Toll road to the Klondike

Jack Dalton leads his horse along his successful toll road trail during the late 1890s. Note: The horse is wearing snowshoes!
Jack Dalton leads his horse along his successful toll road trail during the late 1890s. Note: The horse is wearing snowshoes!

The short, feisty frontiersman held a rifle on the party trying to travel over his Yukon trail without paying the toll. Jack Dalton meant business, and people found he was a tough man with whom to deal. Dalton watched the group with their herd of cattle floundering through scrub trees and bushes and kept alongside for 300 miles to make sure they didn’t set foot on his right of way.

The Dalton trail opened a route in the 1890s from Pyramid Harbor on the Lynn Canal in Southeastern Alaska to the Yukon. It served a very useful purpose in the gold rush days. About 2,000 beef cattle successfully traveled it – a welcome addition to the miners’ food supply.

In later years, the trail would become part of the Haines Highway. As one rides the road in relative comfort nowadays, one can hardly realize how the pioneers traveled in toil and sweat – saddle sore horses and foot sore men made the 300-mile trek.

Dalton headed to Alaska via a sailing ship in the early 1880s, after some shooting scrapes in Oregon made it expedient to leave that part of the country. It is reported that in 1884 he and other members of the crew spent a year in the Sitka jail for seal poaching. Another source said his ship wintered at Hershel Island in 1885.

He left the sea in 1886 and became a member of Schwatka’s exploration party to Mount Saint Elias. Later he signed up with the Leslie party to explore the Interior and write reports for the Frank Leslie Illustrated Newspaper of New York.

On their first trip they’d started in the Interior and descended the turbulent Alsek River to the sea. Next time they started from the Chilkat village of Klukwan on the coast, this time using horses, and made it to Lake Kluane in Canada.
In 1896, Dalton established a pack trail to the Yukon, partly following the route he and the Leslie party had followed earlier. The Klondike gold rush would find him prepared, and the Dalton Trail became an important gateway to the gold fields.

According to historian and author Pierre Burton, Dalton was a respected figure in Dawson. Others had tried to establish a toll road, but Dalton was the only one to make it stick.

Little did Dalton know that 70-some years later another road also would bear the Dalton name. The North Slope Haul Road, or Dalton Highway, was named for his son, James Dalton.