There had been a tremendous storm at Nome the day before Ted arrived, and landing was more difficult than usual, but, impatient as the boys were, at last it seemed safe to venture, and the party left the steamer to be put on a rough barge, flat-bottomed and stout, which was hauled by cable to shore until it grounded on the sands. They were then put in a sort of wooden cage, let down by chains from a huge wooden beam, and swung round in the air like the unloading cranes of a great city, over the surf to a high platform on the land.
“Well, this is a new way to land,” cried Ted, who had been rather quiet during the performance, and his father thought a trifle frightened. “It’s a sort of a balloon ascension, isn’t it?”
“It must be rather hard for the miners, who have been waiting weeks for their mail, when the boat can’t land her bags at all,” said Mr. Strong. “That sometimes happens. From November to May, Nome is cut off from the world by snow and ice. The only news they receive is by the monthly mail when it comes.
“Over at Kronstadt the Russians have ice-breaking boats which keep the Baltic clear enough of ice for navigation, and plow their way through ice fourteen feet thick for two hundred miles. The Nome miners are very anxious for the government to try this ice-boat service at Nome.”
“Why did people settle here in such a forlorn place?” asked Ted, as they made their way to the town, which they found anything but civilized. “I like the Indian houses on the island better than this.”
“Your island is more picturesque,” said Mr. Strong, “but people came here for what they could get.
“In 1898 gold was discovered on Anvil Creek, which runs into Snake River, and this turned people’s eyes in the direction of Nome. Miners rushed here and set to work in the gulches inland, but it was not till the summer of 1899 that gold was found on the beach. A soldier from the barracks—you know this is part of a United States Military Reservation—found gold while digging a well near the beach, and an old miner took out $1,200 worth in twenty days. Then a perfect frenzy seized the people. They flocked to Nome from far and near; they camped on the beach in hundreds and staked their claims. Between one and two thousand men were at work on the beach at one time, yet so good-natured were they that no quarrels seem to have occurred. Doctors, lawyers, barkeepers, and all dropped their business and went to-rocking, as they call beach-mining.”
“Oh, dad, let’s hurry and go and see it,” cried Ted, as they hurried through their dinner at the hotel. “I thought gold came out of deep mines like copper, and had to be melted out or something, but this seems to be different. Do they just walk along the beach and pick it up? I wish I could.”
“Well, it’s not quite so simple as that,” said Mr. Strong, laughing. “We’ll go and see, and then you’ll understand,” and they went down the crooked streets to the sandy beach.