Thursday, 31 October 2013

Writing of Klondike Dreams

My interest in the Klondike gold rush began by accident. I was hiking in a historical gold mining area, when my companion wanted to look at some books in a tourist office. While he was browsing in the wildlife section, I started leafing through a book about two brothers who made their fortune in the Klondike.

I was instantly hooked.  When I got home, I read everything I could on the Internet. I ordered books on Amazon, and scoured second hand book shops for copies of out of print editions. It was a fascinating, fascinating event, a captivating slice of history, the last of the great gold rushes, taking place at the cusp of the great social change that lead up to modern times.

In my research of letters and diaries, I was surprised to learn how close the language of the period was to today’s usage. The world truly was hurtling toward a new century. Women were clamouring for emancipation, railroads provided efficient transport, newspapers spread information rapidly around the world. The cheap camera had been invented, allowing travellers to take snapshots which supplement the records of professional photographers.
According to estimates, roughly 300,000 people set off on the journey toward the Klondike and 30,000 made it to Dawson City. Of those, only around 3,000 found gold and perhaps 300 struck it rich. One day, I hope to hike the Chilkoot trail, tracing the footsteps of Cora and Johan.
Below is a list of some of the main sources that helped me with the background. There is plenty more, these are just a sample of where to start if you are interested in learning more. I’ve listed the editions I have, there may be others available.
My favourite book is the one by Pierre Berton, a beautifully written history of the gold rush, packed with factual information and anecdotes. I’m sure some of its influence can be seen in the scenic descriptions of my book. I recommend the Canadian edition, which contains several hand drawn maps not included in the US edition.
  • Pierre Berton: Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush 1896-1899, Anchor Canada 2001
  • Frances Backhouse: Women of the Klondike, Whitecap Books 2000
  • Tappan Adney: The Klondike Stampede, UBC Press 2003
  • Jeremiah Lynch: Three Years in the Klondike, Narrative Press 2001
  • William Bronson: The Last Grand Adventure, McGraw-Hill 1977
  • Manual for Nursing, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1878
  • Lavinia Dock, Material Medica for Nurses, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1898
  • Harvey Wickes Felter and John Uri Lloyd: King’s American Dispensary 1898
  • Penguin History of the USA 1865-1900

Articles and documents available on the Internet:
  • Ruth Mellor: History of the VON Klondike Nurses
  • Mary Hitchcock: Two women in the Klondike
  • Alice Edna Berry: The Bushes and the Berrys
  • Sylvain Cazelet: History of the New York Medical College and Hospital for Women
  • Jack London: Economics of the Klondike

In addition, there are journals and diaries and pamphlets and official documents and transport timetables and restaurant menus and all sorts of interesting details available on the Internet, as well extensive photographs collections of the Klondike gold rush. I spent a lot of time studying the photographs by Eric Hegg, Frank La Roche, and Asahel Curtis, available in the digital collections of the University of Washington Libraries.

My other research included history of New York City and Chicago, US railroads, Finnish history, South African history, history and techniques of gold mining, Victorian era dress, hairstyles, and social etiquette, history of nursing in the US and Canada, history of pharmacy and drug dispensing in the US, history and treatment of the medical conditions of spinal meningitis, scurvy, and typhoid fever.

I have tried to incorporate actual events into my story, such as the avalanche on 3 April 1898 that killed a number of stampeders on the Chilkoot trail but allowed an ox to survive, the rigged race to stake claims on Dominion Creek, the typhoid epidemic that raged through Dawson City that summer, and the fire on the night of 26 April 1899 that destroyed much of the town because the fire fighters had gone on strike. The Tacoma is not a real boat, but a composite of two different vessels which are described in some of the sources. And there really was a man with cats, although I could only find brief references to him and had to use my imagination to fill in the details.

I hope that my extensive reading helps the story to sound authentic, and that you find the history of the Klondike gold rush interesting