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Klondike Gold Rush – When 100,000 prospectors traveled for a year to Yukon in a search for gold

Tijana Radeska
Klondike Gold Rush
Klondike Gold Rush

On August 16, 1896, the local miners in the Klondike region of the Yukon discovered gold and in so doing sparked the Klondike Gold Rush when some 100,000 prospectors migrated in search of the precious metal.

The rush lasted for three years, from 1896 to 1899, and sure, there were some who got rich, but most of the people went in vain. The rush has been immortalized in books, photographs, films, and artifacts.

SS Islander leaving Vancouver, bound for Skagway, 1897. Photo credit

SS Islander leaving Vancouver, bound for Skagway, 1897. Photo credit

 

View of Skagway, 1898

View of Skagway, 1898

 

A tent-camp along the Pelly River, a Canadian tributary to the Yukon River, 1898

A tent-camp along the Pelly River, a Canadian tributary to the Yukon River, 1898

 

Seattle newspaper announcing the first arrival of gold from Klondike, July 17, 1897

Seattle newspaper announcing the first arrival of gold from Klondike, July 17, 1897

 

Klondikers buying miner’s licenses at the Custom House in Victoria, BC, on February 12, 1898

Klondikers buying miner’s licenses at the Custom House in Victoria, BC, on February 12, 1898

The gold fields could be reached through the ports of Dyea and Skagway in Southeast Alaska, and from there the Klondikers could walk to the Yukon River, either through the White Pass or the Chilkoot trails.

And Klondike could be reached by sailing up the river. The Canadian authorities required each of the gold rushers to bring a year’s supply of food in order to prevent starvation.

Map of goldfields with Dawson City and Klondike River at top. Red dot: discovery on Bonanza Creek

Map of goldfields with Dawson City and Klondike River at top. Red dot: discovery on Bonanza Creek

 

Miners carry gear up the Chilkoot Pass to reach the Klondike c. 1898

Miners carry gear up the Chilkoot Pass to reach the Klondike c. 1898

 

Klondikers carrying supplies up the Chilkoot Pass, 1898

Klondikers carrying supplies up the Chilkoot Pass, 1898

 

Prospectors with supplies at the Chilkoot Pass. In front: The Scales, left: Golden Steps. c. March 1898

Prospectors with supplies at the Chilkoot Pass. In front: The Scales, left: Golden Steps. c. March 1898

 

Goldrush on the Chilcoot Trail

Goldrush on the Chilcoot Trail

 

Klondikers and their supplies at the US-Canada border on the Chilkoot Pass, 1898

Klondikers and their supplies at the US-Canada border on the Chilkoot Pass, 1898

Gold was indeed the motivating force behind the reason why each rusher with equipment weighing up to a ton, and they usually carried it through the snowy mountains and cold weather by themselves. Many of them didn’t arrive at Yukon before 1898, and quite often, once they’d made it to Klondike, they were left disappointed.

However, as there were so many prospectors, towns sprang up along the route to Klondike.

Among those was Dawson City, which blossomed with around 30,000 inhabitants by the summer of 1898.

Mining operation, showing rockers, c.1899

Mining operation, showing rockers, c.1899

 

Klondikers sailing toward Dawson on the upper Yukon River, 1898

Klondikers sailing toward Dawson on the upper Yukon River, 1898

 

Line at Dawson post office, 1899

Line at Dawson post office, 1899

 

The port of Dyea in March 1898

The port of Dyea in March 1898

 

Paying with gold dust in Dawson, 1899

Paying with gold dust in Dawson, 1899

 

Front Street in Dawson with wagon stuck in mud, 1898

Front Street in Dawson with wagon stuck in mud, 1898

View of Yukon River with Klondike City (foreground) and Dawson City (upper right at the mouth of Klondike River), 1899

View of Yukon River with Klondike City (foreground) and Dawson City (upper right at the mouth of Klondike River), 1899

 

Indian visitors at a Potlatch in Kok-wol-too on the Chilkat River, about 1895

Indian visitors at a Potlatch in Kok-wol-too on the Chilkat River, about 1895

 

Prospectors in a tent camp at Bennett Lake waiting for the ice on Yukon River to break up, May 1898

Prospectors in a tent camp at Bennett Lake waiting for the ice on Yukon River to break up, May 1898

 

Claim at Bonanza Creek

Claim at Bonanza Creek

Coming from the West, the prospectors turned the towns into extravagant saloons for gambling and drinking. Hence, the Native Han people suffered from this sudden rush for gold as they were moved onto a reserve so that the newcomers could have room enough to enjoy their lives.

The gold deposits along the Yukon River were known to the Russians but it wasn’t until 1883 that they were discovered by the Americans. By 1886, four people – an American prospector named George Carmack, his Tagish wife Kate Carmack (Shaaw Tláa), her brother Skookum Jim (Keish), and their nephew Dawson Charlie, traveled south of the Klondike River and found gold. And thus started the gold rush.

Skookum Jim, one of the discoverers, 1898

Skookum Jim, one of the discoverers, 1898

 

Mining in a shaft, 1898

Mining in a shaft, 1898

 

Members of the Northwest Mounted Police, July 1900

Members of the Northwest Mounted Police, July 1900

 

Gold searchers wait for the registration of their claims (1898)

Gold searchers wait for the registration of their claims (1898)

There was nearly $29 million in gold recovered between 1897 and 1899, but it had not been equally divided among all those who participated in the gold rush, and most people ended up with far less than what they had invested, not only in money but in time as well.

However, there were also the Klondike Kings, the ones that managed to become very rich. There were others who found their fortune and fame in different manners. For example, Jack London became famous by writing about his Klondike experiences.

Actresses travelling to Dawson, 1898

Actresses travelling to Dawson, 1898

 

People leaving Dawson City, Yukon for Nome, Alaska September 1899

People leaving Dawson City, Yukon for Nome, Alaska September 1899

 

Gold dredger at Bonanza Creek, near Dawson. Photo credit

Gold dredger at Bonanza Creek, near Dawson. Photo credit

Also, there were many women who became wealthy in the gold rush. For example, Belinda Mulroney opened a hotel where she was selling supplies and got rich from her business. Martha Black bought a sawmill and went on to become Canada’s second female Member of Parliament.

Read another story from us: The Muisca Raft: A golden statue discovered in a cave near Bogota may be the key behind the myth of El Dorado

The economy blossomed also in Seattle where a sudden demand for food and supplies for the trip to Klondike earned the people over $1 million. Even the mayor of Seattle, W.D. Wood, resigned his post and set off for Yukon, but ended up disappointed and headed back to the States.