By Steve Herschbach
This gold prospecting and metal detecting story takes us all the way back to the beginning - my beginning that is. I was fortunate enough to be born in the Territory of Alaska in 1957. Alaska was still very much on the frontier back in those days. My father was a farm boy from the midwest who headed for Alaska in the early 50's with not much more than an old pickup truck. He worked as a longshoreman offloading ships in Seward, Alaska for a time. He decided to get some education, and earned his way through college in Fairbanks, Alaska, by driving steampipe for the fleet of gold dredges that were still working there. He spent some time in Seldovia, Alaska, working the "slime line" in a fish cannery. He met my mom in Seldovia, the two got married, and finally settled in Anchorage, Alaska.
I came along in 1957. My father had taken a job as a surveyor but money was tight in the early years. I was raised on wild game and garden grown vegetables, and as soon as I was old enough to handle it, I was walking a trapline every winter with my father. Dad was a hard worker, and Alaska was having one of its many booms at the time - the construction of the oil and gas fields in Lower Cook Inlet. This was the Swanson River oilfield, discovered the year I was born.
The state was prospering, and my father along with it as a surveyor on the new Swanson Field. He got the bug for flying early on, and by the time I became a teenager he finally got his dream plane at the time - a Piper Super Cub, the classic Alaska Bush airplane. Super Cubs equipped with oversize "tundra tires" can land just about anywhere you can find about 300 - 400 feet of open ground. A great little airplane and the one I ended up flying to get my own pilot's license.
Super Cub N1769P parked on knoll in Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska
It was in this same timeframe that dad got me hooked on gold prospecting. In 1972 I saw an ad in a magazine "Find Lost Treasure" and had acquired my first metal detector, a White's Coinmaster 4. This must have got discussions going about gold, and my father did have some knowledge on the subject having worked around the gold mines in Fairbanks. He took me to a little creek south of Anchorage, Bertha Creek, and I found my very first flakes of gold! By the ripe old age of 14 gold fever was in the air, I had my first metal detector, and already wanted a gold dredge. My first dredge, a 3" Keene with no floatation, was on the way to me in 1973.
Keep in mind that the price of gold had only recently been deregulated from the old fixed price of $35 per ounce. In 1972 it was around $60 per ounce, and in 1973 made it to just over $100 per ounce. The money was not my motivation at all. I already just loved finding gold, and the connection to the prospectors of old and the historical quest for gold were more compelling than any dream of striking it rich. I just wanted to find gold!
My first metal detector and first gold dredge (my 3502 had the older aluminum header box & a power jet)
A young man with a new detector, new gold dredge, gold fever, and a father willing to fly him anywhere in Alaska on adventure. How great is that? Now there was only one problem - where to go? There was no internet then, so it boiled down to libraries and research. In short order I discovered the United States Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) bulletin series and the number one Alaska title of the series, Placer Deposits of Alaska, U.S.G.S. Bulletin 1374 by Edward H. Cobb. This one book and the references contained in it became my prospecting guide to Alaska. My desired target? Remote locations with large gold nuggets!
I read the book and certain places just jumped out at me. One was the Iditarod area and places like Ganes Creek and Moore Creek - tales told elsewhere. This paragraph of page 114 caught my eye:
"Placer mining in the Chisana district, first of creek gravels and later of bench and old channel deposits of Bonanza and Little Eldorado Creeks, has always been on a small scale with simple equipment. The remoteness of the area, shortages of water on some streams, and the small extent of the deposits all prevented the development of large operations. There has been little activity since World War II; the last reported mining was a two-man nonfloat operation in 1965."
Wow, that alone sounds pretty good. Nothing really about the gold however. The secret to the Placer Deposits series is not so much the books themselves, though they are great for getting ideas, like I did. The key is to use the references listed and in this case the main one is The Chisana-White River District, Alaska, U.S.G.S. Bulletin 630 (1916) by Stephen Reid Capps.
It turns out I had stumbled over the location of the last actual gold rush in Alaska in 1913. It was a small rush and did not last long, but it did mark the end of an era. The world was on the brink of war and the age of gold rushes was soon to be history. The history of the area is covered in the report starting on page 89. It is fascinating reading, but it was this note on page 105 that really sealed the deal:
"The gold is bright, coarse, and smoothly worn. The largest nugget found has a value of over $130, and pieces weighing a quarter of an ounce or over make up about 5 per cent of the total gold recovered. The gold is said to assay $16.67 an ounce."
