Government, Law, and Natives
"If only the government would . . ." This phrase began many conversations among Alaskans who always had plenty to say about what the government should do. Obviously, Alaskans expected the government to perform efficiently its traditional services, including mail service, telegraph communication, military protection, providing trails and wagon roads, and administering civil and criminal laws. Residents complained strenuously whenever the government appeared inefficient in providing these services. But Alaskans also made other demands for government help and protested generally if Washington did not respond in a timely fashion.
The Army and Other Services in Alaska
From 1867 to 1877 the U.S. Army governed Alaska from its headquarters at Sitka with several posts along the southern coast. Aside from one reconnaissance of the Yukon River, the army did no exploration during this period. After the army administration of the territory gave way to the U.S. Navy, the army's role was limited. The U.S. Army Signal Corps was active in making meteorological observations in the Aleutians and in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta. And in 1885, the army's Lt. Henry Allen achieved a major exploration of the Copper, Tanana, and Koyukuk rivers.
Other services also contributed to exploration and science before the gold rush. Between 1886 and 1898 the navy and the Revenue Marine Service explored the Selawik and Kobuk river valleys. The Coast and Geodetic Survey made astronomical observations, triangulation, and topographical surveys on the 141st meridian in 1889-1890. Another scientist, Frederick Funston, voyaged on the Yukon to make a survey for the Department of Agriculture in 1893.
With the gold rush in 1897 the army sent Capt. Patrick Henry Ray and Lt. Wilds P. Richardson to the Yukon. The officers did what they could to keep order; made recommendations on sites for army bases, which were established within a few years; and proposed a series of exploration ventures. These expeditions, made in 1898 under Capt. William R. Abercrombie on the Copper River and Captain Edwin F. Glenn on the Copper and Susitna rivers and to Cook Inlet and the Tanana River, included geologists of the USGS. The third army mission in '98 was a reindeer drive to Dawson, which was to be followed by trail marking from the Yukon to the Tanana. The reindeer trek was not successful, and the trail marking was cancelled because of the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. 
In 1899 the army again sent Abercrombie to Valdez to survey a military road to Eagle in the interior. A start was made on a trail through Keystone Canyon and Thompson Pass to the Tonsina Valley that year. Soldiers, limited to hand tools, carved out a 93-mile trail adequate for packhorse travel before the season closed in October 1899.
The government surveyed the trail from Valdez to Eagle in 1899-1900 and the army improved it over the next several years. During construction, the development of Fairbanks caused a redirection of the line from Eagle to Fairbanks. Building the trail over its 376-mile course was an expensive and difficult process because of the short construction seasons and the obstacles of mountainous terrain near the coast and where the Alaska Range had to be traversed. By 1906 the route was good enough to attract a commercial carrier: the Ed S. Orr Stage offered passenger and freight service over the full length of the trail.
Early in the century, the need became obvious for a permanent agency for Alaska's road work. The government established the Alaska Road Commission in 1905 to undertake trail and road construction and repair. The commission's budget did not permit construction at a pace speedy enough to please miners, but the agency performed with reasonable efficiency for many years.
Just as Abercrombie's 1898 explorations were continued in 1899, so were Glenn's explorations from Cook Inlet. He explored northward from the Matanuska, Susitna, Yentna, and Kuskokwim rivers to locate the best route from tidewater to crossings of the Tanana River. His mission was to find a route that would enable the army to service its Yukon River posts from Cook Inlet. Joseph Herron made the first exploration of the upper Kuskokwim River under Glenn's command.
The War Department reorganized its territorial efforts in 1900. It created the Department of Alaska with posts at Fort Davis near Nome; Fort Liscum near Valdez; and Fort William H. Seward at Haines. It also established four posts on the Yukon: Fort St. Michael at the mouth; Fort Gibbon near Tanana; Fort Rampart at Rampart; and Fort Egbert at Eagle. Money was appropriated for construction of the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS).
The army began construction of a telegraph line in 1900 after establishing a military post at Eagle in 1899. Initially, soldiers built a link from Eagle to the Canadian border so that messages could be dispatched over the Canadian line. At the same time survey work was commenced for an all-American line following the Yukon River. By 1902 the line was in operation, and the army maintained and operated the communications until recent times.
The U.S. Geological Survey
In 1895 William H. Dall and George F. Becker did a mineral survey along the coast. A year later Joseph E. Spurr, H.B. Goodrick, and F.C. Schrader performed a geological reconnaissance from the head of Lynn Canal, over Chilkoot Pass to the Yukon, then downriver to St. Michael. From 1898 the USGS had its men in the field every year. Alfred Brooks, the future USGS chief in Alaska, became recognized in Washington, D.C., as the leading government authority on Alaska. Brooks and the other geologists won the respect of miners throughout the territory. What one man said of Stephen Capps (a geologist who served many seasons in Alaska) was echoed by others who praised the USGS worker: "A more experienced hard working man would be impossible to find. He travels over the mountains like a goat; there was never a piece of rock or formation he did not reach. The marvelous part of it to me is how the government seems to be able to retain men of such calibre." 
Capps was just one of a distinguished group of men whose work was of great importance to miners. Their diligence and objectivity earned them an exemption from the general complaints about the government's actions or inactions.
