The Klondike River was originally named “Tron Deg” by Harper and McQuesten, the name being derived from the local Indians.
According to William Ogilvie, 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. Once the country was overwhelmed by new arrivals, the names quickly changed to easier pronunciations. The correct native name for Klondike is “Trondiuck.” The “Trondiuck” name was too difficult to pronounce, and it was corrupted into the present Klondyke or Klondike.
It was here, on August 17, 1896, that prospectors Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie and George Carmack discovered gold in the Klondike region, 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.
While doing some logging nearby, Skookum Jim was examining Rabbit Creek—later renamed Bonanza Creek—and found gold among the creek gravels. About halfway down Bonanza Creek, Jim saw a moose and shot it. While waiting for his partners, Jim looked in the sand of the creek where he had gone to drink. He found gold in greater quantities than he’d ever seen before! They cooked the moose meat and remained two days at the spot panning and testing the gravel up and down the creek.
Deciding to stake the claim, a dispute arose 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 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 fall of 1896, Joe Ladue moved from 60 Mile and erected the first building, his store, and a sawmill at what was to become the site of Dawson City, a site that William Ogilvie had staked shortly after the Bonanza Creek Discovery.
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. Throughout the winter, miners burned their way to bedrock and took out about $30,000 and scant reports hit the rest of the world.
On September 1, 1896, Anton Stander, Frank Kellar, James Clements, Jay Whipple and Frank Phiscator decided to prospect further up and beyond Bonanza Creek, which would later be named Eldorado. They discovered rich gold and staked claims. Eldorado was claimed by some to be the richest creek in the world. The first 40 claims, three and a half miles long, produced a half million dollars each. Some claims yielded a million and a half in 500-foot lengths. It’s still being mined 120 years later.
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. The news was wired throughout the world and within a few weeks the Klondike Gold Rush was on!
Before winter set in, 2,000 more prospectors reached the Klondike, swelling the population to about 5,000. The freezing of the rivers found several thousand stranded on the way. Some travel continued in and out of the Yukon basin all winter. But the real rush would begin in the spring of 1898.
Some of the reports that came out of the Klondike goldfields were phenomenal. A ledge, twenty feet by four feet, yielded $40,000 in less than a month. Miner Fred Bruceth mined $61,000 in one day—an extremely rich find. Bruceth hired a dozen men to work on 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 reach down and 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 ($11.1 million at $1,875 per ounce).
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. Remember, 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. Another Klondike King, Alex McDonald had rich ground, too. McDonald’s foreman panned out $800, and a few weeks later showed McDonald a $1,700 pan.
Miners Densmore and Spencer washed out 90 pounds of gold in a single day. They used the money to build a saloon. Joe LaDue mined for two days, shoveling into a sluice, and made $4,008 in two and a half days.
The pans of gold were bigger on Eldorado 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. ($7.5 million at today’s prices.) The next 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, right limit. Golobiek also found a 17.5-ounce nugget that was half gold and half quartz.
Joe Howard put down two holes on the very rich bench claim later sold to Peterson and Kresge, and he left in disgust. Mr. Peterson drifted between the two shafts sunk by Howard and took out $100,000.
Tommy Ashby put down many holes on Claim 44 Eldorado before he began taking out three ounces to the pan.
Much of the area is under claim and activity continues to this day. Truly an amazing gold history.