During his lifetime, Jack sailed on a variety of ships including: the sealing schooner Sophia Sutherland to Japan (on which he served as an able-bodied seaman); on the steamship SS Umatilla and the City of Topeka (to Alaska); the RMS Majestic (to England); the SS Siberia (as correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War); took a sampan to Korea; bought and sailed the Spray; designed, built, and sailed the Snark [named after the humoresque Lewis Carroll story] to Hawaii and the South Seas; returned from Tahiti to San Francisco on the SS Mariposa; sailed on the ketch Minota near Tahiti; sailed from Australia to Ecuador on the Tymeric; cruised on the San Francisco Bay and environs in the Roamer; sailed from Seattle to California on the City of Pueblo; sailedon the Dirigo from New York to San Francisco by way of Cape Horn; took the US Army transport Kilpatrick to Mexico (to write about the Mexican Revolution); sailed on fishing boats; stayed on a houseboat; visited the hospital ship USS Solace, the repair ship USS Vestal, and the battleships New York, Arkansas, and Mississippi; returned to Galveston on the transport Ossabow; sailed to Hawaii on the Matsonia; and returned to California on the SS Sonoma.
Jack London . . . The Gold Prospector
Overcome with "Klondike fever," Jack departed from San Francisco on the SS Umatilla on July 25, 1897, accompanied and bankrolled by his much older brother-in-law, Captain Shepard, who returned home after only two days on the rugged Alaska trails. With nearly 2,000 pounds of required equipment - including warm garments, food, mining implements, tents, blankets, Klondike stoves, and a copy of Miner Bruce's Alaska, Jack entered the Yukon Territory by way of the Dyea River and the notorious Chilkoot Pass.
Jack moved into a cabin and staked a claim on Henderson Creek in early November of 1897, after a month of prospecting. During the long winter which followed, he became well-known to his fellow prospectors for his storytelling ability.
In May 1898, he developed a severe case of scurvy from lack of fresh fruit and vegetables; he could no longer work his claim. Desperately needing immediate medical attention, he anxiously awaited the melting of the ice blocking the Yukon River. He eventually did receive some medical help but was advised to return home. On June 28, he arrived in St. Michael, after making his way in a small boat down 1,500 miles of the Yukon River. From St. Michael, he sailed home.
Jack London gained a tremendous amount of insight and perspective while in Alaska and the Klondike. Although he had not discovered much gold, he had uncovered a Mother Lode of experience from which he would draw material for his future novels and stories.
Upon his return to Oakland, California, he discovered that his stepfather, John London, had died. At the age of 22, he now shouldered the responsibility of supporting his mother and his stepnephew. Despite tackling every job opening possible, he could not find steady work. In desperation, he sold many of his belongings and dove into writing. He was talented and prolific, yet at first all of his manuscripts were rejected. In early December 1898, he sold his first short story, an Alaskan tale entitled, "To The Man On Trail". His writing career was launched.
Jack London . . . the Rancher
"I ride over my beautiful ranch. Betwen my legs is a beautiful horse.
The air is wine. The grapes on a score of rolling hills are red with autumn flame.
Across Sonoma Mountain, wisps of sea fog are stealing.
The afternoon sun smolders in the drowsy sky.
I have everything to make me glad I am alive."
In 1905, while living with Charmian at Wake Robin Lodge in Glen Ellen, California, Jack London decided to settle permanently in the Valley of the Moon. In June, he purchased his first piece of real estate - the Hill Ranch - 130 beautiful acres of trees, fields, springs, streams, canyons, hills, and abundant wildlife. After six additional land purchases, Jack London's "Beauty Ranch" eventually totaled 1,400 acres and consisted of seven parcels of land bought between 1905 and 1913.
Jack loved ranch life. At Beauty Ranch, he raised many animals such as prize bulls, horses, and pigs. He cultivated a wide variety of crops, including forty acres of wine grapes which were formerly part of the Kohler-Frohling Winery. By damming a stream that crossed the property, Jack built a lake for irrigation and recreation. He introduced terracing and green water mulching. He produced record yields of oat hay on acreage that had been considered overfarmed. He experimented with innovative ideas such as growing spineless cactus which was developed by his friend, the "Plant Wizard", Luther Burbank (who lived in nearby Santa Rosa), for use as a cattle feed in arid regions; unfortunately, the cactus was not completely spineless and could not be used for feed. He imported thousands of Australian eucalyptus trees hoping the wood could be used for hardwood lumber and pier pilings, but the wood was found to be too soft. Jack's "Pig Palace" was the showplace of the county. It allowed one man to feed up to two hundred hogs. And, his ranch's concrete silos were the first in California.
The ranch was also the building site for the majestic Wolf House. Constructed completely with native redwood trees, locally-quarried boulders, volcanic rock and blue slate, Wolf House took more than two years to build. Only a few days before Jack and Charmian were to move in, the house tragically burned due to a careless oversight by a workman; only the walls were left standing.
You can visit and enjoy Jack London's Beauty Ranch today. It is now a California State Historic Park which includes the House of Happy Walls museum, the Pig Palace, Jack London's grave, the Lake, the Wolf House ruins, and more.