Mail service to the interior from Juneau began with mail carrier Jim Jackson's departure in December 1895. Weeks later, after crossing the Chilkoot Pass, he reached Fortymile and Circle. Along the way he had been forced to kill his dogs for food. In spring 1896, the Canadian government contracted with Capt. William Moore, still hearty at age 73, who traveled from Skagway to Dawson with a load of mail. Moore returned downriver to St. Michael, steamed down to Victoria by ship, gathered another load, and crossed the Chilkoot again for a second delivery.
Everyone admired the winter route mail carriers, in particular appreciating the value of their service and the hazards of their travel. "The men employed on this duty are without doubt the hardest worked public servants in the Territory," observed Lt. J.C. Cantwell in 1901, "there is no public service more arduous and hazardous and at the same time more faithfully performed." Fall and spring trips were particularly dangerous. Blizzards could wipe out trails and force delays. Accidents were frequent on trails washed out during breakup or iced over after a fleeting thaw. The frozen Yukon and other rivers were the main winter arteries of traffic, but carriers tempted to use river trails too early or too late in the season risked their lives. 
By Cantwell's time on his U.S. Revenue Marine Yukon station in 1899-1901, mail routes were well-established and winter service was regular. By then the White Pass and Yukon Railway existed to replace the travails of foot passage over the Chilkoot Pass. Rail head was Whitehorse, then carriers continued downriver on the Yukon. Other branch routes extended as other mining camps developedas to the Koyukuk, Tanana, and Nome via Kaltag, Unalakleet, and St. Michael. Routes were divided into runs of 50 to 75 miles with one carrier assigned to each run. Small log cabins along their routes, spaced about 20 miles apart, sheltered the carriers. A good day's travel was 40 miles, but difficult conditions could slow the pace. Carriers stopping at these isolated cabins had to cut wood, then prepare food for themselves and their dogs, although along some trail roadhouses could accommodate them. For such essential and hard service, carriers were not richly rewarded. Most earned about $125 monthly after deductions for expenses. Mail customers paid a dollar or more to send letters in early days, but once government service was established, they paid only the standard postage of two cents on letters that cost the government about 50 cents a piece to transport.
Under the best conditions, mail from Outside reached a point midway on the Yukon between rail terminal and St. Michael in 40 to 43 days. Later, the time was reduced to 30 to 35 days. Sled loads, averaging 350 to 500 pounds, were hauled by five or more dogs. Parcels and newspapers were held at Whitehorse or Skagway until rivers opened to steamboat navigation.
Ben F. Downing, formerly a freighter in Dakota and Montana, got the first U.S. government contract for the Yukon after the Nome rush in 1899. His contract required him to build shelter cabins and build an improved trail through to Nome. In four years of operation, before losing the contract to the Northern Commercial Company, Downing lived an adventurous life, including a close call when a drunken, vengeful miner killed an enemy who was traveling with the mail carrier.
Service from Valdez to Eagle started in fall 1899 with a disastrous October journey by packhorses over the newly constructed military trail. It was Christmas before the carrier staggered into Eagle carrying only three letters. The bulk of his mail and his 11 horses had been lost along the way. Oscar Fish and Al Paxon established a better route in spring 1900, reaching Eagle in 30 days via Tanana Crossing, Mansfield, and Ketchumstock.
Contractors came and went as other lower bidders replaced them, but some individual carriers hung on to their routes for decades. John Powers serviced the Eagle-Chicken route from 1908 to 1938; Ed Brederman handled Eagle-Circle from 1912 to 1938; and Percy D. Wolfe ran between Eagle and Dawson from 1915 to 1950. When these worthies gave way, it was not to other carriers but the airlines. 
Proper delivery of the mail was important and the heavy expenditures for service indicate that the government agreed. (See table on following page.)
Cost of Mail Service 
No assessment of mining history could be complete without some consideration of the government's place in mineral resource development. A reasonable evaluation of the federal government's activities presents some vexing problems of interpretation when viewed retrospectively. For the pioneers, of course, the issues were clearcut: the government should foster development through heavy investments in transportation, services, and other benefits to minersyet its efforts were tardy, ill-defined, parsimonious, grudging, inefficient, and indifferent to Alaskans' needs.
Historian Clarence L. Andrews observed that the national wave of conservation in the first decade of this century included a laudable effort to protect Alaska's resources from wasteful exploitation. Coal and oil lands were withdrawn, and forests and wildlife habitat preserves were created. Unfortunately, these protective measures halted development. The private builders of the Alaska Central Railroad from Seward to the interior and the Copper River railroad from Cordova to Kennicott stopped construction of lines to the Matanuska coal mines and Bering River coal deposits, respectively. Depression griped the land. The Alaska Central Railroad faltered after laying 79 miles of track, and the Alaska Syndicate did not consider carrying the Copper River and Northwestern Railway beyond Kennicott. In response to the clamor from Alaskans, the government authorized a public railroad in 1914, taking over the Alaska Central's 71 miles and the 30-mile short-line of the Tanana Valley Railroad near Fairbanks.
Once the railroad builders started work, Alaskans were certain that their mining future would be prosperous. They liked to quote the character in Rex Beach's novel, The Iron Trail, who wailed that without transportation "the riches of Alaska are as useless today as if hidden away in the chasms of the moon." What Alaskans still had to learn was that transportation, for all its great importance, was only one factor in the development equation. 
