Klondike gold rush

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Gold prospectors waiting for their claims to be registered (1898)

The Klondike gold rush is considered to be one of the most momentous of the numerous processes known as the gold rush . From 1896 he brought more than a hundred thousand gold prospectors, known as stampeders , to the Klondike River near Dawson , led to the establishment of the Yukon Territory and the definition of the border between Alaska and Canada . In the USA it fell during an economic crisis, which is why numerous people were now looking for happiness at the Klondike. In addition, its success led to huge amounts of gold on the world market, promoted massive regional inflation tendencies, and its end led to a considerable oneLiquidity crisis . A total of around 570 tons of gold have been mined in the Klondike area to date , which corresponds to a volume of almost 30 m³.

The way of life of the Indian inhabitants, who have been referred to as First Nations in Canada since the 1980s , changed fundamentally as a result of the gold rush in this region, which is characterized by extreme cold and extremely variable day length. On the one hand, their livelihoods, the caribou herds , were drastically decimated, on the other hand, some tribes settled for the first time in order to participate in the rapidly expanding trade. In addition, the introduced money economy changed the way of working. Numerous Indians fell victim to diseases that were previously not widespread. Nevertheless, it was precisely the Tr'ondek Hechsel'in who lived around Dawson - the stronghold of the gold rush - who managed to partially avoid the negative consequences and preserve their culture.

Economic-historical classification

The Klondike gold rush is just one link in the chain of such major events that began with the first gold rush in Minas Gerais in Brazil between 1693 and 1695. In the second decade of the 19th century, the annual gold production had reached a low point with only around 10 tons worldwide. This changed from the late 1840s when gold was found in California and Australia , and from the 1850s also in Canada. In the years 1881 to 1890, the annual output rose to almost 160 tons. It doubled in the following decade, with silver production initially stagnating. Accordingly, gold fell - against the price of silver . But soon the silver production was increased so much - for example by silver discoveries in Nevada - that the silver price fell massively and most industrialized countries switched to the gold standard . From 1873 to 1876, the German Empire was the first nation to introduce the gold standard; other northern European countries followed suit. Until the early 1890s, most of the industrialized countries joined, while the more agrarian countries stayed with a system of double currency, i.e. gold and silver coins.

During this time, the gold standard also prevailed, which ensured that banknotes were only allowed to be issued in a fixed ratio to the country's gold reserves . According to the theory of that time, this ensured a stabilization of the currency relations through the gold automatism . To do this, however, the respective central banks had to adhere to strict rules. If a currency became weaker, this theoretically led to a corresponding outflow of gold in the direction of the stronger currency, which meant that banknote issuance had to be reduced in accordance with the reduced gold reserves. This in turn raised interest rates and lowered prices. In contrast, in the country that flowed into gold, this resulted in more paper money in circulation, which lowered interest rates and raised prices. When a certain point was reached, the flow of gold reversed again. The balance of payments was balanced, the currencies stabilized. But all too often the central banks did not adhere to the necessary guidelines. Nonetheless, the system was successful because it relied on the guaranteed exchangeability of money and gold at any time.

The demand for gold was correspondingly high. In addition, inexpensive cargo space lowered the prices of many goods and thus increased their sales and consumption. Logically, no bottleneck in the supply of gold was allowed to occur in those decades. In Canada, this set in motion extensive searches, some of which found what they were looking for within a few years. They triggered a chain of gold rushes that set more and more people in motion; many of them hurried from one gold field to the next. In addition to South Africa , explorers increasingly focused on Canada as the supplier of the required gold.

Resistance to the gold standard was strong in the United States, as insufficient gold supplies would reduce the amount of money in circulation and thus the economy. As early as July 9, 1896, before a Democratic meeting in Chicago , William Jennings Bryan spoke out vehemently against the “crown of thorns” that should be pressed onto the “brows of work”. "Mankind should not be crucified on a golden cross". Bryan was a presidential candidate in 1896 and 1900 , but lost both elections. In 1900 the gold standard was finally introduced in the USA, which would hardly have been possible without the gold discoveries on the Klondike.

Political framework

Since the War of Independence , the United States has been embroiled in several military and diplomatic conflicts with the colonial power Great Britain, which ruled the northern part of North America. As a result, the Hudson's Bay Company , which controlled most of Canada and the northwestern part of what is now the United States with the help of a British fur trade monopoly, had to give up its trading post south of the 49th parallel in 1846. Since then, under Governor James Douglas , the group has done everything in its power to prevent the US from taking over British Columbia . However, in 1867, the US acquired Alaska from Russia , and many predicted that all of Canada would fall to the US. This expectation was heightened in western Canada when thousands of prospectors flocked north to make their fortune on the Fraser River from 1858 and in the Cariboo area from 1861. Not only did the Indians become a minority, but the British too. These tried to create a counterbalance by encouraging immigration from Europe. When Canada was founded on the initiative of London in 1867 to curb the northward expansion of the USA, it was not until 1871 before British Columbia agreed to join the Confederation in return for substantial concessions . The government of the province of British Columbia tried to keep the mass movements under control through police presence and strict regulation of the long approach routes and at the same time to impose taxes on the gold yields.

