The best books for understanding the Klondike Gold Rush

Who am I?

My interest in the Klondike gold rush was sparked by a Canadian history course I took as an undergrad. Nearly all the accounts I read then relegated female participants to the sidelines and implied that most were of dubious moral character, but I suspected there was more to the story than that. I started digging and, unlike many Klondikers, I struck gold. Since then I’ve made numerous visits to the Yukon and Alaska, hiked the Chilkoot Trail twice and spent three months as Writer in Residence at Berton House in Dawson City (where I worked on my third gold rush book, Children of the Klondike). Today, I’m still captivated by this colorful, character-rich historic event.


I wrote...

Women of the Klondike

By Frances Backhouse,

Book cover of Women of the Klondike

What is my book about?

Women of the Klondike was the first book to thoroughly explore the feminine side of the Klondike gold rush, casting new light on one of North America’s most legendary events. Women were on the scene from the moment the first nuggets were discovered on Bonanza Creek in 1896 and throughout the following boom-and-bust years. Among the 100,000-plus people from around the world who caught gold fever and converged on Dawson City at the turn of the last century were a surprising number of members of the so-called weaker sex.

And contrary to popular myth, they were a widely diverse group, including entrepreneurs, nuns, entertainers, teachers, nurses, prostitutes, journalists, prospectors, housewives, and tourists. This is their story, mined from diaries, letters, memoirs, and newspapers and set against the larger historical backdrop. Long after the last Klondike fortunes were spent, these adventurous women’s tales of ingenuity, adversity, heartbreak, and triumph live on.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush

Frances Backhouse Why did I love this book?

Pierre Berton’s Klondike, published in 1958, was the first comprehensive account of the Klondike gold rush and quickly became a bestseller. But look for the 1972 revised edition, which added a lengthy preface, a listing of major characters (there are a lot to keep track of!), more maps, and an expanded main text. Not only is Berton a master storyteller, but he was also intimately acquainted with this history. Born in 1920, he was the son of a Klondike stampeder and a teacher who arrived in Dawson as things were settling down. Berton spent his early years growing up amidst the vestiges of the gold rush and maintained a strong connection to the north all his life.

By Pierre Berton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Klondike as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the building of the railroad and the settlement of the plains, the North West was opening up. The Klondike stampede was a wild interlude in the epic story of western development, and here are its dramatic tales of hardship, heroism, and villainy. We meet Soapy Smith, dictator of Skagway; Swiftwater Bill Gates, who bathed in champagne; Silent Sam Bonnifield, who lost and won back a hotel in a poker game; and Roddy Connors, who danced away a fortune at a dollar a dance. We meet dance-hall queens, paupers turned millionaires, missionaries and entrepreneurs, and legendary Mounties such as Sam…


Book cover of Gold at Fortymile Creek: Early Days in the Yukon

Frances Backhouse Why did I love this book?

This impeccably researched book by Yukon historian Michael Gates provides the backstory to the 1896 discovery that kicked off the Klondike gold rush. Small numbers of gold-seekers began prowling the creeks of Alaska and the Yukon as early as 1873 and their stories are every bit as fascinating as the stories of those who followed. These men, and the occasional woman, were a particularly hardy lot who put themselves through incredible hardship in hopes of finding a fortune. They were perfectly positioned to beat the rush to the Klondike goldfields and some of them did clean up. But regardless of whether they struck it rich, all of these risk-takers and dreamers helped set the stage for the big event.

By Michael Gates,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gold at Fortymile Creek as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The book, based on the accounts of dozens of prospectors, follows the first gold-seekers from their arrival in 1873 until the stampede to the Klondike in 1896. Gates captures the essence of these early years of the gold rush, about which very little has been written. He chronicles the trials, hearbreaks, and successes of the unique and hardy individualists who searched for gold in the wilderness. With names like Swiftwater Bill, Crooked Leg Louie, Slobbery Tom, and Tin Kettle George, these men lived in total isolation beyond the borders of civilization. They were often eccentrics and outcasts, who shaped their…


Book cover of Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold

Frances Backhouse Why did I love this book?

