Story Time with Aunt Phil: The Koyukuk gold boom
The Koyukuk gold stampede, which occurred around the same time as the Klondike gold rush, saw log-cabin camps popping up wherever steamboats stopped for the winter. It didn’t take long for adventurers to set up trading posts, which led to several thriving towns emerging in the wilderness along the Koyukuk River.
After learning the Klondike was so crowded with gold seekers that they probably would only be able to work for wages at someone else’s mine, more than 2,000 prospectors chose to explore the Koyukuk during the winter of 1898-1899. They found Koyukon Athabascans, as well as Yupik and Inupiaq Natives, living and trading in the area.
The Koyukuk twists and turns for more than 500 miles and then branches into several major rivers above the Arctic Circle, including the John River named for early prospector John Bremner who was murdered on its shores.
In the summer of 1900, one of the waves of green stampeders got as far as Slate Creek, then got cold feet, turned back and left – the settlement they built on the creek changed its name to Coldfoot.
Wiseman, located about 260 miles north of Fairbanks, was named after a transient prospector who stopped for a few minutes to pan gold at the mouth of Wiseman Creek and perpetuated his name.
Bergman came about because some other traders took over a settlement that Gordon Bettles had helped establish. Bettles, co-founder of Arctic City in 1894, was returning to that community aboard the riverboat Yukon with supplies when he discovered it under the rule of the Edith M. Kyle group. The group, which was selling townsite lots and stringing electric lights in the trees, insisted he purchase a lot for his shop and pay wharfage fees.
The longtime promoter of the Koyukuk wouldn’t have any of that. Instead, he traveled five miles further upstream, staked out his own townsite and bestowed it with the name of the Yukon's captain, James Bergman. Bergman flourished for a while and soon became an important center for the upper Koyukuk. But it had flooding problems, so Bettles moved his “bean shop,” as he called his trading post, and named the new community after himself.
While these gold rush settlements were hubs of activity into the early 1900s, most of them have faded into the history books. Modern-day Bettles, which is about seven miles east of the original settlement and only has a few dozen residents, is now a common jumping off spot for the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.
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