The Great Stampede
At the end of a century whose last years were peppered with northern gold strikes, the most spectacular came in the form of the Great Klondike Stampede. In August of 1896, George Washington Carmack and his two Native friends, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie, found gold in their pans in quantities never before seen in the Yukon, and the rush was on. In just one year, 1897-1898, over 60,000 adventurers made their way to the rich gold fields of the Klondike. The vivid image of endless lines of prospectors struggling up the Chilkoot Pass says it all. These adventurers came to Alaska on crowded ships, made their way through turbulent crowds on the docks at Skagway or Dyea and had to sort out fact from fiction as they received advice from con men, sensible old timers and well meaning fools. Then they had to find some means of transporting a thousand or more pounds of supplies over either the Chilkoot or White Passes. This often meant carrying the loads on their backs, paying the customs duty into Canada and, upon arriving at Lake Lindemann, building some sort of boat to transport them down the Yukon River. Unexpected perils included avalanches, drownings, typhoid, scurvy and spinal meningitis. On the American side of the border, there was little law enforcement. Skagway and Dyea were overrun with thieves and con men. Along the trails the stampeders punished lawbreakers in their own way. Across the divide, the Canadian Mounties kept order and maintained a sense of security among the confused masses. The Mounties required the stampeders to bring enough provisions, curtailed travel on the rapids, tended to the sick and injured, restricted the use of firearms and meted out justice. That the vast majority of men, women and children reached the Yukon safely is not just a tribute to their endurance and resourcefulness; much of the credit goes to the Mounties, whose efforts diverted countless disasters.
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