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PIONEERING IN ALASKA1 BY KNUTE L. GRAVEM A glance at the map of Alaska shows a piece of land shaped like an Indian arrowhead jutting out toward Siberia across Bering Strait. It forms the westernmost projection of the North American continent. This piece of land, icebound eight to nine months out of the year, bears proudly the name of Seward Peninsula. It became best known, however, not for its location, not for its name, but for its gold. On its southern shore, near the present town of Nome, several Scandinavian prospectors in 1898 discovered immense deposits of gold. Soon the great Nome gold rush focused attention on Seward Peninsula as never before. For me Seward Peninsula has had a very special interest since 1900. I went up there that spring in the gold rush. When the tide of humanity ebbed back to the States, a few of us remained in the new country. The Kougarok district in the heart of the peninsula became in fact my home for many years. I mined there, I married there, my children were born there, and I continue to own mining property there. In the pages that follow I have jotted down some of my pioneering experiences on that distant frontier. I But first a few words about my background. I was born on a farm in Sundalen, Norway. The date was October 22, 1870, as recorded in the family Bible. At the age of fifteen I went to live with my oldest brother in Kristiansund. Following my graduation from high school, he gave me a clerkship in his office. It brought me board and room; on the side I earned a few kroner selling butter on commission for farmers. In the 1 This account by Dr. Gravem (1870-1957) was submitted by his stepson, Dr. Carl L. Lokke of the National Archives, who has made some editorial revisions and supplied the footnotes. Dr. Lokke was recently appointed a member of the Association's editorial board. Ed. Ill 112 KNUTE L. GRAVEM meantime my other brothers, Ole and Martin, had emigrated to California. They did not encourage me to follow their example , but my young mind was not blocked from the wondrous tales about America that were circulating. The temptation soon became too great and I decided to cast my lot with the multitudes that crowded every available steamer bound for this promising country. My father put up the money for a steerage ticket and I was off. The year was 1891. In due course I arrived at Stockton, California, where my brothers had a bakery business. After working for a time in the bakery, I took a job as bookkeeper for a transfer company at $50 a month. Eventually, however, I came to see that there was no future in this job and decided to do something about it. It was a tossup between business, medicine, or law, and the decision was made in favor of medicine. I tackled Gray's Anatomy and also studied evenings and Sundays in a doctor's office. The next step was to enter Cooper Medical College in San Francisco. There I was graduated in 1897, and forthwith hung out my shingle in Stockton. The first years of a young doctor's practice are rather limited and mine were no exception. Things were slow. The Nome gold rush gave me the idea of going to a new place where I would have the same chance as any other doctor in building up a practice. I even thought it possible that I might make enough money to enable me to continue my studies and get to the top of my profession. Alaska seemed worth a try and I decided to go there. Before leaving I became a United States citizen and joined the B.P.O. Elks. I sailed from San Francisco on the steamer "Zealandia." It was loaded to capacity with freight and about 750 passengers , good and bad, and a number of stowaways. Many of these people had mortgaged their homes and farms and invested their money in useless contraptions to mine gold with. It was a good-natured and hilarious crowd, buoyed up with anticipation of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2643-8437
Print ISSN
0078-1983
Pages
pp. 111-142
Open Access
No
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