However, some of the gold diggers came via Alaska , which dominated most of the coastal fringe and which stretched immediately west of the Klondike area. The Department of Alaska was established there in 1867 , but it was not until 1884 that the actual administration by the USA began. The District of Alaska was created . Its ports provided easier access to the Klondike than those in Canada. Although the border between the main part of Alaska and Canada had been established by the Russians and British at the 141st longitude as early as 1825 , the borderline of the so-called Alaska Panhandle , which lay east of this longitude and which stretched far to the south, was not clearly defined . The resulting smoldering conflict could not be resolved until 1903, so that both countries closely observed what was happening on the cross-border Yukon, and especially on the Klondike. Control of the long border was practically impossible, and the gold prospectors in the Yukon region were neither clear nor of any significant importance as to whether they were in the United States or Canada.

Prehistory of the Klondike region

Native American visitors at a potlatch in Kok-wol-too on the Chilkat River , about 1895
Fort Selkirk, 2006

The role of the Indians

At the center of the gold rush, at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon rivers , there was until 1896 a fishing place for the Hän called Tr'ochëk , a village that today belongs to the Tr'ondek Hwach'in First Nation , the local Indian tribe. Their guide during the gold rush was Chief Isaac. The camp was on the southeast edge of the traditional Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in area, just north of Dawson, on the other side of the Klondike. Through negotiations with the Anglican Church and the police, Isaac managed to get a new camp a few kilometers down the river called Moosehide . Here, too, like in the abandoned village, Indians have lived for around 8,000 years. The red light district of Lousetown , soon to be called Klondike City, emerged from the old village .

Even before the Hudson's Bay Company built Fort Reliance in the tribe's area in 1874 , there was a brisk trade, for example in tobacco and tea . Small amounts of gold were also traded and the precious metal was already attracting isolated prospectors to the region.

The only Indians who were allowed to trade as far as the Chilkoot Pass , one of the two crossings to the inland, were the Tlingit , who lived on the coast . The Chilkoot belonging to this group and the Chilkat from the western arm of the Lynn Canal guarded the pass and thus controlled access to the hinterland. This gave them a monopoly on trade between Alaska and the Yukon. The first white traders looking for furs, as well as the Tutchone and Tagish fur traders inland, who hoped for the whites' goods, also had to submit to their conditions, but also benefited, albeit to a lesser extent, from the monopoly of middlemen. Even the Trond'ek Haw'in and Kutchin , who lived further north, could n't get past the Chilkoot and Chilkat. One has to imagine this trading activity on a large scale, because some of these groups of traders comprised 100 men. In the north, in turn, these groups fought for their own trade monopolies with the Hudson Bay Company, but also with Russian and American fur traders.

The Tutchone delivered while moose and caribou skins and sheep skins , but also Croissant and beaver pelts , lynx fur , muskrat pelts and otter skins and arctic hare furs . They also brought the rare copper , sinews, and yellow lichen that the Chilkat used to color their blankets.

In return, the Chilkat provided edible seaweed, baskets made of wood fibers, mussels that were processed into jewelry, slaves, European trade goods and the coveted fat of the candle fish (eulachon). This commodity was so important and was carried in quantities over the mountains that the routes as "grease trails" ( grease trails ) were described. European goods included blankets, calico , kettles, axes and knives, traps, rifles and other metal goods, but also coffee, tea, flour and tobacco. They were often exchanged by the southern Tutchone, so that they got far to the east.

The waterways on the Chilkoot Trail were of the utmost importance because they could be navigated with dugout canoes and canoes made of elk skin . The Chilkoot also acquired walrus skin boats from the Tlingit of Yakutat . For the gold prospectors with their heavy equipment, however, these boats were built too lightly.

If necessary, the Chilkoot defended their monopoly with armed force. When in 1848 the merchant of the Hudson Bay Company Robert Campbell established a trading post at Fort Selkirk , near the confluence of the Yukon and Pelly rivers , he threatened their monopoly. Therefore, in 1852, they destroyed the post.

In 1878, however, George Holt came over the Chilkoot Pass unnoticed , and he brought a very small amount of gold with him. This was enough to attract a few gold prospectors to the region. At the same time, Anglican missionaries arrived in the area who hurriedly carried out baptisms to forestall their Catholic competitors. Superintendent Charles Constantine, who led the first police force of the Mounted Police , complained about Bishop William Bompas because he cared too much for the Indians in his eyes. He also complained about some Indians who lived at the expense of the gold diggers by prostituting their "squaws". It remains unclear whether they really offered their wives.

At the same time there was a double standard, because the same men who got involved with Indian women despised those men who moved to the Indians because they took the relationship seriously. They were called "squaw men". It was just such a man, George Carmack , who started Canada's biggest gold rush.

