Gold Fever Transcript
David McCullough, Series Host: Good evening and welcome to The
American Experience. I'm David McCullough.
One August day in the year 1896, at the edge of an ice-cold creek in the middle
of nowhere, Yukon Territory, a man scrunched down working with a tin pan
suddenly let out a war-whoop, and at once he and two others with him broke into
what he later described as a combination Scottish hornpipe, Indian fox trot,
syncopated Irish jig, and Siwash hula.
They'd found gold. About enough to fill an empty shotgun shell. And as the
Canadian historian Pierre Burton writes in his wonderful book, Klondike,
"Up and down the Yukon Valley the news spread like a great stage whisper."
The lucky prospector was an American, George Washington Carmack, and thus began
one of the epic adventures of the adventurous nineteenth century, the great
Klondike Gold Rush.
Tens of thousands, men and women, were soon headed for as remote and difficult
a place as any on earth, and with hardly any idea of what was in store for
them. Five out of six were Americans, a lot of whom imagined the Yukon to be
in Alaska, which it was not. They were bound for north west Canada, up near
the Arctic Circle. And a lot of readers in the time since have drawn their
impressions of what went on from the bar-room poems of Robert Service, like
"The Cremation of Sam McGee."
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for
But Robert Service, alas, never got to the Yukon until well after the fact.The
real story is in the letters and diaries of those who were there, and in the
photographs, the extraordinary photographs, so many of which you will see in
our film... Gold Fever.
Narrator: As the New Year began in the small port city of Seattle, tens
of thousands of people were pouring into town. From all over America from
Europe, from Scandinavia, even Australia. No one had ever seen anything like
Terrence Cole: It was like a disease. It really was a gold fever, it
was like a communicable disease that was spread by the wind. The only cure for
it was to head off to the Klondike.
Pierre Berton: Klondike fever is a sudden urge to get rich. People went
goofy in Seattle and indeed across the United States and Canada, when it was
learned that in this remote part of the world lay a fortune in gold, which
people thought you could dig up yourself. They thought you could take a, a
trowel or a spade and dig up this gold.
Narrator: It had all begun six months earlier when a steamship arrived
in Seattle carrying prospectors back from the Klondike.a frozen wasteland in
Canada. Men were seen leaving the ship with sacks of gold. Crates full of
gold-- pure gold. Two tons in all. Clarence Berry, a bankrupt farmer from
Selma, California had gone North, with his wife of one year, Ethel D. Now he
returned with gold nuggets worth one hundred and thirty thousand dollars.
Bill Berry: "When Clarence and Ethel got into the port, they were met at
the Sound outside of Seattle by a newspaper reporter on a tug. And he started
interviewing all these so called kings of the Klondike, one of which was my
great uncle Clarence Berry. And it hit the newspapers headlines around the
Narrator: Gold fever swept the country...
Lael Morgan: The mood was right. America, the whole world was in the
doldrums. It was a period in history when there was a great depression which
hadn't stopped, there was hang-over left over from the Victorian era. The Gay
90s weren't particularly gay.
Pierre Berton: The Depression of the 90s was as bad as anything we had
known in our time. People were literally dying in the streets. People were
literally hungry and starving. So the unexpected vision of a glittering pile of
wealth to be had for the taking, turned people into a frenzy.
Narrator: Over the next two years, one hundred thousand people, out of
work professors, bankrupt merchants, secretaries, con men and miners--headed
North. Twenty eight year old Fred Dewey, a volunteer in the New York State
Guard, was chosen by his friends to represent them in the gold fields. An
adventurous fellow Dewey left his wife Kitty and their two month old baby drawn
to the greatest adventure of his life. He wrote home--
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): This train is crowded, when I say crowded I
mean it. A young Norwegian got on in Dakota. A China man boarded the train in
Montana. There are a hundred or more Klondikers on board and whiskey is
Lael Morgan: My grandfather was stuck on a farm in Vermont.
But, he said that every single able bodied man in that village left for the
Narrator: Writer Jack London took off from San Francisco looking for his
next adventure. Publisher William Randolph Hearst sent six reporters with
cameras. The gold rush was one of the most photographed events of the 19th
century. Thomas Edison brought his motion picture machine and film crews, and
recreated scenes for the camera. Among writers, reporters and photographers
the feeling was, "If you're not there, you're not alive."
In 1898, in Seattle, tens of thousands of people were heading out, but with
little notion of where they were going or what to expect.
The Klondike was a vast area just over the Alaskan border, inside Canada, known
only to the indigenous people and a handful of trappers, a land of great beauty
and unbelievable cruelty. The first gold seekers were so naive they counted on
being able to buy food along the trail. Some had actually starved to death.
