From the Klondike to the Kougarok
By Carl L. Lokke (Volume XVI: Page 161)
Only a handful of participants in gold rushes strike it rich. In this respect the Klondike stampede of 1897-98 was no exception. For every Alexander McDonald and Conrad Dahl there were thousands of other Klondikers whose efforts brought them little or nothing. These men, driven in their defeat by the whiplash of necessity, solved their problem as a rule in one of two ways: they returned to the States, poorer and perhaps wiser, or, filled with fresh hopes, they headed for new gold fields. A considerable number went down the Yukon to Nome. Among them were several members of my grandfather's Klondike expedition. My grandfather, Lars Gunderson, went to Nome and beyond --- to the Kougarok --- accompanied by his son.
The fabulously rich claims on Anvil Creek near Nome were discovered by Scandinavians in September, 1898. In due course the news leaked out; it reached Dawson late in the following spring. But it seemed at first too good to be
true. "The majority of men," reported the Klondike Nugget on June 14, 1899, "looked upon it with some skepticism and many openly pronounced it a scheme of the transportation companies to cause a stampede and work up business for their boats." Nevertheless, we read further, "a crowd of men and women" boarded the steamer "Sovereign" on June 10 and headed down the river for Nome.
Others followed during the summer months.
Nor did the exodus from Dawson cease with the coming of winter. This was partly because, late in the summer of 1899, word of the astonishing discovery of gold on the Nome beach itself had excited people all over again. The file of the Klondike Nugget in the University of Washington library contains frequent mention of departures by dog team over the ice. One example is given here. On January 29, 1900, an "adventurous young woman," formerly of Eureka, California, started out for Nome "equipped with a complete outfit, a large basket sled and six dogs." Two men accompanied her. An ungallant Dawsonite offered to bet "all or any part of $500" that Mimosa Gates --- for that was her name --- would never reach Nome over the ice. She may not have done so. Certain it is, however, that she did get to Nome, for there in July she married Key Pittman, a rising young attorney and future chairman of the United States Senate's committee on foreign relations. Pittman had gone from Dawson to Nome in 1899.
Simultaneously with reporting departures down the river, the Dawson paper protested from time to time against them. It painted a dismal picture of conditions in the new camp on the shores of Norton Sound and pleaded the advantages of remaining in Dawson, at least until the opening of navigation.
Under the heading, "Nome Rush Off," the issue of
March 28 had this to say: "So far as known not a person has left Dawson for Nome since one week ago this morning, when a lone traveler with three little dogs about the size of house cats struck out down the river. The chances are ten to one that he will not get further than Fort Yukon over the ice, and probably not so far." In short, this paper in early 1900 took somewhat the same position with respect to Nome as the Minneapolis Journal in July, 1897, had taken concerning the Klondike.
The members of the Monitor Gold Mining and Trading Company, who had left Minneapolis for the Klondike in early 1898 under Gunderson's leadership, also paid some heed to the news about the Nome discoveries. Their labors in the Klondike had brought them scant success. But Frank G. Doll was the only one to respond to the siren call in June --- and he was back in Dawson by winter. The Monitors as a whole pursued a policy of watchful waiting. They showed no more desire to dash off to Nome in the summer of 1899 than they had shown in rushing to the Klondike two years earlier. To be sure, their reasons for restraint were different. In the summer of 1897 doubts about the richness of the Klondike were dispelled by the arrival of the "gold ships" on the west coast. But the Monitors then felt the need of making thorough preparations before starting out. In the summer of 1899 some doubt still prevailed as to the richness of the diggings on Seward Peninsula. The country itself was known to be barren in comparison with the Klondike; it lacked fuel. In mid-July Gunderson expressed his reservations about the reports from Nome and remarked that the only wood to be had there was small brush, such as was found in the mountains of Norway.
Apart from such considerations, the resources of the company were pretty well exhausted and Nome was practically 2,000 miles away. Had they wished to do so, the men could scarcely have afforded
to go to Nome in a body. Possibly, too, their natural caution and conservatism kept them in the upper Yukon for a while longer. After all, they had had their fingers burned in the fires of several abortive Klondike strikes.
The company disbanded in August with the expiration of the contracts. Each man was then free to go his own way --- to try his own luck, as the saying went. But no one was yet ready to try his luck in the new camp. Not until June, 1900, did five of the men, now become ex-Monitors, leave Dawson for Nome. They were Martin Clausen, Halvor Quam, Ole Sandheim, and the two Gundersons. With the exception of young Lars, these men had all come originally from Norway.
The diaries of Ole Wold and Clausen throw some light on the men's activities prior to their departure. When Wold and Morris Lee returned to the mouth of the Stewart in early October, 1899, following a hunting trip up the river, they found Gunderson there getting ready to open his roadhouse for the winter season. He had arrived the day before from Dawson with a stock of supplies. Gunderson was feeling "kind of happy now," wrote Wold, because he thought the outlook for business was bright.
The realization, however, seems not to have been happy. At all events, several weeks after the breakup of the Yukon, he and Lars succumbed to the pull of the magnet to the west. The latest date on which they are known to have been in Dawson was June 2, 1900. On that day one Captain Jack Crawford, probably the poet-author-scout, wrote his name and the date in Gunderson's notebook. Soon thereafter the Gundersons took a steamer down the river. In Nome they were joined by Gunderson's youngest son, Julius, who had just arrived from Minneapolis. By the end of June the three had begun to rock on the beach. They did not know it at the time, but among the thousands of other new arrivals was a future member of the family, K. L. Gravem, M.D., a young man
from California (originally from Sundalen, Norway). We will return to the three Gundersons later in this essay.
Clausen spent the winter working on Conrad Dahl's claim at No. 26 Bonanza. On February 4, 1900, he remarked in his diary on the "very nice weather" for that time of the year and the departure of "lots of people" for Nome. Three days later he described the movement as a "great stampede." Hundreds of people were leaving Dawson every week.
Dogs, he continued, were selling for as much as a hundred and twenty-five dollars each.
At the auction of the company's possessions the previous August, Clausen had bought a dog named Balder.
