Chief Isaac's People of the River - The Chiefs

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The Chiefs

Chief Gh St’t (Catsah, Catseah or Gah Tsy'aa)

Gh St’t or "Rabbit skin hat" was believed to be the chief of the Trondek Hwech'in who lived in the area that is now Dawson City, Yukon sometime prior to the Goldrush of the late 1890s. Chief Gah St'at is the father of Eliza Isaac. Chief Gah St'at was identified as Catsah by Jack McQuesten.

Another fascinating bit of evidence of mobility is the precise statement of Jack McQuestion (1952:4) with reference to what was probably the wood crew of the steamer Yukon during the summer of 1874 when Fort Reliance was founded: "We had an old Chief called Catsah and ten of his men aboard--they were Trondiak (Klondike Han) Indians." I might add that during my own time in Alaska and the Yukon, it was still customary to carry Indians on the stern -wheel river steamers for the purpose of conveying four-foot lengths of wood aboard the vessel from the piles along the banks stacked up during the winter by the wood choppers. But how did eleven Han Indians obtain the jobs on the single steamer on the Yukon which had never been as far up as the Klondike? I shall have to guess, but before I do, I am fortunate to recall that Campbell (1958: 132, 137) wrote in his diary entry of July 21, 1852, while returning from the second trip to Fort Yukon and on receiving a message from Stewart at Fort Selkirk: "Sent Catsah off with a note for him," and again in another entry on August 30, 1852, nine days after the sack of Fort Selkirk, "Catsah arrives with a note from Mr. Stewart." Most probably, the Han chief was in the employ of the Hudson's Bay Company and may well have been for some time. As for my guess, I suggest that Catsah had established his relationship with the company through Murray at Fort Yukon, that he was recommended to Campbell by Hardisty in 1851, and that he served the traders off and on for the following twenty-odd years. (resource from book The Han Indians by Cornelius Osgood) 

Chief Isaac

Chief Isaac is likely the most well known of the historical chiefs. Chief Isaac was the chief of the Trondek Hwech'in during the gold rush of the late 1890s up until his death in 1932. Published accounts indicate that it is believed that Chief Isaac was from the Tanana and Eagle, Alaska area. Chief Isaac's traditional name if he ever had one appears to be lost to history. According to an article in Dawson Daily News, August 5, 1922, Chief Isaac was called Khthui Choch, which means Big Chief in the Takudh native language.

It is believed that Chief Isaac was asked to be chief by Gh St’t who is believed to be his father in law. Chief Isaac was married to Eliza Harper (daughter of Chief Gah St'at) Chief and Eliza Isaac had four children who survived to adulthood including: Fred Isaac, Charlie Isaac, Princess Patricia Isaac and Angela Isaac.

Somewhat contradictory to above, is that Chief Isaac’s children often indicated that he was a hereditary Chief. This is supported by the following quotes from The Morning Sun, Dawson, Wednesday, July 23, 1902 article entitled Chief Isaac Due Today: “The chief was born at the mouth of the famous Klondike.” and “Isaac knows of his own knowledge that his father was chief by tradition that his ancestors were chiefs of the Moosehide for ages and ages.”

In reference to his father Chief Isaac, Charlie Isaac said that in his youth he lived at Fortymile, but believed that he was born farther west in the Ketchumstock area, and that his father came from the upper Tanana region.

It is most likely that all these statements are somewhat true in that Han groups moved around with the season and often  lived with various other Han groups.

Dawson residents made Chief Isaac an honorary member of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. A skilled orator, he frequently spoke at Dawson celebrations such as Discovery Day and Victoria Day as well as First Nations festivities. Two themes recurred in these addresses. While Isaac professed to welcome the newcommers, he never failed to remind them that they prospered at the expense of the original inhabitants by driving away their game and taking over their land. He also had a very firm view of appropriate spheres of activity for both the newcommers and the First Nations people. One oft-repeated statement was that since the Tr'ondek Hwech'in refrained from doing white men's jobs like mining; the white people should likewise refrain from activities such as hunting and fishing that deprived the Tr'ondek Hwech'in of their livelihood.

Chief Charlie Isaac

After the death of Chief Isaac in 1932, his son Charlie Isaac was named hereditary chief. In 1939 Charlie enlisted in the Canadian Army and served his country until 1945. Private Charles Isaac carried out his duty as an Ammunition Bearer in World War II. His medals are: 39-45 Star, Italy Star, France and German Star, Defense Metal, and Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp.

MOUNTAIN UP DEMPSTER HIGHWAY NAMED AFTER CHIEF ISAAC Mount Chief Isaac (65.25-65.50N 139.00-139.50W) in the Oglivie Mountains 100 miles north of Dawson City up the Dempster Highway was named in Chief Isaac memory. He was chief during and after the Gold Rush and has been referred to as "Montezuma of the Klondike".