History of the Klondike and My Visit There

I love writing about the Wild West. Some of my books are set in the American West, but since I live in Canada, I also write about the Mounties.

A brief explanation of historical differences:

The U.S. has always had about ten times the population of Canada, so Canada’s West was settled about 30-50 years later, simply because of fewer people. In the States, settlers headed West ahead of any sheriffs or lawmen.  In Canada, settlement didn’t start until after 1873, when the government created the North-West Mounted Police and ordered them to first scout the land and build forts. Today, they’re called the RCMP—Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a rough equivalent of the FBI.

One of my series is set in the Klondike Gold Rush, late 1890s.  For research, I traveled to the Yukon and Alaska.

Yukon RiverThese photographs were all taken in Yukon Territory, Canada, just outside the city of Whitehorse. When the gold rush occurred in the middle of this wilderness, every route there was almost impossible to endure. The shortest route for stampeders was to take a steamship to Skagway, Alaska, climb over the mountains by foot, then build temporary rafts to navigate the rivers to get to Dawson City, Canada, where the gold was. Notice the color of the water and sky?  My camera had no filters. The rivers and lakes are turquoise due to silt run-off from glaciers. That’s the Yukon River you see.

The Klondike Gold Rush got its name from the Klondike River where most of the gold was found. Most stampeders were men, but some daring women made it, too.  They came from all over the world, but the majority were American.

Alaskan BorderThat’s the sign on the border between Yukon and Alaska. We had a nice paved road to get there, but the terrain for stampeders was so steep and sharp, most of their horses didn’t make it. Unfortunately, more than 3,000 horses died trying to navigate the pass.

The town in the photographs is Skagway, Alaska. The buildings have been preserved as they were back in the gold rush days. You can still get a bite to eat at the saloon, and a souvenir T-shirt at the general store. Lots of excitement! When we were there, five cruise ships were docked with about 10,000 international visitors doing their shopping.

SkagwayPanning for gold was extremely difficult, mostly because the temperature of the water was icy. Even in summer, fingers would get numb from the cold because it was so far north, and frigid glaciers fed the rivers.

Only about one-third of the stampeders who tried to get there made it. Of those who did, most did not strike gold. However, many people got rich from selling things to the ones who did. The new millionaires had nothing to buy in the wilderness, so anything a person could carry in—new clothing, food of any kind, wine, champagne, fancy hats, entertainment—was highly sought after and worth hundreds of times their value back home. Even some of the native Indians who were hired as guides and packers to carry supplies over the mountains became millionaires. There were many eccentric folks who made up this interesting piece of our history.

Have any of you ever visited this area?

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