Klondike Gold Rush: Get Rich or Die Tryin’


Prospective prospectors line up to buy miner's licenses at the Custom House in Victoria, British Columbia, on February 12, 1898. (Photo via the British Library via Wikimedia Commons)
Prospective prospectors line up to buy miner’s licenses at the Custom House in Victoria, British Columbia, on February 12, 1898. (Photo via the British Library via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1896, gold was discovered in a tributary of the Klondike River in the Yukon Territory of Canada.

Here are some things you may not have known about the Klondike Gold Rush.

George Carmack, an American prospector, was looking for gold with his wife, brother-in-law and a nephew near the Klondike River. Another prospector suggested the group try Rabbit Creek, which flowed into the Klondike.

On August 16, Carmack, or his brother in law, Skookum Jim Mason, discovered a huge amount of gold along the creek. It’s unclear exactly who discovered the gold, but the most likely story is that it was Skookum Jim. The group agreed it would be easier to gain proper recognition if a white man made the claim rather than an Indian.

The group measured out four claims and registered them the next day at the nearest police post.

News spread to other mining camps so quickly that by the end of August the entire creek had been claimed. The creek was also renamed Bonanza Creek. Another prospector found even larger amounts of gold on another creek that would come to be known as Eldorado Creek. In December, word had reached Circle City, which at the time was known as the Paris of Alaska. The town had 1,200 residents with schools, libraries and opera houses. Despite the winter weather, prospectors set off by dog sled to stake their claims. Word didn’t spread much farther until the next summer when the gold reached the outside world.

On July 15, 1897, the Excelsior landed in San Francisco; two days later the Portland landed in Seattle. Between the two ships, they carried more than a million dollar’s worth of gold. Over the course of the next two years, more than 100,000 prospectors attempted to reach the Klondike, most of them through Seattle and, to a lesser extent, San Francisco.

The prospectors needed a vast amount of supplies for the trip. It was estimated that a typical person needed a much as a ton of equipment, food and tools.

Travelers headed by ship from Seattle up the Inside Passage to the towns of Skagway and Dyea, Alaska. Skagway was at the bottom of the route up White Pass, and Dyea was the start of the route over Chilkoot Pass. The prospector’s supplies were broken down into smaller loads and hauled up the passes, sometimes by packers, who would charge as much as a dollar per pound. Soon the route over White Pass became impassible due to the number of travelers and wet weather.

Once the prospectors crossed the pass, they had to raft down the Yukon River to Dawson City, some 500 miles away.

Only about 30 percent of those that set off for the Klondike actually made it to Dawson City. Of those, about half actually became prospectors. Of that group, about 4,000 struck gold and only a few hundred of those ever became rich.

By 1898 when most of the prospectors arrived, the best claims had already been taken by long-time Klondike miners.

The Klondike Gold Rush ended about as quickly as it began. Late in 1898, a larger amount of gold was found near the mouth of the Yukon River near Nome, Alaska. During one week in August 1899, more than a quarter of the population of Dawson City left for Nome.

The places that truly benefitted from the gold rush were the cities of the Pacific Northwest. The populations of Vancouver, British Columbia, and Portland, Oregon increased almost 100 percent between 1890 and 1900. Seattle saw an 88 percent increase in population as well.

Our question: Who wrote the novels “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang” which were set in the Klondike Gold Rush?

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Weekly question

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