Prior to European contact the Tagish people were highly
organized, sophisticated occupants of the Tagish Village.
The original Tagish Village was located three miles south
of present day Carcross on the east side of Tagish Lake.
With the activity and railroad construction in the early
1900s, most of the village moved to the settlement at
the narrows known as Caribou Crossing.
The original language of the area was Tagish, an Athabascan
dialect. With the influx of the coastal Tlingit and
intermarriages between the two Nations of people, the present
of the area has evolved into a mixture of both languages.
The Tlingit language spoken today in Carcross is unique
from all other Tlingit dialects. The Tagish language
is in danger of extinction, and measures are being
unsure the survival of both languages.
The Tagish were longtime middlemen in the trade between
the Coastal Tlingits and other Northern Athabascans.
The Chilkoot Trail was the lifeline of the trading
network in pre-contact times. The Trail was colloquially
as the ‘grease trail’ because the primary
ingredient carried across the mountains was Eulachon
oil. Dried seaweed,
dried clams, plant medicines, cedar boxes and seashells
were also brought to trade for things like copper,
furs, tanned hides, lichen dyes and mountain goat
was used to make the traditional Chilkat blanket.
Before 1839 the entire population of the Yukon was
said to be natives, except for a few Inuvialuit (Western
along the Arctic Coast. In the mid 1800s the Hudson’s
Bay Company funded three expeditions to the Yukon to establish
trading posts to trade with the First Nations people and
the Russians. The Tlingits were very jealous of other traders
being in their area, and it was not until the late 1880s
that Europeans successfully crossed into the mainland.
On August 14, 1896, direct descendants of the Tagish/Tlingit
people—Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie—struck
gold with George Carmack and launched the Klondike
Gold Rush, the beginning of a new era in the Yukon.
peoples figured prominently in the Gold Rush, with
men, women and children all working as packers for
Once the gold seekers made it over the Chilkoot Pass,
they stopped in places like Lindeman City, Bennett
Crossing and Tagish. With this huge wave of people
came churches, schools, stores, hotels and North
Police Posts. For the Tagish/Tlingit peoples, the
Gold Rush was a cataclysmic event that ended much
traditional way of life.
The Tlingit people once called this place Naataase
Heen, meaning ‘water running through the narrows’.
The Tagish people called it Todezzane, meaning ‘wind
blowing all the time’. After the Gold Rush, a Bishop
by the name of Bompass requested to have the name Caribou
Crossing changed to Carcross. In 1906, the government approved
Photo Courtesy of Yukon Archives