The Klondike River gave up rich deposits of gold in 1896. News of the discovery triggered what became known as the Klondike Gold Rush. Although it had several other names – the Alaska Gold Rush, the Last Great Gold Rush, and the Yukon Gold Rush – nationwide hysteria from newspaper reports on the discovery fueled the ‘rush’ to find riches.
The impact of the news was so great that thousands of individuals quit their jobs and headed to the Klondike. However, many did not know the terrain and weather were both harsh and it took up to a year for the miners to reach the region. When they did, there were, even more, challenges before they could begin to prospect for gold.
Mountainous landscapes filled with frozen rivers greeted the miners along with extremely cold temperatures accompanied by a steady stream of snowstorms and blizzards. Estimates put the number at 100,000 prospectors who set out to mine the Klondike River and each was warned by Canadian officials to pack rations for a year along with their tools in order to survive the trip.
It wasn’t until the summer of 1898 when prospectors were beginning to reach the rich Klondike region. They were showing up daily in the thousands and only the strongest made it. Of the 100,000 estimated to have started the journey, around 30,000 made it to their destination. The tough route forced several to turn back while others died in the intense cold weather.
Mining in the Klondike was not easy. In addition to unpredictable gold distribution and difficulties extracting findings due to terrain, permafrost added to the challenges. This slowed the process for many miners who were not producing the daily results they had hoped for. These factors forced several prospectors to sell their claims to make any profit.
The Other Opportunity
With so many prospectors in the region, opportunity knocked in a different way for several entrepreneurs of the day. The need for services to assist – and entertain – the miners led to the development of ‘boom towns’ throughout the region. The shops, saloons and supply stores in these towns allowed others to profit from the work of the gold miners.
By 1899, news of easier to mine gold discovered in Nome, Alaska brought an end to the Klondike Gold Rush. Of the 30,000 who survived the trek, only 4,000 actually found gold on the Klondike. With new prospects elsewhere, the rush soon ended and along with the miners, several of the boom towns also disappeared. However, development of the Klondike would never have happened if gold had not been discovered in 1896.