North to Alaska

For some of the descendants of the Robbins family living in the Pacific Northwest, the Alaska Gold Rush was a seminal event.  Members of our family traveled to Alaska and the Yukon to search for gold, some stayed to work in non-gold rush related occupations prior to returning home, and some didn’t return home at all.  One of the more prominent miners was Frank Keizer.

Frank Keizer was born in 1857 to John Brooks and Mary Jane (Herren) Keizer, and was a grandson of Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren.  The Keizers were a prominent family in the Willamette Valley and today’s growing city of Keizer is named for them.  Frank grew up in the agricultural surroundings of Oregon’s capital city, Salem.  The namesake city and most of the family spelled the name Keizer; others spelled it Keizur or Kaiser. (I will use “Keizer” here except when quoting news articles).

In 1883 he was married to Mabel Zieber, and the couple had five children, Russell, Philip, Cornelia, Grace, and Ellen, who were all prominent in their own right, and who grew to adulthood without their father.

In September of 1898, gold was discovered near Nome, Alaska, and the rush was on.  One of the unusual aspects of the Nome gold rush was that gold was soon found in the beach sand along the coast, making mining very easy.  Ships were soon unloading miners from Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland.  On board one ship from Oregon, the Nome City, was Frank Keizer.

Nome in 1900

Nome in 1900

Frank went to Alaska with his brother John B. Keizer Jr. and on the same ship was the newspaperman Fred Lockley, later to gain fame with his “Thoughts and Observations of a Journal Man,” which appeared in the Oregon Journal newspaper for many years.  Previous to this ships arrival, another brother Walter Keizer and his wife Rosa had arrived in Nome.

It was only a couple of weeks later when a letter from his brother John was received by their mother, Mary Jane, reporting the sad news of his death.

Frank was sick all the way from Portland.  He was not strong enough to live.  He lived only one day after landing here.  We had all the medical skill in attendance on him that could be had anywhere.  There were two doctors aboard ship, and we had them all the way, and when we brought him ashore we got another doctor, Dr. Derbyshire, and he was a good physician, well recommended by lots of the boys we know, so you see we did all we could, and we nursed him ourselves, and “Gus” is just as good a nurse as there is on earth, and he did his very best; besides we had a lady nurse who has had years of experience, and she did everything she could, but he could not be saved.

But for now it is all over.  We buried him up on the hill overlooking Behring Sea, where there are at least sixty ships moored.  I would have like to have got a picture of the place, for it was pretty.  But no one knows how I felt to leave him there.

Walter and Rosa have done all they could.  The reason we did write to you about him being sick, we thought there was a show for him to get well, and did not want to worry you and Mabel and the rest of the folks.

Fred Lockley wrote an article, later in July, entitled “With the Argonauts” which appeared in Salem’s Weekly Oregon Statesman.  Lockley wrote:

On the crest of a hill overlooking the Bering Sea stood, with bared heads and tear-dimmed eyes, a group of Salemites, on June 23rd.  Above, the white fleecy clouds drifted by:  under foot was the soft, springy tundron.  Above the splash of the waves on the beach, rose our voices as we sang, “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” over the grave of one of our number, Frank Kaiser.  He was sick most of the time on the voyage to Nome.  The doctor pronounced his malady typhoid fever.  He died at 11 o’clock a.m., June 22nd.  He was unconscious for several days preceding his death.  Everything that could be done for his comfort was done.  Rev. W. A. Lindsey conducted the funeral services.  A fragrant cedar coffin was made.  Inside the coffin were placed pure white wild flowers.  On his coffin we wrote: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.  I go to prepare a place for you.”  It was a very sad funeral.  God grant that no more of our number lay down their life so far from home and loved ones.

Mabel Zieber Keizer

Mabel (Zieber) Keizer

The surviving Keizers in Nome returned to Oregon.  John Keizer married his late brother’s widow Mabel in 1908, but the couple had no children.  John passed away in 1927 in North Bend, Oregon, where several of the children had ended up, while Mabel survived to 1946.


Frank Keizer’s name is not found in any lists of burials in Nome.  A recent article in the Nome Nugget (13 July 2018) describes work by the city of Nome to clean up the existing cemetery.  There are many difficulties with burials in Nome:  there are no casket manufacturers, no undertaker, no funeral home, and the burial “season” is only from late May to October due to the frozen ground, so bodies must be stored at the morgue (located at the cemetery) until the ground thaws.  Over the years ownership of the cemetery has changed hands, a fire in 1934 destroyed cemetery records, and many grave locations are unidentified.  An Alaska company, specializing in ground penetrating radar, is in the process of locating all existing graves.  Perhaps one day Frank Keizer’s resting place will be identified.

(Jacob Robbins-William Robbins-Theodoshia (Robbins) Herren-Mary Jane (Herren) Keizer-Franklin Sylvanus Keizer)



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