An Historical resource study of the Valdez Creek Mining District, Alaska - 1977

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An Historical resource study of the Valdez Creek Mining District, Alaska - 1977
Dessauer, Peter F.
Harvey, David W.
United States Bureau of Land Management, Anchorage District Office ( Anchorage, Alaska )
Publication Date:


General Note:
UF AFA Historic Preservation document 102

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Peter F. Dessauer
David W. Harvey

Edited by

John L. Beck
Cultural Resource Specialist
Anchorage District Office
Bureau of Land Management

This project was funded by the Recreation Program of the Bureau
of Land Management, Anchorage District Office, Anchorage, Alaska.
The project was carried out under contract with the Western
Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), Boulder,

-- MAY 1980 --


During the summer of 1977 David Harvey and Peter Dessauer, under
contract to the Anchorage District Office of the Bureau of Land
Management, conducted a historical resource study of the Valdez
Creek mining district, an important gold mining center in south-
central Alaska from 1903 to the 1940s. The center of the dis-
trict was the settlement of Denali on Valdez Creek, a small
tributary of the Susitna River. Though now largely abandoned,
this settlement was the focal point of activities in the historic
mining district, and was important in early socioeconomic inter-
action of whites and Natives in the region. Initial field inven-
tory concentrated on Denali, but was interrupted when miners
razed the old settlement. Subsequently, trails important in
early transportation for the mining district were also inven-
toried and structures and sites along these routes as well as on
Valdez Creek were documented to the extent possible. Through
personal interviews, archival research, and published literature,
the history of the mining district and of structures and features
identified in the field were documented as completely as possible
within the framework of the study. This report provides records
of the location and condition of historic resources in the
region, and makes recommendations for their preservation and
interpretation, as well as for further study where documentation
remains incomplete.



Introduction . ... ... .. 1


Natural Environment . 4
Present Land Use .. 7
Trends . 8
Native Period . 10
Prehistoric Era .. 10
Protohistoric-Historic Native Culture. ... 11
Russian Period. .. .. 15
American Period . 17


1903 Strike and the First Five Years ... .21
Valdez Creek District: 1908-1913 .. 23
Transportation Routes to Valdez Creek Before 1917. 23
Valdez Creek Mining Settlement .. 25
The Native Village on Valdez Creek .. 26
Productive Claims: 1908-1913 .. .... 28
The 1909 Gold Robbery. .. 31
Decline of Gold Production: 1911-1913 .. 31
Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company: 1913-1919 .. .32
The Valdez Creek Pipeline: 1914-1916. .. .33
The Company Mining Settlement: 1917-1918. ... .35
Decline of the Company: 1919-2021 ... .37
McKinley Gold Placer Company: 1919-1926 ... .38
Return of the Veterans ... 38
The Denali Post Office ... 39
Litigation of the McKinley Gold Placer Company:
1924-1926. .... ... 40
The Carlson Era: 1926-1949 ... 41
The 1925 Rush . .. 42
The Cantwell-Denali Trail .. .... 44
Deaths of Monahan and Johnson. ... 45
Other Miners on Valdez Creek .. 46
The Denali Airfield. .. 48
Valdez Creek in the 1930s .. 48
The Folk Bench Claim .. 50
Fred Bucke and the Tammany Channel Shafts. 51
Lucky Gulch in the 1930s .. 52
The Alaska Exploration and Mining Company. 53
Native Mining at Valdez Creek ..... .. 55

The Valdez-Fairbanks Military Trail ..... 58
Roadhouses and Routes to Valdez Creek 58
Travel on the Trails . 66
Folklore and Tales of Life Along the Trails 70
Prospecting and Mining .. 71
Cantwell Reindeer Project .. 73
Railroad-Related Development .. 74
World War II and the Exodus from Valdez Creek .. 76
The Post War Period at Valdez Creek .. 77
Return of Laurence Coffield. .. 78
The Skagit Alaska Mining Company ... 78
In Partnership with the Bott Brothers. ... 79
Final Years on Valdez Creek. .. 81
Other Recollections. .. 82
Recognition as a Historic Area .. 83
Destruction of Denali . 84


Sled and Pack Trails. . .. 101
Features on the Richardson Highway. ... 103
Features on the Bear Creek Trail. .. 111
Features on the West Fork Trail .. 115
Features on the Middle Fork Trail .. 121
Features on the Paxson to Valdez Creek Trail. 126
Features on the Yost's to Valdez Creek Trail. 127
Features on the Cantwell to Valdez Creek Trail. .. .... 129
Other Sites Identified in the Region. ... 141



Epilog to the Destruction of Denali. .. 150
Acknowledgements . 152
The Authors . .... 153
References Cited . 154


1. Copper River Region in 1922 .. 4a
2. Denali Highway Region-Historical Sites and Trails 4b
3. Valdez Creek Drainage . 5a
4. Valdez Creek in 1910 . 24a
5. Denali Settlement-1977. .. 34a
6. Valdez Creek Placer Claim Map .. 21a


1. Probable Preglacial Channel on Valdez Creek. ... 5b
2. Diagrammatic Section of Preglacial Channel 5b
3. Denali Hotel-First Floor Plan. ... 94a
4. Denali Hotel-Second Floor Plan ... .94b
5. Superintendent's House-Floor Plan. 98a
6. Fielding Lake Cabin-Floor Plan ... .107a
7. Dawson-Norwood Cabin-Floor Plan. ... 120a
8. 4 Mile Reindeer Cabin-Floor Plan ... .129a
9. 7 Mile Reindeer Cabin-Floor Plan ... .130a
10. 10 Mile Reindeer Cabin-Floor Plan. ... 130b
11. 20 Mile Shelter Cabin-Floor Plan ... .132a
12. 30 Mile Shelter Cabin-Floor Plan ... .133a
13. 40 Mile Shelter Cabin-Floor Plan ..... 135a


1. Ahtna Caribou Hunting Camp on Delta River, 1898 ... 161
2. Peter Monahan, around 1909 ... .162
3. Camp on Valdez Creek, 1905 163
4. Placer Operation on Lower Valdez Creek, 1905 163
5. Shovelling into Sluice Box on Discovery Claim, 1905. 164
6. Waterfall on No. 1 Above Discovery, 1905 ... 164
7. Dam on No. 1 Below Discovery, 1905 ... .165
8. Canvas Pipe and Flume on Timberline Creek. .. .165
9. Dam on Upper Tributary of Valdez Creek ... 166
10. Canvas Pipe and Sluice Box Below Dam ... 166
11. Sluice Box on White Creek. ... 167
12. Sluice Box on Lucky Gulch for Hydraulic Operation. 167
13. Ole Nickolai's Cut on Valdez Creek Below Tammany
Channel .. .. 168
14. Dam and Boomer on Rusty Creek, 1911. ... 168
15. Monahan Tunnel into Tammany Channel, 1911. .. .169
16. Bunkhouse, Superintendent's Office, and Store at
Denali, circa 1918 .. 169
17. Store, Sawmill and Tent-cabins at Denali, circa
1918 . .. 170
18. Denali Buildings from Below Sawmill, circa 1918 ... 170
19. Harness Shed, Repair Shop, and Superintendent's
House, circa 1918 . 171
20. Denali Post Office, circa 1920 171
21. Denali Postmark on 1933 Letter ... .172
22. Native Cabins at Valdez Creek, circa 1920. 172
23. Natives at Valdez Creek Village, 1931. .. 173
24. Native Children at Valdez Creek Village. ... 173
25. Dan Nickolai's Cabin at Valdez Creek Village .. .174
26. Jim Secondchief's Cabin at Valdez Creek Village. 174
27. Jake Tansey's Cabin at Valdez Creek Village. .. .175
28. Tammany and Dan Nickolai at Valdez Creek, 1932 175


29. Jennie and Henry Peters at Valdez Creek. .
30. Wanigans with Sled Train to Valdez Creek, circa
1918 . .
31. Sled Train to Valdez Creek, circa 1918 .. ...
32. Gulkana Roadhouse and Fairbanks-Valdez Stage, circa
1918 . .
33. Sourdough Roadhouse and Automobiles, circa 1918. .
34. Meier's Roadhouse and Outbuildings, circa 1918 .
35. Timberline Roadhouse and Dogsleds, circa 1906 .
36. Paxson's Roadhouse, as originally built in 1907. .
37. Yost's Roadhouse and Dogsleds, circa 1910. .
38. Carlson's Roadhouse at Cantwell, circa 1920. .
39. Summer Pack Trip to Valdez Creek, circa 1920 ..
40. Horse Sled Bound for Valdez Creek, circa 1920 .
41. French's Cabin on the Gulkana Middle Fork, circa
1945 . .
42. Gulkana Roadhouse and Tractor Train, 1930.. ...
43. Tractor Train on Cantwell Trail to Valdez Creek, 193
44. Miners on Timberline Creek, circa 1934 .
45. Bob Smith's Cabin on Paxson Lake, circa 1934 .
46. Carlson and Pilot Christiasen in Cantwell, 1934. .

Porch of Denali Bunkhouse, 1940. .
Wickersham Brothers at Valdez Creek .
Jack West and Cantwell Railroaders .
John Carlson at his Store in Cantwell,
Women Gandy Dancers of Cantwell. .
Denali Bunkhouse, South end. .
Denali Bunkhouse, North end. .
Denali Bunkhouse, East side. .
Denali Bunkhouse, Interior .
North Building, South end. .
Northwest Building, South end. .
West Building, North end .
Superintendents House, North end .
Northeast Building, West end .
Repair Shop, South end .
Harness Shed, Northwest corner .
Post Office, Southeast side. .
Keystone drill obscured by regrowth. .
Jim Tyone's Cabin on Bear Creek Trail.
Frank Ewan's Cabin Ruins on Bear Creek


1947. .

. .

.rail .

Tom Neeley's Cabin on the Gulkana River. .
Poplar Grove, North Cabin. .
Poplar Grove, South Cabin. .
Hogan Hill Cabin .
Log Barn, Meier's Roadhouse Site .
Dawson-Norwood Cabin on the Gulkana Middle Fork.
Fielding Lake Cabin. .
Paxson Lodge, circa 1938 .
Paxson Lodge, 1977 .. .
4 Mile Reindeer Cabin. .

S 176

. 176
S 177

. 177
. 178
S 178
S 179
S 179
S 180
S 180
S 181
S 181

S 182
. 182
. 183
S 183
. 184
S 184
S 185
S 185
S 186
S 186
S 187
S 187
S 188
S 188
S 189
S 189
S 190
S 191
S 192
S 193
S 193
S 194
S 194
S 195
S 195
. 196
S 196
S 197
S 197
S 198
S 198
S 199
S 199
S 200
S 200
S 201


77. 7 Mile Reindeer Cabin. .. 201
78. 10 Mile Reindeer Cabin ... 202
79. 20 Mile Shelter Cabin. .. 202
80. 30 Mile Shelter Cabin. ... 203
81. Brushkana Creek Bridge .. 203
82. 40 Mile Shelter Cabin and Barn. .. 204
83. 40 Mile Shelter Cabin. .. 204
84. 87.2 Mile Cabin . 205
85. 83 Mile Cabin Ruin . 205
86. Lost Indian Creek, East Ruin .. 206
87. Windy Creek Cabin Ruin .. 206
88. Bunkhouse and Surrounding Buildings before Destruction 207
89. Repair Shop, Harness Shed and Superintendent's House
before Destruction .. 207
90. Cabins at Upper Shaft before Destruction .. ... 208
91. Bunkhouse and Surrounding Buildings after Destruction. 208
92. Cabins at Upper Shaft after Destruction. 209
93. 1897 Inscription Site at Portage Creek 209
94. Historical Informants .. 210
95. Historical Informants. .. .. 211
96. Historical Informants . 212


During the summer of 1977, we David Harvey and Peter Dessauer,
interns with the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Educa-
tion, were contracted by the Anchorage District Office of the U.
S. Bureau of Land Management to conduct a historical resource
study of the Valdez Creek mining district, a small but important
mining district from 1903 to World War II located on BLM land in
the Denali Highway region. Focusing on the abandoned mining
settlement of Denali (also called McKinley), the study also
included trails and other features that were important in the
mining history of the region.

WICHE's Resource Development Internship Program provides spon-
soring government agencies like the BLM with students who have
academic expertise that is needed by such agencies in carrying
out research projects related to resource planning and develop-
ment. At the same time the intern gains valuable practical
experience, as well as an understanding of how resource agencies

Such a research project challenged us as we began the inventory
of the historical mining district. Besides historic properties
on Valdez Creek, other features to be inventoried included the
old sled and wagon trails that for decades were the lifelines of
the isolated mining community. We photographed and documented
cabins and other structures along these routes as well as on
Valdez Creek. Through personal interviews, archival research and
literature reviews, we made an assessment of their historical
use, structural condition, and ownership status. Adding colorful
folklore plus valuable information to these investigations were
our field interviews with many old-timers. Their reminiscences
of a bygone era are a precious source of living history.

From the data gathered, we hope that a determination can be made
of the historic remains that warrant formal recognition, the
stabilization/protection needs for these historic properties, and
their interpretative potential for possible recreation develop-

Prior to this report no comprehensive documentation of historic
resources in the Denali Highway region had ever been undertaken.
With most of the federal land in the Denali Highway region to
remain under the Bureau's jurisdiction classified as D-l land
under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, (though the State
of Alaska and Native corporations are not precluded from making
selections from these lands), historical resource inventory was
imperative. The BLM, a multiple-use agency, is required to
inventory all resources on lands it administers to determine
managerial options for the best land use. This requirement for
inventory includes resources of a cultural nature, such as struc-

tures and sites of historical significance, and possible nomina-
tion of eligible properties identified to the National Register
of Historic Places.

On occasion government documentation of historic sites for pos-
sible nomination to the National Register has been misinterpreted
as a threat to the economic activities of private parties who
have claims or leases on federal lands that include historic
areas. Such a situation occurred in 1977 at the historic settle-
ment of Denali. Two miners, Doug and Dave Clark of Talkeetna,
felt that the our documentation of the old settlement of Denali,
which is located on their unpatented mining claim, would sub-
sequently lead to designation of a historic district and would
restrict their mining activities. The BLM had no plans that
would preclude mining operations, only for recording the historic
remains located on federal land. Nevertheless, the Clarks felt
threatened. After being there less than a week, we were told by
the Clarks to leave. The Clarks apparently felt the best way to
protect their claim was to tear the old buildings down.

In this situation Alaskans lost an irreplaceable heritage
resource because of fear and ignorance. But the history of the
Valdez Creek mining district cannot be erased. Though it was
never a mining center of the magnitude of the Klondike, or of
Fairbanks, it nevertheless played an important part in the open-
ing up of the southcentral region of Alaska and is a good example
of mining history in interior Alaskan districts. Development of
large scale mining operations and growth of the settlement were
greatly restricted by remoteness of the mining district and by
primitive transportation facilities. It remained a small com-
munity of whites and Natives, never more than 150 people at any
one time.

Although the "frontierism" of early Alaska occasionally con-
flicted with Native culture, many Natives were swept into the
movement. Socioeconomic interaction of whites and Natives in the
Denali region during the first part of the century resulted in
nearly complete acculturation of the Natives to a new lifeway
within the period of a single generation. Though the signifi-
cance of the Valdez Creek mining district is obscured by the
swift mainstream of Alaskan history, it was often the localized
unheralded events that shaped the currents of that history.




Natural Environment

The Valdez Creek mining district, located in Southcentral Alaska
midway between Anchorage and Fairbanks (Map 1), is today reached
by the Denali Highway, which extends 135 miles in an east-west
direction between Paxson on the Richardson Highway and Cantwell
on the Parks Highway (Map 2). Valdez Creek, the stream for which
the mining district was named, orginates in the Clearwater Moun-
tains, flowing in a southwesterly direction for approximately 14
miles before emptying into the Susitna River. The region bound-
ing the Valdez Creek mining district is vast and rugged, com-
prising approximately 5,000 square miles of some of the most
varied terrain accessible by road in Alaska. The snow-capped
Alaska Range forms the northern border of the region, whose ice
and snow supply scores of glaciers and give rise to the vast
number of streams and lakes in the region. To the south is a
parallel range, the Talkeetna Mountains, equally rugged, but
whose glaciers and snowfields are inconspicuous when compared to
those in the Alaska Range.

The region's diverse topography is strikingly evident in the
great differences of elevation, varying from 13,782 feet high at
Mt. Hayes in the Alaska Range to a low of 1,300 feet along the
Gulkana River.

Glaciation and other geomorphological processes have had a signi-
ficant impact upon the appearance of the entire region. During
the Pleistocene ice age the southern third of Alaska was covered
by glacial ice. As the ice subsided, the retreating glaciers
left many deposits still visible in the Denali region. Evidence
of intense and recent glacial activity is quite noticeable
throughout the northern half of the region. The rugged mountain
areas show U-shaped eroded valleys, and deposits of earth and
gravel carried and finally deposited by glaciers rise alongside
mountain slopes and on the tundra flats. Numerous eskers--long,
narrow, snake-like mounds of sediment formed of rock, sand, and
gravel deposits left by stream channels once formed in glacier
ice--serve as the roadbed along certain lengths of the present
Denali Highway. Also characteristic are the broad outwash plains
of glacier gravel and braided streams formed by excessive
glacial loading due to lateral stream erosion that emerge from
existing glaciers such as the Maclaren, the Susitna, and the
Nenana, and mark the predominating rivers in the region.
Moffitt (1912:53) summed up, stating that "glaciation was the
last of the great events that took place in the geologic history
of the region, and it is still in progress."

According to USGS geologist Fred H. Moffit (1911a:119), the
placer gold of Valdez Creek originated mainly in the slate areas


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located in the tributaries which flow from the mountains to the
south of Valdez Creek, principally Timberline Creek, White Creek,
and Lucky Gulch (Map 3). Glaciation was partly responsible for
the distribution of gravel deposits in the Valdez Creek area, for
according to Moffit (1911a:118), the present stream channel was
not the original one. Before the present canyon was developed
the creek had cut an earlier but shallower canyon in the bedrock
(Figure 1).

During the last major glacial period this was overridden by ice
from the north and east and filled with gravel. When at last the
ice disappeared and the creek established a new channel for
itself, it followed a different course. The present canyon is
cut into the slate 60 feet deeper than the old canyon at the
place where they intersect on mining claim No. 2 Above
(Figure 2). In cutting its present canyon below the inter-
section, Valdez Creek concentrated the gold from both the old and
new channels (Moffit, 1912:68,69).

Farther south, the effects of glaciation are not as noticeable,
except for the lakes which dot the land surface. Flat and
rolling country predominates, from which rise flat-topped and
terraced hills. These lowlands are characterized by poor drain-
age, forming a wet, marshy environment crossed by a few deep,
sluggish streams. These streams have not yet entrenched them-
selves deep enough into the plains to drain away the surface
water. The landscape contrasts greatly with the glacier-scarred
upland region, where there are few lakes, and a well-developed
stream system drains the terrain.

The dynamic interaction of geomorphic processes drainage,
erosion, and glaciation--along with climatic influences have
resulted in a complex vegetation pattern in the region. Not only
do the vegetation systems play a major role in determining the
habitat distribution for different species of animals, but they
also have a major visual impact by contributing scenic variety to
the area. Seven of the nine vegetative ecosystems defined for
Alaska are represented in the region. Five of the seven systems
found in the region--alpine tundra, moist tundra, high brush, low
brush-muskeg bog, and bottomland spruce-poplar forest--are domi-
nant, occupying about 90 percent of the area. From Clearwater
Creek west to Cantwell the region is dominated by these five
ecosystems except for low brush, which appears sparsely. How-
ever, from Clearwater Creek east to Paxson and south to the
Gulkana River, low brush dominates, with large patches of alpine
tundra located in the mountains (Miller, Aukerman and Fletcher,

The Valdez Creek area is characterized by alpine tundra and
barren ground along the Susitna River, with groves of upland
spruce near the mouths of Valdez and Windy Creeks. Further
upstream near Denali, high brush dominates, consisting of groves



1 4




(From Ross 1933:447, Fig. 53)


0 Level Q/-z de Creek

(From Moffit 1911:121, Fig. 17)

of dwarf birch, willows, and alders, and is especially dense
around the old town site. This was not always the case, as early
photos of Denali show a much more barren landscape. However,
Alaska plant life can sometimes rejuvenate quickly due to the
long summer days. In 1912, Moffit (1912:18) reported that grass
for stock was plentiful and in some places as high as a man's
shoulder where the brush had been burned off several years
earlier. The spruce growing along lower Valdez Creek and along
the Susitna south past Windy Creek at that time provided the
miners with ample lumber and firewood. Three years later Moffit
observed (1915:17) that "the best spruce timber seen in the
region is on Butte Creek and is a source of supply for the miners
of Valdez Creek." By 1933, most of the supply of suitable trees
in the more convenient locations near Denali had been exhausted
and the nearest source of timber was Butte Creek. The lack of
suitable timber along upper Valdez Creek was felt to be a serious
obstacle to mining operations in that period (Ross, 1933:42).

The Denali region's diverse vegetation provides habitat for an
equally wide variety of wildlife and game, although the popula-
tion has been declining in recent years. The Nelchina caribou
herd of the region once numbered more than 70,000 individuals and
until 15 years ago might take up to three days and nights to
cross the Susitna River. Today the herd numbers only about
10,000, and can be seen crossing the Susitna River in small,
scattered groups.

The Denali area is one of the few recreational hunting areas
accessible by road, and offers opportunities for hunting, fish-
ing, and sightseeing that are almost unequalled in the state.
Depending on the season, wildlife can be seen throughout the
region from the upland tundra to the mountains, and may include
moose, Dall sheep, black bear, grizzly bear, and wolf. Many
smaller mammals, such as lynx, wolverine, red fox, mink, marten,
otter, muskrat and beaver are also found in the region. Numerous
species of birds are also found in the region, and many waterfowl
are found in summer and fall season on the large water bodies.

The region's numerous lakes, ponds, and streams can be deceiving
to a newcomer expecting a hefty fish catch, as many of these
bodies of water contain few or no fish. Many of the lakes are
too shallow to support fish because they freeze to the bottom in
winter, and the major rivers of the region, the Maclaren,
Susitna, and Nenana, contain no fish during the summer months
because they carry a heavy silt load from the glaciers at their
headwaters. The salmon streams nearest to Valdez Creek are the
headwater streams of the West Fork of the Gulkana River. Both
king salmon and red salmon ascend the West Fork to its upper
limits to spawn (Albin, 1977:46).

