Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondikeby Charlotte Gray
Between 1896 and 1899, thousands of people lured by gold braved a grueling journey into the remote wilderness of North America. Within two years, Dawson City, in the Canadian Yukon, grew from a mining camp of four hundred to a raucous town of over thirty thousand people. The stampede to the Klondike was the last great gold rush in history.
Scurvy, dysentery, frostbite, and starvation stalked all who dared to be in Dawson. And yet the possibilities attracted people from all walks of lifenot only prospectors but also newspapermen, bankers, prostitutes, priests, and lawmen. Gold Diggers follows six stampedersBill 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.
Tracing the crossed paths of six Klondikers caught up in "the last great gold rush in history."
Among the countless dreamers, adventurers, entrepreneurs, tenderfoots, prostitutes, card sharps and con men who rushed to the northwest after news of the 1896 Klondike strike, Gray (Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention, 2006, etc.) focuses on six individuals: Bill Haskell, a miner early to the stampede who struck gold but had to suffer the drowning death of his partner; Father William Judge, the selfless Jesuit and seemingly the only Yukon dweller not obsessed with gold; Belinda Mulrooney, the brash and thoroughly ruthless shopkeeper, restaurateur, hotelier and property magnate; Jack London, who mined literary gold from his year in the Klondike; Flora Shaw, correspondent for theTimesof London, whose dispatches confirmed the strike's significant dimensions and the corruption among Canadian officials; and Sam Steele, hardy lawman amid the fray. No armchair rambler, the author has visited the territory, and this familiarity comes through in her descriptions of the beauty and terror of the landscape, her keen appreciation of the near–Arctic Circle climate and her vivid depiction then and now of Dawson City, the log-cabin town at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, 4,000 miles from the nearest city. Relying on memoirs and letters, Gray memorably resuscitates the life of the miners: the fortuity of staking a claim, the primitive and backbreaking methods they used to extract gold from the earth, the harsh conditions under which they labored and the manifold diseases that afflicted them. Their appalling treatment of the native Han people and their desecration of the landscape were but two of the unfortunate byproducts of the gold fever that allowed a pauper to imagine becoming a millionaire overnight.
A lively, delightful reenactment of a signal era of "Klondike mythology."
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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.
Meet the Author
Charlotte Gray, one of Canada’s pre-eminent biographers and historians, has won many awards for her work, including the prestigious Pierre Berton Award for a body of historical writing, the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction, the Ottawa Book Award and the CAA Birks Family Foundation Award for Biography. over nine books, she has brought our past to life. Gray is a Member of the order of Canada and was a panelist on the 2013 edition of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads. She lives in Ottawa.
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