SEATTLE -- One hundred years ago, the steamer Portland docked
here with a cargo that galvanized the nation and changed the face
of Alaska. The load was gold -- a ton of it, taken out of the
Klondike rivers and fields and a full year later, arriving in the
U.S. Reports of all of that precious metal, and the tantalizing
thought that many more tons of it still were to be found in the
Yukon Territory, touched off a stampede of would-be millionaires
that would become known as the Gold Rush.
Because of the distances involved and the relative primitiveness
of transportation and communications in those days, it would be
another 12 months, -- 1898 -- before the rush reached its peak.
Tens of thousands of miners made their way by sea to Skagway, the
closest point of entry to the Klondike's riches. Then they hiked,
or rode, or crawled over Chilkoot or White Pass to Lake Bennett in
Canada and thence down the rapids of the Yukon River to any likely
spot that took their fancies.
They died by the hundreds, of exposure, gunshot wounds, hunger
and a variety of deprivations. A few -- very few -- of them even
got rich. But they left their marks on the history and culture of
One of the events kicking off the Alaska and Klondike Gold Rush
centennials earlier this summer was an reenactment of the journey
of that original, stampede-inducing pile of gold. For two weeks, a
shipment of gold -- not quite a ton but a symbolic few pounds of it
-- reenacted the journey from Dawson City, near where the original
strike was made, to Whitehorse and then on to Carcross, all in
Canada. Along the way, the locals danced, paraded and celebrated
with street fairs and displays of every stripe.
Then the precious cargo crossed the Canadian border at Bennett
and was put aboard -- what else? -- the Spirit of '98, of Alaska
Sightseeing/Cruise West, for transportation to Seattle and an
arrival that was met by a flotilla of pleasure boats, tugs, and
fire boats with their water cannons blasting the traditional
The celebration will last well into the next century,
acknowledging the fact that the gold period of 100 years ago did
not take place in any one year but lasted a decade or more.