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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.