In the fall of 1897, the first boatloads of gold rushers arrived at the Pacific Steam Whaling Company's cannery at Orca (Cordova) ready to go up the Copper River. They were met by cannery personnel, including Jack Shepard, a nine year resident of Orca, who gave them the discouraging news that only 3 white men had ever made it up the river.
By late November 1897, the Seattle Post Intelligencer reported that it was suicide for anyone to go up the Copper River. Contrary to previous reports, the river was not navigable. Early arrivals were spread out -- some were still attempting to go up the Copper River in boats from the mouth, others were building sleds at Orca to use on the river after freeze-up, still others had gone to Port Valdes to find a route across the mountains, and a group of Seattle prospectors who reported good finds on Latouche Island were headed home.
Clearly, a new route had to be found to the Copper River Gold Fields.
(Jim and Nancy Lethcoe are the authors of Valdez Gold Rush Trails 1898-99 ).