Tracing the crossed paths of six Klondikers caught up in “the last great gold rush in history.”
Among the countless dreamers, adventurers, entrepreneurs, tenderfoots, prostitutes, card sharps and con men who rushed to the northwest after news of the 1896 Klondike strike, Gray (Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention, 2006, etc.) focuses on six individuals: Bill Haskell, a miner early to the stampede who struck gold but had to suffer the drowning death of his partner; Father William Judge, the selfless Jesuit and seemingly the only Yukon dweller not obsessed with gold; Belinda Mulrooney, the brash and thoroughly ruthless shopkeeper, restaurateur, hotelier and property magnate; Jack London, who mined literary gold from his year in the Klondike; Flora Shaw, correspondent for the Times of London, whose dispatches confirmed the strike’s significant dimensions and the corruption among Canadian officials; and Sam Steele, hardy lawman amid the fray. No armchair rambler, the author has visited the territory, and this familiarity comes through in her descriptions of the beauty and terror of the landscape, her keen appreciation of the near–Arctic Circle climate and her vivid depiction then and now of Dawson City, the log-cabin town at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, 4,000 miles from the nearest city. Relying on memoirs and letters, Gray memorably resuscitates the life of the miners: the fortuity of staking a claim, the primitive and backbreaking methods they used to extract gold from the earth, the harsh conditions under which they labored and the manifold diseases that afflicted them. Their appalling treatment of the native Han people and their desecration of the landscape were but two of the unfortunate byproducts of the gold fever that allowed a pauper to imagine becoming a millionaire overnight.
A lively, delightful reenactment of a signal era of “Klondike mythology.”