Mining in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has covered more territory than in any other Alaska park area. Much of the park's history concerns the copper development at Kennicott (the subject of Chapter 13), but the more common gold mining activity has contributed to the region's prosperity and development as well.
The Copper River basin and adjacent parts of the Yukon basin harbor two mineral-bearing zones on the southern and the northern slopes of the Wrangell Mountains. USGS called the southern belt the Kotsina-Chitina region, which included the great copper deposits, and the northern belt the Nabesna-White region. Mining in both areas, primarily was for gold, is reviewed in this chapter. Chapter 13 covers the Kotsina-Kuskulana area. Mining in the Bremner River and Chistochina districts is also discussed here, although Chistochina is not within park boundaries.
Remoteness inhibited prospecting and mining in the northern belt. As late as 1909 Alfred Brooks of USGS observed that travelers to the area were forced to use "a rather circuitous route, between 200 and 300 miles in length," from tidewater. Early exploration and mining travel into the southern belt was not easy either, but the construction of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway in 1911 mitigated some of the difficulties. 
Russian settlers heard reports of rich copper deposits in the eighteenth century, but exploration efforts were thwarted by their inability to ascended the fast-flowing Copper River and the hostility of the natives. Four expeditions made faltering attempts between the discovery of the river's mouth by Nagaieff in 1781 and the effort by Klimovskii in 1819. Apparently, Klimovskii got as far upriver as the mouth of the Chitina, and a post of the Russian American Company existed there for some years. The duration of the trading post and even its location is not known.
In 1847-48, Rufus Serebrennikov led a major undertaking to explore the river's headwaters. He and three companions wintered at Taral, then moved up to the Tazlina River in the spring. Soon after starting down the Copper for the return to the coast, the Russians were killed by Indians. According to what Lt. Henry Allen learned from Chief Nicolai at Taral in 1885, the Russian's mistreatment of Indians caused their destruction. The loss of Serebrennikov soured the Russians on the Copper River interior. Later the post was reopened, then abandoned after a short time.
No further interest was taken in the country until C.G. Holt, an Alaska Commercial Company trader, ascended the river in 1882 to investigate trade possibilities. As the Indians did not appear friendly, the company decided against establishing an interior post.  Holt's priority as an interior travelerprobably the first prospector to use the Chilkoot Passis well documented. It is possible, however, that his Copper River travels followed those of a mysterious prospector whose wanderings have not been traced with certainty. A Capt. I.N. West told his story of an early gold discovery to Addison Powell in San Francisco. Powell, then preparing to join the '98 stampede, believed West's story and acted in reliance upon it. Powell's admirable narrative, Trailing and Camping in Alaska, suggests that he was an honest man, but West's tale remains hard to believe. West's travels in the 1880s took him from Yakutat across the range between the Bering and Malaspina glaciers, down the Tana River to the Chitina, then down the Nizina. He next crossed a pass south of Mount Wrangell to reach the White River, crossed to the headwaters of the Tanana, moved down the Copper, then ascended the Chistochina before returning to the coast at Valdez via the Copper, Klutina river and lake, and the Valdez Glacier. 
West is an intriguing character. If he did even half of what he alleged, he deserves recognition as one of Alaska's great explorers. And if he actually found the gold he claimed, the publication of it at the time might have changed the pattern of the northern stampedes. At the time he "confided" in Powell he was 72 years old. Before agreeing to pay Powell's expenses to Alaska and giving him a share of his gold, West wanted a pledge of secrecy. "He inquired also whether I had been bewildered; what I would take with me on such a trip; the kinds of guns and ammunition, and even what kinds of matches I would take along."  Powell guessed that West's discovery had been made at the headwaters of the Chistochina, but, wherever it was, West insisted that he and his Indian companion panned $600 in no time. "Gold! Why, mancome up there and I'll pay you, not only for your trouble, but you shall have an interest with me, for there is gold enough for all of us." 
Powell was convinced. He answered West that he would travel into the interior with the U.S. Army's trail-blazing Abercrombie expedition and would be available when West got word to him of his claim's location. Powell headed north but never heard from West again and did not stumble on West's claim either. Considering the matter later, Powell could imagine other reasons for West's failure to keep his promises than his fraudulence. Many ships that left San Francisco for Alaska went down with all hands. This or another accident might have taken West's life. At least in Alaska Powell did meet another prospector who knew West and was also searching for the "lost mine," but it still remains difficult to credit West's uncorroborated story.
Gen. Nelson A. Miles, the U.S. Army commander of the Department of the Columbia and a famed Indian fighter, was not content to see the army excluded from Alaska. Exploration of the territory was essential, he reasoned, dispatching Lt. Frederick Schwatka to the Yukon in 1883 and Lt. William Abercrombie to the Copper River in 1884. Miles ordered Abercrombie to ascend the Copper then explore the Tanana River valley. To justify the expeditions, Miles directed his explorers to investigate the alleged hostility of nativesa proper matter of concern for the army. As Abercrombie put it:
Abercrombie's party landed at Nuchek, site of a trading post, on June 16, 1884, and reached the Copper River mouth five days later. The soldiers commenced the arduous job of pulling their small boats upriver and soon wondered if the river was really a serviceable path to the interior. Abercrombie described their travails:
As Abercrombie ascended the river, he saw other evidence that navigation of the river would be perilous even for larger, well-powered boats. The presence of two great glaciers gave the officer a nice opportunity to flatter his patrons (he named one for General Miles and the other for George Washington Childs of Philadelphia), but was otherwise threatening. The glaciers' movement sheared off its leading edge of ice and rock into the river: "The water fairly hissed, carrying with it boulders, some of them two feet in diameter, the impetus of which would break a keg or rip the bottom out of a skin boat." 
As Abercrombie watched, the glaciers provided an even more exciting display of nature's force in calving great slabs of ice into the rushing current. Abercrombie estimated that some of the slabs were 500 feet long, 250 feet wide, and 80 feet thick and they carried a surface burden consisting of tons of dirt and rock. Sometimes the ice movements provided scenes of unworldly splendor:
Soon after witnessing this spectacle, Abercrombie gave up and returned to the coast, convinced that the Copper was unsuitable for navigation. His conclusion was reasonable, but his recommendation that the Susitna River be explored for its suitability as a route was not followed. Abercrombie had not visited Cook Inlet or the Susitna himself but passed along the recommendations of Ivan Petroffcensus-taker, farmer, soldier, trader, and one of Alaska's most traveled men. The army command determined that another officer might succeed where Abercrombie failed and dispatched Lt. Henry Allen to the Copper River in 1885. While Allen did manage to push upriver and eventually complete the single most distinguished Alaska exploration expedition of the century, his attainments did not tame the Copper River. 
Allen, Sgt. Cady Robertson, and Pvt. Fred Fickett reached Nucket in March 1885, where he got valuable information from trader C.G. Holt, who had gone up the Copper to the Indian village of Taral in 1882. He also hired Peder Johnson, a prospector who had traveled with Abercrombie in 1884, and whose partner, John Bremner, had wintered over at Taral. The place of prospectors on early official exploration expeditions and the reliance of explorers on information derived from them should be noted. Fur traders had followed the explorations of Lewis and Clark on the Missouri and Columbia rivers, but in Alaska the official explorers of the American era sometimes followed the tracks of traders and prospectors.
Allen's early season start upriver allowed him to avoid the river navigation that had slowed Abercrombie. Using sleds and snowshoes, the men got beyond the Miles and Childs glaciers, over the frozen river, inside a week. Within 11 days of leaving the coast, they reached Taral, added Bremner to the party, and began exploring the Chitina River, the very name of which meant "copper" in the native language. Actually, Allen had more than rumor to incite his interest because he had been shown pure copper fashioned into knives on the coast, supposed to have originated on the Chitina. In three weeks on the river, Allen did not discover any copper lodes, which is not surprising as he had no time for prospecting. He did gain information about the country from Chief Nicolai at Taral, who later directed prospectors to copper deposits.
His mission was to push on to the Tanana. With the river's breakup, he relied upon canoes hauled up from the coast. Now he learned why Abercrombie had been discouraged by his upriver passage, tracking their boats with a 150-foot rope against the 7-to-9-mile current. Eventually, Allen left the Copper country to make the first explorations of the Tanana and Koyukuk. In all, he managed 1,500 miles of previously unknown country and showed that the Tanana could be reached from the Copper. The Copper River had provided an entry of sorts and much was learned about the region, but his exertions confirmed the unsuitability of the river route to the interior from Valdez. It benefited the Klondike stampeders though to have Allen's published map of the Copper and Chitina rivers available.
