The Gold Rush
with thanks to Karl Gurcke
The National Park
Service (NPS) Skagway, Alaska
GOLD was found in a
tributary of the Klondike River in the
Yukon in 1897 and for a very brief
period the area was flooded with hopeful
goldseekers - stampeders.
With cries of "Gold!
Gold! in the Klondike!" there unfolded
in the Yukon and Alaska a brief but
fascinating adventure, which has
captured the imagination of people
around the world ever since. Beginning in 1897, an
army of hopeful goldseekers, unaware
that most of the good Klondike claims
were already staked, headed north toward the vision of
riches to be had for the taking.
All through the summer
and on into the winter of 1897-98,
stampeders poured into the newly created
Alaskan tent and shack towns of Skagway
and Dyea - the jumping off points for
the 600-mile trek to the goldfields.
Skagway, at the head of
the White Pass Trail, was founded by a
former steamboat captain named William
Moore. His small homestead was inundated
with some 10,000 transient residents
struggling to get their required year's worth of gear and supplies
over the Coast Range and down the Yukon
River headwaters at lakes Lindeman and
Bennett. Dyea, three miles away at the
head of Taiya Inlet, experienced the
same frantic boomtown activity as
goldseekers poured ashore and picked
their way up the Chilkoot Trail into
their greatest hardships on the
Chilkoot Trail out of Dyea and the
White Pass Trail out of Skagway.
There were murders and suicides,
disease and malnutrition, and death
from hypothermia, avalanche, and,
some said heartbreak. The Chilkoot
was the toughest on men because pack
animals could not be used easily on
the steep slopes leading to the
tramways were built late in 1897
and early 1898, the stampeders had
to carry everything on their backs.
The White Pass Trail was the
animal-killer, as anxious
prospectors overloaded and beat
their pack animals and forced them
over the rocky terrain until they
dropped. More than 3,000 animals
died on this trail; many of their
bones still lie at the bottom on
Dead Horse Gulch.
During the first
year of the rush an estimated 20,000
to 30,000 goldseekers spent an
average of three months packing
their outfits up the trails and over
the passes to the lakes. The
distance from tidewater to the lakes
was only about 35 miles, but each
individual trudged hundreds of miles
back and forth along the trails,
moving gear from cache to cache.
Once the prospectors had hauled
their full array of gear to the
lakes, they built or bought boats to
float the remaining 560 or so miles
downriver to Dawson City and the
Klondike mining district where an
almost limitless supply of gold
nuggets was said to lie.
Klondikers and supplies at
the Scales, foot of Chilkoot
Pass, Alaska, 1897.
By midsummer of 1898
there were 18,000 people at Dawson,
with more than 5,000 working the
diggings. By August many of the
stampeders had started for home,
most of them broke. The next year
saw a still larger exodus of miners
when gold was discovered at Nome,
Alaska. The great Klondike Gold Rush
ended as suddenly as it had begun.
Towns such as Dawson City and
Skagway began to declines. Others,
including Dyea, disappeared
altogether, leaving only memories of
what many consider to be the last
grand adventure of the 19th century
of the interesting things for
us, is that, in Canyon City (one
of the small communities along
the Chilkoot Trail, that no
longer exists) there is a rather
large boiler that was used for
generating electricity which
powered one of three aerial
tramways constructed along the
trail during the rush.
tramways simply carried goods from
the bottom of the pass to the top.
All there was to it was a heavy
cable stretched from the top of the
pass to the bottom. On this cable
were buckets, swing onto wheels,
that were hauled to the top of the
pass by a steam engine. There were
two buckets and each could carry
about 500 pounds. They made the
round trip in about fifteen minutes,
and were kept busy all day long.
There were no supports to this
cable, except at the ends, and in
one place it swung about 300 feet
above the ground. This cable road
charged 5 cents a pound to take
freight from the bottom of the pass
to the top.
boiler contains PATENT / R. BROWN &
SON PAISLEY firebricks!!
The two types of firebrick found in
the boiler. The example at top
PATENT / R. BROWN & SON PAISLEY and
was found covering the fire shelf.
The other reads: J & M CRAIG
KILMARNOCK and was surrounding the
fire door. On right is a side
view of the Kilmarnock brick.