Gold Rush

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Gold Rushes and BSSD

By Kevin Keeler, Iditarod National Historic Trail Administrator

Gold rush activities in the Norton Sound region were one of a number of cash-based waves of economic activity that washed over the region between the 1840's and today. Almost all of the Norton Sound cash-based activities were extractive in that they relied on the removal of natural resources from the area, value being added with off-site processing, the selling of the product in an off-site market, and profits being retained by the parties extracting the resource. Before cash-economies arrived in Norton Sound, the area experienced a vibrant trade economy with subsistence items, especially for the exchange of interior Native Alaskan goods and materials for maritime and/or Norton Sound Native Alaskan goods and materials. A major portion of these trade goods traveled the route between Kaltag and Unalakleet, which is today known as the Kaltag Portage.

The first major cash-based economy was the Russian fur-trapping industry, from the 1830's until the 1860's, at which time Alaska was acquired by the United States of America. An unsuccessful attempt at the telecommunications industry was next to follow, with Western Union scouting the route for a transcontinental telegraph line via the Kaltag Portage in the late 1860's (the transatlantic telegraph line of the same era made the Bering Strait line unnecessary).

The cash economy in Norton Sound area, and most of Alaska, languished in the 1870's, 80's and 90's, until gold was discovered in Dawson Creek area of the Yukon Territory in 1896. Three years later, gold was discovered in Nome, attracting numerous failed Yukon stampeders, along with hordes of new cheechakoes from the Lower 48. Within the first five years of the 20th century, gold was discovered in the Fairbanks area, and in 1908 in the Iditarod area. The three finds still rank as the three most productive finds in all of Alaskan history--and each significantly affected, and relied on the Norton Sound region. This was because the primary means of summer travel to Alaska and across it was via ocean or river. Norton Sound provided access (although in a very roundabout fashion) to the Dawson goldfields, and then a relatively direct link to the "Golden Sands of Nome".

And the 80 mile Kaltag Portage became an important route for Yukon stampeders heading for Nome, and then back again to Iditarod. And where the private telecommunication industry backed down, the U.S. Government installed a telegraph and wireless over the Kaltag Portage, linking Nome, St. Michael, Unalakleet, and Kaltag to a system that spanned Alaska to Valdez, and ultimately was connected to Seattle by underseas line. The system was known as the Washington-Alaska Military Communication and Telegraph System, or WAMCATS.



The following stub is from the Wikipedia Gold Rush entry, and is intended to be a starter area for BSSD teachers and students enter additional content on this topic that is directly related to the history of many of the villages in our region.

Wikipedia content is, like this site, Open Content licensed. This page is part of the | BSSD Digital Foxfire Project.

Routes to the Klondike.

Klondike Gold Rush

The Klondike Gold Rush, infrequently referred to as the Yukon Gold Rush or Alaska Gold Rush, was a frenzy of rush [1] to and for prospecting gold prospecting, along the River Klondike River near City Dawson City, [2]], Canada after gold was discovered there in the late 19th century. In total, about 12.5 million ounces of gold (about 20.12m3) have been taken from the Yukon|Klondike Yukon/Klondike area in the century since its discovery.History of Mining in Yukon


Keish (Skookum Jim Mason)

In August 1896, three people led by Keish (Skookum Jim Mason), a member of the Tagish Nations First Nations, headed north, down the River Yukon River from the Yukon Carcross, Yukon area, looking for his sister Carmack Kate Carmack] and her husband Carmack George Carmack. The party included Skookum Jim, his cousin, known as Charlie Dawson Charlie (or sometimes Tagish Charlie), and his nephew Patsy Henderson. After meeting up with George and Kate, who were fishing for salmon at the mouth of the Klondike River, they ran into Robert Henderson who had been mining gold on the Indian River, just south of the Klondike. Henderson told George Carmack about where he was mining and that he did not want any "Siwashes" (meaning Indians) near him.