Now, everyone entering the Klondike was required by the Canadian government to
carry in a year's worth of supplies.
Narrator: Eleven hundred pounds of food, alone, plus clothing and
equipment, one ton of goods, in all Clarence McNeil, an unemployed engineer
from Minnesota heading north in search of work,wrote his wife from Seattle.
Clarence McNeil (Voice Over): My Darling Laura, It is a sight indeed to
see the large number of articles offered for sale. They tell you that they are
absolutely necessary for a person going to the Klondike! It would take a
freight car per man to transport them.
Narrator: Men and women with their one ton of goods, jammed aboard
anything afloat. Even leaky old coffins resurrected from graveyards headed
north. Clarence Berry and his wife, returning to the gold fields, boarded the
Australia. They were caught up in the rush with thousands of first timers,
including Fred Dewey, and Clarence McNeil.
The most unlikely prospector was a physician from Chicago,Luella Day. She was
heading north to tend the sick and strike it rich. As her ship passed
the port of Victoria, British Columbia she wrote:
Luella Day (Voice Over): "We are now beyond the pale of civilization,
from here we pass into the great Northwest, and enter the frozen zone where
nature has hidden her treasure."
Narrator: About a thousand miles north of Seattle, on the coast of
Alaska, at the end of the Lynn Canal, the gold seekers faced a critical
decision. There were two routes over the snow covered mountains to the
Canadian border. The route out of Skagway -- over the White Pass seemed easier
but was plagued by armed bandits. The route out of Dyea was shorter, but led
over the frozen Chilkoot Pass, which was known as the meanest 32 miles in the
Pierre Berton: I don't think a lot of them had any concept of what they
were facing. It was bad enough going up the coast in these old tanks floating
tanks, which were jammed with people and horses. But when you got to the end
of the Lynn Canal; Skagway or Dyea, and saw what you faced, it must have,
people must, must have been heartsick. They had to ton of goods, don't forget.
That, was the problem.
Narrator: Luella's ship was a mass of ice sides, deck and rigging --
when it pulled into Skagway. As the supplies were off loaded -- the
prospectors looked out on the bleak and hostile landscape over which they would
have to lug one ton of goods--six hundred miles to the gold fields of Dawson.
Narrator: Like lambs to the slaughter they were at the mercy of
criminals and plain ol con artists.
Luella Day (Voice Over): Though our tickets read to Dyea we were put
ashore at Skagway. All the goods were unloaded and we had to pay twenty five
cents a day for wharf privileges for each box. Then we must pay five dollars a
ton for freighting by tugboat to Dyea. It was a case, as far as the pilgrim was
concerned of, pull Dick, pull Devil."
John Mack Faragher: Skagway is a, it comes from a Chilkoot word meaning
uh, the place where the wind never blows and it is totally unpleasant. Uh, you
know, they, the Chilkat said they would never, in all their dreams, imagine
living in Skagway.
Narrator: Skagway was a lawless, makeshift city of tents and rough-cut
timber shacks. Just about everything in Skagway, was run by a gang of
desperadoes, led by one Soapy Smith, a con man from Noonan, Georgia.
Frank Norris: Soapy controlled the fares very well in Skagway and all
along the White Pass, his men plied back and forth as well. He had a lot of
scams. It was impossible for the stampeder to make the gold rush journey
without running across his henchmen every step along the way.
Pierre Berton: You get off the boat, and a bright young man would come
up and say, "Sir, would you like to send a telegram home? Just five dollars
and we'll guarantee you an answer in three hours." So he'd go to the
telegraph office and he'd write it out and he'd give it to the guy with the
green eye shade behind, and he'd come back in three hours, there'd be an
answer. You know, there's only one problem. There's was no telegraph line out
of Skagway. It was isolated from the world. It was Soapy Smith's idea of
Narrator: Soapy's newspaper ran stories of terror on the Chilkoot, of
ice covered cliffs, of men falling to their deaths. The stories were
mostly true. But stampeders were also aware that on the route that
Soapy controlled, travelers were routinely robbed and murdered. On the
Chilkoot, a man could at least rely on himself...Fred Dewey was very sure of
his decision when he wrote home.
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): Know there has been hard weather on the
Chilkoot, but think stories are exaggerated by Skagway people. I'll stick to
my plan. I'm going to Dyea, and then over the Chilkoot. The more that are
frightened off, the fewer competitors.
Narrator: Along with most of the others, Luella Day chose the Chilkoot
Trail which began at the town of Dyea.
Luella Day (Voice Over): I shall never forget that first night. It was
28 degrees below zero. After sleeping on a board floor in a log cabin with
only my fox robe wrapped around me, we arose with the sun and made preparations
for that part of the journey that every one so much dreaded.
