Dalton’s Gold Rush Trail

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The history of the Klondike, with its harrowing narratives of climbing the Chilkoot and White passes, braving the rapids of the Yukon River and striking it rich only to go broke again, has become legend. Yet there are still more untold stories that linger in the boarded-up ghost towns, forgotten wilderness cabins and along overgrown trails. Yukon historian Michael Gates has made a career of poking around both the archives and the outdoors of the North.

Used as a trading route by the Chilkat Tlingit for centuries, the Dalton Trail was taken over by Jack Dalton, a hard driving, murdering, entrepreneurial adventurer, who built bridges and way stations and set up a toll booth. For a fee he would pack passengers and freight to and from Dawson, gaining a reputation for a difficult but safe passage.

This is the trail where starry-eyed financiers first dreamed of building a railroad to Dawson City, where thousands of head of cattle were regularly driven north—with only some reaching their destination—and where reindeer were unsuccessfully introduced to the Yukon as pack animals. Despite its short existence—from 1897 to 1903, when it was superceded by the relative ease of the Chilkoot and White trails—the Dalton Trail was also a flashpoint for conflict with the local Natives, border disputes between Canada and the US, and the jumping-off point for yet another gold strike at Porcupine Creek.

While the Klondike stories are (nearly) all true, just remember—it happened first on the Dalton.