“The winter snows of the Sierras were the entire reason for the Big Creek Project. As the heavy snowpack melted, the runoff water was stored in reservoirs, then used to generate electricity before going down to irrigate crops in the San Joaquin Valley below. Unfortunately, the heavy snowfalls at higher altitudes made construction of portions of the project very difficult, shortening the working season and making transportation difficult.”
“Although the winter’s snows close the trails and make travel hazardous, the lines of communication must be kept open. This was Jerry Dwyer’s job; Jerry Dwyer and his dog team. They had a reputation for never failing to make the goal, and they never did fail.”
The Hard Way: High Sierra Toil
“Pictured on today’s Country Life cover is Jerry Dwyer and his famous dog team, a combination which operated between Big Creek and Florence Lake from 1920 to 1927. Dwyer and his team of Alaskan sled dogs were familiar sights to another group of doughty and hard-as-nails mountaineers, the stream gaugers. From 1920 to 1925 there was 20 of these rugged individuals living in primitive camps throughout the San Joaquin River drainage area, challenging weather, terrain and the general handicaps of isolation.
Their lone contact with the outside world was the late Orland Bartholomew who took today’s cover picture.
In 1925, the permanently stationed stream gaugers were replaced by traveling gaugers who walked 200 miles a month, every month, gauging the tributaries of the San Joaquin River. This basic data is now being used for further development of power, irrigation and flood control.
Dwyer’s dog team is now memorialized at Kaiser Pass northeast of Huntington Lake. Here, Dwyer buried three of his dogs during his seven year stay. The first to be buried was Babe, the leader, a husky male who disliked all but Dwyer. His temperament remained the same, dour.
As the years passed Dwyer buried Whiskey and Trim. This left Patsy, Dooley, Riley and Barney. But Dwyer’s task never changed and he recruited replacement dogs from Cascada camp dogs.”
-Excerpt courtesy of The Fresno Bee, California Country Life, “The Hard Way: High Sierra Toil,” Sunday, February 13, 1966
Former Manchester Man Found Wrapped in Yukon Mystery, by Mary Carolyn Macnell
“The Silent Alaskan,” Fabled Character of North Country, Revealed as Jeremiah Dwyer of Connecticut, Lured into Mountain Fastnesses and Frozen Trails for Twenty Years by Phantom Gold
“The lofty mountain ranges have always been regarded as safe keepers of secrets. Their towering majesty inspires confidence and strength so that many weary wanderers have sought refuge in the sequestered spots there to be found. Out in the Sierras twenty-five years ago there appeared a man destined to find peace and seclusion for more than two decades, sheltered in the many havens offered by the hospitable ranges. He had his secrets, too, and though he may have confided them to the mountains, he certainly never related his story to any of his associates, and as time went on, he became known as, ‘The Silent Alaskan,’ ‘The Hero of the Sierras,’ and ‘Silent Jerry.’ All along the Pacific Coast, from California to Alaska, the bearer of these soubriquets is mentioned by men in tones of respect and admiration so great, that many would be ready in an instant to serve him to the last drop of their blood, because of the noble deeds he has performed in order to be of use to them.
A Vivid Figure.
Though his identity in the West is hidden, ‘The Silent Alaskan,’ seems to be none the less a very vivid figure in the current history of the mountains. Thrilling stories of achievements are attributed to him by those who have come in intimate contact with him, but of who he is, whence he came, or what he has done, the Silent Alaskan never speaks, and so there is an aura of romance around him always. Men relate tales of deeds of daring and acts of endurance to serve his fellow men, and unusual perseverance to further his own ambition. But his most predominant characteristic has been unselfishness and that is really why the name, ‘hero,’ has been applied to him.
Many of his closest friends in the West do not know his real name, but that can no longer be said here in the East. The Silent Alaskan is none other than Jeremiah Dwyer, formerly of South Manchester, Connecticut. This discovery was made in a very startling manner, and led to the first communication that the Silent Alaskan has had with his friends here who have naturally believed him dead for more than twenty years.
