The Early Period
THE LAND about to challenge the police was brutal and primitive; a land of extremes -- of heat and cold, of calms and storms, of beauty and desolation. Then and now largely unknown to southerners, it is possibly the oldest continuously occupied part of Canada. Human occupation may date back 100,000 years; certainly, Indians had been in the Yukon millenia before any European arrived on the St. Lawrence. 1 But although it had long been home to several thousand Indians, only the most hardy and experienced white men could hope to survive and prosper there. Men of this stamp had been trading and prospecting in the valley of the Yukon River even before the purchase of Alaska by the United States in 1867, thirty years before the great rush. 2
Trading activity in the Yukon basin began in 1847, when the Hudson's Bay Company built Fort Youcon at the junction of the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers. The American purchase of Alaska in 1867 opened the entire northwest to competitive trade. The Hudson's Bay Company was evicted from Fort Youcon in 1869 and retreated to Rampart House in the northern Yukon. Private traders, most of them American, filled the void. 3 These commercial enterprises were concerned with the fur trade, not mining, but in 1886-87 gold was discovered on the Fortymile River, and as miners began to enter the country, the traders concentrated on them. The oldest trading company was the Alaska Commercial Company, which had been founded in 1868; the other great commercial power was the North American Trading and Transportation Company, formed in 1892. Both were owned and controlled in the United States.
As is common in a speculative, highly mobile industry such as placer