Nels Olson Hultberg
N. O. HULTBERG is one of the earliest pioneers of Seward Peninsula. He was sent by the Swedish Missionary Society to Golovin Bay in 1893, the object
of this trip being to establish an industrial school for natives. Mr. Hultberg is
a native of Southern Sweden, and was born March 24, 1865. His father was a manufacturer of farming implements, and after receiving a public school education his son
learned the trade of a wood and iron worker. He left Sweden in 1887, and went
direct to Pullman, Illinois, where he was employed for a period of several years by
the Pullman Car Company. His mechanical knowledge and ability induced the Swedish
Missionary Society to send him to Alaska.
When he arrived in this desolate and far-away country, and became acquainted
with the people whom he was to instruct in mechanical arts, he was not pleased with
the material or his environment. He saw the futility of teaching the Eskimo a trade
which he would never put to practical use; he saw the injury that this work would do
to the natives by taking the young men away from their hunting and fishing at a time
when their services were needed to procure the winter food supply for their families.
As a result of all this he did not enter into his work with the zeal and enthusiasm that
he had when he started from the stales. Realizing that he had to stay, he built a
station at Golovin, established a school and began his work.
He had not been here long before he learned that the country was mineralized
and contained gold. As early as 1895 natives brought him gold prospects from Nome
River, which was then known by the native name of Iarcharvik. He wrote to the
society to send him some one who possessed a practical knowledge of mining, as he
believed the prospects warranted an attempt to discover gold mines. In 1894 a miner
by the name of Johansen. who came from the California mines, arrived at the mission.
In the spring of 1895, Johansen discovered gold on Neukluk and Casadepoga Rivers
and on Melsing and Ophir Creeks. Johansen sawed sluice lumber and made sluice-boxes and, with natives to assist him, prepared to mine on the Neukluk. About this
time he received some news from Birch Creek at Circle on the Yukon, became excited
over it, abandoned his Neukluk undertaking, and went to Birch Creek.
In December, 1895 a man by the name of Howard came down the Yukon
and prospected in the Fish River country, finding gold. But Howard did not remain
long enough to develop any of his prospects. Mr. Hultberg held a conference with
Missionary Karlson and decided to send out to Chicago for miners and supplies. In
those days it required a year to send word to the states and get a reply.
In August, 1897, P. H. Anderson arrived at Golovin, having been sent out by
the Swedish Missionary Society as a missionary to this station. This gave Mr. Hult-
berg a chance to get away from the work in which he had been engaged, and to devote
his time to prospecting. September I 7, the steamer North Fork brought Libby,
Melsing, Blake and Mordaunt. Mr. Hultberg told this party about the discovery that
had been made, and prospected with Libby and Blake. In April of the following year he
assisted in organizing the Council District. In July of this year Dr. Taylor and C. L.
Haglin were coming to Alaska in response to his request for practical miners. Having
heard a report of a gold strike on Sinuk River, he asked Blake and Chris Kimber to
go on an expedition with him up the coast to investigate the report which he had received
from natives. Taylor and Porter returning from Ophir Creek, he agreed to take Mr.
Porter with him on the trip up the coast. Brynteson and Haglin arriving in the meantime,
a party was made up consisting of these two men, Mr. Hultberg, H. L. Blake and
Mr. Porter. Mr. Blake represented what was known as the Libby party, and Mr.
Porter represented what was known as the Dusty Diamond party. Before starting he
fitted out Mr. Lindblom and John Waterson and sent them to the Council District.
The expedition sailed in a small craft, but a storm arising before they reached their
destination, they were forced to make a landing in the mouth of Snake River. During
their detention at this place they prospected on Dry Creek, finding colors. They went
across the tundra to Moonlight, Anvil and Rock Creeks. On Anvil Creek Mr. Hultberg obtained a pan of gravel in which he got sixty-eight colors. Subsequently he left
the party and went up the creek and took another pan of gravel from which he obtained
169 colors. This was the best prospect that he had ever seen from this part of the
country, and he thought very favorably of the ground where he obtained it. The date
upon which this party left Golovin was July 31. They landed at the mouth of Snake
River August 4, and started prospecting the following day.
There was a great deal of disagreement and bickering between the members of
the party, all of whom proceeded on their journey to Sinuk as soon as the sea permitted
them to resume the trip. After having prospected at Sinuk a couple of days Mr.
Hultberg left with two men named Taylor and Molligan, who were going to St. Michael
by the way of Golovin. On the way they encountered a very severe storm which
prevented them from going ashore. They were lying out on the raging billows for
three days and four nights, without any shelter, in a small open boat and short of
provisions. On their arrival at Golovin Mr. Hultberg was so exhausted that he did
not dare to return to what he considered the greatest discovery he had made on his
various prospecting trips. He therefore made arrangement with Lindblom to go along
with Brynteson upon his (Brynteson's) return from the coast. Upon Brynteson's return
he persuaded him to go back to where the discovery was made and take Lindblom and
possibly persuade Lindeberg also to go along. After this arrangement was made, Hultberg was compelled to go to the states on account of poor health. He returned to
Nome in the spring of 1899, landing at Nome the 18th day of June, without funds.
Shortly after his arrival he was one of the first victims of the typhoid fever epidemic,
raging during the season of 1899.
Mr. Hultberg's vicissitudes during the early history of Nome are many. The narration would fill more space than can be spared in a work of this character. I pause
here, however, to briefly narrate one of them which has some historical value, as it shows
that the natives had knowledge of the existence of gold on Candle Creek. In 1899
Hultberg received nuggets from natives who told him that they had obtained them on the
stream which has since been known as Candle Creek. In 1900 he organized a party
and started to go across country from Norton Sound to this stream; becoming ill while
on, the way, he had to stop with natives, and was compelled to abandon the trip. Mr.
Hultberg has been more fortunate during the past two years in his ventures in Alaska.
Among other enterprises which he has promoted and successfully financed is the McDermott Ditch in the Solomon River country, and he is also interested in other enterprises
which possess encouraging prospects.
Mr. Hultberg and Miss Hannah Holm were married at Unalakleet July 8, 1894,
by Missionary Karlson. It is the first white marriage solemnized in Northwestern Alaska.
Miss Holm, who was a resident of Galesberg. Illinois, and whom he met before he went
to Alaska, was brave enough to take the long journey to the Swedish Mission on
Golovin Bay in order to wed the man of her choice. They have four children. The
oldest, Albia Abita, was born in Alaska. The other children are Hilmar Amnon,
Charles Olof and Hazel Opherima Alaska. Besides his Alaska interests, Mr. Hultberg
has a colonization enterprise in Turlock, California, this place being his winter home.
Mr. Hultberg is a courteous gentleman. A modest and quiet demeanor hides
a sincere and earnest character that is full of kindness and charity. He has done much
for the benefit of the Eskimo, and has always sought to avoid publicity, hence the general
public is not aware of his benefactions.
Source: Nome and Seward Peninsula by R. S. Harrison. Seattle:
The Metropolitan Press, 1905.