Thu, October 10, 2013

Looking Back: The 1900 Nome Gold Rush

By Laura Samuelson, Director, Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum
We continue our look back at the 1900 Nome Gold Rush with more perspective from Wilfred A. McDaniel Sr. Here again are more excerpts from “Alaska Beckons” written by Wilfred in 1943. His love of Nome is quite evident in that his experiences in this wild land are still fresh in his mind four decades later. At the end of last week’s passage, Wilfred noted that “Alaska has her joking moods too, as we were soon to experience!” Well, let’s just see what he meant by that statement!
By Wilfred A. McDaniel Sr.
October came at last, two weeks more of work—three at the most—and the season would end. Short, sunny days favored us as we strove to utilize the precious time. During the changing season, schools of porpoises and white whales were frequently seen off shore, and flocks of screaming gulls hovered over the sea, near shore or rested on the beach.

JAMMIN’ TIL THE END – “October came at last, two weeks more of work—three
at the most—and the season would end.  Short, sunny days favored us as we
strove to utilize the precious time.” Photo by Wilfred McDaniel from the
Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum Archives

While using the sluice fork in the boxes, throwing out the heavy stones, which had accumulated during the sluicing, I was surprised to throw out a tomcod! Soon more appeared, some in fragments, cut up in the pump runner, others intact! I called to Ed, “Here’s where we have a fish dinner!” The astonished workmen peered into the sluice-boxes while fish continued to come from the pump, some flopping over the riffles, others not so fortunate! The tomcod season was on!
This latest prank of nature was, indeed, serious. The water supply was lessened and work stopped while the pump was opened and cleaned. The openings in the pump propeller would become choked by the fish, cutting off the water supply, and making it necessary to stop the engine and clear away the mess, resulting in a great loss of time. At times we were compelled to quit work entirely, as nothing could be accomplished! In an effort to prevent the fish from being drawn into the pump, a coarse screen was placed over the in-take at the submerged end of the suction pipe. This kept the tomcod out, but it soon collected a coating of sea moss, which eventually shut off the water, and merely shifted the problem.

IT IS STILL STANDING! – This is the Crowley fuel office that remains in use today
at West E and Lomen Streets in Nome. The lower buildings are on River Street.
The one story cottage building is also remembered as the office of the Lomen
Commercial Company and later the Arctic Lighterage Company. It was built in
1906 as the residence of Alfred Guinan, manager of the Hot Air Mining Co.,
which operated near Glacier Creek. Photo by Wilfred McDaniel from the
Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum Archives

The tomcod of these northern waters grow to a length of ten or fourteen inches, and in the late fall move in close to shore, in schools of countless numbers, where they remain for many months. When the arctic pack drifts in and the sea is ice-covered, they stay in the shallow water, close to shore where many are caught during the winter. Holes are cut through the thinner ice, and fishing is done by snagging them on a triple hook attached with line to a short stick. No bait is necessary, a red rag tied above the hook is sufficient to attract them.
When the flocks of seagulls move up the coast, indicating that the schools of tomcod were also moving on, work would be resumed. This condition continued to be, more or less, a problem for the remainder of the season.
Continued in the week of October 14.