From 1880 onwards, seekers crowded into the Yukon, and the Chilkoot earned very well as porters, especially since some of them learned English quickly. Initially, they took 12 cents a pound of the prospecting equipment that they dragged over 25 miles over the pass to Lake Lindeman. At the end of the first year of intoxication they were already charging 38 cents, but they were charging considerably more for bulky goods such as stoves, pianos or wood. Sometimes they let gold prospectors entice them away with higher offers. As Christians did not work on Sundays, the prospectors had to carry them themselves on that weekday. The bearded men (they wore at least a mustache) carried up to 200 pounds, women and adolescents up to 75 pounds. The whites noticed that they often appeared dirty and smelled of fish, because they used a mixture of seal oil and soot to protect themselves against the scorching sun and stinging insects. The black color almost looked like a mask, and so the Alaskan Governor Swineford had this practice banned without further ado .

Difficulties were caused by the fact that the Indians hoarded gold and silver coins, so that too little money was in circulation. They earned between 4 and 8 dollars a day, white workers between 6 and 10. The women also earned well, because they sold hats, gloves and so-called mukluks , a particularly warm type of boot. But the more men without claims gathered in the Yukon, the lower the wages. The Indians, who before 1896 represented over 80% of the population in the Yukon, made up just over 10% in 1901. Their children were not admitted to white schools, not even to hospitals.

When the first major gold discovery was made on the Fortymile River in 1886 , several hundred men moved there. The Indians supplied the new village of Forty Mile with fish and meat as well as with the furs that are essential for life in winter. In their eyes they received artistic glass beads, metal tools and alcohol. But the troubled place also drove away the game, and the Indians became increasingly dependent. In addition, the whites quickly used the little wood in the region as firewood. In addition, the Indians were attacked by diseases to which they showed no resistance. Chief Isaac feared the brutalization of morals. He managed to maintain a fragile peace during the gold rush years. He led the tribe until 1932 and became an honorary member of the Yukon Order of Pioneers .

In the spring of 1897 the Indians settled five kilometers downstream. The old site has been a listed building since May 1997 and archaeological research began, which is of considerable importance for both Indian culture and the history of the gold rush.

The prospectors before the gold rush

Alfred Mayo, one of Jack McQuesten's partners, undated
Memorial plaque for George Dawson, the geologist who surveyed the Yukon and who is known as the "father of Canadian anthropology".

Long before August 16, 1896, the day the gold rush started, men were looking for gold in the region. Rumors were circulating as early as the 1850s, and in 1864 an employee of the Hudson's Bay Company noted that there was gold in abundance. But he did not pursue these finds any further.

One of the first was Leroy Napoleon McQuesten , who preferred the first name "Jack" and who was later called the "Father of the Yukon". He was already active in the Yukon in 1872, came from a New England farming family and had been looking for gold in California as early as 1849. He was also there on the Fraser and now hurried to the Finlay River in northern British Columbia. In late August 1874, Jack McQuesten had established a trading post at Fort Reliance, about ten kilometers down from the mouth of the Klondike, which he knew as the Trundeck River . For some time he and his partners made a living from trading and bought large quantities of furs. He was soon searching numerous places again, however, and the Fortymile (forty miles) and Sixty Mile (sixty miles) rivers got their names from the distance to that point: Forty Miles was downstream, Sixty Miles upstream. His partners were Arthur Harper, a Northern Irishman who emigrated as a boy in 1832 and who was the first to think of looking for gold in the north of the Rocky Mountains , and Alfred Mayo, known as Al Mayo , a circus acrobat from Kentucky . They came to the region together in 1873; all three married Indian women. McQuest's wife, Satejdenalno Nagetah, was called, but he preferred Katherine. She was 24 years younger than her husband and belonged to the Koyukon Athabascans, probably from Nulato . Her father was Russian, she grew up in the Ikogmiut mission station and spoke Athabaskan, Russian and English. The other two women were named Jenny Harper (Seentahna) and Margaret Mayo (Neehunilthnoh); the latter also had a Russian father and the two women were cousins. When they met the 27, 38 and 39 year old men, all three were only 14 years old. The father of McQuest's interpreter, John Minook, was also Russian. Although McQuesten had searched the Klondike region, he believed there was nothing there worth the effort. In 1873 he searched about 130 km above the Klondike on the White River. After all, the men had created a thin supply network for the prospectors who came later.

The first whose gold finds were noticed outside the country was George Holt. He was the first to cross the Chilkoot Pass despite the attention of the Tlingit and the Chilkat and Chilkoot, and other men followed him. Some of them spent the winter in the Yukon to save themselves crossing the pass each spring, which later became known as the poor man's route because it was the more arduous but the cheaper route. In 1882, around 50 whites lived permanently in the area, including Joseph Ladue , who is believed to be the founder of Dawson. His group met with McQuesten at Fort Reliance, where they were making laws in anticipation of a new gold rush. They knew from experience at other gold courses that they had to define the size of the claims and the registration procedure in order to prevent violent excesses. A state authority did not yet exist in the Yukon.

