Jafet Lindeberg

(1874-1962)

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photo of Jafet Lindeberg.

Jafet Lindeberg, date unknown.
Photo from Alaska's Digital Archives.

Lindeberg, the youngest of the Nome discoverers, was born in 1874 in far north Badderen, Norway. Like all his neighbors, Lindeberg knew something about reindeer, but he was not a typical or racial Saami, the nomadic reindeer herders of northern Europe. Lindeberg's father, Isak, was farmer and fisherman. He had come to the region from the valley of Norrbotn, an ancient iron mining region in Sweden. The Lindebergs claimed to be descended from the Walloons - Belgians who had come to northern Scandinavia about 100 years before to help mine and smelt the copper and iron ores of the region. Lindeberg's uncle, who took the young man out on weekend prospecting trips, was associated with the English-owned copper mine at nearby Kafjord. Moreover, Lindeberg had quite a bit of education. One of his teachers, Hansen, an able linguist, made sure that Lindeberg had a background in English, French, German, and Russian as well as his native language.

Although not a Saami, Lindeberg did come to Alaska to work with reindeer for legendary Alaska missionary Sheldon Jackson. Lindeberg was supposed to go to the Siberian coast to pick up more reindeer. Siberian natives fought off the would-be buyers, and Lindeberg asked for permission to terminate his employment with Jackson. There are several versions of Lindeberg's employment with Jackson. Lindeberg definitely came to America with the Saami, as he signed a reindeer herding contract on January 24, 1898. However, after only a few months in America, Lindeberg apparently was convinced that there was more economic potential in gold prospecting than in reindeer herding, and he acted accordingly. Arriving at Golovin, Lindeberg was directed to the village of Council where he met his future partners, Brynteson and Lindblom, and agreed to form the prospecting venture that firmly established the future of Nome and his own fortune.

In 1899, Lindeberg began mining in earnest, and took $10,600 from No. 1 Below Discovery. Lindeberg and his partners, operating as the Pioneer Mining Company, took $200,000 from the very rich, shallow ground in Snow Gulch, a tributary to Glacier Creek. The good luck of the newly emigrant Scandinavians, although they were U.S. citizens, aroused a great deal of American xenophobia. This xenophobia was augmented by one of the most dishonest judges in American history, Judge Noyes, and his henchman, McKenzie, who attempted to gain control of the gold fields. The story is the basis of Rex Beach's novel, The Spoilers. (Lindeberg's nom de plume in the story is "Glennister".)

But the lucky Swedes were tough and smart. Fortunately, they also found some honest Americans who were willing to lend a hand. Lindeberg formed a good teammate with Charles D. Lane in the Nome litigation. Lane had the physical and financial assets; Lindeberg had direct knowledge of the claim events, as well as a good business head, necessities in conflict with men like the corrupt Alexander McKenzie.

Lindeberg built electric light and power works in Nome, and with James M. Davidson, another member of the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame, and a third partner, formed the Moonlight Springs Water Works Company, which distributed pure water from springs at the base of Anvil Mountain. Moonlight Springs still distributes water to Nome residents. Lindeberg married into a pioneer California family, but actively managed the Pioneer Company at Nome, until Pioneer was bought out by Wendell P. Hammon in the 1920's. Like Brynteson, Lindeberg was long lived. He died in San Francisco, California in 1962.

By Charles C. Hawley, 1998

SOURCES

Ahwinona, Jacob, 1997, Reflections on my life, in Communities of Memory, Book of Nome, Alaska. Published at Nome, possibly available at Nome museum.

Brooks, A.H. 1908, The development of the mining industry, in The Gold Placers of Parts of the Seward Peninsula, Alaska: U.S. Geol. Survey Bull. 328, p. 10-39. Including a letter to F. L. Hess from Jafet Lindeberg, footnote p. 16-18: also a statement from Dr. A. N. Kittleson, 1905, footnote, p. 21.

Cole, Terence M., 1983, A history of the Nome gold rush: The poor mans paradise: Ph.D. thesis, Universityof Washington, 267 p.

"First grains of gold discovered at Nome now in San Francisco", American Mine Reporter, San Francisco, v.1, no. 6, p. 1-2. The newspaper article was partly based on an interview with Erik Lindblom, but it extensively quotes a letter in the Healy, Alaska "Aurora Borealis" published on 1 March 1899, and an address by Judge William W. Morrow, U.S. Court of Appeals at the University of California, 19 November 1915 on Rex Beach's "The Spoilers".

Harrison, E.S. 1905, Nome and Seward Peninsula: History, description, biographies, and stories: Metropolitan Press, Seattle, 392 p. Especially pages 197-227 in Biographies.

Lindblom, Robert G. to Cussie (Reardon) Kauer, City of Nome, letter, 2 pages, 3 June 1997.

(Robert Lindblom is Erik Lindblom's grandson by the marriage to Mary Ann Smith.)

Olsson, Siw, 1989, Torparsonen Som Slev Guldking: Omslagstockning: Lars Lindqvist, Dalslanningens, 144p.

Smith, Howard L., 1997, Nome River water Control Structures: BLM Open File Report 62.

Spence, Clark C., 1996, The Northern Gold Fleet: University of Illinois Press, 302p.

Vorren, O., 1994, Saami, Reindeer and Gold: Waveland Press, Prospect Heights, Ill.

Wickersham, James, 1938, Old Yukon. Tails –Trails—Trials: Washington Law Book Company, espec. P.327-378

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