In 1891, Lt. Frederick Schwatka and C.W. Hayes, in the course of Yukon Basin explorations, ascended the Taku River, rafted down the Teslin and Lewes rivers, then went overland from Fort Selkirk to the head of White River, then to Chitina and Taral.
With the 1897-98 gold rush, Capt. W.R. Abercrombie of the U.S. Army returned to explore the Copper River in 1898 and 1899. F.C. Schrader of the USGS attached his party to Abercrombie's expedition in 1898 and reached the present Copper Center before returning downriver. Schrader and other USGS men were to return in 1900 to investigate the great copper deposits of the country but their observations in 1898 provided excellent descriptions of the gold-rush setting.
Abercrombie asked Schrader and one of his officers to investigate the Valdez Glacier trail after miners, aware of the difficulties in ascending the Copper River, requested information on the alternative route to the interior. Late in April, the two men started up the glacier, then were stopped for five days by a blizzard that dumped 8 to 12 feet of fresh snow on the glacier. When the snow ended in rain on May 2, the men rushed on to the summit where they saw "the size and trend of the Valdez Glacier, the character of the country in which it lies, the altitude of the summit and surrounding mountains, and the nature of the country at the head of the Klutena River on the inland side of the divide." 
The glacier trail was difficult but, for want of a better entry, it became the chief trail to the interior. Much was made of its dangers but, as with the Chilkoot, its travails for travelers were multiplied in direct proportion to the number of trips needed to move provisions inland. Though the trail itself was not innocent of terrors, much of its bad repute should have been traced to difficult conditions the stampeders faced when they gained the interior. Unlike the Chilkoot travelers, those first crossing the Valdez Glacier did not benefit from the existence of an established route to the gold fields along with the kind of aid and security the Mounties gave to Klondike stampeders.
Despite the frustrations and hardships of 1898, conditions looked very bright for the region in 1899. The new town of Valdez was thriving as a transportation and service center to the huge Copper River country, gold had been discovered on the Chistochina district, the Nikolai copper claim on the Chitina River was located, and Abercrombie began construction of the Trans-Alaskan Military Road from Valdez to Eagle.
The start of the army's trail was not as immediately beneficial to miners as the construction that year of the White Pass and Yukon Railway to Lake Bennett was to travelers to Skagway and Dyea, but it was meaningful. By choosing the route, the government was not indicating faith in southcentral's mineral prospects. The route simply seemed a better choice, considering all distances involved than one from Cook Inletthe other major possibility for an "All-American" route to the interior. But the trail certainly helped prospectors who remained in the region. Copper Center and other points along the trail developed and Valdez became one of the leading towns of the territory. Notwithstanding the trail's advantages, transportation costs remained high to the districts removed from the trail and conditions did not improve until the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad was constructed.
Cold Feet and Persistence
Sentiment for an "All-American" route created some interest in the Copper River entry to the interior. Early enthusiasm for the route was based on the belief that the lower Copper River could be ascended in small boatswhich was not the case. Some of those who tried and failed remained to found Valdez and help promote the glacier route.
In 1897-98 numbers of stampeders succumbed to the apparent logic of the Valdez route to the interior despite that army explorers had not found a good entry. By choosing a port far closer to Seattle than St. Michael that did not require passage of the fearsome Chilkoot or White passes, they reasoned that they would accomplish a quick journey to the gold fields. More importantly, the route attracted stampeders because its true difficulties were not known and because rumors of mineral wealth in the Copper River region were persuasive. Most of those who chose the Valdez entry rued the day, as except for the Canadian overland routes, it proved the most arduous of all others. Many of those who wintered in the interior over 1898-99 were ravaged by scurvy. Some of the afflicted died, and most others returned to the coast resolving to leave gold hunting to others.
The experience of Charles A. Margeson and his party after crossing the glacier in 1898 were typical of many stampeders. Before moving on to Lake Klutina, the next stage of travel, the men spent a week prospecting the headwaters of the Klutina. All they found was color and a little "flour gold" but it was enough to encourage them about prospects further distant in the interior. On the 4th of July after the camp of 100 prospectors paraded and watched a baseball game and other events to celebrate the "Glorious Fourth," Margeson's group boated downriver 16 miles to the lake.
After establishing a camp at Lake Klutina, Margeson and others in his company, stamped to a reported strike nearby in "Robinson's Gulch." They found color, so they built sluice boxes and worked down to bedrock but did not recover enough gold to justify a couple of weeks' work. Now it was late summer and Margeson was amazed at the steady exodus of men leaving the country. He figured that many of those afflicted with "cold feet" had never dreamed that hardship would attend their fortune-seeking or had believed that the work of a few weeks would make them rich. Others had received bad news calling them home or were simply homesick. Once the number of "home-seekers" exceeded that of the "gold-seekers" the latter were in a good position to buy provisions cheaply. Margeson bought pork and bacon for two cents a pound and 100 pounds of beans for 75 cents. He felt very good about his bargains as winter neared, then suddenly he, too, got "cold feet" and left the country before winter. 
Despite sickness and discouragements more besetting than those experienced by any other aggregation of prospectors, the situation was not totally bleak for the Copper River argonauts. During winter 1898-99 they focused more on local mineral prospects rather than on the region's access to the Klondike. Prospectors located the Nikolai Copper mine in 1899, foreshadowing what would be the greatest of all regional mineral developments, and also made more modest placer gold discoveries at Chistochina. Chief Nikolai had hosted Lt. Henry Allen in 1885 and later pointed out the copper deposits to other prospectors.
The Chistochina discovery was made by George Hazelet, whose northern career encompassed the historical trend of mining from individual entrepreneurship to corporate organization. Hazelet's future interests were to include mining at Chistochina and elsewhere in the Wrangell-St. Elias region, trail building from Chitina to Chisana, town site speculations, and, as mining field boss for the Alaska Syndicate, the direction of corporate strategies and management policies. All this grandeur was far from view of the schoolteacher-turned-prospector who crossed the Valdez glacier in '99 with his partner, A.J. Meals. Hazelet's diary catches the mood of one man who committed himself to a hard struggle in hope of improving his family's well-being. He was no daring, reckless adventurer risking a year or two in careless disregard for the future. 
Hazelet reached Valdez in March on the Pacific Steam Whaling company's Excelsior. There was no wharf, but because of the harbor's great depth, ships could run right to shore for unloading. Hazlet and Meals wasted no time before hauling their freight to the glacier. It was strenuous work: "I have now learned," said Hazelet, "what it is to make an ass of myself in earnest ... harness yourself up to a six foot sled, put 200 pounds on it and strike for the foot of the glacier which is five miles away. Repeat this twice a day for a week and you soon have long ears." The glacier trail was crowded with about 2,200 footsore men and women. Hazelet counted about 20 women, admiring one who "helps her husband pull every load and seems as happy as if she were presiding over a nice little, home." 
Enterprises on the trail included the quack medical practices of several suspicious characters. "If I had a sick dog that I wanted to get rid of I would call them in but not otherwise," said Hazelet.
Men represented all nationalities, shape, and ages, from boyhood to old age, "a fair representation of the average middle class Americans." Observation of divergent types amused Hazelet. Some pulled their sleds with
One woman was concerned that one of the lakes of the interior, where a boat building camp rose, commemorate her name. This is "Lake Blanch," she announced to all new arrivals. Some stampeders knew the lake as Sheppard's Lake, yet Blanche had a chance because no name had been firmly established. But it is not easy to assure such matters as Hazelet noted: "She had it written on board and posted upon the ice, but some careless cuss tore it down and now, like the women, the name must die."
Hazelet prospected on the Klutina and other streams while learning the country. Several encounters with Indians impressed him favorably with their good qualities, especially when a party of them recovered a load of blankets from the river and held them for the owner's return: "this act of the Indians shows plainly they are not of the same blood of our Nebraska Indians." 
