Many Alaska parks have had no mining activity, including Katmai National Park and Preserve, Kenai Fjords National Park, Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, Sitka National Historical Park, and Cape Krusenstern National Monument. For purposes of this study the Noatak National Preserve and Kobuk Valley National Park have been treated as part of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. History that is properly part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Park is covered in chapters of this study covering the Klondike Gold Rush, particularly Chapters two through five.
Gold mining in Glacier Bay National Park differed from that in most other regions of Alaska. The Lituya Bay area, like Nome and Yakutat, yielded placer gold from its beach sands. The first verified interest in the ruby sand diggings was an expedition led by James Hollywood in 1880. Hollywood had located in Sitka in the 1870s and married the daughter of the Tlingit Chief Katlian. Gold fever following discoveries at Silver Bay near Sitka induced him to prospect with three other men along the coast northwest to Yakutat. An attempted landing at Lituya Bay ended in the drowning of one man, and later two members of the party were killed by Yakutat Indians. 
These disasters discouraged further prospecting at Lituya Bay until 1888, when Samuel O. Wheelock led an expedition from Juneau. After Capt. John J. Healy landed the party from his schooner Charlie, its seven members staked placer claims of 20 acres each, organized the Fairweather mining district, and consolidated these claims to form a company. Lituya's ruby sands, as distinguished from the black sands of Yakutat, yielded a very fine gold that was not easily recovered. Water scarcity was one problem. To gain sufficient water for sluicing, long flumes had to be constructed to convey water to the flat beach area. The Lituya company did not show any production in 1889, and in 1890 the yield was 135.5 ounces valued at $2,300. Wheelock sold some of his claims in 1892 to Jeff Talbot and John Ellis. Other active miners in the 1890s included Harry Spence, Dave Spurgeon, O.M. Cole, Morris Orton, Tom Ashby, and George Mason. Wheelock's wife accompanied him to Lituya Bay in 1895 to be the first non-native woman to live there.
Some excitement occurred in Juneau in 1892 when Lituya Bay miners did not arrive as expected to winter in town. The U.S. Navy gunboat Pinta was dispatched to Lituya to investigate their fate, but the captain, not wanting to risk his ship, did not try to land a search party. He figured that his ship's whistle would rouse any stranded miners to make a signal, but no one did. Later it was learned that the miners had wintered over at Yakutat.
In May 1892 A.R. McConnahay, Jeff Talbot, and Ira Spencer reached Juneau by canoe. They had worked the Lituya sand all winter and "did very well." 
A shipwreck at Lituya Bay was reported in October 1892. The schooner Salmo crashed on the rocks, and the Jeff Talbot party lost all its gear. Another party, wrecked the same season in the schooner Albatross, performed an epic journey by foot. They intended to walk down the coast to Yakutat and started August 23 with six days' provisions. Finding considerable obstacles in their path"immense glaciers and unfordable streams"came as a surprise. The barrier of four wide streams coming from Plateau Glacier forced them to climb "the frozen cataract until the highest plane to circumvent" the rivers. Descending the glacier they had to cut steps in a 100-foot wall, until they reached Canoe Harbor and encountered a party of Hoonah Indians hunting sea otter at their summer camp. With the Indians' help the miners finally got to Yakutat after 18 days on the trail, subsisting on river salmon and ducks shot along the way.
Over the years there were other mishaps. In 1895 a Captain Jensen of Sitka lost his schooner, Winnifred, in a severe storm while anchored inside Lituya Bay. The schooner Dora B was lost in April 1900. Four men died when the schooner, which was being towed by the steamer Excelsior, broke free off Lituya Bay.
Lituya Bay miners persisted in efforts to produce more gold. In 1895 W.M. Brook, R.G. Johnson, M.F. Shook, and D.L. Farnham brought a technological advance to Lituya Bay mining, the "Gold King"a machine designed to expedite the recovery process. Unfortunately, the machine did not perform as well as the sluice box method, but enough gold was recovered to encourage efforts with sluice boxes. O.M. Cole took $3,000 for the season, while Wheelock gained $8,000.
