The gold rush in the region that is now Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve was largely dependent on the events and circumstances surrounding the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 and the Nome Gold Rush in 1899. Positioned geographically between the two major gold discoveries, the central Brooks Range fostered its own stampede when the Klondike waned, only to lose nearly all of its miners when the Nome rush began.
Reality Strikes the Klondike
The discovery of gold in the Klondike inspired thousands of people to rush north, and the northern goldfields were the promised lands that brought the American frontier tradition to Alaska. Tales of the Klondike, both true and false, gave birth to the popular notion that all of the north was golden, that a man had only to stake his claim and start digging and his fortune would be made. Disillusionment quickly followed elation as the newly arrived prospectors realized that the good claims had been staked. Furthermore, the Canadian government levied a 10% royalty on the miners’ earnings and charged import duties on their equipment.
By the spring of 1898, the reality of conditions in the Klondike had begun to sink in, and many miners turned downstream to American territory to renew their search for the mother lode. As the disaffected Klondikers traveled down the Yukon, they spread the word to groups steaming upriver that there was nothing to be gained by going to Dawson. Some prospectors continued their headlong rush to the Klondike but many turned aside, carrying their equipment, supplies, and golden dreams up the remote rivers of interior Alaska.
The Golden Gates of the Arctic
The flow of miners from the Klondike to less crowded areas resulted in a rush for gold on the Koyukuk and Kobuk Rivers. When gold was discovered on the Koyukuk, Gordon Bettles opened a trading post in a tiny boomtown the miners called Bergman. When it flooded, he opened another post a short distance upstream and named it after himself. Unfortunately, most of the Koyukuk gold was not accessible using mining methods of the day, and it was nearly impossible to extract enough to make it pay, particularly given the remote location and the severe climate. One miner wrote home, “Dearest, let me tell you any one who has ever gone prospecting for Gold is the hardest earned money a man ever earned, for this is the most miserable place on earth.”