A former Pendleton man who relocated to Alaska during its gold rush years struck it lucky in 1900 when partners in a company he was backing discovered gold in a creek basin at the foot of glaciers eight miles from Juneau.
Wesley N. Matlock, son of Pendleton politician William F. Matlock, joined thousands of men who moved to the Alaskan wilderness in search of gold in the late 1800s. On July 2, 1900, Matlock’s partners Sam Butts and Jesse Crawford arrived at Nugget Creek north of Juneau and began panning for gold in the middle of three basins of the creek situated at the base of glaciers. Fifteen pans were taken from the creek and all showed good color, netting the pair 50 cents (about $15 in 2018) worth of gold flakes. They returned to Juneau without marking the locations of their find to report to Matlock.
Not satisfied with the take from the creek, Matlock returned himself on July 7 to the secret location, rowing up the creek to a sand bar and from there borrowing a team of horses to arrive at the foot of the glacier. There they met another prospecting team who claimed the area was a bust for gold purposes, saying they had sunk several test holes and found nothing when they hit bedrock under the soil surface.
Matlock and his partners arrived at the creek shortly thereafter and found that this assertion was indeed the case. However, they discovered that the other team had hit a false bedrock, and by digging 2 1/2 feet deeper found a coarse gold nugget worth $5 ($150 in 2018). Five locations were investigated, including the Lucky Salmon claim that was staked as their discovery claim, and gold was found in plenty at each site. The partnership discovered that the creek was fed by two glaciers running through the creek claim basins and under the big glacier near the sand bar.
The Matlock & Company discovery claim covered about 15 acres on the middle basin. Another 100 acres on the upper basin and 350 acres on the lower basin and numerous bench claims on the rolling hills around Nugget Creek meant there was plenty of room for prospectors to stake additional claims in the area.
Matlock and his partners returned to Juneau and formed their company, filing claim to 160 acres of the lower basin. Of the 19 total claims they filed in the new district, Matlock himself held half of them.
Once the claims were filed, Matlock divulged the location of the gold strike to the Juneau Daily Dispatch, and several boatloads of prospectors immediately made their way to the glacier fields of Mt. Juneau to stake claims of their own.
Matlock and his partners went on to find more gold in Alaska, with 20 claims near Nome by 1903. By 1905 the main claims near Nome were playing out, and Matlock ceased working them while entertaining offers from people wanting to take them over. He eventually relocated to Portland, though he traveled extensively to keep tabs on his many financial interests throughout the western U.S.