Publish date:
Updated on

Discoverer of Klondike Gold dies

George W. Carmack, the first person to discover gold along the Klondike River, dies in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Carmack was born into a life of prospecting and mining. His father was a forty-niner who settled his family in Contra Costa County, California. When he was in his early 20s, Carmack followed his father’s example, setting off on long prospecting journeys that took him from Juneau, Alaska, to the Yukon Territory of northwest Canada. There, he married a woman from the Tagish, a small tribe of Native Americans from the southern Yukon.

Unlike many prospectors, Carmack was not consumed by the lust to find gold. For several years, he was happy to wander about the Yukon with his wife’s people. When he did settle down in a cabin on the upper Yukon River, he enjoyed performing on an organ, reading periodicals like Scientific American, and occasionally writing sentimental poetry.

In the summer of 1896, Carmack was fishing for salmon near the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike River. Accompanied by two Tagish friends, Carmack decided to explore Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Klondike. As he did habitually, Carmack stopped occasionally to pan for signs of gold along the creek. At first, he found little of the telltale yellowish color in his pan. Then, on August 17, he stumbled across a deposit of gold so rich that he needed no pan to see it: Thumb-sized pieces of gold lay scattered about the creek bed.

Carmack’s two Tagish companions later said they had actually found the gold while Carmack was asleep under a birch tree. Regardless of who deserved the credit, the discovery sparked one of the last great western gold rushes. Thousands of would-be miners raced for the Klondike the following year. Partly because there was no other big news at the time, American newspapers exaggerated the reports of the gold fields in the Klondike. Steamship and outfitting companies did their part to promote the rush as well. Historians estimate that as many as 100,000 people set out for the Yukon gold fields, though perhaps only half that number actually reached the diggings. Unlike Carmack, few of the gold seekers were experienced in prospecting or mining, and many were turned back by sickness, starvation, and the bitter northern cold.

Carmack was luckier. After making several valuable claims, he abandoned his wandering life with the Tagish and set to work mining gold. According to some reports, when he returned to the United States in 1898 he had found gold worth more than a million dollars. Now a wealthy and influential man, Carmack moved to Vancouver, B.C., where he married the daughter of a successful mining operator. No mention was made of his earlier Tagish wife–Carmack may have simply abandoned her. He died in Vancouver in 1922 at the age of 61.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Six-Day War begins

Israel responds to an ominous build-up of Arab forces along its borders by launching simultaneous attacks against Egypt and Syria. Jordan subsequently entered the fray, but the Arab coalition was no match for Israel’s proficient armed forces. In six days of fighting, Israel more

Ronald Reagan dies

On this day in 2004, Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, dies, after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Reagan, who was also a well-known actor and served as governor of California, was a popular president known for restoring American confidence more

Robert F. Kennedy shot

At 12:50 a.m. PDT, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a presidential candidate, is shot three times in a hail of gunfire in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Five others were wounded. The senator had just completed a speech celebrating his victory in the California presidential more

Profumo resigns in sex scandal

On June 5, 1963, British Secretary of War John Profumo resigns his post following revelations that he had lied to the House of Commons about his sexual affair with Christine Keeler, an alleged prostitute. At the time of the affair, Keeler was also involved with Yevgeny “Eugene” more

FDR takes United States off gold standard

On June 5, 1933, the United States went off the gold standard, a monetary system in which currency is backed by gold, when Congress enacted a joint resolution nullifying the right of creditors to demand payment in gold. The United States had been on a gold standard since 1879, more

Laird testifies before Congress

Testifying before a joint Congressional Appropriations Committee, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird says the increase in U.S. military activity in Vietnam could add up to $5 billion to the 1973 fiscal budget, doubling the annual cost of the war. This increased American activity more

Julie Krone wins the Belmont Stakes

On this day in 1993, Julie Krone rides 13-to-1 shot Colonial Affair to victory in the Belmont Stakes to become the first female jockey ever to win a Triple Crown race. Julieanne Louise Krone was born July 24, 1963, in Benton Harbor, Michigan, where her mother Judi was a riding more

Ken Follett is born

Bestselling thriller writer Ken Follett is born on this day in Wales to a devout Christian family that does not allow young Ken to watch TV, see movies, or listen to the radio. As a result of his strict media diet during childhood, Follett became a voracious reader. After more

Constantinople burns

A huge section of the city of Constantinople, Turkey, is set ablaze on this day in 1870. When the smoke finally cleared, 3,000 homes were destroyed and 900 people were dead. The fire began at a home in the Armenian section of the Valide Tchesme district. A young girl was more

Bobby Kennedy is assassinated

Senator Robert Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California presidential primary. Immediately after he announced to his cheering supporters that the country was ready to end its fractious divisions, Kennedy was shot several times by the more

George Marshall calls for aid to Europe

In one of the most significant speeches of the Cold War, Secretary of State George C. Marshall calls on the United States to assist in the economic recovery of postwar Europe. His speech provided the impetus for the so-called Marshall Plan, under which the United States sent more

Union routs Rebels at the Battle of Piedmont

At the Battle of Piedmont, Virginia, Union forces under General David Hunter rout a Confederate force led by General William “Grumble” Jones, giving the North their first real success in the 1864 Shenandoah campaign. As part of his attempt to knock out the Confederates in more