A littler four-page paper — a house organ published by the Southern California Edison Co. — wrapped around a souvenir gift from a friend attending the Fresno, Cal., district fair, was the first clue. The illustrations attracted attention and led to the discovery of Jerry. ‘Silent Jerry and his Alaskan Dog Team,’ was the title above a short sketch of the recent events of Jerry’s life, accompanied by his photograph. The photograph revived remembrance of Dwyer and the article inspired still more curiosity. Jerry was described in this way: ‘He is a strong man in middle life. His closely knit figure is lithe and alert. He treads with the step of a mountaineer and is capable of unbelievable endurance. His face — it is a fine, kindly face, with a broad forehead, and about his firm mouth there is written deep lines which trace the story of mental and bodily conflict. Save when he is talking about his dogs, he is silent as the Great White North. He smilingly turns about the probe that would penetrate his life story, and probers have winced before the unspoken rebuke in the patient blue eyes with a life secret behind them.
Jerry Breaks His Silence.
A letter was addressed to, ‘Jerry Dwyer,’ in care of the publishers of the little paper, and a few weeks brought a reply. Jerry Dwyer, given up as dead, had broken his silence. He now plans to come home this summer, to take up the life from which he cut himself off.
It was the quest that drew Jerry Dwyer from his home nearly a quarter of a century ago. He was one of a party of fourteen who went to Alaska, in the Klondike rush. The others finally gave up their search, but the lure of the gold was too strong for Jerry and he remained, thus losing contact with his friends.
In his letter he explains this fascination: ‘It’s a wonderful thing to strike pay dirt. I’ve felt it at different times. When I had accumulated a pile I would plan to come home, but hearing of another rich prospect, I would join the rush, sink my pile, and again be broke. It happened time after time. Phantom gold has been my lot.’
‘That sounds just like him,’ said Daniel J. Hayes of New Britain who was with Dwyer in the Klondike rush. ‘I’ve seen Jerry work continuously for thirty-six hours and then strike out to scour the country and lay new claims. When one of our party was sick and needed medicine he set out in a fierce blizzard to bring it, fighting his way through, when even the native Indians could not be hired to undertake the journey. Again when another one the fellows broke a leg, Jerry dragged him in on a sled into the nearest village to get proper care and attention.’ Even in those days Jerry was performing the unselfish acts which won the love and admiration of his friends, and he has remained unchanged through all the years.
The party of which Jerry was a member, drifted back, one by one, until he alone remained. Hayes was the last to leave him. But Jerry was determined to make his pile of virgin gold. His eyes were still dazzled by the glitter of a possible fortune, and he resolved to persevere, despite lack of companionship and aid.
A Great Experience.
‘It was a wonderful experience,’ wrote the Silent Alaskan recently. ‘I’m none the worse for it, physically. I can still do 100 yards in 11 seconds flat, which is pretty good for a man 55 years of age. Living close to nature has been elevating, spiritually. Perhaps the most remarkable experience in this connection that I have had — and it happened several times so I am not mistaken — is interesting from a scientific point of view. While camping in the open nights, I have often watched the lights of the Aurora Borealis, and I heard sounds which traveled along the surface of the earth, at times sweet-toned like the chiming of bells, at others, like the rolling peals of thunder. In all my scientific reading, I have never found mention of such a phenomenon.’
The search for gold carried Jerry up and down the Alaskan coast. There is not a worthwhile mining camp where Dwyer has not been. He has claims strung along the coast and rivers. Hearing of strikes in the regions where he had been, he has not infrequently retraced his steps and resumed work on old claims. ‘The experiences were successions of successes and failures, but I’m glad I didn’t lose my mind, as some poor fellows have,’ said Jerry in his last letter.
A Yukon Tragedy.
