In prospecting, it’s always about the next big discovery

The Yukon Valley was prospected for nearly a quarter century before the Klondike was discovered and thousands of hopeful people converged on the region during the gold rush. It has been prospected ever since.

The Yukon Valley was prospected for nearly a quarter century before the Klondike was discovered and thousands of hopeful people converged on the region during the gold rush. It has been prospected ever since.

Before the Klondike, prospectors poked around the sand bars and creek bottoms along the Yukon River and its tributaries hoping to make the next big find. From the bars along the Yukon, and then the Stewart River, their discoveries progressed to tributary creeks.

The first big discovery of gold was on the Fortymile River in 1886. A small stampede followed, and several hundred miners rushed to the area, prospecting and mining its bars and small feeder streams. A jumbled assemblage of log cabins grew at the mouth of the Fortymile River and supplied the miners upstream until the next big discovery, which was Birch Creek, in neighbouring Alaska, in 1892.

The town of Circle was born of that discovery and the mining that followed on the streams in the area. It wasn’t long before more gold was found in the Sixtymile region, especially on Glacier and Miller creeks. The population of miners moved from creek to creek, following the dream of the next big find. There were as many as 1,600 miners in the Yukon Valley when the Klondike was announced in 1896. The Klondike is still the biggest producer of placer gold in the Yukon more than 100 years later.

The Klondike assumed mythic proportions in the public consciousness, and many of the prospectors who came to the Klondike during the great stampede never left, content to work their claims in the goldfields and eke out a living by mucking for gold in the frozen gravels below. Others never stopped dreaming about making the next big discovery.

The quest for mineral discoveries wasn’t restricted to the Yukon Valley, or restricted to gold. The quest for riches in other parts of the territory also started before the Klondike. Rumours of copper deposits in the southwest Yukon trickled out to coastal Alaska years before the Klondike, bolstered by nuggets of native copper and the First Nation stories about more of the same in the land of the “white river.”

English explorer Edward Glave and frontiersman Jack Dalton ventured into this blind spot on the map in 1891, using the first pack horses ever brought into the Yukon. They wandered blindly about the region around Kluane Lake, but none of the resident population was overly eager to lead them to the legendary “white river.”

While Glave and Dalton were wandering about the southwest Yukon the summer of 1891, veteran Yukon explorer, American Frederick Schwatka, and a rookie geologist from the US Geological Survey named Charles Willard Hayes, ventured cross-country on foot from Fort Selkirk. Reaching the White River region, Schwatka reported a disappointing number of copper nuggets in Kletsan Creek.

Jack Dalton later made a number of trips into this region looking for copper, especially with a mine developer named Henry Bratnober, who was later involved in the establishment of the Kennicott mine in Alaska. American geologist Alfred H. Brooks travelled through the White River area in 1899, and while others explored the region looking for good prospects, no big mine was established.

During the height of the Klondike rush in 1897, gold was found in present-day Kluane National Park on Shorty and Alder creeks near Dezadeash Lake. A large syndicate of prospectors came in during 1898 and staked or bought up most of the claims on these creeks, but despite the initial flurry of interest and rumours of a big investment to follow, they failed to renew their claims the following year.

Shorty Creek was displaced by the next big gold discovery in the fall of 1898 – Porcupine Creek on the Dalton Trail below the Chilkat Pass. The Alaskan newspapers covered this discovery, even predicting that 15,000 miners would soon be there. The small town of Porcupine sprouted overnight, lasted a couple of years, and then was slowly abandoned. A few miners still work the creek today.

By the time that Porcupine was dwindling, new placer streams were discovered in the Kluane region. In late June of 1903, Skookum Jim, Dawson Charley and Jim Boss found gold on Ruby Creek, northwest of Whitehorse. Involvement of the original discoverers of the Klondike gave it credence; in short order, every horse in Whitehorse was bought up and a stampede of 500 prospectors headed to the Kluane district.

In the frenzy that followed, Ruby, Fourth of July, Twelfth of July, Allie, Dixie, McMillan, Lamoureaux, McKinley, Marshal and Granite Creeks were staked. In late September, a party of four miners from Porcupine including Morley Bones, who remained in the region for decades, staked Bullion Creek, a tributary of the Slims River. The four stakers on Bullion managed to recover 43 ounces of gold in nine days, before cold weather set in. Soon, Sheep Creek, Burwash and Gladstone creeks were the subject of interest as well.

News of the gold find on Bullion Creek started another stampede to the area in early spring, 1904. Three hundred men were reported to be in the district by May 11 and 2,000 claims staked in the region. The Daily Evening Star predicted that there would be 10,000 men in the region that summer. As many as 1200 men actually went there to prospect, but most left as soon as the season ended. The following year, the population in the area dwindled to less than a hundred, and then a mere 40 in 1906.

More than quarter of a million dollars was invested in a hydraulic operation on Bullion Creek, which, over three years, is reported to have yielded a meagre $1,000 in gold.

Mining continued on a small scale in the Kluane region over the ensuing years until gold was found in the Chisana region of Alaska in 1913, and then on Squaw Creek, a tributary of the Tatshenshini River near Dalton House, where Paddy Duncan from Klukshu discovered gold in 1927. By the following year, there was a consensus, reported in the Whitehorse Star, that Squaw Creek was the most important discovery since the gold rush. A total of $25,000 was taken from three claims on the creek that year.

In the ensuing 20 years, between 20 and 40 individuals mined Squaw Creek each summer, but never found a rich deposit like those uncovered in the Klondike.

Prospectors are passionate about finding the next gold, copper or other mineral seam, but especially gold. Basking in the aura of the great gold rush, always dreaming about locating the next big find, a small platoon of veteran miners has continued to explore stream gravels and rock outcrops throughout the Yukon to the present day.

For some, the hunt is everything and seeking the next big discovery may be just as important as finding it.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His book, History Hunting in the Yukon, is now available. You can contact him at msgates@northwestel.net

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An avalanche warning sigh along the South Klondike Highway. Local avalanche safety instructors say interest in courses has risen during the pandemic as more Yukoners explore socially distanced outdoor activities. (Tom Patrick/Yukon News file)
Backcountry busy: COVID-19 has Yukoners heading for the hills

Stable conditions for avalanches have provided a grace period for backcountry newcomers

Several people enter the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Coast High Country Inn Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 26. The Yukon government announced on Jan. 25 that residents of Whitehorse, Ibex Valley, Marsh Lake and Mount Lorne areas 65 and older can now receive their vaccines. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Vaccine appointments available in Whitehorse for residents 65+

Yukoners 65 and older living in Whitehorse are now eligible to receive… Continue reading

Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, filed a petition on Dec. 11 after her office was barred from accessing documents related to a child and family services case. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government rejects Ombudsman requests for documentation filed to Supreme Court

Diane McLeod-McKay filed a petition on Dec. 11 after requests for documents were barred

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his first NHL goal with defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22 in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)
Cozens notches first NHL goal in loss to Capitals

The Yukoner potted his first tally at 10:43 of the second period on Jan. 22

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

Most Read