Although temperatures are not as extreme as in the northern
interior, average minimum winter temperatures do range between 0

and 8 degrees F with 30 to 40 degrees F recordings commonplace.
Summer temperatures frequently rise above 70 degrees F and occa-
sionally reach 90 degrees F during the day, while night tempera-
tures tend always to be on the cool side (Miller, Aukerman,
Fletcher, 1976:34). Weather conditions can change rapidly,
producing extreme summer and winter temperatures.

Precipitation seems to vary considerably from one locality to
another, adding to the climatic unpredictability. According to
the Colorado State University report, precipitation along the
Denali Highway is actually light, averaging between 12 to 20
inches annually with about half of this total occurring in the
summer months, mostly in the form of light rain. Snowfall aver-
ages about 20 inches annually along the highway, increasing at
higher elevations to 80 or more inches in the Alaska Range
(Miller, Aukerman, and Fletcher, 1976:33). The Alaska Range, and
the Chugach and Talkeetna mountains to the south, serve as
weather barriers for the region. Mountains to the south impede
and precipitate warm, moist air from the Gulf of Alaska, and the
mountains to the north block the flow of colder continental air
from the deeper interior regions. Light surface winds averaging
3 to 10 miles per hour are normal, although extremes of 40 to 80
miles per hour are known to occur in the mountain passes and
narrow valleys (Miller, Aukerman, Fletcher, 1976:34).

The usual recreational season (summer) along the Denali Highway
spans 90 to 100 days. Many summer days are cool and overcast.
However, this past summer was a particularly dry and warm one,
while the late summer to early fall period, usually dry, experi-
enced heavy rains and cool temperatures which hampered activity
during the hunting season. From October 15 to May 15, the Denali
Highway is closed to automobile traffic because of high snow
drifts and rock slides. This greatly limits human use of the
area in that season.

Present Land Use

The region traversed by the Denali Highway is heavily used for a
wide range of outdoor recreation activities because of its rela-
tive accessibility to the State's major population centers.
Commercial establishments on the Denali Highway include Paxson
Lodge (Mile 0), Upton's Camp at Swede Lake, Tangle River Inn
(Mile 20), Tangle Lodge (Mile 23), Maclaren River Lodge (Mile
42), Moore's Camp (Mile 51), Susitna Lodge (Mile 77), Gracious
House (Mile 82), Adventures Unlimited (Mile 100), and cafe, bar,
grocery, and garage services in Cantwell (Mile 135). There are
also three Bureau of Land Management public campgrounds along the
highway. Two are at Tangle Lakes (Mile 20), the other at Brush-
kana Creek (Mile 104). The commercial establishments rely upon
the wildlife and game for a good part of their livelihood, how-
ever, according to a study by Colorado State University (Miller,

Aukerman and Fletcher, 1976:15), the wildlife population in
recent years has been seriously depleted, especially the caribou
and moose herds. Decline in caribou and moose population usually
causes corresponding declines in predator species such as the
wolf. Although man alone is not responsible for the decline, his
hunting targets are usually the prime members of the herd, and
the pressures of heavy hunting have taken their toll. Other
factors such as range deterioration, natural predation and
Alaska's long, cold, harsh winters have also contributed to the
decline of animal populations. Further depletion of animal
populations would seriously erode this economic base.

The water resources are a major asset to the region, providing
habitat for fish and wildlife populations and also recreation
opportunities. These conditions and activities are heavily
influenced by the region's unpredictable weather and climate, as
well as by accessibility. Most of the better fishing spots in
the Denali Highway area are accessible only by foot, boat,
tracked vehicles, or by air. All in all, the highway provides
access to fair fishing, particularly for grayling and lake trout
(Miller, Aukerman, Fletcher, 1976:27).

Although mining has picked up in recent years due to the rise in
gold prices, the region has primarily become the province of the
recreational public, especially since completion of the Denali
Highway in 1957.


The Denali Highway was the only automobile route to Mount
McKinley National Park until the opening of the Parks Highway in
1971 linked both Anchorage and Fairbanks to the park. If the
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park becomes a reality, the Denali
Highway will probably increase in importance, serving as a link
between the two national parks. This is already indicated by the
Ahtna Native Corporation's request that the federal government
designate this route a national scenic highway (Anchorage Times,
11/29/78:1). If approved by Congress, a feasibility study will
be made, and if-it is designated, public land will be withdrawn
from all entry for a mile on either side of the highway between
Cantwell and Gakona.

Some local residents and entrepreneurs in the Denali region view
further development with caution. Some believe that paving the
entire Denali Highway would bring in too many people. Proposed
hydroelectric dams on the Susitna River are also not enthusias-
tically received. Many of these same people take a negative view
of the government's attempts to manage the area. They are afraid
that government management will result in more regulations that
will restrict their economic pursuits. Miners see State and
Environmental Protection Agency water quality regulations as

unnecessary and expensive to comply with. Hunters and fishermen
see Native claims in the region as excessive, closing off more
lands from public use.

The incident that occurred this summer on Valdez Creek indicates
the frustrations of a substantial minority in the region. Two
miners, fearing that our historical survey of the area would lead
to the establishment of a historic district and close off the
area to mining, bulldozed almost all the standing buildings at
the abandoned mining settlement of Denali. This type of hysteri-
cal reaction indicates a need for intense cooperative effort to
arrive at land-use decisions acceptable to all concerned groups,
specifically the Bureau of Land Management, the State of Alaska,
Native groups, local residents and landowners, and recrea-


The Native Period

Prehistoric Era

Evidence of prehistoric use of the study area has only begun to
surface in recent decades. Numerous archeological sites have
been identified in the region bounding the highway, with the most
significant concentration in the Tangle Lakes area. Since most
of these sites are located on low hilltops and ridges, and con-
sist primarily of chipped stone tools and chipping debris, it is
believed that these elevated locations served as observation
points from which aboriginal man watched and waited for game. It
is also probable that the valleys and river basins of the region
contain evidence of these ancient hunters.

Some of the first prehistoric sites identified in the region were
found in 1953 in the Lake Susitna-Lake Louise area. Archeologist
William Irving, working under contract with the National Park
Service, discovered two flaking sites near the lakes (Skarland
and Keim, 1958:79). No other sites were found until 1957 when
Charles M. Ratekin, culvert inspector for the Bureau of Public
Roads, made a discovery near mile 70 on the Denali Highway in a
series of places ("blowouts") where wind had exposed chips and
artifacts. Evidence seems to indicate that the locality was an
observation point for game and a caribou hunting station. Skar-
land and Keim (1958:80) reasoned that "the large number of arrow-
heads suggest that it was a butchering ground where the caribou
were funnelled into a narrow corridor created by the muskeg to
the south and the steep foothills to the north." Although
several time periods and culture phases were represented in the
large number of specimens found, any attempt at chronology was
difficult since blowouts lack stratification and cultural layers
tend to be intermixed.

A few days after the discovery of the Ratekin site, Dr. Neil W.
Hosley reported a similar site in a blowout near Tangle Lakes on
the Denali Highway. While the Ratekin site was a butchering
ground, the Hosely Ridge site was apparently an old drive loca-
tion where the caribou were driven into the lake to be disposed
of by men in canoes. Both sites were evidently the scene of
"ambush and drive" hunting by migratory peoples whose culture had
little resemblance to that of the protohistoric and historic
Athapaskan. No means of dating was found, but, on the basis of
patination of flint specimens, it was assumed that the artifacts
found at these sites were at least 2,000, perhaps 4,000 years old
(Skarland and Keim, 1958:80-81).

Evidence at these sites indicates a long history of limited
seasonal use in the Denali Highway region. The harsh winters,

the lack of substantial plant foods and the migratory nature of
game animals probably precluded the establishment of permanent
aboriginal settlements. The distribution of game animals largely
determined the location of seasonal camps. In the Upper Susitna
basin, because of the migratory pattern of the Nelchina caribou,
the region's geographical isolation, and lack of salmon, the
Natives' nomadic way of life, centering around hunting, prevailed
well into the late nineteenth century.

Current evidence indicates that during the prehistoric period the
most densely inhabited area in the Denali Highway region was the
Tangle Lakes locality. Archeologist F. H. West, who has worked a
number of years in the Tangle Lakes vicinity, writes that the
area was deglaciated roughly 9,000 to 12,000 years ago, so theo-
retically, it was inhabitable at that time (West, 1975:78-79).
Since the Hosley discovery, approximately 220 sites have been
found in the Tangle Lakes area, making it one of the most concen-
trated occurrences of archeological sites in the North American
subarctic region (Zinck and Zinck, 1976:7). The importance of
such a significant concentration of sites was formally recognized
when in 1971 Tangle Lakes became the first archeological district
in Alaska to be placed on the National Register for Historic

Ancient man is also known to have widely inhabited the Copper
River basin located south-southeast of Tangle Lakes. Archeolo-
gists (Workman and West, 1970:14) speculate that man's entry into
the basin was about as early as into the Tangle Lakes area.
During the late Pleistocene, a large proglacial lake was formed
in the basin due to the damming of the Copper River exit by
glaciers that advanced from the surrounding mountains. While the
lake was present, man was excluded from the lowlands. The
glaciers retreated about 9,000 years ago, permitting the lake to
drain and possibly allowing salmon to ascend the Copper River
once the glacial obstruction had been removed. The salmon may
have attracted aboriginal man to the river system at that time.

Protohistoric-Historic Native Culture

The earliest identifiable Native group utilizing the Denali
region was the Ahtna, an Athapaskan group that inhabited the
Copper River basin. The location and distribution of the numer-
ous Ahtna clans in the basin determined the nature and extent of
their cultural and physical ties to the Denali region, their
contacts with neighboring tribes, and eventual relationships with
the white man. Archeologist William Workman (1976:5) described
the three major socio-cultural units among the Ahtna as the Lower
Ahtna of the Chitina-Klutina area, the Middle and Western Ahtna
occupying the Tazlina-Mendeltna and Gulkana drainages and the
Upper Susitna, and the Upper Ahtna occupying the headwaters of
the Copper River as far south as Chistochina. The numerous Ahtna

clans within these units were in contact with most neighboring
peoples, either through trade, warfare, intermarriage, or other
social relationships. Such peoples included the Tanaina of the
Upper Cook Inlet, the Tanana, the Northern Tlingit of Yakutat
Bay, the Eyak of the Copper River Delta, and the Chugach Eskimo
from Prince William Sound (West and Workman, 1970:24, 26). The
migratory nature of the Ahtna's annual living cycle led to con-
tacts with neighboring tribes.

For most of the Ahtnas, the cycle revolved around the red and
king salmon which ascend the Copper River and its major trib-
utaries from late spring until early fall. The fish were caught,
dried, and cached for the winter. In the late summer-early fall,
after the runs ended, hunting parties were organized that headed
north into the mountains where they spent the remainder of the
season. Hunting and trapping along the way, the Ahtna returned
to their winter villages around November. These villages, con-
sisting of one to nine multifamily houses, were usually located
near the summer fish camps where the dried salmon had been
stored. Often the salmon catch was insufficient to last the
winter, so caribou, moose, sheep, and other game were sought
locally to supplement the diet. Even with their supplemental
supplies, food stores were sometimes depleted by February,
forcing the Ahtna to deploy hunting parties once again to the
uplands. This was the low point in the annual cycle, as it was
often a time of near-starvation until they returned to their fish
camps in June anxiously awaiting the salmon run (Workman,

The low point in the seasonal cycle was more severe for the Ahtna
of the Upper Susitna. As archeologist William Irving (1957:39)
pointed out, "lacking salmon, the Middle Ahtna of the Susitna
drainage adopted a more spartan strategy, putting a heavier
emphasis on the hunting of caribou and moose." Current research
indicates that the Middle Ahtna had at least two villages on the
Tyone River and one as far north as Valdez Creek. One of the
Tyone River villages was located at the confluence of the Tyone
with the Susitna River, reportedly one of the largest inland
Athapaskan villages prior to 1500 A.D. The other Tyone River
village was located at the confluence of the Tyone River with
Tyone Creek (Bacon, 1975). The Ahtna at these camps made sea-
sonal trips to the Valdez Creek area, attracted by the herds of
caribou, the plentiful moose, and the abundance of whitefish and
grayling. Moffit (1915:20) indicated that before the arrival of
white men, the Upper Susitna Ahtna had depended on the Valdez
Creek area for most of their food and clothing. In fact the
native name for Valdez Creek, "Galina" (anglicized version of
Ahtna c'ilaanna') signifies "a place where game abounds" (Buck
and Kari, 1975).

Unfortunately there is very little ethnographic information on
the early Ahtna, although they were one of the most influential

tribal groups in the interior. They were well respected and
often feared by their Eskimo and Indian neighbors (West and
Workman, 1970:20). Information that has been obtained on the
early Ahtna has been derived mainly through archeological work
and ethnographic reconstruction. The early Russian dominance in
Alaska has much to do with the lack of ethnohistoric information
on the early Ahtna, since early Russian traders were more in-
terested in obtaining furs than in recording information. They
wrote very little about the Native inhabitants, especially those
of the few southcentral interior areas they visited.

Geography and climate contributed to the white man's ignorance of
the Ahtna, delaying direct contact between them until the late
19th century. Alaska's topography and climate were not suitable
for the extensive grazing and farming that favored settlement of
Indian lands elsewhere on the continent. Native hostility also
acted as a deterrent, as Euro-American contact with the Native
was not always a peaceful one, especially for the Russians.
According to ethnographer James VanStone (1974:95) "the Russians,
fresh from their subjugation of the inhabitants of the Aleutian
Islands, reacted violently to resistance from coastal peoples
like the Tlingit and Tanaina and from river groups such as the
Koyukon and the Ahtna." So the hostility of the Ahtna, their
geographic isolation, and the severe climate of interior Alaska
combined to delay extensive contact between whites and the Middle
and Upper River Ahtna.

It was not until Lieutenant Henry T. Allen's exploration of the
Copper River in 1885 that a substantial, firsthand description of
the river's inhabitants was written. A young lieutenant in the
U. S. Army, Allen had been sent to Sitka as an aide to General
Miles in 1884. The following spring he led an exploratory group
on a 1,500 mile journey through the interior of Alaska. Allen
and three other men traveled three hundred miles up the Copper
River, crossed the Alaska Range, and headed west along the Tanana
drainage. Along the Copper River, Allen came upon a group of
starving Ahtna. Their winter supply of dried fish had run out,
and it was still too early for the salmon run. Even Allen's
party had to subsist on a lean diet of rabbit meat. Allen
(1900:472) described the Ahtna settlement as a small group of
rather substantial structures, mainly winter houses, with cache
pits and graves nearby. The winter houses were 18 feet square,
constructed of spruce poles covered with bark slabs and sometimes
moss. Walls under the eaves stood about four feet high. Inside
there was a central fireplace and smoke hole. A small auxiliary
room, almost entirely underground and four to five feet deep was
utilized as a steam bath.

The Ahtna also had outlying hunting and fishing camps with less
substantial structures. Such camps existed in highland hunting
areas like Valdez Creek (where the Upper Susitna Ahtna had a
seasonal village). Lieutenant J. C. Castner, attached to Captain

Glenn's 1898 military expedition, observed an Ahtna seasonal
hunting camp in 1898 at Lake Tazlina that consisted of small
tents of hide or drill (Castner, 1900:704). Captain Edwin F.
Glenn (1899:70-71) and U. S. Geological Survey geologist Walter
C. Mendenhall (1900:338,340) saw similar tent camps on the Upper
Delta River in 1898 (Plate 1). However, Allen (1889:261; 1900:
472) described the Ahtnas' temporary shelter as a double lean-to,
a rectangular structure of poles and boughs with both ends open
and a passage left through the center. Informants Bud Carlson
and Maggie Oliver (pers. comm.) confirm that early Native dwell-
ings on Valdez Creek were similar to Castner's and Mendenhall's
descriptions of Ahtna dwellings, consisting of one room A-frame
structures (with adjacent sweathouses) made of connecting caribou
skins with the usual smoke opening in the ceiling. Traditional
double lean-to structures may have been giving way to tent-like
structures in the years following Allen's 1885 trip.

Several former Native inhabitants of Valdez Creek remembered the
traditional dwellings but recalled that log structures became
more prevalent once mining began.

Intense competition for the choice hunting and fishing areas
among the various Ahtna clans and neighboring tribes was part of
their traditional lifeway. The vagaries of game animals and
salmon runs intensified competition between the tribes for pro-
ductive territories. In his reconnaissance of the Copper River
Valley in 1898, Captain Abercrombie (1900:578) observed that the
Natives divided territory among the clans either by conquest or
consent. He further indicated that "boundaries were pretty much
respected, as it was not uncommon for Indians on one side of the
river to go hungry even if the salmon were running on the oppo-
site side of the river on territory of a neighboring clan."

Choice hunting areas like Valdez Creek and the headwaters of the
Upper Susitna became tension areas when numerous clans and tribes
converged annually on the area. From our interviews with Henry
Peters in Cantwell, it appears that there were as many as ten to
fifteen different Ahtna clans in the Denali region alone. Battle
skirmishes were frequent, occurring as late as the end of the
nineteenth century. Many such conflicts took place near Valdez
Creek, presumably where Susitna Lodge is located today. Inter-
group warfare also occurred occasionally between the Valdez Creek
Ahtna and the Nenana Tanana. The vicinity of today's Mt. McKin-
ley National Park boundary was the recognized dividing line
between the two groups, but it was often violated by both sides.
According to several people (Henry Peters, Maggie Oliver, and Bud
Carlson, pers. comm.) one such battle occurred on the mountain
above Valdez Creek which is called nai'na'dEli "where the migrat-
ing ducks hit," (Laguna, n.d:40).

James VanStone (1974:50) believes that these hostilities were
more of a feuding nature and not really comparable to the conven-

tional notions of warfare. Revenge for past injuries inflicted
upon kinsmen led to chronic antagonism between certain groups and
clans. Warfare was usually retaliatory in nature, "an eye for an
eye," at least in theory. Major warfare was not a dominant
element in the Ahtna lifeway, nor among most interior Alaskan
Native groups. Frank Hobson (pers. comm.) of Tazlina maintains
that 'the Ahtna clans of Paxson (Gulkana) Lake, called
tax'at's bEnE' "clearwater or cold water lake" (Laguna, n.d.:34),
seemed to coexist well enough. Further evidence of peaceful
relations in this area came from informants interviewed by
Frederica de Laguna (n.d.:34) indicating that Paxson Lake was
originally the domain of the Wudjicyu clan, who willingly gave up
the northern half of the lake to the neighboring Naltsina clan.

However, there was a notable absence of all-out conflict in the
Valdez Creek area between the Ahtna and the white man. VanStone
(1974:40) points out that "a significant factor in the history of
white contact with the Native throughout the western subarctic is
that the inhabitants, except in a few limited instances, did not
wage war with the European intruders, nor were they forcibly
removed from their lands." The geographical and climatic factors
put a damper on colonization and settlement, hence any danger to
the physical domain of the Native (especially the Ahtna) was
slight. Likewise, the priorities of the dominant foreign power,
Russia, were centered on the lucrative fur trade. After numerous
adverse confrontations with various tribes, the Russians learned
that the fur pelt could be obtained more efficiently by trading
with the aboriginal inhabitants of an area. The few whites
settling permanently in the interior usually did so as trappers
and traders, sharing the Native way of life (VanStone 1974:91).
The trapper and trader were not regarded as threatening competi-
tors, but as bearers of highly desirable trade goods to exchange
for furs.

The Russian Period

After Vitus Bering led a sailing expedition to Alaska in 1741,
the Russian fur trade expanded rapidly into the North Pacific.
In the latter part of the eighteenth century, competition between
various Russian trade companies centered in the Cook Inlet
region, with the Russian American Company achieving dominance by
securing a trade monopoly in 1799. During the same period
British explorers were also active, visiting and trading with the
coastal Tanaina (VanStone, 1974:94). In May of 1778, Captain
James Cook entered the inlet that today bears his name, thinking
it might lead him to the elusive Northwest Passage.

The Russians' initial interest in the Copper River centered
around their wish to learn more about reported copper deposits up
the river. But the Russian desire for furs overshadowed their
interest in other natural resources. Direct Russian contact with

the Copper River Ahtna was stymied by geographical isolation and
Native hostility. VanStone (1955:15) summarizes that although
the mouth of the Copper River was discovered by the Russian
Nagaief in 1781, it was not until 1819 that the Middle Copper
River country was penetrated. Between those years four expedi-
tions were attempted but failed due to the hostility of Natives
and the swift, treacherous currents of the Copper River that made
navigation extremely difficult. The Russian Klimovsky and his
party made the first successful trek in 1819, but little is known
of his expedition except that it was probably the first group of
white men to visit the historic Ahtna settlement at Taral, on the
Copper River below the mouth of the Chitina River. At Taral the
party reportedly established a trading post or "odinochka", for
the Russian American Company. According to S. Federova (1973:
146) the post was established in 1858 to counter English trading
activities on the upper Yukon River. It was apparently main-
tained until about 1866. In 1844 a Russian expedition up the
Copper River led by Gregorieff was forced to turn back because of
Native hostilities. During his 1885 explorations of the Copper
River, Allen reported seeing remnants of an odinochka at Taral.

The last Russian explorations of the Copper River occurred in
1847-48. Led by Rufus Serebrenikoff, a party reportedly traveled
as far as Tazlina Lake. The Russian party gained notoriety
because of their cruelty toward their Native packers, who even-
tually rebelled and murdered the Russians. The incident dis-
couraged further Russian exploration in Alaska. Losing a war
with England in Crimea had made the Czar and his ministers fear-
ful that they might not be able to hold the American colony.
Also, the profits of the Russian American Company were declining.
It seemed preferable to have a friendly neighbor such as the
United States in control of Alaska rather than the English. The
United States, suspicious of England's expansionist movements in
North America and its sympathies with the Southern cause, courted
Imperial Russia. This culminated in the Treaty of Cession in
1867 that transferred sovereignty over Alaska to the United

Native contact with the Russians continued after the 1867 pur-
chase, especially with Russian traders and with priests of the
Orthodox Church. Henry Peters (pers. comm.) maintains that the
Valdez Creek Natives had contact with the Russians and other
whites on annual trading trips to the Upper Cook Inlet, in parti-
cular at a trading post near present-day Eklutna Village.