And that observation reminded Hayes of another of Dwyer’s kindly acts. Hayes related this story: ‘Old Matt Brady, who had a claim next to us had been in the country eight years, seeking a fortune. Round the campfire at night he occasionally told us smatterings of his personal affairs. Matt had come to the Yukon to make a fortune quick, leaving his family about $5,000 to tide them over until his return, which he expected would be soon. With a fortune made, he planned to employ the finest of surgical skill for a crippled daughter to whom he was deeply devoted. He made his strike, accumulated a quarter of a million in gold nuggets, in less than a month, and was preparing to come out and return home. Then he went mad — poor old sour dough. He was a raving maniac except when thoughts of his child’s sufferings came into his mind. We had to restrain him, tying him hand and foot. Jerry took him down the Yukon, practically fighting him all the way. Then he protected Matt’s interests for the sake of the poor fellow’s family, and the last I knew, the little girl was recovering from the operation from which old Matt had worked, and they were living in luxury providing for him such comforts as his hopeless mental condition made possible.’
The rugged ranges of the Sierras have had a strong grip on the Silent Alaskan — the granite walls and the grand silence are akin to the man. For the last four years he has lived among them and even to return to his former home for a visit will require an effort.
Among the mountains in the northern part of California, Huntington Lake and Big Bear Creek are situated. Kaiser Range towers above them. Here the Silent Alaskan is to be found. When the Southern California Edison Co. began its gigantic hydro-electric power development project there the Silent Alaskan was brought onto the scene, enticed away from his beloved north country where he was famed as a driver of dog teams. A man of more than ordinary courage and endurance was required to maintain communication between the nearest village fifty miles distant and the men constituting the settlement in the region where the power development was in progress. The Silent Alaskan was described as the man sure to accomplish this feat, and by so doing, keep up the morals of the hundreds living their isolated lives.
Then Silent Jerry assumed the fight against the insidious foe — Homesickness. He, better than the hundreds he was serving, well knew the feeling of homesickness, and when he would, ‘mush, mush, mush,’ in the dialect of the French-Canadians, he was spurred on by the determination to win, and beat the feeling. Clad in his furs, he followed the sledge on which he could see the bulk of letters, newspapers and creature comforts that would score a knockout for the blues. But there was nothing there for him, he knew. In twenty years he had not had a single word from a friend. No matter how fierce the blizzard, how blinding the storms, he followed in the wake of his dog train, the fast falling snow covering the tracks of his malamutes’ great white paws almost before they were lifted. At times these blizzards were of such severity that age-old pines toppled over in his path, giant growths laid low. There were, ‘frozen lungs,’ to combat, and the constant fear of lack of timber for firewood which must keep the ‘musher’ always vigilant. His wits must be active every moment, and he must never loiter lest the deadly cold freeze him and paralyze his movements. But the Silent Alaskan never failed. The anxious workmen were not deprived of their eagerly awaited news from home. When the influenza was epidemic, the Silent Alaskan, though half sick himself, ventured out when the biting winds froze almost every living thing. But the silent hero, trusting his faithful dogs to find the trail, fought his way into the settlement and brought back help.
Loves His Dogs.
Love for his dog team has held Jerry to the West. Some of them have been with him for several years, and coming back East he will have a least one of them with him.
The approach to Huntington Lake is still an ill-conditioned roadway. Near the crest of Kaiser Range it passes through a gorge resting between two abruptly rising mountains. Peaks jut into the skyline here and there. In the winter the drifts are sometimes twenty to thirty feet deep. Alongside the road an observer will see a hemlock cross rising, and on a planed surface appears the name, ‘Babe.’ When Silent Jerry passes the spot he pauses, and always when the flowers are in bloom, he is seen placing a bouquet on the little mound. Babe was the leader of his dog team, and held a spot nearer to her master’s heart than dogs of men ever can again. She died in the harness, of heart failure, leading the team over the trail. Fifteen years of close association and devotion were ended, but she died with many of her master’s secrets and cares still cherished in her heart.
