Tue, October 01, 2013

Looking Back: The 1900 Nome Gold Rush

By Laura Samuelson, Director, Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum, Nome, Alaska
In an attempt to reincarnate the spirit of the 1900 Nome Gold Rush, the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum presents “The 1900 Diary of Wilfred A. McDaniel.” Excerpts from Wilfred’s October 1900 passages will appear this month here on “49 History” – the blog of the Alaska Historical Society.

Diarist Wilfred A. McDaniel

Wilfred McDaniel was 25 years old when he first landed at Nome in June 1900 in the midst of the largest gold rush in Alaska. Wilfred was a gifted photographer, writer, artist, poet and an amateur dentist. During the eight years he lived in Nome he lugged his 20-pound Kodak camera from town to beach claim through rugged creeks and mosquito infested tundra, during powerful Bering Sea storms and furious blizzards. All the while he wrote descriptive letters to his parents in California and maintained a diary covering almost every day he lived on the coast west of Nome.
The result of this determined perseverance is the documentation of the lives of successful beach miners in the Nome gold rush era as well as an insight into the Eskimo people who lived at the Penny, Cripple and Sinuk Rivers at that time. Wilfred died at the age of 80 in 1954, however his thoughts, memories and love of Nome are preserved forever as his legacy in the “McDaniel Family Collection” now owned by and on exhibit at Nome’s Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum.
This diary was painstakingly transcribed and proofed by museum staff from the original three by five inch journal book kept in Wilfred’s pocket throughout the summer of 1900. The spelling errors are all his!
LIFE IS A BEACH – 1900 miner Ed McDaniel enjoys
a rare moment of peace AND quiet in front of his
driftwood cabin home five miles from Nome.
Photo by Wilfred McDaniel from the Carrie M. McLain
Memorial Museum Archives
In 1898, the Three Lucky Swedes discovered gold at Anvil Creek. Over the next winter, miners left the Canadian Klondike and streamed into this area mushing dog teams, walking and even riding bikes down the frozen Yukon River to the Bering Sea. By the summer of 1899 all the creeks had been staked. In late July 1899, when we were called Anvil City, there were hundreds of frustrated miners with no ground to dig. As luck would have it, as the story goes, one of the soldiers who was here to help keep the peace ran his hand through the beach sands and found GOLD! There was gold on the beach!
In his September diary, Wilfred concluded his eye witness account of the treacherous and unpredicted Bering Sea storm of September 9 and 10, 1900, which devastated Nome. This week, armed with the essential gold miner’s trait of optimism, the McDaniel brothers make an asset out of the torrential rains.
By Wilfred A. McDaniel Sr.
Following the destructive period of the September 9th and 10th storm, heavy rains fell, and the rough sea prevented any reconstructive work to be started. High tides still prevailed, and this condition would have made impossible any attempt to mine the lower ground, had we been equipped to do so. The heavy rains created a considerable flow of water in many of the draws and gullies draining the tundra, affording an abundance of water for sluicing, during the run-off. This we decided to make use of, and by digging a system of ditches the water was concentrated. Sluice-boxes were set up on the upper part of the beach and work was resumed. While the pay was not as good in this portion of the beach, the fact that the water cost nothing partly off-set the difference, and furthermore, there was no loss of time which would have resulted, had we waited for fair weather in which to get engine and pump in operation. After a few days the rain gradually decreased, with a corresponding falling off in the water from the tundra, and after about ten days of sluicing we were forced to abandon the ditch supply, it becoming inadequate.

TURN BAD INTO GOOD – “The heavy rains created a considerable flow of water
in many of the draws and gullies draining the tundra, affording an abundance
of water for sluicing, during the run-off.” Photo by Wilfred McDaniel from the
Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum Archives

As September advanced, calm weather came, clear and colder, but promising a few weeks more of moderate weather, during what remained of the short open season.
The engine had received no damage. A thorough overhauling and cleaning to remove sand and grit, and it was soon put in running order. Pump foundations were leveled, suction pipe attached and sluicing soon went on as before. However, our troubles were not yet over. From all the varied difficulties experienced so far, nothing now seemed possible to happen which had not already occurred and which, in a measure, we were prepared for. But Alaska has her joking moods too, as we were soon to experience!
Check back the week of October 7 for more of the McDaniel diary.