The Force in the North

Skagway & the Chilkoot Trail

During the late 1890s the Gold Rush drew thousands of fortune seekers to the North. Skagway, Alaska, became a stopping point and a staging area for gold seekers heading to the Klondike.  Skagway was a true representation of the mythical frontier town - a long way from the southern United States and far from the law.   Many were fleeced by conmen and underhanded retailers as they attempted to purchase provisions in Skagway.   Robberies and violence were common as some sought to detach the miners from their possessions before they even made it to the Chilkoot Trail. The Canada-US border is located at the top of the pass and only when the seekers reached the Canadian side of the border did the law begin to exert itself, in the form of the North-West Mounted Police.

The trail is a tough one over steep mountain passes.   For many, the allure of the gold was all it took to entice them to begin the climb.  It was the presence of the NWMP at the summit ensuring that the climbers had adequate goods to make it to Dawson and the goldfields which prevented the foolhardy and unprepared from attempting the trip.

The winter of 1898 was a crucial time for the Mounties as the international boundary between Alaska and Canada was under dispute and Americans claimed the headwaters of the Yukon River as U.S. territory.

Clifford Sifton, Canada’s Minister of the Interior, ordered the Mounties to set up customs posts at the Chilkoot and White Pass summits. In February 1898, the police began collecting Canadian customs duties and ensured that all gold seekers had a ton of goods necessary for a year’s survival in the harsh Canadian North.

Ensuring that the stampeders had adequate amounts of equipment and provisions to make it to Dawson was one of the most important early roles that the NWMP played in the opening of the North.  While they were responsible for the safety of others, they did it with a minimal amount of equipment and provisions for themselves. 

With the Gold Rush bringing thousands of stampeders, Inspector Charles Constantine requested more police and government officials. There were a total of 51 NWMP in the Yukon and they maintained strict law and order in Dawson and on the gold creeks. The Mounties were posted at the Chilkoot Pass, which was the boundary between the US and Canada. They had machine guns like the Maxim to ensure law and order. Perhaps it was the sight of the large guns or the respect that the Mounties commanded, but these guns were never fired.  At the pass, the NWMP collected custom duties and ensured that gold seekers had the required “ton of goods” necessary for a year’s survival in the harsh elements of the Yukon.