In 1883 the German George Pilz came from Juneau , where he had already found gold. He had searched the area around the Klondike, but allegedly found nothing of value. In May 1886, Peter Nelson, Dan Sprague, Joe Ladue and John Nelson also searched not far from the Klondike. Henry Willet and Joe Wilson may have found gold, but their find was inconsequential.

In 1885 gold was found on the Stewart River , which was worth several thousand dollars, but the sites were deserted again in 1886 when gold was found on the Fortymile River. Between 100 and 350 prospectors worked there in 1887 and 1888, and although they found gold for 100,000 dollars in 1887 (equivalent to around 2,800,000 dollars today), the next year they only found gold for 20,000. The men were hard hit by floods in the summer. The city of Forty Mile was born. It was supplied by a river boat with St. Michael on Norton Sound around 2500 km away on the lower Yukon in Alaska. New gold was found in Alaska, and gold was rediscovered in the sixtymile gold field in 1892.

As early as the summer of 1885, McQuesten recognized that the trade with the gold diggers would soon be more important for the trading companies than the fur trade with the Indians. He traveled to San Francisco and convinced the directors of the Alaska Commercial Company to shift their commercial focus. He returned to Fort Reliance with 50 tons of gold mining equipment, but in 1886 he relocated his trading post to Fort Nelson on the Stewart River. The supply bases now followed the gold discoveries.

Harry Madison and Howard Franklin, partners of Ladue in 1882, discovered a large amount of gold down the Yukon in 1886, already on US territory. McQuesten immediately followed them with his supply station from the Stewart River to the mouth of the Fortymile River, with Reliance continuing. Fortymile remained the main supply post in the Yukon until 1896 and, being on the Canadian side, the first permanent, non-indigenous Canadian settlement in the northwest. Around 500 men wintered here in 1886/87. Despite the findings, there was no question of a gold rush. The only attempt to get the news out to the outside world failed when a certain Williams froze to death while crossing the Chilkoot Pass in January 1887. However, George Dawson , who mapped the area in 1887, predicted a great future for the area.

As early as 1894, over a thousand prospectors lived in the Yukon, around 250 wintered, and the first brought their wives with them. In the spring, Inspector Constantine and Sergeant Brown were sent to the Yukon by the government to collect fees and charges. In 1896 DW Davis became a collector. That year the total value of gold found was around $ 125,000. In the next year it was already 250,000, in 1896 even 300,000 dollars. At this time there were twelve whaling boats on Herschel Island and missionary CE Whittaker of the Canadian Church Missionary Association was also deployed there. The whalers abandoned the boats and preferred to look for gold. This happened several years in a row.

Shortly after the decisive find on August 16, the group around George Carmack reached Forty Mile on August 21, 1896. Some of the gold diggers broke camp as soon as they saw the men's gold and tried it themselves where they found it. This had happened many times.

Before they even arrived, another group of 25 men, some of whom already owned claims in the area, decided on August 22nd to name the creek “Bonanza Creek” instead of “Rabbit Creek”. Robert Henderson, whose gold discoveries around 10 miles to the east on Gold Bottom Creek had lured many of these men here, learned of the decisive find very late. This was due to the man's hostility towards the Indians. He told Carmack about his find and offered him a partnership. However, when he arrived a few weeks later with Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie (also called Dawson Charlie, † November 14, 1905), Henderson refused to sell them tobacco. The three then left Henderson's camp and they did not inform him of their much larger find, although Carmack had promised to do so.

In addition, Henderson had to accept that Andy Hunker acquired a claim on the other fork of his stream, which was now officially called "Hunker Creek". Henderson was only able to acquire a single claim in Forty Mile. After all, he later received a pension of $ 200 a month from the Canadian government for his services to the Klondike gold rush, but he continued to search for gold in the Yukon until the early 1920s.

McQuesten sensed what was going to happen and took his family to San José , California , where he bought a house. From then on he lived there with his wife, with whom he had eleven children. His daughter, born on March 27, 1896, was the last to die on June 9, 2001. The couple's descendants still live in the house today.

The triggering discovery

Keish (Skookum Jim Mason)

Keish , who was also known as Skookum Jim Mason and belonged to the Tagish Indian tribe , or his sister Kate Carmack († 1920), the wife of George Washington Carmack , to whom the first claim belonged, is considered to be the discoverer of the gold deposits . Keish led his cousin Skookum Jim, also called Dawson Charlie or Tagish Charlie (Káa Goox), and his niece Patsy Henderson down the Yukon from Carcross in August 1896 . At the mouth of the Klondike they met George Carmack and his wife Kate, who were catching salmon.

On August 16, 1896, the Tagish group found gold at Bonanza Creek, which at that time was still called Rabbit Creek. But in view of the pronounced racism that prevailed here, she could not make a claim. That job fell to Kate Carmack's husband, George. The news of the gold discovery spread quickly in the Yukon Valley. Twenty-five prospectors from the Fortymile River and Stewart River rushed to the Bonanza, Eldorado, and Hunker Creek claims before Carmack could claim his claim by filing his Forty Mile filing. For almost a year, the comparatively few gold diggers in the region were able to search undisturbed until some of the men who had become rich reached the west coast by steamboat.

