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Essay: The Story of How the Klondike Gold Rush Changed Seattle’s Future

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Historical Article

“GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!” the headline of July17, 1897 read. “Sixty-Eight Rich Men on the Steamer Portland. STACKS OF YELLOW METAL!” (Klondike Gold Rush Historic Resource Study). This would prove to be one of the most enduring images in Seattle’s history, contributing to the city identity. The Klondike gold rush began when two ships docked in San Francisco and Seattle carrying miners returning from the Yukon with bags of gold. The press was alerted and papers carried the story to the masses. The Klondike stampede was an attempt by an estimated 100,000 people to reach the Klondike goldfields, of whom only around 30,000 to 40,000 eventually did. It formed the height of the Klondike gold rush from the summer of 1897 until the summer of 1898.

Gold Rush began on July 15, 1897 in San Francisco and was spurred further two days later in Seattle, when the first of the early prospectors returned from the Klondike, bringing with them large amounts of gold on the ships Excelsior and Portland. The migration of prospectors caught so much attention that outfitters, writers and photographers joined it. Gold fever affected people from all walks of life. Even Seattle’s mayor quit to join the stampede. Most were Americans and Canadians, but some came from almost every corner of the globe. Most people knew little or nothing about where they were going, so pamphlets were available to help them on their way. Many of the pamphlets contained little or no real information and made outrageous claims of wealth to be had by everyone.

In the spring of 1898, thousands left Seattle and other cities for the Klondike. The population of Yukon peaked at over 30,000. Dawson City became the largest Canadian city west of Winnipeg. The ice on Lake Lindeman and Bennett Lake thawed and an armada of more than 7,000 boats began their water journey to Dawson City. Through the summer of 1898 between 20,000 and 30,000 potential miners had reached Dawson. Gold was discovered at Anvil Creek, Alaska. In July 1898 a government assay office was established in Seattle, and during the first four years gold bullion worth more than $174 million passed over the scales. Seattle grew rich as the supplier of prospectors. While gold was flowing from Alaska and northern Canada, one commodity moved the other way-a herd of reindeer. Scheduled for delivery to the Eskimo of northwestern Alaska, the animals passed through Seattle under the care of U.S officers. Seattle is geographically the closest U.S city to Alaska and to this day a major trading point for Alaska. Before the Gold Rush happened, there has the Great Seattle fire of June 6, 1889. This is considered as one of the fires that affected Seattle’s history and the Gold Rush time has affected a lot to Seattle after this fire.

The good weather in the spring of 1889 proved disastrous for Seattle. Little rain caused excessively the dry conditions, creating a giant tinderbox. On the afternoon of June 6, 1889, a young Swede from New York named John Back, an assistant in Victor Clairmont`s woodworking shop at Front Street (now First Avenue) and Madison Avenue, was heating glue over a gasoline fire. The glue boiled over, caught fire, and spread to the floors, which were covered by wood chips and turpentine. He tried to put the fire out with water, but that only served to thin the turpentine and spread the fire further. The pyre quickly engulfed two saloons and a liquor store, fueled by large quantities of alcohol, the entire block from Madison to Marion was ablaze. Due to an inadequate water supply, insufficient equipment, and with hydrants located only on every other block, the fire ravaged Seattle. Fire jumped the firebreak, and began to devour the wharves as well as everything up the hill toward Second Avenue. In less than two hours it was realized that downtown Seattle was lost. Miraculously, no one had died in the fire.

Two years after the Great Seattle fire of June 6, 1889, the city began to regrade downtown to expand the commercial district. Seattle rebuilt from the ashes with new enterprises, and its population increased more rapidly than ever before. The fire, which could have spelled the end of the city, instead became just a brief setback that eventually fostered, many significant improvements. More than $22 million worth of gold was pulled out of the creeks. Roughly $2.5 million was pulled out in 1897 and $10 million in 1898. The Klondike Gold Rush has pulled Seattle from the recession after the fire (Seattle 150 Years of Progress, 107).

In early 1898, The Seattle Daily Times reported that Seattle had become the recognized center of Klondike trade. “There is probably no city in the Union today so much talked about as Seattle”.

