Hello from up north! Since my last couple blogs were dedicated to introducing myself and the area I just moved to, I thought that I would focus this week’s post on Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park – where I’ll be working all summer!

Established on June 30, 1976, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is approximately 13,191 acres comprised of National Park Service (federal), city, state, and private lands. While this park is the most visited National Park in the state of Alaska, this park is actually broken into four units across two states: the Skagway Historic District (in Skagway, AK –  where I’ll be all summer!), the White Pass Unit (AK), the Dyea-Chilkoot Trail Unit (AK), and the Klondike Gold Rush-Seattle Unit (in Seattle, WA)!

Now I don’t know about you, but prior to my coming to this park, I didn’t know anything about the Klondike Gold Rush other than it being an important event in American history. So this blog will serve as an “introductory lesson” describing what the Gold Rush was, and why it was important!

“If you must go to the Klondike country and cannot rest until you do, go by all means… but if you have any regard for your comfort, or perhaps for your life, or if you have any family ties, think twice before starting, and then think seriously again.”

– Clements’ Guide to the Klondike, 1897
Stampeders at Chilkoot Pass; National Park Service, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park; from the Candy-Waugaman Collection; KLGO Library SS 126-8831

A (VERY) BRIEF HISTORY OF THE KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH:

  • PRIOR TO THE GOLD RUSH: Due to the ongoing worldwide price and economic recession at the time, North America was experiencing one of the worst depressions in history, only later surpassed by the Great Depression (1930s).
  • AUGUST 1896: Skookum Jim Mason, Dawson Charlie, Kate Carmack and George Washington Carmack discover gold in a stream off the Klondike River near Dawson City in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Together, these four collectively earn nearly $1 million dollars. With news of their discovery spreading like an uncontrolled wildfire, many set off to secure their own wealth in a time of economic insecurity, and thus: The Klondike Gold Rush begins!

BACK THEN, A 1 OUNCE GOLD NUGGET COULD BUY:

300lbs of candy

2 ½ weeks of pay for a factory worker

400 glasses of beer

  • EARLY 1897: Hoards of gold-seekers, business-folk, and adventurers alike travel around the world to Seattle, WA (and other western port cities) where they board ships heading north to Alaska and Canada. Most of these stampeders arrive in Dyea and Skagway, AK! To get to Dawson City, stampeders would have to travel either on the Chilkoot Trail (often called the “meanest 33 miles in history”) or the White Pass Trail (an equally dangerous trail that, while a longer 44 miles, was less steep than the Chilkoot with its infamous “Golden Stairs”).
  • ONE TON LAW OF 1898: Concerned with the risk of starvation for incoming stampeders, the Canadian government begins requiring everyone entering Canada to carry a year’s supply of food and equipment. That’s nearly 2,000lbs per person!

A facsimile of the front page of the Dyea Press on Monday, April 4,1898; picture created by the National Park Service.
  • APRIL 3, 1898 – THE PALM SUNDAY AVALANCHE: the deadliest event of the Klondike Gold Rush; dozens are killed, and hundreds evacuated after a series of avalanches occur between Sheep Camp and the Scales on the Chilkoot Trail. (to read more, click here)
  • MAY 1898: Construction begins for the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, resulting in many stampeders begin passing through the town of Skagway instead of Dyea. News spreading of the mass casualties from the Palm Sunday Avalanche, as well as a new easier route to the Yukon from Skagway marks the beginning of Dyea’s downfall. On May 17, 1898, nearly 7,000 hand-made boats (many of which had been built by people who had never sailed before) left Lake Bennet and set sail for Dawson City after having been trapped for months due to the fierce winter weather. The race for gold was back on!

“We saw grown men sit and cry when they failed to beat the tide… a terrible blow to the strongest of men.”

– Monty Atwell, 1898
  • 1899: With the delay in news updates (due to its remote location), many stampeders continue on their quest to find gold and arrive in Dawson City heartbroken after discovering that most of the land and gold had already been claimed. By the SUMMER OF 1899, many lose interest in the rush for Klondike Gold, staying in Skagway and opening businesses, leaving for Nome in west Alaska (an area where gold was recently discovered at the time), or even departing for the long journey back home.
Picture of Katlyn Fuentes next to the KLGO sign in Skagway, AK; photo by K. Fuentes.

THE KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH TODAY:

Though over 120 years have passed since the end of the Klondike Gold Rush, its legacy is still persists! All of the departments at this National Park (including, but not limited to: Archaeologists, Biologists, Historians, Museum Technicians, and Interpreters) work collaboratively to preserve and protect this park and its history for generations to come.

As culture and environment go hand-in-hand, a big part of preserving this park also means devoting time and resources into surveying and monitoring ecosystem changes in the area! So throughout the rest of my blogs here on out, I’ll be discussing various projects that the Natural Resources department and I are conducting, to get a better look at what is exactly happening in this environment and what we can do to better protect it.

Until next time,

-Katlyn

For more information on the Klondike Gold Rush, check out:

  • “What Was the Klondike Gold Rush?” (National Park Service); website link
  • The Klondike Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush, by Pierre Berton (1958); Book
  • Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush 1896-1899, also by Pierre Berton (1972) *this is his 2nd book on the Gold Rush, so it contains more updated information than his 1st book; Book

Katlyn Fuentes

Katlyn is a recent graduate from the University of Washington in Seattle with a B.S in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and a minor in Anthropology. This summer she will be returning for her second session as a Mosaics in Science intern, working as a Biology Assistant with the National Park Service at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Alaska. After completing this internship, she plans on pursuing a career that combines her passions for scientific communications and the conservation/management of Earth's natural resources.

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