University of Alaska

Laying Claim

George and Kate Carmack, Skookum Jim, Dawson Charlie, and nephew Patsy Henderson camped at the mouth of the Klondike River during August 1896. When low on provisions, they hunted for moose whereupon they discovered gold in Rabbit Creek, later named Bonanza Creek.

Carmack asserted that an Indian would not be allowed to register a claim, so he staked the discovery claim on August 1896 for himself and agreed to assign half interest to Skookum Jim. George staked No. 1 Below the discovery claim for himself, No. 2 Below for Dawson Charlie, and No. 1 Above for Skookum Jim. As a married woman, Kate did not have a claim staked in her name.

The Tagish Story of Discovery

The Tagish Athabascan people explain that gold in the Klondike was discovered by Skookum Jim, brother of Kate Carmack, as a result of an encounter with Wealth Woman.

Skookum Jim meets Wealth Woman who first appears as a frog in a deep pit. Jim rescues the frog, takes her to a place where she can clean herself, talks to frog, and then gives her a gift tied around her head. Later Jim dreams of a beautiful woman who has shiny things on her body that sparkle like gold. The woman introduces herself as his aunty, the head of the Frog nation, and she thanks him for saving her life. Gifts will be given to you, she says, if you don't tell anyone.

He wakes up and finds food piled in front of his door. Every evening food is cooked, but he doesn't see anyone. Frog woman comes to him again and tells him to go to the creek that runs out of the mountain and look for a reddish streak under the water. Take a drink. You'll find something there, but don't tell anyone.

Skookum Jim finds gold, lots of gold, but he doesn't know what gold is good for. He tells some prospectors who buy him out with money. But he doesn't know what to do with paper money, so he tacks it onto the wall of his cabin.

That's the true story about the discovery of gold.

Adapted from the story by Minnie Johnson, The True Story of the Discovery of Gold, Under Mount Saint Elias, The History and Culture of the Yakutat Indians by Dr. Frederica de Laguna. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Kate Carmack
Shaw Tlaa

Kate was born in a Tagish Athabascan village located on the Chilkoot Trail. In 1886 her Tagish mother and Tlingit father arranged a marriage to George Carmack, a prospector and trader, according to Tagish custom and contract. They had a daughter named Graphie Gracie.

Kate and George traveled the Yukon River basin to the Fortymile area where they prospected. With Kate's skill and knowledge of the wilderness, they were able to live off the land. Kate sewed and sold mukluks and mittens to other miners.

Not hearing from Kate in ten years, her brother Skookum Jim Mason and cousin Dawson Charlie found them at their fish camp on the Klondike River. Together the group made the gold discovery on Rabbit Creek that set off the Klondike gold rush. After staking the claims, the three men took out hundreds of thousands of dollars of gold while Kate cooked and kept house.

In 1898 Kate and George traveled to the lower-48 where he abandoned her. Stranded in California, Shaw Tlaa (Kate) attempted to sue for divorce but George Carmack denied they had been married for 12 years. Since they were not legally married the courts did not recognize her case, and she received nothing from his gold claims. Kate returned to the north impoverished and settled in Carcross.

Kate lived with Graphie, but George lured his daughter from the village so she could marry his new wife's brother...perhaps in a plot to keep control of the family fortune. The loss of Graphie troubled Kate because by Tagish custom, a child belongs to her mother's clan. Kate died at age 63 during an influenza epidemic in 1920.

First Claims on the Klondike

George Carmack returned to Fortymile to record the discovery claims on Bonanza Creek. Few of the old time prospectors believed him because he did not have a good reputation as a prospector, plus the tributaries of the Klondike had already been explored. "The willows slant the wrong way," said the sourdoughs. So the first claims on the Klondike went to newcomers who jumped at any opportunity to stake a claim.

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