Millionaire Died Penniless in a Log Cabin!

English: Keish (Skookum Jim Mason) in 1898. Ke...
Keish (Skookum Jim Mason) in 1898. Keish is today credited with making the gold discovery that led to the Klondike Gold Rush. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The man who started one of the biggest gold rushes in the world missed making a fortune because he didn’t like Indians!  Gold had been discovered along the Yukon River in 1896, and a few prospectors were making a little money.  One of them was Robert Henderson.  In one of the creeks running into the Yukon River, Henderson and four other men panned gold worth $750.  Henderson called it “Goldbottom,” and went to a settlement called Ogilvie for supplies.

On the way back, he met George Washington Carmack, an American who wanted to be an Indian and who was known as “Siwash George.”  Carmack was fishing for salmon with two Indians, “Tagish” Charlie and “Skookum” Jim.  Henderson urged him to try Goldbottom Creek.  However, he added that he didn’t want Indians staking claims.

Carmack didn’t like Goldbottom Creek, and was angered when Henderson refused to give tobacco for his companions.  Carmack and his friends left Henderson and on the way back, on August 12, they panned some gravel on Rabbit Creek and immediately found four dollars worth of gold.

They staked claims, which Skookum Jim was left to guard, while Carmack and Tagish Charlie rushed to record them at Constantine’s Post on Forty Mile.  On the way there, Carmack told everyone about their discovery.  They wouldn’t believe him until he poured gold dust out of an empty shotgun shell.  Henderson, however, was not informed, although he claimed later that he told Carmack to try Rabbit Creek.

Then the rush started.  It was the Klondike Gold Rush, the biggest and most exciting in the world.  Huge fortunes were made.  “Big Alex” MacDonald staked half of Claim 30 on Eldorado for a sack of flour and made $20 million.  He spent it almost as quickly and died penniless in a log cabin.  One of the prospectors brought his bride along.  Whenever she needed money, she just panned the muck the men were digging up and nearly always found a few nuggets!  Poor Robert Henderson, whose dedicated work started it all, had to settle for a pension of $200 a month from the Government.

Want to read more about this? I’ve got places where you can learn more! For instance, has an interesting article – be sure to watch the short video while you are there! And then Great Unsolved Mysteries In Canadian History for another great article.


  1. Fortunes made by getting someone else to dig holes in the dirt and give the gold to you in exchange for something less strainous 🙂 Growing up in California, my impression was that those who made money in the gold rushes there were the merchants who sold passages on boats, clothes and tools for mining, and sexual rewards later… not the miners.


    • I wonder how much they enjoyed spending, though … I mean, that would be nice, to spend it! But you’re right, some of us haven’t learned that lesson! 🙂


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