What Was the Klondike Gold Rush? – Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)

Color map of routes to Dawson City from Seattle, Washington and Vancouver, British Columbia
While many routes existed to the Klondike, most took the Chilkoot or White Pass routes.

NPS

Cries of “Gold! Gold! Gold in the Klondike!” started a race. 100,000 hopeful miners sprinted toward Alaska and the Yukon with their eyes on riches. Alaska Native and First Nations communities adapted to hold onto another kind of wealth: their culture, land, and way of life.

In August, 1896, Skookum Jim and his family found gold near the Klondike River in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Their discovery sparked one of the most frantic gold rushes in history. Nearby miners immediately flocked to the Klondike to stake the rest of the good claims. Almost a year later, news ignited the outside world. A wave of gold seekers bought supplies and boarded ships in Seattle and other west coast port cities. They headed north thinking they would strike it rich.

Which Route to Take?

Stampeders faced several routes to the Klondike. Some chose the all water or “rich man’s route.” Sailing around Alaska and up the Yukon river was easy, but expensive. Some stampeders tried walking the entire way with one of the overland routes. These were often tangled messes. Folks taking some of these routes arrived two years after everyone else. Other stampeders tried crossing the glaciers near Yakutat and Valdez. In a sea of icy towers, many of these people got lost or went snow blind.

Most stampeders opted for the cheapest, most direct routes – the White Pass and Chilkoot Trails. A stampeder taking this “poor man’s” route sailed up the Inside Passage. They disembarked, then hiked over the Coast Range mountains to reach the head of the Yukon River. On a homemade boat, stampeders traveled over 500 miles by river to reach the gold fields.

What Was the Klondike Gold Rush? - Klondike Gold Rush National Historical  Park (U.S. National Park Service)

Through the fall and winter of 1897-98, ships delivered gold seekers to Skagway and nearby Dyea, Alaska. Both mushroomed from tents to towns in a matter of months. Merchants built a two-mile dock on beaches where Tlingit people traditionally fished. Criminal boss Jefferson “Soapy” Smith preyed on naive gold seekers. Prostitutes made more money than laundresses, cooks, dressmakers, or nurses.

Skagway, at the head of the White Pass Trail, was founded by a former steamboat captain named William Moore. His small homestead was inundated with some 10,000 transient residents struggling to get their required year’s worth of gear and supplies over the Coast Range and down the Yukon River headwaters at lakes Lindeman and Bennett. Dyea, three miles away at the head of Taiya Inlet, experienced the same frantic boomtown activity as goldseekers poured ashore and picked their way up the Chilkoot Trail into Canada.

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