The Klondike Miners of 1898

In the late 1890’s, a man from Seattle, along with his Canadian brother-in-law and a friend unexpectedly found a piece of gold in Rabbit creek, a place somewhere in the Yukon region of Canada. The news about the rare and tiny find eventually spread. Soon, the deserted and peaceful region of Klondike found itself accommodating thousands and thousands of prospectors and entrepreneurs trying to find luck within the vast region.

(Photo credits: Wikimedia)
(Photo credits: Wikimedia)

A Difficult Journey

The journey of the prospectors to Klondike, Yukon was a very arduous one. Due to the extreme weather conditions, dangerous trail, and an estimated year-long trip, the number of prospectors who came to the region dropped from around 100,000 to 30,000. Some perished, while some lost interest and backed out along the way.

Upon arriving, the people quickly built a town which also saw the rise of population in the area. From a mere 500 inhabitants in 1896, the population shot up to 30,000 in 1898. Because the town was hastily constructed, the place became susceptible to fires, epidemics and inflation. Even the natives of the area, the Hän people, suffered from the event as most of them died after being displaced from their homes to make way for other explorers.

Mining Operations

Just like any other business, mining also takes time and capital to be successful. Miners who came to the Klondike region should acquire a license before operating. After that, a miner is required to provide wood as charcoal for burning the ground; construct dam and ditches, and purchase sluice boxes. In total, a miner should have a minimum capital of around $41,000 during that time.

Furthermore, the Klondike miners and prospectors tried different types of mining methods in order to bring out the coveted mineral. Since gold is found below ground surface, underground mining was the first option. The method required nonstop thawing and digging of the ground. Then, there was the hydraulic mining where jets of water were used to wash down a hillside. Panning, the simplest method, required a box to be filled with dirt and then sluiced with water. Water became an essential component in this method as it was used to separate gold and dirt. Tiny gold particles would naturally settle at the bottom of the box. This process, compared to the other two, was apparently slow and was commonly used by individuals and small-time prospectors.

The Decline

Unfortunately, only few managed to find gold. The rarity of the metal in the area was attributed to the uneven distribution of the said mineral in the region. In the end, only 4,000 miners actually found gold, and there were only hundreds who became rich. These few were often seen inside saloons, where they generously spend their hard earnings on drinks and gambling.

Then, in the summer of 1899, news about gold discovery in Nome spread like wildfire. The elusive metal in the said city of West Alaska was believed to be easier to excavate compared to that of Klondike. As a result, many prospectors from Klondike left the region to exploit the new gold findings, signaling the end of the Klondike gold rush.

 

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