Yukon History , Klondike Gold Rush and Lore of the Yukon

Welcome to the Yukon ~

Yukon Welcome Sign
Yukon Welcome Sign | Source

The Yukon ~

One of the most beautiful places on earth is also one of the most treacherous and unforgiving.

On the westernmost part of Canada are the territories of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut. The Yukon is the smallest territory, named after the Yukon River. This sparsely populated territory is full of lakes created by the melted snows from the perennial snow on the mountains. The climate is arctic and subarctic, with very dry and long cold winters. The summers are short, but have long hours of sunshine, being so close to the North Pole.

Map of the Yukon ~

Map of the Yukon created by Earl Andrew
Map of the Yukon created by Earl Andrew | Source

Mount Logan in Kluane National Park and Reserve ~

Mount Logan
Mount Logan | Source

Vast wilderness ~

The Yukon Territory was not a very welcoming land for those who wanted to seek their fortune. It was a vast wilderness full of constant danger and unknown hazards for any who were not familiar with the stark land and freezing temperatures.

In 1898, the Yukon became its own territory when it was separated from the Northwest Territories. In March of 2002, the Yukon Act dropped 'Territory' from the name to make Yukon the official term.

Mount Logan is the highest mountain in Canada, at 19,551 feet, and the second highest in North America. It is in the Kluane National Park and Reserve in southwestern Yukon. The mountain is still growing due to tectonic uplifting.

The Yukon was named after the Yukon River. The name came from the Gwich'in, an Alaskan Native tribe that live above the Arctic Circle. The word Yukon means wide, or long, river. And at 1,980 miles, it is long indeed. It was the major source of transportation during the Gold Rush era.


The S/S Excelsior leaves San Francisco on July 28, 1897, for the Klondike ~

The S/S Excelsior, July 28, 1897
The S/S Excelsior, July 28, 1897 | Source

Klondikers buying miner's licenses at the Custom House in Victoria, BC, on February 12, 1898

"Klondikers" buying their license
"Klondikers" buying their license | Source

SS Islander leaving Vancouver, bound for Skagway, 1897 ~

SS Islander, 1897
SS Islander, 1897 | Source

Klondike Gold Rush ~

The Yukon Gold Rush is often referred to as the Klondike Gold Rush. San Francisco, California saw the beginning of the great Klondike Gold Rush on July 15, 1897. When the ships Excelsior and the Portland docked in Seattle, Washington on July 17 carrying the earliest prospectors and their gold estimated at $1,139,000 (which was equivalent to $1,000 million in 2010), the fever hit hard. This was during the economic panic of the 1890s, so people left their way of life and headed for the Yukon.

Little did the would-be prospectors know what was ahead of them. Once they reached the drop off point at towns like Dyea and Skagway, the routes to the Klondike were only for the "men with grit". The journey was extremely difficult due to the unforgiving land and the cold temperatures. Mountains and glaciers lay ahead of the hopeful prospectors, some who had their wives and children with them. Foot routes to the Klondike were nothing but mud and slush from melting ice caused by the traffic. Pack animals became bogged down and most of them were unable to go on, many died.

Not only did the prospectors have all their tools and personal items to pack and transport, but, they had to take with them a one year supply of food before entering the Yukon Territory, a rule set down by the Canadian authorities.

Whether traveling overland or by water routes, the journey was filled with hazards and catastrophes. Boom towns sprang up rapidly. Some routes to the Klondike were closed due to the weather, making it impossible to travel. Many people were stranded in towns, unable to go forward or return to their homes. Skagway became the largest of these towns and was overrun by the lawless. Scams, gun fighting and prostitution was rampant.

When winter hit and food became scarce, costs rose to unheard of prices. Scurvy became a critical issue, along with dysentery, malaria and an epidemic of typhoid. Even with all this going on, the determined and hardy carried on -- some did strike gold and became filthy rich, spending thousands of dollars a night in the saloons for whiskey, card games and entertainment.


