July 29

The Klondike Gold Rush

July 29, 2015

Personal Growth

During the nineteenth century famous gold rushes occurred all over the world, notable examples being California in 1849 and South Africa in 1886. In 1896 gold was discovered on several tributaries of the Klondike River in the Yukon of northwest Canada, near the border of Alaska.

Mining gold was very difficult. Movies often portray prospectors picking gold nuggets out of the sand and gravel they’re swirling in a large pan, and yes, in the beginning, they sometimes did that. But the initial panning was only a remote indication of what lay hidden both deeper and farther upstream. When a miner staked a claim, he then began to dig down to find the bedrock, eight to thirty feet below, where the dense gold had settled over thousands of years.

In the Yukon the ground was permanently frozen, so miners had to burn large quantities of wood—which was difficult and dangerous to collect in the winter—to thaw each layer of rock, gravel, and sand, which then had to be hauled up by hand or winch to a large pile on the ground. In the spring the excavated material was sifted in a pan with the water thawing from the mountains above, and thus the gold was separated from its long preservation in the earth.

The Klondike was so remote that for the first year nobody outside the area was aware of the discovery. But then two ships arrived in Seattle with the first small group of miners, one ship alone carrying two tons of pure gold. The news spread like a fire. The mayor of Seattle quit his job to head north, as did hundreds of municipal workers, clerks, fishing boat crews, and more. In the end it is estimated that 100,000 people traveled to the gold fields. Of these, no more than 4,000 struck gold and only a few hundred became rich. A few HUNDRED out of 100,000, and it has been calculated that the total money spent just to reach the Klondike, with adequate provisions, was GREATER than the worth of all the gold ever mined there.

In short, the Klondike was a net loss, and yet men and women spent all they had to brave conditions that included lack of food, cold to minus 70 degrees Fahrenheit, cave-ins, difficult and deadly transportation, the dishonesty of con men, exhausting work, and insanity from the isolation and fear of uncountable dangers. Many died before getting there, and most discovered that all the good claims had been taken.

Rarely have so many people risked so much for so little. And yet most of us take such risks every day. We spend our time, energy, and resources—everything we have—in pursuit of gold that never quite materializes. We seek approval, power, sex, and money in just as frenetic and hopeless a way as prospectors went crazy over gold. Most of us never find enough, and no matter how much we dig from the ground, it never makes us happy. We live in the Klondike every day, unaware that far greater riches lie within our grasp, to be gleaned with far less effort.

With a little guidance and persistence, we can learn to find a kind of gold that never loses its luster, that never fails to satisfy, and that cannot be stolen. With love, we have everything that matters. Without it, we have nothing at all.

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