Fans of the television series Deadwood will be somewhat familiar with the Black Hills Gold Rush. It is this gold rush that forms the background of the television series. Indeed, it is one of the more transformative events in American history, despite being somewhat lesser-known.
There were rumors of gold in the Black Hills region in the early years of the 19th Century. Sioux Indians were rumored to have been mining gold in the region as early as 1860. However, there was one small thing preventing Americans from mining gold in the region: the Treaty of Fort Laramie, which recognized the land as belonging to the Sioux.
There is another point of law that is relevant to the Black Hills Gold Rush: The General Mining Act of 1872. This allows Americans to mine for minerals anywhere on federal land. The problem, for American prospectors, is that none of the land in the Black Hills was federal land — it belonged to the Sioux.
Americans Find Gold on Indian Land
In 1874, a deposit was found near present-day Custer, South Dakota. However, these were small deposits. Larger ones were found in November 1875. It was in 1876 that prospectors began to flood the region in violation of the treaty with the Sioux. To make matters worse, this wasn’t just any land to the Sioux — the Black Hills were considered sacred.
The first significant arrivals to the region were a force of 1,000 men led by George Armstrong Custer. They were investigating claims of gold in the region which, again, was in violation of the treaty. Small amounts were found, but the troop kept scouting, looking for larger deposits. The South Dakota towns of Hill City, Sheridan, and Pactola were founded by this detachment. Gold flakes were found along the way, but nothing that seemed to justify the expedition.
It was in the Northern Black Hills that paydirt was finally struck. This is the area of Deadwood and Whitewood Creeks. When the prospectors first arrived on the scene, gold was being scooped out by the spadeful with virtually no effort at all. The easily found gold is something known as “placer gold.” This had eroded for larger, harder deposits.
All of the land was quickly claimed, but thousands more settled the region hoping to find their fortune in gold nonetheless. All told, over 10 percent of the gold mined in the next 125 years was found in the initial Deadwood bonanza.
How the Black Hills Gold Rush Changed American History
More than just economically, the Black Hills Gold Rush changed the makeup of the United States of America. A large section of the country that had been given to the Sioux was annexed to the United States. While it’s likely that this would have happened eventually anyway — it did everywhere else — the Black Hills Gold Rush provided an incentive for it to happen earlier.
It also made economic dynasties in the United States. For example, fans of Deadwood know that George Hearst is one of the primary antagonists of the series. He, in fact, was part of a consortium of developers who were instrumental in developing and expanding the Homestake Mine.
The Homestake Mine is an excellent way of conceptualizing the entire Black Hills Gold Rush. Discovered by Fred and Moses Manuel, Alex Engh, and Hank Harney in April 1876, these prospectors sold the claim to George Hearst, Lloyd Tevis, and James Ben Ali Haggin for the price of $70,000 in 1877. When the mine was discovered the land legally belonged to the Lakota Nation under the Treaty of Fort Laramie.
Of course, native treaties with the United States were always subject to the whims and vagaries of the United States government and this one was no exception to that rule. It was the desire of the United States to control the gold in the region that sparked off the Great Sioux War, sometimes known as the Black Hills War. This was the last major military operation against the native population of North America by the United States government.
The Great Sioux War
Many people know of the Battle of Little Bighorn, General George Custer, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull. These are all firmly in the American lexicon as parts of our national mythos. But few know that they relate to the massive infusion of gold that came out of the Black Hills Gold Rush.
It is worth noting — as it often is — that the land that was being occupied by the Sioux at the time of the Great Sioux War was land that had previously belonged to other Indian tribes. In this case, it was the Kiowa, who were pushed out by the Sioux and their allies the Cheyenne and Arapaho. The resources the native tribes sought were not gold, but the rich buffalo hunting grounds that lay in the region.
For their part, the Cheyenne were one of the most centralized tribal groups on the Great Plains. This is ironic, considering that there were so many different American and European names for them, that the United States military were unaware that they were a single cohesive group for quite some time. It was the Northern Cheyenne who began attacks against white men in the area, but the United States government would not provide any protection — only select government officials had the right to be there. The United States was not going to use its military might to stop interlopers and glory hunters from getting killed by the rightful inhabitants of the region.
At least not yet.
The Black Hills Expedition AKA The Custer Expedition
The Black Hills Expedition, also known as the Custer Expedition, was dispatched by the federal government in 1874. This was where significant amounts of gold were discovered and before the detachment had even returned to Fort Abraham Lincoln, news had spread across the nation of the gold. What’s more, the Lakota Indians in the region could see the writing on the wall and were taking on a defensive posture.
Just before the Black Hills Gold Rush began, there was the Panic of 1873. This began what was then known as the Great Depression, but what is now known as the Long Depression. Both individual prospectors and organized groups were moving into the region in violation of the Treaty of Fort Laramie.
It was easy enough to evade the United States Army detachments that were nominally patrolling the region and the Army did evict miners where it was able to do so. But without drones and other high-tech equipment to monitor the situation, the Army was at a disadvantage. Spotted Tail, Red Cloud, and Lone Horn headed a Sioux delegation to Washington, D.C. to convince President Ulysses S. Grant to enforce the treaty and stop the flow of miners. The government responded by offering $25,000 for the land and offering to relocate the Indians to Indian Country, in present-day Oklahoma.
The breakdown in negotiations was thanks to two main factors: First, a lot of bad blood between the Americans and the native tribes thanks to a slew of broken treaties. Second, the sacred nature of the Black Hills to the Indians. There had also been other encroachments into territories ostensibly belonging to the Sioux, generally by railroad interests. By 1876 the situation had broken out into total war. On February 28, 1877, the land was annexed by the victorious United States government.
