X. NOME AND THE SEWARD PENINSULA (Historic Information)

With the word Nome nearly every American associates the idea of gold, Alaskan gold. In this the people are right, for the gold production of Seward Peninsula, the general name given to the Nome region, aggregated to 1908 the enormous sum of $50,000,000, a materially larger output than any other Alaskan district has yielded. Moreover, it is of interest that the earliest discoveries in Council district, on Ophir Creek, and in Nome, on Anvil Creek, yet hold their own as the largest producers. Indeed, they have yielded three-fourths of the gold values of Seward Peninsula as shown by the outputs of three years, 1902-1904, $13,425,000, of which nearly sixty per cent, came from the Nome district and nineteen per cent, from Council.

The details connected with the increase of the gold output from $75,000 in 1898, to $2,800,000 the following year, and the growth in a single season of a mining camp of a few score men into a mushroom town of 18,000 or more, are not parts of this book, though the author was a Nome visitor in the fateful year of 1900.

Indeed, it would take volumes to tell the story, with its countless incidents whose true and graphic portrayal would exceed in thrilling interest the wildest romance of the age. Among these were the scheme of late comers to overthrow by vote in mass-meeting all claims located by their fortunate predecessors; the active jumping of claims, the disputing of locations, the despair of thousands of hungry, disappointed men; the epidemic of typhoid; the home shipment of indigents, the impracticable mining machinery, the speculative schemes, the gold-brick mining companies, the camp dissipations, the displacement of the natives, the astounding discovery of the golden sands of the beach, the judicial system of receiverships with consequent ejectment of original owners and of their machinery from fabulously rich claims. These and more are parts of a history alternately comic and tragic, corrupt and straightforward, generous and hateful, disorderly and law-abiding. The sterling qualities of the American miner were never displayed to greater advantage than in the development and transition of Nome into a successful and permanent mining district, with so little of cruelty, dishonesty, and crime, at a minimum cost of human life and suffering.

PLACER MINING

Seward Peninsula is especially a region of placer mining, though the successful auriferous lode mining on Solomon River since 1903, and other favorable locations, points to successful lode exploitation on a large scale. Many think that Seward Peninsula is gold bearing through its entire extent, not realizing that its area is about 22,700 square miles larger than the combined extent of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. It is already known that the area of auriferous gravels in the peninsula includes at least 210 square miles, equal to the entire placers of California. Of this immense Alaskan gold-bearing area only a small part has been thoroughly exploited, so that its gold possibilities must be enormously great.

From 1901 to 1905 inclusive, the total productivity of Seward Peninsula amounted to $22,555,000, distributed as follows: Winter drift, $2,050,000j Nome precinct, $13,620,000, Council precinct, $4,100,000, Kougarok, $640,000, Fairhaven, $825,000, all othci mines, $1,120,000. The very rich placers found on the so-called third beach line raised the yield of 1906 to $7,500,000, and $7,000,000 in 1907. Their partial exhaustion caused the Seward production to fall to $5,100,000 in 1908.

Brooks on the subject of permanent development remarks .

The first years were given to skimming the cream from some of the richest creeks. Such operations have been of little permanent benefit to the district. No placer camp whose output is derived solely from bonanzas ever has had or can have a long successful history.

Far-sighted and experienced men realized that, by the installation of proper equipment, a reduction of costs was possible, which would make available for mining the large deposits of auriferous gravels carrying lower values.

Brooks estimates the total productivity at values ranging from $250,000,000 to $325,000,000 for the placer mines only, and that the process of production will, at the present rate, last from twenty-five to forty years. Summing up, he writes:

These speculations as to the life of the placers of Seward Peninsula are too indefinite to have much value, but they suggest at least that the gold production will probably increase rather slowly and that the outlook is favorable for a long period of rather uniform output.

Methods and conditions have radically changed since the pioneer days of 1899. Instead of earning from $1 to $1.50 per hour for work with pick and shovel, men are now content with $5 to S6 per day and board. Coastal freight has been reduced from about $20 per ton each hundred miles to half that amount, and overland transportation has fallen from a cent a pound per mile to one-third that amount under favorable conditions. "With increasing mileage of railways freight runs from $2 to $3 per ton each mile, and is sometimes even less.

All placers are not rich and the gold is usually fine, though nuggets are occasionally found the largest, weighing 182 ounces, valued at $3,285, being from Anvil Creek.

