The Klondike goldfields are situated east of the Yukon River, in latitude 60° north. They are bounded by the Yukon River on the west, by the Klondike River on the north, by Flat Creek and Dominion Creek on the east, and by the Indian River on the south. The area included between these boundaries is about 800 square miles.
HISTORY OF THE RUSH
The Klondike River was originally named “Tron Deg” by Harper and McQuesten, the name being derived from local Indians. Indian names were in place on most rivers and gulches when white men came into the country, but the names were too long and difficult to understand and were quickly changed to easier pronunciations. The correct native name for Klondike is “Trondiuck.” In English this means “hammer-water.” Stakes were hammered into the gravel bottom which provided a basis for the salmon traps.
The name “Trondiuck” being too difficult to pronounce, was changed into the present Klondyke or Klondike. It was here, on August 17, 1896, that prospectors Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie and George Carmack discovered gold and touched off one of the largest gold stampedes in the world. Nearly 100,000 gold hungry prospectors climbed the Chilkoot Pass into the Yukon Territory and floated the Yukon River to Dawson City to search for gold.
About halfway down Rabbit Creek (later named Bonanza Creek), Skookum Jim saw a moose and shot it for food. While waiting for his partners, Jim went to the creek for water and noticed gold in the sand in greater quantities than he’d ever seen before! They decided to stake the claim, but got into a dispute as to who should stake it. Jim claimed he was the discoverer, but there was a question about staking a claim because he was Indian, so to be safe, Carmack staked and recorded it, assigning half interest to Jim. On August 17, 1896, Carmack staked the Discovery claim five hundred feet in length up and down the creek, and Number 1 below Discovery the width of the creek valley.
In the autumn of 1896, there were about 1,700 prospectors in the Yukon basin, and about half were located on the Alaska side. During the winter the population increased by 600. By spring of 1897 there were 1,500 in the Klondike region and the town of Dawson began to take form with a population of 100.
It was not until the summer of 1897, when gold began coming out on the boats, that the world became aware of this rich goldfield. The first of these ships, the Excelsior, steamed into San Francisco on July 16, 1897, with $400,000 in Klondike gold. Two days later, the Portland docked in Seattle with about $700,000 in gold. On board were many of the rich prospectors dubbed by some as “Klondike Kings.” Glaring headlines from the Seattle paper announced the arrival of a “ton of gold” from the fabulous Klondike. The news was wired throughout the world and within a few weeks the Klondike Gold Rush was on!
THE LEGENDS WERE TRUE
Some of the reports that came out of the Klondike goldfields were staggering. A ledge, twenty feet by four feet, yielded $40,000 in less than a month.
Miner Fred Bruceth mined $61,000 in one day. Bruceth hired a dozen men to work ten-hour shifts, and they recovered that amount in one day from a sluice line of five boxes. Some of the nuggets Bruceth found were scattered all over the ground. In some instances, all he had to do was pick them up.
Pack trains of gold were brought over rugged trails by dog trains or horses One train of 15 dogs carried out 30-pound packs of gold from Eldorado Creek worth $122,000 ($14.7 million at $2500 per ounce Canadian).
The first bedrock on Eldorado was struck by two miners named Sloan and Wilkerson on claim number 14. They took out $10,000 in nuggets. Each nugget averaged $10 apiece. This is when gold was $16 an ounce. At eighteen feet down, they struck black sand and test pans began showing $12, $14, $50, and $85 pans. They found from $5 to $500 a pan. When spring came, they washed out $100,000 in gold.
George Coffey took two shovelfuls of paydirt from his Bonanza Creek claim and panned out 63 ounces. This included three nuggets worth over $100 each. It was possible to see the gold in the gravel standing twenty feet away. Peterson and Kresge made a big discovery on Gold Hill above Bonanza. In ten days, they rocked out nearly $6,400 in gold from a 100-square-foot claim. On the second afternoon, after the initial discovery, they found $1,100 in nuggets just under the moss.