On July 1, Hazelet ascended the Chistochina, one of the Copper River tributaries. Indians had told him that the river showed gold signs. Later that month, the miners sank a shaft about 4 miles from the river's mouth but were flooded out before bedrock was reached. But color signs were good. Moving upriver, they worked a sandbar and gathered some promising gold specimens. In September the miners voyaged down to Copper Center for welcome mail and provisions. Hazelet met Captain Abercrombie there and let F.C. Schrader of the USGS examine his samples of placer sand and lode rocks. Schrader's conclusions brought joy to Hazelet: "He says that if we can get to bedrock, we will surely find good paydirt." Ore samples were also promising, and Schrader agreed to gather larger samples and ship them to Washington, D.C., for a full assay. 
Though the Chistochina district lies outside of Wrangell-St. Elias park boundaries, the development bears on the park's history because it encouraged other prospectors in the region. Eventually, the Chistochina in the northwestern part of the Copper River basin along the southern foothills of the Alaska Range proved to be the richest placer producer in southcentral Alaska, ranking 15th overall among Alaska discoveries. 
Trails of '98
The USGS, in addition to geologic investigations and surveys, was an information agency providing facts on the various routes into the country as well as mineral prospects. Pulling together and publishing such information from prospectors and other travelers was an extremely valuable function. The following summary from a report on geological investigations in 1898 gave interested miners all the most essential facts on reaching the gold district in concise form:
The geologist noted that earlier maps had reported a good trail from Taral northward on both sides of the Copper. "This is a mistake, for although portions of a trail are here and there met with, they are liable at any time to run out, usually extending but a short distance from the native villages. The Survey party, in coming down the Copper to Taral, found it necessary to cut trail most of the way."
Schrader did not hesitate to make route recommendations. A proposed route from Valdez into the Copper River country via the Lowe River valley, then north to cross the headwaters of the Tonsina and, descending Manker Creek valley, strike the Klutena River and trail just below the lake. "It runs over some unexplored country, but seems to be by far the most suitable of all for railroad and pack train purposes."
Another feasible route, noted by Schrader, would be from Valdez "up Lowe River, across the divide (which is only 1,800 feet high), and down the Tasnuna River the Copper, whence the transportation up the Copper would be by boat, preferably a light-draft steamer of special power." Schrader provided a useful mileage and elevation table to guide prospectors, as illustrated on the following page.
Schrader's Mileage and Elevation, Copper River Region
The Nizina district is drained by the eastern tributaries of the Copper River between Chitina and Miles glaciers, but most mining was concentrated on Dan and Chititu creeks and their tributaries. Dan Creek was described by U.S. Army explorer Henry Allen and other early white travelers in the region. Chief Nicolai, who had a camp at the mouth of Dan Creek, was interesting to the whites because he was eager to show them copper lodes nearby.
From its development in 1901, Dan Creek has been mined continuously until recent times, which distinguishes it from virtually all other regions of Alaska. Gold has been the chief yield although about 40 tons of copper nuggets have also been produced. Dan Creek has also been famed as the discovery site of a huge copper nugget, nearly 3 tons, which has become a museum piece. The history of Rex Creek, a tributary of the Chititu, has been similar to Dan's except for the lack of copper mining. Golconda Creek is the only other stream in the district where successful placer production has occurred. Most of the gold was mined at Golconda from 1901-1916.
Clarence Warner and Dan Kane were the original locators of Dan Creek (named for Kane) in 1901 and were grubstaked by Stephen Birch. The Dan, which flows into the Nizina River 4 miles north of Chititu Creek and four miles south of the Chitistone River, drains an area of 45 square miles. After a strike on Chititu Creek the following year, a modest stampede into the region occurred in 1902 and 1903. 
In 1902 Robert Blei grubstaked several prospectors to search for copper prospects in the Nizina district. Instead of copper, the prospectors found gold on Chititu Creek. News of the discovery caused a small influx of miners but did not prevent Blei, Frank Kernan, and Charles Kopper from gaining control of most of Chititu, Rex, and White creeks. Production in 1903 involved 135 miners hired by Blei (lower Chititu), Kernan (upper Chititu), and Koppers (small section between others' claims). The base camp for the Chititu and the Young and Dan Creek diggings was Sourdough City on the south bank of the Nizina River at the mouth of Young Creek, 8 miles southeast of McCarthy. Smaller campsKernanville and Kopperstownwere built on the Kernan and Kopper claims. 
Walter C. Mendenhall and Frank C. Schrader of the USGS reported on the new district in 1903. Their short published description of the discovery, geography, and current mining was the only official information available to eager readers of government reports. The government men used a map of the district given them by miner George M. Esterly and were cautiously optimistic about future prospects:
In 1903 mining engineer L.A. Levensaler voyaged to Alaska with Horace V. Winchell who had options on the Nizina River and Chititu Creek. After Levensaler reported somewhat favorably on the propertiesplacer ground consisting of benches, Winchell sold out to the Marcus Daly estate. The new owners of the options sent Levensaler back in February 1904 to survey and make "a contour map from which yardage could be computed." The party included "an experienced placer man" and some Butte, Montana, miners who were to run prospect tunnels to bedrock.
George Hazelet conducted the party from Valdez in horse sleds. The trip was eventful because an early breakup of a lake impounded by the Kennicott Glacier caught them on the Chitina River. They lost 6 tons of food and horse feed and had to push on overland with pack horses. Their investigation was a major effort involving 20 men for the entire summer and the ground did not prove valuable enough to take up the options.
Levensaler returned to the region in 1908. His employer, Stephen Birch, the Kennecott Copper developer, wanted the creek prospected and mapped. In 1909 Levensaler was dispatched to Kennicott to prepare the Bonanza and Jumbo claims for mining and remained with the copper operation for many years. Birch sent James Galen to Dan Creek for further testing, then in 1910, turned over his properties to his brother, Howard Birch, an engineering graduate of the Columbia School of Mines.
Mining was confined to pick-and-shovel methods until 1907-08 when the first hydraulic plant was installed. Birch and other miners were encouraged by the construction of the Nizina Bridge in 1914 which gave them the use of an all season haul road.
The vicissitudes of mining included the destructive force of nature. Birch's hydraulic plant valued at $70,000 had been in operation for only three days in September 1913, when swift rising water tore through the valley carrying dams, pipelines, sluice boxes, cabins, and huge trees downstream in a rampaging flood. For an area of 3 miles the turbulent stream altered the landscape. As a newspaper noted, "the creek had taken on the appearance of a glacial moraine." Within a month Birch and his 25-man crew managed to repair the damage and re-establish operations on safer ground. A similar mishap had occurred in 1911 and this time Birch relocated on ground high enough to prevent any further flooding. 
Dan Creek's development as a well paying district had come slowly. In the early years of the century individual miners did not do very well as they lacked machinery to remove the scattering of large boulders. It took a corporate organization to acquire 700 acres from the original holders and finance a hydraulic operation.
In 1918 Birch invested in an extensive hydraulic system that enabled miners to attack a considerable hill lying over the ancient creek bed. Birch sold out to J.J. Price in 1924 and Price, with H.A. Ives and L.A. Levensaler, formed the Dan Creek Hydraulic Mining Company. The company improved Birch's hydraulic system on the lower creek.
Despite such intensive mining of the limited area, speculators became interested in the Dan's prospects again in the 1930s. The Nicolai Placer Mines Company, successor to the Dan Creek Hydraulic Mining Company from 1928, was reorganized in 1934 as the Pardners Mine Corporation. New equipment was brought in and a dam and reservoir was constructed just below the canyon, connecting it with several hundred feet of wood flume and a mile and a half of pipe to a water source. The company mined with a workforce of seven to 14 men until 1940 (although the name changed back to the Nicolai Miners Company in 1937). In 1940 the claims were leased by the Joshua Green Association, but the closure of the railroad and, subsequently, wartime restrictions on mining effectively ended large-scale mining.
Chititu had a sawmill and, from August 1902, a road tramway connecting the camps to the diggings. Charles Bridges designed the system which used local spruce logs for rails and ties for its 5-mile length. Gold production was $135,000 in 1903, but unfortunately this nice yield was not a harbinger of a bright future. Subsequently, production dropped, and in 1906 Blei's Chititu Development Company was bankrupt. George Esterly purchased the property for $10,000.
Esterly built another sawmill, a lighting plant, machine shop, pipeline, and even a telephone line from the camp to the diggings. In about 1907, Esterly sold out to J.D. Meenach but remained to manage what was called the Nizina Mining company. By 1909, between Esterly and Kernan, the creek's hydraulic operations employed 50 men. Production was $40,000 in 1910.
