Klondike Gold Rush
The Klondike Gold Rush, also called the Yukon Gold Rush, the Alaska Gold Rush and the Last Great Gold Rush, was an attempt by an estimated 100,000 people to travel to the Klondike region of the Yukon in northwestern Canada between 1897 and 1899 in the hope of successfully prospecting for gold. Gold was discovered in large quantities in the Klondike on 16 August 1896 and when news of the finds reached Seattle and San Francisco in July 1897, it triggered a "stampede" of would-be prospectors to the gold creeks. The journey to the Klondike was arduous and involved traveling long distances and crossing difficult mountain passes, frequently while carrying heavy loads. Some miners discovered very rich deposits of gold and became immensely wealthy. However, the majority arrived after the best of the gold fields had been claimed and only around 4,000 miners ultimately struck gold. The Klondike Gold Rush ended in 1899, after gold was discovered in Nome, prompting an exodus from the Klondike. The Klondike Gold Rush was immortalized by the photographs of the prospectors ascending the Chilkoot Pass, by books like The Call of the Wild, and films such as The Gold Rush.
Prospectors had begun to mine gold in the Yukon from the 1880s onwards. When the rich deposits of gold were discovered along the Klondike River in 1896, it prompted great local excitement. The remoteness of the region and the extreme winter climate prevented news from reaching the outside world until the following year. The initial Klondike stampede was triggered by the arrival of over US $1,139,000 (equivalent to US $1,000 million in 2010 terms) in gold at the northwestern American ports in July 1897. Newspaper reports of the gold and the successful miners fueled a nationwide hysteria. Many left their jobs and set off for the Klondike, hoping to make a fortune as miners. These would-be prospectors were joined by businessmen, outfitters, writers and photographers. Reaching the gold fields was challenging. The majority of prospectors landed at the ports of Dyea and Skagway in Southeast Alaska. They could then take either the Chilkoot or the White Pass trails to the Yukon River and from there, sail downstream to the Klondike in homemade boats. Each prospector was required by the Canadian authorities to bring a year's supply of food with them and many had to carry this ton of supplies in stages over the passes. The advent of winter and thereby freezing of rivers meant that most prospectors did not arrive in the goldfields until summer 1898. Only between 30,000 and 40,000 of the stampeders successfully arrived in the Klondike.
It was not easy to mine for gold in the Klondike as the gold was distributed in an uneven, unpredictable manner and the permafrost made digging and working the ore difficult and costly. Prospectors could lodge mining claims relatively easily under Canadian law, but most of the best gold creeks had been staked out by early 1898, leaving little good land for the main wave of stampeders. Some miners bought and sold claims, building up huge investments. Boomtowns sprang up along the routes, especially the Dyea and Skagway route, to accommodate the influx of prospectors. Dawson City was founded in the Klondike at the heart of the gold creeks. From a population of 500 in 1896, the hastily constructed wooden town housed around 30,000 people by the spring of 1898. Poorly built, isolated and located on a mud flat, Dawson City had poor sanitary standards and suffered from epidemics and fires. The wealthiest prospectors lived a life of conspicuous consumption, gambling and drinking heavily in the town's saloons and dancing halls, despite the high prices of almost everything. The Native Hän people, who had lived along the Klondike before the discovery of gold, suffered extensively during the rush, being moved into a reserve to make way for the stampeders. Many of the Hän died as a result.
Some prospectors, unable to make a living in the Klondike, started to return home in the summer of 1898. The newspapers began to turn against the Klondike and the hysteria that had encouraged so many to travel there waned. Dawson City was rebuilt following a serious fire in April 1899, becoming more sedate and conservative. When news arrived in the summer of 1899 that gold had been discovered in Nome in west Alaska, many prospectors left the Klondike for the new goldfields, marking the end of the Klondike Gold Rush. The boomtowns in the Klondike declined and the population of Dawson City dwindled. Heavier equipment was brought in to mine the remaining gold reserves but despite this, production diminished after 1903. Nonetheless, an estimated total of 1,250,000 pounds (570,000 kg) of gold had been taken from the Klondike area by 2005. Today the Klondike Gold Rush continues to draw tourists to the region and is remembered in novels, poems, photographs and films.