Babe’s puppy, Riley, whined for his mother, but his loneliness soon passed with the new thrill of running over the glistening trail with the other dogs. Strong with the strength of his malamute mother and St. Bernard father, Riley soon took his mother’s place at the head of the train. Then Riley’s troubles began, for he assumed the responsibility of reprimanding the other dogs, often chewing their ears if they lagged at his youthful speed. The veterans of the traces resented Riley’s assumed importance.
‘How like the old world — the competition and experienced years,’ mused the Silent Alaskan. But while he admires the spunk of Riley he is still loyal to Babe: in September every year he has always visited the grave on the hillside, covering it deeply with flowers of his picking.
Jerry’s dogs are a topic of conversation of which he never wearies. In describing them he says: ‘Barney is a half wolf and half Airdale, which seems to me to account for his devotion. Trim and Dooley are so nearly human that they can almost speak: Whiskey is so named because of his very unvolstead inclination. He used to get drunk in Alaska. Patsy, the mother of the team, just as quiet and ladylike as she can be. Sometimes at the end of a long journey she slips away by herself and as she sleeps with one eye open, I’ve seen her smile, dreaming, I think, of hunting back in Alaska. It’s the best dog team of the West.’
It is the irony of fate, that the very means by which Jerry Dwyer was discovered was that which he shunned most — publicity. He thought that the mountains would provide an impenetrable barrier and preserve his secrets but now they have revealed his life story. He is coming home soon, but he will not forget his work in the West, and his faithful dog team. Again the mountains will receive him, with open arms this time, for he is now an old son, true to his early friends who harbored him when first the bright gold called him from his friends in the East. The Silent Alaskan says: ‘Yes, its my duty to come home — and also my duty to return to my present work.'”
-Excerpt courtesy of The Hartford Daily Courant, “Former Manchester Man Found Wrapped in Yukon Mystery,” by Mary Carolyn Macnell, August 10, 1924
A SEASON OF WILD STAMPEDES
“When summer came there were nearly three thousand people in and about Dawson, Alaska, the great majority of whom had come in during the winter and spring, and who were eagerly waiting to make a fortune. The class was increased when work became slack in the mines, owing to the running water, and also began to be increased by those from adjoining settlements who had been unable to reach the district the season before, and by the vanguard of that great crowd which was soon to pour in over the passes. It is a fact significant of the remoteness of the country and scarcity of facilities for communication and transportation, that while all these scenes of newly-discovered millions were being enacted at Dawson, the outside world was pursuing its peaceful way in utter innocence of Dawson and its mines. A few letters had found their way out, and there were rumors along the Pacific coast of the new discoveries, but they were treated in the papers as highly-colored tales, and stuck into inconspicuous places in mining intelligence. Juneau miners had heard a good deal, however, and were soon on their way down the river.
But, of course, the two creeks that were known had long been completely staked. The floating population, impatiently waiting to grasp a fortune, was therefore in a state of stampede all summer. The old miners, observing the lay of the land and seeing that the Bonanza had other ‘pups,’ which, while not very inviting to the gold-prospector, looked fully as much so as the Eldorado had appeared at first, and seeing also that the Klondike and the Indian River just above had numerous small tributaries, whose headwaters seemed to center curiously around a ridge of hills, in the center of which was a peak called the Dome, had early begun to spread out over the country and to probe the ground under the tundra of the banks. When they found something that looked promising, they returned to Dawson and applied for a discovery claim. This was happening all summer. No one knew the value of the discovery, for it was impossible to fully know till the winter had again frozen up the streams, but it made no difference to the ever-increasing crowd of feverish fortune-hunters. Stampedes were of daily occurrence, and the bulk of the population was therefore kept in a state bordering on physical exhaustion.”
