Yukon Nuggets

1993 Yukon Nuggets

Yukon Horse

Most of us love horses, and why not. They have worked for and played with us for centuries. They are generally friendly and sometimes downright loyal, and in the Yukon, they have a history that may pre-date man.

Horses originated in North America about fifty million years ago. They were then the size of a terrier. Through time, they increased in size, and grew larger teeth with better grinding surfaces.

In the north, scientists call the early ancestors of today's horse, the Yukon horse. It lived on grasslands of Eastern Beringia, areas of the Yukon that remain unglaciated. The Yukon horse was one of the commonest Ice Age animals. Indeed, horses evolved in North America and spread out to the Old World via the Bering Land Bridge. Yukon horses probably arose in Beringia two hundred thousand years ago.

We know what the Yukon horse looks like, partly because of an exceptional carcass found in 1993 by placer miners at Last Chance Creek near Dawson City. Backhoe work had exposed the foreleg and a large part of the hide in a mining trench. Archaelogists collected tail hairs and a small portion of the lower intestine.

It had died about twenty thousand years ago. The horse, about four feet tall, had lived in a parkland environment. While one of the best specimens, there have been many other partial carcasses found over the years. Many excellent specimens were found near Fairbanks, Alaska and the Dawson City area.

Fossils have been found as far north and east as Baillie Islands, Northwest Territories, and as far south as Ketza River and Scottie Creek in the Yukon.

Yukon horses seem to have died out about twelve thousand years ago in Eastern Beringia, mabye because of quick climatic change about the time of the last glaciation. It is also possible that human hunting hastened its demise.


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.