Can you imagine traveling hundreds of treacherous miles in search of gold only to find nothing? Well, at one point in history, over 100,000 people did!
In 1896, prospectors left their hometowns to pursue gold reportedly found in the Canadian Yukon Territory. Blinded by the idea of striking it rich, many people died during the journey.
Let’s dig into the timeline of the Klondike Gold Rush and find out what the hype was all about.
Pre-Alaskan Gold Rush
Gold has been a well sought-after treasure from the moment it was discovered. Although we don’t know when or who first discovered this metal, we know that it’s mentioned in the book of Genesis in the Bible and has been linked to many civilizations like Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome.
The first North American gold rush was sparked in 1828 when gold nuggets were found in Sacramento Valley, California. As word got out, prospective gold miners made their way to the area by boat and land, increasing the population from 1,000 to 100,000!
It’s estimated that $2 billion worth of gold was found in the California area. People left rich and ready to discover more... cue the Yukon Gold Rush!
In the 1870s, gold prospectors began searching in the Yukon territory. However, it wasn’t until 1896 that American George Carmack reportedly found gold in the Klondike River. Little did he know his discovery would spark the largest gold rush in history.
The word spread like wildfire across Canada and the United States. Over the next two years, 50,000+ people made their way to Klondike, Alaska, looking to strike gold themselves.
The Great Klondike Gold Rush
A treacherous journey was ahead for those who came to the region in search of gold. They quickly learned that a pickaxe and some hiking gear wasn’t going to do the job.
For starters, Canadian authorities required those looking to conquer the journey to have at least a year’s worth of mining equipment, 1,000 pounds of food, and other crucial camping items.
Those who managed to gather up the necessary supplies still didn’t understand just how life-threatening the trails were ahead until it was too late.
Not only did people have to carry heavy supplies, but they also had to hike incredibly difficult trails. After traveling by boat to Skagway, Alaska, they had to choose between two equally perilous trails – White Pass Trail, or Dyea, which would lead them to Chilkoot Trail.
White Pass wasn’t rugged or steep like Chilkoot. However, it was narrow and congested with deep, sticky mud. White Pass would later be nicknamed “The Dead Horse Trail” since the animals that carried supplies (primarily horses) would get stuck in the mud and die. It’s said that nearly 3,000 horses died on the trail, leaving hikers to carry their heavy gear the rest of the way.
The Chilkoot Trail wasn’t any better. Steep and covered in ice, prospectors were forced to abandon their animals and carry their supplies. This meant they needed to make several trips up and down the mountain with heavy loads of supplies on their backs.
At this point, many people were discouraged and turned back. Those who were brave enough continued on to the final stretch that was just as daunting as the first. Prospectors now needed to build or rent boats and travel along the Yukon River to Dawson City. Sadly, the majority of people died during this as the winding river was rapid and very dangerous.
If you were one of the lucky 30,000 to have survived, you would reach the destination only to find that the stories of gold were mostly fabricated. Incredibly disappointed and hopeless, most of the prospectors headed home. However, people still came pouring in with gold fever.
Those who arrived in the winter would stay and camp out for months until the ground thawed in the spring. They absolutely wanted to make sure there was no gold before leaving the area.
Unfortunately, the majority of people who stayed and camped out were so crammed together that they usually died of an illness or disease. Those who were finally able to mine for gold in the spring found nothing. After their journey was said and done, many prospectors would stay in Dawson City to open up shops and take advantage of those who fell into the same trap.
What Was the Outcome of the Klondike Gold Rush?
Although the story is a tragic one, some did find gold and became rich. Even if you didn’t make it big, you certainly learned the lesson as old as time, “money is the root of all evil.”
So, how much gold was found in the Klondike Gold Rush? By the time people stopped searching for gold in large scales in the Yukon region in 1966, it’s believed that $250 million was found.
If you’re wondering what happened to the city of Dawson, its population grew just like California’s did after their famous gold rush. Although people inevitably left once they heard of gold found in Nome, Alaska. Prospectors then raced to the next destination, ready to risk it all again.
Today, you can visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, with four different Klondike Gold Rush museums on both sides of the U.S./Canadaian border to give people the full experience of the story.
Teaching Your Kids About the Klondike Gold Rush
The Klondike Gold Rush was an exciting time in history. Many are still fascinated by the fact that people would risk everything for a nugget of gold!
We cover the Klondike Gold Rush in our Time Travelers: Industrial Revolution Through the Great Depression. We include plenty of fun, hands-on activities for kids to better understand this crazy, grand adventure people set out on.
Now that you know all about this history behind the world’s largest gold rush, would you risk it all for a piece of gold? Tell us in the comments below! And don’t forget to check out our other “This Week in History” blog posts, like Mount St. Helens Erupts and America Enters World War I.