The effect of the church in the acculturation of the Ahtna can
only be estimated. Moffit (1915:22) mentioned that even "before
discovery of gold on Valdez Creek, the Tyone River (or Valdez
Creek) Natives made yearly trading expeditions to Cook Inlet and
carried their contributions to the Russian Church and took their
children to be christened by its priests...."

Russian priests reportedly made annual visits to Ahtna settle-
ments like Cantwell as late as the 1950s. Maggie Oliver (pers.
comm.) was baptized there by a Russian priest, and as a child
during the mid-fifties she remembers seeing an Orthodox priest at
Cantwell. Clothed in a black robe and swinging his smoking
incense container, he would go from door to door. One of the
Native houses would be used to hold religious services and give
instruction in the Orthodox religion. Though many Ahtna today
have other religious affiliations, some Orthodox traditions are
still adhered to, such as use of the Orthodox cross grave marker
enclosed by a picket fence.

The American Period

The acquisition of Alaska by the United States in 1867 did not
immediately stimulate exploration of "Seward's Icebox." The
military expedition into the Copper River region in 1885, led by
Lieutenant Henry T. Allen, was one of a few exploration trips
which were undertaken in Alaska strictly for geographic and
scientific observation prior to 1898. This changed however,
after gold was discovered on the Klondike River in Canada in
1896-97. News of George Carmack's good fortune started a stam-
pede that brought thousands of men first to Canada, then west
into the interior of Alaska in search of gold. The gold rush of
1897-98 prompted Congress to appropriate money to provide, among
other things, the development of land routes to interior Alaska.
Military expeditions were organized in 1898 to discover access
routes in Alaska to the interior gold fields, partly because
Americans objected to having to go through Canada to reach the
American gold fields on the middle Yukon. Canada required gold
rushers entering Canada to have a full year's supplies, and
Canadian customs stations were set up where existing trails
entered Canada to check the immigrants. Duty was charged on
goods that originated in the United States, and the duty as well
as the delay exasperated the gold rushers (Hulley, 1958:258-259).
It was also extremely difficult to transport the bulky supplies
over the rugged mountain passes and few rushers had the money to
buy supplies, pay professional packers or buy horses, feed and
sleds, and pay duties too.

Rumors of an ancient fur trade trail to the interior from the
southcentral coast of Alaska brought a number of eager prospec-
tors to Port Valdez in 1897-98. Primarily searching for an
"all-American" route to the gold fields they also were looking
for gold and copper in the Copper River region. They found a
route over the Valdez Glacier that was occasionally utilized by
the Natives, but nothing in the way of an established trail.
When the unusually severe winter of 1898-99 hit, many miners and
prospectors who were still in the interior were caught unpre-
pared. Scores of desperate men poured out of the interior, many
attempting passage across the Valdez Glacier route during mid-

winter. Fortunately the U. S. Army had sent three expeditions to
Alaska that same year under the command of Captain Edwin F.
Glenn, to find overland routes to the American gold fields and to
explore and map the territory. One expedition party, under
Captain William R. Abercrombie, had established a camp on Port
Valdez, while the other two expedition parties had started from
Port Wells on the west side of Prince William Sound and from
Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet. From the expedition camp
set up on Port Valdez, the Army assisted with emergency relief,
but even so, about two thirds of the stranded gold rushers died
(U. S. Army, 1972:41; Janson, 1975).

The explorations of the three expeditions succeeded remarkably
well though, and provided substantial reports, published collec-
tively in 1899 as Reports of Explorations in the Territory of
Alaska. In his report, Captain Abercrombie TT899) recommended a
trail route from Port Valdez through Thompson Pass and Mentasta
Pass to Eagle City on the Yukon, which was then the center of
mining activity in the Forty Mile district. In 1899 Abercrombie
was again ordered to Alaska to establish the trail from Port
Valdez to Eagle City.

Prior to the Klondike Gold Rush, the Upper Susitna River region
was virtually unexplored. In 1897 a party of prospectors led by
W. G. Jack became the first white men to reach the headwaters of
the Susitna River. Mary Barry, in her History of Mining on the
Kenai Peninsula, writes (1973:65) "Somewhat disappointed-wit
their summer's (1896) prospecting around Sunrise on the Kenai,
they decided to try their luck north of Cook Inlet and up the
Susitna." They panned for gold as they went but found nothing
much until they reached what today is known as Valdez Creek.
"Their eyes were so swollen from mosquito bites that they named
it Swollen Creek" (Bayou, 1946:41). Jack and his party made good
finds but lacked the capital and equipment for serious excava-
tion. Thinking they might return the following year, they headed
down the Nenana River for the Tanana drainage, but a dwindling
food supply forced them to return to Cook Inlet and Turnagain
Arm. There the word spread about their strike on Swollen Creek.
It was not until 1903, though, that another party succeeded in
relocating Swollen Creek and filed on the discovery. This fortu-
nate group of prospectors was from Valdez, and renamed the stream
Valdez Creek.

In 1898 W. G. Jack again ascended the Susitna River acting as a
guide for USGS geologist George Eldridge to the Broad Pass coun-
try (Eldridge, 1900). Practically following at Eldridge's heels
was Sergeant William Yanert of Captain Glenn's expedition, who
landed at Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet, with a party
heading north from Ladd's Station toward the Tanana River
(Yanert, 1899). Yanert and his party headed up Indian River to
the Nenana River, a tributary of the Tanana and Yukon drainages.
Both of these parties, due to lack of provisions and the lateness

of the season, were forced to abandon hope of reaching the Tanana
and had to retrace their steps to the lower Susitna. In later
years other parties took essentially the same route up the
Susitna and Chulitna River valleys through Broad Pass and down
the Nenana River.

By the turn of the century, the upper Susitna River country was
beginning to open up. In ascending the Susitna, Yanert (1899:
697) had met prospectors camped at the mouth of Indian Creek
(Indian River). There had been gold strikes in the region west
of the Susitna, and by 1906 a trading post was being established
on the Susitna River at the mouth of Indian River.

By about 1903 the trail from Port Valdez to Eagle City, subse-
quently known as the Trans-Alaskan Military Road, was completed,
along with a telegraph line paralleling the trail and connecting
Eagle City with Fort Liscum as part of the Washington-Alaska
Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS). But in the next
few years Fairbanks eclipsed Eagle City as the center of mining
activity in the interior. News of Felix Pedro's discovery of
gold in the Tanana Valley in 1902 resulted in a stampede of
miners to the new diggings, and Fairbanks, which was established
quite fortuitously as a trading post the preceding year, soon
became the hub of mining activity in the district.

Acting upon the recommendations of a Senate Subcommittee which
visited Alaska in 1903, Congress passed legislation for further
development of transportation routes in Alaska, especially a
Valdez-Fairbanks trail to extend north from the Trans-Alaskan
Military Road at Gulkana through Isabel Pass to the Tanana River
and Fairbanks. When the Alaska Road Commission was established
by the Act of 1905, its first president, Major Wilds P. Richard-
son, devoted most of the Commission's funds to the improvement of
the Valdez-Fairbanks Military and Telegraph Road. Road Commis-
sion allocations were meager, restricting construction and main-
tenance to trails for wintertime use on which mail, freight, and
passengers could be safely transported by dog team and single
horse sled (Gruening, 1954:105).

The gold strike made on Valdez Creek in 1903 by Peter Monahan and
his party marked the end of isolation for the Upper Susitna
region. Though the discovery party had mushed into the region
over the Valdez Glacier route, prospecting along the eastern
flanks of the Talkeetna Mountains enroute, soon trails were
established to Valdez Creek from the military road to the east as
extended mining operations requiring men, equipment, and supplies
were set up. When the mining center became established, many
Ahtna moved to Valdez Creek, leaving their villages on the
Susitna and Copper River drainages. Their seasonal subsistence
cycle became less important as over time they adopted the
economic system of the white man. The destiny of the Ahtna
mingled with that of the miners, some Natives becoming claim
owners and miners themselves.




The 1903 Strike and the First Five Years

The first widely publicized gold strike on Valdez Creek was made
during the summer of 1903 by a group of four miners: Peter
Monahan, J. C. Clarkson, John M. Johnson, and James S. Smith.
All of the men in this "discovery party" were experienced pros-
pectors. Peter Monahan (Plate 2) was a veteran of the Yukon gold
rush in 1898 and the Nome rush in 1900. In 1902, he had pros-
pected in .the territory west of Mt. McKinley (Alaska-Yukon
Magazine, April 1909:76). The possibility of finding a rich pay
strike in the virgin territory east of Mt. McKinley induced
Monahan to lead an expedition to the Upper Susitna River in 1903.
Setting out from Valdez in February, Monahan's party mushed
northward toward the headwaters of the Upper Susitna. Their
course took them across the Valdez Glacier to the Klutina River,
up the St. Anne River to St. Anne Lake, then over Tazlina Lake,
Lake Louise, Susitna Lake and Tyone Lake to Tyone River, which
they followed to its junction with the Susitna River. There they
set up a base camp at a "stick house" Indian village which
probably consisted of pole and bark dwellings similar to those on
the Copper River described by Lieutenant Allen in this period.
The miners prospected the creek's tributary to the Susitna below
the Tyone River, finding traces of gold on the Oshetna River,
then called Goose Creek. In search of more productive grounds,
the expedition decided to leave the Tyone area and move on north-

Not far above the mouth of the Tyone, the Susitna forked into two
large streams. The party decided to split into two groups, one
led by Maclaren prospecting up the east fork of the river, and
the second, led by Monahan, following the west fork. The
Maclaren party was apparently unsuccessful in finding gold,
though their fate is obscure. On Coal, Butte, Gold, White,
Wickersham, and many other creeks the Monahan party found color;
but it was on a creek called "Galina," an anglicized version of
the Athapaskan name, that the miners made the big strike
(Moffitt, 1912:54).

On August 15, 1903, Monahan, Johnson, Clarkson, and Smith dis-
covered gold just below the mouth of a narrow rock wall canyon of
the Galina, in gravel only four feet down. Working 15 days, they
panned and sluiced 100 ounces of gold dust worth $1,100. To
commemorate their bonanza, the four named their claim on the
bedrock "Discovery" and named the stream Valdez Creek in honor of
their hometown. Returning to Valdez after the first freeze in
September, Monahan and his partners cashed in $1,800 worth of
coarse gold taken out during the summer (Daily Alaska Dispatch,
10/21/03; Alaska Prospector, 10/22/03; Cordova Daily Alaskan,

d a
Y,- //

A." ', ''7 /

// 1/'

snJ 0 0o0o Feet

(FROM ROSS 1933: PLATE 35)

ta ai-lnnII I ectr t a r

aBM N M* PriAwT

The next year 1904, the discovery party returned to Valdez Creek
by the same route over Valdez Glacier, this time with Bill Grogg,
a new partner (Moffit, 1910:70). They were soon followed by
scores of other miners eager to share the prospects. During this
rush in 1904, claims were staked all up and down Valdez Creek and
its tributaries (see Map 6). But the best placer deposits
extended from just below the 20-foot falls (see Plate 6) which
was later covered by millions of yards of hydraulic tailings, to
1,000 feet above the falls. On this part of the creek, where the
Monahan party staked claims at No. 1 Below, Discovery, No. 2
Below, No. 2 Above, and Tammany, the gravels proved to be pro-
ductive (Coffield, letter, 08/11/77). By summer's end most of
the other miners were disappointed. In some places the over-
burden was too deep, in some areas water was insufficient for
mining, and on claims on the north side of the creek no gold was
found. However, Monahan and his partners took out $30,000 worth
of gold that season. In the fall of 1904, trying to learn why
the gold in the creek bed declined at a particular point, as they
worked upstream, Monahan and his partners found that the filled
cut of an earlier canyon on the right limit of No. 2 Above, cut
transversely by the present creek canyon and contributing a high
concentration of gold to the creek below that source (see Figures
1 and 2).

With a Native as guide, most of the miners left Valdez Creek in
the autumn and returned to Valdez by way of the Gulkana River,
following part of an old Indian trail (which stretched from Broad
Pass to the Copper River) to its junction with the Valdez-Eagle
Military Trail. After this trip, they abandoned the difficult
Valdez Glacier route in favor of the Gulkana River trail route to
Valdez Creek (Moffit, 1912:54). Of the discovery party, only
Monahan and Smith remained at Valdez Creek until the winter,
continuing work on the Tammany bench claim at the right limit of
No. 2 Above. Monahan named his claim after Tammany Hall in New
York City as a tribute to the Democratic Party. That fall after
they found one particularly good pay streak, Monahan and Smith in
one five-day period extracted 118 ounces of gold worth $2,000
(Alaska Prospector, 02/01/05).

For the next three mining seasons (1905 to 1907) many miners
returned to Valdez Creek, but most were destined to leave the
country discouraged, as only the "Discovery claims" continued to
produce pay dirt (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 11/10/08). With the
exception of a minor setback in 1905 when a flood washed out a
dam costing $5,000, profits for the Monahan party increased
annually. As gold production from the gravel beds on the claims
below discovery began to diminish, Monahan and his partners
concentrated their efforts on the benches above, specifically the
No. 2 Above and Tammany claims, which yielded $10,000 in 1906.
Tunneling on Tammany began in earnest during the 1907 season. In
one month $15,000 was taken out, all from coarse gold assaying at
$17.60 per ounce in the Seattle land office (Valdez News,
03/02/06; Cordova Daily Alaskan, 11/10/08).

Valdez Creek District; 1908-1913

Vivid descriptions of conditions in Valdez Creek mining district
between 1908 and 1910 are provided by J. C. Murphy's "Pen
Pictures of Susitna Valley and Valdez Creek," a series of arti-
cles published in the November 1908 and October 1909 issues of
the Cordova Daily Alaskan, and by F. H. Moffit's field notes and
publications for the U. S. Geological Survey. Murphy wrote down
his personal impressions from journeys made during the summers of
1908 and 1909 from Cordova through the Susitna country, comment-
ing on the trails, flora and fauna, river navigation, forestry,
mining, agriculture, and development potential. Moffit made
studies of the mining operations in the Kotsina-Chitina, Chisto-
china, and Valdez Creek mining districts during the 1908, 1910,
and 1913 seasons. Of special importance are the maps, sketches,
and photographs made of Valdez Creek to illustrate his field
notes and reports. Both of these early sources provide detailed
descriptions of the various sled and packhorse trails leading to
Valdez Creek and of the living conditions in the camp, as well as
the annual production from specific claims, and the logistical
problems affecting the development of the mines.

Transportation Routes to Valdez Creek
Before 1917

From 1905 until the completion of the Alaska Railroad from Seward
to Cantwell in 1919 the principal routes for communication,
transportation, and freighting to the Valdez Creek district ran
north from the town of Valdez, extended northward on the Valdez-
Fairbanks military trail, then turned west from one of several
roadhouses: Gulkana, Meier's, Paxson's, or Yost's (see Map 1).
The main route followed the Gulkana, Maclaren, and Susitna rivers
from Gulkana Roadhouse at Mile 130 on the military trail.

Murphy described two variations of this route, one a summer trail
and the other a winter trail (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 11/09/08).
The summer trail extended up Bear Creek below Gulkana onto flat
country, then northwesterly for 135 miles to Valdez Creek. The
winter trail on the river ice followed the West Fork of the
Gulkana River northwesterly from Sourdough Roadhouse, then up Keg
Creek and down Portage Creek to the Maclaren River (named by
Monahan for the leader of the party that ascended the river in
1903). There the trail ran down the Maclaren to the Susitna
River and up the Susitna to Valdez Creek. Moffit (1911a:116)
recommended this Gulkana-Maclaren River route, especially for
hauling in supplies during the winter, when the smooth ice of the
rivers provided an excellent avenue for sledding. However, he
advised that the Gulkana-Maclaren River trail was difficult in
summer because of the terrain, which was largely wet and boggy
muskeg. Moffitt also indicated that prior to 1910 a few supplies
were brought in each year from Fairbanks by way of the Nenana
River and Broad Pass.

In 1908 a shorter trail from the Military Trail to Valdez Creek
was established from Paxson's Roadhouse (Moffit, 1909:157,158;
1912:20). This 65-mile overland route followed the foothills of
the Alaska Range past Coal Creek and across the Maclaren River at
its source just below the glacier. By 1913 the Paxson Trail had
replaced the Bear Creek-Gulkana route as the main summer trail to
Valdez Creek, and the latter was practically abandoned (Moffit,
1914:308). The shortest and easiest summer trail in use by 1910
was from Yost's Roadhouse (see Map 2) by way of Eureka Creek,
across the Maclaren River and from there by Roosevelt Lake to
Valdez Creek (Moffit, 1911a:116 and Plate VII; 1912:20).

After the Alaska Commercial Company established trading posts
about 1907 at the present site of Talkeetna and at the mouth of
Indian River, they secured contracts to ship in supplies via the
Susitna River route, from Susitna Station to the limit of naviga-
tion near Indian River. Because it proved too time consuming
this route was not used after 1909. The Alaska Commercial Com-
pany subsequently abandoned its trading posts in the headwaters
of Susitna River (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 07/09/09:3).

Moffit (1911b:167) states that:

"In 1908 a new route from the direction of the Cook
Inlet was established. A steamer paddled as far as
Indian River (when the water was high enough), and from
that point a ninety mile trail reached east to Valdez
Creek. From the steamer landing the trip took eleven
days with horses. This route was not popular because
by the time the supplies arrived at the mining site,
much of the short season had passed."

Coffield (letter, 08/11/77) recalls attempts to use this route
some time circa 1917, when small riverboats used in constructing
the Alaska Railroad plied the Susitna River:

One year they tried bringing in freight from Knik on
Cook Inlet, up the Susitna River on shallow draft river
boats, the BB1 and BB2 that supplied the Cache Creek
Mining Company (about 70 miles west of present Tal-
keetna). They got the freight to the head of naviga-
tion, about where the present railroad crosses the
Susitna, but the overland route from there was too
difficult and was abandoned.

A 39-mile cut-off route to Chitina from the military road near
Willow Creek, 10 miles below Copper Center was established in
1910. During the same year, the Copper River and Northwestern
Railway between Cordova and Chitina was completed (Cordova Daily
Alaskan, 11/19/10). Consequently, a new route to Valdez Creek
was established: by rail from Cordova to Chitina, then by road
to Gulkana, and from there up existing trails on the Gulkana-

Monahan's Office

okaka Claim
Noskaska Claim



* Shaft


Tent -' -' ~ G ate to Ditch

Whee ,'

a Cabin or Tent
* Claim Stake
* Shaft
- Ditch
--- Pipeline
Y Tunnel


* Camp

(Drawn from fieldnote maps, moffit 1910: 62-63)

Grogg Cabin

Ross' Cabin

* 2b


Maclaren rivers, a journey requiring eight to nine days (Chitina
Leader, 12/10/10; Moffit, 1912:19; Valdez Daily Prospector,
10/30/13:4). Taking advantage of the quicker railroad transpor-
tation to Chitina, mining operators on Valdez Creek began using
Cordova as a supply base. However, this did not eclipse the
status of Valdez, which continued to compete with Cordova in
supplying miners' needs because the Valdez route did not require
an added cash outlay for railroad freight charges.

A sled and packhorse trail from Meier's Roadhouse to Valdez Creek
was used by Moffit's party in 1913 in making a field reconnais-
sance of the Valdez Creek mining claims. Starting from the end
of the railroad at Chitina, Moffit and his crew followed the
cut-off route and the government road 124 miles north to Meier's
Roadhouse, where they turned westward. Crossing the Gulkana
River below Gulkana (Paxson) Lake, they ascended the Middle Fork
of the Gulkana, crossed the Tangle Lakes area, then followed the
usual route across the Maclaren River, down Coal Creek, and past
Roosevelt Lake to Valdez Creek (Moffit, 1915:11). The trail from
Meier's Roadhouse and another from Sourdough Roadhouse were the
primary routes for freighting in supplies and mushing out along
the Gulkana and Maclaren rivers. Over these trails the Valdez
Creek miners brought such things as mail, perishable groceries,
tools, and considerable bourbon (Coffield, letter, 08/11/77).

Valdez Creek Mining Settlement

The development of claims on Valdez Creek and its tributaries in
1904 established the first mining settlement in the district.
During its first decade, this settlement consisted of tents
scattered in seemingly haphazard clusters around various claims
and sluicing operations (see Map 4). One of the most popular
types of shelter was the tent-house of canvas stretched over a
skeleton frame of two by four studs and gable roof rafters. This
could easily be assembled or disassembled and when placed on
skids could be sledded in and out with supplies inside (see Plate
30). Valdez Creek was a placer mining camp where gold was washed
from gravel deposits in the creek bed and from benches or
terraces above the creek. The methods used were the most
primitive--panning, digging, sluicing and damming, all done with
hand tools and requiring hard labor and many man-hours of work.
The placer mining season was on the average only 90 days long.
With the coming of the first freeze most of the miners left
Valdez Creek to go to the coast, or "outside to the states."
However, a few of the miners, especially those owning productive
claims and interests with the discoverers, often remained at
Valdez Creek during the winter. Wintering over necessitated the
construction of some log cabins. There were no large buildings,
or large-scale mining operations at Valdez Creek on a permanent
basis until 1913. The Crary-Henderson collection of photographs
at the Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum (Plates 3-13)

gives vivid documentation of placer operations during the first
decade of mining on Valdez Creek.

Working the placer claims on Valdez Creek in 1908, were as many
as 120 men, of whom some 20, who were permanent residents, were
expected to remain during the winter (Moffit, 1909:160). Murphy
reported 72 men working at Valdez Creek in 1909, plus four
women--Mrs. John Gage, Mrs. Horace Wickersham, Mrs. Dolph Smith,
and Mrs. W. H. Merrit--who were assisting their husbands
(Cordova Daily Alaskan, 10/15/09). According to Moffit (1912:18)
20 to 25 whites were mining on Valdez Creek in 1910 and the same
number in 1913 (1914:308). This decrease in the annual mining
population between 1909 and 1913 reflected the concentration of
mining efforts on a few productive claims, especially the No. 2
Above and Tammany claims.