Various estimates were given of the number of active miners in 1896from a low of 75 to a high of 200 men. Probably the lower figure was more accurate. W.M. Brook, after buying properties from Cole and Wheelock, organized the Ruby Sand Gold Mining Company in 1896. He built 2,000 feet of flume 12 inches wide and 8 inches deep and a string of sluice boxes for round-the-clock shoveling by his 14-man crew. Production was $12,000 in 1896. A higher than usual recovery was attributed to the use of silver amalgamation plates with the customary loose quicksilver in sluice boxes. The miners reached pay dirt lying on clay at a depth of 8 feet. Over the 135-day season a miner could recover about $1,000 in gold and earn wages of $270.
The Klondike discovery slowed activity in 1897 because labor was in short supply, but Brooks made a major effort the following year. The company hired 21 men and invested in a 10-horse power engine, a 12-horsepower engine, and 12-horsepower boiler and a 4-inch pump. Another large operation entered the field in '98 when C.L. Blakemore, O.S. Savage, W.S. Gardner, Lewis Meyer, and others formed the Lituya Bay Gold Placer Mining Company Co., offering 100,000 shares of stock at $100 each. Another outfit that season, formed by D.L. Farnham, S. Fourtner, C. Eagle, C.C. Berg, and Sam Brown, reported a gain of $3,000.
Some Lituya Bay miners developed a distinct affection for the region. Edith Burchard Thornton, who worked with her husband in 1898-99, decided to winter over in 1898-99. She described her experiences in a letter to the Alaska Miner. "Disregarding the tales of extreme cold and suffering to be endured here, an old friend, my husband and myself cheerily watched the departure of all humanity on October 4, 1898." The winter passed pleasantly. Temperatures never fell lower than six degrees F. below zero; the bay did not freeze; most days were bright with little snowfall. Geese, ducks, trout, and salmon abounded for fresh food needs. Mrs. Thornton was sure that Lituya Bay was as beautiful as any place in the world; anyone who viewed the scene on a winter night under a full moon would agree. She was inspired to offer a poetic tribute:
Hail, oh, Lituya, with sunshine and rain.
As Mrs. Thornton knew, readers of the Alaska Miner were more interested in the region's mineral wealth. They wanted to know if the prospects justified the relatively heavy expense of chartering transport and worries about resupplying. Mrs. Thornton had good news for miners unless "they are of the class who insist that "less than one hundred thousand dollars will be insufficient." Such needy fortune hunters would face disappointment as would folks expecting to arrive in July and leave in September with a load of treasure. But miners with reasonable expectations would be welcomed by the pioneers and could make some money, especially if they brought along "not a theoretical, but a practical device that will separate, and save the fine gold from the ruby sands." 
From 1894 to 1917 gold valued at $75,000 was taken from the beach sands of Lituya Bay. After 1917 little more gold was recovered. Prospectors and scientists continued to investigate areas in and around the monument for gold and other minerals. In 1917 the needs of World War I motivated the USGS to examine a possible nickel deposit surrounding Lituya Bay. Geologist J.B. Mertie knew all about the treacherous entry to the bay where La Perouse had met disaster in 1786 and made careful plans. To enter the bay, only some 50 yards wide and beset with rocks and shoals, a ship waited for the few minutes of slack water at either high or low tide. To determine low-water slack the party consulted the Sitka tidal table, but it proved misleading. The geologists' small boat came close to wrecking on a rock. Another try was more successful. After Mertie landed he located the deposit 2,000 feet above sea level at the head of the bay.
Park personnel asked Joe Williams, superintendent of the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mining Co., to investigate mineral prospects on the ground and from the air in 1940. Williams observed "clear indications of mineral values great enough to keep prospectors and small mine operators interested in Glacier Bay for many years," but considered the veins he observed too small for large operations. In the 1930s the small lode gold mines on Reid Inlet within Glacier Bay produced 7,000 ounces of gold. 