Under sluice-box and shovel methods, ground producing less than $1 per cubic foot could not be profitably worked. In consequence modern methods have introduced the dredge, scrapers, steam shovels, grizzlies, steam thawers, hydraulic elevators, and pumping plants. By such appliances ground producing 25 cents per cubic foot can be worked, if in quantities.

The gold-bearing area of Seward Peninsula is divided into five principal mining districts: Nome, Council, Fairhaven, Kougarok, and Port Clarence, shown by the accompanying map.

Nome District Nome City is the commercial centre of Nome district, which includes the southwestern part of the peninsula.

MAP NO. 2 MINING PRECINCTS OF SEWARD PENINSULA

The most astonishing yield of this region was from the ruby beach sands, which in two years produced gold to the value of $2,000,000. The richest placers have been those of Anvil Creek, which, yet productive, had an output of more than $6,000,000 up to 1905. Of this more than $1,000,000 came from an area one-tenth of a mile square. Very rich placers were found on the three beach lines, two ancient beaches being far from the sea, each producing several millions of dollars. These deposits have been worked as to their richest ground, but with more economical methods both the beach sands and the beach lines will yet yield largely when again worked over.

Council District

The Council district, including the southeastern part of the peninsula, centres in Council, which is reached by rail and road. The railroad from Solomon (Dickson) extends to Penelope Creek, distant about thirty miles from Council, on the Niukluk River. While Nome is in untimbered country, Council is in a region of spruce forests. The richest placers are those of Ophir Creek, to the north, which are reached by the Wild Goose Railway, seven miles in length. With its tributaries, the Ophir has yielded nearly $5,000,000 of gold. The Council district stands second to Nome only in its aggregate output, but in 1908, owing partly to lack of water and partly through exhaustion of certain placers, it fell to the third place in annual productivity, Fairhaven taking the second place.

Council City is a thriving place of nearly 600 inhabitants, with schools, two churches, stores, etc.

The most successful lode mine in northern Alaska is in this district, the Big Hurrah, on a creek of that name. It produces a free-milling ore of paying quality, operates 20 stamps, puts out some 70 tons of ore a day, and has been developed to the depth of 200 feet with ore still in sight. Its productivity has been temporarily stopped owing to legal complications regarding it.

The Omilak silver mine on Fish River proves the existence of paying ore with its output, which is claimed to be over $100,000 to 1908.

Port Clarence District

Port Clarence district, the largest in area, includes the northwestern peninsula. The only deep-water harbor of Seward Peninsula is at Teller, the commercial centre of the district, where the first reindeer station was established. The principal gold-producing placers are on Bering and Bluestone Creeks and Gold Run, with their tributaries.

To many this district is known through the tin mines of Cape York and Lost River. The developments of the tin lodes and placers are generally in the prospecting stage. Lost River is the only lode that has uncovered any considerable tonnage of ore. The greater part of Alaskan tin, which to 1908 scarcely exceeded $100,000 in value, has so far come from the placers of Bush Creek. While a small output of tin ore still continues and the prospects are promising as to quality and quantity, yet the decreased price of tin retards developments until higher prices or more economic methods of working obtain.

Kougarok District

The Kougarok, the great interior district east of Port Clarence, has steadily increased in importance, its initial output of $50,000 in 1900 rising steadily each year to $200,000 in 1905, and probably $700,000 in 1907. Igloo, called locally Mary's Igloo, is the commercial centre of the district, which covers the watershed of the Kougarok and its tributaries, of which Dahl Creek is the richest. Boats from Port Clarence are able to ascend Mary River to Davidson, which point can be reached by rail from Nome as far as the Kuzitrin River.

Fairhaven District

Fairhaven district, with an area of 7,500 square miles, lies to the south of Kotzebue Sound, along which it extends from Goodhope Bay to the east about 150 miles. It is reached via Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean during the short open season, from the middle of July to early October. Distant 150 miles from Nome, it is also attainable by long, costly travel and freight overland from the end of the railways. The output of the district to 1904 was $700,000. High freight, costly fuel, short season, and scant water have made it unprofitable to work any but the richest ground. The production has, however, steadily increased, and in 1908 amounted to about $750,000, being second only to Nome in its yield. There are three centres of production on the Inmachuk, of which Deering is the commercial centre, and on the Kiwalik, where the Candle Creek placers and the town of Candle are well known. A third promising region has been lately developed on Goodhope River farther to the west.

