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Home  >  Digital Archives  >  Industry  >  Mining
Three Lucky Swedes
By Tricia Brown Page 1 of 2   Next ยป

A trio of miners, the so-called "Three Lucky Swedes," is credited with the gold discovery that launched the Nome rush. (Only two were indeed Swedish: Erik Lindblom and John Byrnteson. The third man, Jafet Lindeberg, was a Norwegian.) The men found color on Anvil Creek on April 23, 1898. As partners, they staked dozens of claims on what would prove a moderate gold deposit -- nothing that could satisfy the thousands of gold-hungry miners who would soon arrive from the Klondike. The stampeders had responded as stampeders do, dropping their shovels and setting out in an adrenalin-fueled frenzy, hoping to get in on the action sooner than they had last time.

In a June 14, 1899, special edition of the Klondike Nugget, readers in the Yukon were warned to wait for further evidence of the gold find before setting off for the Bering Sea coast: "The deductions which the Nugget is able to make at this time from the information available are as follows: That gold in some quantity or other has been struck in the Cape Nome country is true, that it was known to the outside last winter, and is old news, appears evident, and that there is a big rush to the new gold fields is beyond question. The information most essential, namely, how rich the field has proven to be, is a sealed book, and the Nugget feels impelled again to urge its readers to await confirmation of the reported big discovery before joining the stampede. No Klondiker needs to be told that stampedes as a rule are a ‘fraud and a snare'; neither need he be reminded that Koyukuk and Kotzobue Sound were heralded quite as loudly as the Cape Nome discovery. Though the chase to each place by thousands of gold seekers resulted in discouragement for most and death for many. ‘Look before you leap' is a maxim as old as the human race, and as true as steel."

Before long, the population of the camp temporarily called "Anvil City" numbered 10,000. While some found modest success, others were disappointed and angered, believing they'd been tricked. John Hummel, an Idaho man, was among those who'd bet it all and lost -- destitute miners who ended up camping on the beach. There, he and others worked the sand. Hummel was well rewarded, taking out $1,200 in gold in the next three weeks. The news was like throwing gas on a campfire. By the summer of 1900, the population of Nome had exploded to more than 20,000 people, and there was scarcely a square foot of unclaimed sand in 40 miles of beachfront.

Larry Gedney, writing in a 1985 Alaska Science Forum article, suggested that Lindblom, Byrnteson, and Lindeberg never intended to mislead, but simply made a discovery and then staked numerous claims for themselves as well as relatives and supporters. The appearance of a rush was no different than the real thing to the arriving stampeders who recklessly staked and challenged claims, and sought the legal backing of a crooked Nome District judge named Arthur H. Noyes.

"In those early stages of the rush, the three ‘Swedes' must have felt anything but lucky as the blame for the whole fiasco began to fall squarely on them," Gedney wrote. "Rumors began to spread that they had already filed on all the productive prospects when, in actuality, little had yet been found by anyone. The Scandinavians' filings were especially irksome to other gold seekers because federal law prohibited aliens from filing claims unless they could show intent to become citizens. Finally, a miners' meeting was held in which the Scandinavians' mining company was declared illegal and all their claims revoked. This resolution was in itself illegal, and the miners might have taken the law into their own hands had not a few soldiers from St. Michael dissuaded them with the help of fixed bayonets."

Unlike the goldfields of the Klondike or Interior Alaska, which lay at the end of a brutal journey, the miners and merchants who headed for Nome found it easily accessible. Passengers could board comfortable ships in San Francisco and Seattle and land at Nome in less than two weeks. Nor did they have to enter a foreign country or carry all of their own supplies over a great distance. That summer of 1900, Nome's population grew to 20,000 people and the beach was covered with tents and rockers and sluice boxes. It was, for a time, Alaska's biggest city. It earned another unexpected title as well.

"In the summer of 1900, Nome was the largest general delivery address in the U.S. postal system," reported the National Postal Museum. Letter carrier Fred Lockley wrote about the challenges for frontier postal clerks in his book, Alaska's First Free Mail Delivery in 1900, citing that there were so many people named Johnson around Nome, clerks had to use five filing boxes to sort mail for the Johnsons alone.

Missionaries followed the stampede to the Bering Sea coast, too, including the Rev. S. Hall Young, who had served in Southeast Alaska from 1878 to 1888. A decade later, the Home Mission Board of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. invited him to return to Alaska, and in 1899, he was headed for Nome with the miners. Stopping in St. Michael, he encountered Dr. Sheldon Jackson, Special Agent for Education in Alaska, and a Presbyterian minister himself. He told Young, "Hurry on to Nome; you will find the greatest task of your life in that new camp!"

That fall, Young arrived to find that nearly half the gold seekers had already left. Of the men left in Nome, a third had typhoid fever. It was said that he conducted 11 funerals in one week. Later, Young himself fell ill and nearly died during almost eight weeks of battling the disease. By January of 1900, his strength renewed, Young drove a dog team to Council, some 85 miles northeast of Nome, where he labored for six months planting the seeds for a new church. By June he was back in Nome, where a new influx of miners had arrived, and with them, epidemics of smallpox and German measles.

With disease, devastating fire and severe storms would challenge the people of Nome in its early years, and the gold rush itself was played out by 1903. Twenty years after the population boom of 1900, the numbers had dwindled to 852. Regional gold mining continued in the decades that followed, especially through dredge operations, which eventually ended by 1962. In the 20th century, at least 3.6 million ounces of gold were drawn from the beaches and goldfields of Nome.

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Gallery of Images
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A severe storm battered the coast of the Seward Peninsula in August 1900
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Nome beach scene west of town
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A collection of various-sized nuggets and gold dust
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This nugget was valued at $1,552.00
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Enormous nugget found by Pioneering Mining Company
Click here for all 15 photos in this gallery.

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