Narrator: Out of Dyea, the stampeders began ferrying their gear to Sheep
Camp at the base of the mountain. Fred Dewey never forgot the first leg of the
'meanest 32 miles'.
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): Imagine pulling a sled loaded with three to six
hundred pounds...over a stretch of ice up a steep grade, strewn with boulders
and logs...Then crossing over a river bed on a couple of trees laid side by
side and you get a picture of our labors...
Terrence Cole: The conditions on the tail were really unspeakable.
Remember these were not experienced outdoorsmen, or anything, they were
essentially people who had the modern equivalent of somebody who takes a bus to
L.L. Bean and comes out fully equipped and heads off into the woods without any
clue of what they were doing.
Narrator: By mid March, thousands of stampeders, lured by dreams of gold
had ferried their goods to Sheep Camp, the staging area for the climb up the
Chilkoot. It had taken Fred Dewey, two long weeks
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): "We think we have worked hard, but it is just a
foretaste—our hard work really begins now.
Narrator: The stampeders looked up to the mountains looming in front of
them trying to imagine what lay ahead. They would be climbing at the most
dangerous time of year. Just before the spring thaw when the weather was the
Narrator: "On March 15th, 1898, our thermometer had gone down to its
limit, sixty five degrees below zero and it stayed there", wrote one
stampeder. The wind ripped through Sheep Camp at sixty miles an hour. In
winter, daylight lasted only from nine thirty a.m. to about four thirty p.m.
Unable to work in the darkness, the nights seemed endless.
Luella Day (Voice Over): We had, especially the women, no source of
amusement or recreation. Men could gamble, we could only talk and dream of the
golden harvest for which we had abandoned the comforts of our homes. It was a
bond of interest which bound us together, whether a lady physician, like
myself, or a girl going into a dance hall.
Charlene Porsild: "You had to depend on other people all the time,
because the conditions were so hard, because the climate was so severe, because
so many things could go wrong on the trip. A sense of community had to develop
very early. So along the trail they made friendships, they made partnerships,
and they would use that connection to help each other out."
Narrator: Fred Dewey joined a party of men from New York and
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): I think we will join forces with the Batavia
party, making thirteen in all. We have a photographer in our party and he has
taken some pictures.
Lael Morgan: The camera had just become affordable by ordinary human
beings and it was the newest fad. For every person who went to the gold rush
they had at least two backers back home and it was a marvelous way to report
what was going on.
John Mack Faragher: Quite a number of photographers moved to Alaska and
set up shop. They took hundreds of photographs and sold them to the miners
themselves, as tokens as remembrances to take home,
as proof of where they've been
Narrator: As each commercial window of opportunity opened up, someone
squeezed in. Two German immigrants, from Pennsylvania, Ed Joppe and Adolph
Mueller, opened a restaurant....A carpenter and a clerk became partners and
opened a hotel. A widow and a window cleaner started up a laundry. Lubricated
by need, the whole operation soon came to resemble an efficient machine.
Clarence McNeil wrote his wife that he was hopeful about finding work.
Clarence McNeil (Voice Over): Dear Laura...Don't worry about me.
There's lots of money being made at everything. If I can get into anything
that will make some money here, I will not go on to Dawson.
Narrator: But most had begun ferrying their supplies to the base of the
mountain. The winds were strong and the temperature remained below zero. Fred
Dewey wrote home to his backers about the difficulties along the way--
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): Perhaps you can get some idea if I tell you
that it is a big day's work to haul one hundred pounds a distance of four
miles. There are three women alone on the trail and they are taking their own
stuff in. I would be ashamed to back down before difficulties that those women
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): The work is slavery. My feet are sore, my heels
are blistered, my legs sore and lame, my hands, neck, shoulders, sore and
chafed from the rope. But Boys, don't think I am discouraged...
there is a golden glimmer in the distance.
Narrator: From the base of the mountain, to the summit
was one thousand feet, straight up.
Luella Day (Voice Over): The trail was only two feet wide, on either
side the snow was loose, and if a man slipped off the trail, he disappeared
never to be seen again.
Narrator: It took forty trips to get a ton of supplies up the mountain.
Those who could afford it, hired teams of Chilkat Indians to carry their gear.
The cost, two thousand dollars, one dollar a pound.
Frank Norris: A number of people began to recognize that they could cash
in, on the bonanza, by helping people move goods a little faster over the
Narrator: For months now, the Chilkoot Railroad and Transportation
Company, had been building a tramway to the top of the Pass. Slowed by the
coldest winter in history, Nelson Bennett, the company boss, was behind
schedule. Investors were demanding that Bennett have the tram up and running
by Palm Sunday. Clarence McNeil wrote his wife about the army of impatient
men rushing toward the Klondike.
