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Klondike Gold Rush

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Mining History
Miners live in a tent settlement on their way to the Klondike.
The Klondike Gold Rush was sparked in 1896 by the discovery of gold at Rabbit Creek (also called Bonanza), a tributary of the Klondike River. Miners had been slowly filtering into the Yukon interior through the Chilkoot pass and began fanning out in the area as early as the 1880s. Some of them even stayed through harsh Yukon winters to hold onto their claims. Others partnered up with First Nations women who were well adapted and experienced in surviving the rigors of frontier life. George Washington Carmack was an example. His wife was Shaaw Tiaa—Kate, in English—a Carcoss Tagish woman of the Dakl’aweidi clan in the southern Yukon.[1] The Carmacks, along with Kate’s brother Skookum Jim and her nephew, Tagish Charlie, were the first to uncover rich placer deposits at Rabbit Creek. They were advised to check out the creek by a fellow prospector named Robert Henderson who passed through the area and prospected in an adjacent creek. News of the Carmacks’ discovery of gold at Rabbit Creek eventually spread to outlying mining camps nestled within the Yukon Valley. Miners soon showed up at the Bonanza, Eldorado, and Hunter Creeks to stake their claims.[2] This was just the beginning of a mass exodus of prospectors from America up to the Yukon with the dream of striking it rich.

Contents

[edit] History

[edit] "A Ton of Gold"

The Klondike Gold Rush was contained in the interior of the Yukon through the following winter, and in May 1897, news of it finally broke and reached the ears of the outside world. That spring, two steamships transporting miners with bags of gold lamenting their recent wealth arrived into the ports of Seattle and San Francisco. In Washington, the SeattlePost-Intelligencer picked up the story, practically causing a frenzy with its infamous headline that read, “Gold, Gold, Gold—A Ton of Gold.” [3] Within six months, a stampede of amateur prospectors of up to 100,000 men was on its way up to the Yukon.[4] The majority of these men, Americans, were referred to as "stampeders." Something else that drove a mass migration of people up to the Yukon wasn’t just the lure of gold but the appeal of a better life in the Yukon wilderness. Not only was there free gold for the taking, but also free land. During a time of economic depression, when the growth of cities on the cusp of industrialization was burgeoning, the unlimited possibility presented by a simpler life on the frontier was a particularly attractive draw.[5]

[edit] Getting Outfitted

Many of the stampeders who made their way to the Yukon were ill prepared for the long journey. Virtually overnight, a number of outfitting companies helped to furbish stampeders for the trip, selling them a variety of goods including food, warm clothing, mining and camping equipment, and transportation. Even in hard economic times, money was freed up to finance the expeditions of over 100,000 stampeders. The city of Seattle, the closest American outpost to the Yukon, profited greatly from outfitting miners. In order to pass into the Yukon, the Northwest Mounted Police demanded each miner carry up to a year’s supply of goods. This was equal to about one ton of goods per person.[6]

The town of Skagway in Alaska flourished as a boom town catering to miners on their way to the Klondike

[edit] The Journey to the Klondike

Those with extra money were fortunate enough to travel up to the Yukon aboard steam ships departing from San Francisco and Seattle. The less fortunate were forced to make the journey entirely by foot and with the assistance of pack animals. Different routes were marked out for the journey with the two most clearly established routes based from the closest salt water ports situated 600 miles (966 km) from the gold fields at Skagway along the White Pass Trail or from Dyea along the Chilkoot Pass Trail. Dyea and Skagway quickly grew into boomtowns that catered to the needs of miners.[7] Both routes, about 30 miles (48 km) long, were treacherous to cross and posed many dangers. The Chilkoot Pass was steep and hazardous. Many stampeders had to make the journey over the pass in the dead of winter. Rising approximately 1,000 feet (305 m) in the last half-mile (0.8 km), over 1,500 steps had to be cut out of the mountainside glacier of the Chilkoot Pass. Known as the "Golden Staircase,” the stepped incline was still too steep for packhorses to traverse, so stampeders had to cache their goods up the mountain, meaning it took many subsequent trips to move one ton of equipment and supplies over the pass.[8] This task proved too arduous for some, who ultimately abandoned their equipment. Others simply resigned from completing the journey and turned back. Traveling the Chilkoot Pass during the summer still proved to be very difficult.

Those who took to the White Pass Trail did not fare much better. Conditions on the narrow, steep, and slick mountain trail were even more treacherous. Approximately 3,000 pack animals, mostly horses, died trying to cross the pass, and it was therefore renamed Dead Horse Pass.[9] Alternative routes included the Copper River Trail, the Teslin Trail by the Stikine River and Teslin Lake, the all-Canadian Ashcroft route known as the Cariboo Wagon Route, and Edmonton trails.[10]

A good number of stampeders ended up on the shores of Bennet Lake during the winter and were forced to set up temporary tent cities as they waited for the ice on the river to thaw. From here they had to build boats manually by scavenging for timber and whipsawing the timber into planks for the final 500-mile (805-km) leg upriver to Dawson City.[11] There were about 7,000 different types of boats and rafts made. [12] On average, the journey upriver to Dawson City took three weeks. About 20,000 of the 30,000 stampeders to complete the journey to the Yukon had arrived in Dawson City by the summer of 1898. However, by this time, prospectors who had arrived the year prior had already staked out the best claims along the Klondike River.[13]