Normal work season for the miners extended from late May through
early October, and they worked every day the weather permitted.
The only holiday was the Fourth of July. Miners working for
wages earned $1.00 per hour, or $10.00 per day. This was three
times the normal wage for a day's labor in Seattle at that time
(Coffield, letter, 08/11/77). Board was reportedly excellent.
Garden vegetables were raised in the camp, and fish and game were
plentiful. Monahan paid about $3.00 a day just to feed each of
his workers. The high costs of labor, materials, and freight (50
cents to a dollar a pound), plus the remoteness of Valdez Creek
made it necessary for each mining operator to bring in with him
supplies for a full season. Horses were preferred to dogs for
transportation (see Plates 30 and 31) and apparently were more
economical. During the work season horses grazed on the creek
delta and river bank (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 11/09/08; Moffit,
1915:19). With the first freeze on Valdez Creek the grasses
became worthless as feed, so in the fall the horses were taken to
Copper Center for the winter, where there were abundant supplies
of hay (Coffield, letter, 08/11/77).

The Native Village on Valdez Creek

The reports written on the Valdez Creek mining district in this
period mention almost nothing about the Native village on the
south side of Valdez Creek, although a more or less permanent
village was established there soon after intensive mining activ-
ity began. According to Fred Moffit (1912:18) there was only one
Indian family with a permanent residence on Valdez Creek in 1911,
while others from Gulkana, Copper Center, and the Nenana River
area came in to "Galina" to set up their tents, hunt, and fish
during the summer. Clyde Ross mentions a "small Native settle-
ment" in his 1931 field trip report (1933:428), but gives no
names or descriptive details. From interviews with Henry Peters,
Ole Nickolai, Jake Tansy, Alice Norton, Tammany Nickolai, Bud
Carson, and Maggie Oliver in Cantwell, much information was

obtained about life at the Native village and the Natives' par-
ticipation in mining activities. These people once lived at
Denali or are descendents of past Native residents. According to
these informants, there was a permanent Native settlement of
about 50 inhabitants and probably a dozen log cabins at Valdez
Creek during the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s (see Plates 22-27).

The Native settlement was located on the south side of Valdez
Creek nearly a mile away from the main mining settlement, which
was on the north side above the canyon bluff (Map 4). The
Natives supplied the white miners with game, fish, and labor.
Fish dried by the Natives, including salmon, were probably a main
source of food for sled dogs during winter months, although the
nearest salmon streams to Valdez Creek were at the headwaters of
the Gulkana's West Fork. In a pocket notebook, L. S. Wickersham
noted (circa, 1916-1917) fish traps on the West Fork between Keg
Creek and the next downstream tributary from the west. These
traps may have supplied salmon used by the miners on Valdez
Creek, but probably weren't operated by the Valdez Creek Ahtna.

Dependent on game for fresh meat, the miners in the early years
traded tea, sugar, flour, tobacco, and clothing for moose, cari-
bou, and sheep meat (Moffit, 1912:67). Moffit (1911a:113) also
indicates that an Indian was employed by miners on Valdez Creek
to bring in their mail from Gulkana during the mining season.
Eventually, the Natives did some prospecting and mining on their
own (see Plate 8). Laurence Coffield of Tacoma, Washington, a
veteran miner from Valdez Creek, between 1928 and 1967, verifies
this description of the Native community. Coffield writes,
(letter, 08/11/77) the following about the Indians coming into
Valdez Creek when the mining settlement was established:

Then the Indians started moving into Valdez Creek from
Gulkana and Copper Center. There had been no Indians
near Denali. They brought their sleds and dog teams
and settled near the mouth of Valdez Creek where there
was plenty of timber for cabins and fuel. Some of the
Indians worked in the mines, but largely they hunted
moose and caribou. The women fished the backwaters of
the Susitna for white fish, mainly Valdez Creek for
grayling, and Roosevelt Lake for lake trout. All meat
and fish was 35 cents per pound at the mines. They
packed their dogs; an average malemute could carry 35
or 40 pounds. There were no game laws that anyone knew
of; game and fish were plentiful and very important to
the mining economy at that time.

Concerning social interaction between Indians and miners,
Coffield (letter, 08/17/77) mentioned the important role played
by Jennie Peters.

Some of the Natives that had moved into Denali spoke
English with some difficulty, but Jennie, who had a
cabin fairly close to the miners, was relatively well
educated and was sort of a liaison person. If they at
the mine wanted a Native to work, they'd ask Jennie, or
for more meat or fish. If one of the Natives was sick
or perhaps an accident, they'd send Jennie up for help.
Clark Duff, when he was there, was good at that; he
kept a good supply of drugs and first aid on hand.
Jennie had two children; her son, Henry Peters, who in
his late teens got a small but good enough placer mine
working in lower Valdez Creek close to their home, and
a daughter, Alice Norton [born October 13, 1914]. Buck
Norton, who was the cook at the mine, was her father,
and Alice sometimes went to Buck's cabin for dinner,
and he'd give her things to take home. Now, Henry
Peters once told me he'd never seen his father, but he
heard he was a good man.

Stickwan, Tyone, Nickolai, Peters, Tansy, Secondchief, Sinyon,
and Ewan were all family names among the Native community at
Valdez Creek. Early photographs of the village show groups of
Natives posing in front of cabins, often on special occasions
such as the Fourth of July, or potlatches (see Plate 23).
Although the Native and white communities were separated by
Valdez Creek, liaisons between certain Indian women and white men
developed. As already mentioned, Jennie Peters (see Plate 24)
had two children by miners. Her daughter, Alice Norton, when she
grew up, lived with John Carlson for eight years. Bud and Eric
Carlson were born from this bond. Alice later had a daughter,
Maggie, by Paddy McCafferty, a worker on the Alaska Railroad (see
Plate 49). Another Native girl, Annie Tyone, lived with Peter
Monahan. They had a daughter, Tammany (born in 1908), whom
Monahan named for Tammany Hall in New York, in honor of his
Democratic Party affiliations. Tammany grew up on Valdez Creek
and subsequently married Dan Nickolai (see Plate 28).

Productive Claims: 1908-1913

From the time of discovery in 1903 until 1908 the Valdez Creek
players produced $175,000; by 1910, this total rose to $275,000;
and by January 1913, it reached $300,000 (Moffit, 1912:54;
Valdez Weekly Miner, 06/01/13). Only a few of the claims staked
had contributed substantially to the total output. Many claims
that were staked were never developed. The main producers were
five creek claims Discovery, No. 1 Below, No. 2 Below, No. 2
Above, and No. 3 Above, and two bench claims Tammany bench and
the claim on the left limit of No. 1 Below (Moffit, 1912:58).
No. 1 Below and No. 2 Above were the richest creek claims. The
No. 2 Above claim alone yielded $30,000 in 1908. From 1903 to
1910 more than one third of the total gold production of Valdez

Creek came from the creek claims; consequently, much of the
gravel on these creek claims was exhausted within a few years,
and their yield was declining in 1909 and 1910 (Moffit, 1912:60).
The owners of these productive claims are listed in Fred Moffit's
field notes for 1910 (page 65). Discovery, No. 1 Below, No. 2
Below, and No. 2 Above claims belonged to the "Discovery Boys"--
Peter Monahan, John Johnson, James S. Smith, and J. C. Clarkson--
with Dan Kain, William Grogg, and R. P. Ferguson owning part
interest. No. 3 Above belonged to J. Clark Duff, and Tammany
bench claim to Monahan, Smith, and Johnson.

The Tammany bench claim on the buried channel became the richest
single claim on Valdez Creek. Monahan concentrated work on a
tunnel that traversed the bottom of the channel, taking out
$60,000 in 1908 and $35,000 in 1909. Refusing an offer of
$150,000 for Tammany bench claim and several adjoining claims,
Monahan continued to excavate the tunnel, reaching a length of
700 feet by August 1910 (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 11/10/08,
10/15/09; Moffit, 1912:60). The general course of the tunnel was
N. 15 degrees E., beginning on the north side of claim No. 2
Above at an elevation 60 feet above the creek bed and 110 feet
below the bench surface (see Plate 15, Map 4).

The tunnel followed the bottom of the old preglacial canyon, the
lower 5 to 6 feet of gravel being the richest. Unlike placer
gold deposits that were deeply frozen in areas farther north, the
deep placer gravels at Valdez Creek were unfrozen, even during
winter months. This enabled tunneling work to proceed during the
winter, but also made it more costly, as it was necessary to use
pumps in the shafts and to use thick post and beam timbers to
support the tunnel and transverse drifts (Moffit, 1912:61).
Light steel rails and mining cars were used to bring the gravel
out to sluice boxes which were partially fed by water issuing
from the tunnel (Coffield, letter, 08/11/77). During the winter
of 1910-1911 the "Discovery Boys," with Bill Smith and Charley
Claussen, remained at Valdez Creek to guard their property and to
drive tunnels in an effort to trace the pay channel, which had
changed direction (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 11/21/10; Fairbanks
Daily News Miner, 10/19/10). By the end of the 1912 season the
tunnel was excavated to a length of 1,200 feet. It averaged 25
feet in width and 7 feet in height (Chitina Leader, 07/14/14).
From 1903 to 1912, Monahan and associates grossed an estimated
$160,000 from the Tammany tunnel, and approximately $140,000 had
been taken from the other claims (Cordova Daily Alaskan,
11/25/13; 07/25/15).

In January 1913, the tunnel was abandoned and replaced by a large
hydraulic mining operation in the same area (Moffit, 1914:307).
Prior to the installation of this hydraulic operation at Tammany
bench claim, all profitable gold mining on Valdez Creek had been
done by hand methods panning, pickaxe, shovel, and wheelbarrow
to sluice boxes flooded by wing dams and ditches from the creek.

The large boulders in the gravels of the creek claims made the
work particularly difficult (Plates 4 and 5). Even so, by 1911,
most of the rich gravel in the original creek claims had been
worked out.

The first hydraulic mining machinery was introduced to Valdez
Creek in 1908 on a trial basis. Dan Kain and associates of the
Oregon and Susitna Mining Company installed a hydraulic set-up on
No. 1 and No. 2 Below which included a rubble elevator for dis-
posing of cobbles and boulders (Moffit, 1910:64) and two giants
fed by water brought through ditches and pipes from Timberline
Creek, one and a half miles above (Moffit, 1909:116; 1910:64). A
giant, or hydraulic monitor, is a swivel-mounted nozzle attached
to a stand and counterweighted so that one worker can direct the
vertical and lateral movements of the nozzle. E. Gagnon and Louie
Gorman were employed to operate the giants (Cordova Dail
Alaskan, 08/24/09). The hydraulic operation did not prove to be
profitable on this claim and was discontinued after 1909 (Moffit,
1912:60). Dan Kain also brought in. a 26-horsepower sawmill,
assembled on site at No. 1 Below by William Widstrom (see Map 4).
A dam (Plate 7) was built to divert water to the mill through a
ditch on the north side of Valdez Creek. A Ferguson drill, owned
by the Wickersham brothers, was operating at the creek in 1908
and 1909 (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 10/15/09). Because of transpor-
tation problems--the long distances, time, and tremendous
expense--heavy equipment was slow in coming to Valdez Creek.

Concurrent with the mining activity on lower Valdez Creek were
operations on its south side tributaries, Lucky Gulch and Rusty
Creek (Map 3). Through 1910 very little prospecting was done on
Roosevelt, White, and Timberline creeks; however, the efforts and
results on Lucky Gulch and Rusty Creek were highly rewarding for
the small parties of men working there (Moffit, 1912:56).

John E. Carlson of Cordova discovered gold on Lucky Gulch in
1904. By the end of the 1908 season he is said to have taken
approximately $40,000 from his claim (Cordova Daily Alaskan,
11/10/08). Located some 6 miles east of the main mining camp at
Tammany bench claim, Lucky Gulch was a narrow stream too steep
and deep for the accumulation of a large body of gravel. But it
was free of the large diorite boulders, a situation favorable to
"booming," or mining by means of controlled flooding regulated by
a dam with a gate, or "boomer" (Plate 14), that opened auto-
matically when the water level behind the dam reached a pre-
determined height (Moffit, 1912:64). By damming water to boom the
narrow gulch and flush away overlying deposits, it was easy to
expose the gold bearing gravels just above bedrock. Carlson
extracted many large coarse nuggets from the stream bed. In
1907, Carlson and his partner Tom Neely found a 52-ounce nugget
and in 1909 another worth $900. In 1910 the Gray brothers found
a nugget weighing 32 ounces which was worth $500. During the
1908 season Bill Smith, a miner working for Carlson and Neely,

discovered at the head of Lucky Gulch a quartz ledge measuring 10
feet across the face (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 12/04/08). Accord-
ing to Moffit's 1910 field notes (p. 65), Lucky Gulch that year
belonged to John E. Carlson in equal partnership with Dan Kain,
owner of the Alaska Central Hydraulic Company. Working for
Carlson and Kain in the gulch were John Gray, James Gray, and
Dean Officer. During 1912 Dan Kain sold his Lucky Gulch claims
to the Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company (Valdez Weekly Miner,

Around 1907, Warren H. Merrit set up camp at the mouth of Rusty
Creek and began booming operations there. A tributary of White
Creek, which flowed into Valdez Creek some 4 miles east of the
main camp, Rusty Creek (Map 3) presented much the same problems
as Lucky Gulch, both being narrow ravines with deeply embedded
channels. From 1908 to 1910 inclusive, Merrit directed work on a
cut several hundred feet long and in some places 25 feet deep in
the channel just above the mouth of the creek. In 1909, J. C.
Murphy (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 10/15/09) reported that Merrit
with Fred Hayness and other associates were striking gold using a
boom dam in the channel. Moffit (1910:65) mentions the names
Frank Swanson, James Wiley, Oberdorfer, and Knapp as miners work-
ing for Merrit on Rusty Creek.

The 1909 Gold Robbery

The newspaper (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 09/15/09 and 09/18/09)
reported a robbery which occurred on Valdez Creek on August 20,
1909. During the night $8,000 worth of gold was stolen from Dan
Kain's tent cabin, headquarters of the Oregon and Susitna Mining
Company. There was a general meeting of all the miners on Valdez
Creek 73 in total attended. By popular consent, J. C. Clarkson
became chairman of a six-man committee appointed to search every
miner's quarters and belongings and carry out an investigation.
However, the newspaper never published a conclusion to the inci-
dent, and according to Alice Norton (pers. comm.) the gold was
never found and no one was ever charged with the crime.

Decline of Gold Production: 1911-1913

From 1911 to 1913, with the exception of the Tammany tunnel, gold
production on Valdez Creek declined markedly. Many of the creek
gravels were depleted, and claims yielded less gold with each
succeeding season.

Some of the higher bench claims still contained sizeable amounts
of gold, but manual labor for working them came at a high cost
and absorbed most of the returns from those operations. Environ-
mental conditions had also changed. Large game had all but
disappeared from the area (Moffit, 1915:20), and hunters sup-

plying meat to the miners had to range into more distant hunting
grounds. Most of the useable timber in the immediate vicinity
had been cut for sluice boxes, tunnel "square set" supports,
flumes, log dams, buildings, and firewood. Timber had to be
transported from stands south of Valdez Creek that were a con-
siderable distance away, again increasing the operating costs.
Consequently, the annual influx of miners to the district
decreased until by 1911 only a score of dedicated miners and
claim owners were working at Valdez Creek (Moffit, 1912:66-68).

In his 1912 report (p. 66) Moffit suggested that future pro-
ductive mining on Valdez Creek would be best realized by hydrau-
lic operations on the Tammany bench. He pointed out that hydrau-
lic mining could succeed at low cost by making use of the creek
water to move the gravels and by dumping tailings into the creek
channel. Although Monahan and a few other miners were profiting
from their claims, the annual reinvestment necessary for sup-
plies, transportation, and seasonal workers denied them the
accumulation of capital to purchase sophisticated equipment for
hydraulic mining and to hire the personnel for its installation
and operation. Valdez Creek's remote location discouraged many
speculators from investing their money in the installation of
expensive equipment for large scale operations, although in 1909
Captain E. T. Barnette, a mining promoter and Fairbanks banker,
showed an interest in promoting large scale mining development on
Valdez Creek. He visualized an encouraging future if only Major
W. P. Richardson, then head of the Alaska Road Commission, would
build a road from Gulkana to Valdez Creek (Cordova Daily Alaskan,
11/03/09). J. C. Murphy also did not foresee the possibility of
any real mining development at Valdez Creek, or any place on the
entire Upper Susitna drainage, until fast and direct supply
routes were established from either Gulkana or Susitna station
(Cordova Daily Alaskan, 10/15/09).

Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company: 1913-1919

Outside interests were investing money in Valdez Creek claims as
early as 1906, when speculators from Seattle and St. Paul began
dealing in shares and claim assessments. In 1907 George Sias of
Boston purchased claims on Rusty Creek. In 1910 he formed an
association, the George W. Sias Syndicate of Boston, which pooled
the assets of several northeastern capitalists owning Alaskan
mining property. Representing the other investors, Sias made a
trip to Alaska in 1911. Accompanied by Mr. Forbes Rickard, a
mining expert from Denver, Colorado, Sias visited Valdez Creek
where he and Rickard inspected the Monahan tunnel on the Tammany
bench claim. Rickard estimated that the remaining gravels in the
Tammany claim were worth $.94 per cubic yard, which persuaded
Sias to invest large amounts of capital in the development of
hydraulic mining operations at Valdez Creek. Although there were
no direct roads to Valdez Creek and freighting costs were high,

George Sias decided to risk the investment of money for the
hydraulicking project on the gamble that the rich gravels of the
Tammany bench would yield profits of bonanza proportions. A
merger was made of the Boston claims, the Kain property on Lucky
Gulch and lower Valdez Creek, Tammany bench, and all the other
claims belonging to Monahan and his partners. This new organiza-
tion was called the Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company. It was an
express trust domiciled in Boston. George Sias was president of
the company, and he along with five other New England investors
were the trustees (Valdez Weekly Miner, 06/01/13:4).

Unable or unwilling to pool their financial resources for future
development, and choosing to save their profits rather than
reinvest in hydraulic operations, the claim-owning miners in the
company decided to sell their shares to the Boston trustees.
From January 1912 to January 1913 the Boston capitalists paid
Monahan and his partners, Dan Kain, and their Valdez investors
(Valdez Consolidated Mining Co.) some $150,000 in several
installments for their Valdez Creek claims and improvements
(Valdez Weekly Miner, 01/14/12). During the next four years the
trustees continued to buy claims and property on Valdez Creek; by
1916 they had acquired 5,000 acres of mining claims (Chitina
Leader, 02/24/16).

During 1912 and 1913 the Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company
freighted in tons of supplies and equipment to Valdez Creek
(Valdez Weekly Miner, 02/23/12:1; 06/10/13:1) to set up a hydrau-
lic operation. Many claims formerly worked were left idle during
this period pending the launching of the large-scale operation
(Moffit 1914:44). William Soule, an Alaskan who represented the
Boston company at Valdez Creek, began excavating a ditch for
hydraulic operations in April 1912 (Valdez Weekly Miner,
04/14/12). During the 1913 season the ditch was completed. It
was 14 miles long, and used 2,800 feet of pipe to feed water to a
hydraulic giant. With this facility, enough gravel was removed
from the Tammany channel to expose bare rock in the preglacial
canyon (Moffit, 1914: 308). Company assessment work was done on
Lucky Gulch in 1913, netting some $3,000. In November of 1913,
George Sias reported to The Cordova Daily Alaskan (11/25/13) that
clean-up of gravels during the summer averaged $1.59 per cubic
yard, and stated that his company's present operations were only
preparations for a larger development the following year.

The Valdez Creek Pipeline: 1914-1916

During the winter of 1914 the Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company
freighted 250 tons of building materials (including 100 tons of
sheet iron for pipe) from Cordova to Valdez Creek to build a new
pipeline. William Soule, now transportation manager for the
company, accompanied the shipment, all the way from Seattle to
Cordova by boat, to Chitina by rail, and to Valdez Creek via the

Gulkana-Maclaren rivers by horse drawn sleds. Fifty horses were
required for the sled train (Valdez Weekly Miner, 01/18/14,
05/23/15; Cordova Daily Alaskan, 01/22/14). On May 7th the last
of the supplies arrived, and George Sias directed 54 men in
building a 200-foot flume, a large penstock, and beginning the
construction of the new pipeline. Alfred H. Bryant, a hydraulic
mining expert who had come to Alaska in 1898 from New England and
had acquired 16 years of experience setting up hydraulic mining
operations on the Kenai Peninsula, was hired to supervise the
digging of a ditch 4 feet deep and 6,200 feet long and to design
and lay 4,000 feet of pipe. When it was completed, the pipeline
consisted of hand-rolled riveted segments of sheet metal pipe
that began with an intake 5 feet wide, and continued in 100-foot
lengths of 36, 30, 24, and 22 inch diameter pipe. Its function
was to bring water from upper Valdez Creek to a point above the
preglacial channel on Tammany claim. From there three branches
of 13-inch diameter pipe stretched to three points for posi-
tioning the giants (Chitina Leader, 07/14/14). The pipeline was
put into operation on August 27th, and when the water was turned
on, three 6-inch nozzles projected a 350-foot head of water
against the gravels of the Tammany cut. By the end of the year
the company had spent a total of $288,045 for the purchase of
bench claims, labor, and equipment (Cordova Daily Alaskan,
01/30/15; Chitina Leader, 02/02/15).

The following January 1915, the company brought in even more
sophisticated mining equipment. George Sias purchased and sent
to Alaska a Keystone drill and a complete Ingersoll-Rand air
compressor and drilling outfit. The steam-powered, self-
propelled Keystone drill was used for locating the old channel
and testing the ground of the Tammany channel beyond the farthest
point reached by Monahan's tunnel. This was relatively easy,
because on either side of the channel, bedrock lay written a few
feet of the bench surface (Moffit, 1911:121). The air com-
pressor, driven by 58-horsepower Pelton water wheels, operated
the Ingersoll-Rand jack hammer and three other drills used to
break up and dispose of boulders (Cordova Daily Alaskan,
01/30/15; Chitina Leader, 02/02/15). When hydraulic operations
recommended in May that year, the miners worked in day and night
shifts to take advantage of the almost total daylight of the
Alaskan summer and to profit as much as possible during a hydrau-
licking work season only 100 to 150 days long (Valdez Weekly
Miner, 05/23/15). William T. Soule and his wife; George Sias and
his brother N. P. Sias; A. H. Bryant; and Thorvald J. Anderson,
the Keystone drill expert, were all on site during the season
(Cordova Daily Alaskan, 02/06/15, 02/17/15, 05/29/15).

