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The United States acquired Alaska in 1867, but it was basically unknown and unsettled until the late 1890's, when a large number people from Canada and America had gathered there in search of gold. (Alaska's Gold) Juneau, Alaska had been established in 1880 after gold was found there, but the major strike occurred in August 1896, when the son of a California forty-niner, John Muir, found gold while panning in Rabbit Creek, which had soon become Bonanza Creek. Several men during this initial period enjoyed gold patches that had brought them all more then one-million dollars. News about this particular gold strike did not reach California and the rest of the West Coast until the summer of 1897. This gold rush had followed the pattern of the California gold rush of 1849. (Poynter 79)
In 1880, one of the largest gold rushes was started. John Muir was one of few men who began the series of Alaskan Gold Rushes, and made Alaska what it is well known for, the last frontier. John Muir was on a canoe trip through the inside passage in 1879, and he had predicted there would be large amounts of gold in Juneau, Alaska's capitol in present day America. In 1886, John Muir, along with two other men, stopped to have lunch by Rabbit Creek, and saw a sight that was to set the world on fire with gold fever.
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In August 1896, three men led by Skookum Jim Mason headed north, down the Yukon River from the Carcross area, looking for his sister Kate and her husband George Carmack. The other people that were part of the expedition were Skookum Jim's cousin, Dawson Charlie, and his nephew Patsy Henderson. After meeting up with George and Kate, they ran into Nova Scotian Robert Henderson who had been mining gold on the Indian River, which was south of the Klondike. Robert Henderson had clearly stated to Skookum Jim that he did not want any Siwashes, which are Indians, near him or where he was mining.
On August 16, 1896, they had discovered rich gold deposits in Bonanza Creek. It is now generally accepted that Skookum Jim had made the actual discovery, but some accounts say that it was Kate Carmack, Skookum's sister. George Carmack was officially credited for the discovery because the claim was staked in his last name. The group agreed to this because they felt that other miners would be reluctant to recognize a claim made by an Indian, since there were strong racist attitudes of the time.
After their discovery the news spread to other mining camps in the Yukon River Valley, and the Bonanza, Eldorado and Hunker Creeks were rapidly staked by miners who had been previously working creeks and sandbars on the Fortymile and Stewart Rivers. Robert Henderson, who was mining only a few miles away over the hill, only found out about the discovery after the rich creeks had been all staked. (Klondike)
Driven by rumors of gold elsewhere, many people scattered across the vast lands of the Alaskan tundra in search of the metal, moving as far north as the Arctic Circle in some cases. (Klondike) Historians had estimated that a whopping one-hundred thousand people journeyed to the Dawson City area in search of gold. In the summer of 1899, miners had discovered gold in the sand on the beach near Nome, Alaska, an isolated area that is located near the Bering Strait. (Alaska's Gold) This had begun another Alaska gold rush. Steamers from Seattle were unable to crack the ice that had already formed late in the summer, and eager miners were forced to wait until next season. The Klondike gold rush, and the rush to Nome, succeeded in opening up the last frontier of the United States and was the final opportunity for the amateur people to claim poor man's gold.
Violence had escalated during the Klondike gold rush, and greed and envy had become an everyday thing for the people of the last frontier. Prices for necessities that were brought in with difficulty had inflated extremely. Also, men did not like the idea of the growing population in the area.
The people of the Klondike gold rush had many different methods of mining. They had no elaborate equipment, so ways of mining were difficult. The bed rock upon which the gold was located usually was frozen. To penetrate the permafrost, minders had to burn out a shaft with wood fires. The tedious process of thawing, removing dirt, and
then thawing again led finally to bedrock. Then miners hoisted the gold-bearing gravel to the surface in buckets and, in the summer months when water was available, washed the gravel down in pans and sluice boxes to separate the dirt from the gold. (Hunt 60)
People have become intoxicated, obsessed, haunted, humbled, and exalted over pieces of metal called gold. (Bernstein 28) Gold has motivated entire societies, torn economics to shreds, determined the fate of kings and emperors, inspired the most beautiful works of art, provoked horrible acts by one person against another, and driven men to individual intense hardship in the hope of finding instant wealth. (Bernstein 1) Other people struck it rich without even panning for gold. Some men realized that if all these gold-seekers would be coming to the Yukon they would need lumber for houses, food, and clothing for their families. These wise business men opened up stores and warehouses. (Place 93)
Upon my research, I found some very interesting real-life stories of people who struck it rich in the Yukon. The truth life stories of people who struck it rich in the Yukon were pleasant, yet some were tragic. I was especially interested in the people from Pennsylvania. Belinda Mulroney was a strong-willed woman who struck it rich. Mulroney left Scranton to become the richest woman in the Klondike. She waitressed her way to the Yukon where she turned fortune into fortune, opening roadhouses and hotels and managing the largest mining company in the region. She and her husband left Dawson City and bought a ranch near Yakima, Washington. After the death of her husband, she settled in Washington State where she lived until her death in the 1960s. (Canadian)
Another Pennsylvanian, Frank Neill also traveled to Alaska looking for gold. In 1897, Frank Neill, a Philadelphia promoter, talked twelve technical-school students into persuading their fathers to buy a schooner and send them to the Klondike. The promoter was supposed to be a navigator, but turned out to be a very poor one. After a series of delays and misfortunes, the vessel finally stumbled into Juneau, Alaska. All of the boys went home except one, Frank Neill. He pressed on to the Klondike, arriving finally in 1900. All the gold was gone, but Neill made a small fortune hauling logs, and used it to get started in the construction business in Long Island, and did well enough to marry and make a wedding trip back to Klondike. He remained a wealthy, respected man in Skagway long after the great rush ended. (Canadian)
Another interesting story is about a man from Arkansas named Jim Hall. Hall had already been in the Yukon for ten years before he bought the claim that made him rich. When Hall made his fortune, he and his partner spent their gold on wine and women. (Bernstein 73) At one point, Hall fancied a woman and purchased her for twenty thousand dollars in gold dust. Hall did invest some of his money wisely when he built the Greentree Hotel in the most expensive section of Dawson. His investment was reduced to ashes a short time later when a dance-hall girl had intentionally started a fire that burned up a half of a million dollars of Dawson real estate. (Canadian)
The stories of Klondike miners of the last frontier are endless, each one unique in its own rite. But one thing they have in common is the greed for wealth. From 1880 till the early 1900s southeastern Alaska produced more than 17 million, two-hundred and seventy-six thousand dollars in gold. (Greenwood) Many miners had searched for gold in Alaska, but, in the long run, less than ten percent of them actually struck it rich. (Alaska's Gold)
The Alaskan Gold Strike changed the lives of many people, as money and greed often do. History and literary authors never tire of depicting then hustle and bustle of panning for gold. The elation and sometimes great disappointment always makes for an interesting read.