1933 Yukon Nuggets
Robert Henderson, Prospector
He was born in Nova Scotia, born with a passion for gold. He had looked all over the world for gold, financing his lonely journeys from Australia to Colorado by taking paid jobs as a sailor. He had never struck it big - just enough to pay his way back to the sea and work toward his next destination. Then, the Yukon called.
Robert Henderson was a silent and - some say - unfriendly man. His only real feelings were for the yellow metal he was seeking. In 1894, he heard stories of small gold finds in a place called the Yukon. With two acquaintances, he shipped out as far as Dyea, Alaska, and trekked over the Chilkoot Pass, eventually moving to the Sixtymile River, near, but not, in the Klondike Valley.
He began prospecting in earnest on the Indian River which flows into the Yukon above Dawson. In a tiny creek he named Gold Bottom, Henderson made a small strike, but his supplies were getting low. He decided to go down the Yukon to Fortymile, where there was a townsite and quite a few mining claims.
On the way he met George Carmack, and two of Carmack's native friends, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie. They were scouting out logging sites and looking for easy gold around the Klondike river. Henderson told Carmack about his modest strike at Gold Bottom Creek. Carmack said he might go there to try his luck. Henderson said they should share in the knowledge of any finds.
Just over the divide from where Henderson had been working small creeks, Skookum Jim found the biggest of Klondike nuggets on a small stream called Rabbit Creek. Carmack, Jim and Charlie with gold nuggets larger than anyone had ever seen in the region, hurried to the Fortymile townsite to register their claims on the creek, since renamed Bonanza. Carmack displayed his bag of nuggets and told all the miners within earshot where he had made the find. Immediately Fortymile and its gold-producing creeks became a ghost town. Miners flocked to the Klondike river. The great Klondike rush was on.
Meanwhile Bob Henderson continued to pan the small creeks around the Indian River, not realizing the frenzy of staking just over the hills. When Henderson finally heard of the action, it was too late. All the good ground and more had been staked. Carmack, for whatever reason, didn't tell Henderson what he had found.
In his later days, Henderson lived in a small cabin overlooking Dawson City. Those who knew him say he was never bitter about losing out on the big payoff - he had come so close to the big payoff. But the Canadian government did eventually recognize him as co-discoverer of Klondike gold.
As he grew older, Bob Henderson moved to the west coast, where he spent his last days. He died in 1933.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.