The highly readable Wealth Woman, by longtime Alaskan Deb Vanasse, fills a major gap on the Klondike bookshelf. It is the first full biography of Kate Carmack, the Tagish woman who was wife, sister, and aunt to the men whose discovery launched the gold rush. And it flips the conventional Klondike narrative on its head and considers the event from the generally overlooked perspective of the Indigenous communities and individuals whose territories were overrun by gold-seekers.

By Deb Vanasse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wealth Woman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With the first headlines screaming "Gold! Gold! Gold!" in 1896, the Klondike Gold Rush was on-and it almost instantly became the stuff of legend. One of the key figures in the early discoveries that set off the gold rush was the Tagish wife of prospector George Carmack, Kate Carmack, whose fascinating story is told in full here for the first time.

In Wealth Woman, Deb Vanasse recounts Kate's life from her early years on the frontier with George, through the history-making discovery of gold, and on to her subsequent fame, when she traveled alone down the West Coast through Washington…


Book cover of The Klondike Stampede

Frances Backhouse Why did I love this book?

New York journalist Tappan Adney travelled to the Klondike with the first wave of stampeders in 1897 and spent 16 months there. His subsequent book, published in 1900, is one of the best firsthand accounts of the gold rush, filled with factual details, revealing anecdotes, and Adney’s own photographs and sketches. The 1994 UBC Press re-issue of The Klondike Stampede includes an introduction by historian Ken Coates, which provides valuable context for modern readers.

By Tappan Adney,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Klondike Stampede as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This work has been selected by scholars as being culturally important and is part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it.

This work is in the public domain in the United States of America, and possibly other nations. Within the United States, you may freely copy and distribute this work, as no entity (individual or corporate) has a copyright on the body of the work.

Scholars believe, and we concur, that this work is important enough to be preserved, reproduced, and made generally available to the public. To ensure a quality reading experience, this work has been…


Book cover of The Klondike Gold Rush: Photographs from 1896-1899

Frances Backhouse Why did I love this book?

Although photography was in its infancy at the time of the Klondike gold rush, the event’s high-profile nature attracted many intrepid photographers, both amateurs and professionals. Graham Wilson’s carefully curated collection of 125 historical photos showcases their talents and offers a unique glimpse into the past. These are pictures to savor, as you study the faces, take in the landscapes and scrutinize the details of everything from clothing to mining equipment.

By Graham B. Wilson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Klondike Gold Rush as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Catch gold fever with this comprehensive collection of archival photographs. This is the mother lode of the north - a stunning record of the last great gold rush. With 125 extraordinary images along with fascinating anecdotes and personal accounts, this book reveals the arduous journey north, the frontier towns and the struggles of toiling in the gold fields. Readers will encounter intriguing characters as they experience the adventure of a lifetime. From conmen and prospectors to dog sleds and sluic-boxes, these images are a bonanza of gold rush history. This was the Official Book of the 1998 Klondike Gold Rush…


You might also like...

A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

Book cover of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

Janet Hulstrand Author Of A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Reader Editor Francophile Minnesotan Once and forever Brooklynite

Janet's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

This memoir chronicles the lives of three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel. The story begins in 1992 in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn as the author reads a notebook written by her grandmother nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year search to find her grandmother’s journals and uncover the hidden interior lives of her mother and grandmother.

Her adventures take her to a variety of locations, from a small town in Iowa to New York, Washington, London, and Paris—and finally to a little village in France, where she is finally able to write the book that will tell her own story, intertwined with the stories of her mother and grandmother.

A Long Way from Iowa: From the Heartland to the Heart of France

By Janet Hulstrand,

What is this book about?

This story, about three generations of women with a passion for reading, writing, and travel, begins in 1992, in an unfinished attic in Brooklyn, as a young writer reads journals written by her grandmother as a schoolgirl nearly 100 years earlier. This sets her on a 30-year quest to uncover the hidden lives and unfulfilled dreams of her mother and grandmother. In this coming-of-middle-age memoir, the author comes to realize that the passion for travel and for literature that has fueled her life's journey is a gift that was passed down to her by the very role models she was…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Klondike Gold Rush, gold mining, and the gold rush?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Klondike Gold Rush, gold mining, and the gold rush.

The Klondike Gold Rush Explore 13 books about the Klondike Gold Rush
Gold Mining Explore 8 books about gold mining
The Gold Rush Explore 8 books about the gold rush