The next season Pierre Bourey, a hydraulic mining expert from La
Grange, California, came to supervise construction and installa-
tion of the operational system (Valdez Weekly Miner, 05/19/17).
From January through May 1916, another 400 tons o-f supplies were



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shipped to Valdez Creek at an expense of $125,000 (Chitina
Leader, 02/24/16). From June through August, Bourey, directing a
force of 55 men, accomplished the following:

1. Constructed a reservoir 77 feet below the pipeline penstock,
where water could be stored and turned out to wash away the
dump when necessary.
2. Replaced the 13-inch pipe with 18-inch and 15-inch pipe to
feed three newly installed No. 6 double-jointed, ball-
bearing giants.
3. Laid 3,000 pieces of 5-foot-long iron rail for riffles in
the flume.
4. Erected a 5-ton capacity guy derrick with a 70-foot mast and
an 85-foot boom for moving boulders.
5. Installed a hydroelectric generating plant that furnished
power for lighting and running the sawmill.
6. Devised an operational system of two sluices for a double
attack on the cut bank of the Tammany channel the derrick
and air drill clearing boulders from one side while the
water played on the other.

The season's construction efforts were reported in The Chitina
Leader (02/24/16); The Cordova Daily Times (09/25/16,~-5/28/18);
and The Valdez Weekfy Miner, (05719 T17).

After months of construction "dead work" the last 22 days of the
season were spent in hydraulicking. The clean-up netted only
$23,000 (Valdez Weekly Miner, 05/19/17).

The Company Mining Settlement: 1917-1918

"Best machine shops on the Alaska mainland at that time
(Coffield, letter, 08/11/77)

Although it was isolated hundreds of miles from civilization,
Valdez Creek now took on the appearance of a self-sufficient
mining community, complete with modern conveniences. By 1917 the
physical facilities had been expanded to include a two-story
company bunkhouse with beds for 24 men and a dining hall to seat
35, an "engineer's house" for the superintendent, a general
store, a cookhouse, and supervisor's quarters. There were numer-
ous workshops, barns, storage sheds, and also cabins that served
as individual dwellings. The hydroelectric generating plant,
located on the south side of Valdez Creek, furnished electricity
to the installations on the north side.

Photographs obtained from A. B. Smith of Delta Junction, Alaska,
show the Valdez Creek mining community as it appeared about
1917-1918 (Plates 16-20). The main plan of the settlement roughly
followed the course of Valdez Creek (see Maps 4 and 5), beginning
with the post office, which was also Leburn S. Wickersham's cabin
and extending east or upstream along a trail on the north side of

the creek for nearly 1 miles. Approximately three-fourths of a
mile east of the post office was the main concentration of com-
pany buildings centering around the two-story bunkhouse and
divided by an avenue leading east one-half mile to the super-
intendent's house. Several informants, including Henry Peters,
identified the functions of these buildings. The bunkhouse, or
hotel, served as living quarters and mess hall for the miners.
West of the bunkhouse were two more buildings, a cookhouse and
the office of T. J. Anderson, the Keystone drill expert. On the
north side of the bunkhouse, across the street, was a store, and
just west of this another building used as a carpentry shop and
at times as a morgue. Northeast of the bunkhouse and store was
the sawmill. Continuing east from the bunkhouse, the main avenue
led past various sheds and workshops where the company's mining
machinery and pipe were assembled and repaired.

The superintendent's house was probably the eastern limit of the
company's building complex, although there were other cabins
beyond this in the vicinity of the Tammany claim and farther up
the creek. The town complex was purposely located on the
Moskaska claim, which encompassed the high bluff underlain by
bedrock at a shallow depth. Keystone drilling there had indi-
cated negligible gold content (Pettyjohn, pers. comm.). Ramjet
pumps from the creek brought water to the company dwellings, and
electric wires suspended on tripod poles ran from the generating
plant across the creek to the north side and supplied the com-
munity with lighting and a local telephone system. Tripods con-
sisting of 3 poles tied together at their tops were used because
they could not blow over or fall even if they rotted at the base.
Considering the isolation of the community, it was an outstanding
accomplishment for the Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company to build
such a facility. Their large investment showed their hope for a
prolonged operation on Valdez Creek, based on the gamble that the
Tammany channel would yield millions.

Expansion of the hydraulic operation continued in 1917. During
that winter 150 tons of materials representing an investment of
$108,000 were freighted to Valdez Creek. Thirty men were
employed during the summer to construct some 2,000 feet of flume,
5 feet wide, with 40-pound iron rails laid in to act as riffles;
to complete a 10-acre reservoir 6 feet deep; to install a 58-
horsepower compressor, and to cut 5,000 feet of wood per day.
Hydraulicking operations that year grossed $130,000 (Cordova
Daily Times, 05/28/18, 08/05/18; Valdez Weekly Miner, 05/19/17).

By 1918 the newspapers were quoting George Sias to the effect
that the Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company had expended over
$1,000,000 on development work (Cordova Daily Times, 07/26/18).
When hydraulicking resumed on June 1 of that year, there were six
giants in action three No. 6 giants with 7 to 8 inch nozzles
and three No. 4 giants. Fourteen men were hired for cleanup
operations. Reports stated that the rich lower five inches of

gravel in the Tammany channel yielded $21.00 per cubic yard.
Geological experts predicted that the Tammany channel would be
productive for the next 20 years. After spending six years
freighting in enormous amounts of equipment at considerable cost
and after building one of the most sophisticated hydraulic mining
operations in Alaska, the company expected returns at an average
of at least $175,000 per year to offset past expenses and to
realize profits.

Decline of the Company: 1919-1921

Annual newspaper reports about the progress of the Valdez Creek
Placer Mines Company cease after 1918. In 1921, a new company is
mentioned, the McKinley Gold Placer Company, which took posses-
sion of the claims on Valdez Creek (Cordova Dail Times,
09/09/21). The reasons why the Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company
sold their property were never published, but can be surmised as

The dreams for a bonanza of profits from hydraulicking the
Tammany channel were apparently not realized soon enough for the
Boston trustees and other backers of the Valdez Creek Placer
Mines Company. Newspaper reports and company releases predicting
great returns could not alter the fact that the company was not
actually making large profits. The total gold production from
1913 through 1918 on Valdez Creek was only a fraction of the
total amount invested, and capital for annual resupply and labor
was not coming from seasonal earnings, but from private sources
and investors. George Sias and his associates had invested well
over $500,000 in mining development and construction on Valdez
Creek. After the initial construction period, 1913 to 1918, the
investors were expecting profits. When these were not forth-
coming, their willingness to continue funding the operations at
Valdez Creek ceased. From 1914 to 1920 there was a general
decline of gold production in Alaska. Many miners entered the
military service or returned to the states, where wages were
high; thus the labor pool declined. Wartime inflation also had a
serious impact on wages, and on costs of supplies and machinery.
Some supplies and machinery were simply not available, as fac-
tories were devoted to war products. However, the war demand for
copper made mining this ore more profitable. The fiscal climate
during the war years 1917 and 1918 did not encourage financiers
in the states to risk their fortunes on mining ventures in the
remote interior of the Territory of Alaska. At the end of the
war the demand for ores dropped suddenly, and there was a mining
depression in Alaska (Cordova Daily Times, 06/16/23). Lacking
the finances to continue operations, the Valdez Creek Placer
Mines Company relinquished its holdings to a new group of capi-
talists over the three year period from 1919 to 1921.

McKinley Gold Placer Company: 1919-1926

The McKinley Gold Placer Company was formed in 1919 after a party
of New York mining men sent a representative to Valdez Creek.
The New York company quietly bought some 200 claims, taking over
the claims, improvements, equipment, and operations of the
Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company (Cordova Daily Times, 09/09/21,
10/17/21). Undoubtedly, the New York capitalists were encouraged
to invest in the Valdez Creek venture by the knowledge that the
Alaska Railroad was being built through Broad Pass, 54 miles west
of the creek, and would offer a much better embarkation point for
freighting materials to Valdez Creek (Cordova Daily Times,
05/28/18). In 1919, John E. Carlson, a miner from Lucky Gulch
and local homesteader, and his friend, Jack West, built a store
and roadhouse at Cantwell, a whistle stop at mile 320 on the
railroad (see Plate 38). This was an excellent location for
supplying Valdez Creek, and the Carlson-West enterprise became
quite profitable. They sold provisions to miners, Natives, and
prospectors in the Valdez Creek district. Completion of the
Alaska Railroad in 1922 firmly established Cantwell as the supply
base for the McKinley Gold Placer Company. Equipment from out-
side was shipped to Seward, carried by rail to Cantwell, and then
by trail 65 miles to Valdez Creek--a much quicker and more
economical route than that from Cordova to Chitina and overland
250 miles by sled on the Gulkana, Maclaren, and Susitna rivers.
Carlson's store supplied the company at Valdez Creek throughout
the year--by pack horse in summer (see Plate 39) and by horse
sled or dog sled in winter (Cordova Daily Times, 09/09/21).

There were no hydraulicking operations on the Tammany channel in
1921 because the company was unable to bring in supplies due to
the poor condition of the packhorse trail from Cantwell to the
mines (Cordova Daily Times, 08/15/21).

In January 1922, a 400-ton freight-sled train pulled by 18 horses
departed Cantwell for Valdez Creek carrying explosives, feed, and
provisions. The company immediately began preparations for summer
operations and put men to work cutting and hauling logs for the
sawmill (Cordova Daily Times, 01/14/22, 03/08/22). The McKinley
Gold Placers Company, which also for a time carried the name
McKinley Placer Mines Company, continued hydraulic operations on
the Tammany channel until the spring of 1924, employing a maximum
of 50 men per season (Ross 1933:428).

Return of the Veterans

The advent of the railroad and its connection to Cantwell and the
mines rekindled interest in Valdez Creek. Many old-timers, who
had originally sold their claims to the Valdez Creek Placer Mines
Company, returned to Valdez Creek from "outside" where they had
spent most of their fortunes--probably in gambling, drinking, and

wasteful living (Coffield, letter, 08/17/77). In 1921, Peter
Monahan was on Valdez Creek doing assessment work for the McKin-
ley Gold Placer Company (Cordova Daily Times, 09/09/21). In 1922,
Monahan and Buck Norton brought in enough supplies to Valdez
Creek for a whole year of independent mining on the south tribu-
taries (Cordova Daily Times, 01/04/22, 03/08/22). Henry Peters
of Cantwell told us that when he was a boy he knew Peter Monahan,
and described him as a good miner, sometimes quick tempered,
especially after a bout with moonshine which he loved so much.
Monahan's daughter, Tammany, and her husband, Dan Nickolai, lived
out on the Susitna flats at the time. Peter occasionally visited
them and brought supplies from Cantwell (Coffield, letter,

Newcomers to the mines and to Cantwell who became prominent names
in the area's history were two former teamsters who had worked on
the Richardson Road, Lorne Campbell and J. M. Olsen, the latter
nicknamed "Laughing Ole." Both of these men brought their sleds
and dog teams to Cantwell, where they were given a contract by
John Carlson and the McKinley Placer Mines Company to freight
supplies and mail to Valdez Creek. Lorne Campbell also did some
independent prospecting on the bars above the Tammany channel and
had a trapline, kennel, and cabin on Willow Creek (Coffield,
letter, 08/17/77; Jack Herman, Henry Peters, pers. comm.).

The Denali Post Office

Leburn S. Wickersham was appointed postmaster for the post office
established at Valdez Creek on April 8, 1915. This post office,
housed in Wickersham's cabin (Plate 20) on the west bank of the
bend of lower Valdez Creek, was first called "McKinley," probably
because of its proximity to the great mountain. On August 4,
1922, it was renamed "Denali," derived from the Athapaskan name
for Mt. McKinley (see Plate 21). An earlier post office named
"McKinley" had also existed briefly at Valdez Creek in 1908 to
1909 (Ricks, 1965:16,40). Between 1903 and 1913 there was no
official U. S. Government mail service between Gulkana, at that
time the last post office south of the Alaska Range on the
Government road, and Valdez Creek. During the summer of 1910
miners received mail from Gulkana by an Indian messenger who was
paid by private subscription (Moffit, 1911:113; 1912:67). Mail
was also handled through delivery points such as Paxson's and
Yost's roadhouses on the military trail. A special mail route
between Paxson's Roadhouse and Valdez Creek was informally estab-
lished in 1913 by the Valdez Creek Placer Mines Company. How-
ever, this route did not receive recognition, subsidy, and use by
the U. S. Postal Service until 1915 (Valdez Daily Prospector,
07/08/14). Prior to 1918-1919 mail destined for Valdez Creek
from outside the territory was shipped to Valdez, then taken to
Gulkana or Paxson's on the first and fifteenth of the month, and
from there by sled or packhorse to "McKinley" post office. In

the late 1910s, the main post route became the Alaska Railroad
from Seward to Cantwell, and from Carlson's Roadhouse there to
Valdez Creek.

Denali Postmaster L. S. Wickersham, nicknamed "Wick" by his
fellow miners on Valdez Creek, had his own placer claims and camp
at the west end of Gold Hill, which lies between lower White
Creek and Black Creek (Coffield, letter, 08/22/77). He also
mined west of the Susitna on the creek that bears his name and
had a couple of cabins there. L. S. Wickersham, Lorne Campbell,
Buck Norton, and Peter Monahan were year-around residents at
Denali, staying the winters at Valdez Creek with their dog teams
and occasionally sledding into Cantwell for supplies. The Denali
post office continued until 1942 when Cantwell became the nearest
post office (Ricks, 1965:16).

Litigation of the McKinley Gold
Placer Company: 1924-1926

According to various reports the Valdez Creek players had pro-
duced around $500,000 worth of gold from 1903 to 1925, some
$350,000 to $400,000 of it coming from the Tammany channel.
However, only a small fraction taken from the Tammany claim was
produced by the McKinley Gold Placer Company, which during the
seasons 1922 through 1924 did not realize profits large enough to
defray costs. Infighting between two company engineers in charge
of hydraulicking operations hindered proper management. Labor
costs were high, and too much time and effort was required to
move the large diorite boulders which impeded processing of the
gold bearing gravels in the channel. Failing to make the opera-
tion pay, the McKinley Gold Placer Company, like its predecessor,
went broke and stopped operations in the spring of 1924
(Coffield, letter, 08/17/77).

During the period from 1924 to 1926 the holdings of the company
were in litigation. The company's central office had failed to
meet the payroll. The miners reacted by putting liens on the
claims and taking over operations on Valdez Creek. Records of
the Talkeetna Recording District (Book 11:118-136) list 13 miners
who filed liens in 1924 against the McKinley Gold Placer Company
claims for back wages. These included:

C. W. Norton Ben Thompson August Wicklund L. S.
Wickersham E. Munson W. Watson
John Dark Peter Boline Sidney Black
J. C. Crook Dan Ohman Wallace Fairfield
J. M. Olsen

In this period individual miners began working separate claims
obtained by lien and/or auction of the company holdings. Small
groups of miners also went together to form associations. Ac-

cording to Laurence Coffield (letter, 08/17/77), four miners -
John Carlson of Lucky Gulch, and lien holders John Johnson,
Wallace Fairfield (originally from Spokane, Washington), and Dan
Ohman (Washington), organized their own company and started to
tunnel on the Tammany channel. Later, these four set up a
hydraulic operation on the south side of Valdez Creek and worked
the high bench gravels opposite the Tammany cut. Working to-
gether in their own interests, these men remained the most suc-
cessful claim holders on Valdez Creek until World War II began.
Their efforts made the operations on the Tammany claim and the
south benches pay well.

The Carlson Era: 1926-1949

The years from 1926 through 1949 inclusive can be called "The
Carlson Era" of Valdez Creek history. During this time John
Carlson acquired, owned, sold, leased, and traded numerous claims
and mining interests on Valdez Creek and its tributaries. By
1927 he owned the largest part of the former McKinley Gold Placer
Company claims and eventually all of its buildings and equipment.
His mining enterprises in association with Wallace Fairfield, Dan
Ohman, John M. Johnson, Peter Bolene, and W. S. Horning made
record gold productions for the district in 1933, 1937, and 1938.

John Carlson was born in Sweden in 1886 and died in Seattle,
Washington in 1949. In 1904, he discovered gold on Lucky Gulch
and owned claims there until his death. He began to build a
supply center at Cantwell in 1919 when he knew the Alaska Rail-
road would go through Broad Pass, 50 miles west of Valdez Creek.
His outpost included a roadhouse which stood where the Cantwell
Cafe is today (Plate 38). Although involved in mining on Valdez
Creek, Carlson preferred the roles of claim proprietor and mer-
chant to the role of miner (Plate 50). He was able to obtain
numerous claims on Valdez Creek from miners who were indebted to
him for supplies from his store in Cantwell. During the years of
the McKinley Gold Placer Company litigation he acquired many of
the company's shares and also took over liens that others held
against the company in trade for cancellation of debts and obli-
gations owed him (Jack Herman, Ed Smith, pers. comm.). Carlson's
acquisitions were recorded in the Talkeetna Recording District,
examples of which are as follows:

September 17, 1926: By auction sale John E. Carlson
acquired the following claims formerly owned by the
McKinley Gold Placer Company: Discovery, No. 1 Above,
No. 2 Above, No. 1 Below, No. 2 Below; bench claims -
Folk, Golden Rule, No. 2 Cleopatra, Skylark; and creek
claims No. 3 and No. 4 Below (Book 12:181).

December 29, 1926: John Dark assigned his interest in
attached claims to John E. Carlson: No. 1 and No. 2

Below Discovery, Discovery, No. 1, No. 2, No. 11 Above
Discovery, and bench claims Joplin, Tammany, Jennie,
Cora, Bay Horse, Moskaska, Swedenburg, Montana, Bland,
Ingersoll, No. 11 Bench Claim (Book 12:254).

July 2, 1927: Sale by U. S. Marshall H. P-. Sullivan to
John E. Carlson of claims formerly owned by McKinley
Gold Placer Company: bench claims Jessie, Flora,
Idaho, Britton, Dellamar, No. 8 Bench Claim and creek
claim No. 12 Above Discovery (Book 12:256-257).

October 27, 1927: Agreement by Peter Bolene to assign
his interest in attached claims to John E. Carlson
(Book 12:280-281).

October 17, 1934: Quitclaim deed on lien attaching
claims by W. S. Horning to John E. Carlson (liens
originally held by J. C. Crook and Sidney Black against
McKinley Gold Placers Inc.) (Book 14:199).

The 1925 Rush

Concurrent with the litigation involving the McKinley Gold Placer
Company holdings, there was a lode strike and a small rush to
Valdez Creek when in July of 1925 Laughing Ole found a pay streak
of lode gold in the rimrock of Timberline Creek at its junction
with Valdez Creek (Cordova Daily Times, 07/27/25). Word of the
strike and rumor of a subterranean gold-bearing quartz vein on
the bench limits bordering the south side of Valdez Creek brought
a small rush of 40 to 50 miners to the tributaries, primarily
Timberline, White, Rusty, Lucky Gulch, Roosevelt, Eldorado, and
Surprise creeks. Reports of the miners and of claims involved in
the rush appeared in the Cordova Daily Times (09/17/25, 08/01/25,
06/08/26, 11/01/27). Monahan, Colligrossi, and Laughing Ole were
at the right limit of the Timberline benches in 1925 and 1926.
In 1927 Monahan worked claim No. 4 Above and Laughing Ole was
tunneling on No. 6 Above. In 1925, Stewart, Tronstadt, and
Stinnes worked the right limit benches of White Creek. John
Rumohr and the Wickersham brothers, Leburn and Horace, sluiced
the upper end of Lucky Gulch in 1925 and 1927. Bruno Agostino
and associates worked at Eldorado Creek in 1925 and on the Lucky
bench claim in 1926 and 1927 at the mouth of Roosevelt Creek,
leased from John Carlson. In 1925 B. B. Mozee, who was in charge
of the Bureau of Education reindeer project in the district,
staked five claims for himself. Lou Powless, World War I veteran
and former Chief of the Anchorage Police Department, made deep
cuts on his lode veins above Timberline and sent samples of the
ore to Anchorage for inspection by the businessmen who were
supporting his prospects (Coffield, letter, 08/29/77).

While the rushers flocked to the south tributaries to mine the
gold quartz lodes, a combination of lien holders continued to
work the players on lower Valdez Creek. John Carlson and his
associates continued to mine the Tammany channel by tunneling and
hydraulicking. According to the Cordova Daily Times (06/08/26,
10/01/27), the names of some of the lien holders working the
channel with Carlson were as follows: in 1926 Peter Bolene,
Sidney Black, Tom Maher, and John M. Johnson; in 1927 Bolene,
Black, Maher, Sam Langland, and Dan Ohman. In 1926 they dug a
ditch to bring water to the bench claims near the mouth of Valdez
Creek. During the following season (1927) a party of Indians
working Carlson's Folk bench claim on the south side of the creek
discovered good gold deposits there. Consequently, the hydraulic
equipment was moved to the south benches in 1928, and hydrualic
operations commenced.

After three summers of concentrated efforts on the tributary
lodes, the energy and enthusiasm which the lode discovery engen-
dered had died out. By 1928 there were only 12 men engaged in
productive mining work on Valdez Creek, including the few who had
realized any profits during the period between 1925 and 1927.
The Wickersham brothers on White Creek netted some $10,000 (Ross,
1933:453). Previous to their bonanza was the strike made there
in 1917 by C. W. Norton (Cordova Daily Times, 05/28/18). Laugh-
ing Ole's claim at Timberline did well. He continued to work the
tunnel at that location until 1928 when he, Clark Duff, and
Laurence Coffield took over Powless' claims. The largest amount
of gold was produced by Carlson and his associates who continued
to work the placer claims of the former McKinley Gold Placer
Company. Although dozens of rushers had found gold in quartz
viens, they returned empty-handed, unable to secure the financial
support needed to undertake drilling operations on lode claims.
The story of Lou Powless epitomizes the hard luck and sense of
failure that struck some miners in the Valdez Creek quartz lode
rush. After finding out that his gold samples assayed out at a
value considerably lower than what he had represented to his
financial supporters, he walked to the front of a funeral home in
Anchorage, pointed a revolver at his head, and committed suicide
(Coffield, letter, 08/29/77; Jake Tansy, pers. comm.).

