Yukon Nuggets

1897 Yukon Nuggets

Treasure Ships


When George Carmack and Skookum Jim discovered coarse gold on Bonanza Creek in 1896, every prospector in the district headed for the Klondike creeks. By the summer of 1897, poor prospectors had become wealthy Klondike kings, and they wanted out. 86 miners boarded two Yukon riverboats that summer and headed for the Alaskan port of St. Michael. Here they caught two grimy ships, the Portland which was headed for Seattle, and the Excelsior bound for San Francisco. The treasure ships loaded with what newspapers described as a ton of gold were greeted by thousands on the docks, who wanted to see first-hand the gold they’d heard about, and see they did. Down the gangplanks came gaunt and weary men barely able to carry their gold nuggets, bulging suitcases, cardboard boxes, and gunny sacks. The crowd stood in awe as miner after miner told tales of gold lying on the ground, ready to be scooped up. Jim Clemens had $50,000, Frank Keller $35,000, and Fred Price $15,000. Others like Clarence Berry, Joe Leduc, and Tip Lippy had much, much more. Reported besieged the miners and they weren’t disappointed as each man told stories of wealth beyond imagination, all for the taking.

There was wealth in the Klondike alright, but most of it had been staked. The American West was in the midst of a depression. The arrival of these Klondikers, and the sight of their gold and fortunes, struck like a thunder-bolt. Seattle went stark staring mad on gold, as one newspaper reported. Men quit what meager jobs they had, scraped together what little cash they could find, and booked passage on anything that would float, bound for the land of milk and honey. They couldn’t know that only a handful of the tens of thousands would gain anything but a bitter memory of hardship and deprivation, such as they’d never known before. All they knew was that the treasure ships the Portland and the Excelsior carried dreams of a golden future in a land where the ground was covered in gold.


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.

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