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William Douglas Johns papers

Identifier: VAULT-Ayer-MS-3123

Scope and Content of the Collection

Typescript of a book draft, photographs, and miscellaneous material.

With the discovery of rich gold deposits in the Canadian Klondike River Valley (Yukon Territory) in 1895, Johns was sent by The Chicago Record to file reports on the ensuing gold rush. Much later, Johns wrote a draft for a book which contains chapters on the early history of Alaska, description of Seattle, Sitka, Nome and Fairbanks, details on working a claim, life in the mining camps and the many characters he met, plus descriptions of his own explorations and the hardships he endured until he left the area. Other subject matter includes Dawson City, Circle City, Chilkoot Pass, mining operations, dogsled travel, weather conditions and social life. Accompanying the manuscript are 49 photographs apparently intended to illustrate the text. Many of these are mounted and almost all are identified and dated by Johns. Photographers include H.C. Barley, Eric A. Hegg, Arthur C. Pillsbury, and E.A. Sather. Also, 3 miscellaneous items: a small watercolor, a 1899 letter to Johns from the Canadian Bank of Commerce, and 2 clippings relating to Johns.


  • Creation: 1895-approximately 1941



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The William Douglas Johns papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The William Douglas Johns papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of William Douglas Johns


William Douglas Johns, born ca. 1858, was raised in Chicago. As a young man he worked as a correspondent for The Chicago Record, which sent him by way of Seattle to Alaska and the Yukon for a series of articles on the area. In 1895 Johns left Seattle for Sitka and then to Circle City after the news of the Klondike gold discovery. Traveling down the Yukon River to join the life of the mining camps, he staked out claim No. 12 on the El Dorado, which he later sold before he realized its value.

Johns left the Yukon around 1898 and didn’t return until 1927, when he found the region sadly changed, with only a few old-timers left in what seemed to him like a graveyard. In 1941, 83-year-old Johns, living in Seattle, was still “prospecting” by mail, instructing others how to pan for gold. He died in 1942.


0.6 Linear Feet (2 boxes)


Typescript of an undated manuscript entitled The Early Yukon, Alaska and the Klondike Discovery, written by Seattle journalist and gold prospector William Douglas Johns. Also, 49 photographs to accompany Johns’ draft of the book which includes the early history of Alaska, the development of the gold rush, life in the mining camps and in Dawson City, and Johns’ own explorations and hardships while traveling in the region starting in 1895.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Manuscript, undated
Box 1
Series 2: Photographs and Miscellaneous, 1895-1941
Box 2

Collection Stack Location

VAULT 26 1


Gift, Rosemary Lloyd, 1942

Processed by

Virginia Hay Smith, 2011.

Inventory of the William Douglas Johns papers, 1895-approximately 1941
Virginia Hay Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States