In 1897 the United States Government hired sixty-seven Laplanders, Finns and Norwegians to take care of the reinder in Alaska. Most of the Norwegians were bright young
men who were selected to fill the position of foremen of the herders. At the time of the employment of these people 500 reindeer were purchased by the Government, and transported from Northern Europe to Haines Mission in Alaska. The object
of the expedition was for the relief of destitute miners on the Yukon, and the carefully
laid plan was to drive the deer across the country from Haines Mission to Dawson.
But the plan miscarried on account of a lack of forage for the deer, the country being
comparatively destitute of the moss upon which they feed, and four-fifths of the herd
died of starvation before the expedition reached its destination.
Magnus Kjelsberg was a member of this expedition, having been employed in the capacity of foreman of the herders. He is the son of a merchant of Kaafjord,
Norway, a town supported in a large measure by the industry of copper mining. He
was born October I, 1876, and received his early education from private tutors,
subsequently attending school at Bergen. He had not attained his twenty-first year when he
left home, but he possessed a robust physique, good health, native intelligence and an
inexhaustible fund of good nature, and in these respects was well equipped for any
kind of life fate might have in store for him. The discovery of gold at Dawson was
a spur to his endeavor to get into the far north of America.
The trip from Haines Mission was one of great hardships. The expedition started in March, but before it got 200 miles on its journey half of the deer were
dead. The rations for the trip proved inadequate as more time was consumed than
contemplated, and as the death of so many deer made it possible to dispense with the
services of a number of herders several members of the expedition were sent back
to Haines to go by steamer to St. Michael and thence to the reindeer station at Unalakleet. Mr. Kjelsberg was a member of this party. The return trip was eventful.
The greatest number of the party returned on rudely constructed rafts, and there
were many narrow escapes from drowning. Food gave out, and they nearly famished.
Beans that careless prospectors had dropped on the trail were picked up and eagerly
devoured. But finally, gaunt, half starved and nearly exhausted, all the members of
the returning party arrived at Haines, and were sent to Port Townsend the latter part
of May. Soon after they were sent to the region in Alaska that has since become
famous because of its wonderful gold resources.
Mr. Kjelsberg formed a partnership with Jafct Lindeberg. another young man from
Norway, who had come to the country in search of gold. Bv the agreement Kjelsberg
was to remain in the employ of the Government, and his salary was to be used to buy
supplies for the use of Lindeberg in prospecting. Little did they think when laying
their plans for a long period of prospecting that within a few months they would own
some of the most valuable mining property in the world, and possess greater wealth
than they ever dreamed of owning.
Mr. Kjelsberg was at Unalakleet when he heard of the great strike on Anvil Creek. He immediately went overland to Golovin and started with Missionary Anderson, driving deer teams across the country to Nome. At Cape Nome they met
Lindeberg, Lindblom, Brynteson, Kittilsen and Price, who had $1,800 in gold dust
which they had rocked out in a few days under adverse conditions, as winter was
encroaching and the ground was beginning to freeze. This was a memorable meeting.
The prospectors waived their hats and shouted, manifesting the great joy that filled
their hearts on account of suddenly acquired riches, when they saw the reindeer teams
The entire party returned to Golovin Bay where most of the winter was spent making preparations for the next season's work. Supplies were obtained at St. Michael
and freighted over the ice to Nome. In the early spring before the snow disappeared
Mr. Kjelsberg whipsawed lumber out of drift wood found on the beach. This lumber was used to make sluice-boxes. In June Mr. Kjelsberg established a camp at the
mouth of Quartz Gulch at No. 6 Anvil Creek, but he made slow progress with the
work of mining on account of the frozen ground. Snow Gulch seemed to offer a better
opportunity for expeditious work, and he determined to move his camp. He and his
brother carried the sluice-boxes on their backs over the hill a distance of three miles
to Snow Gulch, each man carrying one of the heavy boxes at a trip.
By the date of the arrival of the first steamer in 1 899 Nome had a considerable
population. A large number of people had come down the Yukon from Dawson, and the Alaska Commercial Company and North American Trading and Transportation Company had established stores in the new camp. The N. A. T. & T. Co.
offered to transport the first $10,000 of gold dust to Seattle free of cost, and
there was great rivalry among the miners. G. W. Price was the lucky man. Mr. Kjelsberg was mining on Nos. 2 and 3 Snow Gulch when the strike on the beach created a stampede. He immediately realized that some extra inducements must be
made to retain the services of his employes. He was paying them $1 the day, and
he informed them that every man who remained with him until the end of the season
would receive a bonus of $4 the day. By this liberal offer he was able to work the
mines as extensively as the limited facilities would permit. The wage inducement
secured for the employer the best services of his workmen, and ever since then he has
been known in Alaska as the friend of the working man. In 1902 when he was mining
on Candle Creek he paid more than the going wages because he believed that the men
employed were capable of earning all he paid them. He modestly disclaims any
socialistic or altruistic ideas on the subject, but proceeds on the theory that the best labor is
cheaper at a high price than inferior labor at a low price.
Mr. Kjelsberg has operated in the Nome country since the discovery of gold on
Anvil Creek. In the winter of 1899-1900 he visited his old home in Norway and
traveled over Europe. He is a stockholder and director in the Pioneer Mining Company, and has invested in real estate in Oakland and San Jose, California. He is
married, and he and Mrs. Kjelsberg spend the winters in a pretty home in Oakland.
I have often been impressed by the appropriateness of names. The names of things are usually derived from the character or surroundings of the things, and it is
not strange that these names should be expressive, but the names of people are given
to them in their infancy, and it is not told in our philosophy why they should possess
the attributes of these names when they are grown up. Magnus is the great. It makes
us think of the Magna Charta. Immediately our minds perceive the English nouns and
adjectives derived from the Latin root, magnitude, magnificent and magnanimous.
These words convey a picture of something possessing a size that is ample and pleasing
to see, and a character by which the world is made better and the joy of living intensified. Magnus Kjelsberg possesses the attributes of his name. He is big, broad-minded,
generous, magnanimous, kind-hearted, always genial, and his soul is full of sunshine.
Source: Nome and Seward Peninsula by R. S.
Harrison. Seattle: The Metropolitan Press, 1905.