Publishers were quick to try and profit from the stampede to the Klondike. They produced dozens of maps, handbooks and guides (of wildly varying degrees of reliability) for sale to the thousands of Klondikers beginning to make their way north. The most popular routes were through Dyea and over the Chilkoot Pass or through Skagway and over White Pass. Among the other routes promoted by various entrepreneurs were the all-water route which passed into the mouth of the Yukon River along the western Alaskan coast, a Canadian overland route that began in Edmonton, and smaller trails to the east and west of the main passes.
Despite the initial confusion, most stampeders crossed over the Dyea and Skagway trails. The two towns competed with each other for stampeders (and their money) by claiming to have the easiest passage into the Klondike.
In truth, neither pass was easy. Winter travel meant thick snow and treacherous ice. In the spring and fall, stampeders, animals, wagons and sleds had to slog along through thick, unending mud. Even those who were fortunate enough to travel during the summer had to pick their way along trails littered with sharp, jagged rocks. After a deadly avalanche killed dozens along the Chilkoot Pass, promoters in Skagway boasted that their trail was proven to be safer.
The North West Mounted Police were stationed at the summit of both passes. Their assignment was twofold, collecting duty on incoming goods and ensuring that every stampeder was adequately outfitted to survive one year in the Klondike. "Adequate" translated into one ton of goods per person, including food, tents, cooking utensils and tools. When possible, stampeders used animals and sleds to move their goods along the trail. But long portions of both trails were so narrow or in such poor condition that goods had to be carried in 50 to 60-pound packs strapped to the Klondikers' backs. Packs of goods were moved slowly, about five miles at a time.
After caching the goods by the side of the trail, men and women walked back to their starting place, picked up another pack and headed out again over the same trail. Those who could afford to do so hired packers and freighters. Most carried or dragged their boxes of evaporated foods, their tents, frying pans, shovels, picks, hammers and nails over the passes on their own.
The Chilkoot Pass led 32 miles from Dyea to the shores of Lake Lindeman. While most of the trail was not too difficult for walking, the 2 1/2-mile section between Sheep Camp and Scales known as Long Hill ascended 1,600 feet, from about 900' to 2500'. Sheep Camp was the last "town" of any substance that the stampeders would see until they reached Lake Bennett. By 1898, Sheep Camp boasted dozens of tents and a few log buildings. Here, restaurants, saloons and hotels lined the trail. Among the accommodations stampeders could choose from if they wished were the Palmer House, the Grand Pacific, and the Seattle Hotel and Restaurant (not to be confused with the Seattle Restaurant on the other end of town).
If you’re visiting Skagway, be sure to spend a day at the Klondike Gold Fields complex to enjoy sled dog and gold panning demonstrations, one of the finest collections of gold nugget jewelry in Southeast Alaska, and a tour of the 350-ton gold dredge meticulously transported piece by piece from Dawson City, where it unearthed over 8 million dollars in gold during its 60 years of operation.
Bennett and Lindeman: Tent Cities on the Lakes
Klondike stampeders set up camp along the shores of Lake Lindeman and Lake Bennett during the winter of 1897-1898. These men, women and children had managed to drag and carry tons of provisions over the harsh trails down to the lakes, which formed the headwaters of the Yukon River. The crowd had to wait for the river ice to break before they could sail down the Yukon into Dawson. Some stampeders stayed at Lake Lindeman at the end of the Chilkoot Pass, and many more kept moving down the trail and set up camp at Lake Bennett, which was the terminus of the White Pass trail.
Most stampeders needed to build their own boats, having declined to drag a boat over the pass. The preferred wood cutting technique, known as "whipsawing," led to more than a few disagreements and fights. Logs placed on stands were sawed by one man standing on top of the log with one end of the saw and a second man standing below the log holding the other end. The work was so hard, that no matter which position he took, it was easy for each man to believe that he was doing all the work.