The demand for dogs in February soon produced a prospective buyer for this dog. As Clausen had no intention of making the long trip to Nome over the winter trail, he agreed to sell the animal. But Balder appears to have had no more stomach for the trip than his master-he could not be found, and the would-be buyer had to leave without him. This disappearance postponed the fulfillment of his destiny only a day or two. On the eleventh, N. F. Petersen, former Monitor, visited Clausen at 26 Bonanza for the express purpose of taking Balder to Dawson and selling him. The next day the "poor little dog," as his master described him, was hitched up with two other dogs belonging to a neighbor and driven down to Dawson. There he fetched a price of eighty dollars. Clausen closed this episode with the words, "A young lady who is going to Nome this month bought him, so goodbye Balder.
The weather had turned colder --- to 18 below zero.
Clausen did not mention Nome again for nearly three months. By that time he seems to have made up his mind to
make the trip down the river himself. On May 6 he recorded in his diary: "They get a terrible lot of gold here this year. They get a bucket full every other day now." This was fine for the owners, but the wage earners saw no change in their lot. In Clausen's entry the next day the demand for labor is mentioned and also the static wage scale, "but soon the river will open and people rush away to Nome, then --- yes then." Clausen had had enough of working on No. 26 Bonanza. As early as March 31, when signs of spring were appearing, he noted how tired they all were of the work.
The Yukon ice began to move on May 8. But Clausen was not ready to move, and it was too early anyway for steamers to venture forth. He worked on 26 Bonanza until May 28 at the usual wage of eight dollars a day. A few days later the river steamers were ready to make their first trips down to St. Michael. On Saturday, June 9, nearly four hundred passengers boarded the "John C. Bart" and the barge "New York" at Dawson. Among them were Clausen, Quam, and Sandheim. A large crowd gathered to see the boats pull away at five o'clock in the afternoon, and the Y. F. F. band played a few selections in honor of the departing Klondikers.
The above facts are taken from Clausen's reminiscences of his trip from Dawson to Nome. These reminiscences in themselves reflect a certain weariness. From the beginning of his Klondike expedition in January, 1898, to May, 1900, this man had faithfully made daily entries in his diary. His account of the trip to Nome, however, is a running discourse rather than a series of daffy entries, and the latter part was evidently written after Clausen took ship for the "outside" in the fall of 1900. It is nevertheless an invaluable source.
Clausen's trip to the Klondike in 1898 had not been smooth and uninterrupted. Neither was his trip away from the Klondike. At first all went well enough. A short stop was made at Forty Mile. As the steamer crossed the boundary
line between Canada and the United States (that is, between Yukon Territory and Alaska) below Forty Mile, the passengers "all joined in a hearty shout for the U.S." But trouble lay ahead. About 80 miles below Fort Yukon the "John C. Barr" struck a sand bar with such force that the passengers --- it must have been at night --- were nearly thrown out of their berths. This was disturbing enough, but worse was to come. It soon became known that the steamer was stuck firmly on the bar. There it lay for nine days, defying all efforts to get it off.
With the vision of the golden sands of Nome before them, the men aboard found it hard indeed to bear this delay. Their early start from Dawson had profited them nothing. Marooned on a sand bar, they were obliged to watch other boats pass that had left Dawson later --- the "Seattle No. 3," the "Florence S.," and finally the "Hannah." The last had left Dawson ten days after the "John C. Barr." To the men aboard the stranded vessel the appearance of the "Hannah" merely brought another disappointment. The officers had led them to believe that when this steamer arrived it would either pull their boat off the sand bar or take the passengers down to St. Michael. The "Hannah" did neither, and consequently "a very sour-looking crowd" watched it go by. Some passengers on the "John C. Barr" went so far as to talk of hanging the captain and the purser. Along with giving vent to their vexation, these unbridled souls perhaps hoped thus to celebrate their escape from the restraints imposed upon them in Dawson' by the Northwest Mounted Police.
Meanwhile most of the passengers were passing the time in more peaceful ways. They hunted, played cards, sang, and danced. Some read. In the evenings there were programs of music, songs, recitations, and the like. In time relief came --- in the form of a rise of water. In forty hours the "John C. Barr" again floated and was ready to continue its course down the river. The horses, baggage, and other
things that had been taken ashore were brought back aboard, together with a supply of wood. Then, to the joy of everyone, the steamer resumed the voyage.
At St. Michael the passengers transferred to other ships. Clausen took passage on the "San Jose." On Saturday, June 30, 1900, he and Quam and Sandheim landed on the Nome beach. It was a bright, sunny day.
But where to stay and what to eat? Luck was with these newcomers. They managed first to borrow a tent. After they had pitched it, their attention was soon attracted to a school of smelts that came close to the shore line right below the tent. Everybody waded out to get some. A number of prospectors used dip nets made of mosquito netting, while Clausen and his group, merely by using a kettle, got enough of this fine food fish to last them for several days. They then set out to get a better look at the beach and to see the town.
The sights along the beach probably caused Clausen no particular surprise, as he knew about what to expect. For miles the beach was filled with people searching for gold in various ways. "It seemed as if every foot of ground was taken," he wrote. A majority of the gold seekers were using rockers. Others contented themselves with the simplest device of the miner --- the pan. Those who generally did best, according to Clausen, had set up sluice boxes with pumps to bring water into them.
During their trip up the beach, Clausen and his group came upon Gunderson and his son
Lars, busy rocking. Work evidently stopped at once so that these ex-Monitors could hold a reunion over a cup of coffee. The Gundersons had been on the beach a week, having passed their visitors when the latter were stuck on the sand bar below Fort Yukon. They were making wages.
Having inspected the beach to their satisfaction --- or dissatisfaction --- these men then took a look at the town. It was swarming with people. "We had to elbow our way along the street," Clausen wrote, "the Jam of People was that great." They met a number of friends from Dawson, including some who had just come to Nome on the same steamer. A comparing of notes brought forth one dismal but undeniable fact --- all the good ground in the vicinity of Nome was taken. In the circumstances the only thing to do was to prospect in territory further afield. But this Clausen and his friends did not wish to do. Nor did they seemingly care to follow the example of the Gundersons and try their luck rocking on the free beach. Before deciding on a course of action, they went into a saloon to see what was going on. They saw plenty. Gambling, drinking, and dancing were in full swing. One wishes that Clausen had indicated how this saloon compared with those he had seen in Dawson. It amazed him still to observe how people could throw their money away at gaming tables. They were using twenty-dollar gold pieces as chips, playing roulette, faro, poker, craps, and other games. Among them flitted, "like Bees on a Blossom," a lot of girls in short, low-necked dresses. Another sight in town was the line of people standing in front of the post office, a block up from the main street, waiting for hours to get their mail. Thus had the ex-Klondikers awaited mail in Dawson.