Clarence McNeil (Voice Over): You have to get in line and wait your
turn to get a chance to go up over the Summit. Though the men are forced to
stop for over a half an hour in their place, they are as silent as a grave
Narrator: As the deadline for the tramway approached, Bennett began
hiring extra men. Among them, Clarence McNeil.
Clarence McNeil (Voice Over): My darling wife, I am no ordinary Engineer
anymore. I am now Chief Engineer at the Chilkoot Railway and Transportation
company. What do you think of that? I have received rapid promotions since I
last wrote you. If I get through successfully with this job, it will give me
quite a standing in the Engineering profession.
Narrator: Palm Sunday. The temperature was rising. Fred Dewey and
hundreds of others, were ready to begin ferrying their outfits over the
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): April 3rd, it's been snowing since Wednesday
yesterday afternoon late, the wind went down, and the snow came in great wet
flakes, with the water fairly dripping out of it. This morning about twelve or
fourteen inches had fallen. In the night sometime, a snow slide began, I was
awakened by a roar, but I could see nothing. Several more occurred, only not
Narrator: By morning, the mountain was quiet. Clarence Berry's wife,
Ethel, told their Chilkat packers to start moving their supplies over the Pass,
Bill Berry: The Natives had told the Berry party not to go over the
Chilkoot Pass, at that time, I think their words were, "suns too hot, big rush
of snow come, Not Yet", and he knew to trust the Natives, so they did not go.
Narrator: That morning, the cables for the aerial tramway had yet to be
connected. The workers, hearing of the recent snow slides, refused to go up
the mountain. Bennett, issued an ultimatum, work or collect your paycheck.
Within thirty minutes of reaching the summit, the men completed their work and
were starting down back at camp, Dewey heard the rumble from the summit.
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): We rushed out and watched a genuine avalanche.
It was a grand and beautiful sight. It looked like a great waterfall as the
snow came pouring over the rocks. Men came pouring out into the streets of the
camp, shouting and shooting their rifles into the air. Moments later a man
came running into Joppe and Mueller's restaurant by the Scales, yelling, "For
God's sake, come quick! Help dig out Mrs. Maxon and several others! They've
been buried alive in their tent!"
Narrator: Adolph Mueller and Ed Joppe rushed to join the rescue party.
Minutes later, another avalanche swept down the mountain. The tramway workers
and with them, Mueller and Joppe.
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): As far as one could see up the gulch winding in
and out were men going to the rescue. About five hundred feet beyond, several
tents were buried. As I arrived, one tent had been uncovered and three taken
out dead. No one knows how many are buried, probably between forty and one
Narrator: Rescuers worked feverishly. People were found frozen to
death in mid motion. Mueller was one of the first dug out alive. But it was
clear there would be few survivors.
Bill Berry: The Berry party helped to dig out some of the survivors.
Ethel D. and Tot went down and helped out the coffin makers, and lined some of
the coffins with black cloth, and put the name of the person if it was known
for the relatives.
Narrator: Will Patterson, a Quaker from California, had been supporting
himself as a carpenter along the trail. He was called out early afternoon, by
Will Patterson (Voice Over): By three o'clock, forty seven bodies had
been taken out. I have been working so hard. Six were brought to us and I
never let up until two a.m. the next day, I made six coffins and helped embalm
two bodies. They were coffins and not mere boxes. This trip has been one long
stream of death and disaster
Narrator: The dead were brought to a makeshift morgue, for
identification. Ed Joppe among them. He had been buried for three hours under
six feet of snow and ice.
Pierre Berton: Joppe's girlfriend insisted he was still alive. And
they hauled him out and he appeared to be dead. And my memory is that she went
down on her knees and breathed air into his lungs, and suddenly, miraculously,
the guy lived.
Narrator: Joppe later said, "I couldn't move an inch, I was held as fast
as if I had been sealed in a block of ice, listening to the voices of those
trapped near me....praying and muttering...cursing God for their fate.
Narrator: Of the nearly two hundred people caught in the avalanche,
seventy were dead. Seventeen of them, men Bennett had ordered up the mountain.
Among them, Chief Engineer, Clarence McNeil from Minnesota. Out of respect for
those who died, the stampeders voted to close the Pass for a week. Corpses
were still being uncovered when the stampeders resumed their climb. Fred Dewey
wrote his wife, Kitty.
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): Of course I must go over the trail...there's
no such thing as avoiding it.
