I just finished reading Charlotte Gray’s Gold Diggers: Striking it Rich in the Klondike.
This is a great book to read to get a good feel of the Klondike Gold Rush, but to not have to read every detail at once. This is just the perfect length, with the right amount of details. It reads like a wild adventure story, which I guess it was!
Charlotte Gray was a writer in residence in Pierre Berton’s old house (not even half a block away from mine) in the summer of 2008 when she researched and wrote this book. She had a clever idea of picking 6 people who were here during the Gold Rush, and she wove their stories together to create a narrative of the Gold Rush from 1896 to 1899.
The 6 people she chose were:
- Bill Haskell, prospector/gold miner
- William Judge, Jesuit priest
- Jack London, adventurer, gold miner, future author
- Belinda Mulrooney, entrepreneur
- Sam Steele, Superintendent of the Northwest Mounted Police
- Flora Shaw, special correspondent for the Times of London
These choices were certainly guided by who recorded their life stories, or at least their time in the Klondike, and luckily these six did, giving the author plenty of material to weave into a story.
Fiesty Belinda Mulrooney was probably my favourite to read about. I really enjoyed Bill Haskell’s story too, enough that I’m eager to read his book published of his experiences here in the early days of the gold rush. He was here as a prospector before the Klondike strike. He had already passed through here and was in the 40 Mile area.
I always knew about Father Judge, and have visited his grave. He’s referred to as the “Saint of Dawson” and this book gave me more insight as to why, more than I had retained from previous reads, like Pierre Berton’s Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896-1899. Once the snow melts, I want to visit his grave again, now that I know it was actually placed within his church (which was later torn down). The man gave more of himself than even seems possible. He was the protector and care giver for the people of Dawson City and died far too soon in January of 1899 at age 48.
This book captures the feel of Dawson City, then and now. There are dozens of stories I want to pick from the pages and share with you, but I don’t want to spoil any of them! You should read this book!
All of the Gold Rush stories are so fascinating to me. How people walked hundreds of miles, with their supplies, to get to this promised land. And those that sought their fortune on the creeks, and regularly walked to and from town for supplies. It’s fascinating. Life was hard up here for so many. So many turned back, or came and went. Even Jack London had to leave due to a near deathly case of scurvy. A few others carved out incredible fortunes. And many were later lost. It is so crazy to think of a time when gold was flung around as currency, but still all the gold in the world couldn’t buy you what wasn’t already here if the river was frozen.
I love every bit of the story and the characters of the Gold Rush. I will never tire of soaking up the history of our town. I kinda think I still feel the spirit of that Gold Rush here. It was so much more than the story of gold. For many, as Charlotte Gray says in this book, it was “a personal epiphany”. People came here to find themselves, express themselves, and make (or break) themselves. It is still that way today.
My only criticism of the book, if I need to find one, would only be relevant to people who have lived here. There were two times in the book that I thought “Oops, that’s not quite right” – and they were both winter related descriptions. I could tell the words were written by Gray who perhaps hasn’t experienced a Yukon winter?