Gold nuggets a quarter ounce or larger make up five percent of the gold? And that $130 nugget at $16.67 an ounce? Somewhere over seven ounces. That's all I needed to know. Very remote, worked by simple means, and large gold - I wanted to go to Chisana in general and Bonanza Creek in particular. Even the creek names scream gold - Bonanza Creek, Big Eldorado Creek, Little Eldorado Creek, Coarse Money Creek, and Gold Run. Now all we had to do was get there. But when I said remote, I meant remote. Chisana is practically in Canada 250 air miles from Anchorage.
To be continued.....
Chisana, Alaska location map
Last weekend I made the drive from Anchorage up to the Taylor Highway and past Chicken to the Jack Wade public gold panning area. Look up Steve’s excellent posts on the area for more descriptions and pictures of nuggets, no gold on my trip.
It’s still pretty early so Chicken wasn’t even open yet and some ice shelfs were still along sections of the creek. Got great weather, just some passing downpours but in a T-shirt with no mosquitos most of the time. I did take waders to cross the creek,as it was running a little high with snowmelt.
This was the first trip I dedicated a lot of time as a serious search for gold and was just as much about learning the detector. Mostly I have worked beaches, campsites, a few roadsides, so I know it can find the tiniest bits of melted aluminum can, bullets and coins.
As expected I dug a lot of trash, but I did find some interesting nuggets that are definitely not gold. Most are iron based, magnetic, but a couple look very noduly, and one is not magnetic. The others are probably just rusted bits of iron. There were some sparkles I thought might be pyrite but I think is just dust from the surrounding shist as even the nails and bits of wire sparkle under the right light. Take a look at the pics and see what you think, maybe just welding or torch cutting remnants. They were all in the same area.
The area has been heavily worked by detectorists with lots of dig holes around. Equally lots of unexplored tailings but many so overgrown that swinging a detector is impossible. I put in about 16 hours of exploring and detecting on the tailings. Covered a wide variety of terrain and tailings, new, old, tall, short, and along some bedrock sections.
On to the Equinox: I tried both Park 2 and the Gold 1 settings. Obviously, my ear is not tuned to the Gold 1 program, it was providing way more chatter than I could process, even with sensitivity turned down to 15 or so. I would have turned it down more but I could run in Park 2 at 20-22 sensitivity and thought I may miss more in Gold 1. I was using the 11” stock coil.
Is it normal to have to run at a much lower sensitivity in the gold modes?
Most of the time I ended up running in Park 2 with -7,-8,-9 turned off, which may have been a mistake. With how worked the area is, the best chance is probably digging all the iron and hoping for a nugget that might be masked by the trash.
In one area I did have some trouble with hot rocks, they would sound as a fairly small but round 12 with iron nearby but after digging out would end up as a -6 hot rock. Was curious why it read so high.
All in all a great trip. No gold, and not much wildlife but got a nice shot of a Short-eared Owl on the drive out the Taylor Hwy. Photos of finds, handful of magnetic nuggets, close up of the non magnetic nugget (maybe lead or silver?)
Year #2 of Covid is shaping up to be worse than #1 so I have decided to go mining/prospecting which should use up the rest of my cash reserve. The question is where do I go? I can't really afford to do the typical tourist areas and can't afford anything like a Gaines Creek trip. So this leaves me tied to the road system.
What is the best choice, look for unclaimed spots? Try to find someone who will let you work their claims? Hit the public areas? There are millions of yards of tailings, does everyone expect you to get permission to detect something dredged in the 20s? Once you get out there and see something you want to hit you would have to go back to where you have internet and try to find if it still has a valid claim and try to call the owners, I would never get anything done.
I have VLF detectors if nugget hunting is possible but need a PI to cover hotter spots. I have a Proline 2.5 in combo highbanker and plenty of pans, sluices, tools etc.
Want to try Chicken Area and Petersville, Should we look North of Fairbanks as well or someplace else? Stay home and detect tot lots?
By Clay Diggins
The Secretary of the Interior is releasing 9.7 million acres of previously closed federally administered Alaskan land to prospecting and claiming.
The land rush begins February 18th.
Read all about it.
Is it cold in Seward in February? 😶
First of all, I just wanted to publicly say thank you to Steve and the rest of the members on this site. Although this is my first post, I have been using the wealth of information gathered from everyone here for a while now.
It's that time of year up here in Alaska where the days are dark and the memory of summer seems like a distant past. To cure my deep seated winter time blues and my sense for adventure, I decided to check out a spot I have been wanting to try for a while now, but let the myriad of summertime activities get in the way. But perhaps the real underlying driving force for this trip was my new highbanker waiting patiently in the garage to process dirt. Whatever the REAL reason, I looked at the forecast and saw a balmy 26 degrees forecasted and knew it was time to shine.
