Eiteljorg Musuem Blog

Gold in the Extreme

by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western Art | Jul 03, 2015

Gold miners in the rushes to the Far North had to contend with extreme and challenging conditions.

In the diggings around Dawson, the seasons dictated which work was done when. Miners dug through the fall and winter, amassing towering piles of loose rock and dirt. Then in the spring and summer, they processed these piles with gold pans, rockers, and massive systems of interconnected sluice boxes. The processing work had to wait until the warmer months when streams and rivers thawed, providing access to the massive amounts of water needed to wash the sediment and extract the gold. This meant that sometimes miners labored for months before discovering whether they had staked a profitable claim or not.

The discovery of gold on the beaches around Nome, Alaska, sparked a mini-rush that offered some of the most unusual and grueling working conditions. Prospectors worked on the shores of the Bering Sea, often knee deep in muck and frigid seawater, shoveling the gold-laced sand into rockers.

Mining Claim No. 17 Eldorado Creek Looking Up French Gulch, Yukon Territory, ca. 1898
Photographer: Eric A. Hegg
Image courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections; Hegg 53A

Canyon Creek, Yukon Territory, 1909
Image courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society; 1998.34.1.21

Panning for Gold in Sluice Box, Charles Hutchinson Claim, Gold Hill Bonanza Creek, Yukon Territory, 1899
Photographer: Asahel Curtis
Image courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections Division; CUR1480



Surf washing, Nome, Alaska, ca. 1905
Image courtesy of the Alaska State Library, Lomen Brothers Photo Collection, 1903-1920; P44-03-184



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