In this period the one who profited above all others was John
Carlson. He did considerable business with all the miners on
Valdez Creek, selling them supplies from his store at Denali and
packing or freighting in materials for them from Cantwell. In
1929 summer travel between Cantwell and Valdez Creek was still
limited to a pack trail, but using a D-7 tractor to pull loaded
sleds over a winter trail (Plate 43), Carlson made trips to
Valdez Creek twice a month to sell supplies and to inspect his
claims. The miners paid him in gold for supplies and services
and he bought gold from them for cash. The gold he acquired was
sent to an Anchorage bank, which in turn sent it to the U. S.
Assay Office in Seattle (Coffield, letters, 08/29/77, 09/08/77).

In this manner Carlson ended up with an enormous share of the
returns from the gold mined on Valdez Creek, which he saved or
reinvested in his own enterprises.

The Cantwell-Denali Trail

When Carlson and several lien holders combined to develop their
claims on Valdez Creek, they petitioned the Alaska Road Commis-
sion to maintain the trail between Cantwell and Valdez Creek, to
build a proper all-season road connecting the railroad and the
mines, and to construct shelter cabins along the way as stopover
points for travelers. In March of 1926, Harry I. Staser, John
Carlson's mining associate, informed R. J. Sommers, the Terri-
torial Highway Engineer, and Governor George A. Parks that shel-
ter cabins were essential for the development of Valdez Creek
(Cordova Daily Times, 03/16/26:3). The Alaska Railroad had
worked on the trail -rom Carlson's Roadhouse to Denali when the
McKinley Gold Placer Company first began sledding supplies from
the railroad. However, the condition of the trail was far from
satisfactory. The 55 mile journey from Cantwell to Denali took
three days, and stopover points for the night usually abandoned
cabins left by old-timers from years past were not adequate for
sheltering teamsters, perishable supplies, horses, or dogs.
During the summer the pack trail extending from the railroad to
Valdez Creek went through bogs, and passage over the Susitna was
dependent on ferries, sometimes at prohibitive costs charged by
the ferry operators (Cordova Daily Times, 08/01/25, 09/06/29).
In order to facilitate the freighting in of supplies to their
claims on Valdez Creek the miners requested Engineer Spach of the
Alaska Road Commission to plan a road to Denali from the railroad
(Cordova Daily Times, 09/06/29).

Between 1927 and 1929 the Alaska Road Commission built at least
three shelter cabins along the trail from Cantwell to Denali at
points 20 miles, 30 miles (Brushkana Creek), and .43 miles from
Cantwell. These were log cabins built during the winter when
materials and labor could be sledded to the sites. According to
Jack Herman and Henry Peters, construction was supervised by Ben
Clary of the Alaska Road Commission who employed local workers.
Each cabin was built on the same plan, with 12 by 14 feet
interior dimensions, and each was furnished with bunks, an iron
stove, a saw, and an axe. It was required that every user
replenish the supply of firewood he had used (Coffield, letter,
08/17/77), Next to each cabin was built a log barn, 16 by 20
feet inside, for accommodating dogs or horses. The trail passed
right by the cabins, their location indicating the sled and
packhorse route used to freight supplies. From Cantwell the
trail led straight east along the south bank of the Nenana River
past the 20-mile cabin and parallel to the present Denali High-
way. At the point where the Nenana turns northeast the trail
continued east along the south bank of Brushkana Creek past the

30-mile cabin, crossing Brushkana Creek where it turns south, and
then extended due east to Valdez Creek across the muskeg of
Monahan Flat on which was located the 40-mile cabin (Map 2).
During the winter, dog sleds mushed on the smooth ice of the
Nenana River and Brushkana Creek before heading out over the snow
on the flats to Denali.

A brief description of the Cantwell-Denali packhorse trail is
given in field notes taken in 1931 by Clyde Ross, a geologist
with the USGS. Ross' field party made the packhorse journey in
three days (June 1914), spending the first night at Brushkana
cabin (mile 30). The party spent almost all of the third day
getting the pack train across the Susitna River. Evidently,
except for the shelter cabins, by 1931 no real improvements had
been made on the trail. A paragraph from Ross' 1933 report
(p. 29) attests to the continuing need for a road to Valdez

"The district is rather remote and inaccessible except
by way of the pack trail that leads from the Alaska
Railroad at Cantwell, so that many efforts have been
made to induce the Alaska Road Commission to construct
a suitable road into the district. Such a road would
doubtless be of service in opening up the country,
because at present the charges for freighting into the
district are almost prohibitive for all but the richer

During the early 1930s, the Alaska Road Commission made plans for
the road and, as a first step to its realization, built a bridge
across Brushkana Creek. Sources in Cantwell Henry Peters,
Alice Norton, Jack Herman, and Bud Carlson agree that the
Brushkana Creek bridge was erected between 1933 and 1935. The
Alaska Road Commission engineer on the project was Tom McCrae,
and crew boss Ben Clary was in charge of directing construction.
However, about the time the Brushkana Creek bridge was completed,
the road was rerouted on higher ground south of the Nenana River
to cross Brushkana Creek about three miles farther up its course.
Thus, the bridge was never used, but was abandoned upon comple-
tion with no road ever leading to or from it (Plate 81). The new
route surveyed did not become a road until construction of the
present Denali Highway was undertaken between 1951 and 1957.

Deaths of Monahan and Johnson

In 1929 and 1933 two of the original "discovery boys" met tragic
ends. Peter Monahan froze to death on the Susitna Flats in March
1929 (old city of Anchorage burial files, No. 183; researched by
Janet Nelson, Anchorage Engineering and Mapping Department).
According to popular story, Monahan was not feeling well and
tried to follow on foot behind Lorne Campbell, who was sledding
from Denali to Cantwell. Nine miles out on the flats, Monahan

collapsed. When Campbell reached the 40-mile shelter cabin
(about 12 miles west of Denali), he realized that Monahan was not
following. He backtracked and found the frozen body. Monahan
was an old man when he died, perhaps in his seventies. After his
death, the flats of the Upper Susitna were named after him.
Because of Monahan's prominence as the discoverer of gold on
Valdez Creek, a fraternal organization arranged to have his body
shipped to Anchorage for proper burial (Coffield, letter,
08/29/77; Ole Nickolai, Henry Peters, pers. comm.). The U. S.
Commissioner at Talkeetna asked Clark Duff to dispose of
Monahan's personal possessions, and Duff gave most of them to
Tammany. Dan and Tammany took what they wanted from Monahan's
cabin on Timberline Creek. Laurence Coffield appropriated
Monahan's gold rocker. Later, after returning from a trip out-
side to his hometown of Baxter Springs in Kansas, Clark Duff
occupied the Monahan cabin (Coffield, letter, 08/29/77).

John M. Johnson, who had an interest with Carlson's company in
the Big Placer Mine on the Folk claim, died October 26, 1933, in
a hospital in Seward as a result of a mining accident at Denali
in which he was struck in the back by a rock (Coffield, letter,
09/27/77). Johnson was born in Solna, Sweden, November 11, 1871,
and came to Alaska in 1898, perhaps to join the Yukon gold rush.
Although records show that he joined the Seattle Elks Lodge in
1911 and transferred his lodge membership to Anchorage in 1924,
his place of burial is unknown, though he was not buried on the
Elk's plot in Anchorage (Jim Rudolph, Anchorage Elks. Lodge, pers.

Other Miners on Valdez Creek

Some of the most informative sources for a social history of
Valdez Creek are the twelve letters written by Laurence H.
Coffield to the authors between August 8 and October 31, 1977.
From Tacoma, Washington, where he is retired, Laurence Coffield
related by letter his memories and experiences as a miner on
Valdez Creek from 1928 to 1942 and from 1946 to 1967. Laurence
Coffield prospected and mined on Timberline and Black creeks
during the Carlson era. After World War II he mined in partner-
ship with the Bott brothers. His stories provide a detailed
description of mining activity in the Valdez Creek district, the
methods and machinery used, the people he knew, and the prevail-
ing conditions there in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. His son, Truman
Coffield lives in Anchorage, Alaska. It was through Truman's
assistance that correspondence was established with his father.

Laurence Coffield came to Valdez Creek in 1928 from Talkeetna
where he had been mining. He went to work for John Carlson that
winter helping Laughing Ole freight supplies by dog sled between
Cantwell and Denali. Coffield and Laughing Ole spent two months
sledding tons of supplies and taking special care to protect the

perishables such as potatoes and eggs from freezing. The two
freighters would unload the perishable food and take them into
the shelter cabins each night, cover them with blankets, and set
them near the stove. Coffield (letter, 08/29/77) even related
his favorite recipe for working-dog mush, which he and Ole mixed
in a huge square kettle to feed their freight teams.

Working-Dog Mush = corn meal from Argentina + beef
tallow from Canada + broken rice from California + hard
smoked salmon from Native fish wheels at the Nenana.

After Lou Powless' death sometime during the first half of 1928
(Jake Tansy, pers. comm.), his claims on Timberline Creek were
open to refiling the following July. John Carlson informed
Coffield, Clark Duff, and Laughing Ole that the Anchorage busi-
nessmen who had sponsored Powless were no longer interested in
Timberline Creek. Heeding Carlson's advice, the three miners
relocated the claims. Coffield moved into Powless' tent house
and Clark Duff moved into Peter Monahan's cabin on Timberline
Creek. They began mining the gold quartz lodes on the Little
Caribou and Big Caribou veins which followed the contours of
shallow undulating ridges on a hill above Timberline. The three
mined the "Timberline Prospects," as their claims were called, by
digging a series of 10 feet deep pits to the quartz veins.
According to Coffield, some of these quartz veins were two feet
wide. After visiting Timberline Creek in 1931, Geologist Clyde
Ross (1933:461) commented on their work by stating that "this
development constitutes the greatest amount of underground work
on lode deposits anywhere in the area."

Coffield used only simple hand tools to mine the quartz lodes.
Mining in shallow permafrost, Coffield broke the quartz with pick
and bar and used a tablespoon to collect the loose and rough
gold. With a two gallon cast iron mortar and using a seven foot
thawing point as a pestle, he ground the gravel, ran it through a
screen into pails, and carried it to the nearest sluice box to
let water run through it. By this method he took out about one
ounce of gold each day (Coffield, letter, 09/08/77).

John Carlson bought the gold from Coffield, Laughing Ole, and
Clark Duff and paid them the standard price since they did not
know its assay value (Coffield, letter, 09/08/77). In addition
to his lode prospects on Timberline, Coffield also had claims
with the Wickersham brothers (Leburn and Horace) on Gold Hill,
and with Clark Duff on Rusty Hill. Located some two miles north
of Denali, the Rusty Hill lode claim was staked by Coffield and
J. Clark Duff on July 2, 1930. The hill was named for the rusty-
reddish color of its quartz, caused by oxidized iron sulphide
discoloration (Ross, 1931; 1933:461-464).

The Denali Airfield

During the summer of 1929, an Alaska Road Commission engineer
named Spach visited the Valdez Creek District for the purpose of
laying out an airfield at Denali (Cordova Daily Times,
09/06/29:5). According to Coffield (letter, 08/29/77), the
Federal Aviation Administration office in Anchorage was talking
with John Carlson at this time about constructing a landing strip
near the mines. They sent Carlson instructions and a windsock.
Using nitroglycerine explosive to remove rock outcroppings,
Carlson and Coffield leveled an area on the north side of Valdez
Creek approximately one mile northwest of the post office (see
Map 3). With a plow and a team of horses, Carlson driving and
Coffield holding, they turned and leveled the earth to create a
dirt runway. With the help of two other men, Carlson and
Coffield erected a "crate-like shelter" at the side of the land-
ing strip for freight and people in case of rain or snow.
Lastly, the windsock went up and the Denali airfield was com-
plete. The 1931 USGS report on the Valdez Creek district des-
cribes its location as "125 miles north of Anchorage" and "40
miles airline east of the Alaska Railroad."

The airfield brought Denali closer to Cantwell, to other parts of
Alaska, and to contact with potential investors in the mining
enterprises. John Carlson made good use of the Denali airfield.
According to Nome Stickwan (pers. comm.) every mining season
Carlson made his trips to Denali by airplane, flown by Cantwell
pilot Haakon Christiansen (Plate 46). By 1933 mail and supplies
from Cantwell were transported directly to Denali by air -
weather permitting (Swisher, letter, 07/06/33). The Alaska
Exploration and Mining Company which bought Coffield's claims on
Timberline Creek (circa 1932 or 1933) used a freight-carrier
airplane to bring in supplies for their operations in 1934. The
Alaska Exploration and Mining Company's manager, Fern Wagner,
supervised company operations on both Cache Creek and Valdez
Creek by airplane travel between the two sites (Coffield, letter,
09/08/77). Accessibility of Valdez Creek by air made communica-
tions and supply much faster. This was an important factor in
the record mining production there in 1932, 1933, 1937, and 1938.

Valdez Creek in the 1930s

The U. S. Geological Survey, in a reconnaissance of mineral
resources in the region bordering the Alaska Railroad sent a
field party to Valdez Creek during the summer of 1931. The
purpose of the USGS expedition was to reevaluate the mining
potential of the Valdez Creek mining district in relation to the
development potential provided by the Alaska Railroad. Headed by
Geologist Clyde P. Ross, the party left Cantwell on June 11,
1931, made the three-day pack train trip overland from Cantwell
to Valdez Creek, and stayed at Valdez Creek until July 17. Ross

took notes on the condition of the placer mines, their recent
production, and future potentials. His observations were pub-
lished in a report on the Valdez Creek mining district in 1933.
Ross noted that timber in the area had been depleted by cutting
for mining operations over the previous 28 years and that the
trees had been replaced by an abundance of willows. Timber had
to be taken from the creeks south of Valdez Creek, largely from
Butte Creek on the west side of the Susitna. Coffield (letter,
09/27/77), mentioned that there was a log cabin at the mouth of
Butte Creek for the loggers who cut timber during the winter and
dragged logs by horse over the river ice to Valdez Creek. Fif-
teen placer miners were at work on Valdez Creek that summer two
working on the Tammany tunnel, two on White Creek, and three on
Lucky Gulch, while between eight and ten men were engaged in
hydraulic operations on the benches (Ross, 1933:428; Smith,
P. S., 1933:29). Ross also mentioned that "a small Native
settlement" was located on Valdez Creek but gave no descriptive

No new discoveries had been made in Valdez Creek since 1925.
With the exception of some prospects on lode claims of the rush
years, work between 1925 and 1931 was basically a continuation of
mining on a few productive placer claims. The largest amount of
gold came from placer claims mined by John E. Carlson and his
associates the Tammany claim and the Folk bench claim (Smith,
P. S., 1933:29-30; Cordova Dail Times, 09/06/29). According to
Ross' 1931 field notes, Carlson s associates included Peter
Bolene, Wallace Fairfield, Dan Ohman, John M. Johnson, and W. M.
Horning. Laborers employed by the association included: Harold
Johnson, Christopher Norheim, C. M. Norton, and Stickwan Tyone.
At the time of the survey, the Tammany tunnel, started again in
1924 when the McKinley Gold Placer Company ceased hydraulicking
operations, had reached a length of 350 feet. Lateral exten-
sions, or "stopes," had been excavated along the tunnel, and the
gold yield in 1928 and 1930 equaled $4,168 (Ross, 1933:451). In
1928 hydraulic mining started on the Folk bench claim, a short
distance below the Tammany cut on the south side of Valdez Creek.
By July 31, 1931, approximately 100,000 cubic yards of earth had
been removed using the hydrualic equipment salvaged from the
defunct company. From 1928 to 1930 production on the Folk claim
totaled $57,000, averaging $.70 per cubic yard (Ross, 1933:451).

In concluding his report, Ross stated that the future of the
Valdez Creek district depended upon the development of the
players. Total production on the Valdez Creek claims from 1903
to 1930 was approximately $560,000, and there were large placer
areas which had not yet been tested. Ross suggested that a
systematic plan be implemented to test ground by sinking shafts
to bedrock. This would be the best method to find worthwhile
deposits and encourage capital investment. From 1931 until the
mines were closed in 1942 because of World War II, there were no
new discoveries or "strikes" of consequence on Valdez Creek.

This accounts for the lack of reports about the district in the
newspapers during that time. However, the USGS bulletins pub-
lished during those years gave a summary of each mining season
and estimates of production. Only four to five placer operations
were productive in that period and these were located on the
richest claims worked in the previous decades.

The largest amounts of gold were taken out by Carlson, Fairfield,
Ohman, and associates from the Folk bench claims and the Tammany
channel; the latter leased by Carlson to Fred Bucke and Gus
Sjoberg. Placer mining continued in a small way on Lucky Gulch,
White Creek, and Timberline Creek. Two new mining companies
entered the picture for a short period the Tunnel Mining Com-
pany, consisting of Carlson, Fairfield and associates, on the
Joplin bench claim during 1939-40; and the Alaska Exploration and
Mining Company on Timberline Creek. Ole Nickolai and several
Native associates mined and sluiced along the lower south side of
Valdez Creek.

By no means did gold production diminish at Valdez Creek in the
1930s. In 1933 it was apparent that "the quantity of gold
recovered was even more than recovered in 1932, which was the
largest amount that had been mined in the camp during any of the
preceding 10 years" (Smith, P. S., 1934:32).

Four years later, it was reported that:

"Both hydraulic and drift placer mining was carried on
at the different camps, and the output of gold from the
camp in 1937 was considerably more that it has been in
any of the recent preceding years, in fact, the value
of the placer production in 1937 appears to have been
greater than in any other year since the camp was dis-
covered in 1908 and was only a few thousand dollars
less than that of that boom year." (Smith, P. S.,

The production of gold in 1938 was somewhat more than in 1937
(Smith, P. S., 1939b:40). However, the output in 1939 and 1940
was somewhat less due to the lack of water during unusually dry
seasons (Smith, P. S., 1941:36; 1942:36).

The Folk Bench Claim: 1932-1942

In the 1930s the association of John E. Carlson, Wallace Fair-
field, and Dan Ohman continued hydraulicking operations on the
Folk bench claim which had been started in 1928. Located on the
south side of the creek, some 3,000 feet downstream from the
Tammany channel, the bench claim was found to contain fairly rich
deposits in 1927 when a group of Indians, who had leased the
claim from Carlson, opened the placer beds. Believing this to be

the downstream continuation of the preglacial Tammany channel,
Carlson and his associates built a pipeline incorporating an
inverted siphon across Valdez Creek to the claim and began
hydraulicking operations. Some six to eight men were hired each
season to work the machinery and to hoist, or drill and blast
boulders out of the way. By 1936 a large hydraulic cut had been
created (see Plate 93), the face of which was by then, about 400
feet away from the bank of Valdez Creek (Tuck, 1938:127).

The preglacial channel on the north side of Valdez Creek was
traced considerably north beyond the Tammany claim. Drift mining
on the Cora and Joplin bench claims commenced in 1938 (see
Map 6). During the winter of 1938-1939, Fairfield and his asso-
ciates, known as the Tunnel Mining Company, completed a 180 feet
deep vertical shaft through the overlying channel fill to reach
the pay gravels (Smith, P. S., 1941:36). During the seasons of
1940, 1941, and 1942, hydraulicking on the Folk bench and drift-
ing on the Joplin bench were continued (Smith, P. S., 1942:36).

Fred Bucke and the Tammany Channel Shafts

John Carlson and his associates leased the Tammany channel claims
to Fred Bucke and Gus Sjoberg, who were reported working there in
Ross' 1931 field notes. This five year lease, dated 1931, and a
two year renewal in 1936, is recorded in the Talkeetna Mining
Records as follows:

1931 Five year mining lease of Moskaska and Tammany
claims owned by Carlson, Fairfield, Horning, Ohman,
Johnson, and Mahers to Fred Bucke and Gus Sjoberg (Book
14, p. 225).

1936 Two year mining lease of Moskaska and Tammany
claims by Carlson, Fairfield, Horning, Ohman, and
Johnson to Fred Bucke (Book 15, p. 80).

Bucke and his partner Gus Sjoberg, who was later killed by a
cave-in (Coffield, letter, 08/29/77), started sinking shafts at
intervals along the projected route of the buried channel but did
not stope too far laterally due to the difficulty of holding up
130 feet of gravel overhead. By the end of 1934, Bucke, Sjoberg,
and a half dozen miners had completed a shaft 140 feet deep from
which they had done considerable drifting and sluicing (Smith,
P. S., 1936:34). Using a water wheel tapped to a hydraulic
pipeline for power, they hoisted gravel from the shaft and then
sluiced it on the surface (Coffield, letter, 09/09/77). USGS
geologist, Ralph Tuck (1938:125-126) gives an excellent descrip-
tion of the Bucke tunnel operations:

"A vertical shaft 145 feet deep reaches the face of the
old underground workings at the bottom of the channel.

From the bottom of this shaft a drift has been driven
as near as possible to and along the middle of the
channel. Short crosscuts are made at right angles to
the drift, for the channel has an average width of only
about 25 feet. All the ground to a height of six feet
above the slate bedrock is mined and is carefully
timbered with square sets."

"The mined gravel is trammed to the shaft and hoisted
to the surface, where it is dumped directly into sluice
boxes, which are built at a considerable elevation
above the surface so as to provide room for the dis-
charge of the tailings. Hoisting is done by means of a
water wheel, and water for both hoisting and sluicing
is obtained by a pipeline and ditch which has its
intake in Valdez Creek above the canyon. The old drift
down the channel from the bottom of the shaft to the
face of the open hydraulic cut is kept open for drain-
age, ventilation, and as a safety exit. Ventilation
from the shaft up the channel to the underground
working face is maintained by a water-driven blower

Laurence Coffield worked in Fred Bucke's operation for two
months. His descriptions of the shaft and drifts concur with
that given by Tuck. Fred Bucke died of a stroke while on vaca-
tion with his wife at Long Beach, California. This was probably
during the winter of 1938, since the USGS articles on Valdez
Creek do not mention him after 1937. Mrs. Bucke returned to
Alaska, disposed of their belongings, then left Alaska (Coffield,
letter, 09/08/77).

