June 5, 2007

George Carmack, the Man Who Started the Klondike Gold Rush, Dies

On June 5, 1922, George W. Carmack, the man who started the Klondike Gold Rush, died.

It is unknown whether Carmack was actually the first person to discover significant gold in the Yukon, or only the person who got the credit. A party made up of Carmack, his Tagish wife, and three Tagish companions were exploring Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River, when the gold was discovered. (The Tagish were a small tribe of Native Americans from the southern Yukon area.) It is believed by some that either Carmack's wife, Kate, or the Tagish scout Skookum Jim Mason made the actual discovery in the summer of 1896. The claim was registered in the name of George Carmack, however, probably due to the fear that a claim registered by Native Americans might not be honored.

News spread quickly throughout the Yukon, and reached the United States by the following summer, setting off the Gold Rush stampede. It is estimated that the population in the Yukon reached 40,000 by 1898, threatening to cause a famine. In an attempt to limit disaster, Canadian Mounted Police intercepted would-be prospectors and made them prove that they were carrying a year's worth of provisions before allowing them to enter the country.

By the time George Carmack returned to civilization in 1898, he was worth over a million dollars. He left the United States and moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, and married the daughter of a successful miner. There is no record of what happened to his first wife -- he may have simply abandoned her in the Yukon. Carmack was 61 when he died.

Photograph: Miners registering claims during the Klondike Gold Rush, Public Domain.

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