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Finally!  Dawson and the Klondike

Disillusion awaited most.  The Klondike's gold lay within a relatively small 25-by30-mile area, and the best locations had been staked the year before, and it wasn't in Dawson; but another fifty miles outside the town.  To make matters worse, the Northwest Mounted Police began collecting a Canadian duty on all ore excavated, and soon only rich claims were worth the trouble.

Some of the stampeders made a meager living doing odd jobs or working as laborers on other people's claims.  Most did nothing but mill about in Dawson's muddy streets and smoky saloons.  By the middle of summer, newcomers were leaving as fast as they had arrived.  Not everyone did, though ...

Fred Trump, grandfather of late 20th century billionaire Donald Trump, earned his fortune running the Arctic Restaurant and Hotel in Bennett along the Chilkoot Trail. 

Belinda Mulroney became wealthy by running a hotel and selling supplies.  Many women found their riches running dance halls.  Martha Black bought a sawmill and went on to become Canada's second female Member of Parliament.

Some of those whose riches were not made in the mines

Oliver Millett, a German-Canadian from Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, was probably the most famous "cheechako."  He had worked for wages on a number of claims but in the back of his mind held a theory that the old channel, after reaching the Bonanza valley, had moved on through the hills on the left bank of the creek.  After sinking three shafts, he found what he was looking for; white gravel and in the gravel there was gold.  He now worked like a man possessed and although badly debilitated by scurvy, he pushed himself until his legs turned black and scabrous.  Old timers thought Millett was made and derisively named the hill "Cheechako Hill" after the foolish Canadian.  Millett sold his claim for $60,000 and the new owner took out over $500,000.

Seattle mayor W. D. Wood should have stayed in Seattle and taken advantage of the wealth the Klondikers brought to the city.  Instead, he resigned his post as mayor and set off for the Yukon.  He was one of the many who turned back.

From 1898, the newspapers that had encouraged so many to travel to the Klondike lost interest in it.  When news arrived in the summer of 1899 that gold had been discovered in Nome in west Alaska, the electric news of the gold strikes galvanized the idlers providing an alternative to going home.  The exodus reached flood stage in July, when fully 8,000 stampeders jammed onto Yukon steamers for the 1,700 mile journey to Nome.

The great Klondike gold rush ended as suddenly as it had begun. Towns such as Dawson City and Skagway began to decline. Others, including Dyea, disappeared altogether, leaving only memories of what many consider to be the last grand adventure of the 19th century.

No man who participated in the Klondike gold rush was ever the same.  He was like the battle-experienced soldier, fully aware of his limitations and capabilities.  The fear and excitement of these journeys overwhelmed the gold seekers with exhaustion and wonder. In the days and weeks they spent on the Chilkoot and White Pass Trails, they experienced things they had never imagined, and recorded them with excitement, awe, surprise, and dread. They saw men and animals hauling every imaginable load, from boats and canoes to iron stoves, raw lumber, wire cables, and iron rails for narrow-gauge railroads. They saw pack animals, dogs, and mules, cruelly beaten and starving, and they walked the White Pass Trail on the rotting carcasses of dead horses. They saw women dressed in pants and bloomers; they saw men immobilized by exhaustion, despair, and grief. They saw human beings dead and dying from accidents, meningitis, and from suffocation in the tragic Chilkoot avalanche of April 1898. They saw women headed home, their husbands dead on the trail. They saw huge caches of supplies buried at the summit in thirty feet of snow. And their bodies suffered. They endured the burning pain of snow blindness, as well as sore muscles, bruised legs, and freezing hands and feet. They spent days in sweat-soaked clothing, chilled by blizzard winds.

The story of the years 1897-1898 is found in the examinations of individual accomplishments and failings.  Many of the stampeders never reached the gold fields. In fact, between 1897 and 1900, more than 100,000 people from many nations attempted to reach the Klondike, but no more than 40,000 reached Dawson City. Some quit on the trail after experiencing too much hardship. Some returned to their original homes. Still others returned to the West coast and made it their permanent home. Some me stood out as giants, many lived by their wits, others were made greater or lesser than they had been before the cry of "Ho for the Klondike!"



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