Construction of the Alaska Railroad did not provide all the economic stimulation that backers had yearned for. World War I deferred progress until completion in 1923. Even then the government did not aggressively pursue traffic like James Hill showed in developing his Great Northern Railroad in the western United States. Hill subsidized colonization, aided farmers, and laid tracks to mines, while the government did little to promote the Alaska Railroad and mining. Alaskans believed that the delays of the government in opening the coal lands prevented their development, although, in truth, it was determined that better coal could be mined at lower cost elsewhere in the nation.
Similarly, when Alaska's population fell sharply between 1910 and 1920 from 64,356 to 55,036, Alaskans blamed the government. The decline continued into the 1920s, and Alaskans echoed the pleas made by Governor Thomas Riggs in 1919: "Unless the government pursues a more liberal policy . . . the territory can never reach that stage of productiveness for which there is every possibility." 
Miners did get help during the dark days of the Great Depression. In 1933 the price of gold, long fixed at $20.67 per ounce, was increased to $35. Gold production leaped immediately from $9,701,000 in 1933 to $16,007,000 in 1934, rising to $26,178,000 by 1940. Actual output over the 1933-1940 period rose from 469,286 ounces in 1933 to 749,943 ounces in 1940. But the recovery proved to be as short-lived, as the emergency of World War II forced the closure of most mines in Alaska. Mining did not revive much after the war. Some Alaskans continued to blame the government but, after statehood, these old cries have had a hollow sound.
Without question, the government was tardy in providing civil governance, adequate land legislation, and effective services before 1899. The government was also slow in exploring, surveying, and providing for the needs of natives. In the emergency of the gold era, however, the responses to Alaska's requirements came swiftly. Exploration, civil and criminal codes, postal services, military protection and assistance to destitute prospectors, and telegraph and trail building were among the achievements of the period. Local government developed slowly, and Alaskans complained at the quality of services rendered, but most of their requirements were attended to. Alaskans found the tie-up of coal land entry from 1906-12 inexcusable, and many accused the government of favoring the exploitations of the Alaska Syndicate. Alaskans were unanimous and vociferous in their insistence that the government should do more to aid economic development. The government's responsibilities to provide law and order, civil government, and essential services is clearer than its obligation to foster development with specific projects. Though the government had always encouraged road and railroad construction, it did not respond generously or quickly enough to suit most Alaskans. Perhaps they expected too much. In retrospect, it also seems clear that the kind of progressive development Alaskans yearned for did not depend on government's bounty where the mining industry was concerned. Government help alone would not create a viable gold industry.
Writing in 1924, historian Jeannette Paddock Nichols summed up Alaska's arguments for economic development, stressing the need to eliminate
Nichols foresaw the struggle for statehood and considered economic development promoted by the government but not the particular programs demanded by miners. Alaska's growth mushroomed during World War II due to defense spending. Constructing the Alaska Highway and other roads, airfields, and military bases cost billions of dollars over the years. Government and government contractors' payrolls during the cold war era filled the economic vacuum in the economy left by the decline of the mining industry. With these benefits and population increases, Alaska was deemed ready for statehood in 1959. 
Law and Order
The federal court system was in place when the Klondike excitement started, although the first court in the interior was not established until 1900. During the 1897-98 turmoil the only U.S. marshal was based at Juneau, and the corruption of his deputy at Skagway and a U.S. commissioner at Dyea contributed to the scandal of Soapy Smith's lawless ways at Skagway.
The government's tardiness in policing the Yukon interior cannot be justified. From 1886 the influx of miners into the interior should have called closer attention to the needs of law enforcement. By 1895 Circle's population was 500, yet the miners had to depend on the precarious justice administered by miners meetings to settle civil disputes and sanction criminals. Though the "pure democracy" of the miners meeting came to be praised by pioneers in later years, the system was imperfect and intolerable except in emergency conditions.
A deputy marshal was sent to Circle in 1897, but the man stopped at Dawson to mine gold and did not even reach his duty station. It was not until spring 1899 that a regularly appointed deputy settled in Circle. During the turbulence of the gold rush, officers of the U.S. Army were forced to keep order on the Yukon, and the task was beyond their capacity.
Government's neglect can account for some failures in law enforcement but not for the terrible scandal of Nome's court in 1900-1902. Nome did have a judge and marshal from 1900, but the judge participated in a conspiracy to deprive successful miners of their properties and was eventually removed from office. It took longer to clean up the corrupt marshal's office, but it was achieved in 1904.
Taken all together the lawlessness at Skagway, corruption at Nome, and tardiness in establishing law and order in the interior constituted an unpleasant blot on the government's record. It is hard to assess the long-range effects of such corruption and inefficiency, but certainly the record did not encourage veneration of the law among miners.
The Nome corruption of the "spoilers" led by Alexander McKenzie with the compliance of Judge Arthur H. Noyes also involved the participation of U.S. Senators and their efforts to legislate in their own interests. This corruption at the seat of power in Washington, D.C., was a nasty heritage for Alaskans. How could a trust in government be engendered when folks recalled toleration of such blatant misuse of political power?
It should be said that the judicial system operated with reasonable fairness and efficiency except in the short-lived instances cited here. There were occasional minor scandals just as in courts of other jurisdictions, but on the whole the system functioned well. 
