Certain threads have been woven into the history of Alaska since the first appearance of Whites,
hundreds of years ago. These include the search for wealth, the role of the military as a governing
body, a mobile and changing population, interaction with Native peoples, a boom-and-bust economy,
and a free-wheeling attitude on the part of many who came from elsewhere.
Gold was found in
the 1880s in Southeast Alaska. By the 1890s, the Treadwell Mine in Douglas, outside Juneau, operated
the largest gold mill in the world. In 1896, gold was discovered in the Klondike River region of northwestern Canada. When word leaked out early the next year, an estimated 100,000 fortune seekers set out to claim their share. About 40,000 made it to Dawson, and half of those arrived too late even to look for gold.
Attention turned to Alaska. Many gold seekers followed rumors of rich strikes from one camp to the next.
On April 23, 1898, gold was discovered on Ophir and Melsing Creeks, on the Seward Peninsula. In September, the 3 Lucky Swedes found color on Anvil Creek, about 80 miles east, near present-day Nome. Miners moved in, formed mining districts and companies, and set about making their fortunes. Payoff was good but not spectacular. A lot of backbreaking labor went into the work of turning over the earth and extracting the yellow metal.
John Hummel from Idaho, unable to make it to the creeks because of scurvy, was one of the first miners to prospect the Nome beach. He found good color that yielded a fair return. He went to work with a rocker and took out $1,200 in twenty days.
When word got out, the largest gold rush in the history of Alaska was on.
A major factor in the rush was the easy accessibility of Nome one could board a ship in Seattle or San Francisco and disembark right in the gold fields. Instead of traveling over hundreds of miles of rough trail, sleeping in tents and carrying supplies for a year, the rusher could sleep in a stateroom and eat in a ship's mess. The distance is about 2,700 miles and the trip took about ten days.
At the peak of the summer of 1900, there were 30,000 people in Nome. They created a temporary city where there had been nothing - the world's biggest seaport without a harbor. More than half left within 13 weeks.
Walter P. Butler, and his brother William, businessmen, made two trips to Alaska in 1900 and 1901. This album documents their adventures and offers a fascinating glimpse into a world in which fortune seekers washed up on beaches where the sand itself was golden.