Klondike King Clarence Berry panned out a $495 pan and two days later panned one out worth $1,200. Clarence Berry took out $250,000 in the first year. He paid $22,000 in wages, took home $130,000 in gold dust, and had $84,000 in nuggets. Miners Densmore and Spencer washed out 90 pounds of gold in a single day. They used the money to build a saloon.
The gold on Eldorado was bigger than any other creek. Half-pound nuggets were not uncommon. One nugget found weighed 35 ounces, while another one weighed in at 16 ounces. A lot of the larger nuggets were pieces of quartz with gold imbedded. Smaller nuggets were usually free of quartz.
On Bonanza Creek, the richest gold claim fraction was 74 feet long and was staked by Dick Lowe. Lowe found gold by the cupful. The first four pans were worth $700 apiece. The first cleanup was worth $60,000 and the second cleanup, taken off the surface, was $75,000.
In 1910, a 20-pound chunk of quartz laced with gold was found by Mike Golobiek, on the hillside opposite the upper half of 79 below on Bonanza. Golobiek also found a 17.5-ounce nugget that was half gold and half quartz.
THE GOLD AND MAJOR CREEKS
Bonanza Creek has been the most important of the gold-bearing creeks of the Klondike. The creek gravels of the Bonanza valley have proved productive from Victoria Gulch down to the mouth of the creek, a distance of about thirteen miles. The gold is distributed along the creek somewhat erratically. Claims 25 through 36 all proved remarkably rich.
In 1898, some of these 500-foot claims yielded upwards of half a million dollars each at the rate of over $1,000 per running foot of valley, or 58 ounces per foot. A short stretch of the creek above the Discovery claim, half a mile in length, was exceedingly rich. A fraction at the mouth of Little Skookum Gulch, about eighty feet in length, commonly known as Dick Lowe’s fraction, was reported to have yielded over $300,000.
A boulder from Bonanza Creek near Discovery, weighing 60 ounces, contained 20 ounces of gold. Additional evidence of the detrital origin of the gold is afforded by its worn character in the creeks, while the younger grains and nuggets found in the gulches are always rough and angular. Among the more important Bonanza gulches are Victoria, O’Neil and Ready Bullion on upper Bonanza; and Big Skookum, Magnet, American, Fox, Monte Christo and Lovett gulches on lower Bonanza. Victoria Gulch, the most productive of the upper Bonanza gulches, enters Bonanza Creek from the left, 1.75 miles below Carmacks fork, and almost at the head of the productive part of the creek.
Hunker Creek is a tributary of the Klondike six miles above the mouth of Bonanza. It heads close to the Dome with Dominion Creek, and flows in a northwesterly direction. It has a length of fifteen miles, and is about equal in size to Bonanza Creek. The most important tributaries are Last Chance and Goldbottom Creeks, both of which come in from the left.
Andrew Hunker, an old Cariboo miner and early 40 Mile miner, found gold about 12 miles above the mouth of Hunker Creek on September 1, 1897. He took out $22.75 in two hours of panning only surface gravels. This was considered extremely rich. Hunker became one of the richest gold placer creeks in the world, next to Eldorado and Bonanza.
Hunker Creek gold occurs in bulky, rounded grains along the upper portion of the valley, and is the usual rough, flattish grains and scales farther down. Nuggets are fairly numerous in the rich stretch near Discovery claim, and also in some of the claims below Goldbottom. They are occasionally found as far down as Henry Gulch. On middle Hunker Creek, one of the large gold dredges recovered 11,000 ounces of gold in an eight-hour shift.
Dominion Creek is the largest, and one of the most important of the gold-bearing creeks. Above Lombard Creek, it occurs in rough rounded grains and small nuggets. Farther down, a mixture of heavy grains, some well-worn and others quite rough and flaky are found, along with an occasional large, well-worn nugget. Below Lower Discovery the gold becomes finer and flakier and nuggets are only occasionally found. The gold on Lower Dominion, below the mouth of Gold Run, is coarser than on portions of Upper Dominion and was probably largely derived from Gold Run Creek.
