Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

Elizabeth Zanoni

Committee Member

Maura Hametz

Committee Member

Ingo Heidbrink


This thesis examines Samuel Baker Dunn and other prospectors from Montgomery County in Southwestern Iowa who participated in the Yukon Gold Rush of 1896-1899. The thesis explores three min research questions: Why was there such an exodus of people to the Yukon from Montgomery County and the town of Villisca in particular? 2) How did Montgomery County citizens experience the Yukon Gold Rush and furthermore, what meaning did they attribute to the journey and the mining experience? How did they measure success? 3) What particular insights do letters, diaries, and photographs – and in particular Samuel Baker Dunn’s personal documents – provide historians interested in the Gold Rush? S.B. Dunn’s compendium represents a unique interrelated set of sources that include his daily diary, photographs, writings on the versos of the developed photographs and various letters to the editors of the three local Montgomery County newspapers. The thesis focuses on the many influences motivating Iowans and in particular, S.B. Dunn, to sell his business to raise the needed investment for the journey. Among the influences discussed are familial connections to a Gold Rush superstar, the Panic of 1893, meteorological factors such as drought, the value of gold both perceived and real, the influence of the Populist Movement and the power of the pioneer spirit that was particularly strong in Montgomery County. The thesis argues that to Samuel Baker Dunn and his Iowan companions “success” in the Yukon was less dependent on finding gold than it was on the feeling that they had survived over the challenges and experiences of the journey by employing the pioneer spirit that had been, in part, responsible for pushing them from Iowa to the gold fields.


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