Not every gold rush changes the world like the California gold rush, the Yukon gold rush, or the Black Hills gold rush. Some simply change the history of a region and become part of the local character and lore. American examples of such include the Carolina gold rush and the Georgia gold rush. But for Finland and Russia, this gold rush is the Lapland gold rush, a rather obscure point of history for both of those countries, but one of immense significance and importance for gold hunters around the world.
The Lapland gold rush, also known as the Ivalo gold rush because it began in the village of Ivalo, which is currently in the Republic of Finland, but at the time was in the Grand Duchy of Finland, which was an autonomous region of the Russian Empire prior to its independence in 1917. The Ivalojoki River formed the core of where the gold rush took place.
The 16th Century Origins
The presence of gold in the region was known as far back as the 16th Century. Gold was discovered in Utsjoki, which is now the northernmost municipality in the entire country of Finland. This, of course, means that this is another one of our very cold gold rushes, similar to the Nome gold rush that flooded people into Alaska.
As this was the 16th Century word traveled very slowly and so the presence of gold was not widespread knowledge until literally hundreds of years later, in the 19th Century. It wasn’t until the 1860s when a mineralogist and geologist by the name of Tellef Dahll conducted a survey in the far northern area of Finnmark, which was in Norway. He found gold in the Tana River. What he found, however, was that the best deposits for development and mining weren’t in Norway, but Finland and reported his findings to a government office in Helsinki.
The find couldn’t have come at a better time. Finland, which was an autonomous region of the Russian Empire at the time, was in the middle of the Finnish famine of 1866
and it was thought that the gold would help to pull Finland out of its dire economic situation. All told, over 8.5 percent of the entire Finnish population died of hunger during this period, with people resorting to eating pine bark because the situation was so dire.
An engineer named Conrad Lihr led the expedition and he would later be rewarded for his hard work by being named the head of the Mint of Finland. It was in September of 1868 that they discovered gold in the Ivalo River of Inali. So rich was this deposit that it was the impetus behind reform in the mineral laws of the Russian Empire, with Emperor Alexander II decreeing that all “noble metal” deposits were no longer the exclusive property of the Emperor. Instead, any “decent man” from the Russian Empire could engage in gold prospecting in the region.
1870: The Gold Rush Takes Off
As mentioned above, word traveled very slowly during this time, as well as in this part of the world which had always been backward in comparison to its Western European neighbors. By 1870, however, the gold rush had begun in earnest. Prospectors had to work very hard to get to this part of the world. Boats, walking and even skis were common methods of transportation.
The Russian Imperial Government quickly set about drafting measures to manage this massive influx of newcomers into the region. Kultala Crown Station quickly became the center point of Russian management of the region, as well as the center of services for miners and prospectors flooding into the region. It was where licenses for the miners were issued, as well as where they cashed in their gold. Law enforcement, cartographers, a restaurant, and a post office went up to serve the region.
This community was soon home to 600 residents at its peak. This might not sound like a lot, but Russia was a sparsely populated nation and this was one of the hardest to reach areas in the entire Empire, not even taking into account the harsh conditions that one would meet upon arrival.
Regulations and Fees Choke the Gold Rush
One problem for those arriving in Lapland, however, was that fees and licenses were exorbitantly expensive. In practice, this meant that only 19 of the richest prospectors were entitled to any claim on the region. This elite group of 19 prospectors employed the remaining population who had entered the region. The largest of these claims had between 30 and 40 employees working 11 hour days, six days a week. Ten kilograms of gold were produced by larger claims annually, however, these quickly started to dry up.
So quickly did these claims play out that by 1873, the government had cut their fees in half in an attempt to lure more prospectors into the region. A special law was passed to attempt to encourage mining in the Tana River as well and by the early 1880s, the Ivola River region was all but abandoned by those who had so recently made the hard trek in search of vast riches. The handful of prospectors who stuck around in hope of striking it rich moved onto Sotajoki and to the Laanila village, which was about 10 kilometers from where the gold rush began.
The Kultala Crown Station was later converted by Finnish geophysicist Selim Lemström into a station for studying the Northern Lights. This was closed in the year 1900. In the 1920s, two industrial gold mining companies entered the region, hoping to turn a profit with some of the harder-to-extract gold, but they ultimately fell flat.
Werner Thiede and the Second Lapland Gold Rush
There was a find of gold in the Norwegian area of Lapland in 1890, but it never led to anything. However, there was a second wave of the Lapland gold rush in Finland which began in 1934. Sami people, basically Nordic Eskimos, found gold in Sodankylä originating in Tankavaara. This, of course, attracted the attention of Finnish prospectors, but also Swedish mining interests who were keen to get what they could from this new find.