The discovery of the gold fields was the occasion for the Board on Geographical Names of the United States to regulate the spelling of the now well-known geographical names. It was henceforth, among other things. Klondike and Lewis , not to write partly Clondyke or Lewes as before .


Main routes to the gold fields on the Klondike

The news reached the US in July of the following year when the Excelsior arrived in San Francisco and the Portland arrived in Seattle . In the United States, there had been severe economic shocks after the panic of 1893 and that of 1896. Hence the news of the gold discoveries was eagerly received. When the Portland docked in Seattle on July 17, 1897, the 5,000 or so people present called on the successful prospectors to show their gold. They then pulled it out of their pockets and presented it to the cheering crowd. In the "Klondike Edition" the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had the headline Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold! and Sixty-Eight Rich Men on the Steamer Portland reported gold worth $ 700,000 (equivalent to about $ 22,000,000 today).

Now around 100,000 men and some women started moving west and north. Gold prospectors also came from Australia and Great Britain . They were so numerous that around 40,000 gold prospectors are expected in the Yukon region in 1898. But by no means all were looking for gold, because around half of them neither filed a claim, nor did they even look for gold. Some sought adventure, but most sought employment in the many trades that the explosive city of Dawson offered.

Most prospectors first landed in Skagway or Dyea . Both places were at the mouth of the Lynn Canal . From there it went over the Chilkoot Trail to the Chilkoot Pass , others preferred the White Pass , from which it went to Lake Lindeman or Lake Bennett . There they built rafts and boats to cover the next half a mile to Dawson. For months, wood had to be procured from far away, because one was already at the tree line here . In the winter of 1897/98, 10,000 men spent the winter in tents at both lakes. In May 1898, around 7,000 boats went down the river. The three-week trip led through numerous rapids such as in Miles Canyon or those of White Horse, Five Fingers and The Rink.

Others tried to get across Canada, but it took many of them a year or two. In 1897 , Canada's Interior Minister Clifford Sifton found the hardships of these trips indescribable . Many horses also died from the passes, so Jack London renamed the White Pass the Dead Horse Pass . Most of those who failed broke off at their passports. Ropes were hung in the steepest places. On April 3, 1898, an avalanche killed 63 men at Chilkoot alone. Those who ran out of money hired themselves as packers and porters, as did the men of the surrounding tribes, such as the Stikine, Chilcoot and Chilkat. The prices were high, as were the risks and hardships. All the towns on the way to the Klondike were inundated with countless prospectors, many of whom stayed there. That was true for Seattle, but also for Victoria and especially Vancouver . Conversely, many brought gold with them, which benefited the local economy.

The experience of previous gold rushes had taught that serious incidents would occur without strict regulations. So the government forced the prospectors to bring a whole year's supply of food, which corresponded to about 500 kg. There was also another 500 kg of other equipment. Without this ton of baggage, the North West Mounted Police and the Yukon Field Force , assigned by the Canadian government, turned away any prospector. It was she who checked the two passports under the command of Sam Steele. At the same time, she made sure that as few weapons as possible from the USA came to Canada. The government still feared a violent takeover of the sparsely populated region by the numerous Americans.

When the first gold prospecting masses arrived in Dawson, they found that practically all of the claims had been awarded. The prices for all goods had soared. Many sold the equipment they had laboriously brought to Dawson and left town to return. Others hired themselves out as wage diggers or offered the claim holders other services. In total, the prospectors spent $ 50 million to get to the Klondike, which was roughly the value of the gold they fetched from the country in the first five years.


Gold dredger on Bonanza Creek, near Dawson

The process of extracting gold was initially very simple. The prospectors looked in the sand and rubble of streams for gold that had already eroded from the rock. To do this, they used pans, vibrating tables and fine washing troughs in which the gold was selected by hand in the form of nuggets , but mostly as gold tinsel. Deeper-lying gold, such as in the permafrost soil, was obtained using just as simple methods. From 1887, Forty Mile simply lit fires to thaw the ground.

Later the prospectors built water pipes to wash out the gold. Spring was the only time the water levels in the rivers were high enough and more labor was needed. In a third stage, gold pans and gold dredgers were built that flushed large amounts of rock. Finally they went to mine the gold underground . This required larger machines, experience and considerably more capital.

The gold digging initially required a claim, but then numerous buildings, including the first, very simple log cabins. In addition, infrastructures such as the Klondike Mines Railway , founded in 1899 , which connected Sulfur Springs with Dawson from 1905 to 1913, or the White Pass and Yukon Railway . The associated company was founded in London in 1898, and the railroad still operates between Whitehorse and Skagway today.

