Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lust For Gold

Among the comments yesterday, Red made mention of the Canadian writer Pierre Berton's two books on the Klondike gold rush, which took place in Canada but also had dramatic effects on the history of Alaska. I've read both books and highly recommend them. I also recommend a book titled Alaska: Saga Of A Bold Land, by the author Walter Borneman, a look at the history of that state. For a quick overview of Canadian rushes, including the major ones in British Columbia, check this link.

This was one of the larger artifacts in the exhibit on gold rushes at the Museum, a large wagon of the period.

This collection of guns and rifles would have been typical for the era. Prospectors would have used them to defend their claims, and what had been the common practice in California or Australia carried over into the British Columbia rushes- and later into the Klondike: always keep your weapon close. 

Women were a relative rarity in gold fields through the North American west (aside from prostitutes who ended up taking a good portion of whatever prospectors were digging up). This period clothing caught my eye.

This display case dealt with those distracting things that could take a prospector's mind off the reality that his dreams of gold riches weren't quite as he expected: alcohol, tobacco, or gambling, all of which made their presence known in gold rushes both in America and in Canada.

Faro was actually more popular through the 19th century West than poker, and this is a faro game and case counter. I'd heard the word in many a Western movie, but those films don't really show you the game itself. Your bet went on one of thirteen cards painted on the board; the dealer would draw two cards. The first card paid the house, the second paid the players. The counter would show how many cards were left in the deck, and players could also bet with the house.

This contraption might help a gambler cheat at cards, holding a high card concealed beneath the sleeve of a jacket on a device that could be fastened to the arm. Assuming of course that it wasn't discovered in advance, in which case you'd be in a spot of trouble.

Coming out of the exhibit was an interactive scale- you could see what your weight might be worth in gold. I'm apparently worth over 4 million dollars.... if I was made of solid gold. This display nearby featured gold in some current uses, such as Olympic medals, Emmys, or gold plated records for high selling albums- in this case, for Bryan Adams.


  1. The large wagon is a priceless treasure. I wonder how much I am worth if I am pure gold! Ha ha!

  2. I haven't read anything about the gold rushes in a very long time. Maybe I'll put it next on my reading list.

    Happy Sunday, William


  3. They would have been rough and tough days.. I always knew you were worth your weight in gold William ☺

  4. always a fan of old unique guns. so different. dominoes ... so cool!! i have not played in years. ( :

  5. The wagon is beautiful, imagine the travels it might have made.

  6. @Nancy: of course that is in Canadian bucks!

    @Janis: all three are good reads.

    @Grace: they were very rough days.

    @Beth: I don't recall ever playing dominoes.

    @Francisco: thank you.

    @Marleen: over rough country in those days.

  7. As Marleen, I also like the wagon.
    Have a happy the end of weekend.

  8. I also like the wagon best. Collin, however, will go for the guns.

  9. People pan for gold on the Red Deer River. They find the occasional speck of gold dust. I did a field trip with my class and one section was gold panning. I'll never forget the eyes of those kids when somebody found a minute piece of gold. Gold fever doesn't begin to describe it.

  10. That device to hide a card looks rather uncomfortable to wear. It seems like betting with the house is a good bet. The house always wins. Great exhibition.

  11. @Orvokki: thanks!

    @Norma: and there were a lot of guns!

    @Red: it's still a mineral that consumes us.

    @Linda: indeed!

    @Sharon: I imagine it must have been uncomfortable!

  12. Very interesting exhibition! Only "faro" I'm familiar was faroarm. Next time I watch western movie, I'll pay more attention :-) That big wagon is beautiful. And the period clothing. Very lovely!

  13. This is all most interesting. I'm not at all surprised at what you're worth! For what it's worth, I think 4 million is a low estimate.

    The comments about Faro were also of interest. I've heard of the game but had no idea how to play the game or what it was all about.

  14. Very interesting post and photos. I have heard the term Faro in movies but didn't know what it was either.

  15. Interesting exhibition. I never seen the card up the sleeve contraption before. I imagine if someone got caught with one, they probably would have been shot. Pretty tough living back in those days.

  16. They had that "contraption" on one of the TV westerns that were so popular in the 60's and 70's. I can't remember if it was Maverick or another one. The guns were also used to procure meat when they first arrived at a gold rush site, but the four-legged animals had sense enough to depart.

  17. Interesting stuff! I'm always struck when I see old wagons how incredibly uncomfortable they probably were. We're so coddled by our typical cars now. And I'm a sucker for period clothes. They don't look any more comfortable but I find them fascinating.

  18. There have been some good films about the gold fever. My favorite has to be "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

  19. @Tamago: I know the game is referenced in at least one of the two Wyatt Earp films of the mid-nineties.

    @Lowell: usually in a film if it's mentioned, the focus of the camera is on the actors regardless.

    @Pamela: it was interesting to see the game displayed.

    @Bill: you ran serious risks if you got caught cheating.

    @Mari: it wouldn't surprise me if it was Maverick. I know in the film version there's a moment with a player who's got cards stashed up the sleeve.

    @Whisk: me too.

    @Kay: they must have been uncomfortable, crossing rough terrain.

    @Catalyst: that's a good one.

  20. From what I have read and seen about the Klondike gold rush, it must have been very hard times.

    1. That one definitely was, but that was characteristic of gold rushes in general.

  21. Things seem the same in the north, it is still expensive to live there. Food, clothing, shelter, etc.