[edit] Mining the Klondike

Miners work a gold placer deposit in a Klondike mining camp.
The work required of prospectors to extract the gold from their claims along the Klondike River was intensive. Gold was not always easily found at the surface; it was sometimes located 10 feet (3 m) or more underground. In the winter months, miners had to dig through layers of permafrost by lighting fires to heat the ground in order to thaw it out. Most digging had to been carried out during the summer months.[14]

Panning was a common way to sample the potential of a possible claim. Panning only yielded a small amount of gold at any one time. To extract large amounts of gold involved processing larger amounts of gravel. This was accomplished with the use of sluices. Sluices were built directly in or near streambeds so the gravel could be easily separated from the gold. The gravel was removed from the bottom and banks of the streambeds and placed in the sluices for processing. The drawback was that the streams remained frozen for up to nine months of the year, denying prospectors both flowing water and access to the gravel in the streambed.[15]

[edit] Life in Dawson City

Some of those who arrived late during the Klondike Gold Rush left and others sought employment in the town or took up prospecting for other miners on their claims for a reasonable wage. This mass influx of miners into the region within the two-year time frame of the Klondike Gold Rush contributed to a surge in population in communities scattered along Canada’s Northwest. At one point, Dawson City was even the biggest community north of Seattle and west of Winnipeg.[16]

Initially, Dawson City had served as a small outpost on the mouth of the Klondike River. As a result of the Yukon Gold Rush, it sprung up almost instantaneously into a bustling city hub with a floating population of 30,000.[17] From the first migration of miners into the area starting in 1896, Dawson experienced a rapid three-year construction growth and was quickly turned into an American-style frontier town with dance halls, theaters, gambling halls, and saloons. Steamships coming in and out of Dawson City were always tied to the piers along the town’s riverfront. Big warehouses and stores located in the swampy back lots of the main town area housed supplies to carry the local population through the winter. On the outskirts of the town, small cabins climbed the surrounding hillsides and served as homes to residents. Those with money built other houses with more ornate Victorian style detail.[18] Two policing bodies were set up in the town to keep the peace and maintain order—the Northwest Mounted Police and the Yukon Force, a military unit dedicated to maintaining Canadian sovereignty in a town of mostly American inhabitants.[19]

[edit] End of the Gold Rush

With the commencement of the Spanish-American War and word of a gold strike in Nome, Alaska in the summer of 1898, the arrival of the stampeders into Dawson City slowly dwindled. By 1901, a census taken of Dawson City revealed the local population had decreased to 9,000.[20]

Many of the stampeders who made the difficult journey up to the Yukon—some taking up to two years to get there—never did strike it rich. Altogether, miners spent about $50 million dollars trying to reach the Klondike. This amount ended up equalling the actual value of gold extracted in the five years following Carmack’s first discovery of the gold placer deposits at Rabbit Creek.[21]

[edit] References

  1. A Short History of The Finding of Gold in the Klondike. David Neufeld. Yukon Placer Mining Industry 1995, 1996, 1997. Mining Inspection Division. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. 1998
  2. A Short History of The Finding of Gold in the Klondike. David Neufeld. Yukon Placer Mining Industry 1995, 1996, 1997. Mining Inspection Division. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. 1998
  3. Klondike Gold Rush. Canada: A People's History. 2008-11-25.
  4. The Klondike Gold Rush. Reader's Digest. 2008-11-25.
  5. Yukon Placer Mining Industry 1995, 1996, 1997. Mining Inspection Division. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. 1998
  6. Klondike Gold Rush: The Perilous Journey North. University of Washington. 2008-11-25.
  7. Klondike Gold Rush: The Perilous Journey North. University of Washington. 2008-11-25.
  8. Klondike Gold Rush Yukon Territory 1897. Quest Connect. 2008-11-25.
  9. Klondike Gold Rush: The Perilous Journey North. University of Washington. 2008-11-25.
  10. The Klondike Gold Rush. Yukon Territory, Canada. 2008-11-25.
  11. Klondike Gold Rush: The Perilous Journey North. University of Washington. 2008-11-25.
  12. Klondike Gold Rush: The Perilous Journey North. University of Washington. 2008-11-25.
  13. KlondikeGold Rush. Canada: A People's History. 2008-11-25.
  14. Klondike Gold Rush Yukon Territory 1897. Quest Connect. 2008-11-25.
  15. Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. National Park System. 2008-11-25.
  16. Klondike Gold Rush. The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2008-11-25.
  17. Klondike Gold Rush: The Perilous Journey North. University of Washington. 2008-11-25.
  18. A Short History of The Finding of Gold in the Klondike. David Neufeld. Yukon Placer Mining Industry 1995, 1996, 1997. Mining Inspection Division. Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. 1998
  19. Klondike Gold Rush. The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2008-11-25.
  20. Klondike Gold Rush. Yukon Territory, Canada. 2008-11-25.
  21. Klondike Gold Rush. The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2008-11-25.