The Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s was an exciting time in history, when tens of thousands of people crazed by gold lust set off into the northern wilderness to find their fortunes. It produced a wealth of stories with some great characters and even a legend or two.
Find out more about the history of the gold rush here.
Klondike Gold Rush
The Klondike Gold Rush was one of the biggest in history. But the odds were stacked against the gold seekers. 100,000 set out for the Klondike, 30,000 made it, 4,000 found gold and only a handful became really wealthy.
Paris of the North
During the peak of the rush, Dawson City was the largest city west of Winnipeg and north of Seattle. With overnight millionaires looking for ways to spend their loot, the best of everything was available…for a price. Dawson became known as the “Paris of the North”.
From 1896-1899 $29 million in gold was pulled from the ground around Dawson City. That’s about $828.5 million in today’s terms.
Population of Dawson City
Between 1896 and 1899, the population of Dawson went from zero to a peak of 30,000 to 40,000 before dropping back to 8,000.
A Year’s Worth of Supplies
Canadian authorities quickly realised that they were going to have a major problem if tens of thousands of people turned up in the wilderness with no supplies. So they instituted mandatory food and equipment requirements which were strictly enforced. In order to be allowed in, goldseekers had to bring a year’s worth of food provisions and other supplies. The list of supplies included such things as 400lb of flour, 10lb each of coffee and tea; 75lb of dried fruit and 125lb of beans. In all, approximately one ton. Imagine having to haul that over an icy mountain pass.
Women of the Klondike
One in ten Stampeders was a woman. Some went with their male relatives, but many went alone, transporting their own goods just like the men. Between 1896 and 1900 over a thousand women crossed the Chilkoot or White Passes.
A name synonymous with the gold rush is Klondike Kate. But did you know there were actually two Klondike Kates? Kathleen Rockwell was a dancer who took the stage name Klondike Kate and made $30,000 in her first year on stage she was so popular. Katherine Ryan was one of the first women in the Klondike and opened a restaurant there called Klondike Kate’s Café. She also became the first female officer in the Northwest Mounted Police.
In the winter of 1897, 22,000 goldseekers toiled up the Chilkoot Pass. Unable to go any further than Bennett Lake due to ice, they were forced to encamp until the end of May when a flotilla of more than 7,000 hand built boats left for the Klondike.
Trump Real Estate Dynasty
The Trump real estate dynasty got its start during the gold rush when 16 year old Frederick Trump - grandfather of the Donald - built the Arctic Restaurant and Hotel at Bennett Lake. It provided meals and accommodation to some of the 20,000 gold seekers waiting for the ice to thaw so they could carry on to the Klondike.
Inventors everywhere were getting in on the act. Nikola Tesla, notable inventor and one of the pioneers of electricity – invented an x-ray machine to detect precious metals below ground.
The Mounties Arrive
Gold rush boom towns can be rowdy places. At the start of the gold rush in 1896, there were only 19 Northwest Mounted Police officers in the Yukon. Just two years later there were 285.
Although poet Robert Service, aka “the Bard of the Yukon”, wrote several famous poems about the gold rush, he didn’t actually step foot in the Yukon until after the rush was over. He arrived in Whitehorse in 1904 as a banker and moved to Dawson in 1908, by which time he had already written “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and the gold rush had been over for a decade. Today, visitors can hear recitations of his poems at his former cabin.
Another famous writer, Jack London, came to the Klondike via the Chilkoot Pass and Yukon River in 1897. Although he didn’t find gold, he did eventually make his fortune as one of America’s most famous authors. To this day his books about his adventures in the North such as Call of the Wild and White Fang remain his most popular.
Another famous person who came to the Klondike was Wyatt Earp. After the gunfight at the OK Corral, Earp and his wife disappeared into the Yukon. He arrived in Dawson on September 12, 1897 with plans to open a gambling hall. However he didn’t stay long, returning to San Francisco in October, after which he went to Alaska.