In late years there have been material changes to the benefit of the district as a whole. Bench gravels are being worked, the lignitic coal deposits have proved to be most valuable for fuel, while the introduction of water from Lake Imuruk into the placers of the Inmachuck has added materially to the output. Systematic and careful examination of the Fairhaven country is in progress, and its further successful development appears most probable. The most important project at present is the utilization of the lignitic coals of Chicago Creek, Kugruk River, with a view of furnishing cheap power for pumping water ard other opeiations of placer mining. At present there is no such installation anywhere on Seward Peninsula.

The Goodhope precinct includes the northwest peninsula to the west of Goodhope Bay. Reached only by small boats from Shishmaref Inlet or by long overland travel from the Kougarok, its difficulty of access and high cost of supplies forbid the exploitation of any but very rich claims. Developments so far have been in the watershed of the Serpentine River.

The Koyuk precinct, to the extreme southeast, is in the prospecting stage, copper lodes on the upper Koyuk being unfavorably located for economical development under existing conditions.

Mining Ditches

Adverse conditions attendant on small rainfall, ranging from 15 to 30 inches annually in various parts of Seward Peninsula, soon made evident the necessity of ditches to obtain water for sluicing and other mining operations. To remedy matters there have been built a large number of ditches, which have proved of great benefit, though some were injudiciously located and expensively constructed. Several millions of dollars have been invested in these enterprises, which number several score, great and small. The most expensive and extensive ditches are as follows: The Wild Goose Ditch, with pipe lines, 91 miles, delivers Pargon River water on Ophir Creek. It is the largest ditch, carries boats of size, is 10 feet wide, 3.17-foot grade per mile, has 13,000 feet fluming, and delivers 6,000 miner's inches of water. Bonanza-California, 50 miles, delivers 4,500 inches. Miocene, with branches 68 miles: it delivers 3,000 miner's inches of water, carrying it through a tunnel 1,835 feet long, and through two inverted siphons of 40-inch pipe. Fairhaven, 40 miles. Pioneer, 38 miles, 4,000 inches. Flambeau River, 29 miles, 4,000 inches. Candle, 34 miles. Cedric, 19 miles, 2,700 inches carried at an elevation of 870 feet, the highest on the peninsula.

Up to 1904 the ditches had cost nearly $2,000,000, and there were in operation 175 miles, probably 300 at present. These ditches are in active use a little over three months annually, opening on the average about June 26 and closing about October 5.

COAL FIELDS

The coal beds of Seward Peninsula, though in workable quantities in several localities, have not such quality as to displace imported coal. The local beds have been pecuniarily valuable only in the Fairhaven district, where the Kugrug lignites have become an important factor in placer mining. This coal is lignitic, is frozen solid, checks and crumbles on exposure ; however, it burns readily, leaves little ash, and has a fuel value of one-half that of Wellington coal. To the north the well-known beds near Cape Lisburne are of local importance only, while the extensive deposits of Colville River are of doubtful economic value. With Europe exploiting the coal beds of Spitzbergen there is, however, the possibility that later the deposits of extreme northern Alaska may supplement the southern Alaskan coal fields, now being developed on Controller Bay and Mantanuska River.

In the eastern part of Seward Peninsula there is a scattering growth of spruce, the largest trees not exceeding 16 inches in diameter and 50 feet in height. However, the steam saw-mill at Council has been able to meet local demands and compete with imported lumber.

Among the unexploited fuel resources of Seward Peninsula, as indeed of Alaska in general, may be mentioned peat, which is available in the tundra regions in enormous quantities. As yet either wood or coal is the more economical fuel, but, with increasing demands for fuel and a steady decrease in the supply of wood, the development of a peat industry is not improbable in northern Alaska.

OUTPUT AND SOURCE OF COAL

Mr. A. H. Brooks estimates the value of the placer-gold production of Seward Peninsula as follows: 1898, $75,000, 1899, $2,800,000, 1900, $4,750,000, 1901, $4,130,000, 1902, $4,561,800, 1903, $4,465,600, 1904, $4,164,600, 1905, $4,800,000, 1906, $7,500,000, 1907, about $7,000,000, 1908, about $5,000,000. On the source of the gold, Mr. P. H. Moffit says:

It is of local origin and is a concentration from the original supply widely disseminated in small quartz veins and stringers and impregnable zones of the bed rock. This is shown by both the character and the occurrence of the gold itself. The gold in nearly every case has travelled but a relatively short distance from its original source.