Although Sitka's records show mining claims filed as early as 1875, it was not until 1879 that improved prospects suggested the need for the organization of a mining district. The formal record of proceedings shows that the first order of business was to fix the boundaries of the district and establish the office of recorder. Most of the by laws concerned the recorder and included the following provisions:
The federal mining laws were extended to Alaska by 1884 congressional legislation. Laws governed some basic aspects of locating, recording, and holding claims while leaving other matters to local rules adopted by the miners of established districts. In all new mining districts, a miners meeting was convened to regulate the size of claims, staking practices and other technical points. It was almost inevitable that the miners meeting would also serve as an informal judicial body to keep the peace and settle disputes, but in such instances it was without authority.
Federal mining laws on placer claims permitted the location of 160-acre tracts which miners could hold indefinitely if they performed labor or made improvements of at least $100 annually. Early in the gold-rush era, miners complained of abuses by others who managed to control large blocks of ground in violation of the spirit of the law. Location by power of attorney was one well-recognized abuse that permitted a prospector to stake an entire creek if he so desired. The right of location by power of attorney was not part of the mining code but was an application of the established law of agencyallowing one to act through an agent.
One mining man from Rampart told a congressional committee in 1903 how to remedy the situation:
Another miner distinguished a stampeder from a prospector:
One ambiguity of mining law was impossible of solution. Courts consistently ruled that a prospector's claim would not be protected unless it had been based on actual discovery of a valuable mineral. The general test was whether the prospector located in the reasonable belief that further work would uncover enough mineral to repay his efforts. In litigating the question, the court would ask whether the prospector found minerals in such quantity and under such conditions as would justify an ordinarily prudent person, "not necessarily an experienced miner," in expending money and time with the reasonable expectation of developing a paying mine. 
Amendments to the federal laws on Alaska were the "Waskey Act" of 1907 which permitted miners to file affidavits testifying to their annual assessment work and the "Wickersham Placer Law" of 1912. The Wickersham law ended the 160-acre location.
Alaska's first territorial legislature enacted a comprehensive act in 1913. Changes occurred with every legislative session and in 1931 all previous acts were eliminated to permit claims of 160 acres. The territorial legislature repealed this measure in 1939 to restrict claims to 40 acres and this limit still remains in force. Restrictions were also placed on power of attorney locations, limiting them to two uses within the same recording district during the same monthand limiting each such location to 20 acres. 
Though not a function of government nor an aspect of mining law, the matter of labor relations was a concern of government and the entire community. During the Klondike gold rush, miners who worked for wages generally earned up to a dollar an hour, a very high rate for the day. Many miners worked lays or shares for claim owners so could not be considered as wage earners. After the Fairbanks boom of 1903-1905, the majority of miners were wage laborers. Although some could be tempted to join new stampedes, they were likely to return to employment after a short time. As wages did not remain at the high Klondike-Nome level once the numbers of laborers exceeded the demand, miners began organizing in larger camps by 1905.
The Western Federations of Miners dominated the outside mining industry. Its 238 locals with 26,000 dues-paying members were located in most mountainous states and the western provinces of Canada. By 1905 the Western Federation of Miners had suffered a major defeat by Colorado mine owners but was moving forward elsewhere, particularly through its radical offshoot, the Industrial Workers of the World, familiarly known as the Wobblies.
Surprisingly, for all the militance of the Western Federation of Miners and the Wobblies, their leadership did not precipitate the establishment of locals in Alaska. It took a petition from Nome miners, who claimed an association of 1,500 members, to encourage the Western Federation of Miners' interest in sending an agent to the northern camp.
Nome miners did not wait long after achieving federation status as Local 240 before making demands on owners. In November 1905 the union demanded $3.50 per 10-hour day for its winter rate. But in December the union did not even threaten a strike before accepting the $3 rate that had prevailed for several years. On other fronts the local was more active. It demanded that public officials ban gambling and joined with the Federal Labor Union, the Nome waterfront workers, to create a new labor party in March 1906.
The WFM granted another charter to Local 104 of Ellamar, a small company town in the Prince William Sound district, in January 1907. Local 104 had only 42 members, and its strike for $4 for an eight-hour day was rejected by Ellamar's owners, who refused even to meet with union representatives. Local 104 called on the Western Federation of Miners headquarters for help, which was fast gaining strength in Alaska. Eight hundred miners in Douglas were granted a charter for Local 109 in April 1907. All three locals went on strike in 1907, but the federation's leadership, heavily involved in the prosecution of its officers for the murder of Idaho's Governor Frank Steunenberg, could not help much.
The Douglas miners had organized to confront the Treadwell owners, who had operated the territory's largest mining operation for 20 years. One of Treadwell's economy measures was the recruitment of cheap immigrant laborSwedes, Montenegrins, Japanese, and "Hindoos"were successive waves of immigrants employed at Douglas. Hostility to the immigrants boiled in the boardhouses and exploded in March 1907 when a Montenegrin shot a Japanese cook. Clever federation men convinced the miners that their unhappiness was traceable to company policies. Workers joined the Western Federation of Miners and struck for a $1.00 daily lodging fee. They wanted this lodging cost paid so that they could avoid the company's boarding houses and the presence of other nationalities.