So I drove North of Anchorage with my back country cross country skis (say that ten times fast) in tow, looking forward to a day out in the back country. I have found that if my main objective is to get out and enjoy the outdoors with a side chance of pay dirt, I am rarely if ever disappointed. And this day was no different. I arrived and strapped on the skis and my touring sled and set off into the snow.
I quickly found out that hauling equipment by skis should be an Olympic event. The powder was easily three feet deep and probably pushing on four, making me earn every "stride". In reality, the snow was so deep and the sled so heavy that my skis weren't gliding at all, but being used more like elongated snowshoes, trudging through the snow. But the temperature was warm and snacks aplenty, so I trotted along the creek ahead encountering open water in places and crossing precarious snow bridges at times in order to make my way along. Just around the moment where I realized that I may be in for more of a workout than I intended, I had arrived.
Located a few miles downstream was a section of the creek forced into a ninety degree bend by an outcrop of ancient gold bearing glacial till. During the summer months this "creek" (creek only in name) produces too swift of a current to properly explore this bend. But thanks to mother nature, winter freeze up reduces this section to a little more than a shin deep trickle.
(The section of glacial till forcing the creek into a perfect ninety degree bend. The creek erodes alongside this till and prevents any debris from accumulating at the base.)
(The creek encountering the glacial till and being turned at a sharp ninety degree angle, causing a major drop in water velocity.)
As I considered this to be more of an exploratory trip on skis I had left my waders at home, preventing me from properly getting out in the channel. What I settled for instead was balancing myself on the edge of the ice as close as possible (not recommended) and shoveling a few scoops of dirt from the pool formed at the base of the till and into my bucket from the area that I could reach. Realizing that I had all that skiing back left to do, with darkness quickly advancing, I hurriedly filled half a bucket from mostly surface gravels and raced the darkness back to my car.
Now for the fun! With dirt in hand and back home in the comforts of a heated garage, I was ready to test out my new 6 inch highbanker. Now let me preface this with some information. This highbanker is not meant to be loaded into a vehicle and dropped off at your spot of choosing. This highbanker is made to tear down and fit inside your pack and hiked into your spot of choosing. Weighing in at only six pounds, this highbanker fits a niche group for those wanting to pack out their operation on foot. And let me tell you what, I am extremely excited to do just that this summer with this bad boy. Made by Gold Rat Engineering out of Australia, this highbanker tears down to nuts and bolts and runs off of a 2,000 GPH electric bilge pump. Coupled with a lithium ion battery (less weight), you can have this set up packed out in the backcountry at 10lbs.
While I realize that using an ultra lightweight 6 inch backpack highbanker out of your garage is like using a Ferarri to drive to the corner store, that's exactly what occurred. Running the half bucket that I brought back, the highbanker took it in stride and I soon found myself wishing that I had brought more back (the soreness in my quads reminded me otherwise). I panned out the concentrates from the lower mat (which can be detached and not brought into the field, making it even smaller and lighter) and found it LOADED with black sand. But not a single speck of gold.
(The highbanker uses a matting called the Dream Mat)
Feeling a little disheartened I ran the top mat, not expecting much after the lower mat didn't produce. Again, LOADED with black sand. And as I panned it back, gold!
Now I realize it's not much (it was only half a bucket and ten minutes of digging in all fairness) but what I was really impressed with was the capture rate of the highbanker and the fines of the gold it was able to capture. Some of this stuff was the definition of fly poop. And for it to capture all of that in the top mat without any getting to the lower, I'll take it. So overall, I am extremely happy with this new highbanker and look forward to using it this summer out in the backcountry of Alaska. I am happy with the quick results of the spot I tested out. With a little more effort I believe it will produce some decent results. Once it hits 33 degrees I am taking the highbanker out there to really run some dirt. (Although a suction dredge would be the best tool for this location). But the biggest takeaway was being able to shake the wintertime blues, enjoy the outdoors, and remind myself that springtime prospecting isn't as far off as it sometime feels.
Once again I want to thank this community for the knowledge and expertise you all have shared and hope that my short trip report reminds everyone that better panning days are ahead (looking at you 2021).
Happy New Years,
The California Gold Rush certainly was in a far-off land for the Americans of the time, who had to trek long distances to get to their final destination. But the 49’ers had nothing on those brave adventurers who went to Nome, Alaska to seek their fortunes in 1899. Which brings us to the Nome Gold Rush.