The effect of thousands of campers living for months along the lakes is still clearly visible a century later. Desperate for lumber to use for boats and firewood, stampeders deforested the areas around the two lakes.
Many stampeders, exhausted after dragging a ton of supplies over the pass, chose to camp by the side of Lake Lindeman to wait out the winter. When one traveler who crossed the Chilkoot Pass in 1898 first saw the tent city growing up along the shores of Lake Lindeman, he noted that the vast spread of white tents looked "like a flock of seagulls on a distant beach." By the end of September 1897, hundreds of men and women were in Lindeman, busy building boats for the journey down the Yukon. Their numbers grew to over 1,000 by the end of the year. When the Yukon River began to thaw in late May, over 4,000 people were camped out along Lake Lindeman.
Banking on the Stampeders
Dyea vs. Skagway
For most stampeders, deciding to leave for the Klondike was easier than choosing a route. The media and public frenzy surrounding this gold discovery was unlike anything that had come before. The public was flooded with questionable reports, advice and maps, much of it from promoters, con men and self-proclaimed experts scrounging for profits from the tens of thousands scrambling north.
Erastus Brainerd, a Seattle civic promoter, wanted stampeders to consider his city the best departure point for the gold fields. He mailed copies of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, full of breathless stories of the gold discovery, to 70,000 postmasters for display in post offices. Brainerd's strategy was extraordinarily successful. From 1897 to 1899, Seattle merchants alone took in millions of dollars from departing stampeders, considerably more money than miners brought out of the Klondike in the same period.
The competition for stampeder dollars continued in Dyea and Skagway, Alaska, the towns at the trail heads for the two most popular routes over the mountains, the Chilkoot Pass and White Pass. Both towns could be reached by ship and were less than 10 miles apart.
Of the two trails, the Chilkoot Pass out of Dyea was the most popular until the first portion of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad was finished in July 1899, linking Skagway and Lake Bennett. By then however, the majority of the stampeders were already in the gold fields.
Because there were no docking facilities at Dyea, ships unloaded cargo onto the beach, where people scrambled to get all their goods to high ground before high tide. Men were available for hire to help cart crates and boxes off the beach. The going rate was $20/hour at low tide, but $50/hour when the tide was rising.
Long before the stampeders began crossing over the Chilkoot Pass, the area of Dyea was used as a seasonal fishing camp. By the spring of 1897, that began to change. As word of the strike spread, stampeders began to trickle into the area. By that winter, the trickle had turned into a flood as thousands of stampeders slogged through the muddy streets, eating and sleeping in quickly built restaurants and hotels. By 1898, Dyea had outgrown the town plan created only a year before.
Dyea's harbor was not as deep as Skagway's, which meant that most of the ships landed their cargoes at Skagway. Stampeders (including many who had purchased tickets to Dyea) were often left to make their own way over to Dyea and the Chilkoot Pass trail.
Although tens of thousands of people passed through Dyea on their way over the Chilkoot Pass trail, the town's population never exceeded 8,000.
The White Pass and Yukon Railroad meant the end of Dyea. The Chilkoot Pass trail may have been easier or better than the White Pass trail, but it could not compete with the railroad. The town faded away quickly. The post office closed down in 1902. By 1906, a man named E.A. Klatt was the town's only resident; he abandoned the town after tearing down and burning many of the buildings.
The area that was, for a few short years, a thriving community, has been reclaimed by nature. Little remains of the town today, except for the partial exterior of one building, bits and pieces of debris, and two rows of trees that were planted along the main street and stand out amid the thick forest that covers most of the town.
On April 3, 1898, a series of avalanches struck along the Chilkoot Pass trail. The worst, which hit that morning, killed dozens of stampeders. Civic promoters in Dyea feared that their counterparts in Skagway would use the tragedy to tout the White Pass as the safer trail. They did.
