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.

The books I picked & why

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Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush

By Pierre Berton,

Book cover of Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush

Why 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.


Gold at Fortymile Creek: Early Days in the Yukon

By Michael Gates,

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

Why 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.


Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold

By Deb Vanasse,

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

Why 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.


The Klondike Stampede

By Tappan Adney,

Book cover of The Klondike Stampede

Why 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.


The Klondike Gold Rush: Photographs from 1896-1899

By Graham B. Wilson,

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

Why 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.


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