Alaska, the Final Frontier
Dawson City is a living museum with personality: a small town of dirt streets, clean boardwalks, and tilting buildings. Linda and I were totally taken aback by its rowdy gold mining days, its literary heroes, its days of riverboat steamers and railroad stokers.
The community began hundreds of years ago as a First Nations fishing village on the Yukon River deep in the heart of the Great White North. The word Tr’ondek, used by these people to describe driving stakes in the water to catch salmon, evolved into the name of the region, Klondike. Four explorers discovered rich gold deposits on nearby Rabbit Creek in 1896, and within a few years the tranquil fishing hole was overrun by 100,000 stampeders on the way to the gold fields. By 1900, the newly–named Dawson with a year-round population of 30,000 became the largest city north of Seattle.
For a decade, Dawson was wild and wooly, full of prostitutes, gamblers, gun slingers, and sourdoughs. It was dangerous and exciting, a place to make or lose a fortune in one long winter’s night. Muddy tents, ramshackled cabins, elaborate hotels, seedy brothels, gambling halls, steepled churches, and metal–sided homes went up overnight. A Europeanstyle theater and dance hall, The Palace Grand, opened to serve the newly rich and cultured.
The Native Americans, unable to cope with the chaos and led by Chief Isaac, moved their village three miles downriver to a high bluff they named Moosehide.
A typhoid epidemic, a disastrous fire, and the discovery of gold and silver further down the Yukon River led to the evacuation of Dawson City. By 1905, only 5,000 hardy folks remained. The Klondike Gold Rush was over.
Linda and I witnessed history as we walked around the 4X8–block town. We ducked in Sourdough Joe’s for dinner and discussed our discovery over fried salmon and chips. We cried in mugs of Yukon Gold beer as we tried to absorb the living history of this glamorous place once known as the Paris of the North.