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Reviewed by Grant Leishman for Readers' Favorite
Hazelet’s Journal: A Riveting Alaska Gold Rush Saga written by George Cheever Hazelet and edited by his great-grandson John H. Clark is a fascinating account of George Cheever Hazelet’s Journal as he hunted for gold in the remote, unforgiving wilderness that was the Alaskan Goldfields at the turn of the twentieth century. The author is the great-grandson of this intrepid pioneer and later politician whose influence on early Alaskan commerce and politics was significant. In February 1898, George Hazelet left his wife Harriet and his family behind in Nebraska, as he and his partner Andrew Meals led a team into the wilds of Alaska in search of a fortune in gold to assure prosperity for his family. First by rail, then by boat, and finally by horse and foot, their final destination was the Copper River Valley deep in the Alaskan interior. For three grueling seasons, George and his team would battle snow, forest fires, biting cold, claim jumpers, anger, and intense homesickness, struggling to eke out a living in the gold-rich but hostile wilderness. George’s contribution to Alaskan lore would not be limited to his exploits in the gold fields, as his wife and family would also move to Alaska. George would carve out a unique place for himself in the forty-ninth State of the Union.
Hazelet’s Journal is a fascinating read. First, the familial relationship between Hazelet and his great-grandson John H. Clark gives the story an emotional attachment. Second, because the bulk of the work comprises the unedited writings of Hazelet himself, it gives the story real power and authority just knowing that these words were written by Hazelet over 100 years ago while in the field. This does give the writing a truncated and abrupt style but in many ways that just serves to reinforce the authenticity of the work. Finally, the inclusion of so many fascinating old photos of the places and participants in the adventure gives the reader the actual feeling of being with these old gold prospectors and experiencing many of the privations they experienced. As well as being a history of Hazelet’s three years on the goldfields, this book also explores the political and business environment of Alaska both back in the early 1900s right through to today. There are travelers’ insights for modern-day tourists that I appreciated. I particularly enjoyed that George Hazelet appeared to be a truly romantic soul and much time was spent either writing to his beloved Harriet, or thinking and dreaming about her, which rounded out the story perfectly. This book shines as a publication by a proud family member determined to give his forebear the accolades and admiration he so richly deserved. I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting and educational read and can highly recommend it.