Having seen the beach and the town, Clausen and his friends decided to visit the Anvil Creek mines owned by the Pioneer Mining Company. Next day, after an early breakfast of fried smelts, they started out over the tundra. It was hard going and the men did not reach No. 1 below
Discovery until about ten o'clock. There they received a warm welcome from Hans Walner, whom they had known in the Klondike. Walner was mine superintendent. Not only did he give his visitors a good dinner but he offered them jobs, to start right away if they liked. As they had no prospects of anything better, they accepted the offer.
Although Clausen implies that they began work at once (Monday, July 2), this seems not to have been the case. A tabulation of his work on Anvil Creek in the back of his booklet shows him starting work on Monday, July 16, and ending on Wednesday, August 22. He worked ten hours every day, Sundays included. The amount of the wages is not given. This record of employment is particularly interesting because of the time element. On July 24 the notorious Alexander McKenzie of North Dakota was appointed receiver for several of the most valuable Anvil Creek claims, including No. 1 below Discovery. He took possession of the claims that same night. This event appears to have made no impression on Clausen whatever. He does not mention McKenzie or the dispute over the ownership of the claims. Such matters he and his fellow workers seemingly left to others.
And yet Clausen's account of his sojourn at No. 1 below Discovery is not lacking in drama. The night shift had to work by strong lights. During the lunch hour the lights were turned off, leaving the sluice boxes in darkness. One night when the lights were turned on again earlier than usual, a man was seen robbing the sluice boxes. He took to his heels at once, followed by a shotgun volley. There was no telling how much gold he had taken. They saw him no more.
In due course Clausen was promoted to shift foreman. His work was less strenuous after that. But the terrible rains that came in August, 1900, made life hard for the men at the mines. Even with hip boots and oilskins they could not keep dry.
Naturally, the temptation to steal some of the gold was
not confined to the man seen robbing the sluice boxes. Nor was it confined to Alexander McKenzie. One morning as the night shift was going home a man came up to Clausen and put in his hand a nugget "as large as his fist," weighing 28 ounces. He said he found it in the cut where he was working. Clausen wanted to know why he had not given it to him sooner. The man explained that he had put it in his boot leg and forgotten it. The story strained Clausen's credulity. A nugget that size in a boot leg could hardly be forgotten, he thought. In his opinion, the man intended to keep the nugget but lost his nerve. The finder in consequence received no reward from Foreman Clausen.
While the ex-Monitors were working on Anvil Creek, word came that a couple of men had jumped the Pioneer Mining Company's claims on Glacier Creek.
Walner called for a dozen volunteers to chase the jumpers off. He wanted them to do this quietly and not to engage in any gunplay.
This mission did not appeal to Clausen and his group. But "a few adventuresome men" responded to the call. Upon reaching Glacier Creek they found the armed jumpers camped in a tent on a hillside. They took the jumpers' guns away from them, apparently without a struggle. They then told them to take their tent and go, which eventually they did. The interlopers apparently yielded to superior numbers. It was a time when claim owners put more confidence in force than in courts of law. After July 24, 1900, the members of the Pioneer Mining Company knew it would do them no good to appeal to the United States district court at Nome.
All the while Clausen and his friends did not forget their original purpose in coming to Seward Peninsula. This purpose, of course, was to make a rich strike in the new gold fields. They had taken jobs on Anvil Creek as a temporary expedient. In July they rejected the thought of trying their luck in the interior. A month later, however, the reports of new strikes in the Bluestone and Kougarok districts changed the minds of two of the men, Clausen and Sandheim. They determined to make a fresh prospecting venture.
The Bluestone River empties into an inlet of Port Clarence Bay, which lies midway between Nome and Cape Prince of Wales. Clausen and Sandheim made plans to go there by land, a distance of some 80 miles. Walner, Clausen wrote, became their "Silent Partner." They equipped themselves with an outfit consisting of grub, tent, pick and shovel, a 50-foot rope, two gold pans, a blanket (why not two?), and "plenty of matches." They even bought a small horse to serve as a pack animal. It was a bright, sunny day when they set out, apparently soon after August 22.
But once again fortune proved to be a fickle jade so far as these men were concerned. They reached their destination in due course and started prospecting. The results were negative. If there was any gold in the Bluestone, Clausen decided, the quantity must be small. The merciless
downfall of rain, making life in the open most uncomfortable, contributed to their determination to give up this prospecting venture as hopeless. On one occasion they had to work all night with wet shavings before they could start a fire and make coffee and pancakes.
They did not, however, return to Nome immediately. As their horse had grown thin from a sole diet of stunted grass, they decided to go first to the new and small but booming town of Teller and let the poor animal have some feed and rest for a couple of days. They doubtless needed a rest themselves. While in Teller they staked a town lot, and bought a ,new tent and put it on the lot. Possibly it was their intention to remain there for some time to await further word of the Bluestone and Kougarok strikes.
It is known that a number of other stampeders from the interior gathered in Teller at this time. Exhausted stragglers from the Kougarok arrived, confirming the news of the "very rich strikes" on its Garfield and Quartz creeks. Although Clausen must have noticed the bad condition of these men, he probably paid little attention to it. He was used to evidences of hardship. Moreover, he and Sandheim and their horse had just been through a good deal themselves. But another eyewitness; Tappan Adney, was shocked by what he saw in Teller in September, 1900. His comments are arresting because he was no stranger to the rigors of the trail. He had gone over Chilkoot Pass in 1897. Yet the appearance of the returned Kougarok stampeders moved Tappan to remark, "They were the most wretched-looking lot of men I ever saw --- unwashed, unshaven, hair uncut, covered with vermin, clothes dirty and ragged, toes out of shoes, soles worn through; I thought how few of those who might some day hear of the fortunes made by this or that man would be willing to face the hardships the whole appearance of these men plainly showed them to have endured."
