Gold! Gold! Gold! Scores of people had already struck it rich in American gold rushes since the 1820s. But despite the fact that many more prospectors went broke in their quest for riches, the Klondike discovery triggered a new case of gold fever. The Klondike Gold Rush also triggered Kings, Cons & Stairs To Heaven.
Skookum Jim Mason and Tagish Charlie, both Indians from the Yukon area, along with George Carmack, a Seattle resident, found gold in Rabbit Creek near Dawson in the Yukon area of Canada on August 16, 1896.
Because the region was so remote and the weather brutal, the news didn’t reach Seattle until a steamship arrived from Dawson with “more than a ton of gold,” according to the Seattle Post Intlligencer. That was July of 1897, nearly 11 months after the find. Gold was carried into Seattle in suitcases, boxes, blankets and coffee cans.
From Fever To Epidemic
Through the summer of 1897 to the winter of 1898, an estimated 100,000 people poured into the shanty towns of Skagway and Dyea, on their way to the 600-mile trek to wealth. Only an estimated 30.000 of those completed the trip which was long and treacherous. Some turned back, most lost heart and many died. Only an estimated 4,000 prospectors found any significant amounts of gold.
According to Historynet, a reported one fourth of the Seattle police force left their jobs to pursue the golden dream. Streetcar drivers abandoned their trolleys and one mayor ran out on his town.
The Mounted Police: It Took Money To Make Money
Under Sam Steele, the North West Mounted Police managed a firm grip on the area. They required each gold-seeker to bring in one year’s worth of supplies. An “outfit” included stoves, tents, tools, nails and enough supplies to last a year. All of this gear for a year easily weighed up to 2,000 pounds.
Scams And Con Artists Flourished
Books are dedicated to the dark side of the Klondike rush. To name a few: the valise that contained a year’s worth of desiccated food weighing only 250 pounds, Klondike bicycles, electric gold pans, medicine chests and a portable house that was advertised “light as air” in spite of its double bed and iron stove.
Services thrived as well. Mining schools opened and countless clairvoyants were able to find gold veins for a modest fee. A team of trained gophers could be hired to claw through ice to locate gold nuggets. The opportunities were endless.
Klondike Gold Rush Carved A Stairway To Heaven
It seemed there was no end to the money that could be made if one’s heart was not set on finding gold. From luxury goods to roadhouses of all types, people were making fortunes off the prospectors. (see our posts on Belinda Mulrooney and Donald Trump’s grandfather)
On the final stretch of the Chilkoot pass was too steep for pack animals. Since prospectors were forced to carry a year of supplies, they had to make the trip as many as 20 or 30 times to haul everything. A group of men carved 1,500 steps into the ice and made small fortunes from tolls they charged for each passage. These became known as The Golden Steps.
The Klondike Rush Ended Suddenly
By August of 1898, many of the gold dreamers headed home, most of them broke. The following year, gold was discovered in Nome and many of the same prospectors chased the same old dream to a new location.
For a gold vein of information on the Klondike Gold Rush, check the National Park Service site.
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