Treadwell's superintendents had always been martinets, and the incumbent in 1907, Robert Kinzie, was no exception. Kinzie convinced the U.S. Marshal that his miners were dangerous anarchists. He requested federal troops to protect company property. But neither the sympathy of territorial officers nor the mass firing of the miners ended the strike. Kinzie's superiors forced him to compromise on most of the union's grievances, but he did resist the establishment of a union shop. Miners returned to work with the first victory for the Western Federation of Miners in Alaska.
Among the grievances of Nome miners was one that was inflammatory enough to unite all 1,600 members to a strike in January 1907. Instead of asking for a higher winter scale as in 1905, the union asked for a $1.00 daily increase in the existing summer rate of $4.00 for 10 hours. In addition, the union wanted a "wet diggings" differential that would reduce shift hours from 10 to eight for working wet or permafrost diggings.
This "wet diggings" demand created an emotional spark among miners who were very much aware of the dangers of drift mining in permafrost. By tradition, the tunnels driven 20 to 60 feet underground were not protected by support of the overburden. As the mining season advanced, the permafrost layers over the tunnels were inclined to thaw and collapse. This ever-present threat was alarming enough but concern over long hours in the damp, unhealthy, and uncomfortably cramped underground was even stronger motivation for asking shorter hours. Nome miners, unlike those in Douglas, were supported by the town's business interests. By late March, owners gave in to grant $5.00, eight-hour scales to wet miners.
A different pattern occurred in Fairbanks where a local union, the United Mine Workers of the Tanana, struck for the eight-hour day in April 1907. A compromise was arranged by Judge James Wickersham in December when owners agreed to the eight-hour demand. Meanwhile, the Western Federation of Miners had gathered most of the miners into Local 193, and its leaders rejected the offer because it only covered the April-October season. By January owners started the covert transport of strike breakers over the Valdez Trail. Miners grew heated and forcibly held up the Valdez-Fairbanks stage on February 7a foolish gesture that turned public opinion against the strikers. Mine owner Abe Spring orchestrated the destruction of the Western Federation of Miners local by bringing in 300 more scabs. One union man was provoked to gunplay, and the union leadership was prosecuted for "felonious riot." Wickersham got a local judge to shut down the union hall and every saloon that had served as an informal meeting place.
As the Fairbanks local died, Robert Kinzie was assaulting the Western Federation of Miners local in Juneau-Douglas with great success. Miners were divided along ethnic lines, and Kinzie broke up a March 1908 strike with imported scabs. Local 109 faded away.
Among the federation's locals, which included those of Ketchikan, Valdez, Whitehorse, Prince William Sound, Fairbanks, and Nome, only Nome's survived into the 1920s. Fairbanks revived briefly in 1909-10, and other locals remained weak until dying by 1915. Juneau miners managed to strike the great Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine Company in 1919 but failed to win a $1.00 daily raise. Nature had destroyed Treadwell two years earlier with a flood. 
Natives and Miners
A greater disruption of the culture of Alaska natives was a natural consequence of the northern stampedes. The process of cultural change, of course, had been going on long before the gold era commenced on the Yukon River and the Seward Peninsula. Russian fur traders made Pacific coastal Alaska a province of the czars in the eighteenth century, and by mid-nineteenth century, New England whaling fleets stood off the Bering Sea and the Arctic coasts each season. For the sparse and scattered population of interior natives, however, the contact with whites was minimal before the gold rushes; a few traders and prospectors and fewer missionaries were the forerunners of a wave that was to affect drastically the traditional native culture.
In 1880 the census taker estimated that about 3,100 Eskimos inhabited the Arctic. He guessed that 7,000 natives dwelled in the Yukon basin, while about 9,000, an improbably high estimate, lived on the Kuskokwim River. In 1888, Alaska's Governor Alfred P. Swineford estimated the total population: "Whites, 6,500; Creoles (practically white) 1,900; Aleuts, 2,950; Natives (partially educated and those who have adopted civilized ways of living) 3,500; Natives wholly uncivilized, 35,000. Total 49,850." A smaller population was estimated in the 1890 census, 23,531 natives and 1,823 of mixed races. Of these, 14,012 were Eskimos scattered along the lower Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, Bristol Bay, and the Arctic, 3,439 were Athabaskans of the interior, while the remainder consisted of the Tlingits, Haidas, and Tsimsheans of southeastern Alaska. All these figures were only educated guesses. It is impossible to say precisely how many natives of Alaska were directly affected by the stampedes to the interior, perhaps from 5,000 to 10,000. 
Among the immediate consequences of the gold stampedes were movements of natives. On the Tanana, for example, the natives of the upper river moved down to be closer to Fairbanks, where they could help provide food for the thousands of miners. Another inevitable result was the depletion of game in the regions where gold camps were founded. Even if every gold camp had passed out of existence after a few years, the game depletion would have forced further relocation.
Violent conflicts between whites and natives seldom occurred during frontier days. Alaska natives were not aggressive warriors like the mounted hunters of the western plains. Stampeders were welcomed rather than resisted. Miners also were of a different stamp from the gun-packing cowboys of other regions. Somehow the rigors of the North compelled men of both races to more gentle deportment. It was also important that no natives were forced from their traditional lands by the pressure of miners.
