The Yukon Gold Rush
Between 1848 and 1900 there was a series of Gold Rushes in North America that impacted technology and the lives of many Americans. These gold rushes occurred in regions that had harsh climates and difficult terrain. As there had been no previous event like the gold rush, prospective miners were inexperienced. They gambled and spent their life savings on equipment and technology for their expedition. For many of the miners the result was bankruptcy or death, but for a lucky few it was a fortune and a new way of life.
The Gold Rush of 1897-1899 that occurred in the Yukon Territories of Canada is a great example of the American's dream of instant wealth and prosperity. America was in the midst of a major economic depression during the 1890's. Many farmers lost their crops due to the poor soil and weather conditions. Many that had left the farm and taken jobs in manufacturing quit because of unfair labor policies. When news about gold in the Yukon reached the United States, American's jumped at the opportunity to strike it rich.
This news was reported on July 17, 1897 in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The headlines read "At 3 o'clock this morning the steamship Portland, from St. Michaels for Seattle, passed up Pugent Sound with more than a ton of solid gold on board and 68 passengers." Thousands flocked to Seattle buying supplies and booking reservations on ships bound for the Yukon. This news was precipitated by the discovery of gold by three men, Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie, and George Washington Carmack. These men staked their claim in the town of Dawson and word about their discovery spread rapidly. Dawson became a boomtown as miners flocked to the area.
The first group of miners left from Seattle, Washington in the fall of 1897 with all the supplies that would be needed for their impending journey. Once they reached Alaska the had to make the choice of which trail to travel. Both trails, the Skagway and the Dyea Trail, had reputations of being difficult and life threatening. Along the trail there were hazards such as thieves stealing supplies, rock slides, avalanches, and dead horses. The goal of the miners was to reach Lake Bennet where they spent the winter months preparing for the final stretch to Dawson City in the spring.
During the winter, the
prospectors would build the boat at Lake Bennet that they would need
for the spring. The technology used to build these boats was crude.
Most of the prospectors had no carpentry skills and only a large whipsaw.
They worked in teams to build these boat that would carry their supplies.
When the ice broke in May, the miners traveled as fast as they could to
Dawson City. Once in Dawson they would stake their claim and begin
mining. Usually once a site was found there was only two to three
months before the next winter set in.
As more and more miners came to the area to find their fortune, towns and markets began to develop. The towns of Skagway and Dyea grew from small settlements to have populations of over 30,000 during 1898. These towns provided the prospectors with the supplies that they would need to make their journey. With this, new markets and opportunities emerged, and any merchants went to the Yukon to sell outfits and supplies. This became so profitable that many did not even attempt to mine gold. These towns were less than desirable places to live for long periods of time. Their remote location and proximity to the United States and Canadian border discouraged law enforcement. These towns were similar to the west with a few outlaws pillaging the belongings of the miners. Jefferson Randolph (Soapy) Smith was one of these outlaws. After the gold rush dried up, these towns returned to their original population.
It is important to realize
that the Gold Rush of 1897-1899 did not make all of the prospectors
rich and successful. The realities of this event were that many died
during the trip into to the unknown wilderness. Conditions were difficult
and the technology that the miners had was limited. They did not
have the luxury of motorized equipment to navigate the terrain. They
instead had to rely on animals and their own strength. The miners
that were fortunate enough to reach the mining fields faced intense competition
from others. There were not enough mining sites to accommodate all
of the miners and some of the sites did not produce enough gold to make
the expedition profitable. For many of the Americans it was an unsuccessful