Yukon outpost was once largest city west of Winnipeg, as thousands came seeking their fortune in creek beds
At first glance, the wooden stake erected in the nondescript patch of dirt does not appear to be particularly remarkable in any way. But, if a wooden stake could tell its story, the original claim post at Bonanza Creek, where the first pieces of gold that ignited the Yukon Territory’s Klondike Gold Rush were discovered, would surely tell a whopper.
Planted in the ground on Aug. 17, 1896, today the Discovery Claim National Historic Site preserves the spot on Bonanza Creek, 15 kilometres from its confluence with the Klondike River, where George Carmack and his fishing buddies, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie established the first of their four claims.
According to the oral history traditions of the Tagish First Nations peoples, Jim, Charlie and Patsy Henderson were fishing with Jim’s sister, Shaaw Tla, and her husband, George Carmack when they were approached by a seasoned gold hunter, Robert Henderson. Following the unwritten code of the miner that any knowledge of potential finds must be shared, Henderson told Carmack of some promising prospects he’d discovered in the Klondike River Valley.
Not long afterward, Carmack, Jim and Charlie made their way up Rabbit Creek, a short ways from Henderson’s camp on Gold Bottom Creek. After panning yielded a few encouraging traces of gold, they inspected a place where the bedrock was exposed, and quickly unearthed a dime-sized nugget. Flipping over loose stones, they discovered layers of gold wedged between flakes of rock. The following day they staked their claim and renamed the creek Bonanza.
News of their find spread as fast as news did in those days — by ship — when wealthy Klondikers docked at San Francisco and Seattle many months later. Since few hungry prospectors could afford to travel by steamer from the Alaska Coast up the Yukon River to Dawson City, most sailed as far as Skagway then continued on foot via the Chilkoot or White Pass trails.
Those who survived the gruelling wilderness trek and ensuing long winter layover at Lake Lindeman and Bennett Lake spent that time building boats for the 800-kilometre voyage to Dawson City.
In May 1898, an astounding 4,700 vessels of various shapes, sizes and degrees of seaworthiness ferried some 28,000 eager fortune seekers past a North West Mounted Police (NWMP) checkpoint at Tagish Post, en route to Dawson and the Klondike. While prospectors tended smoky fires in an attempt to thaw frozen ground to unearth their destiny, steamships stocked Dawson City with the finest French champagnes, oysters, linens and Parisian fashions.
In two short years, the population of the Yukon Territory exploded from 5,000 of the hardiest fur traders, prospectors, missionaries and NWMP members to 30,000 determined and optimistic fortune seekers. For a time, Dawson City was the largest city west of Winnipeg and north of Seattle. While the Gold Rush ended abruptly after two years, during that time more than $500 million in gold was recovered.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Vancouver Sun website: http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/Dawson+City+preserves+golden+memories/8116415/story.html