While Nome, Alaska was owned by the United States at the time of the Nome Gold Rush, it might as well have been Mars, both in terms of getting there and in terms of surviving in the harsh and unforgiving climate. Despite the apocryphal quip often attributed to Mark Twain, that the worst winter he ever saw was June in San Francisco, there is simply no comparison between a miserable Northern California summer and any day of the week in Nome, Alaska.
Nome is not simply in Alaska, it is in a more northern part of the state. It is more than 60 degrees north of the equator (64°30′14″N to be exact), which puts it about 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It wasn’t the only gold rush in Alaska — there was also the Fairbanks Gold Rush — but it might hold the title for the biggest gold rush at the northernmost latitude.
It was the Nome Gold Rush that made Nome the largest city in Alaska for a period.
How the Nome Gold Rush Started
Alaska is known for many things, one being a popular vacation choice. However, Nome started off as a small outpost at the outlet of the Snake River on the Seward Peninsula, which is part of the Norton Sound on the Bering Sea. Prior to the settlement at Nome, Inupiaq Eskimo used the area as a camp dating centuries prior to the arrival of Russians in the area. The Port of St. Michael, about 125 miles southeast of Nome, was founded by the Russians for the purposes of sailing down the Yukon River. This area quickly became a popular destination for whalers and fur traders. Russian Orthodox Church missions began in the 1880s. Council, Alaska was the place where gold was first found a year before it was found in the Nome area.
The first men to strike gold in the region are known to us by the sobriquet “the Three Lucky Swedes.” These were Jafet Lindeberg (who was actually Norwegian-American) and Swedish-Americans Erik Lindblom and John Brynteson. We will talk more about these men and their fascinating life stories later in this article. The short version is that three men struck gold on Anvil Creek and founded what is now the Nome mining district. Their discovery quickly spread throughout the surrounding camps during the winter, leading to an influx of 10,000 fresh from the Klondike Gold Rush which began three years prior.
In 1899 there were significant amounts of gold found in the beach sands around the Bering Sea coast. By 1900 there was a tent city along the beach that stretched 30 miles from Cape Rodney to Cape Nome. This only accelerated the influx of treasure-seekers into the region. The spring of 1900 saw arrivals from San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland into the area aboard a newly vibrant steamship line running to the Nome region. People came from much further than the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, coming all the way from Adelaide, Australia aboard Inca, a schooner, in 1902, the maiden voyage of this ship.
The Nome Gold Rush was also more contentious than other gold rushes in the United States. “Claim jumpers” came onto the land, upset that all the best land had already been taken by earlier arrivals. They attempted to file claims for land that had already been claimed by other gold prospectors. The federal judge for the region decided to recognize the original claims at the expense of the claim jumpers, but the claim jumpers began offering a segment of their land to influential politicians.
How Mining Worked at Nome
There were two main locations for mining during the Nome Gold Rush: the beach and the creeks.
The beach presented a unique problem for prospectors in the region: The beach could not properly be claimed like the rest of the land around Nome. This created tons of problems because there were literally tons of gold on the beach. Much more, in fact, than what was available in the nearby creeks.
As is often the case, the first gold found on the beaches of Nome was simply panned out of the water. There was that much of it around. By the summer of 1899 people were using human-powered machinery to get it out, such as sluice boxes and rock crushers were present. The next year things got a bit more industrialized. Small machines utilizing hoses and pumps began to show up. By 1902, the big companies had taken over and small claimants and prospectors had virtually all disappeared, bought out by bigger interests who were much more capable of getting the harder to reach gold out of the ground than they were.
There was a very short window of time every year when the beaches could be worked — June to October. This is because Nome is so far north that even seawater will freeze during part of the year, making gold mining impossible. What’s more, the local police would chase off anyone who wasn’t adequately prepared for the harsh and unforgiving winters of Nome.
The creeks were less lucrative because not only are they cold, but they run slowly, making panning a much more labor-intensive form of gold mining than it is anywhere else in the world. At the creeks there needed to be special equipment to thaw the ground and suck up all of the gravel. Mining the creeks in Nome was more a question of quantity than quality. The more gravel you were able to suck up the more gold you were going to find. It was a numbers game. Sluices, gravity, and suction were the main ways of doing this. Gold dredges and mine shafts were also used, but in far less abundance then they were in other places that didn’t have frozen ground most of the year. Steam was used both to soften the ground before the actual mining as well as to collect the gravel during the winter months.