The Homestake Mine: An American Treasure Trove
The Homestake Mine was so laden with gold that it was mined until 2002. It was the largest and deepest mine ever found in North America. All told, there were 40 million troy ounces of gold mined out of the Homestake Mine during its lifetime.
George Hearst took active control of the Homestake Mine when he arrived in Deadwood in October 1877. With the arrival of Hearst, the mine became a much more industrial operation. He hauled in mining equipment from Sidney, Nebraska, which is 273 miles away.
Arthur De Wint Foote was brought in as an engineer. He himself is an excellent example of the pioneer spirit of the age. In 1873, he left Connecticut and set out for California in search of excitement, adventure, and, above all, gainful employment. He bounced around a number of jobs there in the railroads and civil engineering projects. In 1876, he went back east to get married to American author and illustrator Mary Hallock Foote, an important contemporary documentarian of the American West. It was after his marriage that he moved his new family to the town of Deadwood to oversee the Homestake Mine for George Hearst. After this, he headed south to Leaden, Colorado to oversee a silver mine there. Indeed, any story of American mining and gold prospecting during the time period will likely find Foote popping up.
In 1879, the mine went public with shares being listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares were listed until 2001, making it one of the longest listed stocks in the history of the exchange.
Those who have watched Deadwood know that Hearst is alleged to have used means fair and foul to grow and consolidate the mining in and around Homestake. Of course, the television series is fictional, but there is some truth to his villainous portrayal on the show. Some claims were purchased, others were poached in court. In one instance, a Hearst employee killed a prospector who refused to sell his claim. The man was acquitted in court after all of the witnesses disappeared. An anti-Hearst newspaperman was attacked on the street.
For his part, Hearst feared for his own safety and drafted a letter to his partners asking them to provide for his family in the event that he was bushwhacked. However, in three years Hearst left a very rich man, having consolidated most of the mining in the region under his control — a grand total of 30 acres of claims under his belt. By 1900, the Homestake Mine had expanded to include 300 claims sitting on 2000 acres. Mules and horses were finally replaced with fully operated machine equipment by the 1920s. All gold was shipped to the Denver mint.
The gold ore at the mine wasn’t actually very good. It didn’t even yield an ounce of pure gold for every ton of ore mined. The reason the mine was such a bonanza was because of the size of the discovery, not because of its quality. The size made the low quality of the ore, not a problem. In addition to the gold, the mine produced 9 million troy ounces of silver. A combination of the aforementioned poor ore quality, low gold prices, and high production costs put the mine out of business in 2001, another American icon lost to the changing times and changing markets.
The mine is now run by the National Science Foundation. It was planned to be used as a deep underground research mine. Maintenance of the mine cost a quarter-million dollars every day, so it was quickly shut down as a deal to transfer ownership became mired in the weeds. It was finally selected by the National Science Foundation for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) in 2007. In June 2009 the University of California Berkeley announced that it would begin to operate the mine for research on neutrinos and dark matter particles.
A somewhat obscure problem in nuclear physics was discovered at the mine in the 1960s, the solar neutrino problem. The problem itself is a little above our pay grade but the important part is that it came out of an experiment performed at the mine and was not resolved until 2002. Those with a mind for theoretical physics will know this as the Homestake experiment.
While not cutting the imposing and impressive posture of Mount Rushmore, which sits in the Black Hills, the Homestake Mine is arguably a more important part of American history. After all, a monument is simply an engineering project, whereas the Homestake Mine carved a Mount Rushmore-sized place into the social fabric of America through the jobs and the gold that it provided. It will continue to be a source of American historical developments as a place for our nation’s top scientists to conduct experiments.
The Black Hills Gold Rush originally appeared on kellycodetectors.com
By Jim McCulloch
Several of us on this forum are former Marines or Marine "brats." Today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the 17 day Battle of Chosin Reservoir. My dad, a sergeant in the First Marine Division at Chosin, later co-founded the Sea Angels scuba diving club with Mel Fisher. Their treasure hunting experience, along with that of the Depression Era "survival" gold prospecting experiences of my grandfather and great grandfather, influenced me greatly. Off topic, and reminiscing.
I was thinking the other day about some of the best metal detectors of the analog age and early digital age. My memory shows concentric searchcoils, the Fisher CZ series being an example.
What is the earliest commercial detector that had the commercial option of a DD coil? (As opposed to prototypes, experiements, garage builds, etc., although if you know of any of those it would also be interesting to read about.) Were there analog detectors (and if so, which ones) that worked with DD coils or did those not come around until digital circuitry took over?
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.
By Joe D.
I got up to Treasure Coast for a couple of hunts, to break in my new/used Equinox! I haven't had one for a few months, but i got back into it in a hurry!
The area is always full of detectorists for any rare erosion event, and this past week was no different! The blue erosion bags are a main indicator of the level of erosion present! Normally they are covered by up to several feet of sand! The orange sand is the original sand we look for, when looking for the old stuff! Last friday was the better of the two days i was there! I found a few pieces of lead, iron, copper, and modern coins! For a few lucky hunters, there were musket ball's and spent bullets! There were a few coin and artifact finds, but those were on various other beaches nearby!
The highlight of this trip was recognizing, than meeting a local legend here; Terry Shannon, a super nice, very experienced detectorist, and author! He has a few very good books out on Amazon! He was my best "find" of the day!
I also went Monday, but i caught the tide incoming, and just got beat up by the big waves, with very few targets! But i will keep going there, whenever i get the chance, to finally find some of the elusive and rare Spanish items!👍👍