This past week the Gold Dredge Fleet were in the water and on the hunt for that shiny yellow stuff. If you’ve been following us or Emily Riedel over on social media, you already know the Eroica is in the water after some major projects and improvements. While the dredges and equipment continue to evolve, our miners still face their own issues and a few that go back to the first miners during the original Nome Gold Rush in 1898, like getting supplies and the high cost of everything. But some problems were unique to those pioneers that helped shaped the Nome we know today.
Some of the issues the miners of today don’t have to contend with was the extremely overcrowded beaches and only some miners today have to sleep in tents. Before the full crush of the crowds to come, miners in 1899 were already staking spots on the beach as most of the best gold rich inland ground had already been claimed.
The Nome Gold Rush lasted from 1899 – 1909 though the most gold rich land had already been claimed by 1900. When gold was discovered on the beach, it brought even more people to the area since the beaches couldn’t be claimed, which meant anyone could mine them.
As the Klondike Gold Rush was winding down, many of the miners heard about the gold found in Nome and headed straight to the gold rich beaches hoping for another chance to strike it rich.
As more miners, hopefuls and opportunists showed up in Nome in the summer of 1899, the beaches became filled with supplies, building materials and tents. It was a breeding ground for thieves to help themselves to whatever they could in the confusion. During the height of the Nome Gold Rush it was estimated that there were over 20,000 people living in and around Nome in 1902.
The streets of Nome where densely packed by the summer of 1900 as more people flocked to the Bering Sea Coast in hopes of making it rich either by mining the land or mining the miners with dozens of businesses popping up overnight.
The mining pioneers brought ingenuity to capture the gold from the sand on the beaches of Nome. Some methods worked better than others while other methods are still used to this day with some updates as technology changed. They used a variety of ways to fill their pockets with that shiny G from the most basic of hand panning to much more elaborate dredges.
Rockers were very common on the beaches and along the creeks and rivers around Nome as the were fairly easy to make and portable.
This highbanker being used in 1898 is still very close to the same design that beach miners use today in Nome, Alaska.
Mining along the creeks and riverbanks required more elaborate methods but with bigger pay offs as the gold flakes and nuggets were generally bigger and more plentiful.
The richest deposits where at Anvil Creek owned by the The Pioneer Mining Company, founded by the Three Lucky Swedes who were credited with being the first to find gold in Nome on April 23rd, 1898.
One of the first “mega” dredges was the bucket dredge, the Wisconsin, that mined the Snake River in 1901.
Working on the Bering Sea was a lot different from what most seasoned miners were used to due to it’s rough seas, currents and sudden shifts in weather. These factors along with simply bad ideas lead to some interesting, yet ultimately, failed experiments in gold dredging.
Many of the dredges were not designed to withstand the power and conditions of the Bering Sea. Many of these first time dredgers could have used a guide like Emily Riedel’s on the biggest mistakes new gold dredgers make.
The Bering Sea wasn’t the only place potential miners where trying out new ideas. Like today’s submersible dredge, it wasn’t uncommon to see new and outlandish ideas put to the test around Nome, like this monstrosity that roamed the beaches in 1899.
Some ideas where ahead of their time, like Captain Henry S. Finch, Sr and his son, Captain Henry S Finch, Jr, dredge under the ice on the Bering Sea in the winter of 1904. They only ice mined the one winter, because as we all know, ice mining sucks.
Overall, though, it was the tried and true methods that produced the most gold, especially in places like Anvil Creek, pictured above.
Large gold nuggets where being found in and around Anvil Creek, the Snake River and Dexter Creek. This one was found just below Anvil Creek in 1899 by the Pioneer Mining Company.
It was those methods that produced a staggering amount of gold in the first shipment from Nome, Alaska to Seattle, Washington in 1899.
The first few years saw an explosion of people flock to Nome with over 30 miles of tents stretched along the beaches at one point. This was the view in 1900 from east of the cemetery pictured above and west of the cemetery pictured below.
While it had growing pains as most boom-towns did, the biggest conspiracy was yet to come. The amount of gold coming out of Nome drew a lot of attention, eventually reaching a North Dakota political powerhouse, with a lot of connections and unscrupulous morals. Alexander McKenzie would turn Nome upside down and tie up the most lucrative claims in court battles and mob justice. More on that in Part 2 of the History of the Nome Gold Rush.
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