The ports benefited from the rush, especially as the prospectors were willing to pay almost any price. Countless trades settled at these bottlenecks, especially those that provided the equipment, including books and guides to the Klondike, such as Clements' Guide to the Klondike , Los Angeles: BR Baumgardt and Co., 1897. Outfitters such as Cooper and Levy in Seattle and Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco recognized the moment. Especially Skagway - from here it went to the White Pass - and Dyea - from here it went to the Chilcoot Pass - in Alaska, the gateways to the gold deposits, which are still 1000 km away, grew rapidly.

Joseph Ladue (Ledoux) and the founding of Dawson

Joseph Francis Ladue, detail of a plaque, erected in 2002

Joseph Ladue or Ledoux, whose family came from French-speaking Canada and who is considered the founder of Dawson, played a central role. It was on July 26, 1854 in Schuyler Falls at Plattsburgh in New York born and spoke French. In 1874 he went west and in 1882 worked in Alaska in the Treadwell Mine , a gold mine in the so-called Panhandle of Alaska, which had opened in 1881 and which was at times the largest gold mine in the world. A year later he was one of the first to cross the Chilkoot Pass and move to Fort Reliance, where a trading post had been established. Ladue became a partner of two founders, Jack McQuesten and Arthur Harper, and they experimented with new gold mining techniques. In 1894 Ladue and Harper opened a trading post on one of the islands in the Yukon, not far from the confluence of the Sixtymile River, which they named "Ogilvie" after William Ogilvie . In the winter of 1895 Ladue traveled to New York and on his return heard of the gold finds of the Carmacks and Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie. He hastily bought 160 acres of land at the mouth of the Klondike for $ 1,600 .

On September 1, Ladue relocated its sawmill from Sixtymile to Dawson, creating the first building. There was also a shop and a first saloon, the Pioneer . William Ogilvie reported that all of the streets in the resulting Dawson that ran parallel to the river were 66 feet long and perpendicular to the 50 foot strips of land belonging to Ladue. He sold these for $ 5,000 each. In addition, he described the gold finds in the vicinity in the brightest colors in order to keep as many prospectors as possible nearby who bought from him. In 1897 Ladue and Harper named the city after George Mercer Dawson , who conducted the geological survey of the area. On July 14, 1897, Ladue was among those rich men who reached San Francisco in 1897 and whom the newspapers named Mayor of Dawson. In December, Ladue married Anna Mason from a wealthy family. The New York Ladue Gold Mining & Development Co. , now founded by Ladue, was valued at $ 5 million. Ladue died on June 27, 1901 at the age of 47 in his birthplace.

Commercial and Boroughs, Dawson

The Palace Grand Theater (2009)

All the way between the ports as far as Vancouver and Seattle there were shops that supplied the gold diggers with everything they needed to survive and for their prospecting and washing activities. In addition, however, other trades quickly developed that met the needs of men who stayed longer, such as laundries , barbers , hotels and saloons as well as brothels .

In Dawson, the commercial structure developed mainly in the boom phase from 1898 to 1899. So a district was created north of King Street, the northern part of which was encircled by St. Mary's Church and the hospital . The trading district with shops and warehouses stretched along the bank . All residents depended entirely on its content, especially during the six months in which the city could not be reached by ship.

The second, south adjoining district can be seen between King Street and Princess Street, as well as between the bank and Fourth Street. It had an almost square floor plan and was less popular because it was often wet and downright swampy, and also prone to flooding. All trades that were used for repairs and equipping with gold digging equipment were found here, as well as banks , laundries and liquor stores , but also saloons, dance halls , theaters and casinos .

Those who did not get a claim or did not look for gold for other reasons were called Cheechako . In some cases they were just as successful as some gold prospectors and created a luxury market, for example for elaborate house facades, which mostly still exist today, but also for musical instruments, expensive fabrics or jewelry. Because of the enormous cold in winter, wood was still preferred as a building material, because the bricks of that time would not have withstood the extreme demands of the winter cold. In addition, there were newer buildings such as the Bank of Commerce or the Carnegie Library , which were not inferior to the representative buildings in southern Canada. Dawson was even called the “Paris of the North” at this time, but when the Commissioner's residence was demolished in 1906 and replaced by a much more modest building, it was evident that the government no longer expected a great future for Dawson.

With the arrival of women and families, the initially very high demand for laundries decreased. These had previously been operated by Chinese, for example during the gold rush on the Fraser or in the Cariboo area, but immigration was made more difficult for them in the meantime. The same was true of prostitution . Contrary to the common moral of the time, the police did not interfere with women. It also allowed customers to be addressed in bars , rented rooms and on the street. In the newspapers one wrote of “demi-monde” and “soiled doves” (literally: soiled pigeons) to name the women. A tax system was imposed on them and they had to undergo a health check every two months, which, however, was more like licensing. The proceeds were used to support charitable institutions such as hospitals .

Until May 1899 the women worked on Paradise Alley and Second Avenue in the commercial center of the city, but then had to leave the core district. They were given their own, more secluded district between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. In 1901 they were pushed out even further and had to move to Klondike City, also known as Lousetown. In 1902 a campaign against prostitution began and it returned to the more affluent neighborhoods, forced by the city's economic decline and emigration. This decline meant that from 1907 the question was no longer discussed, although the trade never completely disappeared. The last brothel was closed in 1961.

