A History of the Klondike Gold Rush in Yukon Territory

A Gas Engine Magazine reader shares the history of the Klondike gold rush in Yukon territory, steam engines and the Klondike's present day setting.

20-40 Case

Photo courtesy of H. W. Hardage, Farwell, Texas.

PHOTO: H. W. Hardage

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Learn about the history of the Klondike gold rush in Yukon territory. 

After Irving several years in the north country, I acquired the pleasant hobby of following up the famous gold rush of 1898. However, it was not until the summer of 1965 that I was fortunate enough to visit the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory.

First, let's be sure of our geography. We lived in Alaska in the '40's and early '50's. The Yukon River rises in Canada and flows across the breadth of Alaska, but the Yukon Territory is in Canada and the folks of old Dawson City prefer to be addressed just Yukon on their mail.

There are numberless books published on the Klondike gold rush in Yukon territory of 1898. Through the years, I have inquired about eight of the more factual ones, so when I actually visited the area, I was prepared to make the most of every hour around old Dawson City. It is still a town of gravel streets and board walks. About 800 people live there today but there are dozens of old buildings falling in ruin; many of the old blacksmith and steam shops with their Contents intact, slowly rusting away. Woe to the person caught vandalizing or carrying off these reminders of bygone days. The old-timers of Dawson really frown upon souvenir hunters.

The old shops are just teeming with steam piping, boilers, donkey engines and thawing equipment. In the early days a steam railroad ran from Dawson, east along the Klondike River and over south to the creeks. The roadbed has long since been torn up to make way for the dredges brought in after the turn of the century — all except one short section of track on which perched a small locomotive near Bear Creek. This little steam relic lay there and rusted for 50 years until the summer of 1965 when some souvenier hunter "bought it" and hauled it to Vancouver. Not until the folks at Dawson read about it in the paper did they know anything about someone "buying" the little locomotive.

Nine miles up Bonanza Creek there is a marker placed where George Carmacks more or less accidentally discovered the deposit of heavy placer gold. One half mile above that, Eldorado Creek joins the Bonanza. Carmacks had been over to see Bob Henderson on Goldbottom Creek. Taking a short cut back to the Klondike River, he camped one night on Rabbit Creek (later called Bonanza). He panned some gravel to pass the time and uncovered a mint of gold.

This was August 1896. The word leaked out and the rush was on. By the fall of 1897, all ground in the Klondike had been staked; yet the summer of 1898 brought in about 30,000 people from all over Canada and the States. The rush to the Klondike in 1898 might be called the biggest hoax of all time even though the miners took out an estimated 10 million in gold in 1898. There were thousands who arrived in Dawson; stayed a few days and headed home again, disappointed. Some actually thought gold nuggets were growing on the bushes.

But today the creek bottoms are quiet except for an occasional dredge in operation. One can spot the remains of old cabins, rusted pick heads and shovels, old steam thawing equipment; but mostly one sees the entire creek bed riffled with tailings from the dredges.

Back in old Dawson City the people live quietly on; the old timers still having hope of another boom; and in the late evenings of summer the rows of old buildings stand ghostly quiet.

However, the archeolgists and mining engineers left a spark of hope the old timers of Dawson — the mother lode was never found.

—Dorothy Smith, secretary. 

Here is a picture of my 20-40 Case, No. 14454. This engine was used for threshing only and shows very little wear. I also have an old Titan that I am repairing and restoring to original condition.