In the 1800s, Alaska was drawing adventurers of many nationalities to its rugged shores, including Scandinavians, who were familiar with living in the harsh, cold conditions of the Arctic North.
On the Seward Peninsula, rumors of gold began circulating in the 1890s. Men began panning creeks for gold, finding color here and there, with promise for larger discoveries to come. Three Scandinavians – two Swedish and one Norwegian – partnered up, searching in the area of Anvil Creek, where they quickly found gold and staked several claims.
Thus began the “Stampede to Nome” in the winter of 1900, which lured miners from the Klondike, thousands of whom trekked down the frozen Yukon River – by foot, by dogsled and even by bicycle.
By the time they reached Nome, however, much of the area had been claimed. The “Three Lucky Swedes” found themselves in the middle of legal battle over their claims, which were questioned on the basis of their nationalities. The drama, including a corrupt judge and illegal claim-jumpers, inspired the novelist Rex Beach to write The Spoilers, based loosely on the gold fever, corruption and gambling he’d seen in Nome. The novel was made into a movie several times, including one version that starred Marlene Dietrich and John Wayne.
The “Three Lucky Swedes” prevailed through the legal and claim-jumping obstacles. Their Pioneer Mining Company took out more than $20 million in gold by the early 1920s.
Life-sized bronze statues of the “Three Lucky Swedes” are a focal point in Anvil City Square, along with the largest gold pan in the world. There’s also a statue of two young Eskimo boys, Constantine Uparazuck and and Gabriel Adams, who are more recently credited with showing the Scandinavians to the site where the gold was found.
Who were the “Three Lucky Swedes”?
John Brynteson – Brynteson came to the U.S. from Sweden when he was 16, worked in copper and iron mines in Michigan, and then came to the Seward Peninsula in search of coal for the Swedish Mission Covenant. That search was unsuccessful, so he tried his hand at gold mining. After striking it rich on Anvil Creek, Brynteson married and later returned to Sweden, where he became a philanthropist with his wealth. He contributed to various charities in the U.S., and also funded the Ice Palace in Stockholm, which was used in the 1912 Olympic Games.
Erik Lindblom – Lindblom was a tailor by trade, but he also studied mining and was intrigued by the pioneer lifestyle of the American West. He emigrated to America from Sweden and lived in California, later enlisting on a ship headed to Alaska to try his hand at gold mining. After hearing that their destination of Kotzebue didn’t look promising for gold, Lindblom decided to sneak away from ship. He was successful, in part because a Native man hid him away in an umiak boat under a pile of furs. Lindblom ended up in Golovin, Alaska in late July, 1898. Two months later, he and his partners made the first major discovery of gold in the Nome mining district. Lindblom eventually returned to California, where he invested in other mining ventures and also purchased the Claremont Hotel in Oakland.
Jafet Lindeberg – Born in northern Norway, this lucky “Swede” was the most educated of the three, having learned 4 other languages in addition to his own. He came to Alaska on an expedition whose goal was to develop reindeer herding operations to provide a ready source of food for the people living here. Lindeberg quickly turned his attention to gold prospecting, however, and joined up with Brynteson and Lindblom at Council City. He served as the president of their Pioneer Mining Company, and was regarding as a savvy businessman. On a trip back to Norway in the early 1900s, he convinced a friend to come work for him in Alaska. That friend was Leonard Seppala, who became a well-known sled dog racer and husky breeder, and who also played a critical role in the 1925 serum race to Nome.
You can learn more about Nome’s early gold rush days and the “Three Lucky Swedes” at the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum. Or head over to Anvil City Square to get your photo taken with the bronze statues of Brynteson, Lindblom and Lindeberg.