The northern mining frontier offered natural hazards to the pioneer. It was fortunate that a kindly disposed aboriginal populace existed to ease the lot of the miners. Natives saved the lives of innumerable prospectors who lost their way along the trails. No record exists of the refusal of aid and hospitality by natives to whites, regardless of their own poverty. Explorers on occasion also owed their survival to such charity. In 1899 Lt. Joseph S. Herron led an expedition from Cook Inlet to explore the headwaters of the Kuskokwim River. In attempting to traverse a trackless, swampy region, Herron lost his way; the horses mired in the muck and encumbered progress. In some panic, the horses were abandoned, and the soldiers set out on foot for Fort Gibbon on the Yukon River. But for their discovery by the chief of the Tena Indians the lost explorers would have died of starvation and exposure before finding their way out of the swamps. For two months the Indians sheltered the soldiers in their village, before guiding them to the Tanana River, which they descended to Fort Gibbon.
During the same year, an army expedition to the Tanana River ran out of provisions. The soldiers ate their mules and stumbled on with clothing in shreds, shoeless, suffering from exposure and hunger. Just in time, they reached Tanana village where they were mercifully received. As Lt. J.C. Castiner reported:
Eventually, roadhouses were established on trails carrying enough traffic, but this took some time and amenities never developed on rarely used trails. Yet travelers could move lightly, without tent or stove, through any region populated by natives. Miner N.N. Brown mushed from Nome to St. Michael and back, relying entirely on native hospitality. He was not disappointed. "They are the heartiest, kindest, most content people I have ever met." 
White northerners were generally aware of their debt to the natives and tried to treat them fairly. They learned to wear the native parka and mukluks and adopted native travel techniques. Natives were informal instructors in a school for survival, and whites who hoped to cope with the harsh climate were quick to learn. This is not meant to suggest that racial barriers did not exist in Alaska. The stampeders' attitudes on race were fixed long before they journeyed north. In towns, if not on the trail, the white man felt himself to be superior to the native in all respects. It was not until recent times that natives were permitted to serve on juries, although their right to hold mining claims was affirmed in early court decisions.
Despite such bias, a closer relationship between races could be found in Alaska than on the earlier western frontier. After all, there had been few bloody conflicts in the North to create intensely felt hostilities. Natives posed neither a physical nor an economic threat to white settlement. Their contribution to the newcomers' development of their native land was substantial. As hunters they provided food; as trappers they gathered valuable furs for trade. They were good customers as well at the whites' stores.
Natives of Alaska were free to live where they liked, and their movements had economic consequences for the white man. Because of certain traders' "dirty work," warned the Alaska Forum editor, "Rampart's Indians will relocate near Fairbanks. Better do something about this." Natives were not scorned as were the immigrant "Chinks" or "Japs" of the time. The despised orientals, unlike the natives, took jobs away from white men. Orientals were considered dangerous and were forcibly expelled from Juneau by a vigilante mob in 1886. 
Particular racial harmony existed outside of the towns. Men like George Pilcher, the woodcutter and trader of the lower Yukon, depended upon native society, entertaining his neighbors on long winter nights with gallons of tea and phonograph music. He and other similarly situated pioneers could hardly be intolerant. They traded with the men and bedded with the womenwhat more could one ask of neighborly good will and harmony?
Selling booze to natives was a violation of law, and attempts to halt this illicit traffic heavily engaged law enforcement officials. It was an impossible task. The fulminations of the press against the sellers indicate the frustration involved: "The fear of God and the law should be put into the gizzards (they have no hearts) of the reptiles who furnish natives with fiery hootch," said one editor. Six months' imprisonment was the standard penalty imposed upon convicted liquor sellers, and prosecution for violation was vigorous. But comparatively few incidents resulted in prosecution. To many, the easy money to be gained in liquor transactions was too great a temptation. Then too, "squaw men," whites with native families, could buy booze freely and often acted as suppliers. Although many recognized the ravages of liquor, all the white communities could do was to register a sense of responsibility. 
"Squaw men," whites who lived with native women in or out of the married state were sometimes scorned by other white folks, particularly women. This harsh treatment was a reflection of bias when aimed at men who were not exploiting their women. The community and the court demanded that white men marry the women they lived with or leave them alone, and the enforcement of the co-habitation was vigorous.
Whites' adaptation to things native was always a positive gain. The reverse process usually proved unfortunate. Traditional Eskimo housing took the severity of the winter into consideration. Their half-buried dwellings heated by seal oil lamps proved adequate to the severity of the climate. Yet some Eskimos were impressed by the frame shacks the newcomers built, imitated the style, and suffered accordingly. In giving up traditional housing, they became economically dependent; fuel oil was needed to keep the shack warm and could only be acquired from the whites.
It was the same with food. Natives developed a taste for sugar and such luxury items as canned fruit and thereby committed themselves to a cash economya shift that was hardly suitable to the traditional pattern of subsistence. With a few exceptions like Creole John Minook, the discoverer of the Rampart gold fields, natives did not participate directly in prospecting and mining in the early days. They chopped wood, fished, and hunted for the miners in exchange for tobacco and other trading goods. At one time in the early mining period, most of the Yukon riverboats were piloted by natives. Capt. Ellsworth West, whose steamer Corwin was traditionally the first ship to reach Nome each spring, always shipped an Eskimo crew because whites were too prone to jump ship and join the latest gold rush.
Natives did find employment as miners after the early years as they became accustomed to the particular requirements of employment. It appears that their labors were accepted on the same terms as those of whites.
