PAULA REDMOND traces the life and career of a man destined to undertake projects shunned by less daring men. Although he lived only 45 years, he founded a city, (Cordova), amassed a fortune, and inspired a best selling novel (The Iron Trail).

The Klondike or Yukon Gold Rush of 1897 – 1898 was one of the last major gold rushes in North America. Thousands of would-be prospectors flooded the area in the hope of making their fortune. Irishman ‘Big’ Michael Heney known also as the ‘Irish Prince of the Iron Rails’ was instrumental in constructing rail lines to access these remote regions.

While fishing near the Klondike River in the Canadian Yukon Territory in August 1896, prospector George Carmack is reported to have spotted gold nuggets in the water at Rabbit Creek (later renamed Bonanza Creek).

Carmack and two Native American companions, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie, had headed to the isolated area following reports of gold in a tributary of the Klondike River. Later it was claimed that Skookum Jim first made the discovery. Either way the find led to approximately 100,000 people setting off from Canada and the US on the arduous journey to the region in search of gold.

Prospectors had several routes to the Klondike. The easiest but most expensive way was to sail to Alaska and up the Yukon River. For financial reasons most took the cheapest and most direct route – on foot over the Coast Mountains and then on homemade boats over 500 miles up river to reach the gold fields.
Prospectors faced disease, malnutrition, hypothermia, avalanche and violence en-route.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own