Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Klondike Gold Rush: A last hurrah of the Old West

M.M. Justus, author
The Klondike Gold Rush:
A last hurrah 
of the Old West
by M.M. Justus

The Klondike Stampede of 1897-98 has been called the last great gold rush. It took place less than five years after Frederick Jackson Turner declared the American frontier era was over. Though the Klondike was in the Yukon Territory of Canada, the vast majority of the stampeders were American, to the point where July 4th was a much larger celebration in Dawson City in 1898 than July 1st, Canada Day.

By 1898, most of the U.S. was "civilized." With a few exceptions (some of which still feel very frontier-like today), the Old West was a thing of the past. But not on the way to the Klondike.

The trail to the Klondike was very much a frontier. Before the gold rush, it was very sparsely populated, mostly by Indians and a few hardy miners -- sometimes embodied in the same person, as was true of two of the men who discovered the gold in the first place. The stampede itself was a thin braid of trails across a wilderness perceived as utterly barren by those who traveled them, headed towards the gold fields just as they did to every other strike. After all, the California gold rush of 1849 was only 49 years before 1898.

The people who headed north were a typical frontier cross-section, too. The vast majority were men, ranging from a few experienced outdoorsmen to clerks and shopkeepers who had no idea what they would be up against, and included con men, gamblers, and those who went to mine the miners. The few women who dared the trail were prostitutes and saloonkeepers, cooks, and, like my heroine, seamstresses. Very seldom did a woman make any kind of fortune directly from mining, and she was usually one of the rare wives who came north with her husband.

But it was the last time in North America that such a migration for such a reason would occur, and if it hadn't been for a financial panic in 1893 that left many people destitute, it's questionable whether it would have happened at all. Man would fly for the first time five years after the peak of the stampede. Some people even attempted to bring bicycles along, and there is a record of at least one motorized vehicle, which probably didn't make it much past Skagway.

It was the last chance to be part of the Old West while it still existed. And the Klondike Gold Rush helped the Old West go out with a bang!

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Want to read a novel about the Klondike Gold Rush? Try True Gold by M.M. Justus, available at Amazon or Smashwords. You'll find an interview with the author and an excerpt at M.M. Justus--True Gold.

You can visit M.M. Justus anytime at her website, Blog, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter

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