Prospectors ascending the Chilkoot Pass, 1898 ~

Prospectors ascending the Chilkoot Pass
Prospectors ascending the Chilkoot Pass | Source

What was left behind ~

When the gold rush had reached its peak and declined, the impact on the land, the rivers and the Native peoples was devastating. The rivers had become contaminated. Salmon fishing and hunting that the Natives originally had in abundance was nearly gone. The environmental damage largely destroyed what the Natives had known for generations. Their population had declined drastically from polluted water and smallpox.

Some of the prospectors who did strike it rich returned home, wasted away their new found wealth and eventually died in poverty.

~ ~ ~

1898 Alaska Klondike Gold Rush Story, Dawson City, Yukon River ~

Lore of the land ~

The lore of the Yukon goes way back, prior to the European contact, back to the First Peoples of Canada and the Alaskan Natives.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, gold seekers got caught up in rumors of gold to be had by anyone tough enough to withstand the weather and lonely land. It was not for the weak or wary that this land was waiting for. Tales of treachery, death and ghostly hauntings linger on the mists that drift down from the high snow-capped mountains and lurk throughout the valleys. This was a wild and untamed land during the Klondike Gold days. There was a lot more than extreme weather to make a man's blood run cold.

With the long, bitter cold winter nights and the extra long sunny days of a very short summer, the lonely prospector's mind back in the early days of the gold rush could imagine some pretty queer sights and spend some terrifying times in wild and abandoned dreams.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;"

— Robert W. Service from Cremation of Sam McGee

Snow White Hare, lore ~

There is one tale about a prospector, who while wandering through the Yukon with his dogs became mired down in the muskeg, which is boggy land with water underneath the surface of the semi-frozen ground just above the permafrost.

It was a treacherous place and the more he and his dogs struggled the more lost they became. After finally finding a firm spot on a small hill he cooked up some soup for him and his dogs. After eating he fell into a restless and fitful sleep. He dreamed of a fierce native warrior standing over him with a spear and a threatening look. The warrior told the prospector he had invaded sacred grounds and must leave at once or be killed. The prospector told the warrior he was lost and begged for the warrior to show him the way out. The warrior, who was the protector of the sacred grounds, summoned a guide for the frightened man then vanished.

When he awoke, the prospector saw the glowing figure of a beautiful native woman at the bottom of the hill and chills ran through him. The woman beckoned and the dogs ran to her. Seeing the dogs happy, the fear faded from the prospector and he packed up his gear then made his way down the dark hill with treacherous muskeg all around it.

The woman smiled at him, raised her arms and became a snow white hare. Following the glowing hare, he and his dogs were led east. For several hours they proceeded until the prospector felt solid ground beneath his feet and he knew where he was. The hare once again became the glowing woman who smiled sweetly at him then vanished with the first rays of the sun.


Claim Jumpers ~

Not all tales, however, have a happy ending. This is a land with a history of death and strange happenings. Whiskey-drinking, gun-slinging men full of greed and little consideration for the rights of others flocked to the land of gold to take what they wanted -- these were the claim-jumpers and it mattered not how many they killed to claim the gold. Many an innocent prospector searching for his own fortune lost his life to these dastardly outlaws, to the freezing weather, starvation, scurvy and other misfortunes.

Prospectors who were lucky sat around campfires relating tales of treacherous deeds, wary of what was out there in the dark, and warning others.

Would you do it ?

If you lived back during the Gold Rush, would you leave all you know and prospect for gold in the Yukon?

See results without voting

Floating Coffins ~

With a heavy run-off of snow-melt and ice breaking in the spring of 1898, the shores of Lake Bennett overflowed into the cemetery and a few thousand coffins were uncovered and floated down the Yukon River. These keepers of the earth-bound dead were scattered throughout the woods along the shores, releasing angry, lonesome and confused spirits into the wilderness. On long winter nights the pine trees whisper the secrets of the departed, restless souls, as lonely prospectors shivered in their tents under the covers, praying for the sun to rise.

The unseen and restless spirits seem to linger only in the echoes of the tormented past and the lore of the Yukon.

The Yukon River, as seen from the Midnight Dome in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. Taken in August, 2012

Yukon River
Yukon River | Source

This is the law of the Yukon, and ever she makes it plain:

"Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane --

Strong for the red rage of battle; sane for I harry them sore;

Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core;

Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as the bear in defeat,

Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.

