At The End Of A Very Long Year, A Hopeful Diary Entry From The 1898 Gold Rush

Lessons On Finding Joy As New Year Comes To The Copper Valley  On December 30th in the winter of 1898-1899, gold miners who were hunkered do...


Lessons On Finding Joy As New Year Comes To The Copper Valley 

On December 30th in the winter of 1898-1899, gold miners who were hunkered down in their hastily-built cabins in Copper Center woke up to find that their mercury thermometers had all frozen solid. 

The men staggered over to a large alcohol thermometer, hanging outside at the nearby mail relay station, to verify to their grim satisfaction that their lonely year was – indeed – bottoming out at a misery-producing 46 below zero. 

The next day, Saturday, December 31st, 1898 was even colder still: 47 below. 

Horace Conger, a Minnesota miner, was feeling trapped in his cabin and filled with the angst that is so common at year's end. He'd been trudging around the wilds of Alaska for 10 desperate months. "Can't say I have accomplished a thing since Feb. 15th," he scribbled in his little diary. "Have hauled what food I have eaten since then over 2,000 miles with sled and boat. Fought mosquitoes and battled the coldest kind of weather." 

And then, on January 1st – as it does around the world – life began again. "It was the new year," Conger wrote joyously. 

"Bright sunshine all day. Shooting of guns and blowing of horns last night. Heard 'Home Sweet Home' played on the cornet. Had oatmeal pancakes and maple syrup for breakfast." As a final sign of a brighter future, Conger noted: "Moose meat for dinner." 

 

1898 gold miners in Copper Valley (Photo Neil Benedict collection)

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