Wandering Through Washington, Part III

Wow, still more to come in Washington. After our fabulous stay in Anacortes, we headed south to Auburn, outside of Seattle. Next up was a trip to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. The park is in downtown Seattle and occupies two floors of the historic Cadillac Hotel. It is a satellite site of the main location in Dyea, Alaska. Now, why would there be a satellite park for the Klondike Gold Rush? The answer was found in the exhibits of the museum.

In 1893, the economy was a disaster. The stock market crashed, people lost their jobs, and things looked pretty bleak. On July 17, 1897, a ship came into the port of Seattle with two tons of gold that had been found in the Klondike and Yukon Rivers in the Northwestern Canada region the previous year. Seattle quickly hired a publicist, by the name of Erastus Brainerd, who started a publicity campaign, sending thousands of letters and telegraphs across the country. He promoted Seattle as the ONLY place you could start your journey to the gold fields. So Seattle became the main provisioning town for the “stampeders,” as they would be called.

The stampeders were required to have one ton of various goods from a list provided by the North West Mounted Police before crossing into Canada. The list contained food items such as 350 pounds of flour, 150 pounds of bacon, 100 pounds of beans and 100 pounds of sugar. Other essentials included clothing, tools, etc. The basic outfit would cost the stampeder between $250 and $500. Then, as now, scammers abounded hawking impractical items for the journey such as bicycles to ride up the icy slopes.


Everyone seemed to be getting gold fever. The municipalities had problems keeping buses running or trash picked up as people would simply leave their jobs to book passage to Canada. Even the mayor of Seattle left to go prospecting. Not all the stampeders were men. We found it interesting that a number of them were women. Some wanted to mine for themselves. Others wanted to open businesses to cater to the masses including laundry cleaning, stores, home cooked meals, and bakeries.

The Rush ended as quickly as it began. In fact, most gold claims had already been staked by the time the first stampeders arrived in the Klondike area. It was one of those “you had to be in the right place at the right time” in order to profit. Over 100,000 people made the trek. Of those, about 30,000 actually made it to the gold fields. Of the 30,000 only around 300 profited from gold finds. This was due to the sheer difficulty of getting there and  once there  the struggle to survive.

Display about making flapjacks in the Klondike goldfields. Yum. Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site Seattle Unit

Some did make modest sums which they used to start other businesses. For instance, one man ended up with approximately $13,000. He started a shoe store with another man. Eventually, he bought the other guy out and branched into department stores. You might have heard the name…Nordstrom. The Bon Marche department stores were also started this way (apparently that chain was bought out by Macy’s). Fortunes were also gained in other ways. Jack London, a journalist and jack-of-all-trades who went to the Klondike, wrote his most memorable novels (Call of the Wild, White Fang) from that experience. Some women made their names by opening hotels and selling supplies. Martha Black opened a saw mill and ended up becoming the second female Member of Parliament in Canada.

A display about two women who went to the Klondike goldfields. Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site Seattle Unit.

One display there talked about the Buffalo Soldiers’ presence. Since so many people were leaving their jobs, the Buffalo Soldiers were called in to keep order in Seattle and Dyea/Skagway. It was interesting to see another way they served besides quelling Indian uprisings.  On a side note, in the same section of the exhibit concerning the Buffalo Soldiers, the museum had a display addressing the diversity of the park-going public. Sadly, it is overwhelmingly white. In 2008-9, 78% of the people going to national parks were white. That is disappointing to us, because the stories the parks tell are very balanced and informative. Race, ethnicity, religion doesn’t matter. Everyone can learn our history from the parks. For instance, when we kept reading all the information on the Westward Expansion this year, they explained the reasons why the Native Americans were fighting and pushing back. It was a different history than we learned in school.  Of course the parks that are all about scenery, ecology, or geology are definitely race-blind. Anyone should be able to enjoy mountains, forests, and nature. We remain hopeful that more minority people visit and learn from our national parks and historic sites. They are meant to be enjoyed by all.

Display about lack of diversity of visitors to National Parks. Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Site Seattle Unit

We will go into more detail about the Klondike Gold Rush when we make our way to Alaska (that will be in 2020, we hope) and get to see the main unit in Skagway. But this was an interesting introduction to the craze of the gold rush and the provisioning of a Klondike trip.


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