Hougen Group

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The old log church at Fortymile. Date: Spring 1932. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7254.

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Percy DeWolfe at Fortymile in 1938. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7103.

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Inside a Fortymile Home, Summer 1938. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8148.

First Yukon gold rush

It wasn't much by Klondike standards, but the first gold rush in the Yukon set the stage for the stunning events which would soon follow.

In the early 1880s, miners and prospectors began filtering into the Yukon. They were testing the small creeks which flowed into rivers which then ran into the Yukon. In 1882, there was enough business in the Forty Mile River district to warrant a settlement. The Cudahy Meat Company of Chicago set up a post at the mouth of the river.

In 1886, gold was discovered on Forty Mile Creek and the mini rush was on. Prospectors flocked to the region in droves. By 1887, the townsite of 40 Mile was the largest settlement in the Yukon with more than 200 people staking claims on the many creeks in the area. In late 1887, surveyor George Dawson visited Forty Mile and estimated that about $ 75,000 in gold was taken out that year. By the early 1890s, it was a thriving community with six saloons, a theatre, restaurants, a billiard hall and much more.

However, there was no police force. Law and order was maintained by the miners themselves, who held regular meetings to lay down the law. And they could be severe. For example, a resolution was passed advising would-be thieves that their punishment would be whipping at the post and banishment from the country.

Liquor flowed freely at Forty Mile, but bootleggers were warned that selling booze to native people would be considered a major offense. But the town was outgrowing this kind of frontier justice. In 1894, Inspector Charles Constantine of the NWMP was sent to assess the situtation. He recommended that a police force of at least 20 men was needed. This was done the next year when Constantine returned and built Fort Constantine. By 1896, there were over 200 private dwellings and a large commercial area.

There was also a mining recorders office. And it was here at this office in August of 1896, that Forty Mile would begin to die. That was the day George Carmack, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie showed up to register their claims on a little creek which ran into the Klondike River. The news swept through the town like wildfire. In a matter of days, most of the miners had left in their mad race for Bonanza. By the fall of the following year, Forty Mile, once the hub of Yukon activity, was virtually abandoned.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin