The Klondike boom will prove more of a boomerang than anything else — at least to those who don’t starve or freeze to death.
— Glenwood Post, April 2, 1898
Gold fever reached its peak in Garfield County in February 1898. Men seeking fortune, romance and opportunity turned their attentions northward to the Klondike gold field of Alaska. In doing so, they bet the life they knew for the chance of returning with something better.
The discovery of the gold creating this rush occurred nearly two years earlier in August 1896. News of the strike did not reach the civilized areas of Alaska until December of that year. It was miners returning to Seattle and San Francisco from the Klondike in June 1897 showing the fortunes they captured that created the boom. The stressful economic times of the 1890s punctuated with recessions, bank failures and the United States’ adoption of the gold standard, increased the value of gold. To the average man, mining gold paved the path to personal economic stability and possibly immense wealth.
Many prominent Garfield County residents, and those with ordinary stations in life, answered the Klondike’s siren song. J. Frank Taughenbaugh, a man in his late 20s, lost his bid for another term as Garfield County Clerk and Recorder. It was reported, “He was last seen wending his way northward, robed in a fur overcoat, with a map of Klondike in his inside pocket.” Outgoing Garfield County Sheriff, Robert Ware, about 50 years of age, followed Taughenbaugh north. At the same time, Divide Creek rancher Arthur Reynolds, a man in his late 20s, packed provisions for a try at fortune.
These are three of an unknown number of local men who decided to go to the Klondike. Concern was expressed that so many men leaving Colorado would harm the state’s economy. The Glenwood Post newspaper reported, “Better to remain in Colorado where there is enough gold to spare and continue to do business at the old stand. We think that would be the wiser choice.”
In addition to the local economic ramifications, there was concern for the safety of those leaving. Thousands of men converged at ports, seeking transportation to the Klondike. Disease and lawlessness prevailed. The governor of Alaska advised the miners to “come armed with sufficient cash to provide the necessities of life for one year and work for wages for one year in order to learn the general character of the county before attempting to prospect.”
Within a year, most of those seeking fortune returned to Garfield County. Taughenbaugh returned in August 1898 “fat, hearty but is not certain whether his properties in the northern country will prove great wealth factories or not. He will return to develop them at some future date.” Taughenbaugh moved to Seattle, and was nearly killed by a gunshot to his chest during a quarrel in 1903. He eventually recovered and returned to Rifle, where he spent his days farming.
Ware returned looking well and delivered to Tom Borst, a Glenwood Springs clothing store owner, a gold nugget from his brother Jesse Borst. Ware resumed operation of his bathhouse west of Glenwood Springs and never got rich from Alaska. Jesse Borst returned in 1900 to go into business with his brother. His Klondike fortune had been made from mining, operating a restaurant and working as a musician.
Reynolds returned in October 1899. The call of the north captivated him, and he decided to move to the Yukon. He and his wife Sadie settled in the Yukon in about 1907, but Sadie did not care for the life. She eventually left Arthur and moved back to family. Reynolds died in 1923 at the hands of unknown robbers.
In 1899, the cry of gold was heard from Nome, Alaska, and in parts of Canada. The Klondike lost its boom in the wake of other opportunities. In the years following, gold was still taken from the land and the rivers, but all that made the Klondike alluring was over.
With the Klondike decline, the Glenwood Post printed, “Very few men get rich in a day, and most of those who do profit but little by it. It is the man who by thrift, industry and exercise of foresight lays up a snug little fortune, who is able to appreciate its true value . . . and who uses it wisely and well.”
— Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.