Klondike Gold Rush
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Klondike Gold Rush
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Klondike Gold Rush
Thousands stampede to the Yukon with dreams of riches
A Seattle newspaper headline touched off the frenzy in 1897. It read "Gold, Gold, Gold - A Ton of Gold."
Few prospectors made it rich during the Klondike Gold Rush. By the time most gold-seekers reached the region, the richest riverbeds had already been staked out. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada  PA-005389, Panning gold during the Klondike Gold
Few prospectors made it rich during the Klondike Gold Rush. By the time most gold-seekers reached the region, the richest riverbeds had already been staked out. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada PA-005389, Panning gold during the Klondike Gold Rush)

Gold had been discovered in the Yukon Territory, in a tributary of the Klondike River. News leaked out to the world when 68 new millionaires returned from the Klondike and arrived in Seattle harbour in May 1897.

Soon it was a race to the Yukon as thousands of gold seekers - the majority Americans - headed north with dreams of riches.

Those with money went all the way by water. But most took a cheaper route through northern mountain passes of the Alaskan panhandle including the treacherous Chilkoot Pass.

Tappan Adney, a writer for Harpers Weekly, made it to the Pass.

"There is nothing but the grey wall of rock and earth. But stop! Look more closely ... The mountain is alive. There is a continual moving train; they are perceptible only by their movement, just as ants are ... They are human beings, but never did men look so small."

The summit of the Pass was the gateway to the Yukon. There, the North West Mounted Police set up a tiny customs house and insisted prospectors had enough supplies to survive the rigours of the North.
The North West Mounted Police kept law and order in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada,  PA-016465, Mining Inspector's Office, No. 27)
The North West Mounted Police kept law and order in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada, PA-016465, Mining Inspector's Office, No. 27)

Some did not survive.

In early April 1898, a storm hit the Chilcoot Pass, triggering an avalanche that killed 60 men. Duncan Clark, a farm boy from Iowa, described the aftermath.

"It was a horrible sight to see - big, robust men, the very picture of health dug from the snow, put on a sled and hauled to the morgue. Forty of the dead were found the first day - my brother John among that number."

Clark buried his brother and continued over the Pass to the Yukon River.

By spring 1898, 20,000 men were camped at the head of the Yukon River waiting for ice to melt so they could continue on to gold fields, still 500 miles away.

When gold-seekers finally arrived at the Klondike, they got the bad news. The richest riverbeds had already been staked out.

While few prospectors made it rich during the gold frenzy, a small outpost near the mouth of the Klondike entered its heyday. Almost overnight the population of Dawson City exploded to 30,000 making it the largest Canadian city west of Winnipeg.
Gold dust  - measured on scales -  was one form of currency in the booming town of Dawson during the Klondike Gold Rush at the end of the 1900s. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)
Gold dust - measured on scales - was one form of currency in the booming town of Dawson during the Klondike Gold Rush at the end of the 1900s. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Canada)

Dawson turned into an American-style frontier town with dance halls, theatres, and saloons. Local entertainers included Montreal Marie, Snake Hips Lilly and Klondike Kate, who slowly unraveled 200 yards of tightly wrapped red chiffon.

Men outnumbered women 25 to one. Prostitution was tolerated and one miner said, "even an angel couldnt keep good in Dawson."

The reporter Tappen Adney described the crush of people.

"It is a motley throng -- every degree of person gathered from every corner of the earth ... Australians with upturned sleeves and a swagger; young Englishmen in golf stockings and tweeds; would-be miners in macanaws and rubber boots ... and women too, everywhere! It is a vast herd; they crowd the boats and fill the streets."

But Dawsons boom ended as quickly as it started. By the summer of 1899, there were rumours about another gold rush in Nome, Alaska. Within a week, half of Dawson emptied. The Klondike Gold Rush had run its course.

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