Today in History: Jack London sails for the Klondike

July 25th, 2013

On July 25, 1897, Jack London left California at the age of 21 to begin a perilous trek to the Klondike, joining hundreds of thousands of Americans who sought to make a living from the gold rush. A rugged individualist and soon-to-be famous author, London arrived in the Yukon Territory by way of the Chilkoot Pass, an unforgiving locale that would be the setting of many of his later works.

In 1897, London dropped out of the University of California-Berkeley, writing that he “had let career go hang, and was on the adventure-path again in quest of fortune.” In her biography of her husband, Charmaine London detailed the London’s mindset when he made the decision to venture out into the Klondike:

If Jack London’s roving feet had failed to be drawn into the Klondike stampede of 1897, his future audiences would have ceased not from asking why. But of course he could not fail of response to the lure of this golden adventure—accent on adventure. With all the naïveté of previous self-justifications when yielding to his passion for boating, the material treasure-trove in itself formed but an adjunct that made all at ease with his conscience.

While in the Klondike, Jack London submitted his first short stories to American magazines, and had his first collection, The Son of the Wolf, published in 1900. London’s time in the Klondike took a great physical toll on his body. He developed scurvy and chronic hip and leg pain, inspiring his famous short story “To Build a Fire,” which describes the harsh elements faced by settlers to the area. London stayed in the Yukon for less than a year and never ended up mining any gold.

Explore our “To Build a Fire” lesson plan, which focuses on themes of freedom and individuality. The lesson plan is complete with questions for students, video model seminars, and historical context for students.

Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

Tags: , ,