A different sight caught Clausen's attention. One day a group of some fifteen King Island Eskimos in an Umiak landed on the beach below his and Sandheim's tent. They pulled the boat up on the beach, turned it over, and proceeded to keep house under it. Their "way of life," as we would now say, interested Clausen greatly. He noted that fish, fresh, smoked, or dried, formed their principal diet. Bread was baked in a gold pan. Like the prospectors, the Eskimos made pancakes at each meal. Clausen seems to have been most fascinated, however, in observing how the women carried their children. It has fascinated others as well. The Eskimo woman put the baby or young child into the wide neck of her "Fur or Skin Coat" (parka). There it was supported firmly by the belt around her waist-in Clausen's words, "snug as a Bug in the rug." If perchance the child sagged down below the belt, the mother bent low forward, gave a couple of jerks, and lo! there was the baby again. So far as the prospectors could see, the Eskimo women wore nothing but the parka.
But Clausen and Sandheim were not in Teller for the purpose of studying native customs. The dwindling of their sup. plies soon inexorably forced action. Seeing no prospects for themselves in the Port Clarence region, they loaded their horse with the remainder of their outfit and started back to Nome by way of the beach. It was a hard trip. At times they had to walk on the spongy tundra to get around a creek too deep to permit their wading across. The horse became exhausted before the men did. The only way they could move forward was for one to hold the last of their oatmeal in front of the hungry beast while the other pushed him from behind. Eventually they came to a roadhouse at the mouth of a river. A boat fetched the men across --- meanwhile the horse had to swim, as usual. With good food and a good night's sleep at the roadhouse, the prospectors were fortified to continue the trip to Nome.
When they arrived, a scene of desolation met their eyes.
The wind and rain Clausen and Sandheim had experienced while prospecting had not been confined to the Bluestone District. Simultaneously, a storm had struck Nome in full force, tossing boats up on the beach, smashing some (as in the case of the barge "Skookum"), and causing general destruction along the water front. "Thousands of people," reported the Nome Daily Chronicle on September 13, "were bereft of their small belongings and rendered homeless by the washing away of their tents and houses, and this extended many miles along the beach as well as far up the Snake river and Dry creek bottoms." Nor was this all. If Clausen and Sandheim read the Nome Daily News of September 18 they may have felt that the hardships of their trip by land from Teller were not so severe after all in comparison with those endured by the men aboard the schooner "Seven Sisters" on the way from Teller to Nome. This little vessel, stated the News, left Port Clarence Bay on the eleventh and ran directly into the gale that was sweeping the coast. For seven days it battled the elements. The man at the wheel had to be lashed fast most of the time in order to enable him to steer the boat. Thanks to the seamanship of captain and crew, the schooner finally reached port safely. One of the passengers, Charles Brown, was returning from the Bluestone District, where he had "several valuable interests, including a contest over No. 7 Gold Run." Despite his harrowing experience on the schooner, the most trying he had ever had in a not uneventful life, Brown expressed his enthusiasm over the mining outlook at the Bluestone District.
With Clausen and Sandheim it was otherwise. They were about fed up with Alaska. After viewing the ruins of Nome they went back to their friends on Anvil. There at least they could have a roof over their heads and something to eat. Fall was coming on rapidly. As the frost interfered with operations --- the water froze in the sluice boxes --- the mine was gradually shut down. The men were discharged one by
one, and most of them went "outside." After helping to put the mine in shape for the winter, Clausen and his friends followed the same course. They took passage on the steamer "Ohio," which sailed for Seattle on September 21. Clausen does not give the names of the friends who returned with him. They were probably Quam and Sandheim. These ex-Monitors soon settled in the new town of Everett, Washington. When my uncle Lars visited them there in June, 1902, Clausen and Quam were operating a tea and coffee business, and Sandheim was busy at his old trade of tailoring.
The three were examples of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of men who went from the Midwest to the Klondike or to Nome, or both, and on return to the States settled on the west coast. In the Puget Sound country the great pine forests and the snow-capped mountains must have reminded them many times of their native Norway.
We now return to the Gundersons. They appear to have rocked on the beach all summer. Just before the last boat sailed for Seattle, Gunderson wrote a letter to the Nome Weekly News, which it published in its issue for October 27, 1900. In this letter he praised the beach, while granting that its day was over.
"Last spring," he wrote, "it was said that there were really only a score of claims containing gold in paying quantities and that the beach was worked out. However, hundreds --- yes, thousands --- of men got out enough money on the beach to go 'outside,' or to buy winter supplies or provisions in order to stay here. There never was a day since May 1 that a man with a rocker could not go on the beach and make from $1 to $5 per day. But now the beach is so well worked out that no profitable diggings can be looked for on it in the near future."
This letter will
be considered again in connection with Gunderson's further comments on the general aspects of the gold rush.
There is no contemporary written record of the Gundersons' activities on the beach. Their private letters have vanished, and so have the details of their rocking experiences. But among the signal corps collection of photographs (No. 85800) in the National Archives there is preserved a picture of the three Gundersons and a fourth man, Charles Giddings, on the beach. Eric A. Hegg, the photographer, took it.
Hegg was the Matthew Brady of the Klondike gold rush. He followed the weary gold seekers and took pictures of them, as Brady followed the Union armies and took pictures. Ethel Anderson Becker has just published a new edition of Hegg's Klondike pictures. In her brief summary of his career, she mentions his going from the Klondike to Nome in 1900, still taking pictures.
My uncle Lars recalls that his father first knew Hegg in Cumberland, Wisconsin, when the young Swedish immigrant was making a start as a photographer. The elder Gunderson befriended and encouraged him. Their paths crossed again in the Klondike. Hegg once stopped with the Gundersons at Stewart River during the winter of 1899-1900. It was only natural, therefore, that when he came upon these old friends on the Nome beach he should take a picture of them and Giddings and their pump. The latter, built by my grandfather to pump water out of the pit where they were working, may have been the determining factor in causing Hegg to take the picture. It gave this mining scene a distinctive feature. The picture, it may be added, seems to have become well known, but without the names of the men or of
the photographer. It was reproduced in one of D. E. Griffith's articles on the Klondike gold rush, published in the Seattle Times, October 5, 1947. The caption under the picture there reads as follows: "Nome's beaches were scattered with gold seekers as a result of the stampede from the Klondike diggings. Here are some of the prospectors rocking for the precious 'dust.'" In 1949 a copy of the picture was placed, with others, in an exhibit at the National Archives celebrating the centenary of the department of the interior.
