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Wednesday, August 12, 2020

North to Alaska by Kaye Spencer #prairierosepubs #goldrush #Alaska #classicmovies


On or about August 16, 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon, which is in northwestern Canada. When word of this discovery reached Seattle and San Francisco, prospectors swarmed to the area between 1896 and 1899.


IMAGE: Klondike Map - Citation below 

This gold rush has several names: Yukon Gold Rush, Alaska Gold Rush, Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush, and Last Great Gold Rush. It’s estimated that 100,000 prospectors tried their hand as diggers and panners. This wasn't the last great gold rush in Alaska, however. In 1899, the Klondike area was all but abandoned for the new gold field in Nome.¹  The Nome Gold Rush lasted from 1899 to 1909-ish.

Chilcoot Pass prospectors

IMAGE: Prospective prospectors on Chilkoot Pass near Skagway, Alaska - Citation below.


But I’m not here for an Alaskan gold rush history lesson.

I’m interested in a song that introduced a movie by the same title and that both tell a story about the Nome gold rush.

Coming up on August 22nd, Johnny Horton’s song North to Alaska will have its 60th anniversary.


Right around the corner on November 13th, the movie North to Alaska will celebrate its 60th anniversary.


The movie is a comedy-western (of sorts) starring John Wayne, Capucine, Ernie Kovacs, Stewart Granger, and Fabian.  The movie was based on a 1939 three-act play, Birthday Gift, by the Hungarian novelist, playwright, and screenwriter Ladislas Fodor aka Laszlo Fodor (1898-1978). It is set during the Nome gold rush.

Johnny Horton’s song introduced the movie as a set-up to the storyline. The song topped Billboard magazine’s Country Singles chart. Horton co-wrote the song. Sadly, he died in a car wreck on November 5, 1960. He was 35.

Side note: His second wife was Hank Williams’ widow, Billie Jean Jones. In one of those weird coincidences in life, Johnny Horton’s and Hank Williams’ last public performances were at Austin’s Skyline Club—Horton on November 4, 1960 and Williams on December 19, 1952, AND they were married to Billie Jean Jones at the time.² (Williams died January 1, 1953 near Oak Hill, West Virginia and Horton died November 5, 1960 after leaving the Skyline Club near Milano, Texas.)

For your listening and viewing pleasure, here is Johnny Horton singing North to Alaska over scenes from the movie. It’s great fun.


Until next time,
Kaye Spencer


Stay in contact with Kaye—

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1. Nome Gold Field information HERE
2. Horton and Williams - Last performances: HERE and HERE
North to Alaska MOVIE
North to Alaska SONG
Klondike Map: created by en:User:ish ishwar in 2005, Tlingit-map-modify, CC BY 2.0
Chilcoot Pass: Cantwell, George G., ChilkootPass steps, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons



  1. Lovely post. I enjoyed that movie.

    1. C.A., It is a fun romp in the Alaskan mud, isn't it? lol

  2. This really brings back some memories for me. I remember how all the teenagers were wild about the fact that Fabian was in this movie, but I was a huge Stewart Granger fan. John Wayne never disappoints. As kids, we all learned the words to the song "North to Alaska" pretty fast and sang it often.
    Some quirk of fate about Johnny Horton marrying Hank Williams's widow and dying in a car crash in the same town as Hank. I never knew that until now.
    A wonderful and informative blog as always Kaye. All the best to your corner of the universe.

    1. Sarah,

      Ah, yes, Fabian. He served the same purpose as casting Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo: to give the movies teenaged girls appeal. I like Stewart Granger, too. John Wayne certainly had his characters down pat. While there weren't surprises and twist in his characters, there was comfort that you could count on a good old fashioned bar fight. lolol The song is right on the edge of being an ear worm, which makes it so catchy to sing.

      I realized from your comment, that I was vague explaining that Horton and Williams didn't die in the same town. Their last public performances were at the same club. I've edited and made it clearer. Thanks! *hugs*

  3. Cool Post. My recent release, THE CLAIM, is set in the Klondike gold rush.

    1. Ann,

      I immediately thought of North to Alaska when I read the release blog post for THE CLAIM. (nicely done, by the way)

  4. Okay, I have a confession to make. Out of all the movies JW made, this one and The Searchers are my least two faves. :(((( I know. Don't run me out of town on a rail. However...I LOVE THE THEM SONG! LOL This was one of my fave songs when I was young, and I've always loved it. When you start singing it you cannot stop. I used to play it on a cassette player with several other Johnny Horton and Marty Robbins songs -- my kids knew them all. Casey didn't want to sing, so he contributed the background "MUSH!" calls while Jessica and I sang. LOL Good memories! I really enjoyed this blog--I don't know much about the Klondike gold rush--I would have been a very poor candidate. I do not like COLD. LOL

    1. Cheryl,

      I won't run you out of town, because I made it through The Searchers once and will never watch it again. North to Alaska is 'okay'. I it's not up there among my favorite John Wayne westerns. lol I do love Johnny Horton's songs, though. He had another 'cold' song called Springtime in Alaska. lol

  5. Loved the song, and Johnny Horton. The movie not as much. Still, the combination of the two were fun.
    Of course, the gold rush in Alaska did produce some great characters. Doris

    1. Doris,
      I agree with you completely. The movie is not one of my favorites, except for the barroom brawl scene that ends up in the muddy street. I'm a sucker for these corny fight scenes. lol

  6. Kaye, I so enjoyed a little trip down memory lane with your blog about Johnny Horton and his songs. It's been years since I saw the movie but I still remember parts of it, the cabin by the stream, JW and Stewart fighting over Capucine and that the elegant lady was way too classy for JW. I have a special connection with the Klondike Gold Rush. One morning while making brekkie for my four little guys, a story idea fell almost-full-blown into my head. Later I scribbled down as much as I could remember. I went to the library and brought back an armload of books about the Klondike gold rush, several of them being written by Canadian journalist, Pierre Berton. He was born in the Yukon and lived in Dawson Creek for part of his childhood. I was fascinated by what people endured to find gold. The chilikoot Pass was littered with belongings abandoned by the goldseekers.....even a grand piano. The Dead Horse Trail really made me sad. Horses just weren't equipped for the trail and the load they carried. The foregoing is actually part of my upcoming blog and I'm almost finished writing it...early! Trying to avoid a midnight posting panic lol.

    1. Elizabeth,

      Yes, the dreaded midnight posting panic. We all do it occasionally.

      All the gold rushes are fascinating to me. The lure of instant wealth must have been unimaginably attractive. Remember the old country song by Lefty Frizzell, Saginaw Michigan? "...Now he's up there in Alaska digging in the cold, cold ground. The greedy fool is looking for the gold I never found..." Powerful thing, gold.

  7. This brings back memories for me, too. I once knew every word to the song, and I remember scenes from the movie as if I'd seen it yesterday. Nice post.

    1. Becky,
      Thanks for stopping in. Even though the movie isn't one of my favorites of John Wayne's, it brings back pleasant memories of watching it. I liked it a lot more when I was a kid than now. lol I feel the same way about McLintock. While it was hilarious good fun 'back then', I cringe now.

  8. Gosh Kaye, I'd not thought about North To Alaska in a long time. I've been wanting to visit Alaska it seems forever, but haven't got there as yet. But it's on my bucket list. I must get my pennies added up before I, I should say hubby and I can. And I imagine it's due to that song, the movie and since then more articles or info re: Alaska. Great post, so thanks for all the memories.

    1. Beverly,

      I've never been to Alaska, either. People I know who have taken the Alaskan cruises say it's a great way to get a glimpse of Alaska. Thanks for stopping in.