On 16 August 1896,Template:Cite webTemplate:Cite web the Skookum party discovered rich mining|placer] gold deposits in Bonanza (Rabbit) Creek, Yukon. It is not clear who made the actual discovery, but some accounts say that it was Kate Carmack, while others credit Skookum Jim. George Carmack was officially credited for the gold discovery because the actual claim was staked in his name. The group agreed to this because they felt that other miners would be reluctant to recognize a claim made by an Indian, given the strong racist attitudes of the time.

The rush begins

thumb|right|Miners wait to register their claims. The news spread to other mining camps in the Yukon River valley. Gold was first discovered in Rabbit Creek which was later named Bonanza Creek because so many people came to the creek for gold. The Bonanza, Eldorado, and Hunker Creeks were rapidly staked by miners who had been previously working creeks and sandbars on the River Fortymile and River Stewart Rivers. Robert Henderson, who was mining a couple of miles away over the hill, learned about the discovery only after all the rich creeks had been staked.

News reached the United States in July 1897 at the height of a significant series of financial recessions and bank failures in the 1890s. The American economy had been hard hit by the of 1893 Panic of 1893 and the of 1896 Panic of 1896 which caused widespread unemployment. Many who were adversely impacted by the financial crises were motivated to try their luck in the gold fields. The first successful prospectors arrived in Francisco, California] on July 15 and in Washington] on July 17, setting off the Klondike stampede. In 1898, the population in the Klondike may have reached 40,000, which threatened to cause a [3]].

A typical gold mining operation, on Bonanza Creek.

Men from all walks of life headed for the Yukon from as far away as York]. Surprisingly, a large proportion were professionals, such as teachers and doctors, even a mayor or two, who gave up respectable careers to make the journey. Most were perfectly aware their chance of finding significant amounts of gold were slim to none, and went for the adventure. As many as half of those who reached Dawson City kept right on going without doing any prospecting at all. Thus, by bringing large numbers of entrepreneurial adventurers to the region, the Gold Rush significantly contributed to the economic development of Canada], [4]] and the Northwest].

Most [5]] landed at the Alaskan towns of Alaska|Skagway], or Alaska|Dyea], both located at the head of the Canal]. From these towns they traveled the Trail] and crossed the Pass], or they hiked up to the Pass] into and proceeded thence to Lindeman] or Lake], the headwaters of the Yukon River. Here, some grueling miles from where they landed, prospectors built rafts and boats that would take them the final 500-plus miles (800-plus km) down the Yukon to Dawson City, near the gold fields. Stampeders had to carry a year's supply of goods — about a ton, more than half of it food — over the passes to be allowed to enter Canada. At the top of the passes, the stampeders encountered Canada's Canadian Mounted Police|North West Mounted Police] (NWMP and now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) post that enforced that regulation, as well as customs and duties. It was put in place to avert shortages like those that had occurred in the previous two winters in Dawson City.

Once the bulk of the prospectors arrived at Dawson City, most of the major mining claims of the region were already established. However, any major potential unrest with the idle population was averted with the firm authority of the NWMP under the command of Steele].

Cultural legacy

Amongst the many to take part in the gold rush was writer London], whose books Fang], Call of the Wild], and Build a Fire], a collection of short stories, were influenced by his northern experiences, and adventurer Gates (frontiersman)|"Swiftwater" Bill Gates]. Part I of Jack London's 1910 novel Burning Daylight is centred around the Klondike Gold Rush. Another literary luminary connected with the rush, and whose cabin still stands in Dawson City, was folk-lyricist W. Service], whose short epics Shooting of Dan McGrew] and other works describe the fierce grandeur of the north and the survival ethic and gold fever of men and women in the frozen, gold-strewn north. Service's best-known line is the opening of Cremation of Sam McGee], which goes;

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
      By the men who moil for gold;

One of the most thorough popular histories of the Klondike Gold Rush, titled simply Klondike, was written by Canada's Berton], who was raised in the Yukon (In the United States, Berton's book is entitled The Klondike Fever.) Berton covers nearly every misadventure of the nightmarish and harrowing journeys taken by the many parties on different routes bound for Dawson City, and also covers in fair detail the goings-on in that town up until about 1904. His mother Laura also wrote a book recounting her own experiences entitled "I Married The Klondike".