In this picture, taken on a sunny day, Gunderson stands in the left foreground beside a rocker. He is in his shirt sleeves and wears a cap and hip boots. When he left Minneapolis in January, 1898, he wore a heavy mustache; he has now added a short, dark beard shown in profile. With his left hand he is working his rocker and with his right he is holding a stick, on the end of which is fastened a small can for taking water from the pit to the rocker. In the center of the picture Lars kneels on one knee as he cleans the apron of his rocker. Behind him to the right stands Julius, turning the pump handle. Both the boys, clean-shaven, look incredibly young; Lars was twenty-one and Julius nineteen. By the lower, submerged end of the pump stands Giddings, bearded, carrying a pipe in his mouth and holding in one hand the handle of a pick or a shovel. He and Gunderson face to the right as if something has attracted their attention in that direction; the two boys have eyes only for their work. In the background, on the line between the beach and the tundra, are seen four tents, also a small boat and some driftwood scattered about. Back on the tundra, partly hidden from view by one of the tents, stands what appears to be a log cabin. If it is indeed a log cabin, it is of driftwood, as timber does not grow in that part of Seward Peninsula.
A word should be added about the pump in the picture. Gunderson, Lars writes, built it of two 1 by 12-inch boards
about 10 feet long, using two 1 by 4-inch boards of the same length for the sides of the box.
At the upper end of the box he placed a drum about 12 inches in diameter (with handles to turn it) and another at the lower end about 6 inches in diameter. Over the drums and connecting them was stretched a belt to which were fastened crosspieces of wood about 4 inches apart. The pump was operated as follows: A man turned the handle at the top drum (there was a handle on each side of the drum), causing the belt to travel down the upper side of the long box, enter the water, and go up inside the box, carrying water from the pit to the exit by the upper drum. According to my uncle, the pump operator had to hustle to keep the pit dry.
Gunderson and his sons seemingly, then, worked on the beach all summer --- through the July drought, the terrible August rains, and the even more terrible September storm (what became of the rockers, pump, and tent during the storm?) --- in short, long enough to know that the beach was worked out. Perhaps their gains, like those of others rocking on the beach that summer, averaged one dollar to five dollars a day. Modest as such gains were, they were greater than could be expected on the beach the following summer. Still the earnings of the Gundersons were insufficient, in their opinion, to warrant their going "outside" at the end of the season. They remained in the country, Julius to face his first winter in the Far North.
The real motive behind the decision to remain in the country was, of course, the hope and the belief that great gains were in the offing. It would be difficult to overemphasize the indirect but nonetheless powerful influence exerted on men of Scandinavian stock by the phenomenal success of other men of the same stock in the new country. If, for example, Lindblom, Lindeberg, and Brynteson could become co-owners of the rich discovery claim on Anvil Creek,
why should not the Gundersons become co-owners of a rich claim.
Why not, indeed? Certainly this possibility was vastly more alluring than the prospect of returning to the States with little to show for the years spent in the North.
Gunderson's October letter to the Weekly News reveals his outlook at this time. It appeared in the paper under the caption, "A Practical Miner's Talk." Gunderson began by pointing out, as others had done, the folly of those who participated in the Nome gold rush. "The big crowd that landed here last June, or a great majority thereof," he wrote, "might just as well have landed on a barren island in the mid-Pacific or at the north pole for all the effect it had, either on the crowd or on the Nome camp, for beneficial results." Most of these people were not miners. They "intended to go into some business or other to make money on the crowd" --- a purpose not unlike his own, Gunderson might have added, when he started out for the Klondike in 1898. The result was loss of time and money and a bad name for the country.
But what about the future of Seward Peninsula? Gunderson was unequivocal in stating his optimism concerning it. "This part of Alaska," he declared, "is a gold camp of greatness that will be more clearly demonstrated as the months and years roll. by. Strange as it may seem, very little prospecting has been done, except on the rich creeks, like Anvil, Dexter, Glacier and Snow creeks, but what little has been done has shown such phenomenal results as to open the eyes of the skeptics." He did not refer specifically to the August
strikes in the Bluestone and Kougarok districts. He evidently intended to cover them in this statement: "During the latter part of the season rich discoveries were made in the territory lying back of Port Clarence Bay, north and west of Nome. From indications so far found there can be no doubt but what an immense gold field has just been touched." The letter also mentions pay located on numerous creeks at the headquarters of the Snake and Nome rivers, and on the creeks between Golovin Bay and Nome. "In short," concluded Gunderson, "gold is found nearly all over."
This prospector made no effort to conceal the chief drawbacks of the country --- the lack of timber and the short season. One could count on a season of only three and a halt to four months. He refrained, however, from discussing directly another great drawback of the time --- the litigation over the Anvil Creek and other rich claims.
That subject was a nettle too prickly to grasp; Alexander McKenzie, the receiver of these claims, had been arrested and carried off to San Francisco only two weeks before. Rather than touch it, Gunderson merely proposed certain reforms in the Alaska mining laws with the view of curbing excessive staking and staking by power of attorney.
The claims should be limited to 500 feet in length and [there] should be compulsory assessment work, worth at least 30 days' labor, after 60 days, and the claim open for relocation in four or six months; that no person should be allowed to stake more than one or two claims in each mining division. I mean each water course; for instance, one on Snake river, one on Nome river, etc. After the locator is satisfied by reasonable test that
his claim is blank he should be allowed to relinquish it and have his rights restored. After a claim is duly recorded no person should be allowed to record the same ground until it is fully proven that the first or original staking was illegal or otherwise irregular. As it is now, all filings are accepted and recorded, and no matter how good and positive your title to a claim may be, any shark can come and stake, record and put the owner to the expense of defending it.
