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Klondike gold and ice

Here’s a story so hard to believe that we just have to tell it.

It wasn’t unusual for Frank Andrews to join the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. His father, Joe, had been a successful mining consultant near Tucson, Arizona, for over 20 years.

When some read Frank’s story in the Mail Tribune, they said it rivaled Robinson Crusoe’s adventures. Well, we’ll see.

Frank rode his dog sled all over the Alaskan gold fields offering his labor and mining expertise. In over 20 years, Frank must have touched almost every mine between Sitka in the south and Point Barrow in the extreme north.

His remarkable adventures began while he was mining with a Captain Johnson, deep in Alaska’s frozen interior; although Frank’s story never mentioned the date, or the exact location.

After days of digging and blasting, the men struck pay dirt. In the first eight hours the men pulled out 330 pounds of gold. Over the next 16 days, nearly $13,000 of the sparkly clusters had finally seen the light of day.

Now, that in itself is pretty spectacular; however, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!

Frank raced his seven-dog team to Point Barrow, the nearest supply point on the Alaskan coast. He was headed for Nome, where he could catch a ship bound for Seattle.

He was two miles out to sea, mushing on, before he discovered that he was sliding over a drifting, large pack of floating ice, an ice floe, that had broken away from shore. Realizing his situation was hopeless; he unhitched his dogs, leaving them with his sled as he dove into the water.

After hours of swimming from ice floe to ice floe in the frigid sea, exhausted and almost frozen to death, he struck land and made his way to an Eskimo igloo and a welcoming family inside.

After a two-day recovery, two of the family members guided him back to Prince William Sound, from where, with a new team and sled, he was once again off for Nome.

Again, he was trapped on another ice floe. This one took him across the Bering Strait and stranded him in Siberia. A third attempt returned him to the Siberian shore.

Here, Frank’s retelling of his story lost steam, except to say that through “perseverance and grit” he finally “fought his way back to Nome,” met up with his wife, and sailed for Seattle. This time he made it.

Briefly returning to Arizona, where he had spent most of his youth, apparently the climate was just a bit too warm for a man who had lived nearly half his life in the Arctic regions.

By the 1920s, Frank and Lucy had moved to Gold Hill, where Frank vowed to stay for the rest of his life. But he didn’t. After barely 10 years in the Rogue Valley, Frank and Lucy moved to Portland.

When asked what he did for a living there, Frank would say, “independent mining,” but no one was ever sure where that mining might have occurred.

Lucy died in April 1952, and Frank followed 20 days later.

Perhaps Frank’s story doesn’t match up with Robinson Crusoe’s 28 years on a tropical island, but true or not, Frank’s saga brought a lot of fun and wonder to the Mail Tribune’s pages in 1929, and maybe, just maybe, 90 years later it can do it again.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.