Most of the Chititu activity from 1910 to 1919 consisted of the movement of paper as various parties gained and then relinquished control of claims. Even the completion of the Nizina Bridge in 1914, which made it easier to haul in heavy equipment, did not immediately revive mining. Technology did advance by 1921-22 with the installation of a hydraulic plant on Rex Creek, giving the area its highest production since 1907.
For new owners, the Hanover Bank and Trust Company, Hamlin Andrus expanded the Nizina Mining Company (or Rex Creek Mining Company) operation in 1924 with the employment of 35 men. Andrus improved the hydraulic plants on Chititu and Rex creeks in the early 1930s. It was during this period that Andrus' superintendent, C.H. Kraemer, moved the camp from Nizina (which had lost its post office in 1926) to the present and well-preserved Chititu at the confluence of Chititu, Rex, and White creeks.
Production continued through 1950, although yield was modest. Thanks to Tony Dimond, once the underpaid U.S. Commissioner at Chisana in 1913 and a hopeful miner on Young Creek earlier, the Chititu mine was exempted from wartime restrictions on mining. The influence of Dimond, then Alaska's delegate to Congress, could not insure prosperity. The mine was shut down in 1952, and the Hanover Trust employed Walter Holmes as caretaker until his death in 1964.
Miners of Note
Among the Nizina miners was Edward H. Stroecker, whose peregrinations suggest the restlessness of the typical gold hunter. Stroecker, a young San Francisco accountant, resisted the Klondike lure until 1900, when he joined a group heading for the Kuskokwim. The venture showed no success, and Stroecker returned to San Francisco after a few months. Within weeks he headed north again with a companion, landing from Excelsior at Valdez in January 1901. In March they crossed the Valdez Glacier, sledded up the Copper and Chistochina rivers to Slate Creek, prospected over the season, then rafted back to Valdez. In 1902, Stroecker mined for wages on Slate Creek and wintered again in Valdez, tending bar at the Montana Saloon, then stampeded to Nizina in 1903. After a few weeks on Chititu Creek, he joined a group of miners grubstaked to prospect at the head of White River. En route, the party crossed three glaciers, the Nizina, Frederika, and Skolai, then prospected on Hosfeldt Creek without success. In spring 1904 Stroecker returned to Chititu Creek for the mining season. In early fall they joined a party traveling to the head of the White River and over the divide to the head of the Chisana, thence down the Tanana to Fairbanks by boat. From this time Stroecker's adventures lie outside the Wrangell-St. Elias region, but more years passed before he chose a settled life and eventually became an important banker in Fairbanks. 
The country attracted Tony Dimond, a man who was to move from mining to distinction in politics. In 1905 Anthony ("Tony") Dimond and his partner, Joseph Murray, traveled from Valdez to the Nizina River. Murray led Dimond to prospects he had investigated a year earlier, including Young Creek and Calamity Gulch, tributaries of the Nizina. The men worked through the summer and fall, returning to Valdez in January to file on their claims. Although they told people they had found "good prospects," their claims were only mildly encouragingand they were broke. Murray got the city magistrate's job, while Dimond supported himself with odd jobs but made summer excursion to the Nizina for prospecting and some work on his claims. In 1909 he prospected the Chitistone River and located a copper claim there. After a few years of divided interest, Dimond commanded work as a miner for others. He was a powerful 200-pound 6-footer, and the Houghton Alaskan Exploration Company hired him in 1909 and 1910 to oversee the assessment and improvement work on its copper claims on McCarthy Creek in the Kennecott area.
The Young Creek claims held by Dimond and Murray began to look promising when Dimond started working them during the 1911 season. A reporter for the Chitina Leader was pleased to predict that a rich strike was coming: "There are veritable mountains of pay gravel in many places, which the creek shows good colors in almost every pan. Numerous holes have been sunk and some tunneling has been done by the owners, and in every instance the most flattering results have been obtained." 
Dimond tried to sell an interest in his properties to investors capable of doing hydraulic work, but nothing came of it. The uncertainty of mining was one reason for Dimond's pursuit of a legal education during these years, first through study on his own, then by clerking for Murray and Tom Donohue in Valdez after an accident left him with a badly shattered leg. When Dimond became a member of the bar, he was eligible to receive an appointment as U.S. commissioner for Chisana in 1913. Later he was to hold the most important of Alaska's elected offices, that of delegate to the U.S. Congress.
Nizina had a post office from 1903-1926 during its existence as a mining camp. The camp was located on Chititu Creek, 5 miles southeast of its junction with the Nizina River, and served diggings on Dan, Young, and Chititu creeks. Later another camp, Sourdough, on the south bank of the Nizina at the mouth of Youngs Creek, was active from 1908 to 1911 when McCarthy became the region's trading center. Even during Nizina's heyday of 1902-1905, the boom and building bustle was of modest proportions. By about 1906 virtually all the claims were held by George Esterly (lower creek) and his principal or by Frank Kernan (upper creek). Though the usual exaggerations of great wealth spread abroad, it was obvious to the first miners that the gold-bearing areas were small. 
Miners hired Outside soon learned first-hand about the remoteness of their workplace. When Harold Smith left Oregon in 1909 he voyaged to Valdez to join several other men hired by Kernan. In late March the men left snowed-in Valdez over the Richardson Trail, hauling a hand sled. After five days, they reached Tonsina and took the Copper River-Chitina trail, leaving the comforts of roadhouse stations behind. Another five days brought them to the mouth of the Tonsina and a halt of three weeks. News from the mines indicated there was no hurry as everything there was snowed in. Fortunately, the miners were able to bunk with a freighting outfit bound for the mines. When the miners finally reached Chititu, they mucked out one of the many empty log cabins and settled in. John Fagerberg operated the only business in Chititu, a store roadhouse. Fagerberg's contribution to the isolated camp's economic amenities was an important one. More information exists on Fagerberg's affairs than other storekeepers because his wife Anna sued him for divorce in 1912. They had married in 1907 at Seattle, but Anna made only two short visits to Alaska because of a disagreement over her role. She wanted a separate dwelling and no roadhouse duties, while he thought she should run the roadhouse and be content living in it. "She is a woman," Fagerberg complained, "who insists upon having her own way or will in all matters of marital interest." When thwarted, he alleged, she grew hysterical and threw herself on the floor.
Anna denied all this. She had been keen to run the roadhouse, but John wanted her to remain with her parents in Seattle. When she came to Nizina, John put her out of the house, then hired a housekeeper who was lodged in two rooms furnished more splendidly than those Anna had occupied. The judge believed Anna and allowed her alimony. It appeared that Fagerberg's frugality had caused the domestic problems. He was channeling income from Nizina and properties owned in Seattle into a venture involving the shipment of cattle to Alaska. As a meat provider, Fagerberg took advantage of Alaska's natural wealth in cold storage facilities, caching his meat in a cave carved into the Kennicott Glacier until needed. 
Mining could not commence until Smith and the others removed 14 feet of icefrozen floodwater that covered the diggings. With dynamite, pick, and drill they cleared the obstruction by June 1 and were joined by other miners who had worked on railroad construction over the winter. The 16-man crew worked a hydraulic ("giant") to tear away the overburden and wash the soil into the sluice box. Cleaning away large rocks was a major part of the work. The weekly cleanup required the pulling of riffles and lining boards from the sluices and the direction of a light head of water to separate the gold from the gravel. Copper nuggets found with the gold were discarded because separate handling of them was not economical. Copper and silver were much more plentiful on Dan Creek, where the annual cleanup of copper yielded about a ton of nuggets which were sacked and transported to the railhead at McCarthy. 
Although the community of Nizina retained its post office until 1926, most of its trade activity shifted to McCarthy in 1911. As the station on the Copper River and Northwest Railway closest to the company town at Kennecott, McCarthy's advantages as a regional hub were obvious. McCarthy was laid out on John Barrett's homestead. Barrett, once holder of Mother Lode and Green Butte copper claims, sold the Mother Lode to Kennecott in 1919. His efforts to develop Green Butte were aborted because of declining copper prices in the 1920s.
"The Feudal Barons"
Mining operators of these times generally were reputed to be hard-working fellows of no particular romantic distinction, but a federal judge considered two of them as akin to greedy medieval aristocrats. One of them, Frank Kernan, who employed Smith at Nizina, was no stranger to litigation. Lawsuits were one hazard of mine ownership, and some of Kernan's were particularly interesting. On one occasion he destroyed a cafe building next to the Vienna Bakery owned by Charles Malander at Nizina. Malander, aggravated by Kernan's removal of the building he thought he had purchased from two woman who ran the cafe, wanted damages. But Kernan prevailed because he still owned the ground and structure. Besides no one disagreed that the cafe building had to go because it sat over potentially rich bedrock. 
