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VANCOUVER — When George Carmack, an American prospector, died in Vancouver in 1922, he was known as the man who discovered the first nugget that started the Klondike gold rush. But did he really?
New research by a U.S. writer indicates Mr. Carmack unfairly took credit in an attempt to steal the prestige away from a Canadian and to help erase links to the native family he abandoned after striking it rich.
The question of who actually discovered gold at Bonanza Creek in 1896 has long been in dispute, with some giving at least a bit of the credit to the two Yukon aboriginal men, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie, who were with Mr. Carmack that day.
They both filed single claims on Bonanza Creek – but Mr. Carmack got two. “Carmack took credit for the find, staking the discovery claim – the first claim on the creek – which entitled him to a second claim,” states the Yukon government’s archives website.
Some unofficial accounts say Mr. Carmack’s wife, Shaaw Tlaa, who was also known as Kate, may have been the one who first saw a glint of gold while she was washing dishes in the creek. But she never staked a claim and remained very much in the background.
Today, most historians describe Mr. Carmack as a co-discoverer – but they acknowledge the question of who actually reached down into the waters of Bonanza Creek and pulled out the dime-sized nugget that started a mad rush to the Klondike, remains unanswered.
“Of course, we will never know for sure the events surrounding the discovery as everybody later wanted to claim a hand in it,” Yukon historian and author Michael Gates recently wrote in the Yukon News.
When Mr. Carmack came to B.C. on a speaking engagement in 1922, however, the Vancouver chapter of the Yukon Order of Pioneers sought to put all doubt to rest, passing a resolution that gave him sole credit. The all-male club was made up of men who had all worked in the Yukon before settling in Vancouver and they spoke with great authority.
“They proclaimed him the discoverer, and he died like three days later in a Vancouver hospital,” said Deb Vanasse, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska.
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