The bench or terrace gold often occurs in fairly large flat grains more uniform in size, smoother and more worn than the creek gold. The claims along the lower part of Gold Run Creek, while not equal to those on Eldorado Creek, proved exceedingly rich. A number of the best claims probably yielded over a quarter of a million dollars worth of gold.
“Hootch” Albert Fortier (from Quebec he got his name Hootch for his ability to make alcohol out of nearly anything) actually found gold here in 1896, but did nothing about it until He staked Lower Discovery in May of 1897. John Brannin staked No. 1 Above on June 12. At the same time, Frank Biederman found gold on Upper Dominion and thought he was the first to find gold here. The Canadian government allowed both discovery claims and gave the creek the name Dominion.
Eldorado Creek is a small stream about seven miles in length, and from three to six feet in width at its mouth. Eldorado Creek has proved the richest creek in the Klondike district, and one of the greatest placer creeks ever discovered. The first thirty-seven claims, with a few intervening fractions, yielded gold of an estimated value of $20-$25 million in early days, and millions more have been added in recent years.
The most productive portion of the creek extends from its mouth up Gay Gulch a distance of about three and a half miles. The gravels on this stretch were all extraordinarily rich. No. 17, at the mouth of French Gulch, was reputed to be the richest claim in the whole district, yielding nearly a million and a half dollars worth of gold, and claims 5, 16 and 30 almost rivaled it in importance.
Eldorado gold is very coarse and is often angular and almost unworn. Nuggets are more plentiful than on any other creek in the Klondike, and are often crystalline in form. Several nuggets, weighing in at 23 and 57 ounces, were found on the upper end of the paystreak. A 7-pound nugget was discovered on Chief Gulch. A number of specimens of unworn crystalline gold, in filiform and dendritic shapes, were found on Eldorado and other Klondike creeks.
Sulphur Creek has a length of seventeen miles. Pay gravels occur fairly continuously along Sulphur Creek, from a point a short distance above the mouth of Green Gulch down to claim No. 35 below, a distance of about seven miles. The claims along this stretch were seldom exceptionally rich, and a few were barren or nearly so, but most of them yielded fair returns. Gold occurs in large angular pieces in the Upper Gulch part of the creek, and in small, flaky, rough grains farther down.
On Cheechako Hill, Oliver Millet, while working a claim on Eldorado, formed a theory about an ancient stream channel that formed Bonanza. In the winter of 1897-98, Millet struck gold on the white channels several hundred feet above the creek channel. Millet took out $20,000 from a 100 square foot claim and sold it for $60,000 due to illness from scurvy. The new owner took out $500,000.
French Hill is one of the famous hill and bench gravels in the white channel that extended all the way over to Hunker Creek. On October 20, 1897, William “Cariboo Bill” Dettering, an old miner from Illinois, and his partner Joe Stacey staked the first claim. Cariboo Bill had a theory similar to Millet of Cheechako Hill about the high bench deposits. He sunk a shaft on the hill and the first pan from bedrock reportedly carried 11 ounces. They took out $13,000 and sold the claim for $40,000.
On July 23, 1897, Nathan Kresge and Nils Peterson staked the Discovery Hill claim on Gold Hill. In ten days, using a rocker box and recirculated water, Kresge took out $6,375 from a piece of ground 11×17 feet and three feet deep. Peterson moved further up the hill, sank a shaft 63 feet deep, and discovered even richer ground. By September 14, every possible claim on the hill was staked, and a few days later the Hunker Creek white channel was discovered from this proven theory.
Early Gold production from this region was phenomenal. The following figures were estimated at $20.67 per ounce.
Much of the area is under claim and activity continues to this day. Interested parties must check with local agencies to determine if an area is open to claim.