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Setting the Stage


In February 1852, a group of settlers founded the city of Seattle on the shores of Puget Sound. They chose the location because it provided a good place from which to ship logs and timber south to San Francisco, California. The following year, a steam sawmill was built, and with it Seattle's first industry was born. The town grew slowly at first due to its isolated location and the nation's involvement in the Civil War. This isolation ended in the late 1880s and early 1890s when the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads crossed the Cascade Mountain range into Puget Sound. During this period, Seattle began to enjoy economic prosperity as a hub for shipping and railroads.

During the summer of 1897, news of a gold strike in the isolated and desolate Klondike region of Canada's Yukon Territory reached the United States. The ensuing Klondike Gold Rush marked the last of the great gold rushes that had played a part in the development of the West since 1848 when John Marshall discovered gold in California. In the second half of the 19th century, gold and silver were discovered in many places throughout the West, including Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and the panhandle of Alaska. Each discovery triggered waves of migration to the respective gold fields, including the Klondike in 1897-98. During the Klondike Gold Rush, thousands of prospective miners, known collectively as "stampeders," flocked to Seattle to secure transportation to the gold fields and to purchase supplies (commonly called an "outfit") for their excursions. Seattle's merchants and ticket agents were suddenly beset with frenzied people preparing for the long and treacherous journey north.

 

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