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Gold! Riches and Ruin |Natives and Outsiders

by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator | Mar 26, 2015

For years George Carmack, the son of a California forty-niner, took credit as the first to discover gold in the Klondike in 1896. However, two First Nations men who were related to him by marriage may have been the first. Historians now acknowledge that Skookum Jim Mason, the brother of Carmack’s wife, Kate, and Tagish (or Dawson) Charley likely made the find. Regardless, as the word spread it triggered a massive stampede to the Far North.

The Canadian government foresaw the need to establish a law enforcement presence along the border between the United States and Canada, and in the communities growing and developing in response to the gold rush. The rapid increase in population led to the Yukon Territory’s establishment as a province. Many American gold seekers didn’t realize at first that the discovery existed in another country, and they chafed under Canadian authority.

A vibrant and diverse indigenous population had long occupied the region. Because of their familiarity with the landscape, many First Nations people were hired as packers and guides on the trails to Dawson, and some worked mining claims. Although many of the outsiders adopted aspects of Native culture, such as wearing parkas and mukluks, overall the Yukon-Klondike gold rush led to the systematic degradation of the Native cultures in the region. 

 NWMP Constables Leason

Klondikers and Indian Packers                      

 [TOP]
NWMP Constables Leason, Cutting, Brown, Harrington, Ward, Livingstone, Campbell and Ball posing on White Pass Summit beside Union Jack and US Flag with Unidentified Civilian at Extreme Right, 1899
Image courtesy of Royal Canadian Mounted Police Historical Collections Unit; 1933.8.1

[BOTTOM]
Klondikers and Indian Packers near Stone House, Chilkoot Trail, Alaska, 1897
Photographer: Frank LaRoche
Image courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections; LaRoche 10042

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