One strange story arising from this second gold rush is that of Werner Thiede (not to be confused with the prominent German theologian). He was a German miner from Hamburg who came to the region during the second Lapland gold rush. Eventually, he was deported in 1938. When the Second World War came, Thiede served in the German occupying forces in the country of Norway. He later returned to the Tankavaara region in 1944 as part of the German attempt to build a defensive wall. When the Germans began their retreat, they engaged in a scorched earth campaign that destroyed all the mines — save for the ones that had been built by one Werner Thiede.
Since the 1970s, the area has become a tourist attraction in Finland, much like many other, more famous gold rush boom and bust towns that we have covered on this site. And despite the fact that the big boom played out quickly, there are still 20 prospectors and 50 working claims in the region, producing collectively over 20 kilograms of gold on an annual basis.
These are all in Lemmenjoki National Park, which is a beautiful place to visit even for those who have absolutely no interest at all in gold mining. It is the biggest national park in all of Finland and one of the largest in Europe. It seems far more backpackers than prospectors — 10,000 every year.
The Gold Rush Continues Today
Lest you think that the prospectors there are simply legacy holdouts from a bygone age, however, this is simply not true. Indeed, people do still flock to the region in the hopes that they can be one of the lucky few to find some of the gold that is still up for grabs in this region of Finland. The official website promoting tourism in Finland offers tales of modern-day prospectors who have come to the region in search of the adventure of finding gold.
Part of what has driven this is yet a third gold rush in Lapland. This one didn’t begin way back in the annals of the colonial age, or even at the turn of the 20th Century, but in the year 2009. Europe’s largest currently operational gold mine is currently in Lapland, the Suurikuusikko gold deposit. Drilling samples conducted in 2011 did much to fuel this new case of gold fever in Finland, proving that the days of the gold rush are not behind us. At that time, there were five operational gold mines in Lapland, with geological surveys finding high concentrations of gold in the surrounding ore — in a stunning 200 deposits. What’s more, the price of gold continues to increase, making the threshold for entry into the market lower and lower with each passing year.
Perhaps this is why, as of July 2019, there were 20 full-time gold panners in Finland as well as another 150 part-timers. Note that these men are not “miners” in any sense that it is normally meant. They simply pan for gold as the prospectors of old (in the summer, of course — it’s far too cold in the winter), like what one might see in an old Western movie. Again, rising costs of gold make the trade more attractive and very little equipment is needed to join the ranks of these modern-Caday gold hunters.
If you want to give it a try in Finland, you can always check out the Tankavaara Gold Village in Lapland where panning is the main activity. Here you can get a taste of whether or not you have what it takes to do this for hours on end, day after day. Guides are available in both English and Finnish. You should also check out the Gold Museum while you are there to get a feel for the history of gold prospecting in the region. There’s even a Gold Prospectors Association of Finnish Lapland.
You might think that you have no chance of striking a decent find as a tourist, but you couldn’t be more wrong. In 2020, a tourist happened upon 61.9 grams of gold, worth a whopping $36,000. He did this right next to where he was staying and in an area that all the smart money said had been played out for decades. Before this, the biggest nugget that happened upon by a tourist was 3.2 grams, with finds of one to two grams not all that uncommon.
Indeed, the equipment has gotten much better making it not only easier to find gold using high-tech metal detectors like the detectors available for rental at Kellyco but also to extract the gold from the earth. For example, you now have machines like the XP Metal Detectors Deus or the Minelab GPZ 7000 that makes detecting deep gold nuggets a lot easier than it used to be.
Fortunately, unlike many other countries outside of the United States, Finland does not have a ban on the private discovery of gold or other minerals within its border. The legal concept of “Everyman’s Right” drives mineral extraction law down there. This doesn’t mean you can simply set up shop wherever you like and start your hunt for gold. There is some red tape to cut through and you can only conduct mining in designated, approved areas.
There have been several films made about the time period, but the two most prominent are 1951 At the Rovaniemi Fair, which is something of a classic in Finland, and Gold Fever in Lapland.
Finland’s gold rush didn’t dramatically change the landscape of Finland in the manner of North American gold rushes. But it’s fascinating perhaps in large part because of its perennial nature and the fact that it’s still going today. As such it provides inspiration for a new generation of gold hunters looking for their fortunes in the ground.
The Lapland Gold Rush originally appeared on kellycodetectors.com
Aaron had been working a permission with his first detector for a while and decided it was time to purchase a more versatile detector. After purchasing a new Equinox 800 form Kellyco, he decided to start fresh on the property and go back over everything. The permission owner’s family had owned the property since the mid-1800s when they immigrated to America from Sweden.
He had been collecting things found on the property to make a birthday gift for the owner since everything found at some point belonged to one of his ancestors. On Aaron’s first hunt with his Equinox, he found something that had been talked about in the property owner’s family for over a century.
While detecting where the first home on the property had stood Aaron had a signal that he thought to be a penny. Upon digging, he discovered it wasn’t a penny but a larger coin. After some research, he discovered it to be a Swedish 5 ore copper coin from 1857.
