Gold was the foundation of the global monetary systems for centuries and the lure of gold caused a series of western North American gold rushes that led to the Klondike “the last great gold rush”. The names Robert Henderson, Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie and George Carmack were inextricably linked to the discovery of gold right here on Bonanza creek just outside Dawson city.
Karen is standing with the photos of Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie and George Carmack.
On 17th August 1896 short of food heading to Henderson’s claim on Fortymile River Jim shot a moose and then went to the creek for a drink, here he found gold and with Charlie and Carmack stacked the first claims, within days Bonanza and Eldorado creeks had been staked and when the news reached the outside the Klondike gold rush was on. During a global depression in the 1890′s thousands joined the Klondike gold rush most with no mining experience.
Today you can still pan for gold in the very same Bonanza creek and Karen always gets very excited when panning for gold even when the odds are stacked against her and finding anything would be a minor miracle.
At first the thawed rivers were worked with gold pans to recover the gold flakes, later more industrial mining practices were used and they had to thaw the ground with wood fires, gasses made the work dangerous and in the warmer summer weather cave-ins occured. As the gold fields developed steam boilers became a common site and a more economical and efficient way to thaw the frozen ground.
The permanently frozen ground of the gold fields gave an unexpected advantage to the early miners, cribbing was unnecessary except near the surface where the entrance might collapse in the spring. Here is an example of the cribbing around this entrance. Typically miners would melt and dig out what they hoped was paydirt in the winter and pile it up on the surface. These piles would freeze solid again on the surface and it was only in summer when water was plentiful could they be screened by sluice or rockerbox to see if it contained gold.
An early sluice was an inclined wooden box with obstructions (riffles) to catch the heavy gold as water washed gravel and sand down its length. Kev’s having a break from all that hard work on the wheelbarrow moving the rocks around.
Another processing method was the rocker box here Karen is demonstrating one it was used to separate the gold from the gravel. It worked by washing the paydirt over riffles in the bottom of the box, the box has a pivot on the bottom and the operator rocked the box from side to side to pass the paydirt over the traps.
Here we passed some relics of the gold mining era.
There are still current claims being dug in the area although this one had to avoid the old miners house which has a preservation order on it. If you were wondering what a modern placer gold mine looks like, this is a good example. They look a bit like a gravel pit, some of them are going over old spoil to try to find nuggets that the gold dredges missed and some have managed to find virgin ground that the dredges didn’t get to (you will learn about dredging in the next blog). The mining tools of choice these days are an excavator and a modern sluice to process the gravel.
We wondered what all the bird boxes lining the route was all about. It seems someone had a brainwave, ‘swifts and swallows eat mosquito’s we have thousands of mosquito’s but nowhere for the birds, lets build some bird boxes to allow them to nest and remain in the area’. Does it work? well that area had significantly fewer mosquito’s than back at the campsite.
During the gold rush era the paddle wheelers played such an important role they ruled the Yukon River braving harsh conditions in remote areas they supplied Dawson City, Whitehorse and Fairbanks (in Alaska) their role was diminished during the 1940′s when airplanes and improved roads linked towns and in 1953 the road to Dawson was completed which marked the end of the paddle wheeler’s working days.
Launched in 1922 the S.S Keno was often the first ship to Dawson in the spring and last out in the fall (Autumn)before the freeze up, her summer work was hauling silver, lead and zinc ore from Mayo to the mouth of the Stewart river where larger ships like the S.S Klondike took over. Fully loaded with 50 US tons of freight, she could push a barge with 70 US tons of ore and only draw 21 inches of water. The S.S Keno was the last sternwheeler to ply the Yukon river when it made its journey to Dawson city on 26th August 1960 for its final resting place.
Other stern wheelers that the plied the Yukon were not so fortunate in their fate and seven were abandoned on dry land at an old shipyard on the shores of the Yukon River just up from our campsite. We walked through the bush and on the beach to find the paddle wheelers grave yard.
They lay side by side in two groups with their partially collapsed superstructures atop intact hulls. Many of the mechanical components still visible. Most of these wooden stern wheelers first arrived in 1898 with the gold seekers the lucky ones still working the rivers up to the 1920′s.
Jammed between the sternwheeler’s Julia B and the Schwatka lay the Seattle No.3. in this photo you can still see the name. It was a wooden-hulled, 47.3 m sternwheeler prefabricated by the Moran Bros. Shipyard in Seattle and assembled in 1898 at Dutch Harbour in the Aleutian Islands before it arrived in Dawson city on 28th August 1898 with 175 tons of freight. It was heavily built with seven keelsons/longitudinal girders, two complex bilge keelsons and five massive transverse timbers or carriers, two of which support kingposts. The decking, deck beams and the wooden hull are amazingly still intact and complete except at the bow. A single, long boiler and stack with breeching located aft, are intact but the sternwheel is absent. The Seattle contains an unusual and incomplete four-tiller and roller- steering system with the tiller arms riding slightly above the freight deck. Iron-sheathed wooden semi-circles for tiller bearings are affixed to the freight deck, but the tillers, rudders and rudder posts are missing. It continued to operate until 1922.
The Zealandian was the other in this group of four. It is also of note that only the well healed arrived by paddle wheeler the vast majority struggling over the Chilcoot pass to then brave the five finger rapids downstream in makeshift boats and rafts.
The second group of three were even more ravaged by the elements the bush had started to reclaim them as had the river. We struggled to make out distinguishing features on them.
These paddle wheelers were the queens of their era and even in this rotting state majestic in their demise.
Next Up – Dedge No.4