As might be expected, strife was no stranger to Kernan and George Esterly, the two dominant operators in the Nizina. George Esterly, who managed the claims of John E. Andrus and some of his own, was a mining engineer who had stampeded north in 1897. As pick-and-shovel miners exhausted the gold they could recover with primitive methods and moved along, Esterly acquired their claims for hydraulic operation. Esterly spent about $250,000 for improvements between 1907 and 1910. Kernan followed the same practice in his section of the diggings, and the two operators cooperated on some ventures. For a time Esterly held an appointment as U.S. deputy marshal while Kernan was U.S. commissioner, so major property owners had the advantage of some official authority in dealing with outsiders. Esterly used his authority to have a jail built, specifically, he told friends, to lock up a claim jumper who challenged his rights on a particular claim.
The two operators benefited through cooperation, as in arranging their seasonal outfitting together. But cooperation gave way to bitterness and litigation when the men fell out over payment of their shares of the shipping costs. A more serious dispute occurred over the essential matter of water. When Kernan diverted water from White Creek to his claims, Esterly destroyed his flume. Kernan got an injunction against Esterly's interference, so Esterly retaliated by suing for recovery of Emma Bench claims allegedly jumped by Kernan.
Such litigation was no light matter for the parties involved or for the court. After years of wrangling in the courts, a fed-up district judge decided that the claim-jumping suit "illustrated feudal barons or, modernly, financial barons exploiting their domains, relying on the tacit acquiescence of neighboring barons not to invade their territories except in cases of falling out. Plaintiff and defendant had absorbed all individual claim owners and were alone and in conflict." The court decided for Kernan, concluding that Esterly's suit was more retaliatory than substantial. 
The water dispute case brought by Kernan against Esterly was decided at about the same time as the "feudal baron" claim-jumping case described above and was won by Kernan. Former miner Tony Dimond was his attorney. Aside from the legal issues involved, litigation sometimes produced documentation on famous characters. In this case, testimony established that Charley Anderson, the famed "Lucky Swede" worked a lay at Chititu in 1903 with three other men who had worked for him on his rich Klondike claim. 
Early Days on the Nabesna
North of the great Wrangell and Saint Elias ranges are two extensive glacier-fed river systems, the Nabesna and Chisana. Jacksina Creek forms the headwaters of the Nabesna, and the Chisana heads directly at the Chisana Glacier. At Northway Junction, the Nabesna and Chisana converge to form the Tanana River, the longest tributary of the Yukon, which flows 440 miles to reach the great river.
The Nabesna Valley was not carefully investigated until 1899, when Alfred Brooks and William Peters of the USGS and Oscar Rohn and A.H. McNeer of the U.S. Army conducted separate expeditions. Early prospectors seeking placer gold had traveled through the area, but none found anything of note. Post-Klondike era prospectors sought copper, but the region's chief resource proved to be in quartz, and that in limited quantities.
Of the routes used by prospectors, Brooks wrote:
On their 1899 expedition, Brooks and Peters met two prospectors, E.J. Cooper and H.A. Hammond, while examining copper prospects on Kletsan Creek, a tributary of the White River. Copper and Hammond are credited as the first to have taken pack animals through Cooper Pass on the old Indian trail. 
The army explorers, Oscar Rohn and A. McNeer, who also looked over the Chisana and Nabesna valleys had entered the region after crossing the Nizina Glacier, which had not been easy. They spent 15 days traveling just 47 miles to reach the Chisana. Once at the Chisana, the explorers were uncertain about their location and the relationships of the region's rivers, but they learned more after pushing on to the Nabesna:
The first quartz gold discovery was made on Jacksina Creek, the headwaters of the Nabesna River, in 1899. Prospectors were not too excited because quartz mining required heavy equipment, including a stamp mill. During the gold-rush stampedes, quartz might be noted and, if convenient, located, but the prospectors quickly moved on looking for placer deposits offering an immediate return from their pick-and-shovel efforts. It was not until 1903 that the 1899 discovery was reported by a Valdez newspaper in an interview with K.J. Field:
In 1902 the USGS again investigated the Nabesna country, looking particularly at quartz finds reported on Monte Cristo Gulch, California Gulch, and Orange Hill and at the head of the Nabesna River east of the Nabesna Glacier. They found only low-grade gold quartz of uncertain economic potential. There was a small stampede from Dawson to Beaver Creek near the international border in 1902. Beaver and its tributaries were staked far and wide, but the few holes put down did not yield anything very valuable. Rumors of a placer discovery had triggered this stampede, but subsequent prospecting was generally confined to the search for lode deposits, particularly copper.
Copper seemed more promising than gold in the Nabesna region, particularly after the discovery of the great Bonanza claim at Kennicott. Ever-optimistic, miners speculated that the north side of the mountains would be as rich as the south side. One prospector told awed folks in Valdez in 1902 that he had discovered a ledge of copper 500 feet long between the Chisana and Nabesna rivers and could actually see a million dollars worth of exposed copper. 
This exaggerated report stimulated prospecting endeavors in 1902. B.F. Millard of Valdez grubstaked W.A. Dickey who staked 41 copper claims on the Nabesna and carried out ore samples for testing. Dickey's prospects did not amount to anything, but he found a fame of sorts later by suggesting the name adopted for Mount McKinley.
Prospecting went on in 1903-04, but most was done by Nizina miners who were en route to the gold strike at Fairbanks. The Nizina men crossed the Skolai Pass to White River, thence to the head of the Nabesna or Chisana and on the Tanana to Fairbanks.
In 1903 K.J. Field, who had located gold quartz on Jacksina Creek in 1899, returned with other miners to stake gold and copper claims. Field and Paul Paulson formed the Royal Development Company (originally to Royal Gold Mining Company) in 1905 to develop 28 Jacksina Creek gold claims. Two years later the company installed a three-stamp mill. According to contemporary sources, this was the first mill moved into the interior from Valdez.
Another energetic prospector was Henry Bratnober, an Englishman considered a quartz mining expert, who first saw the country in 1898 on an expedition with Jack Dalton. Bratnober and Dalton took a mule packtrain into the upper Tanana in 1903 looking for copper prospects. On reaching Valdez, Bratnober told newsmen that he found nothing exciting but saw 300 starving prospectors at the head of the Tanana. Such disparaging remarks were considered bad. "This pot-bellied old reprobate," declared the Valdez News, "has some object in spreading these slanderous reports aside from the mere pleasure which some people take in lying." 
The News might have been right because Bratnober visited Jacksina Creek the next season. Although he refused to invest in the Field claims, he returned again in 1905 with a small steamboat. The 120-foot Ella, a gas-powered sternwheeler launched at Whitehorse, had trouble reaching the Nabesna on the Tanana waters but finally succeeded in late July. Bratnober returned to Fairbanks, then dispatched Ella with men and an outfit for wintering on the Nabesna. On leaving the country this time, Bratnober talked like a booster; his expedition would open up "a good district." He did hedge somewhat on his expectations by insisting that a railroad was needed. He hoped that the Copper River Railroad would be extended to the Yukon. 
Bratnober did not persist in developing properties in the region. The Royal Development Co., unlike Bratnober, did work its claim. In 1907 a three-stamp mill was brought in to mill 60 tons of ore, but the yield was a disappointing $12 in gold per ton of ore, so the company ceased operations.
Prospecting in both the Nabesna and Nizina districts dropped sharply as miners stampeded from these districts to Fairbanks in 1903-05. It took the Chisana strike in 1913 to revive interest in the Nabesna. Men stampeding from Fairbanks to Chisana passed through the Nabesna district and some stopped for a closer look.
Bratnober and other mining men knew that development in the Nabesna, even assuming the discovery of large mineral deposits, would require an effective transportation network. By effective transportation he meant railroads: "It is no use to build wagon roads for what would you do with them when built." Roads would not get ore to the coast cheaply enough, so Bratnober hoped for an extension of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway to the Nabesna and the Yukon.
