Scurvy, dysentery, frostbite, and starvation stalked all who dared to be in Dawson. And yet the possibilities attracted people from all walks of life—not only prospectors but also newspapermen, bankers, prostitutes, priests, and lawmen. Gold Diggers follows six stampeders—Bill Haskell, a farm boy who hungered for striking gold; Father Judge, a Jesuit priest who aimed to save souls and lives; Belinda Mulrooney, a twenty–four–year–old who became the richest businesswoman in town; Flora Shaw, a journalist who transformed the town's governance; Sam Steele, the officer who finally established order in the lawless town; and most famously Jack London, who left without gold, but with the stories that would make him a legend.
Drawing on letters, memoirs, newspaper articles, and stories, Charlotte Gray delivers an enthralling tale of the gold madness that swept through a continent and changed a landscape and its people forever.
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The gold dust weighed them down, it was so heavy, but they just grinned at each other as they shouldered the clumsy canvas backpacks and took the track to Dawson City. They soon found themselves in a crowd of grinning miners, heading towards Dawson’s saloons. Bill reckoned there were four hundred valuable claims stretched along Bonanza and Eldorado, and every digging was a fabulous mine of gold . . . Men who had stumbled over the rough trail in September, poor and disheartened, disgusted with their condition and sick of the country, came down in the spring as millionaires and threw their gold dust about like so much grass seed.” The men greeted each other as sourdoughs,” the nickname for those who had survived at least one brutal northern winter, living on bread made with wild yeast. Like Bill, these tough, emaciated men were clad in the prospectors’ uniform of thick wool pants held up with suspenders, heavy boots, worn flannel shirts and misshapen felt hats. Their eyes, like Bill’s, were bloodshot from wood smoke and bouts of snow-blindness, and the prevalence of tangled beards and unkempt moustaches made the crowd look like an assembly of Old Testament prophets. And like Bill, they poured into Dawson City, eager to put the bitter winter behind them.