Klondike Gold Rush Begins Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

When gold was found in Canada’s Klondike Valley, the discovery sparked a frenzied gold rush, bringing in a wave of more than 100,000 prospectors to face the grueling conditions and extreme weather of the northern territory, while causing a financial ripple effect through the global economy.

Summary of Event

In August of 1896, a whoop and holler shattered the silence of the Klondike Valley, when George Washington Carmack, his wife, Kate Mason Carmack, and his two Indian companions, Tagish Charlie and Skookum Jim, greeted Carmack’s discovery of gold. Their exclamations echoed through the Yukon into Alaska and rippled eventually into the lower forty-eight states by way of Seattle, where a ship delivered the largest shipment of gold dust ever handled at that port. Soon, the whole world was listening, captivated by the promise of riches and adventure found in Bonanza Creek. Klondike gold rush Canada;Klondike gold rush Gold rushes;Klondike Mining;in Yukon[Yukon] Alaska;gold rush Yukon Territory;gold rush [kw]Klondike Gold Rush Begins (Aug. 17, 1896) [kw]Gold Rush Begins, Klondike (Aug. 17, 1896) [kw]Begins, Klondike Gold Rush (Aug. 17, 1896) Klondike gold rush Canada;Klondike gold rush Gold rushes;Klondike Mining;in Yukon[Yukon] Alaska;gold rush Yukon Territory;gold rush [g]Canada;Aug. 17, 1896: Klondike Gold Rush Begins[6170] [c]Earth science;Aug. 17, 1896: Klondike Gold Rush Begins[6170] [c]Exploration and discovery;Aug. 17, 1896: Klondike Gold Rush Begins[6170] [c]Economics;Aug. 17, 1896: Klondike Gold Rush Begins[6170] Carmack, George Washington Carmack, Kate Henderson, Robert London, Jack Skookum Jim

Klondike mining camp.

Three weeks before Carmack and his partners were able to get downstream to the mining settlement of Forty Mile to register their claim, they held a meeting on the hill overlooking Rabbit Creek. During this meeting, they decided to change the name of the creek. The miners in the north were mostly veterans of former gold rushes. They had a habit of changing the names of gold-bearing creeks to traditional mining names such as “Bonanza,” thus removing the strangeness from a strange country. Rabbit Creek became a name on old maps, and Bonanza became the name that lured thousands north for the world’s last great gold rush.

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There was a time when the creek was not so well known. Over the hill from Bonanza Creek, a prospector named Robert Henderson Henderson, Robert was seeking that elusive strike. It was Henderson who suggested that Carmack Carmack, George Washington try his luck on Rabbit Creek, and it was Henderson who continued to prospect just a stone’s toss away from the wealth of Rabbit Creek, while hearing of a creek called Bonanza, where nuggets lay in the ground for the picking. It was not until two years later, when it was too late to stake a claim, that Henderson discovered that the two creeks were one and the same.

On August 17, 1896, after Carmack had panned out enough gold dust for a “grub stake,” he made his way to Forty Mile, where he announced his discovery. The stampede did not begin immediately. Miners at Forty Mile were skeptical. Carmack was married to an Indian, Kate Carmack Carmack, Kate , and consequently did not enjoy a good reputation. Carmack had never been a zealous prospector; the Indian life of fishing and hunting had appealed to him more than the grind of gold mining. Still, miners could not ignore such an electrifying report, especially after Carmack Carmack, George Washington had shown them a shotgun shell filled with coarse gold. Soon, men traveled upriver from Forty Mile to have a look, and by the time winter came, the reports of other miners confirmed the strike.

By early winter, most of the men of Forty Mile had rushed to the new ground and staked claims. It was said that butchers dropped their aprons on the spot, druggists ground up their last prescriptions, and clerks tallied up their final bill of sale, all with the urge to head north to the Klondike. The Klondike was a magnet that drew miners, and others, from everywhere.

Victims of the Klondike fever numbered in the tens of thousands—casual laborers, farmers, students, bankers, and miners. Some, such as George Pilcher and Wyatt Earp, preferred to go on their own. Others, such as Will Ballou and John Hewitt, formed joint companies with like-minded neighbors who were willing to pool their resources. Many were backed by investors who wanted a share in the northern enterprise. Guidebooks advised readers on transportation routes, including an all-water route to the goldfields from the West Coast, a steerage passage from Seattle to Skagway in Alaska, and a trail one could hike and climb into the interior over the Chilkoot Pass and White Pass.

