{ subscribe_url:'//loc.gov/share/sites/library-of-congress-blogs/geography-and-maps.php', }

Race for the Gold: Map Games of the Klondike Gold Rush

One of my favorite computer games as a child was called The Yukon Trail. Made in 1994, the player became a prospector in the late 19th century Klondike gold rush, navigating the treacherous trail in an attempt to stay alive and strike it rich. What I recently discovered while browsing our map collections is that games related to this historic event were far older than I knew!

On August 16, 1896, gold was discovered on Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River in the remote northwest Yukon region of Canada. When word of the discovery reached the outside world the following year, it prompted a frenzy of gold fever, with an estimated 100,000 prospectors rushing to the region in a hunt for gold. Many maps of the new gold fields were created during this time, including the one seen below, published by J.J. Millroy in 1897. Beyond showing the various routes to the Klondike, Millroy’s map also includes information about the climate, diseases, and a list of what prospectors should bring with them.

Millroy's map of Alaska and the Klondyke gold fields. Map by J.J. Millroy, 1897. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Millroy’s map of Alaska and the Klondyke gold fields. Map by J.J. Millroy, 1897. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

With this exodus to the Yukon, entrepreneurs anticipated a growing market for products related to the hunt for gold. The game seen below, Going to Klondyke, was created by May Bloom in late 1897 and published by The Klondyke Game Company. The game was highlighted in the New York Journal on December 12, 1897. The Yukon gold rush was relatively short lived, ending in 1899, and it appears that this is the only game ever created by this company.

Going to Klondyke, an Amusing and Instructive Game. Created by May Bloom, published by The Klondyke Game Co., 1897. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Going to Klondyke, an Amusing and Instructive Game. Created by May Bloom, published by The Klondyke Game Co., 1897. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The game drew upon the romanticism given to the far north as well as political realities. Players were blindfolded, spun around, and then attempted to stick a pin on the game board. Different amounts of money were awarded for landing within claim circles or on golden nuggets, with more money being given for landing on the American side of the border as opposed to landing on the Canadian side, where a 20% government tax was deducted. Falling within the boundaries of Siberia, however, would cause the player to lose all the money accumulated to that point as “the government is supposed to appropriate all mineral wealth to its use.” Anyone landing in the Chilkoot Pass or the circles within the icy Yukon “is considered to have failed to reach Dawson, and falls out of the game.” By zooming in on the map, you will also find various illustrations of prospectors, Eskimos, caribou, bears, seals, and even penguins!

This is not the only game I came across in our collections related to the Yukon gold rush. Below is another game created in 1897 titled From Boston to Klondike or a trip to the gold regions. Published by A.M. Robinson, this is a more traditional board game.

From Boston to Klondike or a trip to the gold regions. Map by A.M. Robinson, 1897. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

From Boston to Klondike or a trip to the gold regions. Map by A.M. Robinson, 1897. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

From Boston to Klondike or a trip to the gold regions. Map by A.M. Robinson, 1897. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Bound for the Klondike gold fields, Chilcoot Pass, Alaska. Photo by B.L. Singley, 1898. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Bound for the Klondike gold fields, Chilcoot Pass, Alaska. Photo by B.L. Singley, 1898. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Players took turns moving along the path from Boston to the gold fields of Canada by rolling two dice to move a token. Any collision of players on the same space sent the first player to the nearest hospital. Like the first game, the rules of this game took into account the danger of passing through the Chilkoot Pass, a narrow and hazardous mountain trail that prospectors faced when climbing into the Yukon. When stopped at the Chilkoot Pass, a player had to role a double six to continue while no other player could pass while the space was occupied. Any player stuck behind the first player in the pass, could roll a double six, sending the first player all the way back to Boston!

In 1899, an even larger amount of gold was found in Nome, Alaska, causing thousands of prospectors to leave the Klondike for the hope of easy riches to the west, effectively ending the Klondike gold rush only 3 years after the first discovery of gold. But while short lived, the rush to the Yukon for gold remained a romanticized journey in popular culture, including in games from then to now!

 

 

Learn More:

3 Comments

  1. Sherrie Galloway
    May 7, 2020 at 11:32 am

    What wonderful resources for armchair historic travel from the comforts of our homes. Teachers and students will enjoy these! Thank you, too, for the learn more suggestions.

  2. Karon Altman
    May 7, 2020 at 5:43 pm

    I love these board games! Perfect for being at home!

  3. frank
    May 8, 2020 at 12:29 pm

    Interesting piece. My granddaughters would love the board games, especially Boston to Klondike. They would learn some things as well.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.