Hudson Stuck, the far-ranging Episcopal missionary, was a close observer of native-white relations through the latter part of the stampede era. His conclusion on the effect of the white miners on the aborigines was unequivocal: They "brought nothing but harm to the native people of Alaska." As one instance Stuck cited the situation at Fort Yukon during the 1897-98 winter, when 350 Klondike-bound miners were stranded by the freeze-up. The miners had nothing to do but amuse themselves with the natives and their large stores of whiskey: "There was gross debauchery and general demoralization. It took Fort Yukon a long time to recover from the evil living of those winters and the evil name that followed."
Missionaries were not popular with whites who debauched natives. Missionaries were quick to report violations of the liquor law and this was resented. At Fort Yukon an indignant steamboat hand remonstrated with Stuck: "Why it's got so . . . that a man can't give a squaw a drink of whiskey and take her out in the brush without getting into trouble!" 
The diseases brought to Alaska by whites were also devastating to the natives. Measles swept through the villages of the lower Yukon in the wake of the 1900 stampede to Nome. Natives provided highly susceptible to tuberculosis and were devastated by the post-World War I flu epidemic. The government and the missionaries provided medical relief, but disease fatality rates have remained high among natives since the gold-rush era. Curiously, the missionaries and others who addressed native concerns focused much more on moral crises than health problems.
Respectable miners generally revered missionaries, the low-life's opinion not withstanding. Most miners shared the missionary view of the importance of spreading Christianity and the whites' ways among the natives and had no reason to be in conflict with the clergy. There were men, however, who argued that the natives should be free from the influences of missionaries and all the whites. Hudson Stuck addressed himself to this opinion on several occasions. He argued vigorously that the natives desperately needed the protection missionaries could give against the depredations of the white riffraff who followed explorers, traders, and prospectors into the country. He noted that a longing for an uncontaminated native people made no historical sense.
The natives most seriously affected by the influx of whites were those who abandoned their traditional pattern of life to live in mining towns. Some were women married to whites, whose children became an integral part of the white community, were educated in the local schools, and found employment within the mining economy. These town natives did not necessarily have a hard lot in making the transition to a new world. Even if the mixed-blood children were denied entry to the upper regions of society, they were, for the most part, treated decently by the tolerant white settlers. Other natives dwelled on the slum fringe of the community, sharing only marginally in its life, living between two worlds but fitting into neither. Their ghetto existence was unsanitary; they were ill-housed, likely to suffer from diseases, and often ravaged by alcoholism. Their fate was a visible reminder that the white intrusion brought disaster as well as prosperity.
It should be noted that natives did participate in mining activities. An Eskimo, Walter Smith, first discovered platinum at Goodnews Bay and is credited for the emergence of this area as a major platinum district. Also Jack Egnaty, another Eskimo, discovered several mercury deposits in western Alaska, including the profitable White Mountain Mine. At Red Devil, of the 45-man workforce, more than 50 percent was native, according to Takotna village chief Dave Miller, who worked there. The most interesting "native miner" account, however, is the Valdez Creek mining district near Cantwell. The entire mine crew were Athabascan Indians doing underground development work in the 1920s to 1940s. Earlier accounts indicated they were good miners.
But there were only a few, scattered mining communities to attract natives, and their number diminished as the gold placers were worked out. The great majority of Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos maintained their village existence and avoided close, frequent encounters with whites. For thousands, the handful of missionaries and teachers provided the only contact with the white culturenot that their isolation assured them of a better fortune than town natives. Life for many was a hard struggle for sustenanceas it had always been. Famine and disease were very real specters.
Those who complained of the government's native policies in the North centered their grievances on neglect rather than aggression. But government failures or successes in education, welfare, and medical treatment were worked out in Washington, D.C., not by miners in Nome and Fairbanks. The role of the federal government in regard to natives is outside the scope of this study. To the extent Alaska miners did influence these policies, they probably showed no more wisdom or ignorance than other frontiersmen, considering the particular age and situation. Newspaper editorials consistently complained that the government was flagrantly neglectful of the natives and called for a sound welfare policy.
As might be expected, natives were praised or derided as their conduct and manners exemplified or varied from white standards. Few whites were scholarly or curious enough to attempt to gain an understanding of the native culture. Judge James Wickersham tried to gather and record native legends, and so did a few others, but most were content with their superficial impressions. Native languages were rarely studied by any but missionaries who, of course, had very practical reasons for such labors. Yet such scholarship commanded respect among the whites, so long as the student was not a squaw man. Jack Hines, the "merry minstrel of Nome," was applauded for his facility in Eskimo by the author of an early history of Seward Peninsula mining activity. How much Eskimo Hines actually learned is another question, but certainly enough to impress some of his Nome cronies.
Some whites understood that the original civilization of the natives, previous to contact with whites, had substantial merit, that it had to have or the natives could not have survived in a harsh land. Sourdough Lynn Smith expressed this consciousness of the aboriginal achievement: "When one realizes that four hundred years ago, there were more natives living in Alaska than now ; that they were living off the country without any doctor except their own medicine men and women; and that they had to work out their own salvationwe can take off our hats to themfor their system of way of life worked." Smith's sentiments were shared generally by whites and were the foundation for their basic respect for the natives, a respect that seems to have been greater than that extended by whites to aboriginal peoples on other frontiers. Human respect of northern people for other northern people derived from a shared experience that took the edge off racial antipathies and blurred distinctions in customs and manners that would otherwise raise unsurmountable barriers of disdain and suspicion. 
