He was well on his way to becoming a town leader in
Atkinson, Neb., but before the age of 40, he dedicated his life to a different venture: securing a fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush. Along with his partner, Andrew Jackson “Jack” Meals, a Nebraska farmer with no formal education, Hazelet traveled to Alaska in 1898 to attempt gold prospecting. This intriguing collection of journal entries includes small details that allow readers to get to know Hazelet more intimately: the type of dessert he’s eating on a particular night or how he’s noticed his face is puffier and older when he looks in the mirror. Editor/publisher Clark, Hazelet’s great-grandson, has successfully encapsulated his ancestor’s expedition in literary form. The entries engagingly reflect on the hardships of a life digging for gold: “The weather has been extremely cold the past few days / Am quite sure it must be down to forty degrees below zero / The water drove us out of the shaft and we are in hopes that these cold days will freeze it down.” Readers may find Hazelet’s journal to be captivating reading, as it promises more excitement at every turn. At one point, Hazelet provides a lucid description of encountering a glacier, and a sight of nature’s beauty and bounty that he’s never seen before. At another, he describes racing down the rapids in his boat at “breakneck” speed, waves crashing into his vessel.
An engaging piece of nonfiction about one man’s prospecting adventures.
Step aside, Jack London, and make room at the bar for George Cheever Hazelet. John Clark’s marvelous edit of the journals his great-grandfather penned during the Alaskan Gold Rush is every bit as exciting and authentic as what the author of White Fang and The Call of the Wild wrote. Contemporary in experience and outlook, George Cheever Hazelet should have been the chronicler of the Klondike. He may yet become that.
Beautifully written and lightly edited in order to maintain the pace and emotion of the entries—some hurried, some pensive—Hazelet’s Journal is primary-source history at its finest. This is not some musty pile of scribblings left to gather dust but a vibrant document into which generations of the family have breathed life. Clark, a printer by profession, has completed a task begun by his great-grandfather on a train leaving his Midwest home in 1898, and he has done so with a light yet deft hand.
Clark’s recruitment of Douglas Keeney—a noted historian, author, and a founder of the Military Channel—to present the prologue adds both gravitas and an independent point of view to introduce the narrative. Clark resisted the urge to “clean up” the journals, noting with unnecessary apology his “editorial decision to leave the journal entries, in almost every instance, exactly as my great-grandfather wrote them.”
Not that Hazelet’s work needs much correction. This was no schoolboy adventurer. Hazelet was a college graduate, businessman, husband, father of two, and school principal before heading off to seek his fortune in the Alaskan wilderness at age thirty-seven. His was a journey of desperate necessity, an attempt to recoup losses sustained in the depression of the late 1890s and to “be successful for my family’s sake.”
While he admired the beauty of the “wonderful country,” Hazelet did not want to be in Alaska. “If we could make a find we would at once pull out for home and happiness,” he writes.
His journals are as much about longing for family as they are about the exploration of the wilderness, an adventure which he found so hard and wearying that “at times I feel like making a kicking machine and turning it loose on the seat of my pants.”
The book is lavishly illustrated with well over a hundred photographs. Hazelet, his comrades, their camps and canoes, pack trains, and digs are the subjects of many of these images, which in themselves chronicle the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898-1902. There are also many amazing and beautiful photos of glaciers, mountain trails, and winding, rapid rivers so dangerous that their twists and turns are still known as the Devil’s Elbow and Hell Gate.
This is no staid diary. There are forest fires, floods, gunplay, and many other death-defying episodes. There is little glory here other than that of nature; as Hazelet notes, “the work is simply killing and that is all there is to it.” This is no mere metaphor, however, as Hazelet, in his best Jack Londonesque voice, makes note of more than one man who “came into this wild country to find his fortune and found his death.”