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SeaTac Marine Barge – 100 South River Street – Seattle, WA

On August 16, 1896, a significant amount of gold was found along a tributary of the Klondike River near the present day city of Dawson, Yukon Territory, Canada. During those winter months the discovery, for the most part, remained a local story because of the isolated location and severe conditions.

By the following summer, when the news exploded across North America, around 10,000 claims had already been registered which tied up all of the most productive locations. In effect, the game was already over before the dreamers, the ill prepared, and foolish began to attempt the journey to a region that even today is still extremely isolated.

Still they came. Out of an estimated 100,000 that attempted to reach the Yukon Territory during the boom years of 1897 to 1899, about a third somehow managed to reach Dawson. There they found a boomtown reeking of sewage, plagued with mosquitoes, poor water quality, meager food resources, and small cabins renting for $3,000.00 per month in current dollars.

To put into perspective how stacked the game was against success is to comprehend the cost of the 1899 fire that burned up most of Dawson for the second time in two years was $800 million dollars in current dollars. Keep in mind that this region was virtually empty three years before.

The only reason most of these people didn’t die is the highly enforced law that everyone heading into the Yukon had to bring enough supplies with them to last a year. This translates to a ton of supplies carried in stages over mountain passes on their backs and later floated down the rivers on rafts which killed several hundred before North-West Mounted Police cracked down with safety rules.

Upon arrival in the Yukon they only thing nearly all of them mined was a fool’s gold. At most 4,000 managed to take gold out of the ground and only a few hundred managed to turn the yellow dream into financial wealth. Still, for those managed to come back healthy, I think they earned an intangible wealth that purchased them a small portion of immortality. Only a few times in one’s life do events align in such a manner that it can be lived above the plain of banality; the reward for having lived history is not paid in fool’s gold.

Found wealth, like that from a gold rush, is often won by those that happen to be in the proverbial right place at the right time and are fundamentally different from those that build great fortunes from nothing. This second group is not composed of dreamers, instead they are visionaries that often write the course of history, and tend to build things that last.

However, when the steamship Portland arrived in Seattle on July 17, 1897, with two tons of Klondike gold the dreamers out numbed the visionaries by a substantial number. The Portland when it pulled into Seattle was carrying nearly $43 million of gold in current dollars (Gold as I write this is worth about $1300 per ounce and rekindled a second gold rush in the far north).

A couple of weeks later nearly 1500 people had left Seattle, including the mayor, for the Yukon. The visionaries stayed behind and built the infrastructure that supported the Yukon gold rush, the one in Nome that followed a couple of years later, and laid the foundation for the modern international port.

Today the Port of Seattle looks primarily to the east instead of north and is dominated by gigantic cranes that tower over ships arriving from China with stacks of containers filled with the goods that supply the vast retail empire that long ago replaced the general store.

Still the northern trade, even though it no longer dominates the waterfront, persists down along the Duwamish. Found here are logistic companies that tow barges crammed with everything one might need in the remote reaches of Alaska or the Yukon. After all there isn’t much need for vast retail empire down a dirt road or up a creek.

Such places squarely belong to those with a dream and a need to have an entire mining camp, gold dredge and bridge included, moved from Colorado to Alaska.

Copyright 2013 By Katherine Johnson – All Rights Reserved