J. M. Davidson
FOREMOST among the men who are developing the marvelous resources of
Seward Peninsula is J. M. Davidson. He was one of the pioneers who
arrived in Nome in the early season of 1899. He did not own capital which
has been found necessary in the work of the development of this country, but he was
equipped with a practical knowledge of mining obtained by experience in the mines of
California; he knew the value of water for the operation of placer mines, and with all
he was by profession a civil engineer, and brought to Nome the first surveyor's instruments that were ever brought to the country. Working at his profession until he had
acquired sufficient means to undertake in a modest way something for himself, he began
on a line of work that had for its object the supply of water, first for domestic use for
the residents of Nome and subsequently for the use of miners in operating their properties.
He is one of the pioneer ditch builders of Seward Peninsula, and his work along these
lines for the development of Northwestern Alaska is second to none in the country.
He was one of the promoters and organizer of the Miocene Ditch Company, a corporation which has constructed forty-seven miles of ditch, covering the most valuable mineral
ground in the Nome region. He is the organizer of the Kugarok Mining and Ditch
Company, which will begin work this season on a thirteen-mile ditch in the Kougarok
Mr. Davidson is a native of Siskiyou County, California, and was born December
3, 1853. After receiving an education in the public schools of Siskiyou County, he
attended the University of California and was in the same class with James Budd, who
subsequently became Governor of California, Professor Christie, Professor George C.
Edwards, and Harry Webb of South African fame. He took a course in civil engineering, and after he returned to Siskiyou County was elected to the office of county
clerk. He served four years as clerk of the county, and filled positions in the clerk's
office during a period of eleven years. As mining was the principal business of Siskiyou
County, he was associated with mining enterprises on the Klamath River. On account
of failing health he left the clerk's office and engaged in farming. During the financial
crisis of the early '90's he struck the reef of failure and went under.
Attracted by the possibilities of the Northland as shown by the Klondike strike he
determined to go to Alaska to mend his fortunes.
He arrived in Juneau in February,
1898, and was one of the first United States Deputy Surveyors in Alaska to make
surveys in the great Yukon Valley. He worked his way over the Chilkoot Pass, and
was in the region at the time of the disastrous snow-slide at Sheep Camp. He built a
boat at Lake Lindeman and went to Dawson. His dissatisfaction with Canadian
laws and Government methods at Dawson impelled him to go to Circle before the close
of the season. As soon as he and his party crossed the boundary line they unfurled a
little American Flag which they had with them and disturbed the stillness of the
wilderness with three rousing cheers. They were once more upon their native heath and
beneath the protection of the stars and stripes even though they were in northern wilds.
He spent this fall and winter mining on Mastodon Creek near Circle.
During the winter a letter was received from Magnus Kjelsberg, telling a cousin of his at Circle of the strike on Anvil Creek, and Mr. Davidson took passage on the
first steamer down the Yukon for Nome. He arrived at Nome on the 4th of July, and
used the little money that he had to buy a lot on which to pitch his tent. On July 1
he set up the first surveyor's transit in Nome. Mr. George Ashford, a pioneer surveyor
of this country, was in Nome at the time but his instruments had not yet arrived. During
this season Mr. Davidson and Mr. Ashford were associated in the surveying business,
and did considerable work surveying claims near Nome. Mr. Davidson was present at
the first clean-up on No. 1 below Discovery. Anvil Creek. This was one of the first
big clean-ups in the country. The boxes after a short run contained near $20,000 in
gold dust. Mr. Davidson remembers the strike on the beach which was made by two
soldiers in a little depression in the beach, since known as Soldiers Gulch in the
vicinity of what is now known as the A. E. Company properties. This strike was made
July 17 or 18. and a few days later several hundred people were rocking on the beach.
On September 25 Mr. Davidson located the Moonlight Springs Water Right.
He originated the Moonlight Springs Water Company, and the following season with
money furnished by the Pioneer Mining Company constructed the water works which
have been a boon to Nome. In 1899 zymotic diseases were prevalent in Nome as a
result of drinking impure tundra water, and in supplying the money to build the Moonlight Springs Water Works the members of the Pioneer Mining Company were actuated
primarily by beneficent motives, and these men are deserving of unstinted praise for
accomplishing this work, which has provided Nome with a quality of water equal to the
best water supply of any town in the United States. During the summer of 1900 most
of Mr. Davidson's time was taken up in the construction of this water system.
He was able to foresee the great value of ditches for mining purposes, and the
following year associated himself with W. L. Leland and W. S. Bliss, and began the
construction of the Miocene Ditch. Mr. Davidson was the engineer of the company
he supervised the construction of this entire ditch, and was engaged continuously in this
work from May, 1901, until the close of the season of 1903. The mining operations
of the company were conducted by Mr. Leland and Mr. Bliss. Mr. Davidson spent
most of the season of 1904 in the Kougarok District investigating some wild-cat
properties which he had taken in exchange for town lots. The result of this investigation
was the organization of the Kugarok Mining and Ditch Company, which will begin
this season, 1905, the construction of a thirteen-mile ditch to convey water to the
company s extensive properties. Prominently associated with Mr. Davidson in
this enterprise is Mr. J. E. Chilberg, one of the most progressive and aggressive of
Seattle's business men. The Miocene Company in which Mr. Davidson still holds an
interest is one of the most successful corporations on the peninsula, and the
new company organized to develop the mineral resources of the Kougarok Mining District has
the most encouraging prospects, and under the experienced management of Mr. Davidson
undoubtedly will be an important factor in the gold product of this district.
Mr. Davidson is a man of marked ability and sound judgment. His knowledge of mining and ditch construction has made him a valuable acquisition to the sturdy
men who are developing the resources of the frozen north, and has given him the
opportunity to lay the foundation of the fortune which is the quest of every man who
goes to Alaska. His character is broad, deep and strong, and the attributes are
harmoniously blended. He possesses the force which is indispensable to success but
with the temperament that does not permit annoyances to disturb nor obstacles to discourage him. Broad, liberal and accurate in his judgment of men and affairs he is both a successful man and a good and useful citizen.
Source: Nome and Seward Peninsula by R. S. Harrison. Seattle:
The Metropolitan Press, 1905.