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.
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.
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.
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!
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