USGS examined the area on several occasions, including a recent extensive survey made in 1965 at the request of the National Park Service. Virtually the entire area of the monument was examined, and a number of substantial deposits were discovered. Promising deposits included nickle-copper on Brady Glacier; ilmanite (titanium) near Mount Fairweather; the Alaska Chief Copper Prospect near the entry to Glacier Bay; the Lituya Bay beach sands; the Margerie Copper Prospect at the head of Tarr Inlet; and gold lodes on Reid Inlet and Sandy Cove. USGS concluded that there were "a few mineral deposits that are likely to be minable in the near future; some that may be minable in the more distant future, but which are not well enough known to be evaluated; some that probably would be minable with economic or technologic changes; and many that are insignificant." 
Jack London's Lynching
Of all the mining companies the most famed will always be the Lituya Bay Gold Placer Mining Co. because of its singular literary yield. During the winter of 1899-1900 the company left manager Hans Nelson and his wife, Hannah, and three other men, Martin Severts, Sam Christianson, and Fragnalia Stefano to carry on the work. The dramatic events of that year were reported in the San Francisco Examiner on October 14, 1900, and read with keen interest by Jack London. The Examiner story was headlined "WOMAN HANGS A MAN AND THE LAW UPHOLDS HER." Illustrated with dramatic sketches, including a picture of a fashionably dressed woman holding a hangman's noose, the newspaper described a murder and lynching.
Six years after he read about the tragedy in the Examiner, the murder and lynching in Lituya Bay became the basis for one of London's most famous Alaska short stories. When his fictionalized version of the story,"The Unexpected,"appeared in McClure's Magazine in August 1906 with a footnote that said it was based on a real incident in 1899, some readers claimed that the entire episode was a figment of the author's imagination. But the murder and lynching actually had occurred much as the novelist described them. Though conflicting versions abound, the story behind Jack London's lynching tale ranks with the most astounding chapters in the history of frontier justice in Alaska.
As usual, Hannah Nelson had cooked the evening meal on October 6 for the four men of her party. After the meal, everyone remained seated at the table talking and laughing except Martin Severts, who left the cabin and went outside. "In a short time he returned," survivor Sam Christianson said later, "and opening the door, leveled a 45 Colt's revolver at Stefano and shot him dead." 
Severts then took a bead on Christianson. He fired and missed, but the bullet ricocheted off a stone jar and hit him in the back of the neck. "I was so stunned that I fell to the floor," Christianson said. He watched as Severts then aimed at Hannah, but before he could fire, Hans Nelson jumped the killer and knocked him to the ground. In the struggle the gun went off with "the ball tearing an ugly wound in Severts' leg." Hannah Nelson threw a dish towel around Severt's neck and choked him until Hans was able to tie him up.
After recovering from the shock, the Nelson's treated Sam Christianson's wound. The bullet had only grazed his neck and was not so serious as Severts' wound in the leg. The Nelsons dragged the body of the murdered man, Stefano, outside and buried him the next day in a shallow grave. The survivors bandaged Severts, but they resolved at once to keep him tied up at all times and keep close watch until they could deliver him to the authorities.
The mining camp in Lituya Bay, however, was cut off from regular contact with the outside world. Hans Nelson tried to signal passing steamers, but none would stop. Mounting a night-and-day guard was hard on their nerves. "I would sit by the hour with a rifle across my lap," Hannah said, "opposite the bunk where he was tied and sew or knit, jumping at every move he made." The Nelsons hired local Indians to hold Severts at a small cabin 4 miles away, but after a few weeks they refused to watch over him any longer.
The prospect of spending an entire winter with a madman seemed intolerable. The Nelsons finally gave up all hope of help from the outside, and they decided their only options were to turn Severts loose in the wilderness or execute him.
The Nelsons hanged Severts early on the morning of October 26, 1899. "The execution was a very serious matter," Hannah Nelson said, "and was carried out as though it were under the order of a court by a deputized officer." 
Valley of Thunder
In considering the literature set in national park areas Glacier Bay holds pride of place. Mining activity, confined for the most part to Lituya Bay, also inspired Rex Beach. Beach's effort, a novel entitled Valley of Thunder, was also based in part on actual events and is all the more remarkableconsidering the origin of Golden Placesin focusing on a conflict between miners and the National Park Service.
