Which Way to the Gold?

Newspaper: Skaguay News, December 31, 1897.

Ice creepers, iron with commercially tanned leather straps. Found on the Chilkoot Trail. ca 1898

      So now you know what to take with you on your quest for gold. But which way should you go? What would be the best way to get to the gold fields? Gold fields like Juneau, Nome, and Teller were right on water routes. Steamships left from the major ports on the Pacific Ocean. The famous Klondike and Fortymile discoveries, however, were inland.

     Was it faster to go up rivers by boat or carry your supplies over land? How could you evaluate the dangers and hazards and choose between the different routes? What were the greatest dangers?

What was the land route like?

     Although the United States had owned Alaska since 1867, maps of this area were unreliable or unavailable. Many people were trying quickly to evaluate new routes that had fewer risks and could get people to the gold fields safely.

     Read the letter from Albin Johnson to C.W. Tuttle.

Letter from Reverend Albin Johnson to C.W. Tuttle about a land route to the Klondike. Nov.11,1897. 2 pages

Transcribed letter from Reverend Albin Johnson to C.W. Tuttle about a land route to the Klondike. Nov.11,1897. 2 pages

Map: Valdez to Eagle. All-American land route to Klondike (proposed) [no date]. Alaska Road Commission. Maps and Drawings. Asa_ RG 306, Series 1380

     What route was he investigating? Who was he? Why do you think he was interested in finding a new route? Look at the map to understand the problems he described on the route to the Klondike from Yakutat.

Newspapers frequently provided advice about which route to take. Read the article called "The Best Winter Trail".

     What reasons does the article give to convince you that this trail is the best? What questions does this article raise in your mind?

     The Chilkoot Indians had been traveling and transporting goods over the Chilkoot pass for generations. They were excellent businessmen and worked hard to benefit from the rush of travelers to the interior. Read the Chilkoot Indians story.

Newspaper: Skaguay News, December 31, 1897.

Governor Sheakley's response to a request for guiding monopoly on pass [Chilkoot?]. Dec. 30, 1897.

    Read the letter from the Governor to Indian Schwatka.

     What information about travel does the letter provide? Can you tell from the facts in the letter what the letter that Indian Schwatka sent to Governor must have asked?

     The rush was on, not only to the gold, but also to help miners get to the gold. The White Pass and Yukon Railroad was a business venture and did carry many miners quickly into the Canadian interior.

     Look at the two time tables from the White Pass Railroad.

     What are the dates? How do the dates of the train match with the stampede to the Klondike? How long would it take to get to White Pass from Skaguay?

White Pass Railroad Time Table, Aug. 14, 1898.

Map of Knik, Sushitna Rivers & Tributaries ca 1898.

     Many enterprising people quickly used their knowledge and information to sell things to anxious gold-seekers. Look at the "Latest Map of Sushitna Rivers and Tributaries".

    What information about traveling to the Cook Inlet gold fields can you learn from this publication? How reliable do you think this map is?

    Challenge: You may wish to look more closely at other land routes to the gold fields. Check out the website with six gold rush itineraries.

What was the steamship route like?

    No matter what land or water route you eventually took to get to the gold fields once you arrived in Alaska, you needed to take a ship to even get to Alaska from the contiguous United States. Steamship companies competed to entice gold-seekers to travel with them.

Pacific Coast Steamship Company brochure. 5 pages

How to reach the gold field of Alaska and the Klondike via Portland, Oregon, 1898. Cover of Chamber of Commerce publication.

   What facts would you consider important when deciding which steamship to take? Read the two-page Pacific Coast Steamship Co.'s Direct Route brochure. What services did they advertise that might make you want to take their ship? What information on the brochure did you find most interesting?

     Consider the brochure How to Reach the Gold Fields of Alaska and the Klondike that the Portland, Oregon's Chamber of Commerce distributed in 1889.

     What reasons did they give for taking a steamship from Oregon rather than Seattle, Washington?

Is it dangerous?

Newspaper: San Francisco Call, August 19, 1901.

    Yes, travel was dangerous. Some dangers can't be avoided. Even in August ships had to carefully avoid icebergs in northern waters. Tragically, many lives and ships were lost. Read the article about the sinking of the Steamship Islander.

    What new technologies today help us avoid the tragedy of the Islander? What parts of the story does the newspaper show as the most important? What evidence do you have that this is a credible article?

A second-hand bear story during gold rush days. July 8,1920. 2 pages.

     Many people feared the wild animals they might meet in the wilderness. In 1920 Governor Riggs was collecting stories about the true experiences of miners and gold-seekers. Read the account of what happened to Archie Parks during his travels to the Copper River gold rush.

     Who wrote this account? Is this considered a primary or secondary source? What facts make this a less reliable source than a first-hand account?

     Sometime the dangers are man-made. In fact, the biggest danger might be from the person that meets your boat and promises to send your telegram. One of the most famous con men during the Klondike Stampede was Jefferson "Soapy" Smith. Smith was the ringleader of a gang that extorted and robbed gold-seekers as they landed at Dyea and Skagway on their way to the Klondike. An interesting document from the State Archives tells part of the story of this infamous character. Read through the court document.

     What are the dates of this court case? What charges were being brought against Jefferson Smith? What happens? What story can you infer from the simple entries in this court recorder's book? Could you write a different ending for the Jefferson Smith story by changing something in this court record? Do you think he returned?

An answer to the warning card. "Warning" was issued and distributed by the "Vigilance Committee" appointed by the citizens of Skaguay to rid the community of the Soapy Smith Gang in the spring of 1898.

Governor's response about a missing husband. July 19, 1900.

     Sometimes we don't have all the pieces to know what finally happened to a story. Read this letter from Governor to Mrs. J.P. Crowley in Chicago, Ill.

      What do you think happened to Mr. Crowley?

Overview I
What do I need for a trip to the gold fields? I Which way to the gold? I What will it be like on the way?

Homepage I Alaska's Gold Lode I The Discovery of Gold I Traveling to the Gold Fields
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Alaska's Gold was developed through a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission by the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums, the Alaska Dept. of Education and Early Development.  1999.  All rights reserved.   Alaska Gold Themes written by Cristine Crooks, Alaska Consultants in Education.  Alaska's Gold Themes website developed by WEBDesign.