The first stampeders arrived in Skagway less than two weeks after the Portland had docked in Seattle. On July 29, 1897, when the mail steamer Queen landed these first anxious would-be millionaires on the beach, Skagway (then known as Skaguay; the spelling change was made later, possibly by the Post Office Department) was barely a collection of tents.
Dyea and Skagway's rivalry was brief, but heated. Even though the Chilkoot Pass (through Dyea) was the most popular trail, Skagway was always the larger town. In the first half of 1898, when Skagway was teeming with stampeders, it was the biggest town in Alaska.
Klondike Gold Rush International Historical Park
In 1998 the international significance of the Klondike Gold Rush was officially recognized by Canada and the United States with the creation of the Klondike Gold Rush International Historical Park. The site in Skagway, Alaska represents the “Gateway to the Klondike” and preserves the setting of Klondike Gold Rush boom towns and trails to the Yukon gold. Other units making up the international park include the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Seattle, WA and the Canadian parks, Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site and Dawson Historical Complex National Historic Sites. For more information on visiting these locations click on the name of the historical park.
The Chilkoot Pass trail ascended fairly gently from Dyea through the first portions of the trail. But a little over 12 miles along the trail, between Sheep Camp and Scales, the trail begins to rise, heading up over 1600 feet in just 2 1/2 miles. In the spring of 1898, warm weather had made that portion of the trail extremely treacherous. Few stampeders heeded the danger signs except the Chilkoot Native packers, who finally refused to work the trail. This was their land, and they knew how deadly the conditions had become. Dreams of golden wealth kept most of the stampeders on the trail, even after the packers had withdrawn.
The avalanches began on Saturday evening, April 2, 1898. The first apparently was not severe enough to cause much concern. Early Palm Sunday morning, a snow slide buried 20 stampeders along the trail. At 9:30 a.m., three more people were buried under another avalanche. Fortunately in both cases, all were rescued from the snow.
The early morning rumbles convinced the stampeders to withdraw from the hill. As over 150 people were making their way down the hill from Scales to Sheep Camp, the mountain pack gave way and tumbled down over the front portion of the group. The massive avalanche covered about ten acres of land with snow in some areas as deep as 50 feet. Hundreds of stampeders rushed up from Sheep Camp to dig out survivors. Some were brought out alive, but over 60 people could not be rescued in time. Men and women worked for four days to dig out the bodies. A tent in Sheep Camp was turned into a temporary morgue. Some bodies were identified. Many were men known to none but their families back home.
Gold Rush History Wrangell, Alaska
Wrangell's Three Gold Rushes
Gold was a driving force in the early development of Alaska bringing thousands of fortune seekers north. Because of gold strikes, many communities experienced sudden prosperity, followed by equally rapid depression as areas were mined out. Beginning as early as 1861, and spanning four decades until 1898, Wrangell played an important role in three major gold rushes: the Stikine River, Cassiar and Klondike Gold Rushes. These gold rushes transformed this small subsistence community to a bustling supply center for the miners with warehouses, hotels, dance halls, saloons, equipment and food stores and the first of many churches in Alaska.
Stikine River Gold Rush - Alexander "Buck" Choquette, a former Hudson's Bay Trader, with descendants still living in Wrangell today, found gold on the upper reaches of the Stikine River in 1861, causing a feverish stampede through Wrangell and on into the Canadian Territory. At this time, Wrangell was known as Fort Stikine and was leased by the Hudson Bay Company from Russia. Buck's Bar, however, was a minor find when compared to the gold strikes that were to follow.
