Shaaw Tláa (Kate Carmack)
Awards and Recognition
- Subject of the book “Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold” by Deb Vanasse, 2016
- Namesake of the Kate Carmack Award by Yukon Women in Mining, 2018
- Inducted to the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame as part of the Klondike Discoverers, 2019
- Commemorative loonie featuring the Klondike Discoverers, 2021
Shaaw Tláa, also known as Kate Carmack, was born between 1857 and 1867 near what is now known as Bennett Lake, Yukon. Her mother, Gus’dutéen, was member of the Tagish wolf clan and her father, Kaachgaawáa, was a member of the Tlingit crow clan; Shaw Tláa herself was a member of the dakl’aweidí (killer whale) clan. She had seven siblings, with whom she grew up in the south-central Yukon area.
Shaaw Tláa married her first husband, Kult’ús, a Tlingit cousin, with whom she had a daughter. However, both Kult’ús and her daughter died in an influenza pandemic in around 1886. After their deaths, she returned to her family.
She then met George Carmack, a white American who had deserted the US marines. He had tried to become a rancher before moving north to become a prospector. He had married a relative of Shaaw Tláa, but she had died within a few months of the marriage. Shaaw Tláa and George then married around 1886, after encouragement from her family. There was no legal record of this marriage and he gave her the English name Kate.
On January 11th, 1893, the couple had a daughter, Aagé (Graphie Grace). During the first decade of their marriage, the family moved around the Forty Mile distrcit in the Yukon, hunting trapping, trading and placer mining. To help provide for her family, Shaaw Tláa sewed and sold winter apparel to miners and hunted game, fished and gathered food, all skills she learned from her Tagish and Tlingit female relatives.
In 1896, the family was joined by Shaaw Tlá’s brother, Keish (also spelled Kèsh and also known as Skookum Jim), and her nephew, Káa Goox (also known as Dawson Charlie). As a group, they discovered gold in Rabbit Creek (now known as Bonanza Creek), a tributary of the Klondike River. Which group member made the initial discovery is up for debate and varies according to different accounts. George Carmack claimed he made the discovery, however many oral histories suggest that it was in fact Shaaw Tláa who found the first gold nugget. Many modern historians agree that Keish made the acutal discovery. However, the three male members of the group rushed to register claims in their names; no claims were make in Shaaw Tláa’s name.
This discovery sparked the Klondike Gold Rush, bringing around 30,000 people to the area and led to the establishment of permannent settlements. A significant event in Yukon’s history, the Rush led the territory to joining the Confederation. However, they were not able to immediately capitalize on their discovery, and relied on Shaaw Tláa selling items to miners and her trapping and food gathering to survive the winter. Over the course of two seasons working their claim, they found approximately $1,000,000 in gold.
In 1898, the group travelled to Seatle, Shaaw Tláa’s first time away from the North. They then travelled to San Fransisco and southern California. On the return trip to Dawon City, George met and fell in love with Marguerite Laimee, a brotherl owner. He claimed he and Shaaw Tláa were never legally married, and wed Marguerite in October 1900.
Shaaw Tláa sued George for divorce, citing desertion and adultery, and asking for half of their properties, including the Klondike claims and property in America. However, the suit was not successul as there was no legal record of the marriage; she never received her share of their fortune. However, after her morther’s death, Aagé and George’s sister Rose sued again, and the judge ruled that the marriage had in fact been valid.
After George left her, Shaaw Tláa and Aagé returned to the Yukon and lived in Carcross with the Tagish Nation. In 1909, Aagé went to the United States to live with her father and Shaaw Tláa never saw her again. Shaaw Tláa lived the remainder of her life in a cabin Keish had built for her, living off a government pension and selling needlework to tourists. She died on March 29th, 1920 in an influenza pandemic.
Her role in the discovery was largely overlooked for decades. While the rest of the Klondike Discovers (George Carmack, Keish, Káa Goox and Robert Henderson) were inducted in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame 1999, Shaaw Tláa herself was not inducted until 2019, twenty years later. Deb Vanasse’s book, Wealth Woman: Kate Carmack and the Klondike Race for Gold, is largely credited with bringing Shaaw Tláa’s role in the discovery and the eventual recognition of her contributions.
1999 Inductee: Klondike Discoverers. (2019). Retrieved from Canadian Mining Hall of Fame: https://www.mininghalloffame.ca/klondike-discoverers
Gwiazda, E. (2022, May 31). Shaaw Tláa (Kate Carmack). Retrieved from The Canadian Encyclopedia: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/shaaw-tlaa-kate-carmack#
Kate Carmack – Shaaw Tláa. (n.d.). Retrieved from Smithsonian National Postal Museum: https://postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibition/as-precious-as-gold-stories-from-the-gold-rush-extraordinary-women/kate-carmack-shaaw
KLONDIKE DISCOVERER (1 of 5) Kate Carmack (1857-1920) – 2019 Canadian Mining Hall of Fame Inductee. (2019, January 13). Retrieved from Republic of Mining: https://republicofmining.com/2019/01/13/klondike-discoverer-1-of-5-kate-carmack-1857-1920-2019-canadian-mining-hall-of-fame-inductee/#:~:text=Twitter-,KLONDIKE%20DISCOVERER%20(1%20of%205)%20Kate%20Carmack%20(1857%2D,Mining%20Hall%20of%20Fame%20Inductee&te
McCarthy, T. (2018, October 12). Kate Carmack gets her due with mining hall of fame induction. Retrieved from CAC News North: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/kate-carmack-mining-hall-fame-1.4860849
Tobin, C. (2019, January 9). Emotion reigns as pioneer is recognized. Retrieved from Whitehorse Daily Star: https://www.whitehorsestar.com/News/emotion-reigns-as-pioneer-is-recognized