In this letter, which Gunderson expected to be printed in the last issue of the News to reach the "outside" that fall, he advised no one to come to Nome, lest he meet with disappointment. He had given the same advice with respect to the Klondike. The purpose, of course, was to discourage weaklings from starting north. It took "hardy people" to stand the life up there. "They must have patience and endurance,'' he continued, "be willing to suffer privations and hardships, and wait indefinitely until they find the 'pay-streak.'" His final word was, however, "But this I do believe, That people who have the stamina and grit to stay by it [Seward Peninsula] have greater opportunities here than any place I ever saw."
What specific opportunities did Gunderson see for himself and his sons in October, 1900? We do not know. Father and sons settled down in Nome for the winter to await the next season. Opportunity came before then in the form of an official appointment. On January 2, 1901, Judge Arthur H. Noyes, who had appointed McKenzie receiver of the Pioneer Mining Company's property, created the Kusatriem Mining District (formerly part of the Kougarok District) and appointed Gunderson United States commissioner and
recorder there. The new commissioner borrowed five hundred dollars from Jafet Lindeberg, president of the Pioneer Mining Company, doubtless for the purpose of outfitting himself properly.
Preparations for departure included having an official letterhead printed. Friends gave Gunderson a farewell party. He and his sons appear to have set out for the interior on Saturday, January 12.
It is easier to recount this series of events than to tell how it started. I have suggested elsewhere that the Gunderson appointment stemmed from the temporary, uneasy truce at that time between Judge Noyes and the clerk of his court, George V. Borehsenius.
This truce developed after the arrest and removal of Receiver McKenzie. Borehsenius, whose father was born in Denmark, had been opposed to the receiver and sympathetic toward the despoiled Scandinavian mine owners on Anvil Creek. His attitude won him harsh treatment from the judge. But when the arrest of the receiver on the order of the United States circuit court of appeals in San Francisco revealed the power and influence of the Scandinavian element, Noyes began to call a different tune. He even joined with Lindeberg and Borehsenius in financing a prospecting expedition (Lindeberg paid the judge's share). This expedition was probably sent to the new Kusatriem District.
Granting that Noyes wished to do something to win favor among the Scandinavians, how did his eye happen to fall upon Gunderson for appointment as commissioner? There is no light on this point. As a man who ever delighted in expanding his social and business connections, Gunderson became acquainted in Nome with others of Scandinavian
stock. He met Borchsenius. He also met G. J. Lomen, a Norwegian-American attorney from St. Paul and later district court judge in Nome. One or the other of these men may have introduced him to Judge Noyes. It is possible also that the judge and Gunderson struck up an acquaintance at some Minnesota function in the fall. Noyes, on his part, had probably heard of this ex-Klondiker before. He was living in Minneapolis when the departure of Gunderson's Klondike expedition attracted considerable attention in the newspapers, and he may have read the letter in the Nome Weekly News in which Gunderson pointed out the duty of a mining recorder not to record a claim previously recorded unless some irregularity in the original staking was proved The appointment of the author of this letter to the commissionership in the new Kusatriem Mining District promised to avert trouble in that quarter. Whatever his reasons, Noyes made the appointment.
Gunderson's friends naturally applauded his good fortune. To them it was more than a personal achievement for the ex-Klondiker; it was in a sense a vindication of that group of American citizens in Alaska who were not born in the United States. In order to show their satisfaction before the new commissioner left town, these friends decided to give a dinner in his honor. Some forty persons were present at this affair. It would be interesting to see a complete list of the guests. In the account of the dinner that appeared in the News on January 12, under the heading, "Judge Gunderson Banqueted," every name mentioned is Scandinavian. Was it a strictly Scandinavian affair? Had Judge Noyes been present, the fact would surely not have gone unnoticed. The account reads as follows:
A farewell banquet was given on Wednesday night [January 9] to Judge Gunderson, the newly appointed U.S. Commissioner and recorder for the Kusatriem District, at Mrs. Ingeborg Johnson's restaurant on Front Street. The dinner was a most elaborate one, embracing several courses. About forty guests were
present to do honor to Judge Gunderson, who commands the respect of all who know him. After the banquet the party adjourned to the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Hemen on Second Street, where an informal reception was held, interspersed with music, songs and speeches. When Mr. Gunderson arrived at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Hemen he was enthusiastically received. Attorney G. J. Lomen stepped forward and made a neat speech and on behalf of the party presented to Mr. Gunderson a gold pen. Among other things Mr. Lomen said: "We hope that the Kusatriem gold district may become as well known as Nome has been, and that Spooner, the name of your new town, will become as famous as the distinguished U.S. Senator for whom it has been named." This remark was heartily cheered. Mr. Gunderson accepted the congratulations and the present in a short but pointed speech. He was deeply moved by the tribute which had been paid to him. Then Geo. V. Borchsenius addressed the party and dancing commenced and kept everybody in high spirits until the early hours of the morning.
In all probability this banquet-reception was not a strictly Scandinavian affair. Ever since Gunderson arrived in this country in 1872, he had cultivated friendships among people of various backgrounds, including his own. In Nome, for example, he developed a cordial relationship with Major J. F. A. Strong, the editor of the News. Strong in consequence sang his praises as warmly as had Hans A. Foss, the Norwegian-born editor of Nye normanden, the Minneapolis paper. Gunderson and his sons made friends in the summer of 1900 with a young Englishman from Hastings named Joseph C. Vint. They later became partners in mining operations in the Kougarok. Strong and Vint may well have been invited to join the men of Scandinavian stock in honoring Gunderson.
The 100-mile trip over the Sawtooth Mountains to Spooner in the dead of winter was no pleasure jaunt. Probably few of those who attended the Gunderson banquet would have cared to make it. The News of January 12 reported "a rumor around town yesterday that three men had been frozen to death 40 miles from Mary's Igloo, Kougarok
district." But the new commissioner, filled with fresh hopes, evidently had more than his usual confidence in his ability to take care of himself in cold weather. In the present instance this confidence was warranted. He reached his headquarters at the juncture of the Noxapaga and Kusatriem rivers without mishap and opened the recording office in a tent. Business was good. By the end of May he could announce to the family, "I have made over $1,000 since I got the Office and there is more coming." About the same time he repaid the loan received from Lindeberg.
