There are many abandoned settlements scattered throughout the Yukon. All of them resonate with the echoes of past lives lived, and reveal the changing dynamics through the decades.
In its hey-day, Gold Run Creek was one of the busiest, most productive and most heavily populated creeks in the Klondike goldfields. But when I first visited the stream in 1982, all that remained were trees growing amidst old dredge tailing piles, decaying cabins, the occasional piece of derelict machinery, and a gentle breeze blowing through the dense brush on a clear autumn day.
After the frenzy of the original staking of the Klondike had subsided, determined prospectors spread out to the adjoining watersheds in search of the elusive yellow metal. The first discovery of gold on Gold Run Creek occurred in February of 1898 when Billy Leake, a veteran prospector in the Yukon, and Robert and David Ennis set up camp at the mouth of the creek, and prospected up the valley through the ice and snow until they staked 10 miles above the mouth. The claims later proved to be unproductive, but the Ennis brothers continued to mine on Gold Run Creek for many years.
The early mining on the creek was by hand, using the traditional drift mining method, into the permanently frozen ground. “Armstrong” powered windlasses hauled the paydirt to the surface. One of the early miners on the creek left the Yukon in 1899 with $13,000 having laboured on his Gold Run claim by this method for months. His name was John W. Nordstrom, and he used the money to establish what has become one of the largest retail chains in the United States.
The first steam equipment was introduced to the creek one year later, and soon most of the mining operations on the creek were using boilers to generate steam to operate pumps and winches and thaw the frozen muck. The demand for firewood became insatiable, and thousands of cords of wood were consumed each year to feed the hungry boilers.
When the government road was completed to Gold Run by November of 1899, easier transportation made the creek more profitable, and the population exploded. By 1900, 699 people were reported to be living and working there. One newspaper predicted it would soon be a thousand. Other towns grew up in the goldfields: on Bonanza Creek at Grand Forks, as well as on Hunker (Gold Bottom), the Klondike valley (Bear Creek), Dominion (Granville and Caribou) and Sulphur.
The official government census for 1901 showed that 389 people lived on Gold Run, of whom 45 were women and 10 were children. The populations hovered between 400 and 500 for several years.
One of the early miners in on Gold Run Creek was Dr. A.E. Wills, who had arrived in the Yukon before the Klondike was discovered, with the North West Mounted Police. In partnership with Jerome Chute, he formed the company of Chute and Wills. Together, they accumulated more than a dozen claims on the lower part of Gold Run Creek, including Nordstrom’s Claim No. 27 (claims were numbered sequentially up the creek from its mouth).
Soon, Chute and Wills had 150 workers mucking for gold on their ground. A small townsite consisting of 40 buildings grew up at the hub of their operations at Claim No. 28. In addition to Dr. Wills’s impressive two-storey log home, there were a row of cottages, a large two-storey hotel (operated by Chute and Wills), mess hall and bunkhouses. For a while, there was a school, a Presbyterian church, a detachment of the North West Mounted Police, a mining recorder’s office and a post office.
As early as 1901, Gold Run could boast of at least one woman of “questionable character,” although the Klondike Nugget went on to clarify that there was no question at all about her character. Some years later, Sam Tym, a miner, intoxicated after spending the evening with the notorious “Gypsy,” disappeared into the night. He never made it home; his brother found his body in the spring encased in ice, lying on his back, looking up to the sky, his body perfectly preserved.
Scattered along the creek were a dozen roadhouses, some squalid affairs, and others rivalling Chute and Wills’s establishment. There was a dentist, a doctor, a bakery, a barber and a confectionary. Orr and Tukey ran a scheduled stage service to Gold Run from Dawson. The Dawson Daily News ran an express and messenger service. In 1900, the local telephone syndicate had even extended a branch line from Dawson City to Gold Run Creek.
By 1900, the creek had also become a beehive of social activity. There was fierce competition between the roadhouses to see who could offer the most attractive events. Dances were regular occurrences, especially around the traditional holidays. Easter, Christmas, New Year’s, and the national holidays, the First and the Fourth of July, as well as Victoria Day, were celebrated in the early days.
Reverend George Pringle made frequent visits to Gold Run to hold services in his small log church. He even participated in the lively debates sponsored by the Gold Run Literary and Debating Society. At a meeting at the Central Hotel in December of 1901, for example, it was resolved: “That women should have equal voting privileges with men.” The decision came out in favour of the women, incidentally.
Sports were enjoyed, but primarily as a social event. Ben Matteson (The Texas Steer) and Jack Higgens (The Tipperary Cyclone) both of whom had been working on Chute and Wills’ claim scheduled a boxing match on the creek March 23, 1901. Winner was to take all gate receipts, plus a side bet of $250. Special holidays were an excuse for sports. Victoria Day, 1901 was celebrated with a high kick competition, a fat man’s race (George Barr ‘won by a waistcoat’) tug of war between teams from upper and lower Gold Run Creek (a draw), and swimming (Ed Herring swept the gold in all events).
It didn’t last; large corporate interests bought out many of the claims, reducing the population. By 1911, there were only 26 people remaining on Gold Run Creek, including four women and three children. All that remained by 1982 were the decaying cabins, scattered pieces of machinery, and numerous abandoned mine shafts filled with ice. Even these are now gone, pushed aside, dug up or covered over in the mad scramble to extract the remaining gold buried in the gravels of Gold Run Creek.
Michael Gates is Yukon’s first Story Laureate. He is the author of six books of Yukon history. His latest, “Dublin Gulch: A History of the Eagle Gold Mine,” received the Axiom Business Book Award silver medal for corporate history. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.