Ton of Goods
Why take a ton of goods?To prevent mass starvation in the remote and inaccessible Yukon Territory, the Canadian government required every stampeder bring a year's supply of goods before crossing the border.
As people headed to the Klondike, few of them had any idea what they were getting themselves into. Fueled by dreams of gold and pure ambition, they set sail on an adventure most were not properly prepared for. Without modern communication systems, stampeders had to rely on hearsay and advertisements to let them know what they needed in the north.
Within days after the arrival of the first gold ship in San Francisco, observers were expressing concern about what would happen if a hoard of new arrivals got to Dawson in the fall. With a long supply chain stretching the length of the Yukon River to west coast ports like San Francisco or Seattle, getting extra food to Dawson before winter was problematic.
The Canadian government determined each person going to Dawson from Skagway or Dyea needed three pounds of food per day for a whole year. Food alone would weigh in at a minimum of 1,095 pounds (~497 kg) or just over half a ton. But for a prospector, adding necessary clothes and equipment to the food could easily double the total load, and thus came to be known as a "ton of goods." If purchased in the U.S., the goods were subject to customs duties payable to the North-West Mounted Police who also enforced the amount of goods required. Just between February and June of 1898, the Mounties collected $174,000 in duties. In today's money, that is about $4.9 million dollars!
National Park Service, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, George and Edna Rapuzzi Collection, KLGO 55832a. Gift of the Rasmuson Foundation.
Transporting a ton of goods
Many Tlingits were contracted to move gold rush gear and made good money working the trails. As the rush wore on, non-native packers, pack animals, tramways, and eventually a railroad were available as options for crossing the passes with supplies. Each method had its advantages and disadvantages. As fewer Tlingits worked the trails, local knowledge of the area and weather conditions was lost to the misfortune of many on the trail. On April 3, 1898, an avalanche killed many stampeders on the Chilkoot Trail who continued to pack even after the Tlingits had quit due to the dangerous conditions.
Guarding your gear
Some stampeders may have used their money to buy the assistance of people to guard their supplies. Tappan Adney describes hiking the Chilkoot Pass in September 1897, "each [of us] with packs of stuff that we could not trust to packers, leaving the boat lumber in [the] charge of a trustworthy man."
Nevertheless, some thefts did occur. Everett Barton described one early in September 1897: "A man was caught stealing at Deya [sic] yesterday and was shot three times. A fellow stole a watch here yesterday and the people held a meeting to see what to do with him but I have not heard." Regulating groups were often established in some of the more concentrated areas to hand out punishments for rare crimes along the trail. Tappan Adney described one so-called court at Sheep Camp in the fall of 1897:
Klondike historian Pierre Berton describes an incident that occurred when a Frenchman was found to be stealing from someone's pile of goods along the White Pass Trail. An elected committee found him guilty and sentenced him to a whipping that ultimately ended with him being shot to death. Berton recounts another instance on the Chilkoot when a thief by the name of Hansen was sentenced to fifty lashes for theft of supplies at Sheep Camp. The man was tied to a post, allegedly whipped only 15 times, then forced to march back to Dyea wearing a sign proclaiming "THIEF."
What should you take to the Klondike in 1897-1898?
150 lbs. bacon
Six 8 inch files and two taper files for the party
Draw knife, brace and bits, jack plane, and hammer for party
200 feet three-eights-inch rope
8 lbs. of pitch and 5 lbs. of oakum for four men
Nails, five lbs. each of 6,8,10 and 12 penny, for four men
Tent, 10 x 12 feet for four men
Canvas for wrapping
Two oil blankets to each boat
5 yards of mosquito netting for each man
3 suits of heavy underwear
1 heavy mackinaw coat
2 pairs heavy machinaw trousers
1 heavy rubber-lined coat
1 dozen heavy wool socks
1/2 dozen heavy wool mittens
2 heavy overshirts
2 pairs heavy snagproof rubber boots
2 pairs shoes
4 pairs blankets (for two men)
2 pairs overalls
1 suit oil clothing
Several changes of summer clothing
Small assortment of medicines