The Nome Discoveries

The discovery of gold at Nome triggered the largest, most exciting, and unusual stampede in Alaska Gold Rush history. It was unusual in the high ratio of success for the individual Argonauts, thanks to the Golden Sands of the beaches at Nome that allowed thousands to make a stake. Within months of the discovery of coarse rich gold on Anvil Creek, the three Lucky Swedes were bedeviled by claim-jumpers and litigation. Some of the would-be claimants, perhaps the men from Golovin and Council, had some foundation for their assertions. Others, such as Alexander Mckenzie, had none. Moreover, although Lindeberg, Lindblom, and Brynteson may have been lucky, they had intelligence and more mining background than usually attributed to them. The threesome rapidly acquired any additional mining skills needed to pursue their claims. They were fortunate, also to turn to Gabe Price and his boss, Charles D. Lane, for help. Lane had the experience, honesty, and financial power necessary to assist the prospectors in holding and developing their claims.

John Dexter had an important role in the discovery of gold on the Seward Peninsula, including that of Nome. Dexter came North because of the Omilak silver-lead discovery in the eastern Seward Peninsula in 1880. When Omilak played out, Dexter opened a series of trading posts, centered around his headquarters at Golovin. In order to cover the extensive territory, Dexter taught the Eskimo natives the art of gold panning, so that they, on their hunting and trapping trips, might also prospect the country. Probably one of his prospectors made the first significant discovery on the Seward Peninsula. The discovery was of rich Ophir Creek in the Council District. (Two men are mentioned in different sources for this discovery - George Johanson and, an Eskimo, Tom Guarick.) Undoubtedly Native Alaskans had significant roles in other Seward Peninsula discoveries. Family tradition in the Ahwinona family of the Death Valley-Fish River-White Mountain area tells that an Ahwinona family member, Constantine Uparazuck and another Eskimo, Gabriel Adams, led the Lucky Swedes into the Anvil Creek area.

Several men around the trading post at Golovin also acquired gold fever to varying degrees; one was the minster Nils Hultberg, another a doctor, A. N. Kittilsen, sometimes manager of the reindeer station at Port Clarence. On one prospecting venture in the summer of 1898, Hultberg, mining engineer Blake, John Brynteson and others discovered gold on the Snake River; Hultberg also later claimed to have found gold at Anvil Creek at this time, but did not tell Blake.

In mid-September 1898, Brynteson, with new partners Jafet Lindeberg, the Norwegian of the Lucky Swedes and Erik O. Lindblom, went back to the Nome region. This time there was no doubt of a gold discovery. They found gold at Anvil, Glacier, Rock, and Dry Creek and in the very rich short creek called Snow Gulch. They managed to keep their discovery secret and brought in Kittlisen, Johan Tornensis - a Saami - and Gabe Price to form the new mining district on October 15, 1898. As described legally by Judge Wickersham,

"They located claims, marked their boundaries, made the necessary discovery of gold, recorded their location notices, and were in peaceable and unchallenged possession of their respective claims in compliance with United States laws before the outside world heard of their discovery."

Regardless of their knowledge, or lack of knowledge, about mining, Brynteson, Lindeberg, and Lindblom had business acumen. With his Scandinavian-American partners, Byrnteson formed the Pioneer Mining Company. The best linguist and, probably, administrator Lindeberg was elected President of Pioneer. The company, with Lane's Wild Goose Mining Company, was one of two main mining companies in early Nome. The Pioneer Mining Company paid more than two million in cash dividends in the ten year period before 1912. By the early 1920's, Pioneer had taken out more than $20,000,000.00 in gold. Pioneer owned and operated an extensive ditch system, including the famous Miecene, with more than 50 miles of ditch in total. These ditches, partly the product of the engineering ability of James M. Davidson, were necessary for both the early hydraulic mining and the later dredge operations.

In 1899 and 1900, thousands of men and women flooded into Nome. Like many Argonauts, most were too late and all the creek claims were double or triple-staked. Moreover, Nome also had a perhaps inordinate number of the parasites who mined the miners. Then Fate dealt a new hand. The beaches where the gold-seekers embarked were full of gold; many of the stampeders found abundant gold in a claim perhaps as long as a shovel handle.

Beach mining played out in a few more years, but astute miners then sunk shafts to mine rich buried fossil beaches, some about as rich as any placer ever discovered. In the 1920's, after the rich paystreaks had been depleted by drifting, Wendell P. Hammon and the industrial placer miners took over to bring us to the present day, mining first with dredges, then open-cuts.