Cassiar Gold Rush - In 1867, Alaska was purchased by the United States of America from Russia, and the Hudson Bay post in Wrangell was abandoned. The post was replaced by Fort Wrangell, constructed by the United States government one year later, just north of the Tlingit Indian village. Henry Thibert and Angus McCulloch found gold in the Cassiar District of Canada (accessible by the Stikine River) in 1872 and started a huge stampede that brought overnight prosperity to Wrangell. He struck pay dirt in a stream, later known as Thibert Creek, by Dease Lake. The stream averaged 4 ounces of gold a day earning the miners $125 a day, compared to laborers making $25 a month. It is easy to understand why news of the Cassiar gold rush induced men to quit their jobs and run to the nearest steamer for transportation to the Stikine River. The "wild west" came to Wrangell in a big way. Dance Halls were built, warehouses importing equipment and supplies sprang up along the waterfront, and thousands of miners moved to Wrangell to await the coming spring so that they could travel up the Stikine River to the Cassiar. This heyday of prosperity lasted only five years before the gold was panned out and those who didn't strike it rich moved on.
Klondike Gold Rush - In the late 1890's, Wrangell once again became the base of operations for prospectors traveling up the Stikine River to strike it rich in the famous 1898 Klondike gold rush. There were three different routes to the Klondike. The first was the Stikine River route which already had been the site of two rushes. Wrangell was advertised in newspapers as the easiest and the all-Canadian route to the Klondike, prompting thousands of miners to go to Wrangell in 1897. Another later route was from Skagway and over the White Pass, and the last was from Dyea up the Taiya River and over the Chilkoot Pass. From 1897 until 1900, Wrangell was a vital supply point for miners heading to the Klondike.
Wrangell served as the center for all the gold rushes, until Skagway came into existence to support the last gold rush to the Klondike area. The only other large town in Southeast Alaska at that time was Sitka. Juneau, Ketchikan and Petersburg weren’t in existence yet. Wrangell was the economic center for Alaska, providing lodging, supplies, equipment and entertainment to thousands of miners. At one point over 10,000 persons were in Wrangell, waiting for supplies and transportation up the Stikine. Cottonwood Island, near the mouth of the Stikine River, became a makeshift "tent city" for prospectors waiting for the spring thaw so they could travel up the river to the mining areas.
Buck Choquette, who discovered gold in the first rush, participated in all of the rushes that followed. Famed lawman Wyatt Earp traveled through Wrangell during the Klondike rush, and filled in as Deputy Marshal of Wrangell for ten days. Unfortunately records don't show anything particularly noteworthy that happened while he was here, perhaps his reputation as a lawman deterred any criminal acts. Instead he and his wife Josie turned back to San Francisco after learning that she was pregnant.
Between 1898 and 1900, there were discussions to build a railway to take miners to the Klondike from Wrangell. A road up the Stikine River from Wrangell would meet up with the proposed railway. Instead, Skagway's route turned out to be shorter, more expedient to build and with more political clout. Even before the gold rush ended in the Klondike, it ended for Wrangell as the miners headed to the new town of Skagway. The community of Wrangell took it in stride and turned its attention to fishing and logging. Until the late 1990's, there was still an operating mine on the Iskut River in British Columbia, a tributary of the Stikine, and Wrangell served as its supply and shipment point. Wrangell continues to serve as the gateway to the magnificent Stikine River.
(Information on Wrangell courtesy of The City and Borough of Wrangell, Alaska)
Gold Rush History Fairbanks
Though the economy has evolved over the last century, Fairbanks still remembers its origins. Italian immigrant Felix Pedro's initial 1902 gold strike coincided with Captain E.T. Barnette's goal of building a trading post on the banks of the Chena River and the gold rush to Fairbanks was on. Prospectors filled the area to pan and sluice, followed by small manual drift mines and draglines to the monster floating dredges and lode mines.
Today, historic visitor attractions and modern-day mining operations still celebrate the quest for gold. See the largest public display of gold in the state at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. Visit the Pedro Monument in tribute to gold's first discovery or try your hand at gold panning and uncover your own Alaskan gold, that perfect gold nugget souvenir to take back home. Discover for yourself one of the many reasons Fairbanks is called the "Golden Heart" city.
Felix Pedro was an Italian prospector who discovered gold north of Fairbanks in 1902. Pedro Monument marks the spot 16 miles from town.