But the Alaska Syndicate did not extend the Copper River and Northwest Railway nor did the government provide the rail service Nabesna miners wanted. Such an expensive undertaking was not justified as the district never produced much ore. USGS continued its mineral investigation in 1908, but the survey men did not see much mining activity. The Royal Development Company had shut down its stamp mill after milling only 6 tons of ore, and there were no other hot prospects in the country.
There was a major gold rush in Alaska to the Chisana River in 1913 (always spelled Shushana earlier) following the discovery of good prospects by partners William James, Peter Nelson, and Frederick Best that year. They had been in the region in 1912 when a local native called Indian Joe claimed to have led James to a gold-quartz lode and placer gold. James later insisted that the placer discovery owed nothing to direction from Indian Joe. Whatever the truth, James had been encouraged, and in 1913 James, Nelson, and Matilda Wales returned for further prospecting on Bonanza Creek.
Andrew Taylor, also prospecting in the area, returned with Nelson to Dawson for supplies while James moved up to Little Eldorado. About 700 feet upstream, he panned "$30 to $40 within a few minutes." This yield stirred James' expectations mightily. Perhaps he had found something of Klondike proportions! 
William James had been a hard rock miner in California when the Klondike discovery drew him north in '97. According to one story, his eagerness induced his sale of a Ransburg prospect for $4,000a claim that later produced millions. At any rate, he prospected in the Yukon region and on the Seward Peninsula without achieving any remarkable success. By 1908 he was ready to try the yet-undeveloped White River country, grubstaking himself by trapping and hunting.  Matilda Wales, James' wife, must have been considered a hearty prospector in Dawson because she was chosen by Edward Erikson to locate claims. She staked No. 1 Chicken Creek for Erikson on June 30, 1913. Wales and other discoverers could not immediately protect their claims by recording them as a local recorder did not reach the remote district until July 22. This lag in time encouraged claim jumping litigation and some violence. 
Among the original discoverers, Fred Best was well-known in the Fortymile country as co-owner with Fred Purdy of the Cassiar Roadhouse. His letters home comprise an informative, personal record of the development. Best's ground on No. 3 Bonanza Creek did not compare with No. 1 Eldorado, where "four men took out $800 a day last summer." He had hopes for profits in 1914 despite the high wages needed for miners ($6 daily plus board, which amounted to another $3.50 per day) and high transportation costs. Food prices were high; flour was 40 cents a pound, and beans cost 25 cents a pound. "The stampeders," Best complained about suppliers, "are trying to get rich quick."  His ground was easy to work, however, as it was shallow and easily shoveled into sluice boxes. 
Miners had no trouble figuring out when the season ended in 1914. Creeks rose several feet in a few hours in mid-August, wiping out the unwary along the creeks who lost flumes, dams, and sluice boxes. Others, whose claims were not along the creek, continued cleanup. Best made a few thousand dollars, even though he hired some 40 men in July and August and paid $400 daily in wages. Bonanza Creek had been good to him, and he could safely exult: "I am on the paystreak at last! And I hope it will keep up." 
The evolution of every mining camp was affected to some extent by the quality of its boosters. "There is no doubt that it is the richest since the Klondike," cried the Chitina Leader, of the Chisana strike, on July 22, 1913. Stampeders were arriving from every camp in the interior, and mines on Dan and Nizina creeks had been shut down for want of men, trumpeted the Leader. Blackburn and McCarthy were "practically deserted," and half of Chitina's population had left. The railroad had to put on a special car at Chitina to handle the flow. Even Seattle felt the excitement. The Leader was delighted to report that President J.E. Chilberg of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce predicted an immediate "exodus" of a thousand people from Puget Sound. A report from Cordova indicated that modern technology might play a role in the stampede:
News remained exciting through August. A real stampede from Outside was expected. The Leader also noted a sensational advance in transportation: the arrival of John Ronan and John Ferguson from Fairbanks by auto "in 45 hours running time. It demonstrates that with the expenditure of a reasonable sum of money" the Alaska Road Commission could make a summer auto route of the government road. Somewhat prophetically, the Leader suggested that if Col. Wilds Richardson "were to succeed in building a boulevard in the interior country he might succeed in immortalizing his name." The highway between Fairbanks and Valdez from which a branch reached Chitina is officially the Richardson Highway. 
According to the Leader, terrible wrongs had been committed by folks in other towns trying to influence stampeders' selection of the best route to the gold fields. In Skagway an extra edition of the newspaper falsely described the drowning of 16 men and 14 horses on the Chitina route. Sponsors of this "viciously false rumor" were, of course, promoting travel via Skagway and Whitehorse. 
Changes in the mining law enacted by the territorial legislature encouraged expectations for the new district. The laws became effective August 1 and required $100 discovery work on a claim within 90 days of discovery. This change seemed a hardship to some Chisana miners, who did not believe 90 days was enough for staking, then getting out and back in with a winter's outfit. Of course this and other new provisionslike limiting each prospector to two powers of attorneywere moot points for the first discoverers, who worked under the previously existing laws.
By August 16, stampeders were already returning to Chitina. They did not knock the Chisina strike but had been unable to stay long for want of provisions. Will James, Carl Whitham, and others were still making big cleanups, but the ground was already beginning to freeze. 
Fairbanks and Chisana
As a stimulant to a flagging economy, a gold stampede could hardly be beat. Though a gold discovery near a town was preferred, distant locations did not always deter promoters. Thus in 1913, news of the Chisina (Shushana) strike galvanized Fairbanks businessmen into activity and advertising in Seattle and Alaska newspapers. Never mind that Fairbanks was 500 hard miles away from Chisana, there was no better supply center nearer, argued the Fairbanksons. A glance at the map might make such claims appear exaggerated, but there was some merit in the argument. Dawson, much neared to Chisana, had drawbacks as a jumping-off place. "Remember," the Fairbanks Times noted, "goods shipped by the Canadian route are subject to customs duty at boundary line." 
Geography and sentiment were called into play by Fairbanks promoters. The Tanana was the "natural highway" because the Chisana actually formed part of the Tanana River headwaters and, of course, Fairbanks lay on the Chena River a few miles from the Tanana. And the Tanana route was "All-American," they insisted, hoping to evoke patriotic support for a route that avoided the upper Yukon and Canadian territory. Miners should not be misled by the apparently logic of the White River route to Chisana, promoters argued: "The river at best is only navigable to the head of the Donjek, by boats such as those of the Sidestream Navigation Company, and that point is 105 miles from the scene of the strike.., any kind of steamboats at most times of the year have all kinds of difficulty in navigating the White River." 
Part of the optimism in Fairbanks was founded upon the belief that the upper Tanana could be reached with ease. Everyone realized that even shallow-draft steamboats could not find passage, but poling boats would do fine. W.H. Merrit, an upper Tanana miner, alleged that "it is possible to get within twelve miles of the diggings in a poling boat." Another trader, W.H. Newton from the Healy River on the upper Tanana, said that from Tanana Crossing to the Chisana "the water is so slack that the wind will blow a boat upstream." This good news was appended to Newton's warning that swift currents between Fairbanks and Tanana Crossing would inhibit travel: "The best way then would be to mush to Tanana Crossing, build a boat there, and pole to the near field." 
Logistical factors dominated individual planning and the economic development of all mining regions. Transportation to the Chisana was complicated by the fact that no reliable supply base was any closer than the points of origin of most stampeders (Dawson, Fairbanks, or the Copper River railbelt). Small traders on the upper Tanana like W.H. Merit and W.H. Newton were not prepared to supply the influx of miners a stampede triggered. Merrit did try to seize the opportunity for his Nabesna Trading Co. by establishing a new post farther up the Tanana. He loaded 10 tons of provisions on Dusty Diamond, a shallow-draft steamboat of 101 tons that had been in service since '98. Even with a new post he warned that supply costs would be high: "The camp for the present at least will be a dollar a pound camp." 
Dusty Diamond's voyage ended at Thirty-mile House on the Tanana, where Merrit was forced to unload his cargo. He had hoped to reach the mouth of either the Nabesna or Chisana, but his boat could not buck the swift waters of the upper Tanana and suffered hull damage. Others tried with smaller boats, including Martha Clow (98 tons), Reliance (291 tons), Sushana (49 tons), and Tetlin (65 tons). All the shippers expressed optimism of getting near the new diggings but by August 7 the Tanana was falling rapidly. Even small motorboats could not get above Salcha. The most notable success was the voyage of the Northern Navigation Co's. Reliance to the mouth of the Nabesna. Miners aboard the vessel hiked or poled from that point, and the NNC men laid out a townsite. The place proved too far from the diggings to thrive as a supply center. 
