Yukon Nuggets

  • 19 Eldorado with miners posing beside sluices and shaft cribbing with cabins, tents and piles of timber in the background. Date: 1898. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #4842.

  • The larger Clarence Berry nugget. Yukon Archives. Neil Fahy fonds, #2.

1948 Yukon Nuggets

Ethel Berry


The Klondike was the realm of the male miner. But there were some resourceful women who headed to the gold-fields. One was Ethel Bush, who married Clarence Berry when he returned from his first trip to Yukon in the fall of 1895. Two years later, both would be Klondike millionaires.

Ethel and Clarence Berry celebrated their honeymoon while travelling over the Chilkoot Pass with a dog team in 1896. After they arrived, Ethel spent two months alone in a tiny cabin in Forty Mile while Clarence worked out on the creeks. Ethel spent the winter of 1896-97 housekeeping, Klondike-style, in a house which had no door, windows or floor. Having no luck at prospecting, Clarence was tending bar in Bill McPhee's saloon in Forty Mile the August night George Carmack arrived to boast of his discovery at Rabbit (Bonanza) Creek. The Berrys immediately headed for the new discovery.

When the Berrys got to the gold-fields, Clarence staked a claim on number five Eldorado. Later, it was discovered that claim was 40 feet too long. Moreover, this was the section of the claim which held all of the paydirt dug out over the winter. That meant that the Berrys didn't own that fraction of land and they couldn't stake it either, because their staking rights were used up. Berry lucked out, however, when he got a friend to stake the claim and then transfer the rights to them.

On that claim the Berrys were able to produce $140,000 in 1897 alone. The claim was so rich that whenever Ethel needed money, she would just go outside, smash some clumps of dirt, and pull out the nuggets. The couple was on the now famous, ship the 'Portland', when it docked in Seattle. When they arrived, 23-year-old Ethel was wearing men's clothing. Her bedroll was so heavy she couldn't lift it. Inside the bedroll was nearly $100,000 in gold. Ethel Bush Berry was rich! Newspaper headlines announced the arrival of the ship, with its "ton of gold". Reporters interviewing Ethel called her "The Bride of the Klondike". Her story was featured in papers all over the world.

Despite the hardships of that first year, Ethel and Clarence returned to mine again in the spring of 1898. Ethel climbed the Chilkoot Pass a second time, this time with her sister Tot, along with thousands of Stampeders whose dreams of riches were inspired by her own story. While many, if not most, of the "Klondike Kings" squandered their money, Clarence and Ethel Berry continued to work hard and invest their fortune wisely.

They developed rich claims near Fairbanks. In 1907, the Berrys began a large-scale dredging operation in the Circle Mining District. For display at the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle, Ethel loaned $70,000 worth of gold nuggets that she herself had picked up on their various gold claims. Ethel, who in 1897 said she would never go north again, couldn't stay away. She traveled each year up the Yukon River to visit their claims until Clarence died in 1930. The wealthy widow lived in Beverly Hills, California, where she died in 1948.






A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.