Wondering why so many men (and women) would eagerly leave their familiar lives and risk the unknown in the Klondike based on a couple of gold-laden steamships making front-page news? The answer is simple— most didn’t have anything to lose. U.S. gold reserves plummeted in 1893, the stock market crashed, and millions were barely scraping by. More than a downturn, the Panic of '93 was a serious economic crisis. Hundreds of banks failed. Railroads failed. Businesses failed. The discovery of Klondike gold actually brought hope.
After several years of depression, the new gold rush gave men a sense of purpose and adventure— a way to provide for their families and get ahead. Gold was seen as stable and dependable. And the newspaper hype (“far away land seems lined with gold” and “cash paid for gold dust”) promised quick wealth. Everyone seemed to know someone who knew someone who supposedly found a fortune. The Klondike was a golden opportunity to strike it rich! What these hopeful prospectors didn’t know, though, is that by they time they would finally reach the Klondike (most arrived in late June 1898, two years after gold was first discovered), the richest land would already be claimed and worked out.
Gold was first found in a tributary of the Klondike River, 600 miles from Skagway. On August 16, 1896, American prospector George Carmack, his Tagish Indian wife Kate (Shaaw Tláa), her brother Skookum Jim (Keish) and their nephew Dawson Charlie (Káa Goox) made an amazing discovery quite by chance. Resting by Rabbit Creek (later renamed Bonanza Creek), Carmack noticed a metallic glitter in the shallow water while washing a dishpan. Eureka! The very next day, these fortunate few filed their official claims, and before too long, anyone lucky enough to be in the area and hear the good news followed suit. By November of that year, 338 claims had been recorded in the Klondike.
Because it took a year before this wealth of Klondike news reached the outside world, the excited hopefuls down in the States couldn’t have known that there wouldn’t be much good land left for them to claim. The gold that was mined that first winter in the Klondike wasn’t shipped out until the following spring when the navigation season opened. And by the time those gold-bearing steamships and jubilant miners made headlines, it was old news along the Yukon River.
Although not fully prepared or informed, determined gold seekers stampeded out of Seattle, choosing either an all water route to Dawson City, or a combination water and land route. The “rich man’s route” sailed from Seattle to St. Michael, Alaska, then up the Yukon River to Dawson. The combination route was much less expensive, therefore, the most popular. Ships sailed from Seattle through the Inside Passage and up the Lynn Canal to the ports of Dyea or Skagway, Alaska. Prospectors could then choose to hike over the mountains from either port town to Lake Bennett, British Columbia. At Lake Bennett, a boat would be needed to continue the remaining 550 miles to the gold fields.
Shop for modern day gold mining equipment at GoldRushTradingPost.com