The Rough Frontier
Living in Alaska was in no way an easy or soft experience. In the early 1900s, much of Alaska was still a vast, untamed wilderness, and most especially in central and northern parts of the territory (which visitors and immigrants from Australia had come to call "the bush", much like the outback of their native land - a name which survives even today for that part of the state). By the early 1900s, a rough-and-tumble tent city of miners and panners had started to spring up and, almost at a record pace, evolved into the boom town of Nome (one of many such gold mining boom towns...though none ever grew as big, as fast, as Nome did). It lay on the southwestern edge of Alaska's Seward Peninsula, where the Norton Sound meets the turbulent Bering Sea. Violent storms often batter the coastline, and roll across the open tundra of the area.
Seppala soon came to learn that working the gold fields of the Seward Peninsula was no picnic. In fact, it was back-breaking, dirty work. In his own words:
"I now began to understand what a huge mistake I had made, working
like an animal here instead of working in the smithy in Norway."
Still, despite being rather short in stature at 5 feet 4 inches (1.63 meters) and weighing 145 pounds (65.8 kilograms), he poured into the work, earning Lindeberg's favor and, in time, becoming quite important to his company. Soon, Sepp (as he was called by his friends) was given the chance to go prospecting for the Pioneer Gold Mining Company. He later recounted the first experience:
"One day Lindeberg came to me and asked me if I would like to go on a
prospecting trip. The pay was ten dollars a day. I accepted readily, glad
to escape the steady grind with the shovel. I was by far the smallest man
in the gang, and it was hard to keep up with the big, raw-boned Irish and
Scandinavians, with many of whom shoveling was a profession."
His first trip was up the Nome River into Gold and Slate Creeks, with a party of eight men and eleven horses. As the rains of September set in, the party returned to Nome, and Seppala resumed his shoveling duties, which brought considerable hardship. He described it vividly:
"With the approach of evening I thought of the little shop in Norway and
regretted that I had listened to the gold-tongued orators who had persuaded
me to come to Alaska. But I had only myself to blame. I wanted adventure,
and I was getting it...Life in Norway never seemed so sweet as when I toiled
away the dark rainy nights shoveling."
The following December (1901), word came of a new strike of gold made up in Kougarok. Lindeberg sent Seppala up with a few of his Swedish coworkers, along with two dog sled teams. This was the start of Seppala's exposure to sled dogs. From this group, he acquired his first two dogs...named "Jack" and "Nigger"...they were big mutts, but Sepp had great faith in them, describing them as "splendid animals" which "pulled loads that would have staggered ordinary dogs."
Above: Seppala next to the vault of the Merchants & Miners Bank in Nome,
standing behind a table holding bars of gold bullion of various sizes (and more
than $1,000,000 worth of it). This picture was taken in 1919.