Pierre Berton: The one single photograph by Erik Hegg, that delineates
the Klondike experience, is that long dark line of struggling men, hanging
like a kind of a garland, over these Alabaster slopes. And there's no other
photograph that so instantly sums up what it was all about. Man straining
upwards. That's the point. Climbing higher. Bent over but still moving. This
is the human spirit. We can't resist the next corner. We have to go around
Narrator: Fred Dewey, Will Patterson, and Luella Day began their climb,
up fifteen hundred icy toe holds carved in the side of the mountain.
One stampeder wrote, "I had actually walked over the Chilkoot Pass into Canada.
I would never do it again, knowing what it meant, not for all the gold in the
Klondike, and yet, knowing now what it means, would I miss it.....never, not
for all the gold in the world." With the Chilkoot now behind them, there was an
enormous sense of relief...It seemed the most dangerous leg of their journey
Narrator: As the stampeders came over the mountain the light off the
ice was blinding. They would head north, over Lakes Lindeman and Bennett, down
the Yukon River to Dawson five hundred and forty seven miles away, with luck, a
journey of about a month. At the campsite...Fred Dewey, Will Patterson and
Luella Day again found themselves torn between two equally perilous options.
They could wait until the thaw, when the ice went out and challenge the rapids,
on the Yukon River or press on, over the frozen lakes --praying they would
complete their journey before the ice began to melt. Fred Dewey wrote of his
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): On Tuesday two men on the lake went through
the ice, and drowned, and another a short distance above us met the same
Narrator: Clarence Berry, a veteran of the journey, impatient to get
to the gold fields, set out over the ice with his entire family.
Bill Berry: The dangers for the Berry party wasn't the avalanche at the
Chilkoot Pass. It was really going across the lakes.
Narrator: With their boats on sleds a northern gale blasted them across
the ice--at twenty five miles an hour. As they came near the lower end of the
lake, a stranger appeared, waving wildly.
Berry slowed just in time to avoid a crack in the ice. At the speed they had
been traveling, Berry said, his boat could have been crushed into a thousand
pieces. Those who chose to wait for the thaw, and most did, set out to acquire
a boat for the next leg of the journey. The forests around Lake Lindeman were
being leveled. The area resembled a vast lumberyard. Trees were reduced to
slabs, teams of stampeders were building boats of every description. Will
Patterson and his partners, were building a skiff.
Will Patterson (Voice Over): She's to be twenty five feet overall and
will carry three tons. We've been complimented many times on the fine shape
she has. Two thirds of the boats starting from here will be overloaded
and there are sure to be some losses. We are taking every precaution, as the
reputation of the rapids precedes it.
Narrator: Soon the tons of ice would break up...giving way to thirty
thousand stampeders. Along the banks they waited, and listened. They were
mindful of the story of John Mathews, a farmer from Idaho. He had twice
lost his entire boat and cargo to the river and blew his brains out. With each
passing day, the tension grew, rumors and tales of horror, of roiling rapids
and impassable rivers, and yet each had convinced himself that he had it
licked. Before dawn on May 30th, Luella Day was awakened by a grinding noise
and the cry, "the ice is going out." For hours the stampeders watched the ice
buckle and groan. Some said it churned like a cauldron in hell. The lake was
littered with ice flows the size of cabins. And then the stampeders were
underway, following the ice down the lake.
Pierre Berton: The weren't used to river travel. First they hadn't
been used to mountain travel and they'd learned that. Then they didn't know
how to build a boat and they learned that. Now they had to go through the
rapids and they learned that. Those who survived.
Narrator: On May 31rst, Fred Dewey, wrote:
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): The lake is open. We go tomorrow and leave to
meet what? Fortune, I hope!
Narrator: Each boat departed with shouts of good wishes and a volley of
Narrator: During the last part of May and the beginning of June,
almost nine thousand people set sail for Dawson. Once launched, there was no
turning back. "The story of the rapids will never be written by one person,"
wrote the reporter Tappan Adney, "there are as many stories as there are men on
Rafter 1: "Almost as soon as we started and struck the current my last
Rafter 2: (Luella Day): "We got caught in a whirlpool and the boat
capsized in twenty feet of water. I knew I could not swim."
Rafter 3: (Fred Dewey): Five miles down the river we ran on a
rock,....knocking the bottom out of our boat.
Rafter 4: (Will Patterson): The river is pretty big here and very
swift. The channel is strewn with wrecks.
Rafter 5: The boats nose catches in an eddy and we swing around, head up
Rafter 6: "Their boat turned side ways and they lost their head. It was
then a collision or the rocks for us."
Rafter 7: (Fred Dewey) "At the first leap into the soap suds the spray
flies several feet outwards from the flaring sides. A dozen or two huge lunges
into the crest of the waves and we know that we shall ride it out."
Lael Morgan: A good number of people died going through those rapids.