Such mitigating factors did not, however, sweep away all vestiges of cultural arrogance even if they did have a leavening influence. Whites could not help elevating their institutions over those of the natives. A good Christian like Lynn Smith must "thank God for the missionaries and schools that have uplifted the poor, unfortunate natives" so that they have the opportunity to "live as we do." Smith expressed the hope of well-meaning whites, a hope that extended to material and spiritual blessings alike. "Though they must have their seal oil even now," marveled Smith, "one cannot help but wonder how they managed years ago without the necessities of life." 
We can hardly expect men like Smith to have considered the dietary hazards of bacon, sugar, and tinned foods, any more than we can expect them to have doubted the advantages of stuffy, heated cabins or the truths of Christianity. The white's commitment to the values of his world and its benefits for aboriginal peoples was basic and unshakable. For all we might question today such convictions and their effects, it would be impossible to imagine what courses of the cultural disruption other attitudes might have directed. Attitudes towards natives have changed in recent times, a haunting consciousness of guilt has dictated new approaches, but the "native problem" has not disappeared. What has been done cannot be undone now and could not have been better done before.
In 1903 the Rev. E.J. Knapp of Rampart described the Yukon River Indians' condition:
The Liquor Question
Some commentators find it easy to characterize the impact of mining on natives as either a horrible disaster or as a remarkably peaceful process of acculturation. In fact, the whole question is far too complex to be treated satisfactorily with any certainty. Most discussions of the impact have little regard for the differences among regions in time and duration of contact, numbers of whites and natives involved, and the extent of natives actually involved economically in the mining industry.
Another question that makes intelligent assessment of impact difficult concerns liquor abuse. If instances of such abuse, where they are recorded in mining areas, are considered as inseparable from the contact, then, of course, they weigh heavily on the negative assessment of mining. While there is some justification for treating the liquor abuse this way it is also arguable that it is a separate issue. Natives had abused liquor acquired through trade or of their own manufacture before the mining era commenced. What the developing mining frontier did was to support large white communities where none had existed before. With such communities, natives had easier access to liquor than before, but the miners did not introduce a novelty to native culture.
There is no want of evidence of debauchery of natives by whites. Bureau of Education official Andrew Evans complained in 1909 about the mining towns of Nome, Council, Candle, and Deering on the Seward Peninsula. "The sale of liquor and mingling of white men and natives cause the greatest distress to the natives. Under such influences the native rapidly goes to pieces and is soon unable to support himself."
Whites even interfered with the schools, according to Evans: "Traders and squaw men who cannot debauch the natives as they wish, on account of the teacher, use their influence to keep children away from school." Evans insisted that native villages be given reservation status and that the residents be allowed to ban undesirable whites. 
In Nome, Evans observed alcoholic natives and four Eskimos women working as prostitutes. It was understandable because "they are thrown in with the worse element of white men and naturally learn vices rather than the better instincts."
A Nome teacher confirmed this dismal conclusion: "Morally, conditions are very bad. Natives here are in contact with the most vicious element of other races. The susceptibility of the Eskimo makes him an easy victim of the designer of evil." 
In the reports of the Bureau of Education and the memoirs and letters of missionaries, we can follow the development of a "black legend." According to this legend, the white-native contact was almost invariably destructive to him. The other side, the "white legend," reflected the self-serving convictions of the group that also created the "black legend"the missionaries. Only the missionaries and other good teachers stood between the wicked wiles of evil whites and their natural victims. Both legends are well enough documented to pass as historically accurate, yet each should be examined more closely. The teachers and missionaries were not always good and wise in treating natives. And miners, traders, and squawmen were not always pernicious.
Missionaries sometimes could be alarmists in fancying abuses where none existed because they were convinced of their correctness and the essential superiority of their culture (even though it included whiskey traders and moral debauchers of native girls). The missionary ideal was a native village grouped around the church and school.
The Rev. Hudson Stuck once described the two villages of Anvik. One was the mission village. The other represented the dark side of things:
One could quarrel with the Reverend Stuck's view or support it. It certainly expresses the notion that the natives, in the missionary view, had to be saved from themselves. This view contrasts with that of anthropologists and others who have rather preferred that natives be left to their own "ghostly evil" and "senseless jabber of sorcery" than have white men's religion imposed on them.
Without belaboring the "native question" or the "missionary question" any further it does seem fair to conclude that the missionaries' reports must be evaluated as closely as any others.
On matters of government, law, labor relations, and the influence of mining on natives, I consider my assessments as tentative. Few historians have studied aspects of governance, law, and labor relations with any depth. These are complex matters that should become clearer as more scholarly endeavors are undertaken. The literature on natives is vast, and there are many books by and about missionaries but little of it is analytical. Much of the published work is useful but limited in its value for assessing the vexing problems briefly considered here.
Notes: Chapter 10
16. Compilation of Narratives of Explorations in Alaska, Senate Reps., 56th Congr, 1st sess., No 1023, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1900), 4-7; U.S. Dept. of Interior, Annual Report of the Governor of Alaska, 1888, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1889), 7; Gruening, State of Alaska, 75.
Last Updated: 01-Oct-2008