A collection of colorful tales about the Alaskan gold rush at the end of the 19th century.
A Russian adventurer first discovered gold in the Alaskan territory in 1849, but a deluge of hopeful “Argonauts,” as they were called, came flooding into the territory nearly half a century later. The country was still reeling from the economic depression of 1893, and the promise of quick riches ignited the newcomers’ enthusiasm. As many as 100,000 people made the arduous journey via various routes to search a swath of land that stretched over 2,000 miles. Eventually, a railroad was built to replace the Chilkoot and White Pass trails, and its construction was a perilous task, as well. Author and journalist Jordan (Reflections of a Reluctant Alaskan, 2011, etc.) offers a kaleidoscopic mélange of different perspectives in his memorable biographical vignettes of those who sought fortune. Most of them had no previous mining experience, but a few were very lucky. One, Belinda Mulrooney, came to the United States in 1872 from Ireland as a child and, after finding gold, ended up as a successful hotelier. Others, like Austrian Antone Standers, made a fortune but still died penniless; he was bled dry by a money-hungry paramour. Although Jordan effectively makes the pursuit of wealth the backbone of the narrative, he also reveals that some people had other motivations; the Rev. Samuel Hall established a Presbyterian church, for example, and Sheldon Jackson started a series of religious schools. As a newspaperman, the author seems particularly interested in how the gold rush was covered by reporters, so he discusses a bevy of writers and journalists, such as Eugene Allen, the founder of the Klondike Nugget, and novelist Jack London. Overall, this is a delightfully eclectic and nonlinear chronicle written in a clear, anecdotal style that belies its journalistic rigor. Even though the mad stampede to affluence lasted less than a decade, the author ably limns its rich legacy and its spirit of American boldness.
A vivid historical homage to dauntless adventurism.