Feature Klondike Gold Rush

Find out more about the Klondike Gold Rush.

Klondike Gold Rush

Gold was discovered in the Klondike River in 1896. The details of who made the first discovery are questionable. What isn't in doubt, is that the discovery set off the last great stampede for gold, with more than 100,000 men and women making their way into the frozen hinterland with the hope of striking it rich.

One version of the legend has Skookum Jim, a Tagish Indian, first finding gold on Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Klondike on August 16, 1896. Others claim his brother-in-law, a white prospector from California named George Washington Carmack, saw the gold first.

Skookum Jim, his nephew Dawson Charlie, their sister Kate and Carmack had ventured out in search of gold and food. As one version of the story goes, Jim killed a moose and stopped at Rabbit Creek for a refreshing drink. There he saw gold flakes in the water. A cool character, he returned to butchering his moose, and then told his relatives. After much celebrating they investigated further. His brother-in-law insisted that a Native Indian would not be able to file a discovery claim with the government and used this argument to take the largest claim for himself.

Word of the discovery spread locally like wildfire. It was said these creeks were the richest in the world, and within two weeks there were claims staked up and down the creek and nearby tributaries. By Christmas, many prospectors abandoned the Yukon valley in favor of the Klondike. Although the onset of winter slowed the rush of prospectors, by early spring, boats from places such as San Francisco and Seattle came packed with hopeful prospectors.

By July, with the arrival of the boats 'Excelsior' in San Francisco and the 'Portland' in Seattle, laden with 3 tons of gold and prospectors filled with tales of the Klondike, gold rush fever reached a new height.

Prospectors flocked to boom towns such as Skagway and Dyea to stock up on provisions. The image many have of a prospector trying to make it in the wild with a knapsack of provisions, a tent and a pickaxe are false. In order to cross into Canada to the gold fields, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police required each party to have enough food to last them one year.

Carrying this ton of food over the steep mountain pass was treacherous and often deadly. Those lucky enough to make it to Dawson City - the entryway to the gold fields - still had to build their own boats and barges in time to float their belongings across the river at the start of the spring thaw. By that time, most of the large, worthwhile claims had been staked, leaving little but dashed dreams.