People lost a lot of their supplies too. You could swim to shore perhaps, but
if you lost all of your goods and you find yourself headed to Dawson without
anything at all, you've got some real problems. So the rapids were a real
Narrator: Eventually the rapids abated and the river emptied in to the
placid waters of Lake Marsh. It was almost midnight but there was still light.
Exhausted by their labors, thousands of stampeders shipped their oars, and laid
back to watch the evening light settle on the lake. Nature had declared a
One stampeder recalled: "A boat came forward on the lake with four men. One of
them got on top of the load and began Swanny River with many voices joining in
song. In fact the water seemed to act as a sounding board and the surrounding
mountains helped contain the music. A gentle breeze played over the surface of
the lake. It was a bitter sweet reminder of far off home." Just after sunrise,
the wind rose, the sails filled, the boats moved forward, and the race
Days later with one hundred miles to go, the stampeders encountered the first
boat, coming up from Dawson...Four men from Iowa were going home with two
hundred and fifty thousand dollars in dust. There were those also, who had
found nothing. But no one wanted to hear their stories. Lured by the vision
of crates of gold - pure gold, by the dreams that had inspired them so many
months before, the flotilla moved on
Narrator: And then at the bend in the river, there it was. The tiny
speck on the map made real. They had made it.
Narrator: It was almost half a year now since they had left Seattle.
After months of deprivation, the stampeders had finally arrived in Dawson. The
town exploded, from five hundred to twelve thousand...in just one week.
Terrence Cole: It's fair to say the Klondike gold rush was the biggest
American invasion of Canada since the war of 1812. The vast majority of all
the miners who came north were Americans, the vast majority of the businesses
were run by Americans, it was an American mining camp on Canadian soil.
Lael Morgan: The air was electric, it was an amazing party. Whether
you were broke or whether you were rich, it just was the place to be at that
moment in time.
Narrator: By the end of the summer, thirty thousand people jammed the
streets. The hotels, casinos, saloons and whorehouses were booming. Those who
had struck it rich paid for everything from headache powders, to hot baths and
French brandies with pokes of gold. On long summer nights -- there were formal
dances and masquerade balls. But beneath the holiday spirit, there was also an
air of unease.
Pierre Berton: The sections of the Klondike that had gold were the
richest in history. The first thirty claims in El Dorado were fabulously
wealthy. The thing was, however, that when the main body of the stampede
reached Dawson, the word went out that there was not any gold left.
Narrator: It was becoming harder and harder for prospectors to find
productive claims. Most people making money in Dawson that summer never went
near a mine.
Pierre Berton: One man bought a car load of kittens in and everyone
thought he was crazy. Why take a car load of kittens down the Yukon river to
Dawson? Well I'll tell you why. Miners are lonely people. He sold those
kittens for a couple of hundred bucks a piece without any trouble at all.
Narrator: Another man lugged two milking cows all the way to the
Klondike fresh milk was hard to come by. He sold them both to Clarence Berry,
for twelve hundred and fifty dollars. Berry could afford them. He was pulling
out a million dollars worth of gold from his El Dorado mine that year. It was
Berry who inspired Fred Dewey, in the first place, and, who now gave Dewey
heart, to keep going. Dewey wrote his partners--
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): Berry, has been here with eighteen of his men
and staked and recorded nineteen claims. So you see, others have faith in the
creek. I shall stay by it as long as there is a "shot in the locker"....
Narrator: The major gold deposits were buried under dried up river beds
that lay in an arc, south east of Dawson City. Luella Day set out for Berry's
claim. After a punishing two day walk, she reached the Berry party, Clarence,
his father, two of his brothers his wife Ethel D and her sister
Luella Day (Voice Over): To see these famous miners in action was like
stepping into a dream. Before nightfall, they had cleaned up over sixty
thousand dollars. Bread pans, frying pans, even rubber boots, were used as
receptacles for this great wealth. Some other men invited me to wash out a pan
of dirt. I found four and one half ounces of gold, worth sixty eight dollars.
In the Yukon tradition, I was presented with the proceeds from my first pan
Terrence Cole: The lure for gold mining was something for nothing. Of
course, in fact, the exact opposite was true, this was the hardest work in the
whole world, especially the idea that you might not find anything.
Pierre Berton: The gold lay forty or fifty feet below the surface...And
to get to that pay streak, as they called it...you had to go down through
permafrost. Permafrost is as hard as granite. And they had to burn their way
down about a foot a day, and sink a shaft trying to find the pay streak. And
they could miss it in the first four shafts they sunk, or they could find that
there was nothing there anyway.
Narrator: After weeks in the Klondike, Will Patterson watched one
stampeder after the next sell out and head for home.
