University of Notre Dame

 

Hesburgh Libraries

Rare Books & Special Collections

Guide to the John F. Delaney Letters

MSN/MN 5004

 

Collection Summary

Title: John F. Delaney letters
Dates: 1898-1899
Collection No.: MSN/MN 5004
Creator: Delaney, John F., b. 1856
Extent: 38 folders; 1 container
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: A group of 38 manuscript personal letters of John F. Delaney, chronicling his experiences as a gold prospector in the Yukon and Alaska, 1898-1899.

Selected Search Terms

Frontier and pioneer life -- Yukon -- Klondike River Valley
Frontier and pioneer life -- Alaska
Gold miners -- Yukon -- Klondike River Valley -- History -- 19th century
Gold miners -- Alaska -- History -- 19th century

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection

Preferred Citation: John F. Delaney Letters, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The Delaney letters were purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2007, from Schmitt Investors Ltd. of Northport, New York. Arranged and described 2008, by George Rugg. Finding aid 2012, by Mairead O'Malley and George Rugg.

Biographical Note

Little is known of John Delaney's life prior to and after the brief period covered by the present collection of letters. Despite the Irish surname, the 1900 Federal census indicates that both he and his parents were born in Germany. He emigrated to the United States in 1867, when he was around eleven years of age. In 1888 he married the woman to whom most of the letters are addressed, Caroline D. Delaney (1864-1943), a native of Sweden who had come to America in 1872. In 1898 the Delaneys were living in Salt Lake City, Utah when John left to prospect for gold in the watershed of the Yukon River. After traveling north via Portland, Seattle, and Victoria to Fort Wrangell in southern Alaska, Delaney made three separate trips into the interior over the next 19 months. In the spring of 1898 he journeyed on foot from Fort Wrangell to Lake Teslin and thence to the headwaters of the Big Salmon River in southeast Yukon Territory, ultimately returning for lack of food. In July 1898 he again journeyed to the Big Salmon, and continued down the Yukon River by steamer, across Alaska to Cape Nome on the Bering Sea (where placer depoits of gold were discovered that very summer). After wintering at Fort Wrangell, Delaney made a third trip to the Big Salmon, and again passed down the Yukon, working for wages and prospecting around Circle City in Alaska in the summer of 1899. He then continued on to Cape Nome, working and prospecting there. By September 1899 Delaney was in Seattle, and by December, at Salt Lake, planning a new prospecting venture to Cape Nome. Delaney seems to have been tougher and more knowledgeable than most, but ultimately lacked the capital, and material resources, to make his various claims pay (at least on this trip). Initially optimistic of his prospects for making good money, he came to believe that "the stories of so much Gold Coming out is a Lie got up by Railroads and steamboat Lines." By the time of the 1900 census Delaney had moved his family to Seattle, and was presumably back in Alaska. In later life Delaney settled in Blyn, Clallam County, Washington, where by 1920 he was running a grocery store. He died before 1930.

Scope and Content Note

The letters range in date from February 1898 to December 1899; almost all are addressed to Caroline Delaney in Utah. Though irregularly spaced—Delaney was often far from any postal service—they provide a full account of his experiences, as well as broader commentary on mining, the human hardships of the gold fields, and the cruel economy that left most prospectors busted. Many were written from Fort Wrangell, Alaska, where Delaney wintered in 1898-99. In addition to the narrative provided by the letters to his wife, Delaney wrote a 16-page epistolary account of his experiences during 1899, to a prospective business associate.

Arrangement Note

The collection is arranged chronologically, one item per folder.

Container List