When most people hear the term “gold rush,” they think of the California phenomenon that started in 1849. This frenzied quest for gold kicked off at Sutter’s Mill when James Wilson Marshall discovered gold flakes in a river at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Over the next several years, “gold fever” drove hundreds of thousands of people to California in what has been called the largest mass migration in American history.
(Pixabay / Natalia_Kollegova)
While the gold rush of ’49 is certainly the best-known pursuit of gold on the continent, there was another notable rush near the end of the 19th century. This pursuit kicked off in Canada’s Yukon territory and sparked the last great gold rush in the American West.
George Carmack was at the vanguard of the Yukon gold craze. He was living in California in the 1880s when he heard tales about gold in Alaska. After searching unsuccessfully for gold in Alaska, he charted a course for Yukon territory near the Canadian border. Carmack found the Klondike River to be rich with gold deposits, though there is some controversy over whether Carmack or his two Native American companions discovered the gold first. Either way, they staked their claim, and news of their discovery spread like wildfire through Canada and the United States.
“Klondike Fever” brought roughly 50,000 miners to the Yukon territory over the next two years. One of the most famous of these miners was Jack London, who would later become well-known for stories he wrote about his time in the rugged extremes of the Klondike region. Though London hit his stride as a writer there, he was one of many miners who abandoned the gold rush without anything to show for their gold-seeking efforts. Carmack, on the other hand, mined $1 million worth of gold during his time in the Yukon.
The technology available to the lone miner could only produce limited success. Many miners eventually sold their stakes to large mining outfitters with the equipment and resources to tap into deeper reserves. Major mining operations continued in the area until the mid-1960s and turned up well over $200 million in gold. Today, hundreds of small-scale mines continue to yield gold in the region.