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John Johnson

There may be a "destiny which shapes our ends," but when an honest and a faithful man, after years of toil and hardship, strikes the trail that leads on to fortune, we prefer to view his achievement as the result of persistent effort, the reward of earnest endeavor. John Johnson is a pioneer of the Nome country. He has prospected, worked in the mines, filling the position at various times of a trusted employe of the Pioneer Mining Company; he has traveled in winter, sometimes through perilous blizzards, over a large area of Northwestern Alaska, and has experienced all the vicissitudes of frontier life in the Northland. Finally, after near seven years of prospecting, he discovered the richest pay-streak ever found, and mined a fortune out of it in sixty days.

John Johnson was born in Vermland, Sweden, August 17, 1874. He is a farmer's son, and was educated in the public schools of his native land. He learned the carpenter's trade, and immigrating to the United States in 1892, worked at his trade six years in Chicago.

In 1 898 he went to Alaska, and became a miner. He stayed in Rampart a year, and worked a lay on No. 5 Little Minook. The result of his first mining venture was not sucessful. News of the Nome Strike reached Rampart during the winter, and in the spring of '99 he left these digging? for the new camp, arriving at Nome in July. Securing employment from the Pioneer Mining Company, he filled the position of watchman on that company's Snow Gulch property during the balance of the season.

In the latter part of November he went to the Norton Bay country on a prospecting trip. This was an unprofitable expedition, in which there were hardships and a narrow escape from death. On New Year's day, while crossing Norton Sound, his team went through the ice, but he got the dogs out without serious mishap. Returning to the Nome region in March he prospected on Solomon River, where he had staked claims the previous year. In the summer of 1900 he worked for the Pioneer Mining Company, and had charge of their clean-ups on Snow Gulch, Mountain and Rock Creeks.

In the fall of 1900 he and Axel Olson were outfitted by Jafet Lindeberg to go to the Fairhaven District. They intended to cross the divide to the Arctic slope, but they joined the Bonanza Creek stampede, and ran short of food and were compelled to return to Nome for more supplies. Starting again in December, they were the second party to cross the "Noxapaga Divide." They prospected tributaries of the Inmachuk and other streams of the Arctic slope. They named several streams of this region, among them Excelsior, Polar Bear, Mystery and Moonlight.

Going into this country, they cached some of their provisions on the Noxapaga River, and they did not leave the Arctic region until their supplies were pretty near "peluk," believing that a day's journey would take them to their cache. When they started on the return trip one of the worst blizzards of this country swept over the snowy wastes of the trackless region. The first night out they could not make a fire, and cold and hungry, they crawled into their sleeping bags to escape freezing. The next day was worse, but they traveled, and at night found a landmark by which they knew they were on Good Hope River, fifteen miles above its mouth. They had journeyed over a part of a circuit, and were farther away from the cache than when they started. Taking a new course, they started next day. There was no abatement of the blizzard. Tor two days they lived on unsalted beans. On the fifth day, almost famished and nearly exhausted, they arrived at their cache, and found it empty. A pariah of the trail had robbed it, taking every ounce of food. The next day the weary and discouraged prospectors met some Eskimo, who supplied them with fish.

Mr. Johnson and his partner were reported lost, and when they arrived in Nome Mr. Lindeberg had outfitted a search party. The sled was packed, and the party was ready to start. Mr. Johnson was ill for a week, and concluded that he never would start on another trip of this kind. But a week after his recovery he was on the trail again, bound for the same region. He made three trips to the Inmachuk this winter, taking in 1,700 pounds of supplies on the last trip. Most of the following summer he was in this region. While prospecting on the Kugruk River and Chicago Creek he found float coal that came from the great coal vein on Chicago Creek, which was subsequently discovered and located. Returning to Nome late in the season, he learned of the Candle Creek strike. This discovery of gold was made when he was prospecting only five miles away. He returned to Candle Creek, and in the following winter went to Nome to obtain merchandise for Magnus Kjelsberg, which was hauled to Candle Creek over the snow.

Mr. Johnson lived at Candle City until August, 1902, when he arranged for a trip to Kobuk River. Crossing Escholtz Bay to get a boat, he encountered a severe storm and was blown out to sea. He and a companion were out twenty-four hours. The mast of their boat was broken and swept away by the storm, but the wind subsiding, they succeeded in pulling to the shore and landed, wet and weary, at the mouth of Alder Creek. Mr. Johnson's trip to the Kobuk was made by boat. He built a cabin 400 miles above the mouth of the Kobuk. In November he heard of the strike on Shungnak, a tributary of the Kobuk, sixty miles below his camp, and immediately Went to the new diggings. Overtaken by illness, he was compelled to return to Nome in April. This trip of 500 miles was made in nine days, and seventy miles of the journey was traveled on snow shoes without resting. After undergoing an operation for appendicitis, he went to California.

Returning in the spring of 1904, he worked for the Pioneer Mining Company, and in the fall secured from the company a lease on the Portland Bench, near Little Creek. Taking Nels Peterson and Carl Anderson as partners, the work of sinking holes to bedrock on this claim was begun. Six shafts were sunk, varying in depth from thirty-two feet to fifty-three feet, and 160 feet of drifting was done before pay was found. February 22 the earnest workers struck an ancient beach, and the sands fairly glistened with gold. In sixty days a dump was taken out, with only five men working in the drift, from which $413,000 was cleaned up. The laymen received sixty per cent.

Mr. Johnson's industry and perseverance, his faithfulness to every trust assumed by him, his ethical honesty, make a character to be admired, and a man deserving the smile of fortune.  

Source: Nome and Seward Peninsula by R. S. Harrison. Seattle: The Metropolitan Press, 1905.




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