Should I Join the Rush?
Ages 11-14

MysteryQuest 23

Should I Join the Rush?

Author: Warren Woytuck

Series Editor: Roland Case

A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 11-14

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Beginning in the summer of 1897, a hundred thousand adventurers attempted to complete the challenging journey to the Klondike, a remote part of the Yukon. To reach their destination, travellers had to ascend an exceptionally steep and rocky mountain pass while carrying an entire year’s worth of gear and supplies. Fewer than thirty thousand of those who began the trip would reach their destination. What drove so many people to attempt such a dangerous and uncertain trip? They were compelled by the dream of finding gold and becoming fantastically wealthy.

While some of these adventurers who journeyed to the Yukon had prospected for gold in other parts of Canada and the world, many of them were "cheechakos" — people with no experience in the wilderness or as prospectors. Many were poorly prepared for the weather they encountered or the challenges of the work. While some found gold, others took jobs in the boomtowns that quickly emerged in the region. Most people were not so lucky; many returned home poorer than when they left, while others lost their lives searching for fame and fortune. Was it foolish of these people to attempt to make this journey or were these adventurous individuals taking reasonable risks in the hope of striking it rich?

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In this MysteryQuest, imagine you are working in the Klondike as a miner. You receive a letter from Alan, a cousin who lives in San Francisco. He has heard about the discovery of gold and is writing to seek your advice. Would it be a good idea for him to make the challenging journey to the Klondike to look for work? Like the thousands of men and women that came to the Yukon in the late 1890s, Alan is hoping that he will find gold and return home extremely wealthy.

In order to make a responsible recommendation, you will first need to learn a little more about the Klondike Gold Rush. You will then examine historical documents and photographs to identify the living and working conditions in the Klondike. You will read about your cousin’s skills and personality, and then match these with the challenges presented by the Klondike. Based on this information, make a recommendation to Alan about whether or not he should come to the Klondike.

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STEP 1: Learn about the Gold Rush

To learn more about the Klondike Gold Rush, briefly examine the three documents in the Secondary Sources section of Evidence in the Case:

STEP 2: Look for evidence about living and working conditions

Your next step is to identify the living and working conditions in the Klondike. On your own or with a partner, examine the historical records found in the Primary Sources sections of Evidence in the Case.

As you read the five short documents and view the seven photographs, use Investigating the Conditions (pdf) (html) to record what life was like in the Klondike. In the left-hand column of the chart you will find six categories of conditions. Your challenge is to find and record evidence about each of these conditions from the documents and photographs. In the right-hand column, indicate the most accurate rating of living and working conditions in the Klondike. For example, if the photographs suggest that people lived in warm, clean, well-constructed homes, you might circle "comfortable" on the appropriate scale.

Some documents and photographs may reveal contradictory details. For example, an article might indicate that life was filled with hardship, but a photograph might show comfortable living conditions. If this is the case, you will have to determine which condition was the most common and circle the appropriate description, or you might circle "both."

STEP 3: Establish your cousin’s characteristics

The next step is to explore Alan’s skills and traits. Read the short description found in Personality Profile (pdf) (html)and identify at least 11 skills and attributes that your cousin appears to possess. Work skills and abilities can include "hard-working" and "limited experience with manual labour," while personality traits might include "honest" or "bad-tempered." You will notice numbers following many of the sentences in your cousin’s profile; these numbers are clues to help you identify possible attributes.

Some details of Alan’s life may be obvious, but in other cases you may need to draw inferences (conclusions based on evidence) regarding his talents. After you have identified 11 possible traits, select three work skills and three personality traits that will be the most relevant in determining the likelihood of his success or failure in the Klondike. Record these attributes at the bottom of the chart.

STEP 4: Prepare your recommendation

You are ready to assess whether or not Alan’s attributes are suited for life and work in the Klondike. Use Making a Recommendation (pdf) (html) to indicate and justify your answer. There are three options you may suggest to your cousin:

  • definitely come;
  • perhaps come;
  • definitely do not come.

To help you decide on your recommendation, summarize the four most important reasons that support his coming and the four most important reasons that support his not coming to the Klondike. When justifying your recommendation, consider three factors:

  • Financial success — Is your cousin likely to be successful in the business opportunities available in the Klondike? Given his skills, what are his chances of finding gold or securing some other high-paying job?
  • Personal well-being — Does your cousin have the skills needed to survive in the conditions he will find in the Klondike?
  • Positive experience — Given your cousin’s personality, is he likely to enjoy the experience or will he find it too stressful and demanding?

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The evaluation rubric Assessing the Evidence and Ratings (pdf) (html) may be used to assess your ability to meet the following criteria when identifying conditions in the Klondike:

  • identify relevant evidence from the documents and photographs;
  • provide plausible ratings about the conditions.

The evaluation rubric Assessing the Recommendation (pdf) (html) may be used to assess your success in meeting the following criteria when making your recommendation:

  • identify reasons for and against coming to the Klondike;
  • justify a plausible recommendation.

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Write a letter to your cousin
After determining whether your cousin has the skills and personality to be successful as a miner, write him a letter explaining your recommendation:

  • indicate whether or not you think he should travel to the Yukon;
  • describe the conditions that match his attributes;
  • describe the conditions that do not match his attributes;
  • explain how his attributes would (or would not) meet the demands of the Klondike.

Advise a female family member about her options
What was life in the Klondike like for women? Suppose that instead of writing to a male cousin you are instead writing to a female cousin. Using the documents and photographs in Evidence in the Case, determine whether your analysis would change if you were writing to a female cousin. For additional information, consult Frontier Spirit: The Brave Women of the Klondike.

Construct a profile
While luck did play a role in determining who struck it rich and who returned home poorer or did not return home at all, individuals with certain attributes were more likely to be successful than others. Using the documents and photographs in Evidence in the Case, create a profile of the personality traits, skills, and abilities that would most contribute to success in the Klondike.

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Activity Sheet: Investigating the Conditions (pdf) (html)

Activity Sheet: Personality Profile (pdf) (html)

Activity Sheet: Making a Recommendation (pdf) (html)

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Secondary Sources

Book, Pierre Burton, The Klondike Gold Rush, 2006

Timeline, W.R. Morrison, na, October 5, 2000

Map, Coates and Morrison, "Pacific Northwest," Land of the Midnight Sun, 2005

Primary Sources


M.H. E. Hayne, Pioneers of the Klondyke (London: Sampson Low, Marston, 1897), p. 124

Newspaper and magazine articles

Unknown, In a British Domain, and Governed Accordingly, New York Times, July 21, 1897

Unknown, Must Go Well Prepared, Bellingham Bay Reveille, July 23, 1897

Unknown, Returning Adventurers, New York Times, August 31, 1898

Unknown, No Place for Ladies, Klondike News, April 1, 1898


Hungry Man’s Retreat Restaurant at Porcupine Creek, White Pass Trail, Frank LaRoche, University of Washington, La Roche 2069

Klondikers and Native Packer near the Scales Looking North Toward the Summit of Chilkoot Pass, Frank LaRoche, University of Washington, LaRoche 2038

Lousetown, E.A. Hegg, na

Miner’s Cabin, Klondike, George Cantwell, University of Washington, Ph Coll 302.13

Social Scene Showing Interior of Parlour, Dawson, E.A. Hegg, University of Washington, Hegg 2051

Miners Thawing Frozen Ground in an Underground Gold Mine Lit by Candlelight, Gold Hill, E.A. Hegg, University of Washington, Hegg 778

Pulling a Body from the Snow after an Avalanche on the Chilkoot Pass, Frank LaRoche, University of Washington, LaRoche 2130