In 1887, Nordstrom, only 16 years of age, left his family’s farm in Sweden and headed to America to find his fortune. Arriving in America with $5 to his name, he worked his way across the country taking jobs on railways and in mines, lumber camps and shipyards, eventually arriving in Seattle, Washington in 1896.
While working at a sawmill he read an 1897 newspaper account of the discovery of gold in the Klondike and headed to Alaska to make his fortune. He invested in a gold claim and was one of the lucky ones — he returned to Seattle with a modest fortune of $13,000. From then on, he focused on the less demanding business of retailing.
Klondike Gold Rush
The news of gold in the Klondike triggered a stampede of would-be prospectors to the gold creeks. Some 100,000 people attempted to find their fortunes — few did. Seattle and San Francisco were the most common departure points for reaching the gold fields by sea. Nordstrom recounts his Alaska cruise:
The steamship company was selling first- and second-class tickets on this boat. A reporter from the Post-Intelligencer boarded the ship not long before it was to sail and inquired what the difference was between first- and second-class passage. He was told that as far as anyone could see, the only difference was that the first-class passengers slept with the horses and the second-class passengers slept with the mules. Since we had second-class passage, we slept with the mules.
Once in the Alaskan town of Skagway, prospectors faced the arduous challenge of bringing all their supplies up White Pass and down the Yukon River to the gold fields, a trip of about 500 miles over forbidding terrain.
To learn more, visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Site in downtown Seattle. Several exhibits highlight the gold rush era, and admission is free.
Modern Day Prospecting
If you’re interested in prospecting for gold in Washington state waters, visit the Department of Fish & Wildlife. There, you’ll find a link to a comprehensive publication that covers terminology, techniques, and allowable prospecting sites within the state: Gold and Fish: Rules for Mineral Prospecting and Placer Mining.