The Gold Rush begins with a Lone Prospector (Charlie Chaplin) braving the Alaskan wilderness to try and find his fortune. At first, misfortune is all he encounters. He finds himself holed up in a shack during a brutal storm with Black Larsen (Tom Murray) a wanted fugitive and Big Jim McCain (Mack Swain) a kind-hearted gold digger that has just found his mother lode.
The three men are starving and cut a deck of cards to see which man will go look for food. Black Larsen draws the two of clubs and sets out into the cold. He stumbles upon two lawmen that recognize him and the villain shoots them dead. He steals their supplies and explores, finding Big Jim’s Gold Mountain.
Meanwhile, back in the not so cozy cabin, Big Jim hallucinates that the Lone Prospector is a chicken. The little man tries to feed him Thanksgiving dinner of a shoe in the hopes of removing himself from the menu. The Little Prospector gives Big Jim the meatier piece of shoe. Big Jim is still delirious with hunger. Just when it looks hopeless, a bear wanders into the cabin. The Lone Prospector shoots it; providing an appropriate meal.
Well fed, Big Jim leaves the cabin to get back to his claim. He finds Black Larsen on his land and is left unconscious in the snow with a shovel wound to the head at the hands of the outlaw. Karma rears its head as Black Larsen falls over a cliff in an avalanche to his death.
The Lone Prospector Makes It Back To Town
The Lone Prospector heads into town and makes his way into the local bar. It is here that he falls in love with the beautiful Georgia (Georgia Hale ). Georgia is fending off the advances of a ladies man, Jack Cameron (Malcolm Waite). She uses the Lone Prospector to make Jack jealous and sends his hopes and spirit soaring. The little man finds a discarded photo of Georgia on the floor and puts it in his pocket. The Lone Prospector gets in a fight with Jack when he prevents him from following Georgia. His hat is pulled over his eyes and he believes he has taken out the bigger man when in reality a clock fell on Jack, knocking him out cold.
The Lone Prospector finds lodging closer to town as a cabin sitter for another Prospector. The Little Man invites Georgia and her friends for a New Year’s Eve dinner party at his new home. He raises money for the evening by moving the same pile of snow from building to building and charging for the “removal”. The girls forget about the Little Prospector. The Tramp sits alone, dreaming that the girls are with him. Entertaining the ladies in his dream, he performs a “roll dance” for them. He awakes, and heads to the Bar to find the girls.
He crosses paths with the ladies (who have finally remembered their promise) and Jack. When the group finds the cabin empty, Jack move in on Georgia, and she promptly slaps him.
Big Jim has come to but has some amnesia. He can’t recall where his claim is. As luck would have it, he runs into the Lone Prospector who agrees to help him. They take shelter again in the lonely cabin, which the arctic wind nearly blows over a cliff. The two men survive, and they find Big Jim’s claim; making them millionaires.
By coincidence, Big Jim, The Lone Prospector, and Georgia find themselves on the same Luxury Liner. Big Jim and the Little Man travel together while Georgia sits in the steerage. To amuse the press, the Little Millionaire puts back on his tramp clothes. He runs into Georgia in these clothes, and she thinks he is a stowaway. He tells her the truth, and the two enjoy a lingering kiss.