When he quit his job as a physical education instructor for the YMCA in Seattle, in 1896, Tom Lippy had a hunch. He could not pin it down, but something in his muscular body told him to head north. He arrived in the Forty Mile mining district of the Yukon that summer and as luck would have it, Lippy just happened to be there when George Carmack registered his Klondike claim - and more good fortune was waiting in the wings.
After hearing about the rich find on what was then called Rabbit Creek, Tom Lippy raced with the others from Forty Mile to the Klondike. However, most of the ground on Bonanza Creek was staked. Disappointed, like many others, he was forced to stake a claim higher up on a smaller creek with no name. This little Bonanza Creek tributary would later be called Eldorado Creek.
Before the big rush of 1898, claims on Eldorado were thought to be worthless. Getting a claim there was really no trouble. Most miners did not want to stake the Eldorado "pup" because they were only entitled to one claim in the Klondike Valley and were wary of wasting their one chance on a certain loser. Thus, when his wife Salome wanted to live in a cabin on the creek, Lippy decided to move down the creek where the timber was better for building.
Here, as his luck held, he was able to stake claim sixteen above discovery. A group of Scotsmen had abandoned the claim from Nanaimo. It was a move they would regret for the rest of their days. Tom Lippy built a cabin on his claim and worked the winter of '96-'97 thawing the ground, digging shafts and hauling the pay dirt to the surface.
Surface nuggets were everywhere, but how much gold lay fifteen to twenty feet down? In the spring, when clean-up began, the answer was clear. Tom Lippy had lucked onto the richest claim on Eldorado. And in the spring of 1897, Eldorado proved to be the richest placer creek in the world. Far richer than Bonanza, where Lippy had not been able to stake a claim. In the summer of 1897, he and a group of about eighty miners headed south on board what then called the treasure ships.
When he and his wife Salome arrived in San Francisco on board the Excelsior, carrying about $150,000 in gold nuggets, Tom was ready to tell his story to all who would listen. Front page newspaper reports of Lippy's find helped set in the motion the great Klondike rush yet to come.
|Miners working underground on the Stanley-Worden claims on Eldorado Creek. Date: 1901.
Yukon Archives. Adams & Larkin fonds, #9087.
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Lippy and Salome worked their claim on Eldorado for five years. They sold out in 1903 and moved back to Seattle with a fortune worth almost two million dollars. In Seattle, they built a grand mansion in the growing city, with fifteen rooms including a spacious ballroom decorated with oriental rugs and stained-glass windows.
Tom Lippy became one of Seattle's most respected citizens serving as President of both the hospital association and the YMCA. He even donated the land to build the Seattle General Hospital. He became the senior golf champion of the Pacific Northwest. But by the late 1920s, Lippy's luck ran out. He had sunk his fortuned into a variety of business all of which went bankrupt. When he died in 1931, he had no money to leave to his widow.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin