Go West, Young Man
In the Klondike Gold Rush in Alaska around 1896, the Canadian Mounted Police would not allow anyone to enter the Yukon region unless he had a year’s supply of food and equipment. (No Yukon Wal-Marts in those days.)
These men would hike up the steep, icy, muddy, narrow Chilkoot Pass carrying about 65 lbs. of goods, drop their load off at the top of the hill and go back down for another load until they had about 2000 lbs. of food & equipment at the top.
After 30 trips up and 30 trips back down, the Canadian Mounties would weigh their food and if they determined that there was a year’s supply, they then gave them permission to proceed down the Chilkoot Pass to the Yukon River-–another 30 trips down & back, until the one-ton load was at the bottom.
It was 30 miles from Skagway to the Yukon River. One source estimated that a prospector would walk 2,500 miles by the time he got his year’s supply to the river bank! There he would build a raft and float 200 miles down the river to Dawson City to stake his claim and start mining. A few got rich, but the majority were too late.
I suppose I’m thinking about this because I just got back from Skagway, Alaska, where this scramble for gold took place about 120 years ago. Many thoughts went through my mind as I read about these amazingly hardy souls. What would possess a man to leave his home, family and farm or business and make the dangerous trip to Alaska to mine for gold? To walk 2500 miles carrying 65 lbs. on his back after he got there? Adventure? Greed? Desperation? Boredom? Lure of riches? Get out of debt?
I often wonder what I would have done if I would have lived during that time? Would I have “gone west, young man” like Horace Greenley encouraged? Would I have believed the amazing reports that a man could just pick up gold nuggets off the streets and become an overnight millionaire?
In my family research, I came across the obituary of my great-great grandfather, Nathan Smith. He was a farmer in Wayne County, Ohio. Born in 1827. Here is an excerpt from his obituary:
“…He was born and reared on a farm in Plain Township. In youth, aged about 20 years, he caught the gold fever and went overland to California with other gold seekers from Wayne County. Returning home from there he settled down in Plain Township and became a prosperous farmer, industriously and successfully following that vocation, marrying and rearing an estimable family of sons and daughters…”
A more detailed account is found in Paul Locher’s book, When Wooster Was a Whippersnapper, Pg. 68:
…he joined the Dennison Co., which was composed of 40 men, all from Wayne County. On March 11, the group left Wooster for California. The trip was made overland with mule teams, Benjamin Eason being one of the drivers. After spending five days in Salt Lake City for recreation, the party arrived in Placerville, 55 miles east of Sacramento, on July 4, 1850.
The Dennison Co. remained in California until the following winter, mining, trading and speculating. The group then returned home, traveling by steamer with “eyes still ablaze with scenes of border bloodshed and lawless cruelty,” as historian Ben Douglass described their experience.
Four months (116 days) on a wagon pulled by mules! No air conditioning. No MacDonald’s. No rest areas! Would I have “gone west?” Grandpa Nathan did.
At age 20, I possessed most of the above vices and virtues: adventurous, greedy, debts, no brains… I wasn’t bored or desperate, but I have the same adventurous blood flowing through my veins as great-great grandpa, Nathan Smith…
,BUT, at age 23 I committed my life to Christ, so maybe that would have governed my actions and attitudes during the feverish gold rush days.
What a history! What a story! I can’t judge or condemn those who sought riches (a better life), but I do have some sage advice:
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” -Matt. 6:33