-Excerpt courtesy of Google Books, “Two Years in the Klondike and Alaskan Gold-fields: A Thrilling Narrative of Personal Experiences and Adventures in the Wonderful Gold Regions of Alaska and the Klondike,” by William B. Haskell, Hartford Publishing Company, Alaska, 1898
THE STORY OF BIG CREEK, by David. H. Redinger, 1949
ALASKA DOG TEAM
“We were faced with the problem, during winter months, of getting mail and light supplies of various kinds, particularly medicine, over Kaiser Pass with the road impassable on account of deep snow. Equipment for snow removal such as we have today had not been perfected. The decision was made to secure a dog team, the question being how to get one which was trained, with a driver, in time to be of use during the winter which was then upon us. With the assistance of Ingersoll-Rand Company, we obtained a team of seven dogs and a driver from Alaska.
Jerry Dwyer, the dogs, Babe, the leader, Patsy, Dooley, Trim, Riley, Whiskey and Barney, and complete equipment arrived, going into service on December 16, 1920. The team operated between Camp 60, at the upper end of Huntington Lake where it was based, and Camp 61, beyond Kaiser Pass. The normal schedule consisted of a trip over the Pass one day and back the next. During the summer months of the first two years, the team was quartered at Camp 61-C on Kaiser Pass, where it was cooler because of the elevation — 9,305 feet.
The dogs received careful attention from Jerry, who cared for them as though they were children. They were fond of fresh fish, especially salmon, which they were fed when it was obtainable. They always had to be tied and kept far enough apart to prevent their fighting with one another. Along the trail, under some conditions, the snow would cause trouble by balling-up on their feet. To prevent this, Jerry had leather shoes made. The dogs were not too keen about wearing them and when the shoes were put on would jump around for a while as if they were walking over hot coals. Frequently, a trail had to be broken in the deep snow, and this would be accomplished by several men walking ahead, as there were always some traveling back and forth.
Before the first heavy snow, road markers — short wood blocks painted red — were nailed on trees fifteen feet above the ground, and spaced about one hundred yards apart. Where there were no trees, a sapling was cut and set in a mound of rocks along the roadside. These markers were for the guidance of men on foot, as well as for the dog team. It does not take long in these mountains for a blizzard to completely obliterate a road. After nearly thirty years, many of these markers are still in place, arousing the curiosity of visitors.
The dog team had not been working long before it was called into action on an errand of mercy, but too late. An employee located at Camp 61, six miles beyond Kaiser Pass, was determined to get home to spend Christmas with his family in the San Joaquin Valley. Against the advice of his superiors and contemporaries, he reached Camp 61-C on Kaiser Pass, where quarters were available for anyone who might need shelter during storms. After a short stop-over, he insisted on going ahead. It was six and one-half miles to Camp 60, at the upper end of Huntington Lake, and the snow at the Pass was more than waist deep. Three men volunteered to accompany him, not wanting to see him go on alone. The party had not gone far when his exhaustion made it necessary for the others to place their companion at the foot of a large juniper tree — the snow is always light around the bases of large trees — and return to camp for Jerry and his dogs. When the rescue party finally reached the juniper tree, the man was dead.
Several of our men thought the Alaska dogs should have some competition. Besides, they needed some help as the sled loads were increasing. Seven camp mongrels were pressed into service, to alternate on trips with their more favored competitors. The mongrels presented no problem whatsoever, even though none had ever been harnessed. The new outfit started off like old-timers, and on the first trip the two teams met on Kaiser Pass. It was anticipated there might be trouble, and to prevent this, the teams were kept at a distance in passing. The Alaska dogs paid no particular attention, merely gave a few glances off to the side, as much as to say, ‘Huh, where did you punks come from?’ The mongrel team, however, really had a fit. Each dog growled or snarled, some barked, and the hair on their backs stood straight up; but both teams kept moving. The mongrel team acted in much the same manner each time the other team came in sight during the few weeks, as if saying, ‘You guys are not so hot.’
