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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 gold...

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.

Gold Fever

Seattle 1898

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 it.

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 world."

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 plenty.

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

gold rush.

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 world.

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 making money.

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 least predictable.

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 Pennsylvania.

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 surmount.

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 Chilkoot trail.

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 yard.

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 Chilkoot Pass.

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 as close.

Narrator: By morning, the mountain was quiet. Clarence Berry's wife, Ethel, told their Chilkat packers to start moving their supplies over the Pass, they resisted.

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 were buried 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 hundred."

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 the undertaker.

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 it.

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 was over.

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 dilemma...

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 fate.

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 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 gun shots.

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 the water."

Rafter 1: "Almost as soon as we started and struck the current my last oar broke."

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 stream.

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 nightmare.

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 brief truce.

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 resumed.

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 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 Tot.

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 out.

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 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 days.

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 chance.


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

Graphic Designers
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.

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
Jeff Brady
Doug Caldwell - CBC Whitehorse
Canadian Airlines
Candian Museum of Civilzation
Denver Public Library, Western History Department
The Dewey Family
Betsy Duncan-Clark - Klondike National Historical Park, Seattle
Richard Engeman
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
Wenonah Sharpe
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
Welsh Water/Hamdden
White Pass & Yukon Route
Boyd Worley - US Customs/Skagway
Yukon Archives


Post Production Supervisor FRANK CAPRIA

Post Production Assistant REBECCA BARNES



Title Animation SALVATORE RACITI - Wave, Inc.


Series Theme Adaptation MICHAEL BACON




Coordinating Producer SUSAN MOTTAU


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.

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
American Express.

WGBH Educational Foundation
All rights reserved

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