Valley of Thunder, published in 1939, did not enjoy the success of The Spoilers, Beach's earlier novel depicting the Nome gold rush and the nefarious schemes of Alexander McKenzie to grab the rich Seward Peninsula claims under cover of law. Perhaps Beach hoped to work the Spoilers' magic once more by featuring a romance between David Glenister, son of Roy Glenister (the hero of the Spoilers) and Natalie McNamara, granddaughter of Alex McNamara (the character based on Alexander McKenzie). Another conflict evolves when David, who is much loved by reformed labor agitator Karel Brosnick, receives a map of a secret gold lode from Karel, whose father discovered it. This arouses the leading villain, Nick Pavlicek, a fishtrap robber and all-around no-good, who is also mad because Karel jilted him. Karel, David, and Gus Brown, miner and fox farmer, find and locate the mine after harrowing adventures. Subsequently the National Park Service includes the mine within the Glacier Bay National Monument, but the good guysKarel, David, and Gussurreptitiously continue to mine. It would not do to disclose more of the plot and spoil another's reading pleasurebut in the end everything works out pretty well. 
Perhaps more interesting than the novel are the circumstances that compelled Beach to write it. Beach was a good friend of prospector Joe Ibach (Gus Brown in the novel) who located lode claims on a hillside above Reid Glacier in 1924. Beach met Ibach in 1905 and admired him: "He was indeed the nearest to a free soul of anybody I ever knew and anything less than complete independence irked him like a shirt of nettles. Venturesome, self-reliant, restless and solitary in his habits as a rogue elephant he had covered that part of Alaska like a dew." 
Beach renewed his friendship in 1935, visiting Ibach's home at Willoughby Cove, and heard about the miner's troubles. Mining had been prohibited since the monument was established but Ibach had located his claim a few months before, his rights seemed secure. Nevertheless, federal official warned him against any work on his claim until the matter was resolved. If Ibach obeyed he would be unable to do the required annual assessment work to maintain his title. Ibach stated his case to the Department of the Interior and to Alaska's congressional delegate, Tony Dimond, yet nothing was done. In desperation he brought a small stamp mill and worked the ore with his wife's help: "Muz and I steal up there when we can and bootleg the ore out like a couple of burglars," he told Beach. 
Ibach continued to mine for several years. Frank Been of the National Park Service reported that Ibach and a partner installed a new stamp mill in 1939. They hauled 30 tons of ore from the Reid Glacier mine to Ibach's residence on Lemesurier Island where the mill was installed. Over the winter the miners managed to extract only $1,800 in gold "but twice that much should have been extracted," according to Been. Lack of knowledge regarding their new mill caused Ibach and his partner to lose half their summer work.  Ibach had already mined more than 30 tons of ore by July 1940 and hoped to double that before the season closed. He shipped the ore to the Tacoma smelter for refining.
Frank Been sent Washington what information he had gathered on mining prospects and its environmental impact. He interviewed Joe Williams, superintendent of the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Co., who had inspected Ibach's claims. Williams tried to convince Been that prospecting and small-scale mining in Glacier Bay would not cause too much environmental damage. Been considered Williams' opinion of gold resources reliable because he "is in charge of one of the largest gold mines in the world." Williams was not successful, however, in convincing Been that any small mines developed on Glacier Bay would be inconspicuous. "Small operations . . ." Been observed, "have conspicuous buildings. Particularly when a stamp mill is part of the plant. A dock or wharf is also inevitable." 
Another literary light associated with Glacier Bay is John Muir. Muir is credited with the discovery of Glacier Bay in 1879. His Travels in Alaska is a classic sojurner's description that also includes observations on mining made in 1879 during Cassiar stampede from Wrangell and in 1897 during the Klondike stampede.
