The Sighting of Argo Navis at Lake Bennett
Argo Navis (meaning the ship Argo) was a constellation named after the ship Jason and the Argonauts sailed to retrieve the golden fleece. Per legend, the golden fleece was that of a gold-haired, winged ram. Most likely the “golden fleece” alludes to the Greco-Roman technique of using fleece to trap gold dust from placer deposits in the ancient world. Sheepskins were stretched over wood frames and submerged in a stream to catch gold flecks from the current. The fleeces were then hung to dry, and shaken or combed for the gold.
On the shores of lakes heading the Yukon River, prospectors took to building their own boats to reach the gold fields of the Klondike. After crossing over the pass, they would overwinter in bustling tent towns while constructing their boat. Bennett, Lindeman, Tagish Lakes and Caribou Crossing (now Carcross) were all instant tent towns to this purpose. With a population swelling to 20,000, Bennett was the largest. When the winter ice broke on May 29, 1898, a flotilla of over 7,000 homemade boats departed for Dawson within the week.
Today during the summer season, campgrounds along the Chilkoot Trail unequivocally resemble little tent towns. Waves of hikers, often over 50, set up camp each night creating an instant and lively population in an otherwise quiet wilderness. By mid-morning, the campgrounds are completely empty. At summer’s close, the trail shuts down. The towns of Bennett and Lindeman were abandoned long ago.
The background photograph in this assemblage is an altered photo of Lake Bennett from the late 1890s. Argo Navis is a collage made to resemble a scow, a square-ended boat that navigates with a simple canvas sail and sweeps - the most common vessel built by Klondike gold rushers. The freight is taken from historic Klondike photographs (note the Ogilvie!). The figurehead on the bow is a gold-haired winged ram. The tents are a conglomeration of photos I took of actual backpaker tents and modern wall tents at various campgrounds along the trail, mixed with historic photos of wall tents and other Klondike structures; the beer tent was right on top of Chilkoot Pass. Many of the tents are duplicated, like mine - the blue and white one pictured 8 times in various locations and states.
In Greek, nautes means “sailor;” the suffix -naut translates “traveller” or “voyager.” Argonaut can refer to anyone exploring or having a very keen interest in something.
Paper, photographs, nails, tacks, gold-colored wire, gator board, poster board; on wood.
15.5” x 20.75” x 0.5”