Kenai Fjords
A Stern and Rock-Bound Coast: Historic Resource Study
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Chapter 7:
THE LURE OF GOLD (continued)

Nuka Bay Mining Sites: North Arm

Rosness and Larson Property

This property is located on the west side of North Arm, more specifically two miles northeast of Moss Point and surrounding a small cove. The mountain slope, in the area of the workings, juts up fairly steeply from the water's edge. All human activity at this site took place within several hundred yards of tidewater.

This site is one of the first places where minerals were recorded in the present park boundaries. When Ulysses S. Grant made the area's first geological investigation in 1909, he noted that a four-man prospecting party–Daniel Morris, James Sheridan, George W. Kuppler, and John H. Lee–had located several pyritized dikes at the site and staked a mineral claim. Grant recorded five mining sites that year along the park's southern seacoast; this site, however, was the only one that was later developed. [107]

The claim made by Morris and his fellow prospectors was quickly abandoned, and the property lay idle until Skeen's find brought renewed interest to the area. Soon afterward, "old John Gillespie" (as he was known locally) rediscovered the site. By the summer of 1924, he had teamed up with Albert Rosness. [108] An investigator that year noted that the partners were pursuing a quartz vein that was exposed at tide level, but "little exploratory work" had been done at that time. By the following summer, "a small amount of work" consisting "mostly of surface trenching" had taken place at the site. But the site investigator that year was pessimistic to an extreme; he stated that "nothing of any importance was discovered," and furthermore predicted that "it is not likely that the prospect will ever prove of commercial value." [109]

Nothing more was heard about the property for the next several years. By 1931, however, Gillespie had abandoned his interest in the site; Rosness's new partners were Josie Emsweiler and Frank Larson. [110] Investigator Earl Pilgrim, who visited the area that July, noted two men working there. At the quartz vein located in the southwest corner of the cove, they had erected a bulkhead to prevent waves from entering the workings. They had mined the decomposed surface material and hoisted it up to an ore bin by means of a trolley and windlass. Thirty feet to the south, a 28-foot tunnel had been dug; near the end of it, a winze had been sunk to a depth of 27 feet. Two hundred and fifty feet northwest of the beach workings, at an elevation of 110 feet, was a 20-foot tunnel. Seventy feet to the north was an open cut; below the cut was a 105-foot tunnel. In order to process the ore from the three tunnels and the various surface croppings, the partners had erected a gasoline-driven Ellis mill; the mill, located just below the 20-foot tunnel, was small, having a capacity of four tons per day. In addition, the site featured a small frame residence and two tents. [111]

By 1932, Emsweiler's interest in the property had been replaced by that of Nuka Island resident Peter Sather, and the mine continued to operate on a commercially-productive basis for another year. Donald Richter, who chronicled the site's history, was skeptical about the level of commercial activity, noting that the property "apparently produced some gold" during the 1931-33 period. Using rough calculations, however, he estimated a total production of about $15,000 in gold during that biennium. [112]

The property was probably not active after 1933, and by 1967, when Richter visited the site, he described the mill and camp buildings as "ruined." [113] In May 1969, the property was restaked as the North Nuka No. 1 and No. 2 claims by J. L. Young, V. J. Wright, and Ray Wells. The trio, however, apparently made no improvements to the site, and they abandoned their yearly assessment work after 1971. The site has lain idle since that time. [114]

In July 1991, National Park Service personnel visited the property as part of the Mining Inventory and Monitoring Program. The site that year featured "a power plant with a mill, two adits at tide level, an adit on a hillside, a penstock, a dam, and scattered artifacts." Power generating equipment was located on the floor of the ruined power plant, mining equipment was found outside of one of the adit portals, and scattered mining artifacts were found in the intertidal zone. The crew was not, however, able to locate either the cabin or the tent frames that comprised the former camp. Perhaps based on the poor condition and relative paucity of artifacts, the agency made no attempt to nominate the property to the National Register of Historic Places.

Kasanek-Smith Prospect

Southeast of the Rosness and Larson property, and directly across North Arm, is a small, unnamed cove. On a point of land, about one-half mile north of the cove, Alec Kasanek [115] and Jack Smith found a promising quartz vein in 1924 or early 1925. They called their claims the Butter Clam group. "Alex Kasenek" registered four claims in July 1925, and by September a tunnel 20 feet long had been dug near the high tide line. But ore values were apparently low; visiting geologist J. G. Shepard remarked that "the prospect does not seem to warrant further investigation." [116]

The partners, however, decided to press on. A Seward Gateway article in December 1925 stated that the pair were "remaining in the district over the winter." They remained active as late as 1927; that June, Kasanek was listed as one of several mining men who "will carry on development work on their various properties," and Smith was also at "the quartz camp" that year. The ever-bullish local newspaper stated that the partners were "developing one of the best looking properties in the Nuka Bay field." [117] Expectations, however, evidently exceeded reality, and by 1931 the property had been abandoned. The tunnel, at that time, was described as being 26 feet in length, which suggested that the partners undertook little development work after September 1925. (Based on evidence gained during a 1976 visit, the partners may also have dug out a surface trench above the adit; see discussion below.) Pilgrim noted a cabin, evidently associated with the tunnel; located in a small cove a few hundred feet south of the tunnel, it was probably built about 1925. So far as is known, no mill was ever brought to the property. [118]

Donald Richter, during his 1967 investigation, did not visit the property. But in July 1969, three prospectors–J. L. Young, V. J. Wright, and Ray Wells–established the Rainy Day claim there. They maintained yearly assessments until 1971, then abandoned the claim. George Moerlein, who visited the property in 1976, found "a 20 foot adit along the shore" and, at an elevation of 60 feet, "a shallow trench on a 3 foot wide quartz vein." [119] NPS personnel have since located the adit but no one, so far as is known, has visited the cabin site. The area has not been evaluated for National Register of Historic Places eligibility.

