Discovery Channel’s first scripted programming was the recently aired Klondike, a six-hour mini-series showcasing the struggle, determination, entrepreneurial spirit and often brutal life of men and women during the Yukon gold rush of the late 1890s. For your history paper, you can research the best history books and American literature to find material on a variety of topics highlighted in the program: Canadian history, Klondike gold rush and even American literature author Jack London, who makes an appearance.
Klondike based on true events
Based on true events, Klondike features characters based on real people who dug for gold in Canada’s Yukon Territory, adjacent to Alaska. After the gold rush panned out in the California and Colorado regions in the late 1800s, trailblazers and adventurers, as well as grifters and murderers, headed to the Yukon. One of the most striking scenes in the program was the treacherous trek straight up the mountain through the Chilkoot Pass in Southern Alaska. By 1899, however, the Klondike had panned out; everyone abandoned the territory to try their luck in the new gold rush area of Nome.
Dawson City, the epicenter of the gold rush
According to “Klondike Gold Rush” on Historynet.com, “Around 30,000 of the 100,000 or so prospectors that set out for the Klondike actually made it there. Many gave up to due to the difficulties of the journey and returned home; some were not able to survive the extreme temperatures and died….Of the 30,000 that arrived in the Klondike, only approximately 4,000 actually found gold. Some set up and sold claims rather than digging for gold themselves. Along the Klondike river, boom towns formed that were supported by the miners.”
Klondike takes place in the real boom town of Dawson City, which today offers tours and museums. “Dawson City, Yukon is the heart of the world-famous Klondike Gold Rush. In August of 1896, three Yukon ‘Sourdoughs,’ George Carmack, Dawson Charlie, and Skookum Jim, found gold in Rabbit Creek, now called Bonanza Creek, and changed the history of the Yukon forever. Thirty thousand (some say fifty) pick-and-shovel miners, prospectors, storekeepers, saloon keepers, bankers, gamblers, prostitutes and con men from every corner of the continent poured through snow-choked mountain passes and down the Yukon River to stake their claim to fortune.”
Jack London, literary adventurer
Showing up in Klondike to share in the characters’ stories is none other than adventure writer Jack London (1876-1916), author of the classic Call of the Wild and White Fang. London actually lived the life of adventure he wrote about. He had worked as a rancher and oyster pirate in San Francisco, seaman on a voyage to Hawaii and Japan, coal heaver, and soldier. In 1897, he sailed with his brother-in-law to Alaska to join the Klondike Gold rush.
London sold his first story, “To the Man on Trail” to the Overland Monthly magazine in 1898, earning $5, as depicted in Klondike. After successfully publishing short fiction and stories of adventure and animals, especially dogs and wolves, fighting and surviving against nature, he published his best-known work, Call of the Wild, in 1902 to instant acclaim. In 1906, he published another classic, White Fang. With his experience as a seaman on a sealing ship, he wrote another classic, The Sea Wolf. London died in 1916 at the age of 40 of a stroke and heart failure following bouts of rheumatism, ptomaine poisoning and dysentery.
London writes about Klondike
True to the television show Klondike, London wrote about his experiences in the Yukon and Dawson City. In Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Other Stories, edited by Earle Labor, 2002 found on Questia.com, London wrote: “It was the summer of 1898, and thousands of gold-hunters were going up the Yukon to Dawson and the Klondike. Still hundreds of miles from their goal, nevertheless many of them had been on the way for a year, and the least any of them had travelled to get that far was five thousand miles, while some had come from the other side of the world.”
What part of the Klondike gold rush would you like to learn more about?
For more research paper topics, check out Questia.com’s history page, Canadian history of the 19th century; Indigenous Peoples of Canada, Jack London, Klondike gold discoveries, social life and customs, mining claims, and American adventure stories.