Klondike Gold Rush
In August 1896, three people led by Skookum Jim Mason (a member of the Tagish nation whose birth name was Keish) headed north, down the Yukon River from the Carcross area, looking for his sister Kate and her husband George Carmack. The party included Skookum Jim, Skookum Jim's cousin known as Dawson Charlie (or sometimes Tagish Charlie) and his nephew Patsy Henderson. After meeting up with George and Kate, who were fishing for salmon at the mouth of the Klondike River, they ran into Nova Scotian Robert Henderson who had been mining gold on the Indian River, just south of the Klondike. Henderson told George Carmack about where he was mining and that he did not want any "Siwashes" (meaning Indians) near him. The group then headed a few miles up the Klondike River to Rabbit Creek (now Bonanza Creek) to hunt moose.
On August 16, 1896, the party discovered rich placer gold deposits in Bonanza (Rabbit) Creek. It is now generally accepted that Skookum Jim made the actual discovery, but some accounts say that it was Kate Carmack. George Carmack was officially credited for the discovery because the "discovery" claim was staked in his name. The group agreed to this because they felt that other miners would be reluctant to recognize a claim made by an Indian, given the strong racist attitudes of the time.
The news spread to other mining camps in the Yukon River valley, and the Bonanza, Eldorado and Hunker Creeks were rapidly staked by miners who had been previously working creeks and sandbars on the Fortymile and Stewart Rivers. Robert Henderson, who was mining only a few miles away over the hill, only found out about the discovery after the rich creeks had been all staked.
News reached the United States in July 1897, when the first successful prospectors arrived in San Francisco on July 15 and in Seattle on July 17, setting off the Klondike stampede. In 1898, the population in the Klondike may have reached 40,000, which threatened to cause a famine.
Most prospectors landed at Skagway, Alaska, or the adjacent town of Dyea, Alaska, both located at the head of the Lynn Canal. From these towns they traveled the Chilkoot Trail and crossed the Chilkoot Pass, or they hiked up to the White Pass into the Yukon Territory and proceeded thence to Lake Lindeman or Lake Bennett, the headwaters of the Yukon River. Here, some 25 to 35 grueling miles (40 - 56 km) from where they landed, prospectors built rafts and boats that would take them the final 500-plus miles (800-plus km) down the Yukon to Dawson City, near the gold fields. Stampeders had to carry a year's supply of goods — about a ton, more than half of it food — over the passes to be allowed to enter Canada. At the top of the passes, the stampeders encountered a Mountie post that enforced that regulation. It was put in place to avert shortages like those that had occurred in the previous two winters in Dawson City.
A hard life
The climb to the Chilkoot Pass was steep and hazardous, rising a thousand feet in the last half mile (300 m in 800 m). It was too steep for pack animals, and prospectors had to pack their equipment and supplies to the top. Some 1,500 steps were carved into the ice to aid travel up the pass. Even though it was not as high, conditions on White Pass were even worse. It was known as the Dead Horse Trail, since about 3,000 animals died along the route.
An estimated 100,000 people participated in the gold rush and about 30,000 made it to Dawson City in 1898. By 1901, when the first census was taken, the population had declined to 9,000.
Throughout this period, the North West Mounted Police, under the command of Charles Constantine and his more famous successor, Sam Steele, maintained a firm grip on the activities of the prospectors to ensure the safety of the population as well as enforcing the laws and sovereignty of Canada, strictly policing the entry of weapons into the territory and requiring all those transiting White Pass or Chilkoot Pass to be carrying sufficient goods to survive. As a result, this gold rush has been described as the most peaceful and orderly of its type in history. The effectiveness of the Mounties in this period made the police force famous around the world and ensured the survival of the organization at a time when its continued operation was being debated in the Canadian Parliament.
The first female member of the North West Mounted Police was Katherine Ryan, widely known as Klondike Kate. In addition to staking three claims in the Klondike area, she was also a gold inspector, entrepreneur and political activist — all very unusual activities for a woman to be involved in at the time. Her motto was "I wasn't built for going backwards. When I once step forward, I must go ahead." Another Yukon legend to claim the title of Klondike Kate was Kathleen Eloise Rockwell, a dancer-turned-gold rush entertainer in Dawson City. It is not clear which of the two women was the real "Kate."
For a few short years, Skagway, Alaska (the main "Yukon Port") and Dawson City were on the world's "Grand Tour", an around-the-world circuit of the wealthy and those who entertained them; musicians and other artists of the stature of Anna Pavlova made the long journey to visit the city where the streets were virtually paved with gold (claims staked on the gravel pits used to pave downtown Dawson have been found to have a higher percentage of gold in them than operating claims).
10 Things to remember about the Klondike Gold Rush
The Klondike Gold Rush is something of a legend and it has somehow earned many names. Even though its location is precisely in Canada, it is very often called Alaska Gold Rush. This is particularly due to the fact that this Gold Rush was approached from the Alaskan ports. The Klondike Gold Rush was a short but a thrilling time period.
1. The Klondike Gold Rush lasted only a few years. It started somewhere in 1896 and by the end of 1899, there was nothing left to it. Hence, only a few of the rich nobles who left in search of gold came home with boxes full of it. It is ironically quoted how the expenses of the trip to the Klondike Gold Rush outweighed the treasure people found there.
2. The American economy was facing recession when the news of the discovery of the Klondike Gold Rush reached America. People immediately left from California and San Francisco, bringing back tonnes of gold. This brought about a stampede.
3. Even teachers and doctors left their work and went for the treasure hunt. Explorers from Africa arrived to find out about the Klondike Gold Rush.
4. Around 1897, it was apparent that everybody wanted to go there and the journey got expensive. It took around $300 to $500 to get to the Klondike. And the journey got more expensive as the stampede grew stronger.
5. People who left for Klondike made sure they were all set; they would carry supplies for a whole year or even more. This made their journey even more expensive as Canadian Police awaited them for custom and other travel matters.
6. The ports of Dyea and Skagway that are considered the nearest to the Gold Rush had a settlement around them; a rather peculiar settlement. There were no docking facilities on the Dyea port and cargos were unloaded directly onto the sandy beaches.
7. The nearest developed area, Dawson City, had a population of 30,000 people. It was an expensive city but law enforcement was properly monitored. There were hardly any thefts or murders in that large city. People weren't’t even allowed to work late night or on Sundays.
8. Many of the prospectors were disappointed to find how all the mining contracts were sold by the time they reached the place.
9. A stunning fact: from the 100,000 that set off for the Gold Rush, only 40,000 reached their destination. And from those 40,000 desperate people, only 4000 managed to get some gold.
10. There are excellent documentaries, movies and comic plays on this subject. For those interested, City of Gold, The Klondyke March, Two Steps and Scrooge McDuck are a must-watch.