Eiteljorg Musuem Blog
  • Points North: Dawson City and Nome

    by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western Art | Jul 15, 2015
     Here was a big city growing before our very eyes. It recalled one of those street scenes that have become so popular at recent exhibitions, only this was before the opening ceremony, and they were hurrying up so they could get it finished in time! The footway was blocked to such an extent with men walking, or standing about, or sitting on the piles of timber, that it was with difficulty that we could get along.

    —Julius M. Price, Dawson City, 1898

    Dawson City, nicknamed the “San Francisco of the North,” was the center of the Yukon-Klondike gold rush. Founded in 1897 on the banks of the Yukon River and nestled at the foot of towering mountains, the city grew at a startling rate over the next few years. In the peak years of the gold rush, between 30,000 and 40,000 people called Dawson and the surrounding area home. The town boasted a public library; a variety of stores and businesses including doctors, lawyers, fortune tellers, and laundries; and a number of saloons, dance halls, and hotels.

    Nome, Alaska, experienced a similar “boom and bust” period. Between the summers of 1899 and 1900 the population swelled from a small cluster of tents to a bustling city of 20,000. Perched on the shores of the Bering Sea on the far western coast of Alaska, the town sprang up almost overnight. It included a post office, shops, a U.S. military outpost, several churches, and a variety of drinking and gambling establishments.

     It may be possible to imagine a more unlikely setting for a frontier mining town, or for that matter, a town of any kind, but I can’t think where. Perhaps there is such a place in Antarctica.

    —Historian William Bronson, describing Nome, 1969 

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    Residence of C. Lund No. 26. Above Discovery Bonanza Creek, ca. 1905
    Image courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society; 1998.34.1.34

     Warner140@300ppi_8x10-smaller tent
    Tents and Wooden Structures on Beach at Nome, Looking East, with Sledge Island in the Distance, ca. 1899
    Photographer: Arthur Churchill Warner
    Image courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections; Warner 140


    Cribbage Board, 1909
    Scrimshawed walrus tusk ivory
    Loan courtesy of the University of Alaska Museum of the North; UA94-009-0041
    Photography by Hadley Fruits

    The carvings on this walrus tusk show the town of Nome, Alaska, in 1909. The back shows the skyline of the entire town.

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  • Willoughby Sprig Digs Up Gold Rush Pop Songs

    by Chris Burrus, Banjo player for Willoughby Sprig | Jul 14, 2015

    This week we feature a guest post written by Chris Burrus, banjo player for Willoughby Sprig. The folk-inspired duo play Gold Rush era music under the sails most Saturdays as part of Gold! Riches and Ruin. You can also here them perform original music this Wednesday, July 15 at 5:00pm as part of the Eiteljorg’s Summer Under The Sails Music Series.


    Willoughby Sprig “Digs Up” Gold Rush Pop Songs


    Requests to play My Darling Clementine: 0

    Requests to play Freebird: 5


                We are now two months into our stint performing period music for Gold! Riches and Ruin and have yet to be asked to play My Darling Clementine. Unfortunately, I have lost a bet with our fiddle player, having confidently predicted that we would be asked to play it within several hours of starting our program of music from the Gold Rushes two months ago.

                This bad luck has done nothing to quell my enthusiasm for playing the music. As a performer of the music of the Gold Rush, I've sung the songs of miners, prospectors, sailors, drunks, thieves, various wildlife, happy folks, grieving folks, and all sorts of rough-and-tumble types. If there is one thing I've learned from this music, it's that losing a bet would have been the least of these folks' worries. 

                The Gold Rush and the American Civil War can be grouped together as the two great contributors toward America's influential place in early folk and popular music. However, if the music of the Civil War is the charismatic, lead-guitarist of American musical nationalism, the music of the Gold Rush is the craggy, cigar box guitar player who wrote most of Civil War's songs. The practice of parody song writing, for example, which became a major musical genre in the Civil War, first earned its place in popular song writing during the Gold Rush. Popular songs such as Stephen Foster's Way Up the Swanee River became Way Up the Yuba River. The minstrel tune Boatman's Dance became Ho! For California. In both cases and many others, a parody song was created. Lyricists borrowed the melodies of popular songs and folk tunes, composing new lyrics to match the experiences of those heading west for gold. Both the Foster melody and the minstrel tune would go on to become massive hits during the Civil War as well.

                The music of the Gold Rush as a genre is not exactly folk, but popular music with a sprinkling of the folk idiom. Its place was in the saloon, the barrel house, and the concert hall, rather than in the community. Lyricists were looking to make a quick buck with tickets and sheet music rather than to preserve a tradition. This mindset produced a music whose success depended upon its ability to glorify the variety of experiences among those listening, thereby heightening its appeal and broadening its popularity.

