As you might expect, Dawson City, located at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, boomed with the discovery of nearby gold. Although it might have felt good to weary prospectors to be off the trail, life in crowded Dawson wasn’t grand. Many succumbed to dysentery or other diseases. Merchants did well, though. Just like back in Seattle or Skagway, they made a fortune selling over-priced food and equipment. Want a fresh egg? You’ll need $5. Whiskey was $40 a gallon. Then as now, prices were determined by supply and demand.
By the time most stampeders reached Dawson City from Seattle, Washington, nearly two years had passed since the local gold discovery. Without good land to work, disillusioned fortune- hunters simply sold their gear in exchange for steamboat fare home. Others heard about another gold discovery in Nome, Alaska and went there. During one week in August 1899, 8,000 people deserted Dawson for the beaches of Nome. Miners not daunted by the slim pickings or strenuous work in the Yukon, stayed put and set about learning how to melt the permafrost soil. Shafts were dug almost down to bedrock to get to the gold-bearing dirt and gravel. That material was then sluiced when the streams were not frozen. Just think how much a modern-day highbanker would have helped the old-timers!
The Klondike Gold Rush statistics are sad but true: it is estimated that of the 100,000 people who embarked for Dawson City, 40,000 reached it; 20,000 actually worked mining claims, but only 300 made more than $15,000 in gold (which made them millionaires back then). Of those 300 who struck it rich, only 50 kept their wealth for any length of time. George Carmack, whose discovery sparked this Gold Rush, did get rich and reportedly took a million dollars worth of gold out of his Klondike claims. Amounts vary by source, but the U.S. Mints in Seattle and San Francisco reported receiving an approximate total of $48 million in Klondike gold between 1897 and 1900.
If you’re heading to Skagway, Alaska or beyond to get a feel for the incredible short-lived Klondike Gold Rush, you still might need a pickaxe and a gold pan if you want to try your luck, but you probably won’t need 25 pounds of potatoes, 15 pounds of salt, or eight pounds of baking powder. As you walk the streets and visit the sites, you can almost feel the frenzied pace that first filled this gold rush boomtown more than 115 years ago. And if you look close enough, maybe, just maybe, you’ll see a little left over gold dust shimmering in the cracks of the plank sidewalks! Eureka!
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