Alaska Life

Merry Iditarod Gold Discovery Day!

Got anything special on your calendar for Dec. 25?

Well, ink this in. By executive proclamation, Gov. Sarah Palin has declared Thursday "Iditarod Gold Discovery Day" to mark the 100th anniversary of the first strike in the Iditarod gold fields.

The proclamation, dated Nov. 21, encourages "all Alaskans to reflect on the contributions of individuals in our past, the role of gold mining in Alaska's history and the importance of transportation and the Iditarod Trail in the development of Alaska."

A little history: Sourdoughs John Beaton and William Dikeman poked around Fairbanks and Nome with limited success. Then they bought a stern wheeler and headed up the Innoko River.

According to information supplied by Beaton's heirs, they were searching for a place deep enough to tie up for the winter.

Dikeman steered, and Beaton felt for the bottom with a measuring rod until he could plunge in the full length of the stick and blurted out "I did a rod!" in his Nova Scotia-Scots accent.

Parking the boat, they built a cabin on skids that they could drag from prospect to prospect. After sinking 27 holes, they dug into the widest gold streak in Alaska, on Christmas Day 1908.


The Iditarod strike led to America's last great gold stampede. Some 5,000 men worked the area and took out 1.3 million ounces of gold. Production dropped quickly, however, and Iditarod soon went from boom town to ghost town, though some production continues in the vicinity even today.

Among the enduring legacies of the strike is that it made a surveying and marking a route from Seward to Nome -- now known as the Iditarod Trail -- economically viable.

In another long-term benefit to the territory, Beaton invested some of his earnings in Star Air Service, which later became Alaska Airlines, as well as in Bethel Air, which evolved into Northern Consolidated and Wien Airlines. "He started both those airlines," the late Ray Peterson told an interviewer. "Back then he was the only one who could have."

Beaton's first wife and two children died when the Princess Sophia sank in 1918; the family dog, Golddigger, was the only survivor of the wreck. Beaton moved to Anchorage, where he had a home at the current site of the Boney Courthouse. With his second wife and son he planted the apple tree still growing there on Third Avenue. He died in a car wreck in 1945 and is buried at Anchorage Pioneer Cemetery.

Dikeman died in a horse-riding accident in the Lower 48. He is thought to have family still living in Alaska. Beaton's heirs plan to publish a book about the pair and their gold find and say they'd love to make contact. Parties with knowledge of Beaton and Dikeman and those who knew them can contact Lauretta MacBeth at

Find Mike Dunham online at or call 257-4332.


Mike Dunham

Mike Dunham was a longtime ADN reporter, mainly writing about culture, arts and Alaska history. He worked in radio for 20 years before switching to print. He retired from the ADN in 2017.