Miners of all shapes and sizes called “stampeders”, they were on their way to the gold fields. Within six months, approximately 100,000 gold-seekers set off for the Yukon. Only 30,000 completed the trip. Outfitters sprang up overnight that were happy to sell the stampeders whatever they needed to get started. This included food, clothing, tools and camping, mining and transportation equipment. Helping the outfitters in this regard were the Northwest Mounted Police who required all stampeders to have one year’s supply of goods before they allowed them across the border into Canada. This was roughly one ton of goods per person. Towns such as Seattle made fortunes outfitting the miners.

“The stores are ablaze with Klondike goods; men pass by robed in queer garments; … teams of trained dogs, trotting about with sleds; men with packs upon their backs, and a thousand and one things which are of use in the Klondike trade.” (The Seattle Daily Times, 1897)

Therefore, at the time of Gold Rush, the streets of downtown Seattle were turned into an open market and tempting for many businessmen from outside Seattle. The large number of people pouring into the city created a need for hotels, rooming houses, stores selling food, clothing, shoes, tents, equipment, and train tickets to those seek gold when to Seattle. In the decades to follow the heart of the Waterfront slowly moved southward into the reclaimed acres. Indeed, that area played a major role in Seattle’s success as a major Pacific port. During the gold rush era, building along the Waterfront increased dramatically. Furthermore, by the time of the Klondike Gold Rush, Seattle also functioned as the central point for water traffic of freight and passengers to Alaska. Shipping continued to expand in Seattle during the Gold Rush in 1899-1900. At the end of nineteenth century, many shipbuilders in Seattle tripled their output as well as their number of employees. In addition, to encouraging the development of rail and marine transportation in Seattle, the stampede increased the market for dogs, horses, goats, and oxen all of which used to move people and supplies to the gold fields. Seattle changed more during the gold rush era than in any other period in its history. The rapid economic and population growth of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries spurred the development of the city’s infrastructure, transforming it from a town to a metropolis.

“The Seattle gold rush of 1897-98 was more than just an interesting story. It was the major turning point in the city’s history.” (David V. and Judith A. Clarridge, A Ton of Gold: The Seattle Gold Rush, 1897-98, 1972)

Besides, the development of Seattle in the Gold Rush brought many benefits, but it also caused much affect to people lives and the environment. Territory appropriated tens of thousands of new people quickly wrought various changes, serious and far from land. The federal government, concerned primarily with maximizing the exploitation of natural resources, has done little to ensure environmental protection. Miners risked their lives to achieve the promise of gold and anything that stands in the way pushed aside or destroyed. Newcomers were too busy with the race for the gold to entertain any thought that they might have a negative impact on the landscape. The forest has become a commodity extremely valuable for people who find gold and their settlements. As well as the main source of fuel for cooking, heating and melting ice, its wood is important to build ships, cabins and barracks buildings, dams, dredging, flumes, relations road railway, steamship and fuel support underground mining. As a consequence, many of these fires are not blown into the fire and farming, logging along with deforestation, the destruction of countless trees so the result is a direct loss of wildlife habitat.

The biggest impact was the Natives. For them, the gold rush meant a drastic reduction in moose, caribou, and small game as prospectors hunted these for food. In many areas, gold mining resulted in destruction of salmon streams. As for white people, they are also affected by alcohol and disease. Hunting and fishing villages in white gold mines compete with indigenous peoples and the right to provide food for the miners. Although the gold rush brought many economic benefits, but it destroys the human and natural resources.

The events of the Klondike gold rush rapidly became embedded in North American culture, being captured in poems, stories, photographs and promotional campaigns long after the end of the stampede. It provided an economic shot in the arm to merchants, especially in Seattle, who supplied the native but determined stampeders. In so doing it helped bring to an end terrible effects of the Panic of 1893, one of America’s worst economic depressions. It also enriched many of the men and women who participated in the Klondike Gold Rush and who returned home with scarcely a nugget or ounce of precious dust. Many spoke glowingly long afterwards of the grandest adventure they had ever experienced.

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