Muir was primarily a naturalist. Though unenthusiastic about mining and miners, he did agree to report his gold-stampede observations for the San Francisco Chronicle. Staying within the confines of his true obsession, Muir described the movements of men in nature's terms: they are "jumping and grinding against one another, like boulders in flood time, swirling in a pot hole." Muir noted that the rushers exhibited great energy and praised nature for inducing human activity: "Nature scatters grains of gold in gravel beds and so the laziest crowds rotting in cities spring to life and are scattered over the furthest wilderness to make way for civilization." Although he conceded that folks needed money and that seeking gold provided a motivation, he feared that greed would obscure life's true values. 
Muir would undoubtedly be pleased to learn that Glacier Bay is still being "discovered" by visitors who are primarily interested in natural beauty. It also seems fitting that the mining of literary gold, particularly by London and Beach, has been more significant than the production of the actual mineral.
The region between Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay, where the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is located, held little of value to prospectors. There is no record of miners in the region before the early 1900s, when sporadic word occurred along Portage Creek's 5-mile length from its mouth near the northern part of Lake Clark. From 1910 to 1912 the effort yielded no more than a few thousand dollars.
Some documentation of this operation exists in a letter written by J.W. Walker in 1911 about Mulchatna, a district near the present park that lured most miners. "Mulchatna is still at a standstill. It seems everybody wants the other fellow to do the digging." Walker went on to describe his operation: "We are going to run a drain on Portage Creek next spring. Brown and Gleason took out some good money last year. I had a drill sent from home and we intend to put it on Bonanza Creek next year. A short time will determine how far it is to bedrock."  Other details of Walker's correspondence deal with hunting and trapping because Lake Clark miners always had to depend on regional resources that were less scarce than gold. Though miners in most regions hunted and trapped on occasion, the few miners who persisted at Lake Clark counted on their winter yield of fur to support their mining.
From time to time a prospector would report a promising discovery. In 1929 one such argonaut advised the USGS that he had found a potentially valuable quartz vein. The government geologists did not encourage his optimism: "The gold content is reported to be sufficiently high to make mining profitable, but the great expense necessary for opening a property at this place will probably prevent active development in the near future." This appraisal could be used as an epitaph for the region because it was the typical and appropriate response to "discoveries."
Despite its obvious drawbacks, the government did not entirely neglect the region. In 1929 a USGS party landed at Iliamna Bay to complete earlier surveys of the Lake Clark-Mulchatna region made in 1912, 1914, 1926, and 1928. Of the area north of Lake Clark to the Stony River Stephen R. Capps reported that "so few white men have visited the region . . . that there are no established routes of travel in it. The geologists found no active mining between Lake Clark and Stony River." 
Few miners lingered long enough to leave a record of activity. Charlie Denison settled at Tanalian Point on Lake Clark in the 1930s and prospected in the region, particularly at Bonanza Creek. A better-known miner of the time was Fred Bowman, who acquired the Portage Creek claims in 1936. Bowman managed to make some moneyalthough the amount is not knownuntil the mine closed down during World War II. After the war Bowman started mining again and his son, Howard Bowman, still does occasional work. 
Early History of the Adjacent Region
Though the Mulchatna River diggings are not within the present borders of the park, work there represents most of the region's mining activity and is included here because it did bring prospectors into the park region. An unconfirmed report of mining in the Mulchatna basin in 1887-1888 by a party of Yukon prospectors who crossed over to the Kuskokwim, coasted Bering Strait and Bristol Bay, and ascended the Nushagak and Mulchatna rivers. Percy Walker, after whom Fortymile's Walker Fork was named, was supposedly a member of this group.
Details of the mining seem more probable than the early date. The pioneers built a water wheel to convey water to wash their sandbar diggings. Fine gold existed in the black sands, but shoveling by four men quickly buried the riffles, making it almost impossible to amalgamate the gold. The heavy black sand prevented the gold from reaching the quicksilver in the riffles.
There are only a few other reports of activity in the region. Trail-making commenced in 1901 when Deputy Surveyor Webster Brown led the Trans-Alaska Co. exploration and trail-building party into the area. By December 5 the party reached the Mulchatna River, where prospectors W.D. Keefer and L.E. Bonham provided much needed provisions.
