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Cheechakos, Sourdoughs and Soiled Doves: Men, Women, and Community in a Klondike Gold Rush Boomtown 1896-1904 Open Access


Other title
Klondike Gold Rush
Canadian North
Dawson City
Historic Anthropology
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Highet, Megan J.
Supervisor and department
Dr. Mark Nuttall
Examining committee member and department
Carter, Sarah (History and Classics)
Vallianatos, Helen (Anthropology)
Smith, Susan (History and Classics)
Nuttall, Mark (Anthropology)
Garvie-Lok, Sandra (Anthropology)
Department of Anthropology

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
The research upon which this thesis is based explores the concept of ‘doing ethnography in the archives’ as a methodology to inform a case-study approach to studying the historic population of stampeders residing in and around Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush. As an example of research situated within historical anthropology—a relatively novel area of expertise within the discipline—this thesis examines the nature of community in the boomtown context through the use and analysis of archival documents, thereby also contributing to the anthropological literature regarding both the study of ‘community’ as a concept and wider concerns with community studies. Working from the perspective that boomtowns differ in fundamental ways relative to more established and enduring settlements, this research explores the influence of gender and socioeconomic stratification upon men and women in remote Dawson City as they renegotiated their roles and statuses relative to one another. This particular example is unique as the Klondike represented a tabula rasa wherein the stampeders (who constituted a population of strangers arriving in a new place) were required collectively to forge both a novel community and to establish a new settlement in an unfamiliar terrain. To this end, this thesis contributes an anthropological perspective on the topic of boomtown life that proceeds from the understanding that social life is complex and multifaceted, and that models for appreciating the intricacies of human culture in the boomtown context cannot be taken for granted based on understandings of ‘outside’ communities. Residents of these communities may find, for example, that the boomtown functions as a limbo-state wherein they exist outside of the continuity of their normal lives. This is accomplished as former markers of social status are stripped away to accommodate new models of socioeconomic stratification that emerge while a shared sense of community and feelings and sentiments related to place are reconstituted among a population of migrants in an unfamiliar landscape. Further to this, it is also observed that boomtowns can be characterized as places where normal gender roles and relationships that are characteristic of wider society do not necessarily apply. This is due both to the skewed sex ratios that typically characterize boomtown communities, as well as relaxed social controls in these often remote and isolated settlements that in turn offer a range of opportunities to both men and women that are perhaps exclusive to the boomtown context. The study of community as it existed among and between men and women in the example provided by Dawson City in this thesis therefore offers a necessary foundation to the study of all other aspects of boomtown life both within and beyond the immediate context of the Klondike Gold Rush. The insight gained here can in fact be construed as providing an essential framework for structuring subsequent analyses of modern-day boomtowns in Canada and elsewhere, mostly a phenomenon of the development of extractive industries, many of which continue to struggle with social issues similar to those experienced by their historic predecessors.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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