Will Patterson (Voice Over): It is all I can do to keep from
giving up. But, when I entertain that thought, the bitter fact is forced on
me, that I have no home to go back to and that I absolutely must make something
here to buy a home for those I love.
Narrator: Under the eyes of a gun toting foreman, Patterson worked on a
team, digging, hauling and sifting, splitting any proceeds with the owner,
fifty - fifty.
Will Patterson (Voice Over): Tis the hardest work any man ever
attempted, but we are in hopes to make enough to send home in the spring, and
to keep enough to buy a claim of our own.
Narrator: They had not been prepared for any of it. Not the Chilkoot,
nor the rapids and they were not prepared that August when a mysterious
epidemic swept into town with a cloud of mosquitoes.
Charlene Porsild: The epidemics in 1898 in Dawson were caused by lack
of sanitation. It's typhoid. It was a poisoned water supply. You had twenty
thousand people drinking uh, water that was contaminated by, by refuse.
Because there were no sewers. There were no drainage system. They built Dawson
on a bog, on a mud flat, at the junction of two rivers. It was just a breeding
ground for typhoid.
Narrator: Over two hundred people crowded into hospitals intended for
seventy suffering not just from typhoid but from dysentery and scurvy. Luella
Day, denied a Canadian license to practice as a doctor, nevertheless, turned
her tent into a makeshift hospital.
Luella Day (Voice Over): The doctors I was working with got gold fever
and went prospecting I bought all their drugs from them. For three weeks I
never slept, caring for these unfortunate men.
Narrator: Within weeks several hundred people had died and had to be
buried thousands of miles from home. Up in the gold fields, with the days
growing short and the freeze-up coming, men were facing their toughest decision
yet. They could either stick out the winter six months in frozen isolation or
head for home before the ice sealed them in.
Terrence Cole: Many of these stampeders had worked so hard, and made
such incredible sacrifices for them and their families um, that once they got
there, when they found there were virtually no gold claims left to be had, um,
the only reason that many of them didn't depart immediately, was just out of
sheer embarrassment and humiliation. This would not would have been the macho
thing exactly to do, go all the way to the Klondike and find that boy, you had
been snookered big time,
Terrence Cole: So that one reason that people stayed around as long as
they did, was in fact that they had gone so far and they made such sacrifices
to get there.
Narrator: But for some, sacrifice proved not enough Fred Dewey, who had
been digging all summer, wrote home that his claim had come up empty. For the
first time, the optimistic Dewey was shaken. "It all makes me feel like
committing suicide," he said. And then on September 16th, at ten a.m. the
steamer Hannah pulled out from Dawson. It would be the last ship out before
freeze up, the last boat home. But Dewey was not on the Hannah. He had pulled
himself together and along with Will Patterson dug in and was preparing for the
darkness of winter.
Lael Morgan: Even though the city wasn't as golden as they had hoped,
the dream was real, there was always the hope that even if you were greener
than grass and didn't know anything about prospecting that you could do it.
And a lot of people did. There was just enough, continuously so everybody had
hope that if you stayed one more month that you might make it.
Narrator: Dewey and his party started work on a new claim, burning the
perma frost to soften the land, hauling out tons of earth they hoped
would prove rich in gold. The temperature frequently dropped to minus fifty.
Across the frozen landscape men worked by lantern light. By December, Will
Patterson was working seventy feet under ground and was at the edge of pay
dirt...greatly encouraged, but very lonely.
Will Patterson: I want to see thee so badly. Feel the separation with
worry and anxiety will make an old man of me before my time. Life is too short
to spend much of it away from all one has that makes life worth living.
Narrator: During the winter, Luella Day worked at a hotel--which in
time she would come to own. She became a successful business woman, married
and remained in Dawson for another six years. For six months nothing
came in or out except over the ice, no news from home--no fresh food--no new
faces to break the isolation. Then slowly, the winter began to release its
grip. Each day the sun inched a little higher. The resilient Fred Dewey wrote
home the first week in April...
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): It is quite warm and the snow is going fast.
Water is flowing on the creek and we expect it to reach us in the next few
Narrator: With the break up of the ice, Dewey and his team would divert
the river through their sluice box, to separate the gold from the dirt.
Narrator: He wrote his backers, "I think we have a very good thing and
am pushing it hard." But, in his inexperience, Dewey, made a fatal
miscalculation. He had piled his pay dirt too close to the creek.
When the ice finally broke, a torrent of water rushed over the claim and
the work of an entire winter was swept away. As he emptied out his cabin and
packed to go home, he reflected on his year about the generous spirit of those
he had met on the trail about blizzards clearing and the moon coming out about
frosty rainbows at twenty below. He wrote to his wife, Kitty
Fred Dewey (Voice Over): I wish I could show you the view from one of
these great domes. I never tire of looking over the bleak rockies, a hundred
miles away and on all the country between.