When navigation closed in October, boats were stuck at various points on the Tanana. Only Tana, which got within 9 miles of the Nabesna mouth, and Tetlin, which got a little way up the Nabesna, got within striking distance of Reliance City. The much-touted Tanana route proved to be a flop, although poling boat traffic remained steady through 1914. Promotion alone could not overcome geographic realities. By late 1913 a more rational all-American route from McCarthy and the Copper River and Northwest Railway had been established via Skolai Pass.
Cordova interests promoted a route to Chisana that would help its economy. The Chitina Leader, deploring "the peculiar transportation conditions which forces American mining companies operating in American territory to buy their outfits in Canada to escape payment of entry," called for a Copper River and Northwest Railway extension over the Skolai Pass"A feasible and comparatively inexpensive extension." The Leader was sure that such an extension would have been built long before to reach reported copper deposits but for "the repressive attitude of the government in its Alaska railroad policy." When Chitina got the news of the Chisana strike in early July, the Leader quickly reported that Cordova offered "the most feasible and short route" to the stampede. With the railroad it had the "logical route" for prospectors from every part of the Tanana and Yukon below Fairbanks and from Outside. Rushers from Fairbanks could travel light over the government trail to Chitina and take the train to McCarthy, outfit there, then take pack horses over the Skolai pass to White River. From there the crossing of a small divide, a little over 20 miles, places outfits on the Sushana River. By contrast, from Dawson the route was 350 miles. 
U.S. Commissioner Tony Dimond
Tony Dimond's appointment as U.S. Commissioner was warmly applauded in the district. "He is courageous and has a mind and will of his own," said the Leader whose editor knew the new officer: "There will be no juggling with records, no over charges and no connivance with big interests to the detriment of the hardy son of toil."  Dimond's predecessor had been considered corrupt and after his removal the Chisana commissionership was offered to him. Dimond hesitated, then agreed to accept the appointment. Taking the post was a gamble because a commissioner had to depend on fees for his renumeration and if claim recording declined, fee opportunities decreased. "If the camp is good," Dimond told a friend, "I will make a lot of money, if it's a failure, I'll lose a thousand dollars, which it will cost me to get in there." 
Dimond trekked into the Chisana from Valdez with Frank Hoffman, another new appointee as deputy marshal. Arriving in November, Dimond was appalled at the state of recording records, the food scarcity in camp, and the paucity of gold. "If they could find as much pay as we can find on Young Creek," he wrote Murray, "They would go wild." By spring as disappointed miners drifted away, Dimond realized that his gamble had not paid off: his fees were not enough to support him. In July he returned to Valdez to join Donohue's law firm. 
George C. Hazelet returned to Cordova in October after blazing trail across the Nizina and Chisana glaciers. His route would serve as a trail or wagon road winter and summer. It was short and practical with no grades exceeding 10 to 12 percent. He had staked the Nizina glacier so travelers would have no trouble following the trail 16 miles to the summit. Work was under way staking the descent and Chisana Glacier. Conveniences developed rapidly. Relief stations had been built on both sides of the summit, and roadhouses sprang up at locations reaching to the foot of the summit. Within 30 days Hazelet expected travelers would find "all the comforts of home" in existence from McCarthy to the Chisana diggings. 
Hazelet's initial promises for the trail were fulfilled. In late November his party, using horses and double-enders returned to McCarthy over "the splendid trail" of 78 miles. Doubters of the trail and those who did not conceded that the Chitina-McCarthy route to the gold fields was the best were scolded by the Chitina Leader and citizens of Cordova and the Copper River country were enjoined to "spread the facts."  Unfortunately, the trail was only used for the Chisana's first season. Funds raised by subscription had not met all costs, and a bank note of $2,100 was still outstanding in 1915. 
Great improvements were announced in November 1913 with the Alaska Road Commission's decision to build a bridge over the Nizina River during that winter. Work had begun the previous year, but materials were delayed and construction was postponed. The bridge, 525 feet long with two spans of 150 feet each, would rise 7 miles from McCarthy. 
Miners followed litigation over mining claims very closely. In the 1914 term of district court there were 16 major cases on the calendar. Of these, 12 concerned the power-of-attorney issue raised when locations were made before the arrival of Recorder H.E. Morgan. The facts varied in the several cases, but the basic questionwhether claim jumpers could take advantage of the inability of locators to file in a new districtwas decided against the claim jumpers. 
The landmark case which also determined the rights of parties in other related cases was Sutherland vs. Purdy. Other cases like Cloninger vs. Findlanson were determined by the Sutherland decision, although the facts differed somewhat. The Cloninger case showed clearly the opportunism of claim jumpers. Cloninger, a waiter in a Chitina hotel, heard that locations made by Chisana's original locators were invalid because the power of attorney had not been recorded validly. He had rushed to the new district in July 1913, reached Bear Creek on 1 August, examined the monument and corner stakes left by Taylor on No. 1, then checked the recording book kept by H.H. Waller. Since there was no recording of a power of attorney held by Taylor for Findlanson, Cloninger returned to Bear Creek, staked, and begun work. Soon he and his partner, Ed Maddox, made an open cut 40 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 4.5 feet deep. On August 15, Taylor ordered him off the claim land, subsequently Cloninger sued for possession.
At trial, Findlanson's attorney let jurors know that Cloninger was not a true miner but an unscrupulous fortune hunter who, instead of prospecting, had headed straight for honestly made locations to seize the benefit of a technicality. Cloninger would only admit that "I found what I was looking for," and jurors probably agreed with Findlanson's attorney. The decision in Findlanson's favor, however, turned on a stipulation between parties that the result would be governed by the circuit court of appeal's decision in Sutherland vs. Purdy. 
Dan Sutherland, like Tony Dimond, was a well-known miner at the time of the Chisana stampede. In 1898 he had been with Jack Dalton and others at Pleasant Camp, British Columbia, for the Porcupine strike. A year later, Sutherland got involved in a criminal prosecution, charged with assault with a deadly weapon for throwing rocks down on a group on miners. Apparently, Sutherland and his friends considered the others as claim jumpers. In any event, there was not enough evidence to convict him of assault.
Sutherland was also involved in important civil litigation at Chisana. Frank Purdy, who ran the Cassiar Roadhouse with Fred Best, took exception to Sutherland's staking of a fraction on Big Eldorado Creek. Purdy worked the fraction despite Sutherland's location, and Sutherland sued for possession. For some miners, litigation involved more than a resolution of legal issues but a serious disruption of work. Sutherland left the White River in December 1913 for the trial in Cordova. At the end of March the case had not yet been heard, and Purdy petitioned for a postponement. Sutherland complained about the time for prospecting he had already lost by leaving the Chisana district and the prospect of further losses if he were forced to remain in town: "A poor man is dependent upon his labor as are his witnesses. All are waiting. They need to get off for summer work. . .and could be ruined by ten days delay. They would be unable to do annual assessment on their claims."
Genuinely, practical problems were involved. The winter trail over the Nizina Glacier between McCarthy and Chisana would start breaking up in early April. After mid-April it would be dangerous to travel. Men would have to go in by the Chitistone and White rivers, crossing the Nizina, Dan Creek, Chitistone, and White several times, then go across the Russell Glacier for 12 miles. They faced a great risk to themselves and their horses as they swam across raging waters.
Sutherland's protests forestalled Purdy's delay tactic, but the trial result was not favorable. A jury chaired by famed photographer E.A. Hegg ruled against him in April 1914. Eventually, Sutherland prevailed after an appeal, but it was January 1919 before another jury declared in his favor. 
Sutherland did not grow rich in mining, but he did make friends, including Judge James Wickersham who became congressional delegate in 1908. Sutherland later acted as Wickersham's campaign manager and succeeded him successor as delegate in the 1920s. Sutherland and Wickersham were Republicans and lost their influence when the Democrats came to power in 1932. Wickersham had gotten back into political harness, replacing Sutherland in 1930, but was badly beaten by Tony Dimond in the Franklin D. Roosevelt landslide two years later.
