William Shape was born on this day, March 1, 1867 in Milwaukee to a hard working Wisconsin family. His mother and father were from Germany and his father ran a beer bottling plant. The middle child of a brood of 8, he was well schooled and had traveled widely in Europe before he left his wife and two children to seek even greater wealth in the Klondike.
His journal was discovered in a California flea market nearly a hundred years after the Klondike gold rush. The journal and photographs give a very human dimension to the journey undertaken by vast hordes of prospectors who headed north in the gold rush. Shape recorded the daily hardships and dangers as well as the sights and smells of mining camps, the grind of overland treks, and the personal quirks of the people he encountered.
He went over the Chilkoot and down the Yukon River, prospecting up the Stewart River in 1898, followed by his exit trip out over the Dalton Trail in August and September. Though poorer monetarily for his experience, Shape came out healthy, 26 pounds heavier, and stated that he would gladly make the trip again, provided next time he could turn a profit. He must have returned to Milwaukee and lived out his life there. (His father’s company of Voechting, Shape & Co was incorporated into Schlitz Beer in 1885 or so.)