A Valdez newspaper of April 1902 reported on a voyage of Excelsior to Iliamna Bay to land a party bound for the Mulchatna. Despite the optimistic prospects announced earlier for the Iliamna-St. Michael route, results had been disappointing. Of six attempts during the 1901-02 winter to carry mail only one delivery reached St. Michael. Of course, backers of the Iliamna-Nome railroad expressed undiminished hopes. They put two small steamers into service on Lake Iliamna and had men out cutting ties. By next winter they expected to have an all-weather trail open year-round, one that would allow travelers to reach St. Michael from Iliamna in six days. They reported good gold prospects, some nuggets running to pea size, and that there were promising quartz samples. 
In 1910 John Kinney reported pans of gold on Bonanza Creek, washing at an average of 40 cents. The bench was 85 feet high and steep enough to facilitate conveying gravel to the creek by carloads. Approximately 125 yards of gravel produced 13 ounces of gold. The bench's size did not warrant bringing water up from the creek.
What impeded the mining of Kinney and his predecessors were the region's conditions. It was difficult to find placers rich enough to make pick-and-shovel mining pay, yet prospects did not justify capital expenditures for machinery. Even with pumps the flow of water through the gravel prevented miners from digging 10 to 15 feet. Modern, expensive drill rigs were needed to reach bedrock. This left only the bars available for hand miners. Yet optimists contended that the lower Mulchatna region would justify dredge operations while the upper reaches would yield pay to hydraulic operations. Aside from gold, sands also showed platinum prospects. 
Prospectors examined the Mulchatna River, Bonanza Creek, Portage Creek, and other streams. Six men found some gold near the Kijik in 1902 but not enough to justify extensive work. Copper locations were made in 1906 by Charles Brooks and C. Von Hardenburgh also of Kasna Creek.
Bering Land Bridge National Preserve
Incidental to the great gold rush to Nome in 1899-1900, prospectors spilled over into other areas of the Seward Peninsula looking for gold. At scattered places within the region of 20,000 square miles other mineral discoveries were made. The best prospects in areas near the present Bering Land Bridge Preserve boundaries were on tributaries of the Inmachuk River. Discoveries on Old Glory and Hannum creeks provoked a stampede of some 400 men in July 1901. Miners examined all likely prospects including gravel bars along the Goodhope River and Placer, Little Daisy, and Humboldt creeksall of which are within the preserve. 
Another stampede to the northern part of the Seward Peninsula, that to Candle Creek in 1901, also brought miners into the preserve region. By 1908 almost $3 million had been taken out of the area, most of it from the Candle Creek district. Gold was found on Esperanza Creek, a tributary of the Goodhope River, in 1907-1908 and encouraged an influx of prospectors, most of them from the surrounding Fairhaven district.
Though miners did not prosper on any workings within the preserve they did enjoy an amenity developed there, Serpentine Hot Springs, which has remained a popular resort.
The Fairhaven Ditch
Getting sufficient water to mining sites has been one of the biggest problems in most Alaska mining districts. The mines of the Seward Peninsula are no exception, but conditions there did favor construction of ditches. The Fairhaven Ditch was one of many such ditches and is the longest on the peninsula. The course of its 38-mile run north from Imuruk Lake to the Inmachuk River drainage takes it across the eastern corner of the preserve.
C.L. Morris started work on the Fairhaven Ditch in 1906 with construction of a dam on the outlet of Imuruk Lake. Crews labored over the summer seasons of 1906 and 1907, working through lava formations and permafrost. The ditch, 11 feet wide at the bottom, functioned until around World War I. Long stretches of the banks remain in good condition today.
Although little mining was done in large areas of the parks, there was no region too remote for consideration of prospectors. Much prospecting activity has never been recorded, but we know that men investigated virtually every streambed in every corner of the territory. In many regions mineral prospects were the only reason for economic development. Where the mineral resources did not encourage development and no other resources attracted attention, the wilderness was very little affected by the fleeting presence of prospectors.
Notes: Chapter 16
Last Updated: 01-Oct-2008