The property owner says he always heard about the coin as a child. The coin served as a reminder and keepsake of his great-great-grandfather’s homeland and was a prized possession of his. The coin had been lost when the home burnt down in the late 1800s and had been buried for 130 years. It will be included in the birthday gift to the homeowner.
Treasure Find: 130 Years of Buried Family History originally appeared on kellycodetectors.com.
America has the California Gold Rush. It’s equivalent in Canada is the Klondike Gold Rush. All told, this brought 100,000 prospectors into the region, which was not sunny California, but the frozen tundra of the Canadian Yukon over the course of three years between 1896 and 1899, with the bulk coming in 1897 and 1898.
Gold was first found in the Yukon by miners who had been working the region on August 16, 1896. Word quickly spread to Seattle and San Francisco, leading to the massive stampede of prospectors who arrived the next year. And while many arrived, this was not the free-for-all that many of the other gold rushes were due to the cold and remote location of the find. The Canadian government required that men arrive with at least a year’s supply of food to prevent mass starvation.
By 1898, the rush was largely over, not because the area had necessarily played out, but because the media had lost interest and was now focused on the Nome Gold Rush in Alaska. Many of the men who panned for gold in Alaska got their start working the goldfields of the Yukon.
Before the Gold Rush
In the second half of the 19th Century, however, more enterprising American prospectors began to flood the region. They made arrangements with the local Tlingit and Tagish tribes, finally arriving at the Yukon Valley around 1870. It was here that they encountered the Hän, who, as mentioned above, we’re aware of the gold deposits but did not place any value on gold and also did not know the extent of the gold deposits that they were sitting on.
The Prospector’s Prospector: Ed Schieffelin
It was in 1883 that Ed Schieffelin, a prospector and Indian scout who had cut his teeth prospecting for silver in the Arizona Territory found gold deposits in a reconnoiter along the Yukon River. In 1886, he discovered large deposits of gold during a trip up the Fortymile River. As a result of this trip, he founded Fortymile City, one of the boomtowns of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Schieffelin was known as a restless and casual figure, who kept his long hair and beard for most of his years on this earth, even after Tombstone silver made him a millionaire. He rarely stayed still and moved from one boomtown to another in search of the massive continental belt of gold running through North America. He was convinced that in Yukon that he had found this, however, he didn’t last long — the cold of the region and the difficulties that it presented in prospecting had him searching for greener pastures in short order. His next stop was Alaska, which had the predictable effect of having him leave the north entirely. He eventually died prospecting in Oregon and was buried with his pick, his shovel, and his canteen outside of Tombstone.
Several hundred miners had arrived in advance of the gold rush proper in the late 1880s. This led to the birth of mining camps on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border. One boom town that sprung up in the early years before the rush was Circle City, founded in 1893. This was known at the time as “the Paris of Alaska” with a mighty 1,200 inhabitants, but lots of saloons, theaters, libraries, schools, and opera houses for the miners and their families. By 1896, Circle City was a ghost town as all the miners had left for the more remote parts of the Yukon in search of that Klondike gold.
The Discovery Claim
Discovery Claim is the name for the place on Bonanza Creek where the Klondike Gold Rush began. This is in an area lying approximately 10 miles south-southeast of Dawson City, a remote little Canadian town of about 1,300 people. The site itself is now a National Historic Site that you can go visit this day.
Unlike many other gold rushes, we know exactly when the Klondike Gold Rush began. It began with the discovery of gold on August 16, 1896, by American prospector George Carmack and his wife Kate who was of Tagish Indian extraction. They discovered gold while stopping for a rest during a long trip up the river. One of the troops, which also included Kate’s brother and their nephew, spotted something shiny in the water. Carmack claimed that he found it, but this is disputed by some historians, who believe it was his brother-in-law or even his wife who gave up the claim fearful that the Canadian government would not recognize the claim of an Indian.
All told four claims came out of this: The law at the time allowed Carmack to establish a second claim because he was the first person to discover gold in the region. The other two claims went to his brother-in-law and nephew.
Orphaned at the age of 11, Carmack was a Marine Corps veteran who was serving in Alaska aboard the USS Wachusett’s when he deserted in 1882 to go care for his sick sister in California. He came back to Alaska in 1885 in search of his fortunes in fishing, trapping, and trading, the common activities of those in the region at the time.
Carmack was generally disliked by the other prospectors in the area because of his closeness to the local native tribes, which eventually led to his marriage to Shaw Tláa (which means “gumboot mother”), who was known as “Kate.” They nicknamed him “Squaw Man” after the marriage but also referred to him as “Lyin’ George” due to his tendency toward exaggeration. The village of Carmacks, Yukon is named after him to this day, the site of his discovery of a large coal deposit.
