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By Sarah Hurst
Mining News Editor 

Gold rush judge's diaries go digital

Territory's Judge Wickersham's colorful tales of life among Nome stampeders are on Alaska State Library Web site


Last updated 3/27/2005 at Noon

The adventures of an intrepid judge at the height of Alaska's gold rush have been published online, thanks to the Alaska State Library. Judge James Wickersham was appointed district judge in 1900, and came up from Washington, initially to Eagle City, but soon afterwards cleaned up scandal-ridden Nome. On his death in 1939, Wickersham left behind 47 diaries containing a detailed account of Alaska's formative years as a territory of the United States.

The first 13 diaries, up to 1908, were transcribed by Mary Anne Slemmons at the Alaska State Library. Slemmons worked on the project for several months, funded by a grant from the Bureau of Land Management's Gold Rush Centennial Task Force. "I transcribed his spelling mistakes faithfully," she told Mining News. "Some words are archaic, but were common to the time he lived in, so they added to the color."

Putting the remaining diaries online may be easier because Edmund Schuster, a retired University of Alaska Anchorage sociology instructor, has offered the library his own transcripts of the diaries, which he typed in the 1970s and '80s. Schuster had planned to write a book about Wickersham, but stopped the work when Evangeline Atwood's book came out. He transcribed the diaries from microfilm. "I'm not a professional typist, but it's all readable," he told Mining News. "I haven't looked at it in probably 15 years."

Both Slemmons and Schuster agree that Wickersham had a rare integrity in a situation where most people were out to line their own pockets. "He was a very strong character. He fought for Alaska," said Schuster. Below are extracts from Wickersham's early years in Alaska, starting with his journey to Eagle City. The diaries can be accessed online at Alaska's Digital Archive,

1900: July 11

Mr. Ed. S. Orr, who as Mayor of Tacoma, appointed me City Atty, is a resident of Dawson, and the head of the firm of Orr & Tukey [?], freighters to the mines. He invited our party to go out to El Dorado and Bonanza Gulches as his guests: went in his stage coach with four horses, Orr driving. Went to Grand Forks, & put up at Hotel. Visited mines, explored tunnels &c. "sniped" from bedrock, washed gravel, and all hands were treated everywhere as royally as American miners treat visitors. Gold & CheChaco Hills are the most interesting mining camps I ever saw.

1900: July 12

After visiting mines and talking with people, seeing operations and generally surveying the plan of mining at this rich and interesting spot we returned to Dawson by Orrs coach this afternoon. We were treated right royally by Orr, who is voted a prince by every one in our party.

1900: Oct. 28

Valdez mail goes out. Sent out receipt for salary for months of July, Aug, Sept and Oct. Have not been paid a cent of salary yet, and will not until this receipt reaches Washington, when I will receive in due course of Alaska winter mail a check! When this is somehow exchanged - about spring I may expect to get the money.

1901: Jan. 5

One feature of Seventy Mile River strikes me as peculiar: - the valley bed rock is everywhere higher than the river - every bar can be worked by the hydraulic method - water plenty, and the entire valley is said to have fine gold in the earth.

1901: Feb. 8

I have several important cases involving valuable mines, and the organization of the civil authority in Rampart, as well as some important cases relating to mandamus of mining recorders at Circle City - in short a large amount of business of great public importance in the most distant parts of my district that ought to have immediate attention.

If I wait until the river opens I cannot get down to Rampart and back by July 1st the date when the regular term of this court must meet at Eagle City.

So I have called a special term of Court to meet at Rampart on Mch 4, and I start for that place in the morning accompanied by Ed.

Crouch and a dog team - a journey of 519 miles afoot over the Yukon river ice.

No other official goes with me, - no one wanted to go!

1901: Feb. 15

50° below this morning & we did not leave Coal Creek until 10 a.m. Bray, who is prospecting for coal up that stream came down to Mocks - keeper of the roadhouse, before we left. Says he has good bituminous coal 9 miles up the creek.

1901: March 7

Went out to Little Minook Creek, today - 8 a.m.

this day - Dog team went also.

Visited "Idaho Bar", and met Mr. Wm G. Atwood, U.S. Min.


and Mr. Crowley, manager in charge.

"Idaho Bar" belongs to Erastus Brainerd Esq.

& associates of Seattle.

They have run a terminal in from the hillside on bedrock 500 feet above valley, and have sunk 3 shafts to bed rock, all of which will be connected by the tunnel.

12 men working there: two steam thawers, &c.

It looks prosperous and more like mining than any thing I have seen this side of the "Gold Hill" mines at Bonanza Creek Dawson.

Visited McGraws claim on Little Minook - they were unfortunate enough a few days ago to drift too near some old diggings - tunnels, and water broke through and filled all their shafts and drifts, and they are now fitting up a steam pump to clear them out.

Did not go over to Minook, Jr.

as I intended.

This is an interesting locality aside from its mines.

Ore miner has removed from his mine the long 9 ft. tusks of a mastadon with teeth & other remains.

1901: June 16

Reports all confirm Noyes suspension and my transfer to Nome, - well I must hunt and play now, for that means very hard, - hard work, but I am ready and prepared for it. Left Eagle at 3 oclock afoot and reached Torrances mining camp at 6:00 for supper. He is doing placer mining at the mouth of Colorado Creek, - employs several men and is making quite a show with the water from the creek.

1901: Aug. 16

Had a delightful trip over from (St. M. to) Nome and reached here this morning at 9 oclock.


Judge Noyes left here last Monday for Washington and the outside - San Francisco.

There is an intense, bitter and widespread feeling here against him.

The bar held a meeting last night and sent out a strong petition to President asking for his removal.


The situation here is bad - last night - 75 armed men went upon a valuable claim, ousted the possessor shot one badly - and are now in possession - claims are now being worked out by the strong party in open violation of injunctions of the court - the court orders are treated with open contempt and disdain.

A reign of anarchy exists - so far as it can exist - in an American camp.

1901: Sept. 28

Heavy storm raging for two days past, but quieting tonight. Large steamer in the front of Nome - flags at half mast. Word also received from Kaltag, by telegraph that President McKinley died on 17th. General expressions of sorrow from all classes of citizens. Profs. Mendanhall, Schrader & Peters, U.S. Geological survey came in yesterday from the Arctic coast. Mendenhall, from jaundice, is as yellow as a pumpkin. His bald head looks like the full moon - Two men in landing from schooner drowned in front of town on beach.

1901: Oct. 1, 1901

Present Capt. Hibbard, Mr. & Mrs. Sam Milligan. Mr. Orton, attorney, Mr. Chilberg, financial manager of P.M. Co. Mr. Sodenberg, owner of the "Hot Air" mine, and two other young men connected with the Co. We had a fine dinner, - the centerpiece - the peice de resistance, was a great china platter in the center of the table filled with the last cleanup of the "Hot Air" mine, with the great nugget recently found on "Discovery" claim, Anvil Creek, in the center - $3800 in virgin gold. Each guest was given a choice of nuggets excluding the giant worth $1752.00.

1901: Oct. 29

The attorneys now tell me that the case decided yesterday involved more than half a million dollars. I am pleased to know that mine owners now express a feeling of safety over property rights & do me the honor to say that investments can now be made with assurance of fair protection. Judge Noyes seems never to have rendered even one mining opinion and but one mining case was tried by him in the more than a year that he was here.


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