One of the last books of Verne], "Le Volcan d'Or" or "The Volcano of Gold" in English, deals with the terrible hardships endured by the gold-seekers in the Klondike. The book was written in 1899 but was not published until 1989.

carving up a boot in Gold Rush]]]

Chaplin]'s film] Gold Rush] (1925), the highest grossing silent comedy, was set in the Klondike, as was the silent epic Trail of '98] (1928) and West]'s Annie] (1936). Life in Dawson City during the gold rush was also the subject of the award-winning 1957 Film Board of Canada] (NFB) documentary of Gold (documentary)|City of Gold], narrated by Pierre Berton. Stewart (actor)|James Stewart]'s 1955 movie Far Country] is a Western set in Skagway and Dawson City during the gold rush era. It was directed by Mann] and written by Chase]. The 1978 [6]] special|special] a Nightmare, Charlie Brown!] is also set during the Gold Rush but is disputed to be the serum run to Nome].

A. Michener]'s novel (novel)|Alaska] (chapter VIII) and his short novel Journey describe the harsh realities of the Klondike Gold Rush using fictional characters.

Barks]' 1950s McDuck] comics established the character as a successful participant in the Klondike rush when he was a young man, around the turn of the century.

The gold rush was celebrated in the city of [7]], [8]], with Capital EX|Klondike Days] (now Edmonton's Capital EX), an annual summer fair with a Klondike gold rush theme. Though far away from Dawson City and the Klondike River, Edmonton became known as a "Gateway to the North" for gold prospectors en route to Canada's North. It was in the city that many would collect the necessary goods for trekking up north in search of wealth. Individuals and teams of explorers arrived in Edmonton and prepared for travel by foot, boat], dog|dog team], or horses. Travel to the Yukon over land via what was sometimes called the "all Canada" route—and the prospectors that took this route—were often referred to as "overlanders". While few overlanders made it to the Klondike (160 out of about 1,600 that started,Chalmers Trail) Alberta's Northlands Association, which is based in Edmonton, honoured the memory and spirit of the overlanders with Klondike Days. For many years, Klondike Days was a fun summer exhibition with themed events such as the Sunday Promenade, the Sourdough raft race, free pancake breakfasts, saloons, gold panning and era costume parties. Despite the many sad realities of the gold rush, Edmonton appreciated the Klondike spirit, which was characterised by a tenacious hope for success in the face of hardship, and an energetic zest for life. As a fair theme it was meant to provide the impetus for fun fantasy characters (e.g., Klondike Mike and Kate) and fun events celebrating an interesting time. The sentimental aspect of the gold rush lost its popular appeal in the 1980s and 90s and in 2005 the theme was dropped.

In addition, the gold rush proved to be one of most famous eras of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's history. Not only did the exemplary conduct of the force ensure its continuation at a time when its dissolution was being debated in the of Canada], but the Force's depiction in popular western culture is often set at this time. The most popular examples include dramatic depictions such as the radio series of the Yukon] and comedic ones like Do-Right]

A certain amount of slang came out of the gold rush. Experienced miners were often known as [9]]s,Merriam-Webster online – Sourdough while potential miners, new to the Klondike, were known as Cheechakos.Merriam-Webster online – Cheechakos These two names live on in Dawson City, in tourist literature, and enjoy occasional usage by miners still working the tributaries of the Yukon River and Klondike River as well as in literature relating to the gold rush era.

See also

Instructional Ideas

The Gold Rush - Charlie Chaplin's 1925 Film - Students could easily compare facts depicted in the Charlie Chaplin film The Gold Rush with what other resources used in the classroom, or provided by the instructor. The film is availbe in nine parts on YouTube.

Here is the first segment embedded for reference:


Further reading

External links

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