The discovery of gold made Carmack a very wealthy man. He and Kate moved to Modesto, California after they struck it rich.
In 1900, Carmack abandoned Kate and married Marguerite P. Laimee in Olympia, Washington. They later moved to Seattle, where his new wife invested his money wisely in real estate, mostly office buildings, hotels, and apartment buildings. His investments made his fortune continue to grow, but he never gave up his passion for gold hunting. He even did a little prospecting in California as a fat old man in the the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges. He died in 1922 at the age of 61 while working a claim.
Mount Carmack, along the Alaska-Canada border, is also named after him.
Rabbit Creek Becomes Bonanza Creek
The creek that Carmack and company were navigating was known as Rabbit Creek, but quickly came to be known as Bonanza Creek. By the end of August, the entirety of the creek’s banks was claimed by prospectors looking to get their share of the massive amounts of gold that were believed to be in the region. Additional gold was found up a tributary creek which was dubbed Eldorado Creek.
The claims which were made by the initial prospectors in the region quickly became a source of speculation. Claims were made, then bought and sold and traded among potential prospectors and land speculators looking to increase their wealth either through finding gold on the claim or by flipping it to another land investor or prospector. It was around this time that Circle City cleared out, but those who arrived at this time by dog sled found that most of the best claims were already taken.
Beyond Circle City, the news of the gold rush did not reach much of the outside world. This is because once the rivers of the area froze, travel to the outside world was virtually impossible. The stampede into the region began in the summer of the next year.
Stampede: The Klondike Gold Rush Begins in Earnest
The stampede kicked off the Klondike Gold Rush proper in July of 1897. All told, 100,000 people tried to get into the region, but it was only about 30,000 to 40,000 who made it all the way to the prospecting country.
On July 15, 1897, a ship arrived in San Francisco, with one arriving from Seattle two days later. These had huge amounts of gold (the equivalent of $1 billion in 2020 dollars) on them and work quickly spread throughout the two cities, with men picking up stakes and heading off to the Great White North in search of a fortune in gold. The prospectors were joined by those looking to make coin off of the prospectors, including traders, photographers, and newspaper writers.
The news of a massive gold discovery came at exactly the right time. The United States was in the middle of an economic depression that saw gold prices spike as paper money became less valuable and was being hoarded by Americans. The Panic of 1893 and the Panic of 1896 dramatically damaged the labor market. This meant that there was both a thirst for gold and a ready and waiting labor pool of men willing to take off to remote regions of Canada in search of their fortune.
The prospectors were overwhelmingly American or recent arrivals to America — between 60 and 80 percent. Few of them had any experience in mining, with most of the new arrivals being salesmen and clerks. Among their number was John McGraw, the former governor of Washington, and William D. Wood, who was the current Mayor of Seattle and abandoned his post to go hunt for Yukon gold. It generally costs $1,000 ($27,000 in today’s money) to even get to the region.
Supplies were difficult to get to the region, which made them both scarce and expensive. Savvy marketers added the name “Klondike” in front of just about any supply one might need, to imply that it was specially designed for those working in the region. Some examples of high prices include salt (which reached parity with gold), nails ($28 per pound or $784 in today’s dollars), butter ($5 per can or about $140 today), and eggs ($3, equivalent to $84 today). Scurvy was common in the camps.
Rich prospectors were not prevented from spending big on food, drink, and entertainment. It was expected that rich prospectors would go through a $60 bottle of champagne in a single night, equivalent to $1,660 today. Dice pots often started at $1,000 ($28,000) and poker pots at $5,000 ($140,000). Prosperous prospector Jimmy McMahon once spent $28,000 ($784,000) in a single night.
Unlike many gold rushes, the Klondike Gold Rush is known for a preponderance of law and order, with the Northwest Mounted Police keeping the local population in line.
The region was 92 percent male, with less than one percent of all women in the area working a claim.
The End of the Klondike Gold Rush
The Klondike Gold Rush began to taper off in the summer of 1898 when many prospectors, unable to make any money, started leaving the region. Casual work wages fell dramatically because there was a glut of labor in the region. The average laborer made about $100 per month, equivalent to $2,700 today. The attention of the newspapers turned from the Klondike region and it’s gold to the Spanish-American War, which kicked off on April 21, 1898.
When gold was found in other, neighboring regions (primarily Nome), the area largely emptied of everyone seeking fortune, leaving only those who had already made it, either through the gold itself or by selling goods that the prospectors couldn’t do without.
Discovery Day is still a holiday in the Yukon to this day, celebrated on the third Monday in August.
The Klondike Gold Rush originally appeared on kellycodetectors.com.
If any of you are getting stir crazy with winter and all you can think about is getting back out come spring to find the gold then check out this good documentary on The Oregon Trail's counterpart, The Bozeman Trail, and the gold rushes of Montana. It's pretty good.