In July of 1897 a two ships docked in San Francisco and Seattle carrying bags of gold discovered in the Yukon territory of Alaska. The United States was experiencing an economic recession, and many men were out of work. For men desperate for work and money, the news of gold free for the taking was like dropping a match in a hayloft. About one-hundred thousand men set off for the Yukon, determined to make their fortune. Though the United States had purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, Canada technically owned the Yucon territory where the gold had been discovered. Consequently, Canada made the rules and regulations whereby gold-seekers could enter the territory.
Determined to keep order, the Canadian police decreed that in order to enter the territory, travelers must carry a years worth of gear and supplies. Of course, this was such a prodigious weight that many were obliged to abandon most of their supplies along the trail when they proved to heavy to bear. Consequently, the real gold-rush proved to be for those selling supplies and providing other services at unheard of premiums.
In The Call of the Wild, London depicts the most common route taken to the Yukon. Buck travels by boat from California to Skagway, Alaska. Most men travelled by horse and then by boat to Dawson City, but this way was slower, if safer, than traveling by dogsled entirely on the trail. Of the 100,000 men who had set out for the Yukon, only about 30,000 made it the entire way. Many dropped out, overwhelmed by the unknown obstacles. Other died. Of those who made it to the Yukon, most were disappointed. Locals had claimed the gold-bearing creeks, and rumors of gold for the taking proved to be less than accurate. Some men returned home, others -- possibly lacking even the money for the return voyage -- worked others sites or worked in the few towns and outposts that had sprung up to support the miners.
Another surprise for the late arrivals was the difficulty of the mining itself. Much of the gold was located as many as ten feet below the creeks. Massive amounts of labor were involved, and for those who arrived penniless, even those who secured good sites, getting to the gold was next to impossible. Jack London was one such man who made it to the Yukon, experienced the trials and tribulations it had to offer, and returned to the United States without any gold to show for it. Ultimately, London would prove to be luckier than almost any, for he returned to the us with the inspiration and experiences he needed in order to truly begin his career as a writer.