As the gold rush subsided, the situation gradually returned to normal. Martha Purdy (1866–1957) participated in claims, ran a sawmill and one for crushing ore. In 1904 she married the lawyer George Black and became known as the "First Lady of the Yukon" because her husband was Commissioner of 1912-1918 the Yukon . For her lectures on the flora of the Yukon, she became a member of the British Royal Geographical Society in 1917 . She was the second woman to sit in the Canadian Parliament in 1935 . She had seen the gold rush almost from the start. She had separated from her husband, who had gone to Hawaii , while pregnant , and in 1898, on the way to the Klondike, gave birth to her child in a log cabin. She had three sons in total. Although she returned to Chicago, she was back at the Klondike in 1901.

Medical supplies

Medical care for the residents was initially scarce. The Reverend Robert Dickey of Skagway advertised on The Westminister , a Presbyterian newspaper, to recruit nurses. The governor general's wife , Ishbel Aberdeen, found four women willing to take the risk. Those four were Rachel Hanna, Georgia Powell, Margaret Payson, and Amy Scott. They left Ottawa in April 1898, accompanied by a 200-strong force from the Yukon Field Force . Georgia Powell's diary has come down to us. Once in Winnipeg, the women were given raccoon coats by the Hudson's Bay Company . On the way to the northwest, they treated the men from the accompanying troops daily. Along the way men set out from far and wide to be healed by them. Just before Fort Selkirk, their destination, everything was washed and cleaned to look good, Powell noted, but the fort was almost completely deserted because most of the men had gone to Dawson. So they moved there in September and found a completely overcrowded hospital.


Today's gold mining on the Klondike

Among the participants in the Klondike gold rush was the writer Jack London , whose works White Fang (Wolfsblut), The Call of the Wild (Call of the Wild), Smoke Bellew (Alaska Kid) and The Fire in the Snow from his own experiences and which were shaped by "Swiftwater" Bill Gates. The first part of the 1910 published novel Burning Daylight ( lure of gold ) is concerned only with the Gold Rush. The fabrics owe their later effect to film adaptations such as Wolfsblut from 1991. London's hut was even transplanted to Dawson, where Robert W. Service's is also located.

One of the most common stories of the gold rush is Klondike by Pierre Berton , which in the US under the title The Klondike Fever appeared. Berton, who grew up in the Yukon, meticulously described the travels and events around Dawson up to around 1904. His mother Laura Berton wrote I Married The Klondike , in which she processed her own experiences. Even Jules Verne processed the gold rush literary in his posthumously published novel Le Volcan d'or (The Gold volcano).

The Klondike frenzy left its mark not only in literature, but also in film. Charles Chaplin's 1925 silent film The Gold Rush and The Trail of '98 from 1928 as well as Mae West's Klondike Annie from 1936 shaped the image of the elusive process. In 1957, a documentary named City of Gold , which was awarded by the National Film Board of Canada and reported by Pierre Berton, was made. The American counterpart is The Far Country (On the Death Pass) with James Stewart in the lead role.

Some became famous for the Klondike Gold Rush through the Disney - comics around the super-rich Duck Scrooge McDuck . Carl Barks first mentioned the Klondike as the source of Scrooge's wealth in the 1951 story Only a Poor Old Man . A year later, Back to the Klondike appeared (German title Wiedersehen mit Klondyke ), where Uncle Dagobert tells of his time as a successful gold prospector. As a result, various cartoonists such as Tony Strobl and Romano Scarpa drew stories from Scrooge's time as Klondike gold diggers. Don Rosa's Scrooge McDuck biography, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, describes the Klondike chapter as the most important section in Scrooge's life. As far as possible, Rosa tried to achieve historical authenticity. The additional chapter Hearts of the Yukon , published in 1995, was commissioned on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the gold rush. In addition, the Lucky Luke volume Am Klondike is dedicated to the gold rush, whereby, as so often, it can build on existing clichés.

Although most were only driven by a thirst for adventure and greed, gold prospectors enjoy widespread admiration. In Edmonton , for example, Klondike Day is still celebrated because around 1,600 so-called Overlanders set off north from there, although hardly one in ten arrived. Even more distant places like Eagle River in Wisconsin or Bay Roberts in Newfoundland celebrate their Klondike Days, although this “tradition” sometimes only emerged after the 100th anniversary of the gold rush.

In addition, the police associations, which later became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, acquired an unusually positive image based on their successful control and on the channeling and disarming of American criminals. Radio broadcasts such as Challenge of the Yukon contributed significantly to this.

To commemorate the gold rush, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park was established. It consists of the old town of Skagway, the path over the Chilkoot Pass, as well as a museum in Seattle , which reminds of the starting point of many gold prospectors. The small town of Skagway has become an important cruise port with around 750,000 annual visitors.

