Author: Warren Woytuck
Series Editor: Roland Case
A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 16-18
On August 16, 1896, four people — an American miner, a First Nations man, his sister, and their nephew — were looking for gold on a creek that flowed into the Klondike River a few kilometres east of the present town of Dawson, Yukon. One of them — no one is sure which one it was — looked into the waters of the creek and saw something glittering. A rock was turned over and there it was: gold as "thick as cheese" in the cracks between the rocks and stones. Dancing for joy, they realized they had found the rich deposit of gold that men and women had been seeking for more than twenty years in this northwestern corner of Canada.
Ever since that day, controversy has swirled around the question of who deserves the credit for making the discovery. The mystery does not lie in the fact that no one has any idea who made it. There are several candidates, each with some claim to being the discoverer. The real challenge is to decide how much credit various individuals deserve for making this great discovery.
In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to determine what credit, if any, three individuals should share for the discovery of gold in the Klondike. Though a number of small deposits of gold had been discovered in the early 1870s, the "mother lode" remained undiscovered until August 16, 1896. On that day, a major discovery was made: enough gold to fill an empty shotgun shell. Although five people are often identified with the discovery, we will focus on three of the "contenders":
Before deciding how much credit each of these individuals deserves, you will need to learn more about the Gold Rush and the people involved in the discovery. After exploring factors to consider when assigning credit for an accomplishment, you will locate evidence from historical documents to identify the contributions made by the three individuals. You will then use a pie chart to illustrate the amount of credit each individual deserves to receive for his part in the discovery of gold.
Learn more about the Klondike Gold Rush by reading the following three documents in the Secondary Sources section of Evidence in the Case:
It is often difficult to determine who should receive credit for completing a task, especially when several people are involved. Imagine, for example, that you and other members of your family are working on a puzzle. One family member begins the task and does most of the work of solving the puzzle, but leaves after having trouble with a challenging part. Noticing the puzzle, you are able to figure out the challenging part and begin to complete the puzzle. You would have completed the puzzle, but you are called away to another activity. While you are away, a third family member notices the nearly finished puzzle and uses the work you have done to finish the job.
Who should receive credit for completing the puzzle? Should it be the person who did most of the work? Should it be the person who actually completed the task? Or should it be you, the person who completed the most challenging part of the puzzle? Perhaps each of you deserves some credit. But how much credit should be assigned to each family member?
Your next task is to examine documents associated with the discovery of the gold to locate evidence of the contributions of the three individuals — George Carmack, Skookum Jim, and Robert Henderson. Work on your own or with a partner to read at least four of the following eight documents:
As you read the documents, look for the evidence in light of the three factors introduced above:
Use Identifying Each Person’s Contributions (pdf) to record information about the contributions in these three areas for each of the three contenders. For example, if you discover that one contender worked for many years, you would note that person’s actions in the "Greatest Effort" category. You might record information about the person who led others to the area where gold was discovered in the "Challenging Contribution" category.
You are now ready to determine the amount of credit each person should receive for the discovery of Klondike gold. Think about the contributions the three contenders made and the factors for assigning credit. Who did the most work? Which contender performed the most challenging or important part of the work? Who was the first to discover the gold? Is one of these factors more important in determining how much credit each should receive?
Use Assigning Credit (pdf) to help you create a pie chart that illustrates the credit each contender should receive for the discovery of Klondike gold. On the pie chart, indicate the percentage of credit each contender deserves. For example, if one character worked the hardest and did much of the challenging work in the discovery, you might decide he should receive 60% or 70% of the credit, while the others might receive 15-20%, based on their respective contributions. Provide reasons for your conclusions.
Additional instructions for creating pie charts can be found at Creating a Pie Chart.
The evaluation rubric Assessing the Assignment of Credit (pdf) may be used to assess your success in explaining the reasons for assigning the amount of credit each contender deserves.
How should the discoverer be recognized?
There has been considerable controversy over how the discovery of Klondike gold should be commemorated; the wording of the plaques has been changed three times since the discovery. Given your conclusions about who should receive credit for the discovery, write wording for a new plaque that appropriately recognizes the most deserving person (or persons). For more information about the plaques, visit Plaque Texts.
What was the real reason?
Although Skookum Jim played a significant role in the discovery of gold in the Klondike, he has received little credit. What was the real reason why he did not receive greater credit? Locate other historical documents in the Archives that provide evidence about the potential role of racism and prejudice in awarding credit for the discovery of gold.
Explore other challenges
Apply your detective skills to other mysteries associated with the Klondike Gold Rush:
Activity Sheet: Identifying Each Person’s Contributions (pdf)
Activity Sheet: Assigning Credit (pdf)
Briefing Sheet: Creating a Pie Chart
Newspaper and magazine articles