In September, 1922, Babe, the leader of the Alaskan dogs, died. Jerry buried her on Kaiser Pass, where Whiskey and Trim found a resting place subsequently. Their graves have been marked with an appropriate redwood slab, made and erected by the United States Forest Service. Before the marker was erected there was no identification other than a border of stones around each grave. Since they are alongside the main road, they have become a center of attraction for passing motorists. On numerous occasions I have stopped to join a group-out of curiosity — as it has always been interesting to hear the conjectures. Once when there was only a single grave, one member of such a group, after a long powwow, opined, ‘Some poor old prospector, I suppose.’
After Babe’s death, the leadership of the team fell to the black dog, Patsy, a most likable and friendly creature.
Mrs. Redinger extended her sympathy to Jerry, and his reaction to the loss of Babe can be described more easily by quoting his letter to her, written at Camp 61-C on September 20, 1922:
‘Dear Mrs. Redinger,
I received your letter this morning and wish to let you know that I am sincerely grateful for your interest and sympathy. Losing Babe hurt more than I thought possible. For a number of years past I have thought that nothing mattered, but I was mistaken. I consoled myself with the knowledge that I was always good to Babe, and I believe it is better to have her die than to have me leave her. She did not suffer, and died in the arms of the one she loved best in all the world, game to the last. Her last effort was to snuggle up in my arms. That is more than I expect myself when I pass out. I thank you for the picture. It looks to me a great deal like the picture of Maude Adams in ‘Joan of Arc’ — another great lover of dogs. Her favorite was the dog of all dogs, the Irish wolfhound. I used to know Maude Adams, the angel of the stage, and thought she was the loveliest ever. With best wishes to you, Mrs. Redinger, I remain
(Signed) Jerry Dwyer’
With the above letter he enclosed, in his own handwriting, a copy of that much publicized ‘A Tribute To The Dog,’ by Senator George Graham Vest. I do not see how anyone can read it without being deeply touched, causing one, perhaps, to have a more kindly feeling towards man’s canine friends. In addition, Jerry also sent, in further tribute to Babe, a poem which had been sent to him, written by G. F. Rinehart, who, at that time, was editor of the ‘Covina Citizen.’ This is the poem:
On the topmost reach of the Kaiser Crest
Where the clouds commune and weep,
In a granite tomb ’til the crack of doom,
Babe lies in her last long sleep.
Though born to the law of the tooth and fang
In the land of Alaskan Snow
Of the Savage pack that follows the track
In blood-lust for its foe.
The Wolf-Dog shatters genetic law
That each seeks kith or clan
For the Wolf-Dog mind will forsake its kind
To become the friend of Man.
At the word of command from her Friend and Pal
Past pinnacle, spire and dome
Through the blizzard’s blast she was sure and fast
To mush with the mail from home.
For thirty miles to the snow bound lake
She was always willing to go
On a dangerous trail, with the daily mail
To the men marooned in snow.
When the Tourist conquers the tortuous steeps
With the Kaiser Pass as his goal
He will pause and rest on the wind-swept Crest
Where lies this Dog with a soul.
The author, during visits to the Lodge and area at previous times, had become acquainted with Jerry and his dogs.
As he indicated in his letter, Jerry had thought of his leaving Babe at some future time, also of his feeling prior to Babe’s death that nothing mattered insofar as he himself was concerned. He never talked much about himself, his principal interest being his dogs — at least, during the several years he was here. We never knew much about his past, as there was never any inclination on his part to discuss it. He and his dog team received wide publicity and accomplished much in their line of work, especially during emergencies in storms. An inquiry came to me from Hartford, Connecticut, the writer being the editor of the ‘Hartford Courant.’ By indirect questioning, all that could be learned was that Jerry was familiar with that part of the country. The Hartford editor replied, appreciating the information — even though meager — stating that Jerry came from a high-ranking New England family.
Jerry liked Mrs. Redinger, probably because she displayed interest in him and his dogs. When he left here in 1927, he told her that he would send her a card from time to time but that she would never find any address on it. That proved to be the case with several which she did receive. The last one, received in 1931, was postmarked ‘Seattle, Washington,’ and nothing is known as to what happened to him after that date.”