Most of the 1897-1898 argonauts (adventurers on a quest) chose Seattle as their port of embarkation to the north. Among the sixty thousand stampeders was Jack London London, Jack . He and his partners were among the thirty to forty thousand argonauts to choose one of the passes from the head of Lynn Canal as their route to the Klondike. From the coast to Dawson City was six hundred miles, but it was the first eighteen miles, from Dyea to the summit, that caused the most anxiety to travelers.

The trails, especially the Chilkoot Trail, had always been difficult to travel. At the base of the mountains, eight miles from the coast, the slope ascended sharply for ten miles to the summit, an elevation of thirty-five hundred feet. Crossing the pass under ideal weather conditions on the hard-packed snow of early spring was difficult, but undertaking it during a winter blizzard through deep, soft snow was extremely treacherous. What made the Chilkoot Trail a cruel punishment for most stampeders was tackling it time after time, weighed down by heavy backpacks. Most brought one thousand to two thousand pounds of supplies, which meant that twenty or more crossings had to be made after one’s base depot was made at camp. Pack animals could not make it over the Chilkoot; the White Pass Trail proved a death trap for horses and mules. Hundreds fell from the twisting, narrow trail into the valley below; others foundered in deep snow or mud, or broke their legs fording the rocky streams, leaving a trail lined with rotting carcasses.

Two thundering avalanches of snow and ice killed many prospectors. In September, 1897, fierce winds loosened the glacier’s edge, releasing a lake that heavy rains had built up on the glacier. More than a score of men were struck with typhoid fever Typhoid fever;in Yukon[Yukon] in 1898. Drowning on the upper Yukon accounted for many other deaths. Still other menaces were spinal meningitis, starvation, frostbite, claim jumping, and robbery. The next stage of the journey called for boat building. Men sweated through the arduous winter work of building boats without benefit of sawmills. This work strained many men beyond endurance; it ended partnerships and dissolved families.

All was not grimness on the Klondike Trail. Gamblers ran their games wherever a number of people gathered. All the entrepreneurs along the trail contributed to a carnival mood. Many argonauts seemed more interested in fun than in gold.

Significance

Within two years, thirty to forty thousand persons were added to Alaska’s population, with a corresponding increase in its commerce and material prosperity. In 1897 alone, $22 million was taken from the Klondike field. The discovery of gold prompted people to start spending money around the globe, ending the economic depression that had made life difficult in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The irresistible pull of the Klondike gold exerted its influence on men and women of all ranks and stations of life throughout North America and beyond.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Adney, Tappan. The Klondike Stampede. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1994. A factual story of the adventurous people who brought the Alaskan Yukon to the nation’s attention.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berton, Pierre. The Promised Land: Settling the West, 1896-1914. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1984. The final volume in the author’s tetralogy of the national dream, the Klondike gold rush.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dobrowolsky, Helene. Law of the Yukon: A Pictorial History of the Mounted Police in the Yukon. Whitehorse, Y.T.: Lost Moose, 1995. Examines the law enforcement role of the Northwest Mounted Police during the Klondike gold rush.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hitchcock, Mary E. Two Women in the Klondike. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2005. A contemporary account of the Klondike experience, with descriptions of life on the frontier. An abridged edition of Hitchcock’s work first published in 1899.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hunt, William R. North of 53°: The Wild Days of the Alaskan-Yukon Mining Frontier, 1870-1914. New York: Macmillan, 1974. A rigorous social document supported by the records and diaries of the people who built Alaska.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Matthews, Richard. The Yukon. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968. An intriguing history of the Yukon as a study of contrasts in peoples, wealth, and cultures.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mayer, Melanie J. Klondike Women: True Tales of the 1897-98 Gold Rush. Athens: Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1989. Firsthand accounts of the adventures, challenges, and disappointments of women on the trails to the Klondike.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morse, Kathryn Taylor. The Nature of Gold: An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003. Explores the environmental impact of the gold rush. Includes a foreword by environmental writer and scholar William Cronon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schell, Karen. Westward Expansion II. 9 vols. Farmingdale, N.Y.: Cobblestone, 1993. Gives a rich, complex image of the people, time, and places of the Klondike gold rush.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilson, Graham, ed. The Last Great Gold Rush: A Klondike Reader. Whitehorse, Y.T.: Wolf Creek Books, 2002. An anthology of writings on the Klondike gold rush. Chapters include “The Outfit of an Argonaut,” “A Woman Pioneer in the Klondike and Alaska,” “The Saloon in Skagway,” “The Spell of the Yukon,” “Sheep Camp Washed Away,” “The Chilkoot Pass,” and “The Grand Cañon of the Yukon.”

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