Even today, gold is being mined on the Klondike. Modern machines, more efficient processes and the increased price of gold make it increasingly profitable to mine again in areas that were already exploited during the Klondike gold rush. Even today, 45,000 to 60,000 ounces of gold are mined annually in the Klondike area, which corresponds to a value of 85,000,000 to 113,000,000 dollars or 72,000,000 to 96,000,000 euros at the current gold price.

More gold rushes in Canada



  • Pierre Berton : Klondike. The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896–1899 , revised edition, Anchor Canada, Toronto 2001. ISBN 0-385-65844-3 .
  • William R. Hunt: Klondike. The Wild Years in Alaska , Econ, Munich 1982. ISBN 3-430-14904-5 .
  • Kathryn Taylor Morse: The Nature of Gold. An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush , Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books, 2003. ISBN 0-295-98329-9 .
  • Frances Backhouse: Women of the Klondike , Whitecap Books, Vancouver et al. 1995. ISBN 1-55110-375-3 .
  • Melanie J. Mayer: Klondike Women. True Tales of the 1897-1898 Gold Rush , Swallow Pr., Chicago 1989. ISBN 0-8040-0926-0 .
  • Lael Morgan, Christine Ummel: Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush , Epicenter Press, Fairbanks 1999. ISBN 0-945397-76-3 .
  • Brereton Greenhous (Ed.): Guarding the Goldfields. The Story of the Yukon Field Force , Dundurn, Ottawa 1987. ISBN 1-55002-028-5 .
  • David Wharton: The Alaska Gold Rush , Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1972. ISBN 0-253-10061-5 .

Web links

Commons : Klondike Gold Rush  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Mike Burke, Craig JR Hart, Lara L. Lewis: Models for epigenetic gold exploration in the northern Cordilleran Orogen, Yukon, Canada , in: Jingwen Mao, Frank P. Bierlein (eds.): Mineral Deposit Research. Meeting the Global Challenge. Proceedings of the Eighth Biennial SGA Meeting, Beijing, China, 18-21 August 2005 , Vol. 1, Springer, 2008, pp. 525-528, here: p. 525 (conversion: approx. 20 million ounces = approx. 570 tons ).
  2. Michel North: The money and its history. Munich 1994, p. 121.
  3. Michel North: The money and its history. Munich 1994, Table 7, p. 146.
  4. Kathryn Taylor Morse: The Nature of Gold. An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush , Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books, 2003, p. 17.
  5. The following from: Tr'ochëk - The Archeology and History of a Hän Fish Camp ( Memento from April 19, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) ( tc.gov.yk.ca PDF; 3.9 MB).
  6. Superintendent C. Constantine to Commissioner L. Herchmer. January 5, 1896.
  7. ^ Alfred Henry Mayo (1847–1924) , brief biography of the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation.
  8. James A. McQuiston: Captain Jack McQuesten: Father of the Yukon. Outskirts Press 2007, p. 64 ff.
  9. This figure was based on the template: Inflation determined, has been rounded to a full 100,000 US dollars and relates to January 2021.
  10. George M. Dawson: Report on an Exploration in the Yukon District, NWT and Adjacent Northern Portion of British Columbia, 1887. Dawson Brothers, Montreal 1888, 181-183, after: Report on an Exploration…. , in: Who Discovered Klondike Gold? .
  11. James A. McQuiston: Captain Jack McQuesten: Father of the Yukon. Outskirts Press 2007, p. 73 f.
  12. ^ Robert Henderson's Search for Recognition , in: Who discovered Klondike Gold? .
  13. Spelling of Names in Alaska. Communications from the Imperial and Royal Geographical Society , year 1897, p. 886f. (Online at ANNO ).Template: ANNO / Maintenance / geo
  14. This figure was based on the template: Inflation Determined, rounded to a full $ 1,000,000, and relates to January 2021.
  15. A map from 1898 can be found here: Map of White and Chilkoot Pass Trails ~ En Route to the Klondike: A Series of Photographic Views, Part III. People's Series. Chicago: WB Conkey Co., 1898.
  16. Charles Henry Lugrin shows what a Yukon outfit looked like: Yukon Gold Fields , Colonist Printing and Publishing Co., Victoria 1897, p. 27.
  17. This and the following from The Prospector's Dream Becomes Reality: Portrait of the Founder of Dawson City.
  18. This and the following from The Dawson Museum: The Oldest Profession ( Memento June 5, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  19. Margaret Carter: Black, Martha Louise. In: The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  20. To Build a Fire (English, on Wikisource )
  21. Klondike Trail Society: Chalmers Trail ( Memento from December 21, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  22. Information on the page Skagway.com ( Memento from February 9, 2012 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on August 15, 2011.
  23. Indra Kley and Thomas Schöneich: Searching for gold on the Klondike. ( Memento from August 23, 2017 in the Internet Archive )
  24. This figure was determined with the template: Gold price and has been rounded to a full 1,000,000 US dollars or EUR.