This photo album, which is being featured by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, TX for their June 22 and 23, 2013 “Legends of the Wild West Signature Auction,” is purported to be the finest documentary photo album of Yukon (or Klondike) Gold Rush photographic images that the auction house has ever had. That’s impressive, and worthy of a closer look. Between the years of 1896 and 1899, over 100,000 prospectors flooded the region in what many then called “the Last Great Gold Rush.” Books and movies have told of the mass hysteria that hit the region during that time. Writer Jack London (1876 - 1916) was there, whose Yukon experiences inspired his two books Call of the Wild and White Fang. By the time it was all over, very few struck it rich, with only about 4,000 prospectors finding any gold at all. The photographs show well the haves, and the have-nots. That’s the way it was during the gold rush. If you struck it rich, you bought more land and had others work the claim for you.
If you look at the faces, which I have given you as close ups, you will see that life in the Yukon was grim. It took the best a man or woman could be to survive, and then some. Faces, for the most part, showed confidence and resilience, an occasional half-smile if you look closely. From time-to-time, you will see that there were moments of humanity — the camaraderie of friends, a restaurant for hot food, a festival with elks.
The album belonged to a Patterson Billups, who moved from Seattle to the Klondike in May 1898 to work as a surveyor on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. He remained in the area until 1910, working as a surveyor for several mining companies.
The leather album features 40 large-format 9.5" x 7.5" photos, featuring just one per page. It includes images by various well-known Alaska photographers of the day, including Walter Strand, Draper & Co., Frank Nowell, and Case & Draper.
All images courtesy and © the Consigner and Heritage Auctions.