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This nugget, found about 1905, was the largest one discovered by miners Joseph and Phillip Ernst, operators of  the first gold dredge in Nome.

As was so often the case in the opening of the American frontier, it took the discovery of gold to get folks headed for Alaska. The gold rush gave many communities in Alaska their start.  Tent cities boasted all of the necessities and suffered all of the hardships of boom towns.

It all began in 1872 near Sitka, on the Kenai Peninsula, and continued to 1914 when gold was discovered in Livengood near Fairbanks.

Alaska's first big gold strike came in Juneau in 1880 when two prospectors guided by a Native found "large pieces of quartz, of black sulfite and galena all spangled over with gold" in a creek that, of course, is now called Gold Creek. On their initial trip they collected a thousand pounds of ore.

The first strike of any consequence on the Alaskan side of the Yukon basin came in the autumn of 1886 on Fortymile River, a Yukon tributary named by prospectors because its mouth was approximately 40 miles from the fur-trading post, Fort Reliance.  Nuggets worth only about 50 cents a piece were reported, but the strike seemed promising enough to lure prospectors from both up- and downriver the following spring.

In 1889, a man named King discovered gold nuggets in Resurrection Creek. More prospectors rushed to stake claims. On a lark, the community of tents and cabins that grew at the mouth of the creek chose to name their town after the youngest rusher to step off the next boat. His name was Percy Hope....and the town name, Hope, became official. The surrounding area quickly swelled to 3,000 people.

A considerable find on Birch Creek in 1893 lured additional miners.  By 1896 more than 1,000 prospectors, including some women, were in the Yukon basin on the Alaskan side of the border.  The great river and its tributaries had become a familiar highway network, allowing travel by raft or steamer in summer, by dog sled or snowshoes in wither. 

Summer, 1900.  Stampeders' tents line the beaches of Nome.

The discovery of gold at Anvil Creek in 1898 brought thousands of fortune seekers - including Wyatt Earp - to the Nome area.   In mid-spring, the previously empty beaches west of Cape Nome had become a tent town of 250 people; by early summer the number had risen to 1,000 and by late summer increased to 2,000.  By the time it was all over, the newly discovered Cape Nome mining district would see 20,000 stampeders on the beaches of Nome. It was a spot where, a year earlier, there had been only a seasonal fishing camp.

Nome's boom was accompanied and followed by strikes in different parts of Alaska: the Kenai Peninsula, Wiseman, Iditarod, and the Tanana Valley, the last resulting in the founding of Fairbanks on the Chena River,  destined to become the largest town in the interior.  Felix Pedro, an Italian immigrant and former coal miner, is credited with having made the initial discovery of gold in the valley in the creek which today bears his name.  Fairbanks became an important supply post as well as a center of mining activity after gold was discovered in a creek north of town in 1902.  Anchorage is the crossroads for Alaska where gold rush adventurers met Russian and Native culture, and where a tent city in the wilderness blossomed into the state’s largest city.

During the decade of 1890-1900, more than 30, 000 people surged into Alaska and the Yukon Territory when gold was discovered.  Gold was never the principal element of Alaska's enormous natural wealth, but it was beyond question the catalyst that brought the huge, hitherto almost forsaken territory to the attention of the world outside, and most particularly, to the belated attention of the U.S. Congress, on whom its development depended.