Mr. A. H. Brooks says.

The chief reason why more rich veins are not found in the region is because much of the gold was widely disseminated in small quartz stringers and in impregnable zones of the bed rock. It is not derived from a mother lode, but in the course of the destruction of the bed rock the gold thus widely disseminated in small veins was concentrated in sands and gravels.

RAILWAYS

The several railways have contributed very materially to the development of the mineral resources of the peninsula; indeed much work would have been impracticable without them. In not very recent days, not only were freight rates exceedingly high from half a cent upward per pound for each mile across tundra country but transportation was strictly limited and often unattainable at any price. Mr. Brooks estimated that in 1903 the cost of summer overland transportation ranged from $10 to $16 per ton per mile, and the cost of water transportation between coastal points from 70 cents to $1.50 per ton per mile, including the embarking and disembarking. These prices have been (1908) somewhat lowered, yet they are still prohibitive to mining anything but high-grade placers.

The principal railway has its initial point at Nome, where almost all foreign freight for the peninsula is landed. The railway runs north through the valley of Nome River, crosses to the headwaters of the Kruzgamepa, and ends at Lanes Landing on the Kuzitrin. From the northern terminal, Dahl Creek and the Kougarok region are easily reached by trail to the north, while Teller is attainable by boat to the west.

From Dickson (Solomon), about 50 miles east of Nome, a railway runs north through Solomon Valley and, crossing the divide, terminates at Penelope Creek, whence Council is reached by road down the valleys of the Casadegapa and Niukluk. Council itself is in direct communication with the great Ophir placers by the Wild Goose Railroad, 7 miles long.

NOME CITY

There is not much to be said of Nome City beyond the statement that it has all the modern comforts and most of the luxuries for physical well-being, with amusements and social pleasures pertaining to a wealthy, intelligent community. Springing into existence as a city of 18,000, it now numbers about 4,000 in winter and double that number of inhabitants when the arctic sun of June gives it the glory of continuous daylight. It is the commercial, judicial, and educational centre of Nome Peninsula. In summer it is eight days from Seattle by semi-weekly steamers, and in winter from thirty to forty days, through steamer, sleigh, and sledge, via Valdez, Fairbanks, and Fort Gibbon. Churches, schools, societies all are as good as gold can command and good fellowship produce.

There are churches, libraries, banks, assay offices, clubs, electric light, theatres, hot-houses, etc. Nome is in communication by land lines, wireless, and cable with Seattle, and by long-distance telephone over a system of several hundred miles with Teller on Bering Strait, Kougarok, Council, and other towns. Railways run summer and winter, supplemented by stage, horse, or even automobile transportation to more remote points. There are excellent schools with over 200 pupils, while three newspapers are filled with local and foreign news. Life is intense in its business activities during the two or three summer months when stars are never visible. With the approach of winter several thousands go "outside," while the remaining "sourdoughs" settle down to a restful life of sociability and pleasure. The theatres, dancing clubs, ski parties, and other social amusements brighten the long arctic semidarkness for the town residents.

Winter freighting proceeds across the frozen tundra, the best time for handling much of the summer freight from Seattle, which aggregates about 100,000 tons yearly. Illustrative of the amount of business done is the fact that at Nome a lumber firm usually has about 5,000,000 feet of stock on hand, all imported from Puget Sound.

How Nome is Reached

There is frequent steamer service between Seattle and Nome, the first boat reaching Nome, in a voyage from eight to ten days, about June 15, and the last boat leaving there about October 15. The distance is about 2,741 miles. The approximate fares are $75 to $100 for first-class and $35 for steerage. Travel in and out for the rest of the year is overland by dog sled to Fort Gibbon and thence by stage to Fairbanks and Valdez, with which port there is weekly winter service by Seattle steamers. The through fare ranges between $500 and $800, according to accommodations, and the time is from thirty to forty-five days. Summer communication from Nome with the Yukon and Tanana Valley is via St. Michael, 115 miles distant, from which point boats run irregularly up the Yukon, leaving from June 20 to September 20, and arriving from June 10 to September 30.

Back to Table of Contents