Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The King of the Klondike

Alexander "Big Alex" McDonald (1859–1909) was a Canadian gold prospector who made (and lost) a fortune in the Klondike Gold Rush, earning himself the title "King of the Klondike".

The son of Scottish immigrants, McDonald was born in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. He tried his luck in the Colorado gold fields before heading to the gold rush in Juneau, Alaska, in the late 1880s. By 1895 he was in the Yukon, employed by the Alaska Commercial Company at Forty-Mile to buy mining properties. Gold was discovered in the region in 1897. He was nicknamed the "Big Moose from Antigonish", "Big Alex" and "Big Mac".

Scraping Bedrock 2 Above Bonanza, 1899, 2 Pans of Dirt Yielded $2,000.00, Alex McDonald Co. Ltd.
" ... a large brawny, swarthy man, canny and close of mouth, with a curious habit of slowly rubbing his chin whenever a new proposition is presented to him. He makes it a rule to first say "No" to every proposal, however alluring, thus gaining time to think it over."

One of the early arrivals in the Klondike, he purchased Claim 30 on Eldorado Creek from a Russian named Zarnosky for a sack of flour and a side of bacon. That claim proved to be one of the richest of the Klondike. Mining was challenging as the ore was distributed unevenly and digging was made slow by permafrost. As a result, miners chose to buy and sell claims, building up huge investments and letting others do the work. McDonald leased claims to others, who did the actual work for half of the proceeds. He soon acquired 28 claims and by 1898, he had interests in 75 mines, making him the largest landowner and employer.

From a population of 500 in 1896, the hastily constructed town of Dawson came to house around 30,000 people by summer 1898. Built of wood, isolated and unsanitary, Dawson suffered from fires, high prices and epidemics. The wealthiest prospectors spent extravagantly gambling and drinking in the saloons. Unfortunately the Klondike Gold Rush didn't last and neither did McDonald's money. He continued to buy land claims, now mostly worthless, squandering his money. He died alone in a cabin on Clearwater Creek of a heart attack in 1909 virtually penniless.