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"THE CREMATION OF SAM MCGEE"

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen strange sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam Mcgee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the south to roam round the Pole God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Through he'd often say in his homely way that he'd "sooner live in hell."

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze, till sometimes we couldn't see;
It wasn't much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and, "Cap," say he, "I'll cash her in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I'm asking that you won't refuse my last request."

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
"It's the cursed cold, and it's got right hold till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet 'taint being dead, it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."

A pal's last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on the streak of dawn, but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror driven,
With a corpse half-hid that I couldn't get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: "You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it's up to you to cremate those last remains."

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows -- O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake LeBarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the "Alice May."
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum:
Then, "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-eum."

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared, and the furnace roared -- such a blaze you seldom see;
And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don't know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky clock went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: I'll just take a peep inside.
I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked," ... then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close the door.
It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm --
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen strange sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

By Robert Service

The Code of the North Joseph Ulmer, E.M. Past Grand President, Pioneers of Alaska 1922 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Take a drink with a friend or friends when you have a chance. When using a man's cabin and before leaving, wash the dishes,leave shavings and kindling and as much wood cut as you used. Also close the door of the cabin. If barricaded against bears, put the barricade back. Never ask a man what religion he has, for the great outdoors is his place of worship. Never speak of women disrespectfully, we all had mothers. Always give a fellow a lift if the going is tough. Don't abuse a dog, he is the best friend you have on the trail; be kind to dumb animals, they remember you. Don't kill any game wantonly; only when you have to kill for your need or for someone who is out of meat. Call the Musher in and offer him a mugup or feed and if he is tired, give him a shakedown. Don't waste any ammunition by shooting at targets; the last cartridge may save your life. Keep your matches and foot gear dry on the trail and never drink whiskey or other spirits on the trail; it may be fatal to you. Don't wander around when the fog comes in, and you can't see where you are going; wait till it clears up. Don't leave any lights or candles burning or heavy fire in the stove when going away from the cabin. Don't set fire to the woods. It will destroy the wildlife and game. Parboil your bacon before frying; it will not cause you so much rheumatism; also be sanitary about the camp so not to pollute the water and atmosphere. Don't tell the other fellow your troubles, especially love or matrimonial affairs, he may have a lot of his own. Keep off the other fellows trap line, both literally and categorically speaking.

This tour is presented by JAN of ALASKA

See my Dad's tale of the Kuskokwim

Thanks to Bobby and Bev for the KODIAK pictures!

Thanks to Angus Wilson for use of some great Aleutian photos

Thanks to Sandy McCollum for use of the Ketchikan photos

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