                Because the music of the Gold Rush required variety to be profitable, Willoughby Sprig has tuned up a whole slew of foot-stompers, tear jerkers, love ballads, travel tunes, and cave-hollers from a vast collection of music. These pieces, along with features from the exhibit, The Chilkoot March and The Klondike: March of the Gold Miners, can be heard under the sails most Saturday afternoons through mid-August. We also take requests, as long as they are from 1849!asl_p44_03_184-jpg
    Men and dogs outside log cabin, ca. 1900
    Image courtesy of the Alaska State Library, Skinner Foundation Photographs, Alaska Steamship Company, 1890s-1940s; P44-03-184
    asl_p425_6_35-blog 19
    Four Prospectors Relax on Their Cabin Bunk, ca. 1898
    Photographer: Claude Hobart
    Image courtesy of the Alaska State Library, Claude Hobart Photograph Collection, 1898-99; P425-6-35

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  • Jammin’ In July | Live Music Every Wednesday

    by Sandy Schmidt, Eiteljorg public programs coordinator | Jul 07, 2015
    Music. It comes in all verities. It can be loud or quiet. It can be calming or inspiring. It can create emotions and recall memories.  Some types you love and others, well….they maybe aren’t your jam.  Everyone has a favorite song, whether it is classical, hard rock, pop, country or anything in between.  You know the feeling when that song comes on… suddenly it is the only thing you want to focus on for the next three minutes and you will not hesitate to silence your friend mid story by turning the volume to a level your Mother would condemn.  Don’t lie, you like music and you probably have done that at least once in your life.  That is one of the biggest reasons we have chosen to have live music under our new addition, The Sails!  This is going to be a wonderful community spot! We will have shade, games, drinks and tunes outside the museum, right next to the Canal.  As we completely understand that people have a variety of tastes in music, we are featuring a variety of bands each Wednesday evening in July from 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. beginning on July 1st.

    We have booked some pretty great local bands including Freddie T & The People, Soundz of Santana, and Coolidge.  We also have The Indianapolis Ceili Band for a performance before they make their way to Ireland to compete!  All in all, we have a lot planned out there for that community space this summer and we would love to see your face!

    Just a head’s up, bringing your lunch to enjoy out under The Sails is wonderful…I may even venture to say blissful. Then factor in a little bit of lunch time live music that will be happening occasionally, and you will have an awesome work day break!  Wednesdays are about to get a whole lot better.

    Jammin' Line up:
    Soundz of Santana6
    July 8
    Soundz of Santana

    Whiloughby Sprig1
    (Willoughby Sprig)

    July 15
    Willoughby Sprig,  
    Indiana Old Time Ambassadors 
    Indianapolis Ceili Band 2014
    July 22
    Indianapolis Ceili Band
    Emily Ann Thompson Band

    July 29
    Frank Dean, Scott Parkhurst and LuAnn Lancton
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  • Hard Rock, Hard Luck

    by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western Art | Jul 05, 2015

    Come to camp with our Spirits way down dont [sic] like the looks of the country. [A]nd I dont [sic] like the looks of the men dont [sic] believe there is a claim on the creek that will pay wages. —Jerry Bryan, 1876 

    The general character of my mining has been to get the ore out, reduce it to bullion, and sell it . . . [I]n other words, we were engaged in what is called legitimate mining . . . On the whole, I think that mining is about the best business of all. —George Hearst, in his 1890 memoir

    In 1876 approximately 10,000 fortune seekers poured into Deadwood Gulch with dreams of easily gotten gold. For most, these dreams were quickly shattered when reality hit. The canyon terrain was extremely rough and difficult to navigate. The most profitable claims were scattered haphazardly throughout the Hills, isolated from one another. The richest deposits of gold were veins running through hard rock, which necessitated the use of heavy machinery like stamp mills to extract the gold.

    None of these conditions were conducive to success for individual miners or small mining companies, and it didn’t take long for larger companies to squeeze out the competition. In the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries, gold mining in the Black Hills underwent rapid industrialization, with the Homestake Mining Company dominating the field.

    The Homestake claim was first filed in April 1876 by brothers Fred and Moses Manuel, but soon after was purchased from them by George Hearst. A veteran of the California gold rush who had made his fortune running a general merchandise store and investing in mines, Hearst rapidly expanded the mine’s operations. The city of Lead (pronounced “leed”) developed with the mine and was a company town. It was the largest and deepest gold mine in North America, and until it closed January 2002, one of the most productive. The mine has since been converted into a deep underground science and engineering laboratory, renamed the Sanford Underground Research Facility, and is used by physicists to study neutrinos and dark matter.

    Between Pluma and Lead in 1890, 1890
    Image courtesy of Historic Deadwood, Inc., Adams Museum Collection; 0070.220.001

    Homestake Workings, ca. 1920
    Image courtesy of Deadwood History, Inc., Homestake Mining Company Collection; 61-16

    Carpenter Crew, ca. 1900
    Image courtesy of Deadwood History, Inc., Homestake Mining Company Collection; 25-1

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  • 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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