Lucky Gulch in the 1930s

At the same time that Fred Bucke began drifting on the Tammany
channel, John Carlson leased Lucky Gulch to three experienced
miners the McDonald brothers, Patrick and Bill, and a Latvian
immigrant, John Babel (Ross, 1931; Smith, P. S., 1939a:42;
Coffield, letter, 08/29/77). The three built a stone house with
walls two feet thick for winter quarters and operated a shallow
placer operation with a "boomer," or automatic headgate, on the
Discovery claim at Lucky Gulch. In addition to their booming
they began digging tunnels and shafts at the confluence of Lucky
Gulch and Valdez Creek. During winter drifting operations a
cave-in killed Pat McDonald (1873-1935). The accident occurred
because of weak timbers used as square sets in the drift (Jack
Herman, 07/09/77), perhaps a result of the scarcity of good
timber in the vicinity at this time. Babel and the remaining
McDonald brother, Bill, buried their partner in the Denali
Cemetery above the post office. They continued prospecting on
Lucky Gulch until 1942, when the mines closed, and then both men

moved to southern California. According to Jack Herman, a
veteran miner from Valdez Creek who now resides in Cantwell, the
last he heard John Babel was still alive living in Riverside,
California, and was about 94 years old.

The Alaska Exploration and Mining Company

Continuing his trading and speculation in mining claims, John
Carlson bought the interests of Clark Duff and Laughing Ole on
Timberline Creek in 1932 or 1933. Carlson then combined his
holdings with those of Coffield 1/3 for Carlson and 2/3 for
Coffield. Fern Wagner of the Alaska Exploration and Mining
Company bought some Timberline ore samples from Coffield. En-
couraged by the assay value, Fern Wagner offered Coffield $35,000
in payments over a number of years for his share. of Timberline
Creek. Coffield had been told at the Alaska Road Commission
Office in Anchorage that if lode mining operations became estab-
lished at Valdez Creek, they expected to build a road from Cant-
well to Denali with a bridge across the Susitna River. Anxious
to see the Commission's promises fulfilled and transportation
improved to Valdez Creek, Coffield decided to accept Fern
Wagner's offer and allow the company to begin intensive pros-
pecting for lodes on Timberline as soon as possible. Carlson,
thinking Coffield had sold too cheaply, decided to lease his
share to the company for a third of the annual net profits.

The Alaska Exploration and Mining Company was a stock company
formed by businessmen from Pullman, Washington, and Lewiston,
Idaho, who already had a rich placer operation in the Cache Creek
mining district. It paid its crew half their monthly wages in
cash and half in company stock. Coffield signed up to work for
the company during the first season to assist in the transporta-
tion of supplies and in construction of a permanent base camp.
The exploits of the company during that year (1933 or 1934) are
well documented in Laurence Coffield's letters. Before breakup,
the Alaska Exploration and Mining Company brought several mine
cars and tons of camp equipment from Cantwell to Valdez Creek
with Coffield acting as guide for the supply train. On the way,
a bulldozer was lost through the ice of the Nenana River. Bor-
rowing another dozer from McKinley Park, they pulled it out and
found it still serviceable. To avoid further vehicle mishaps, the
company acquired a Cletrac dozer from Anchorage with 32-inch wide
treads, designed principally for travelling over snow and ice.
With it they were able to get the last of the freight across the
frozen surface of the Susitna River just before spring breakup.
The crew set up temporary camp on Fourth of July Creek in snow
five feet deep and so soft and wet that snowshoes were of little
use. That year a bridge was built across Valdez Creek to connect
the airfield on the north side with Timberline Creek, but it was
destroyed by an ice jam sometime during World War II. After the
spring thaw, a permanent camp was established on Timberline

Creek. During the summer, the company airplane, a passenger and
freight carrier piloted by Ray Dickinson of Lewiston, Idaho, made
285 trips between Cantwell and Denali, bringing in 60 tons of
supplies which included gasoline in 10-gallon wooden cases, and
dynamite (Cordova Daily Times, 08/28/34; Coffield, letters,
09/08/77, 09/13/77).

With the commencement of mining work, the Alaska Exploration and
Mining Company employed 18 men who used water-line drills to
tunnel into the side of the hill above Timberline to tap the Big
Caribou and Little Caribou veins. The tunnel reached a length of
60 feet and a depth of 250 feet before they found a gold-bearing
quartz vein five feet wide. Under the direction of Frederickson,
the mining engineer, a 15-ton Marcy ball mill was installed to
process the ore (Cordova Daily Times 08/28/34:4), which did not
assay out at any greater value t-han what Coffield had found
earlier while prospecting on his own. Building a crude road by
hand labor (there were no bulldozers in Valdez Creek at that
time) up to Coffield's old pits, they began to mine the vein at
that point and earned money. Coffield prospected Timberline with
Frederickson for two weeks, finding, parallel to the vein being
worked by the company, a gold-bearing vein which assayed at $35
per ton. The company never took their advice to excavate this
lode. Prospecting Black Creek for the company, Coffield set up
his own lode claim, tent, and sluice box. The quartz vein along
Black Creek yielded nuggets worth $20. Fern Wagner, the company
manager, caught pneumonia while visiting the company placer mine
west of Talkeetna and died in this period. Dr. McCoy, who was
acting as secretary and treasurer of the company, a professor
from Pullman, Washington, took his place and managed affairs at
Valdez Creek (Coffield, letter, 09/13/77).

The 1937 USGS Summary (Smith, P. S., 1939a:42) reports that the
Alaska Exploration and Mining Company had recovered placer gold
on White Creek. The 1938 and 1939 USGS Summaries (Smith, P. S.,
1939b:40; 1941:36) state that there was no lode mining those
years, although there was activity by "one outfit" on White
Creek. One may assume then that the company moved operations
from Timberline to White Creek and changed from lode (quartz
vein) to placer mining. The 1940 USGS Summary (Smith, 1942:36)
reports the following:

"Toward the end of the season it was announced that
arrangements had been made to lease an extensive tract
on White Creek to one of the successful miners in the
Fairview area of the Yentna district, who planned to
mine it intensively during 1941."

Since the Alaska Exploration and Mining Company owned placer
mines at Cache Creek, 18 miles northeast of Fairview Mountain and
35 miles northwest of Talkeetna, one can conjecture that this
statement described the company's plans to expand operations on
White Creek.

Native Mining at Valdez Creek

As was the case in all areas of Alaska during the gold rush era,
the Natives in the Valdez Creek district were drawn increasingly
into the activities revolving around mining and to a limited
extent into the gold mining itself. However, the material
written about Valdez Creek provides little information about
their involvement in mining, possibly because the Natives were
never in a position to organize and finance large-scale mining
operations that would have received attention. It is also
apparent that the Natives did not labor for the accumulation of
wealth as an end in itself. Whether working for wages, or mining
on their own, it was simply another means of subsistence to
them along with hunting, fishing, and trapping. The money
obtained served to buy necessary supplies in Cantwell (Nome
Stickwan, pers. comm.). Their attitude was undoubtedly exasper-
ating to the white miners on occasion, as is evident in Moffit's
1915 report on the mining district (p. 22):

"Some of the younger men (Indians) are employed by the
miners on Valdez Creek for different kinds of work and
are found to do fairly well except in the matter of
attendance. It often happens that they are absent when
most needed, even after they have promised faithfully
to be on hand. Experience has taught the miners that
Indians will not work contentedly unless they are given
occasional opportunities to spend a day or two in
hunting or fishing. Some of the younger men are
inclined to gamble away their wages or to avoid work in
the hunting season, feeling that inasmuch as most of
the money they earn goes into the general family fund
rather than into their own pockets, they receive no
particular benefit from it. The older men are less
disposed to work, a thing they have never been trained
to do, but are more careful with the money they
receive. They have been allowed to take what gold they
can get by panning on certain of the Valdez Creek
claims and obtain a considerable amount of the white
man's supplies with the proceeds."

The Natives quickly learned mining techniques while working for
the white miners. They were hired to work in all aspects of the
mining, including placering, tunneling and hydraulicking. It is
evident, however, that few Natives ever owned mining claims on
Valdez Creek. Most of the creek was probably already staked by
white miners before the Indians learned enough about gold mining
to understand that aspect of private ownership. Leasing claims,
or working them on a share basis were probably the only alterna-
tives remaining beside working for wages. In 1927, the Natives
who had worked in the mining were sufficiently capable of mining
independently to lease the Folk bench claim from John Carlson.
Though they discovered the rich gravel there that was a continua-

tion of the preglacial channel found on the Tammany claim, white
miners took over operations on the Folk claim the following year
and the Indian discoverers benefitted little from their strike.

For whatever reasons, the Natives continued to play fairly much
the same role in the mining on Valdez Creek. The Cordova Daily
Times (09/06/29:5) mentions a group of Natives mining on the
creek in 1929:

"There also has been some work done this summer by
Indians, a small group of them having taken out enough
gold to meet their requirements after which they sus-
pended work and moved over to the railroad. They will
resume their mining when they find themselves in need
of more money."

In his 1931 field notes Ross lists Stickwan Tyone as a paid
laborer working for the Valdez Creek shareholders, and several
other Natives as helping with the horses Dan Nickolai (fore-
man), Pete Tyone, Frank Thompson, Henry Peters, and Bill
Nickolai. USGS Summaries (Smith, 1936:34; 1934:37) mention Ole
Nickolai and four associates mining on lower Valdez Creek by hand
methods. In 1936 there were two Native groups working indepen-
dently during the summer: one near the Tammany channel next to
Lorne Campbell's claim, and another party of three working the
south side of the Folk claim while Dan Ohman, Wallace Fairfield,
and six others did hydraulicking on the north side (Tuck, 1938:
125). In 1939 USGS (Smith, 1941:36) reported:

"It may be of interest to note that mining on one of
the claims in this district was carried on successfully
by several Native Indians, who have shown a real apti-
tude for the work and have made a good living through
their efforts in recovering placer gold."

Three Natives who mined on Valdez Creek during the 1920s and
1930s now reside in Cantwell. Henry Peters, born April 6, 1912,
at Valdez Creek, said he was paid $1.00 per hour when he worked
the mines in 1935 (pers. comm.). Later, Peters had his own
claim on Dry Creek but gave that up to go to work for the Alaska
Railroad. According to Peters, the price of gold in the 1930s
was between $15.00 and $20.00 per ounce. Jake Tansy, born in
1906 at Valdez Creek, worked at the mines from 1935 to 1941
(pers. comm.). Ole Nickolai, born at Valdez Creek in 1898,
started mining there in 1921, working 12 hours per day at $.60
per hour. With several Native associates, Ole often did indepen-
dent placer mining along Valdez Creek (Plate 8). Ole worked on
hydraulicking operations with Joe Polken in the 1920s and was a
witness to the mining accident which took Polken's life (pers.

Although the Natives appeared never to have gotten "gold fever"
from the white miners who worked Valdez Crek, they contributed
much to the mining operations in the district in the era before
World War II. Continuing to live as a community of their own in
the area of the "Siwash Camp" (see Map 4), the Ahtna who came to
Valdez Creek performed much of the hard day-to-day labor in the
mining operations. In this period they learned a great deal
about the white man's ways and became increasingly dependent on
the new economic system. Within 30 years, approximately a single
generation, many had abandoned much of a traditional lifeway to
which they would never return. They had changed, and the region
had changed as well. Large game animal herds had been decimated;
a road, a railroad, and numerous trails had been built, criss-
crossing the region; permanent settlements had sprung up and air
transportation had brought the outside world even closer.


Mining in the Valdez Creek district undoubtedly stimulated cer-
tain other activities in the region beside those related to gold
mining. Transportation development in the region clearly
received a significant impetus from mining, and the development
of access trails, the Richardson Road, and the Alaska Railroad,
were noteworthy occurrences. But besides trade and commerce
connected with mining, few new enterprises were stimulated in the
region during the historic period.

The Valdez-Fairbanks Military Trail

By 1908, the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, already an established
winter post route, was adequately improved for four-horse sleds,
and in some stretches, for wagons. The Orr Stage Line and the
Dan T. Kennedy Stage Service were already established businesses,
running sleds in the winter and wagons in the summer on the road.
Stages usually covered the 364 miles between Valdez and Fairbanks
in eight days. Further improvements to upgrade the route to
wagon road standard began in 1909, but engineering problems and
lack of funding prevented completion of the project until 1917.
Although automobiles were in use on the Valdez-Fairbanks Road in
1913, it was not until 1921 that the road, renamed the Richardson
Road in honor of Major W. P. Richardson, first president of the
Alaska Road Commission, was suitable for automobile traffic
(Smith, M. E., 1974:19).

The Valdez-Fairbanks Trail completely eclipsed the Susitna-Broad
Pass route to the interior until completion of the Alaska Rail-
road in 1923. Along with the Chitina Branch, which connected
with the Copper River and Northwestern Railway.

Roadhouses and Routes to Valdez Creek

Life along the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail and branch trails to Valdez
Creek reflects much of interior Alaska's transportation history.
Roadhouses mushroomed in the wilderness along the route, with as
many as 40 once providing services to travelers. A roadhouse, as
defined in the publication Alaska's Historic Roadhouses (Smith,
M. E., 1974:5) is "...a building or group of buildings in which
the owner or employee actively provided food and shelter for
travelers along Alaska's transportation routes for a charge."
Former roadhouse operator Nelson McCrary (1965:23) added that
roadhouses were individually owned, and usually operated by
married couples. If affordable, dishwashers, cooks, and stable
hands were employed. The roadhouses and their operators were at

the mercy of Alaska's historic cycles of boom and bust, as
traffic ebbed and flowed in correlation to the economic health of
the times. This was reflected in the short life span of numerous
roadhouses along the Valdez to Fairbanks route. Nevertheless,
they played a crucial role in providing essentials to the
travelers on the major access route to Alaska's rugged interior.
Most travel to the interior and to mining camps like Valdez Creek
was done during the winter, often under severe hardships. A
roadhouse was a welcome, often life-saving sight. Yost's Road-
house at Mile 208 on the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail was a good
example. Winter storms were so frequent and fierce in the area
that some people died within sight of the roadhouse. According
to McCrary (1965:45), a small cemetery grew up not far from the
place. The Alaska Road Commission built a strong wire fence
across the river there to prevent travelers on the frozen river
from accidently bypassing the roadhouse during storms. At times
snow drifts completely covered the roadhouse (Plate 37).

Along with providing accommodations for travelers, the roadhouses
offered traditional homespun Alaskan hospitality. "Most proprie-
tors were aware of their important function and were usually
generous, open-hearted people. Whether this was the result of
business necessity, their individual personalities, or the fron-
tier spirit is left to historical debate" (Smith, M. E., 1974:6).
One personable proprietor was the owner of Poplar Grove Roadhouse
at Mile 140 on the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. He never advertised
his home as a roadhouse, but gladly accommodated travelers for
the night (Smith, M. E., 1974:20). J. C. Murphy (Cordova Daily
Alaskan, 11/05/08) on a trip to Valdez Creek in 1908 described
the Blix Roadhouse in Copper Center as "equal to many a more
pretentious hotel in the states," and spoke of the hospitality at
Gulkana Roadhouse as "the most sincere." If the present proprie-
tor of the Sourdough Roadhouse at Mile 148 on the Richardson
Highway (the only original roadhouse still in operation on the
Richardson) is any indication of the early roadhouse operators,
then they were a sincere and personable lot. Bud Laueson, con-
genial owner of Sourdough Roadhouse, has perpetuated much of the
roadhouse's original features and old-time flavor. Sourdough
pancakes and frontier hospitality are trademarks of this historic

As basic and down-home as their frontier hospitality was the
decor of the early roadhouses: "Early roadhouses were of log
construction, chinked with moss or mud. Some had log roofs with
sod on top, others whip-sawed lumber roofs and sometimes a wooden
floor, but often not. Most were small, the only rooms being a
large living-dining-sleeping room with an adjoining small
kitchen. Larger roadhouses had additional rooms and amenities
like separate sleeping quarters for women. If such quarters were
not provided the proprietor would simply partition the sleeping
area with blankets. Beds were usually bunks built of spruce
poles in tiers of two to four" (Smith, M. E., 1974:5-6).

Blix Roadhouse. The Blix Roadhouse in Copper Center was a stra-
tegic roadhouse on the freighting route between Valdez and Valdez
Creek. It was well known, as Copper Center was a major out-
fitting point for prospectors heading to the interior. According
to Mendenhall (1905:117), Blix was also a prospector and was
credited with discovering gold on Rainy Creek in July 1900.

Noted as the first white town in the interior, Copper Center in
1898 boasted seventy-five tents, several log cabins, a few
caches, the roadhouse, and a post office. That winter 300 pros-
pectors made Copper Center their home (Colby, 1939:247). Peter
Monahan of Valdez Creek probably wintered in Copper Center on
occasion, as Jim McKinley recalls having seen Monahan in the area
(pers. comm.).

Gulkana Roadhouse. Equally important as Blix's Roadhouse and
just as heavily used by travelers to the interior was Gulkana
Roadhouse located near the junction of the Valdez-Fairbanks and
Valdez-Eagle Military Trails (Map 1). Gulkana began in 1903 when
the U. S. Army Signal Corps established there one of its numerous
telegraph stations along the Valdez-Eagle Trail. Old-timer Jim
McKinley of Copper Center recalls (pers. comm.) that the first
Gulkana Roadhouse (built circa 1903-04), the small unpretentious
one-story structure shown in Plate 32, was torn down in the
twenties to make way for a three-story establishment that was, at
that time, one of the largest and best-equipped roadhouses on the
Valdez Trail (Plate 42). It included a post office and a general
store, and served as an outlet for trappers in the region to ship
out their furs. The earliest established trail used by the
miners for travel to Valdez Creek left the Valdez-Eagle Military
Trail just below Gulkana at Bear Creek (see Map 1). This was
formerly an Indian trail leading from an important village near
the mouth of the Gulkana River.

As mining intensified on Valdez Creek, more and more supplies and
heavy equipment destined for the mining camp came across the
trail (Moffit, 1912). From the community of Gulkana this trail
originally departed northwestward to the West Fork, headed north-
west upstream to the Maclaren, then on the Maclaren downstream 7
miles to the Susitna and from there followed the Susitna upstream
to Valdez Creek. With completion of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail
and its increasing use, Sourdough Roadhouse was utilized as a
take-off point for this favorable winter trail.

Sourdough Roadhouse. Sourdough Roadhouse was originally a
trapper's cabin. (That cabin today still stands attached to the
rear of the present roadhouse.) Over the years other structures
were added, and in 1903 John Hart opened the roadhouse for busi-
ness. Between 1908 and 1922, Mrs. Nellie Yaeger was owner of

Sourdough and established its reputation for fine cooking and
hospitality. According to an undated description of the Valdez-
Fairbanks Trail the "floors were carefully carpeted, sofas and
rocking chairs cushioned, and white curtains at the windows;
excellent beds in private apartments...." Plate 33 shows the
roadhouse in this period. In 1922, Nellie Yaeger sold Sourdough
Roadhouse to her niece, Mrs. Hazel Waechter, who was a resident
of Nenana (Nenana News, 04/18/22:1). Mrs. Yaeger purchased the
Commercial Hotel in C-hitina (Cordova Daily Times, 08/04/22:6).
Present owner, Bud Laueson in 1977 pointed out to us an old cast
iron tub stored in the roadhouse. He said that the tub was
ordered from Pittsburgh in 1903 and did not arrive until 1905.
Reportedly, Sourdough Roadhouse was the only place in the region
to obtain a bath (in a tub) at that time.

Meier's Roadhouse. Located near Mile 170 on the Valdez-Fairbanks
Trail (Mile 123 from Chitina), Meier's Roadhouse was typical of
the early roadhouses. Built by Charlie J. Meier around 1907, it
was a crude, long, low, log structure with sleeping quarters
arranged barracks style and could accommodate 30 people com-
fortably. Improvements in later years included a separate dining
room and a living room, as well as various out-buildings (see
Plate 34). The roadhouse was operated by Meier and his wife
until it burned to the ground in 1925 (Cordova Daily Times,
09/15/25:8). Apparently the roadhouse was later result on thEe
same site. Harold Thompson, former miner on Valdez Creek,
recalls (pers. comm.) from a visit to Meier's in the mid-fifties
that a sizeable number of permanent residents were lodged on the
premises and that the roadhouse furnishings included many
antiques. Apparently this building also burned in the late
1950s. Today only the old log barn located at the site appears
to remain from the earlier buildings (see Plate 71).

Meier's Roadhouse figured prominently in the history of Valdez
Creek, as it became a major turn-off point for freighters,
miners, and others heading up the Middle Fork of the Gulkana
River to Valdez Creek (Map 2). Two USGS reconnaissance parties,
led by Fred Moffit and J. W. Bagley, traveled from Meier's Road-
house to the Broad Pass region in 1913 via the Middle Fork trail
to Valdez Creek (Moffit, 1915). Trappers like Ben French would
pick up yearly supplies at Meier's and ship out their furs. Like
French, L. L. "Doc" Hufman of Paxson Lake ran his trap lines up
the Middle Fork from Meier's, utilizing cabins on Gulkana River,
Dickey Lake, and Maclaren River. Freighters like Tom Neeley
(great uncle of Sy Neeley of Glennallen), who also ran a commis-
sary on Valdez Creek in the 1910s, ran supply sleds between
Valdez and Valdez Creek via the Middle Fork. Al Norwood, owner
of Meier's during the late 1920s, reportedly utilized the road-
house in another way as an advantageous location for his moon-
shine operations.

Paxson's Roadhouse. The next roadhouse north of Meier's on the
Valdez-Fairbanks trail was Paxson's. Alvin Paxson built the
first roadhouse in 1907, a log building 30 feet by 80 feet and
two stories high (Plate 36). The following year a barn was con-
structed and the roadhouse enlarged (Smith, M. E., 1974:21).
Stan Brown, owner of present day Paxson Lodge, added that around
1904 there was also a telegraph station built about 100 feet
north of the roadhouse, which stood until destroyed by fire in
1961 (pers. comm.). Earlier, in about 1906, Paxson had operated
a smaller establishment a mile or so farther north (see Plate
35). Called Timberline Roadhouse, it reportedly had a small
cabin for a kitchen and two tents for sleeping quarters (Smith,
M. E., 1974:21).

Responding to the need of Valdez Creek miners for a summer mail
outlet, the versatile Paxson opened a post office at the road-
house in January 1912. He served as postmaster until June 27,
1914, when Fred Nichols assumed the duties until mail service was
discontinued to Paxson in December 1916.