During its 30 years of operation from 1928 to 1959, Gold Dredge #8 took in about seven million ounces of gold.
The Fairbanks Exploration Company, an early corporate mining company, was the major employer in Fairbanks between 1928 & World War II.
The largest gold mill in North America at Fort Knox Gold Mine grinds 40,000 tons of ore each day to extract gold.
Gold Rush Bering Sea
Nome, Alaska Today
Every summer, as the glacial ice melts around this frozen and isolated port, a handful of fortune seekers hunt for gold in the most unlikely of places: the bottom of the Bering Sea. From the producers of the Emmy-winning DEADLIEST CATCH comes Discovery Channel's newest series, BERING SEA GOLD. This eight-part series profiles the salty and eccentric characters who spend hours on the rocky, frigid ocean floor, hunting gold from custom built, sometimes barely seaworthy rigs.
From the desperate to the diabolical, the Nome gold fleet takes on all comers, and the brutal Bering Sea does the rest. From a family who owns and operates an 80 foot barge, to an Alaskan social worker who sinks his life savings into a lifelong dream of being a gold miner ... and from the only female dredger in Nome, to a captain who needs to pay his debts to stay out jail, these rugged treasure hunters put it all on the line to scour the sea floor for sparkling, precious metal. With gold's price at an all-time high, some will go home rich... and some will just go home.
The Great Nome Gold Rush
Thousands of disappointed stampeders were still living in Dawson in the summer of 1899. Some were eking out a living working for established mines, others struggled to make a living doing odd jobs in Dawson. Their dreams of golden wealth dashed, most were either too poor or too ashamed to return home.
In the spring of 1899, rumors of a great new gold strike were spreading through town. When the summer steamships arrived, the rumors were confirmed. Gold had been struck in fabulous quantities near Cape Nome, Alaska. That summer, over 8,000 people abandoned Dawson for the new bonanza.
Credit for the new strike belonged to Eric Lindblom, John Brynteson, and Jafet Lindberg, a trio who became known as the "Three Lucky Swedes," (despite the fact that Lindberg was actually Norwegian). The trio had met in the Circle City mining area of Alaska and decided to hunt for gold along Alaska's western coast. Their rich strike along Anvil Creek in the fall of 1898 inspired excitement among those already in the Alaskan and Yukon territories.
Prospectors set about staking claims along Anvil and several other tributaries of the Snake River. By the end of 1899, Anvil City had a population of 10,000.
The Anvil Creek strike was good, but it probably would not have outshone the Klondike gold fields, except that it led to an amazing discovery. Many of the stampeders who arrived too late to stake claims along the mouth of the Snake River set up tents on the shoreline, where they discovered that there was gold on the beach. Miners swarming over the strike termed it a "poor man's paradise."
For the average stampeder, the beaches had distinct advantages over the Klondike gold fields. They could be reached easily by ship travel; stampeders to this strike did not have to haul 2,000 pounds of goods over narrow snowy mountain passes. And most importantly, because the beach could not be staked, claims were open to everyone. All these men and women needed were shovels, buckets and a rocker to separate gold from sand. Stampeders from all over the United States joined those from Dawson and the rush was on again.
A town exploded into life along the beaches. What had been a prospectors' campsite turned in a few months into a town of over 20,000 people. Nome sprung to life almost overnight on the frozen tundra. It transformed into a bustling city filled with congested streets, 100 saloons and dozens of stores, restaurants and "hotels" in tents and quickly constructed wooden buildings.
By 1900, Nome would have looked very familiar to those who had rushed to the gold fields through Dyea or Skagway. The biggest difference was now in Nome, the now-familiar wild melee of thousands of stampeders sorting through and hauling their gear out of the surf was compounded by stampeders digging for gold all along the beach.
In the summer of 1900, Nome was the largest general delivery address in the U.S. postal system. In his book, Alaska's First Free Mail Delivery in 1900, letter carrier Fred Lockley noted that the postal clerks had to use five filing boxes just to sort letters for people named "Johnson."