The Klondike gold rush started in 1897, when Jim Mason, Tagish Charlie, and George Carmack, returned from the Yukon and declared their discovery of gold. Jim Mason was a well-known wilderness guide, who fought hand and foot with a bear during his adventures. Tagish Charlie was the nephew of Jim Mason. George Carmack, the third miner, was unpopular in the mining community. Carmack quickly earned the nickname “Squaw Man” for his exaggerated stories and claims.
Six months after the men discovered gold, over 100,000 miners were on their way to the Yukon. Unfortunately, only 30,000 of these miners would successfully complete the trip. “Outfitting” companies sprung up all over the place, selling supplies, such as: mining tools, transportation supplies and food. Cities such as Seattle made a small fortune in the business of outfitting during this time period.
Reaching the Yukon gold fields wasn’t an easy task. The easiest way to reach the gold fields was by boat; traveling up the mouth of the Yukon river. This transportation method, however, was also the most expensive. The most challenging route was called the “Canadian Route.” This route traveled through Edmonton, weaving through thick wilderness and difficult traveling conditions.
The most popular route originated on the West Coast of North America. Miners traveled to Skagway Alaska, through the Yukon River at Whitehorse and then boaters traveled approximately 500 miles to the city of Dawson. This route was dangerous. As miners approached the White Pass trail, it narrowed and became very slick. With over 3,000 pack animals dying on the trail, miners named the trail “dead horse trail.”
Unfortunately, the brave miners who conquered dangerous traveling conditions found disappointment as they reached the city of Dawson. Locals had already claimed the best gold sites, and stories about gold discovery were exaggerated.
Even for experienced miners, working conditions were difficult. Gold was covered by layers of permafrost, which is permanently frozen ground. The ground had to be thawed before the miners could start the mining process. Also, digging had to be done during the warmer summer months. The winter months reached unbearable temperatures of -60 F or less, making work very dangerous.
Miners that were lucky enough to find gold had to deal with Jefferson Smith (nicknamed “Soap”). Accompanied by a gang of 100 followers, he was known for conning miners out of their money. His followers posed as clergymen or newspaper reporters and directed the miners to Soap’s fraudulent businesses, where the miners were robbed.
Soap, however, met his match when he robbed a minor of $2,800 worth of gold. Instead of dismissing the incident, the miner rallied local community members and the leader of the group, Frank Reid, shot Soap fatally.
In 1899, disappointed Yukon miners learned about a new gold prospect; the Nome Gold Rush. Gold found in Nome was discovered in a remote beach area. Thousands of minors stomped over the top of the gold before ever making the gold discovery.
During the early stages of mining, no gold was being found. Then, rumors started to spread that people were finding gold (which wasn’t true). Complete chaos broke lose. Claim jumping and litigation over claim rights was out of control. However, while miners were bickering over claim rights, a few cleaver miners decided to pan on the beach, and struck gold. During the summer of 1899, over two million dollars of gold was found in the area.
Additional resources on the Klondike Gold Rush can be found at the following sites:
American Experience: Gold Fever
Klondike Gold Rush Yukon Territory 1897
University of Washington
Alaska Science Forum
Alaska Department of Education and Early Development
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