Narrator: Boarding the train, he carried with him, his own rich bank of
memories and one single gold nugget for his sponsors back home. Will Patterson
had also intended to return that spring. But gold fever was now in his blood.
He would stay on. He never struck it rich. But he did find what he had come
for enough gold to buy the family home he always dreamed of.
Narrator: At the beginning of 1900, just when it seemed that the boom
was over gold fever struck Dawson, once again. Gold had been discovered up in
Nome, Alaska. Gold it was said was lying on the beaches like sea shells
or drift wood. For those hanging on, hope was rekindled. One prospector
bought a bicycle and headed out. He'd get to Nome, one thousand miles away,
before the river boats arrived. Of the one hundred thousand stampeders who had
gone to Dawson only a handful had struck it rich. But now just ahead on the
beaches of Nome there was gold for the taking. There would be another
Produced by Susan Steinberg
Written by Susan Steinberg & Ian Bodenham
Co-Produced by Ian Bodenham
Editor Daniel Flaherty
Composer Michael Bacon
Narrator Harris Yulin
Associate Producers Peggy Case, Jeffrey Teitelbaum, Gabrielle Tenenbaum
Executives in Charge of Production for KCTS Elizabeth Brock, Ron Rubin
Directors of Photography Andreas Poulsson, David Thompson, Richard Stringer
Location Manager Robert Toohey
Stills Photography Ian Bodenham
Props/ Production Assistant John Kilmer
Grip/ Gaffers John Corrigan, Greg Daniels
Assistant Camera Cam Hayduk, Lori Longstaff
Sound Recordists Sebastian Salm, John Haptas, Adrian Tucker
Consultants Terrence Cole, Melanie Mayer
Casting Jeff and Liz Passero
Luella Day: Jodi Benson
Fred Dewey: David Lascher
Clarence McNeil: Dan Finnerty
Will Patterson: George Newbern
Unit Manager Curt Weiss
Deborah Ross Film Design - Title Design
Lucy Woodworth, Pinnacle Post - Map Design
Audio Post Production Bill Fast Toby Higashi
Motion Control Nick Mavroson, Image Group Mix
Additional Research Helene Dobrowolsky, Alice Ikeda, Marsha McCroskey, Audrey Zekonis
Editing Facility OneSource, Ltd.
SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Alaska State Library
BC Archives and Records Services
Bill and Nella Berry
Pierre Berton - author of Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush
Sylvie Boudreau - Dawson City Museum
Doug Caldwell - CBC Whitehorse
Candian Museum of Civilzation
Denver Public Library, Western History Department
The Dewey Family
Betsy Duncan-Clark - Klondike National Historical Park,
Karl Gurcke - Klondike National Historical Park, Skagway
Patti Howlett - Yukon Tourism Board
MacBride Museum Photographic Collection
The Manning Family
Tom Morgan - KAKM Television
Museum of the City of New York
Museum of History and Industry, Seattle
National Archives Canada
David Neufeld - Parks Canada
Provincial Archives of Alberta
Sherburne County Historical Society
Jimmy and Marcene Simpson
University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries
Vancover Public Library, Special Collections
Washington State Historical Society, The Vogee Collection
White Pass & Yukon Route
Boyd Worley - US Customs/Skagway
For THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Post Production Supervisor FRANK CAPRIA
Post Production Assistant REBECCA BARNES
Field Production LARRY LeCAIN, BOB McCAUSLAND, CHAS NORTON
Series Designers ALISON KENNEDY, CHRIS PULLMAN
Title Animation SALVATORE RACITI - Wave, Inc.
Series Theme CHARLES KUSKIN
Series Theme Adaptation MICHAEL BACON
Unit Manager MARI LOU GRANGER
Project Administration NANCY FARRELL, HELEN R. RUSSELL, ANN SCOTT
Publicity DAPHNE B. NOYES, JOHANNA BAKER
Coordinating Producer SUSAN MOTTAU
Series Editor JOSEPH TOVARES
Senior Producer MARK SAMELS
Executive Consultant JUDY CRICHTON
Executive Producer MARGARET DRAIN
A KCTS/Seattle production in association with
SDS Productions, Inc. and Kine Merlin, Ltd.
for THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
is a production of WGBH/Boston.
Major funding for this series is provided by the
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Additional funding provided by
the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
and public television viewers.
Corporate funding is provided by
Scott's Miracle-Gro Products, Inc. and
WGBH Educational Foundation
All rights reserved