Nome: Alaska’s Gold Rush Boom Town
Gold rushes always have a massive economic impact on the surrounding areas and the Nome Gold Rush was no exception. What once had been a tiny, insignificant settlement in a backwater of America often referred to as “Seward’s Folly” to reference what was thought to be an imprudent purchase of the land by Secretary of State William Seward, was now a bustling metropolis fueled by the gold rush.
Before the gold rush, there was virtually nothing to be found in the area. After the gold rush, in 1905 there was just about anything one could want out of their community: schools, churches, saloons, a post office, and multiple newspapers. Even some of the nation’s earliest automobiles started showing up in Nome in short order and would drive down the planks on Front Street. America’s first wireless telegraph that transmitted more than 100 miles was in Nome. Telegraphs were relayed to St. Michael on their way to Seattle.
Strangely, there was no harbor for large ships during this period, only one for small boats. This isn’t to say that there were no ships coming within striking distance of Nome. Indeed, we have already mentioned one by name – the Inca from Australia. What would happen, however, is that the larger ships would stay out at sea and the people would be ferried to the mainland via smaller boats. This is because of the ice around the area that rarely ever melted, making a direct approach a dangerous endeavor indeed. Sometimes passengers were delivered to the ice itself, then brought ashore by teams of dogs.
In 1901, the town got a loading crane which certainly made life easier for those who were still mining gold. By 1905 there was a wharf. In 1907 the town got a tramway.
The Nome Gold Rush Winds Down
Gold is, of course, a nonrenewable resource and like all other gold rushes, the Nome Gold Rush eventually played out, meaning that individual prospectors could no longer profit from the gold deposits and had to either look for gold somewhere else or sell the claims they had to larger commercial interests capable of large-scale industrial mining projects.
In 1904 and 1905, gold was discovered on other parts of the beach which made for a sort of mini gold rush that boosted the main one and extended its life. However, none of these new strikes had nearly the same amount of promise as the original. Between 1900 and 1909, Nome was 20,000 strong but by 1909 the population had dropped to a meager 250.
Gold mining still takes place in Nome and, indeed prospectors continue to show up looking to strike it rich in Alaska. We’re not sure how many people have struck gold in Nome, but we do know of at least three men who made an absolute killing: The Three Lucky Swedes.
Who Were The Three Lucky Swedes?
The Three Lucky Swedes were indeed lucky. What else would you call three men who basically tripped over a king’s ransom in gold?
First, there was Norwegian Jafet Isaksen Lindeberg. His experience in Nome was not the first time he found himself prospecting. Indeed, he was a gold hunter from a very young age, looking for gold in northern Norway during his childhood. He first found himself in Alaska after the United States Congress stepped in to provide some direction during the Klondike Gold Rush. Congress feared a famine or other humanitarian disaster and sought reindeer handlers to ensure the smooth delivery of goods into the region.
Lindeberg was one of these reindeer handlers. He was recruited in Norway and set sail for the states aboard the SS Manitoba on February 4, 1898.
Erik Lindblom wasn’t a prospector, but he was from the iron and copper mining region of Sweden, which gave him a working knowledge of mining. He left Sweden at 17 and was involved in mining in Montana, Colorado, and Idaho before he found himself in Nome, Alaska. He became a naturalized citizen in 1894.
Finally, there was John Brynteson. He came to the United States from Sweden at the age of 16 and worked in copper and iron mining in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He gained his American citizenship in 1896. He came to Alaska under the auspices of the Swedish Mission Covenant.
These three men began hunting for gold together in mid-September 1898. They quickly happened upon what they knew was a major discovery. Together, they formed the Pioneer Mining and Ditch Company, which quickly became Nome’s biggest mining company.
Brynteson left Alaska first and was the only one of the three to return to Sweden. Lindblom took his gold profits and invested it in several sectors, including banking, real estate, and transportation. He eventually became the president of the Swedish-American Bank of San Francisco. He personally financed the construction of the ice parks in Stockholm for the 1912 Olympiad. Lindeberg’s life was mostly uneventful after Nome, but while there he was part of a group of masked vigilantes who attacked claim jumpers in an attempt to retain his property.
You can still visit the Camp Nome mining district, which is a historical tourist attraction in otherwise sleepy Nome. There aren’t even 4,000 people living in the Nome area these days, less than a quarter of what was there at the peak of the Nome Gold Rush. But for one shining instant, this little fishing village on the coast of Alaska became the hottest destination in the world for the most adventurous men alive.
The Nome Gold Rush and Three Lucky Swedes originally appeared on Kellycodetectors.com.