A number of Gunderson's letters, written from the interior of the peninsula in 1901 and 1902, are extant. Unfortunately, they include only two from Spooner. Both of these bear his letterhead and are dated May, 1901. The first, of May 9, is addressed to "Dear Carrie Ma & Boys" (my mother, grandmother, brother, and myself). Here we learn of his plans to bring the family to Alaska. He was sending five hundred dollars to Carrie through Clerk Borchsenius. They would get more later. He estimated the cost of first-class steamship tickets at seventy-five dollars each for the adults and half that for each of the boys-total, two hundred twenty-five dollars. By waiting until they reached Seattle (after July 1 ) to buy tickets, he pointed out, they could take advantage of the reduced rates. Gunderson also advised them as to choice of steamers. The "Ohio," the "Senator," the "Garonne," and the "Roanoke" were all good boats. He described the "Nome City" and the "Centennial," on the other hand, as undesirable, "but could do in a pinch." Nor did he neglect to urge the family when en route from Minneapolis to Seattle to take some dollar meals in the dining car --- "Don't faint."
In Seattle they were to stop at the Hotel Seattle. "If you should have to stop in Seattle for a week or more you might find a family place cheaper than the swell 'Seattle' but put up there first." For information about boat transportation
from Seattle to Nome the man to see was Mr. Levy of the firm of Cooper and Levy --- "where we bought our outfits." Here Gunderson was doubtless referring to the purchases made of Cooper and Levy by the Monitor Cold Mining and Trading Company in January, 1898.
It worried him to think that the family might arrive at Nome before word of their coming reached him in the interior. "Letters to Spooner may get hung up in the mourn rains between Nome and Spooner so we might not get such mail until after you arrive." But he had a solution for this problem. "If none of us are in Nome when you arrive hunt up Lawyer Lomen over Discovery Saloon near P.O." In fact, Gunderson requested the family specifically to write to this friend as soon as they knew their travel plans, also to call on Lomen's family (in St. Paul) before they left for the west coast.
No family would think of going to spend a winter in Alaska then or now without asking what to take along. Gunderson tried in his earlier letter to anticipate such questions --- there was indeed no time to wait for them. They should get plenty of good, warm clothing, yet not overburden themselves with such articles, because everything could be had in Nome practically at Seattle prices. By way of footwear, all four were to provide themselves with rubber boots for summer and felt shoes for winter. As for bedding, they needed to bring bedspreads, pillow slips, and sheets. "Lars and I have not seen a bed sheet for over 8 years." Four pillows were at hand, also dishes; bed springs and mattresses could be obtained up there. If the family had any light silverware, they should bring it along. The general tenor of Gunderson's suggestions was --- come with as little baggage as possible. He even went so far as to ask them not to "burden your trunks down" with albums and the like!
As it happened, the winter of 1900-01 in Seward Peninsula was a severe one. Spring came unusually late.
Gunderson may not have known when to expect it --- it was his first winter in Seward Peninsula --- for in his letter of May 25 he merely stated that winter was still with them. The snow was deep around their tent and the ice in the Kusatriem and Noxapaga rivers was "big and heavy enough" to support a team of horses. Yet he noted some signs of spring. Water was beginning to appear at the edges of the ice. And on the day he wrote, it was warm enough to permit him to sit in the tent and write without a fire in the stove.
In these letters Gunderson did not write in the spirit of, "I am telling you the facts of life about this country now so you need not complain later." He simply told the facts. He was sure that his wife and daughter wanted to be with him and Lars and Julius, no matter what the conditions of life might be. They might faint at the idea of paying one dollar for meals in a dining car but not, presumably, at the idea of living in a tent just below the Arctic Circle. Moreover, not everything was grim. The country, Gunderson went on to say, abounded in wild fowl --- in crane, geese, and ducks. There was plenty of fish. The little boys, he knew, would welcome the prospects for hunting and fishing. "I tell you Albert and Carl will like it here." Quantities of wild berries could be had in the summer --- cloudberries (multer). "Ma can preserve some for winter." As his wife had grown up in Hatfjeldalen in northern Norway, he expected her to recognize this kind of berry and its value. The multer he had in mind seem to have been what we later called salmonberries.
Life in Alaska had brought a change in Lars Gunderson; and the gold rushes had brought Alaska closer to the United States. On the Dyea Trail in 1898 he had expressed admiration for a woman he saw for having the backbone to accompany her husband and help him "pack" their goods over the Chilkoot Pass. He condemned both husband and wife, however, for taking their little girl along on the Klondike trip and letting her stay alone in the cold tent while they
worked on the trail. It was madness to take children up there. By 1901, however, he thought it was all right to bring his young grandsons, as well as his wife and daughter, to the interior of Seward Peninsula.
Yet civilization had scarcely begun to penetrate that far. Under dates of May 17 and 18, 1901, he recorded in his little Klondike notebook the arrival at Spooner of a woman and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. G. H. Boucher. They were on their way to the Fairhaven District to the north. "So far as we know," he wrote, "Mrs. Boucher is the first white lady that has visited this Mining District." To us, a half century later, this mention of the first visit of a white woman reveals vividly the newness of this distant frontier. A frontier without women and children is indeed a frontier!
It is time to close this chapter on the odyssey of several ex-Monitors from the Klondike to the Kougarok. The Kusatriem District passed quickly into limbo, as did the "town" of Spooner. In the fall of 1901, Judge Wickersham consolidated it with the Kougarok and made Gunderson commissioner and recorder of the enlarged Kougarok precinct. To the present day the region drained by the Kougarok and Kuzitrin (Kusatriem) rivers is known as the Kougarok. There Gunderson spent the remaining brief part of his life. There he sleeps the long sleep, not far from Mary's Igloo. He died in the firm belief that he had come to a developing country. Events proved him to be right. By 1906 a railroad had been built to connect the Kougarok with Nome. That was the year when Seward Peninsula, including the Kougarok, reached its maximum in gold production.
