The Klondike Gold Rush
The Panic of 1893 was caused by the puncturing of an investment bubble in railroad shares that led to major bank failures, a run on gold, and a plunge in the stock market. (Sound familiar?) The nation slid into its worst economic depression to date. Unemployment rocketed to 19%. It was in the midst of this downturn, late summer, 1896, that a quartet of Yukon prospectors hit paydirt in “Bonanza Creek”. That Fall and Winter, the Klondike area was staked out and scoured by the local prospectors. By the time Winter had loosened its grip and the Yukon River had thawed, allowing steamboat traffic out to the Bering Sea and down the coast, it was the summer of 1897. West Coast newspapers screamed headlines of “Gold! Gold! Gold!” as the first shipments arrived in Seattle and San Francisco. You can imagine the effect this had on a desperate populace. The stampede was on. The most eclectic migration of modern times headed completely unprepared into one of the most inhospitable places in North America. The tales are legion. Some happy, most sad, some funny, many ironic. The definitive volume on this theater of human endeavor is Pierre Berton’s The Klondike Fever: The Life and Death of the Last Great Gold Rush.
Though gold was the driving force, there were some who actually looked up from their diggings and fell in love with this extraordinary land. Some wonderful literature has resulted. Adventure tales like The Call of the Wild, White Fang & To Build a Fire (Modern Library Classics), by Jack London, are still taught in schools today. The “Bard of the North,” Robert Service, created a colorful collection of verse, alternately satirical and evocative, with The Best of Robert Service.