The big question about any new camp was its duration. Would the camp develop into a town or quickly fade away? Everyone watched for signs, and no sign seemed more decisive than major investments in mining properties. Thus when Frank Manley, J.J. Price, and E.V. Ives paid a reported half million dollars for the 13 discovery claims of W.E. James and his partners, Matilda Wales, W.A. Johnson, and Nels P. Nelson the future looked bright. The James group had cleaned up $35,000 in 1913, and experienced mining men had enough confidence in the long-range potential of their claims to buy them for big money (although probably less than the half million reported). 
The Chisana decline was obvious by summer 1913, but those who remained continued to demand better services. Trail work was always a priority. The Chitina Leader described the bad trail: "You load your horse up with a hundred or so of grub and lead him into the mire. He flounders around until he is all in and you then remove his pack and cut poles which are placed under his body and head." Then you try again over "a ten mile wavering road of muck." 
But mining went on as some 150 men, most of them on Bonanza Creek, extracted gold "with satisfactory results." Yields were not as high as expected but the problem was with a scarcity of water. 
U.S. Commissioner Dimond resigned in 1914, the same year Manley, Price, and Ives sold their option to purchase the discovery of James and his partners. While the option price paid Manley, Price, and Ives had been $40,000, that paid by their purchaser, English investor Fletcher T. Hamshaw, was not made public. Price could not help bragging though, claiming that his gain on the transaction had been $50,000. Obviously Dimond and Manley-Price-Ives saw the future more clearly than did Henshaw, one of the many victims of mining speculation. 
In February 1914 Chisana folks argued that their community had more log cabins than Circle, Fairbanks, or Dawson and deserved to be called "the largest log cabin town in the world." Four hundred cabins was one estimate, including seven general stores, a saloon, two restaurants, a clothing store, and "roadhouses galore." Among the 500 to 600 residents, 25 women graced the place. 
All the anxiety over transport routes among rival businessmen proved to be pointless after a couple of production seasons. The new diggings played out rather quickly after 1915. The peak yield in 1914 was $250,000; in 1915 the gold valued $160,000; and by 1916 the take was only $40,000. As with any placer district, the life of the camp can be traced in gold production statistics. Records kept on Chisana were excellent and even extended to the numbers of working mines in each season and the numbers of miners on the job. A table illustrating these statistics appears on the following page.
Chisana Mining District - Annual Production, 1913-1940 
Nabesna: Carl Whitham's Mine
The good fortune of Carl Whitham gave pleasure to veteran Alaska miners. He had been one of the original party led by K.J. Field that discovered a valuable gold lode on Jacksina Creek in 1899, the property worked by the Royal Development Company from 1905 until shutdown in 1908. After mining at Chisana, Whitham started prospecting in the Nabesna in 1922. His investigations of the abandoned quartz mine convinced him that the Royal Development Company had given up too soon; he re-staked the claims in 1924. In 1925 an "accident" of the kind much favored in mining lore excited Whitham: a bear trying to dig a gopher from a moss-covered outcrop exposed a rich looking vein. He named it the Bear Vein, noting that it was only 1,000 feet from the old Royal Development Company diggings.
During the next three years, Whitham and three helpers trenched the outcropping and sank a 30-foot shaft to recover ore for testing. Ore tested at various levels confirmed the lode's value. In 1929 Whitham formed the Nabesna Mining Corporation and took in enough capital to build an aerial tramway from the mine to the millsite and install a 35-ton-per-day mill. A young engineer, Phil Holdsworth, helped him. Later Holdsworth became the commissioner of the state's natural resources department and is still active today as a private consulting engineer.
Getting new equipment to the mine was not easy. Much of it was freighted in during the winter of 1930-31 on sleds pulled by a 30-horsepower tractor from Chitina. Whitham even had his own sawmill to cut local timber for his mill buildings. The mill was operational in July 1931, and 22 men, who lived in tents on the property, were on the job. In 1932 Whitham had a 25-man crew. Over the two seasons, gross production yielded $175,000 in gold.
Whitham's persistence was paying off. He became something of a folk hero. Other miners admired the accomplishments of someone like themselves who managed to retain control of his properties and develop them. With some pride Whitham wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt in August 1933, applauding the president's support of higher gold prices and the construction of mining roads. "There was not even a blazed trail connecting the valley of the Nabesna with the great Richardson Highway," Whitham told Roosevelt, "and in order to get supplies in here it was necessary to wait for winter snow and bring in necessities with dog team." Now, thanks to government road funding, he was providing the country with new gold. Whitham praised the work of the Alaska Road Commission, then working on a winter road into the Nabesna that would certainly lead to other developments. 
The winter road was extremely important to Whitham. In addition to front end hauling costs, he had been paying high air-freight charges to get his ore out. Before the Nabesna Road was built, ore was shipped by pack horse the 6-mile distance to Nabesna Bar. From there bush pilots Harold Gillam and Bob Reeve flew the ore 120 miles to Copper Center. From Copper Center it was trucked 50 miles to Chitina, then sent by rail to Cordova, then by ship to the Tacoma smelter. The road was also important because Whitham wanted to establish a year-round operation. For winter operations, he needed a pumping plant, a 2,600-foot pipeline to a spring, and a heating plant capable of serving his buildings.
The winter road was completed to the mine in fall 1933, allowing the trucking of ore to the railroad at Chitina during the winter or directly to Valdez in summer. In 1934 Whitham began working through the winter, and his annual production accelerated. From 1931 through 1937 he shipped ore valued at $965,000 to the Tacoma smelter. By 1940 the mine had shipped 73,000 tons of ore valued at $1,869,396. Since investors had only had to put up $175,280, the return was favorable. 
By 1939 the veins were virtually worked out, and no new ore deposits had been discovered. Wartime restrictions closed down the operations until 1945, when Whitham tried to get started again. Bad health limited his efforts. Whitham's death in 1947 led to the permanent closure of operations.
The Bremner River region has supported both placer and lode gold mining. Spread along the Chugach Range about 80 miles south of McCarthy, it includes the area south of the Chitina River to the Bremner River and west from the Chakina River. In 1902 a number of prospectors rushed to Golconda Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Bremner River.
Reaching the remote area was not easy. Originally, the prospectors traveled from Valdez via Marshall Pass, crossed the Copper River, thence to the Bremner drainage. Miners found some gold, but most left when gold discovery on the Nizina was reported. The few who remained produced modest quantities of gold until 1916.
With the completion of the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad in 1911, supplying the camp became somewhat easier. Over winter trails miners traveled from McCarthy to the mouth of the Nizina River, then up the Chitina and Chakina rivers to Monahan Creek and on to the several mines. The trails had been improved by individual miners even before the railroad's completion, and in 1914 the Alaska Road Commission worked on a trail from McCarthy to Golconda Creek.
Efforts at lode development were thwarted by the region's remoteness until the price of gold was raised from $20 to $35 per ounce in 1933. The Bremner Mining Company built a mill and tram and hauled ore to the railroad with caterpillar tractors. An airstrip was built to support mine operations.
Another lode mine, the Yellowband, was developed by Asa Baldwin in the 1930s. Baldwin, a mining engineer, had been a consultant to the Kennecott Copper Co., a surveyor for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, and helped on the Canada International Boundary Survey, 1910-1913.
All the lode mines shut down during World War II and were never reopened.
The miners and investors who held great hopes for the northern part of the Wrangell-St. Elias ranges were largely disappointed. In the south gold production was continuous for decades, but the output was always modest compared to other major mineral districts in Alaska. Copper, of course, was the great wealth of the southern range, and its exploitation is one of the grand stories of industrial development in Alaska's history.
Notes: Chapter 12
6. William R. Abercrombie, "Copper River Exploring Expedition, 1899," Compilation of Narratives of Exploration in Alaska. Senate Repts., 56th Cong., 1st sess., No. 1023, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1900), 382.
19. Levensaler credited Jack and Bill Williams as the co-discoverers with Kane. Levensaler to McKay, July 21, 1968, McKay Collection, UAF. See also Spude, "Dan Creek Mining Operations," notes on Wrangell-St. Elias, NPS files.
20. Donald J. Orth, Dictionary of Alaska Place Names USGS Professional Paper No. 567, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1967), 898; Spude, "Notes on the History of the Chititu Creek Mining Operations," NPS files.
38. S.R. Capps, S.R. Chisana-White River District, Alaska, USGS Bulletin No. 630, (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1916), 92; H.H. Waller, "Map of Placer Claims at Confluence of Little Eldorado and Bonanza Creeks." This map is with the Likaits v. James, court record, case C 72, RG21, FRC.
Last Updated: 01-Oct-2008