Send me the best of your breeding, lend me your chosen ones;

Them will I take to my bosom, them will I call my sons ...

— Robert W. Service

Robert W. Service ~

Robert William Service was considered to be "the Bard of the Yukon". When I was a young mother, one of my favorite times was in the evening after the babies were asleep and my husband would read to me from "The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses," by this great poet and author who put so much passion in his writing.

Service had a special gift of passionate writing that pulled me right into the Yukon and the legends as if I knew the characters and the land. I so enjoyed that book.

This is how I learned about the Yukon and the legends that abound there. "The Law Of The Yukon" is my favorite poem in the book.

~ ~ ~ ~

The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses, by Robert W. Service ~

North to Alaska ~

Note from author ~

I had so much fun researching (took a long time to do so) and watching the videos. North to Alaska is one of my all time favorite movies with some of my favorite actors. I hope you enjoy this hub as much as I enjoyed writing it for you.

Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.

I write on several different subjects, all evergreen articles. You can read more about me and see more articles I wrote by clicking on my name by the small picture of me at the top right of this page.

Blessings and may you always walk in peace and harmony, softly upon Mother Earth.

Phyllis Doyle Burns - Lantern Carrier, Spiritual Mentor
~ ~ ~ ~

© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns

More by this Author


Comments 29 comments

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

You have really put together a jewel here! lol Ewww about the coffins. This was such an interesting article, very well done. ^+


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Jackie. Thank you so much for the wonderful comment, I really appreciate your visit and votes.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Very interesting history of the Yukon. as I recall there were some TV series about Alaska when they got statehood. I thought they were good but they didn't last long. Up votes and sharing.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi dahoglund - thank you for the visit and votes. I am glad you found this interesting. It was hard for me to finish it because I was so caught up in the history of the Gold Rush. It would take several hubs to really do proper justice to the whole story. I appreciate your visit very much.


Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I just saw this in the feed and had to stop by so that I could bookmark it to read a little later. A little busy right now but will be back to read this.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Susan. Thanks and see you later. Have a great day.


sheilamyers 2 years ago

You always pull me in and keep me interested with your historical hubs. I heard a brief lecture about the gold rush when I visited Alaska on a cruise, but you've added things which they didn't include so now I've learned even more. Thank you. I didn't get the chance to get over there on one of the excursions, but I'd love to visit the area and get a feel for the history.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 2 years ago from North Carolina

What an excellent story you've written here. One of the last wilderness' in N America - land of beauty, bigfoot, parks - and splendor undiminished. You know Phyllis, this one really hits home because BC is one place I'd really like to visit. The tallest mountains 'round here top out before 7,000 feet so a trip to even just see Mount Logan and its park would be worth it. That Yukon pass reminds of a Jack London real life story, too. Bet you did have fun with this one my friend, I certainly did!


Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 2 years ago from Mississauga, ON

I would like to be in Yukon one winter very soon to just witness one event - its Yukon Quest haha.

And if I lived back during the Gold Rush, I would have considered visiting it once to see the ancestors of our huskies of today working their necks off.

Informative hub that I was able to visit through the courtesy of fellow hubber dahogland.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Sheila. I always love your visits and comments. You keep me motivated to write on history. I am so glad you liked the hub and learned some new things. I forgot to put in the article that when the gold seekers got caught up in the big rush, the mayor and 8 cops left their jobs in Seattle (I think it was Seattle) and took off for the Yukon. I found that quite funny. Thanks for reading and commenting.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Alastar how great to see you here. Your comments always inspire me to write more and more my friend and mentor. BC, Alaska and the Yukon is on my bucket list, too. I would love to take the train from Anchorage to Seward and luxuriate in the beauty of that vast wilderness. First, I have another journey to complete. Thank you so much for your great comment and visit -- I so appreciate it, always. Peace ...


