Jefferson "Soapy" Smith standing at a bar in a saloon shortly before he was in Skagway, Alaska, 1898. Public Domain /

By Tom Dare

THESE INCREDIBLE IMAGES from the end of the 1800s have helped capture what life was like for prospectors chasing the gold rush in the late 19th century.

Pictures show hundreds of prospectors lining up to pass through the Chilcot Pass in Alaska on their way to the Yukon in Canada, while others show some of the camps set up by the hopeful gold-hunters on their way to their destinations.

Gold miners and packers on Dyea Trail, Alaska, 1898. Public Domain /

In another photo, a group of men can be seen pushing their supplies along the river in a canoe, while a further image shows notorious gangster and racketeer Jefferson ‘Soapy’ Smith enjoying a drink at a saloon shortly before he was killed.

The series of images were all taken between 1897 and 1899, during the infamous Klondike gold rush which saw upwards of 100,000 prospectors from areas such as Seattle and San Francisco up sticks and head towards the Yukon in Canada.

Gold had been discovered there towards the end of 1896, and with reserves in California and other areas beginning to dry up prospectors from across the country decided to risk it all in search of their fortune.

Dinner time on the steamer bound for Alaska, 1900. Public Domain /

However very few who headed north succeeded in their quest for riches. Of the estimated 100,000 who headed to the Yukon as part of the gold rush, it is estimated that only around 30,000 actually arrived.

And even for those that did arrive, the pickings were slim and conditions tough. Boomtowns such as Dawson City, which saw its population rise from around 500-people at the start of 1896 to 30,000 by 1898, were rife with disease and crime, and many of the prospectors who made the epic journey ended up leaving before the turn of the century.

A prospector and his donkey, 1899. Public Domain /

The rush of people also attracted much unwanted attention from criminals and thieves, one of whom was notorious gangster Jefferson ‘Soapy’ Smith. After making his name in Denver running a series of ‘businesses’ which were actually dedicated to robbing their client-bases, he headed to the Klondike to take advantage of the throng of people towards the end of the 1890s. However, his luck eventually ran out in 1898, when he was killed during a shootout over unsettled gambling debts in the Alaskan town of Skagway.