Friday, May 26, 2017

The mining adventures of Edward Elge

In 1887, two brothers, Edward and Frans Otto Elg, and their sister Maria Sofia, set sail for America. They are children of master blacksmith Johan Elg and his second wife Anna Stina Olsdotter, in Liljendal.

Before emigrating, the brothers have trained as blacksmiths, but the old mills in the area are going out of business. They are destined for Helena, Montana, and accompanied by Frans Otto´s wife Beata and son Ernfrid, along with the mysterious “Alexander Elge”, who I believe is their half brother Per August Elg (see ). Maria Sofia soon marries another Swede, Nels Nelson, and the siblings are later joined by a third brother, Alfred Emil Elg.

This part of Montana had a number of gold and silver mines, but by the time the brothers arrived, the early prospectors had been replaced by large scale, deep quartz mining. Census records show the brothers as mine employees, farmers and running boarding houses. By the time they land in the US, they have all adopted Alexander´s spelling of the family name as “Elge”, and Frans Otto is later known as Francis.

In this article, I will focus on Edward Elge, who took his mining adventures farther afield.

In 1896, Edward marries Christina Olsson. A year later their only child, daughter Eva Christina is born.

The 1900 US Census show the couple running a boarding house in Gardiner, Park, Montana (name spelled Elze in the census record). Gardiner is the only year-round entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The March 12, 1909 Billings Gazette notes that "Edward Elge, of Fromberg is in the city for a few days' visit. Mr Elge is foreman at the Gebo ranch".

By 1910, the Federal census lists Edward as a farmer in Carbon, Montana.

According to the 1920 Federal Census, Edward and Christina Elge were living in Seattle, Washington, in the household of Lena Hendricks, Christina's sister. This census record is dated Jan 2, 1920.

However, by April the same year, Edward is recorded in the census of Fairhaven, Alaska, where he is listed as superintendent of the Independence gold mine, Fairhaven, Seward, Alaska. Christina did not go with him there. .

Note that for this record, Ancestry mistakenly lists Akinik Swanson as his wife. A look at the original document image shows that Akinik was in fact the wife of one of miners (all residents of the mining camp are listed together as one household).

Fairhaven appears to have been a god-forsaken place even by Alaskan standards, out on the north end of the Seward peninsula. The nearest large communities in the 1920s were Nome (to the south) and Kotzebue (to the north), and the nearest small mining camps were Deering and Candle.  According to USGS Bulletin 1246, Metallliferous Lode Deposits of Alaska (1967), the only producing hard rock mine in the Fairhaven District was the Independence Mine, which was located on the Kugruk River about 20 miles east-northeast of Imuruk Lake. The lode, exposed in open cuts for a width of 7-12 feet and traced on the surface for 2,000 feet, was developed by several hundred feet of underground openings from which several hundred tons of ore was probably mined by 1922. By 1924 mining activity had ceased.

Edward´s Alaskan adventure was also short lived.  In July 1922, Edward files an application for registration with the US Consulate at Prince Rupert, B.C. , which states that he has been residing at Alice Arm, B.C. for the purpose of mining, on behalf of himself, since April 1921, a year after the Alaska census. He gives his legal address as Seattle, Wash. and states that he intends to return to the US within two years, or when “I sell mining properties”.  His annual income is stated at USD 900 (how far did that go in 1922?).

Interestingly, he claims to be unmarried. Was he really estranged from Christina at the time, or was this some legal subterfuge?

Either way, in the 1930 and 1940 US Census, Edward and Christina are back together again, living at 1313, 89th Ave, Oakland, California, where Edward is employed as a night watchman at the Caterpillar plant. Christina dies in 1957 and Edward in 1966. Their only child, Eva Christina, died in 1918, age 21, in Seattle. Perhaps it was this tragedy which triggered Edward´s mining adventures?

Back in 1985, I bought a book, “Steel Rails & Silver Dreams - A History of the Dolly Varden Mines and the Narrow Gauge Dolly Varden Mines Railway”, by Darryl E. Muralt. I bought the book for its railroad history content, and was delighted when I discovered that the mine and railroad were the work of two Norwegians and a Swede. The railroad delivered silver ore to a port at Alice Arms, B.C.  -   the same small town Edward Elge lists as his address in his consulate registration!  However, the book also tells us that the Dolly Varden operation was forced to close in 1921, due to falling silver prices, so it looks like Edward´s venture was ill timed..
And when we went on a cruise to Alaska in 2011, one of our stops was Ketchican, on the southernmost tip of Alaska. Just on the other side of the US / Alaska border is the long fiord which leads to Alice Arm. Today a ghost town with a few summer residents.

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