When the 21-year-old Jack London hoisted his gear aboard the steamship Umatilla at the San Francisco wharf on 25 July 1897, he was joining a motley collection of passengers embarking on one of the most colourful and in some ways most painful adventures of an era that had witnessed many such odysseys. Along with the century, the frontier spirit of the New World had pretty much run its course, as Frederick Jackson Turner had recently proclaimed in a celebrated 1893 address to the American Historical Association. The existence of open land and the dream of easy riches, Turner argued, had operated both as an incentive to the energetic individual and as a safety valve for social conflict. But now the continent had been crossed, the easy gold had been panned out, Indian resistance had been suppressed, the imperative of 'manifest destiny' had been fulfilled, and there were no more frontiers to conquer. Except the Klondike.
The Klondike gold rush of 1897 took its name from one of the many tributaries of the upper Yukon River in the Yukon Territory of north-western Canada. Prospectors had been panning these streams for years with only middling success until August of 1896, when an American, George Carmack, and two Indians called Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie struck rich deposits in what was soon to be renamed Bonanza Creek. By the time word of the strike gravitated to the 'outside', the best claims had already been staked. But this discouraging news came too late: the gold fever had spread and the rush was on. Many men--and a few venturesome women--threw up their jobs, pawned their belongings or mortgaged their property, purchased wilderness outfits, and headed north with little idea of the hardships and disappointments that awaited them on the long trail to Dawson City, the prospectors' boom-town that had sprung to life at the confluence of the Yukon and the Klondike.
The young Jack London was better prepared for hardship than most. He was born out of wedlock in 1876 to the energetic but emotionally unstable Flora Wellman, who had