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Suhail, thank you so much for the visit. And thank dahogland for sending you over. The Yukon Quest would be an awesome experience to witness. Hope you get that accomplished. You must write about it, I would love to read and learn more about that grueling race. Those huskies, wow! aren't they fantastic. Thanks again.


joanveronica profile image

joanveronica 2 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

Lovely, as usual, I had great fun reading this Hub! Lots of things that were new to me, so I found it beautiful and interesting. Shared


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Joanveronica -- I have not heard from you in a long time. I hope all is well. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. Take care and hugs.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

what a well produced hub... Phyllis interesting and well rounded


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Wow, Frank. Thank you so much. Thank you for being you. :)


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

Phyllis,

I can see that you really did research on this and wrote it wonderfully. I would not have done it for anything - except maybe promise of immunity. LOL The videos were great. I do not remember whether I have seen "North to Alaska" but I liked Johnny Horton.

Kevin


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Examiner-1. Thank you for the great compliment. Johnny Horton was such a good singer. I really felt so sad when he died. The movie is one of my favorites with John Wayne. It is a delightful mixture of comedy, drama, villainy, and romance. The legends of the Yukon are really mysterious and some quite spooky. Thanks for the visit and comment, I appreciate it very much.


Jodah profile image

Jodah 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

I absolutely loved this hub Phyllis. The Yukon has always had special intrigue for me after seeing the movie "North to Alaska" many years ago. I also loved the music from it by Johnny Horton and the song by the same name. You provided so much interesting info and facts and I was captivated throughout. I also love the poetry of Robert W Service. Voted up.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Ahhh ! Jodah - I have never met anyone who knew about Robert W. Service. I love his poetry. I am so happy you enjoyed this hub. I also have a fascination with the Yukon since I saw that movie. Thank you so very much for reading and commenting, and for the vote. I so appreciate it.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America

I have enjoyed reading this Hub! About 20 years ago, the head of a poetry organization I joined was a lovely lady aged in the late 80s. She had memorized every piece by Robert Service and recited many of his poems during a 3-day convention one year. She also gave us some back story about one poem about and to the moon.

The story says that he was lost in the Yukon wilderness night and could see no stars or moon; he prayed for help and the full moon slipped from behind a cloud. He found his way back to his camp.

I've been reading the works of Service ever since and am glad to see your Hub.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 2 years ago from New York

Gold mining and the Yukon, I wonder how many movies and books were produced about it. Who hasn't seen "White Fang" or "Call of the Wild", or read the books?

You always make history so interesting and provide us with so many facts we never knew. Good job my friend.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Patty. My gosh, how wonderful to have known that lady who could remember all of Robert Service. He had a very unique writing style and I really enjoy his works. I am so glad you found this hub and enjoyed reading it. Was it Service who was lost and prayed for help? If so, I am thinking that may be why he wrote that story of the lost miner who saw the glowing lady and the hare who led him back to camp. How interesting. I appreciate your visit and comment, Patty. thank you.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Hi Mary - thank you so much for commenting and the votes. I read those books, "Call of the Wild" and "White Fang" in middle school then again several years later. Stories about the Yukon became very popular for quite awhile then kind of faded out. I still love that song by Johnny Horton and I have watched the John Wayne movie so many times, never tire of it. Thanks again, Mary.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America

Yes, it was Service himself who was lost and his story about the glowing maiden and the hare rang a bell. They sound like the glowing moon. A Cree legend speaks of the Hare Moon and some can see the shadowy figure of the hare in the moonscape. I don't know if the Cree ever lived in the Yukon as they live just southeast of there today, but I'll check out legends of some groups that did live in the Yukon.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America

Anyone remember TV's "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon"? It aired at the time "North to Alaska" was released.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

The First Nations people included the Tlingit, which I am familiar with. There are several other tribes, Chipewyan, Tagish, Tutchone, and more that I have not yet studied. Some legends of the Cree, like stories of Wisakejak, or animals were forbidden to tell in summer months. They were saved for winter story time.

I do remember "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon". We watched him faithfully. I found one episode on YouTube and almost used it here, then chose the other video.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 2 years ago from North America

I'll check out YouTube!


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada. Author

Ah! haha - me, too. When you mentioned it I thought I would go there later and see if I can find other episodes.

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