<1> This article is a sequel to my "From Minneapolis to the Klondike in 1898," in Minnesota History, 29:300-315 (December, 1948). The earlier article discussed the founding of the Monitor Gold Mining and Trading company in Minneapolis by my grandfather, Lars Gunderson, and gave a very brief summary of its activities in the Klondike. In the present account we follow the travels of several ex-Monitors from the Klondike to the new diggings --- Seward Peninsula. I am deeply indebted to Martin H. Clausen and Ole J. Wold for placing their diaries at my disposal. My uncle, the Lars Gunderson, Jr. of the expedition, provided the description of the pump built by his father on the Nome beach. The reminiscences of my stepfather, Dr. K. L. Gravem, have furnished useful background material.
<2> Russell A. Bankson, The Klondike Nugget, 296 (Caldwell, Idaho, 1935).
<3> See the issues of January 11, 20, 24, 25, 26, March 23, 31, April 10, 25, May 5, 1900.
<4> Nye normanden (Minneapolis), August 6, 1899.
<5> Wold Diary, October 7, 1899.
<6> According to United States Deputy Consul Adams at Dawson, "no less than 700 people left Dawson for Nome between December 4, 1899, and March 1, 1900." Consular Reports, vol. 63, no. 237, p. 245 (June, 1900 -- 56 Cong., I Sess., House Document no. 620, part 2, serial 3945).
<7> Wold Diary, August 26, 1899.
<8> Clausen Diary, February 13, 1900.
<9> In many instances apparently the operators of these sluicing plants did not do so well as the more mobile rocker men. If one found a rich piece of ground, he sometimes had no opportunity to exploit it. "In one case I recall," wrote a representative of the Bureau of the Mint at Nome, "a sluicing plant was taking out about $300 per day, at an expense of possibly $50. When this leaked out, seventy seven rocker men, by actual count, settled around this plant and as the owner of the plant had no claim to the ground which was recognized by the rocker men, it became impossible for him to hold an area sufficient to continue operations for a single week." Cabell Whitehead to director of the mint, September 3, 1900, in General Records of the Bureau of the Mint, Letters Received, no. 174585, National Archives.
<10> A year later a nugget weighing 20 ounces, valued at three hundred thirty-five dollars, was reported found on No. 1 below Discovery, Anvil Creek. Nome News, July 13, 1901.
<11> Some prospectors came to feel that it was a mistake even to record a claim. Sam Dunham depicted this point of view in his "The Poor Swede," which runs as follows:
A square-headed, hard-working Swede,
Propelled by inordinate greed,
Mushed around in the cold
Till he found some coarse gold,
And then came to town at full speed.
A lawyer with galvanized jaw,
Whose mode of procedure was raw,
Sent a thief out to jump
The rich claim of the chump
And stake it "according to law."
The Swede is now stretched on the rack
And trying to get his claim back,
While the Court takes its time
To consider the crime
Till the receiver fills up his long sack.
Sam. C. Dunham, The Men Who Blaze the Trail and Other Poems, 79 (New York,  ).
<12> Tappan Adney, "Nome and Its Future," Collier's Weekly, January 5, 1901, p. 7.
<13> Lars Gunderson, Jr. to his father, June 25, 1902.
<14> There is a copy of this issue in the National Archives among the General Records of the Department of Justice, Appointment Files: Appointments and Recommendations, Alaska, 1897-1901, no. 10,000.
<15> Writing on September 3, 1900, Cabell Whitehead of the Bureau of the Mint stated that when he arrived in Nome during the summer the beach had already been worked over for a second time. He estimated the value of the gold produced on the beach that season as between two hundred fifty thousand and three hundred thousand dollars. His estimate of the production of the ten leading claims on Anvil Creek for the same period was seven hundred fifty thousand dollars. See reference under footnote 9, above.
<16> Klondike '98: Hegg's Album of the 1898 Alaska Gold Rush, 127 (Port land, Oregon, ).
<17> Lars Gunderson, Jr. to the writer, November 2, 1947.
<18> Jafet Lindeberg was born in Norway, John Brynteson and Erik Lindblom in Sweden. None of them had had any experience in Placer gold mining before going to Alaska. Lindeberg was brought to this country in 1898 as a reindeer herder; Lindblom had been a tailor in San Francisco; and Brynteson had worked in the iron mines of Michigan. These three men, meeting by chance at Council, Seward Peninsula, in September, 1898, joined forces in a prospecting expedition. On September 22 they staked Discovery on Anvil Creek as a joint claim, also several other claims in their separate names. In order better to protect and operate their holdings these so-called "lucky Swedes" later incorporated themselves as the Pioneer Mining Company of California. Lindeberg took out final citizenship papers in Nome in 1914. Nome Nugget, June 17, 1914.
<19>This litigation, made famous by Rex Beach's novel The Spoilers, stemmed from the efforts of late-comers to seize the claims of original locators. Men have never been known to look with equanimity upon the sudden success of others and when the others are foreign-born the pill is particularly hard to swallow. In Seward Peninsula and in the States, steps were taken to "jump" not only the claims of the Pioneer Mining Company but also those of the Wild Goose Mining Company which the latter company had purchased from original locators. Shortly after Judge Noyes arrived at Nome in July, 1900, he put the disputed claims into the hands of a receiver and then turned a deaf ear to the protests of the owners. The owners, spearheaded by Charles D. Lane of the Wild Goose Mining Company, appealed successfully to the United States circuit court of appeals in San Francisco. In separate trials this court first found the receiver guilty of contempt and then the Nome court officials, including Judge Noyes but not Clerk Borchsenius. Thus was beaten off a brazen attempt to despoil the Scandinavian original locators.
<20> General Records of the Department of Justice, Appointment Files: Appointments and Recommendations, Alaska, 1897-1901, no. 6901, in the National Archives. Gunderson's four months' note for this sum, borrowed at an interest rate of 2 per cent per month, is dated January 5, 1901, and bears not only his signature but also those of his sons, Lars and Julius. It is marked paid as of May 31, 1901.
<21> See my "A Madison Man at Nome," in Wisconsin Magazine of History, 33:172 ( December, 1949 ).
<22> It should be added that the plans for reunion in the summer of 1901 fell through; the family did not arrive at Nome until October, 1902.