Robert Hatcher Prospects

Robert L. Hatcher was, according to one source, "one of the best known prospectors and miners of Alaska." Born in 1867, Hatcher first located Kenai Peninsula claims in 1910, near Moose Pass. Later, he staked the properties that became the well-known Independence Mine, north of Palmer. (Hatcher Pass, two miles southwest of the mine, is named in his honor.) During the mid-to-late 1930s, he returned to the Kenai and developed prospects on Palmer Creek (south of Hope) and Slate Creek (northeast of Cooper Landing). He remained active well into his dotage; at age 76, he located a new property between Lawing and Moose Pass. More successful than most, Hatcher was one of thousands who spent his life in search of gold and other "colors." [120]

From the mid-1920s through the early 1930s, some of Hatcher's energy was directed toward a series of prospects along Nuka Bay's North Arm. He located five or more properties, none of which proved commercially successful. His first prospect was apparently located in 1923 or 1924; a geologist visited the site, on the east side of the arm, in the summer of 1924 and noted that Hatcher's work consisted of a single open cut and a nearby adit.

By the following summer, Hatcher had not improved either site, and the geological investigator was pessimistic that future adit work would prove fruitful. Perhaps as a result, Hatcher pursued new properties. During the summer of 1925, he and a partner known only as Mr. T. McDonald staked some "quartz ground" in a valley on North Arm's western side. The site, opposite Pilot Harbor and three-quarters of a mile upstream from tidewater, contained two huge waterfalls, ten feet wide and more than a thousand feet high. So far as is known, Hatcher and McDonald never developed this claim. [121]

Despite his lack of success, Hatcher did not give up. In the summer of 1927, he was still active in Nuka Bay mining. [122] By 1931, when engineer Earl Pilgrim visited the area, Hatcher had driven four tunnels along North Arm's eastern shoreline. Along the southern shore of Pilot Harbor, at the harbor mouth and just 10 feet above sea level, he had driven a tunnel for "a few feet;" just above that tunnel, at elevation 85, a 60-foot tunnel had been driven. These two tunnels were located on the Sea Level No. 1 claim. A quarter mile to the south, he had driven a 30-foot tunnel just above the high tide line. Finally, he had driven a 20-foot tunnel, at an elevation of 64 feet, three-quarters of a mile south of the 30-foot tunnel. The southernmost tunnel was part of the Utopia vein, which included the Utopia No. 1 and 2 and North Gold claims. Hatcher's cabin was located just south of the 30-foot tunnel, at the head of a small cove. A map that accompanies Pilgrim's report specifies locations for all four tunnels as well as the cabin. [123]

Little is known about the details of Hatcher's activities. It is not known, for example, whether Hatcher was actively working any of his prospects in 1931. No name has surfaced for one of Hatcher's claims. Details about the construction date or appearance of Hatcher's cabin are unknown. Similarly unknown is when Hatcher began drilling his various tunnels, and which of them (if any) were his "single open cut" noted in 1924 or the tunnel face noted in 1925.

Hatcher appears to have lost interest in his North Arm prospects after 1931. A year later, his name briefly surfaced in relation to a prospect on the western side of Nuka Bay's West Arm. (This location was not far north of the Lang-Skinner Prospect; its exact location, however, is uncertain.) Those prospects, however, did not pan out, and after 1932, Hatcher apparently abandoned Nuka Bay altogether. [124] His North Arm prospects remained forgotten until 1967, when Donald Richter visited the area. Richter relocated the tunnel, at the mouth of Pilot Harbor, that was "a few feet long," as well as the 30-foot tunnel located one-quarter mile to the south. He was not, however, able to enter either tunnel (rough waters prevented his leaving the boat), nor was he able to find either the cabin site or the other two tunnels. [125]

These prospects appear to have been entirely ignored in recent years. None were claimed during the 1970s, and none are active claims today. Members of NPS's Mining Inventory and Monitoring Program did not visit these properties during the late 1980s or early 1990s, and no attempts have been made to evaluate any of these sites for the National Register of Historic Places.

Charles Frank Prospect

Just one-quarter mile south of the Rosness and Larson property is the Charles Frank prospect. Located on a steep slope, the prospect is about fifty feet above the high tide line on the west side of North Arm.

The property was probably worked for only a short time. Between 1925 and 1931, Charles Frank dug a 60-foot adit, at the end of which was dug an additional 60 feet of drifting. Three hundred feet southwest of the tunnel, on a bluff 100 feet above sea level, a cabin was built to support the mine. No mill, however, was ever brought to the site. [126]

The property remained active until 1932 but no future developments took place, and it was all but ignored by later investigators. By 1967 the adit was covered with slide debris and vegetation, and no remains of the former cabin were noted. In 1969, a trio of prospectors–J. L. Young, V. J. Wright, and Ray Wells–established the Cheri claim at the site. So far as is known, however, they made no improvements to the property, and they ceased doing assessment work in 1971. The property has probably lain idle since the early 1930s. [127] Personnel from the NPS's Mining Inventory and Monitoring Program did not visit the site, and the property has not been considered for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

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Last Updated: 26-Oct-2002