Thirty-three prints from the DeGolyer Library’s Alaska, photographs accession are available on line. The photos document the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s.
Gold was originally discovered in 1896 in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Over the next 4 years an estimated 100,000 people migrated north in search of gold. Prospectors searching for gold often began their journey in Seattle and then proceeded north to the gold fields in the Yukon Territory of Canada.
The native Tlingit and Tagish tribes navigated and utilized northern trade routes known as the Chilkoot and White Pass Trails, both of which became preferred routes of the Klondikers. The arrangement of the photographs within the collection reflects major stops along the popular Chilkoot Trail and then north to White Horse.
The Chilkoot Trail, a 33-mile trek from Dyea, Alaska, to Bennett, British Columbia, gained popularity for its direct route and cheap rates. En route to Dyea, prospectors went through Skagway, Alaska, as seen in On The Skagway Wagon Road. During the late 1890s Skagway existed as a lawless, corrupt city dominated by a famous gangster known as Jefferson “Soapy” Smith. However, many residents chose to stay in Skagway and provide goods and services to the Klondikers. In the photo Str Lady Lake – Skagway, prospectors are seen arriving at Kelly & Co. Druggists, a popular pharmaceutical and apothecary supplier specializing in the needs of traders and prospectors in the area.
Another stop frequented by Klondikers, Bennett, British Columbia, appears in numerous photographs within the collection. While in Bennett, prospectors made preparations for the final push towards Dawson City and the goldfields. Malnutrition and starvation were common among Klondikers due to frigid temperatures and the lack of food available on the trails. In Killing Cattle at Lake Bennett for Dawson, prospectors are seen preparing cattle, most likely for their own consumption while on the trip to the goldfields.
The remainder of the trip, over water, required prospectors to build or purchase rafts or boats in which to travel. Tents fashioned into general stores, like the one depicted in Wilson’s Store at Bennett – Aug. 1898, provided Klondikers with at least some of the needed supplies to finish their journeys to Dawson.
The Alaska, photographs are part of the U.S. West: Photographs, Manuscripts, and Imprints digital collection, which provides a sample of the photographs, images, albums, and more, relating to the U.S. West held by SMU’s DeGolyer Library.
Sources of Information
Skagway: Gateway to the Klondike, http://www.nps.gov/nr/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/75skagway/75skagway.htm
University of Washington Digital Collections, Early Advertising of the West, http://content.lib.washington.edu/u?/advert,127
The Klondike Gold Rush, http://content.lib.washington.edu/extras/goldrush.html