Paxson's was more than just a roadhouse with a post office. A
guide to the Valdez-Faribanks Trail described it as having
"numerous prospectors and hunter's cabins.....a little town."
The guide predicted that Paxson would "...within a short time
make quite a mining community."

According to Slim Moore of Anchorage, one time trapper, guide,
and freighter in the Paxson region, the roadhouse burned down
during the early twenties, possibly related to the "friction
fires" of that period (pers. comm.). Moore contends that with
the completion of the Alaska Railroad in 1922, the Richardson
Road lost some of its commercial traffic (like freighting to
Valdez Creek), consequently hurting the business of many road-
house operators. "Numerous roadhouse fires occurred in this
period," said Moore, "caused by the friction of insurance
policies and mortgages rubbing together."

Although such observations may be somewhat exaggerated, it does
point to the fact that the railroad provided a more economical
alternative for freighting mining supplies to interior mining
camps. If any one thing hindered development of mining settle-
ments like Valdez Creek, it was inadequate transportation facil-
ities. Freight rates from Valdez to Valdez Creek averaged $.25
to $.30 per pound, and sometimes were as high as $.50 per pound
during the 1900s. Miners looked to the proposed Alaska Railroad
for relief, hoping transportation charges would be substantially
reduced, as the distance from Broad Pass (on the Alaska Railroad)
to Valdez Creek was a third of the distance from Valdez Creek to
Gulkana (Cordova Daily Times, 05/28/18).

Yet many roadhouses along the Richardson Highway survived during
the 1920s and 1930s when automobile travel was ascendant. During

the summer of 1928, Slim Moore assisted Dan Whiteford, then owner
of Paxson Roadhouse, in rebuilding some of the lodge (pers.
comm.). According to Stan Brown, stables or "drying rooms" that
had been built about 1919 were converted into bedrooms and baths
(pers. comm.). A lobby (south wing) and a north wing were also
added. Today, only the dilapidated remains of the north wing are
evident about 350 yards north of the present Paxson Lodge (Plate
75). Lawrence Coffield (letter, 10/25/77) recalls that in his
time, Paxson's Roadhouse "was a place with comfortable rooms and
a long dining table where everyone sat down to all you could eat
of good homestyle food...."

Yost's Roadhouse. While Paxson's is one of the better known
roadhouses in connection with Valdez Creek, less is known of the
equally important Yost's Roadhouse (Plate 37). The exact loca-
tion of Yost's Roadhouse is even in question. One source (Smith,
M. E., 1974:22) states that Yost's was just beyond Summit Lake on
the Delta River. Stan Brown and Doc Hufman contend otherwise,
citing the location approximately where Phelan and McCallum
Creeks join just west of the present highway (pers. comm.).
There is no physical evidence of a roadhouse at this location
today, and the site appears to lie in the streambed of Phelan

Former roadhouse operator Nelson McCrary (1965:45-46) recalled
that Yost's was built about 1906 by Charlie Yost. It was con-
structed with one room behind the other lobby, dining room,
kitchen, and woodshed. It even had a well located inside in the
corner of the kitchen. Yost dispensed hotcakes and beans to the
traveler at $2.00 a meal for a few years, and then apparently
moved on, as many of the old-timers were inclined to do. Accord-
ing to McCrary, Yost's was located on a point that extended out
into the stream channel and even in the early days was troubled
by ice glaciering over the point during the winter and subsequent
flooding in the spring.

While Copper Center, Gulkana, and Sourdough all played important
roles in providing for the needs of prospectors, freighters, and
other travelers bound for the interior, it was the two south-
central Alaskan ports of Valdez and Cordova that initially
attracted and outfitted the interior-bound travelers. These two
communities competed for the lucrative freighting and mining
traffic, especially after the Copper River and Northwestern
Railway was completed from Cordova to Chitina in 1910 and a sled
trail linked Chitina to the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. Each town's
newspaper carried numerous testimonials promoting or boosting the
civic and economic virtues of its respective community. Boosting
had long been a tactic used by the boom towns of the American
west to persuade railroad and stage lines to pass through their
communities, and to attract business and settlers. Considering
the motives behind such tactics, testimonials about the trails of
that time must be taken with a grain of salt.

One such promotional article appeared in The Cordova Daily
Alaskan (11/19/10), reporting that the new government cut-off
trail that connected Chitina with the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail was
preferable, reducing traveling time and doing away with the
dangerous crossing at Thompson Pass that one had to contend with
if traveling north from Valdez. A few days later (11/21/10) the
newspaper reported that "C. P. Tolson and Billy Grogg, both of
Valdez Creek, were arrivals in town on Saturday night's train,
and are enthusiastic over the transportation facilities to the
coast as provided by the Copper River and Northwestern Railway,
preferable over the route from Valdez."

However, The Valdez Daily Prospector reported in October of 1913

"The cost of taking freight from Valdez into the inte-
rior is much less that via Cordova and Chitina as the
cost of transportation for horses, feed, freight, and
living expenses from the coast to the interior, when
the outfits are shipped via the railroad, makes the
Valdez route preferable. The uncertainty of delivery
of freight at Chitina, which has been experienced every
year by the interior freighters because of the tie-ups
on the railroad, has forced all of them to the conclu-
sion that the Valdez government road is the best route
and the cheapest and most certain to take."

Branch Trails to Valdez Creek. Cordova and Valdez both thrived
economically as mining in areas like Valdez Creek intensified and
more and more supplies and men poured through the two south-
central ports. No longer was freighting restricted to favorable
winter conditions, and mining settlements like Valdez Creek now
required year-round supplies and labor; especially during the
long working days of summer. In the early years a summer pack
trail route was soon charted which followed the usual Gulkana-
Maclaren rivers winter route, except that after reaching the West
Fork (Map 1) the trail kept to the higher ground until reaching
the Maclaren River where it continued east of the round-topped
mountain between the Maclaren River and Clearwater Creek and
headed towards Valdez Creek via Roosevelt Lake Pass (Moffit,
1912:20). But much of this trail ran over wet ground, making
summer travel very difficult for horses as well as humans.
Shorter and dryer routes from the Valdez-Fairbank Trail at
Paxson's and Yost's roadhouses became preferable, with the Bear
Creek trail being pretty much abandoned by 1913.

Moffit states (1912:20) that the Paxson trail was established in
1908. From Paxson's Roadhouse on the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail it
extended west like the present-day Denali Highway until it
reached the Maclaren River where the most suitable crossing was
near the glacier, and then along Coal Creek to Roosevelt Lake
Pass (see Map 1). A shorter and easier trail to Valdez Creek

from farther north on the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail at Yost's Road-
house was in use by 1910, heading west along Eureka Creek, across
the Maclaren River to Roosevelt Lake and thence Valdez Creek (see
Map 2). The Yost's trail crossed fewer ridges than the Paxson
trail but had the disadvantage of increasing the total mileage
between Gulkana and Valdez Creek. Both trails were used mainly
in summer since the routes were primarily above timberline and
firewood was limited to scattered willows.

Although these trails were largely used before his time, Lawrence
Coffield described (letter, 08/15/77) the early freighting days
on the trail from Paxson:

"They first came in from Valdez with horses, which had
snow shoes when needed, with good oak and hickory
double-ender freight sleds from Wisconsin. Now after
they established semipermanent camps with tents and log
cabins, and were going good, a summer packhorse route
was established almost straight east of Paxson. They
brought in mail, perishable groceries, badly needed
tools and, I was told, considerable bourbon."

The branch trails from the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail to the isolated
Valdez Creek mining camp were no more that footpaths blazed
through the wilderness. They did not offer the conveniences of
roadhouses found on main trails like the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail.
However, Lawrence Coffield (letter, 08/15/77) recalls that south-
west from Valdez Creek "shelter cabins were built on the trail to
the Copper Center-Gulkana area, and any one that knew the route
could get shelter at night."

These shelter cabins were not like roadhouses. They were small,
usually one-room structures to provide overnight shelter for men
out in the country. In most cases they were trapper's cabins
but, in accordance with traditional Alaskan hospitality, were not
locked and could be used by travelers in need of shelter. Unfor-
tunately, this tradition is slowly fading from the Alaskan scene
because of vandalism and thievery, or other abuses of this

L. S. Wickersham's cabin (the "Post Office"), on Valdez Creek is
a case in point. Coffield (letter, 09/17/77) was at Wickersham's
"death-bed" when "Wick" smiled and whispered to Coffield: "My
winter home, the Post Office, is for you boys (i.e., the miners)
when you're coming in or going out of the creek or using the
airstrip." Not much later he died. Years later ownership of the
cabin went to Harold Thompson, who respected this tradition.
Unfortunately, the cabin was vandalized once too often. For this
and other reasons, Thompson gave up his claims on Valdez Creek in
1966. For the past several years the cabin has been occupied by
miner Doug Clark and is no longer open to the "boys" like Wick

Travel on the Trails

One of the many travelers along the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail and
branch trails to Valdez Creek was Leburn S. Wickersham, who made
many freighting treks from Chitina to Valdez Creek via the West
Fork-Gulkana Trail. Known as "Wick," L. S. Wickersham mined for a
number of years with his brother Horace (see Plate 48) on White
Creek (a tributary of Valdez Creek) and on the creek south of
Valdez Creek and west of the Susitna River that today bears his
name. "Wick" also was appointed postmaster of Valdez Creek post
office, when it was re-established as McKinley post office on
April 8, 1915 (renamed Denali post office on August 4, 1922). He
continued at the post office until its closing on April 30, 1942.

During that time, it was not unusual for a man living in the
backcountry like Wickersham, to be a miner, a postmaster, a
freighter, a trapper, and a hunter. Wickersham was a jack-of-
all-trades and his many skills made him self-reliant in the
isolated district. The authors had the good fortune of gaining
access to one of Wickersham's pocket notebooks in which he made
notes on his 1916 and 1917 freighting activities. It was mainly
notes on the tonnage he hauled, of caches along the trail he
replenished, supplies he brought in for other people, furs he
shipped out, expenses he incurred, and so forth. The quantity of
goods Wickersham hauled on his freight sleds seems astounding:
"...first cache at North Fork 3,000 lbs...; at portage on Moose
Creek cached 2,000 Ibs, all out; cached 2,000 at French's
cache..." This referred to feed (hay and grain) for horses (see
Plate 40) cached along the trail.

Two types of freighting sleds were used over the trails--bobsleds
and double-enders. Double-enders had stationary runners attached
beneath the load platform and could be pulled from either end.
The big freight bobsleds, with decks pivoting on two sets of
runners (see Plates 30 and 31), seem to have been more commonly
used for hauling in the Valdez Creek. Most of the sleds were
made in the states by firms such as the Paulson Implement Company
and the Studebaker Company.

Such sleds were about ten to twelve feet long and about four feet
wide. They were constructed of hardwood for heavy duty hauling,
and had heavy wooden runners (probably hickory) that were shod
with flat iron. They carried loads varying from a thousand to
fifteen hundred pounds each, with a single horse pulling one to
three sleds, depending on the terrain (Redhead, 1963:42; McCary,
1965:46). The horses were shod with ice calks for traction on
river ice and icy hills. Going up steep grades the drivers
applied the rough locks--spring loaded prongs that dragged as the
sled moved forward, but dug into the ice if it slipped backwards.
The driver could stop the team to rest it and the rough locks
would hold the weight of the sled. Going down steep slopes the
drivers sometimes wrapped a chain around one runner to increase

the drag and keep the sled from running into the horse (Redhead,

Most of the freight was hauled early in the winter before snow
had accumulated and drifted into deep drifts (Moffit, 1912:16).
Even so, snowplows were sometimes used to break the trail ahead
of the sleds (Moffit, 1912:20).

On relatively even terrain without deep snow the sleds could make
fairly good time. The 65 mile long trail from Paxson's crossed
terrain ranging from 500 to 1,000 feet above the valley bottoms
(Moffit, 1911:116). The trip from Gulkana over the West Fork
trail was about 125 miles and crossed only one pass about 500
feet in height.

Horses were usually taken out from Valdez Creek by September 10
so that they could reach lower elevations before the grass lost
its food value after the frosts started. Sled travel, by horse
or dog team, was practicable after freezeup in November (Moffit,
1912:15,18). According to the following trail log kept by
Wickersham, the 110 mile trek by horse sled over the West Fork
trail from Valdez Creek to Sourdough sometimes took up to 24

Started for Chitina the 15 of Nov. 1917
15 First camp Butte Creek 7 miles, 2 above zero.
16 Second camp lower Susitna flat 8 miles, 15
17 Third camp at Portage Creek in the narrows -
6 miles, 18 4th camp at Clearwater Creek -
5 miles, warm.
19 5th camp out on big flat on portage 5 miles.
20 6th camp on Maclaren River 5 miles
21 7th camp on Portage Creek 4 miles
22 8th camp on Portage Creek near the head 5 miles
23 9th camp on the head of Portage Creek 3 miles,
2 below zero.
24 10th camp at the upper Gulkana Lake 3 miles, 18
25 llth camp at the portage below the lakes -
3 miles.
26 12th camp on the Gulkana near Mud Lake on the
portage 3 miles.
27 13th camp on Moose Creek 6 miles, 12 below.
28 14th camp at short portage on the Gulkana -
3 miles, 25 below.
29 15th camp one mile below Keg Creek 4 miles, 36
30 16th camp at Point Barrow across portage -
2 miles, 60 below.
1 17th camp two miles above fish traps 5 miles,
60 below.

2 18th camp one mile below fish traps; made a por-
tage 4 miles, 40 below.
3 19th camp one mile below West Fork 6 miles.
4 20th camp three miles above French's Cache; bad
ice 5 miles, 80 below.
5 21st camp near the big slough 6 miles, 5 below.
6 22nd camp two miles above Lake Creek 12 miles.
7 23rd camp at French's camp 4 miles above North
Fork 9 miles, snowing.
8 24th stop at Sourdough.

On another return trip to Valdez Creek from Sourdough that
Wickersham started on December 24, 1916, 22 days were spent in
getting to Valdez Creek and, starting back the same day he
arrived, 19 days returning to Sourdough where he arrived on
February 2.

Over the trail Wickersham transported to Valdez Creek such things
as machinery and animal feed, building materials and hardware,
pipe and canvas hose, food and clothing, plus mail and other
miscellaneous supplies. He also recruited and brought in workers
for the mining company. The following list in his notebook was
for "men to get to go into Valdez Creek."

Blacksmith 1
Electrician 1
Ditch men 2
Cook 1
All around men 4

On another occasion he listed:

Ditch men 2
Day shift pickers 3
Flume tenders 2
Drillers 5
Night shift pickers 2
Flume tenders 2
Carpenters 4
Teamster 1
Sawmill men 3
Cook and flunkey 2
Store and time keeper 1
Mail carrier 1

Total 28
Superintendent 1


Dog sledding was also used to bring in astoundingly heavy loads
of materials to Valdez Creek in the earlier years. The large
freight sleds, pulled by 10 to 20 dogs, could easily haul 1,000
to 1,500 pounds over good terrain. Most of the materials
freighted into Valdez Creek in the early years were transported
by dogsled. On occasion, dogs were also used to pack in supplies
during the summer (see Plate 39). Each dog could carry about 40
pounds strapped upon its back.

On return trips, people, gold, mail, and considerable furs were
hauled out by freighters like Wickersham. From his notes it is
obvious that he was commissioned to carry out all kinds of
errands, including selling furs, sending telegrams, wiring money,
and purchasing all manner of odds and ends or special items. In
his notebook there is an obscure note he must have made around
1916: "Received $20.00 from W. M. Smith for neckless chain to be
got at Cordova (18 inches long), also $2.50 for smooth plain ring
for Jennie."

Though tractors eventually replaced horses on the winter freight-
ing treks, until air transportation was established to Valdez
Creek summer transport into the district was probably limited
pretty much to mail, badly needed supplies, and people; whatever
could be carried on a pack horse, a pack dog, or one's own back.
We found no evidence that boats were used to transport goods up
the Gulkana, or up the Susitna beyond Indian River. Only one
mention was found of using boats to descend the rivers on trips
out of Valdez Creek during the open water season (Alaska
Prospector, 10/27/04).

Considering the adverse climatic and other physical conditions,
the early freighting activities seem even more awesome. Large
hauls in the winter were not unusual though, as the frozen rivers
and streams provided better avenues for travel than the boggy
tundra of summer. During the winter of 1913-1914, the Valdez
Creek Mining Company freighted in over 200 tons of supplies from
Chitina (Cordova Daily Alaskan, 01/22/14).

Freighters like Wickersham were the lifeline of isolated camps
like Valdez Creek, as well as for the roadhouses like Sourdough
that dotted the trail between Valdez and Fairbanks. As the
country opened up, and the roadhouses flourished and the mining
camps prospered, other personalities followed closely behind the
early freighters, trappers, and prospectors. One such personal-
ity is old-timer Lawrence Coffield, presently of Tacoma, Washing-
ton, who mined claims on Valdez Creek from the thirties to the
sixties (Plate 44). He has a lot of affection for the country
and its people, and for landmarks like Sourdough Roadhouse. He
recalled (letter, 10/25/77) "a young woman got a summer's job at
Sourdough and later married my youngest son. They live here in
Pierce County, Washington, and just last spring she told me she'd
like to put in another summer at Sourdough. There's a rustling
river there that can lull you to sleep."

Folklore and Tales of Life Along the Trails

Many of the figures in the history of Valdez Creek came across
these wilderness trails. The trails and shelter cabins in the
Gulkana River drainage saw their share of characters who contri-
buted to Alaska's folklore. Sy Neeley (pers. comm.) recalls that
old-time characters like his great uncle Tom Neeley were "mostly
shy, generous men some were so withdrawn that they wouldn't
even let you take their picture." One generous, but far from
shy, old-timer, L. L. "Doc" Hufman of Paxson Lake ("stop by
whenever you're in the neighborhood," he told us), traveled the
old Gulkana trails on his hunting and trapping trips, utilizing
the trail shelters as far as Dickey Lake and the Maclaren River.
Doc, like many of the nonminers in the region, was not directly
connected with life on Valdez Creek. However, the quest for gold
also opened up the interior for professionals like Hufman who
came in close on the heels of the early prospectors. Doc set up
a dental practice in Fairbanks and has been in the Paxson Lake
region since 1929 (permanently since 1940). He occasionally
occupied the cabin (Plate 72) located on the Main Fork of the
Gulkana just south of its confluence with the Middle Fork
(Map 2). This cabin was built by Barney Dawson and Al Norwood
during the mid-twenties. As mentioned, Norwood ran Meier's Lodge
at that time, which proved to be not as secluded as his Gulkana
cabin for his moonshining activities.

Hufman, besides having a home on the east side of Paxson Lake,
has a cabin near the exit of the lake. This was the site of an
earlier cabin (Plate 45) built by Charlie Meier and was the scene
of a shoot-out in the late 1920s. Although versions differ on
the participants and their motives, one can safely conclude that
around 1928 a local trapper named Bob Smith was involved in a
trapping feud with Norwood and Dawson, along with being accused
of stealing from a local mining camp. Accusations led to a
confrontation with Smith at the cabin and his being shot and
killed (Doc Hufman, Frank Hobson, pers. comm.). An interesting
epilog to this incident occurred a year or so later along the
Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. A local game warden named Cadwallader
and his musher "Laughin Ole" (J. M. Olsen) were making their way
from Valdez Creek to Valdez via the Middle Fork trail. They
stopped at Meier's Roadhouse where they surprised owner Al
Norwood in his illicit moonshining. According to Frank Hobson
(pers. comm.), Cadwallader arrested Norwood, and with "Laughin
Ole" (who thought catching Norwood redhanded was quite hilarious)
proceeded towards Valdez, making a stop at Gulkana Roadhouse. The
roadhouse at that time was operated by Hans Ditman. After the
Smith incident, Ditman was supposed to have reported the killing
to the proper authorities, but because he felt that Smith had met
a just end, he had chosen to not report it. Anyway, someone at
the roadhouse brought up the incident and accused Norwood of
killing Smith. Incensed, Norwood told Cadwallader to question

Ditman, who knew who had actually killed Smith. Although Ditman
cleared Norwood, nothing ever came of his revelations. It seems
that frontier justice prevailed in this instance. This was appar-
ently not unusual in remote areas at this time when law enforce-
ment agencies were far away. Often men in the Alaska wilderness
had to combat human injustices the same way they confronted the
harsh elements of nature.

In confrontations with nature, however, men in the wilderness
sometimes lost. Hufman recalls (pers. comm.) that Ben French, a
solitary trapper and prospector in the region during the early
years, lost in his struggle against the elements in the end.
Hufman occasioanlly stayed at French's old cabin on the Maclaren
River below Round Mountain (Map 2), and also used a small cabin
(Plate 41) that French built on the Middle Fork four miles above
its confluence with the Main Fork.

Ben French's trapping and prospecting took him along the Middle
Fork, past Dickey Lake, and into the headwaters of the Maclaren.
Some people (Vern Wickham, F. S. Pettyjohn, pers. comm.) believe
that there is a "Lost Ben French Mine" somewhere in the
Maclaren's headwaters, along with a cabin full of valuable books
that French reportedly collected over the years. "Lost gold
mines" are part of American folklore, inspiring the imagination
of prospectors as much as new strikes. The mystery that sur-
rounds French's mine also shrouds the main character of the
legend. Sources say that with his seasonal fishing done and
salmon dried for the winter, French would proceed to Meier's and
Gulkana to sell his furs and lay in yearly supplies. Hufman
recalls (pers. comm.) that French "always brought out a little
gold...but never revealed where he obtained it." In 1928 Ben
French made his last trip to Meier's. On his return trip to the
Maclaren he was caught in a severe snowstorm and apparently
perished in the snowdrifts somewhere around Dickey Lake. A
search party consisting of Slim Moore, Al Norwood, Barney Dawson,
and Harry Hobson, later found French's sled there but never
located his body.

Like many old-timers in the vast Alaska wilderness, French passed
into oblivion. Too often their stories and the richness of their
experiences also passed with them untold and unrecorded. This
was partly the result of their nomadic ways. As one source put
it, "They had roller-skates on their feet. If one valley didn't
look good they would move on to another" (Sy Neeley, pers.

Prospecting and Mining

The early Alaskan prospectors were especially nomadic. Many
prospectors had visited the upper Susitna region briefly between
1898 and 1910 "...coming into it for short periods and going

away without leaving permanent record of their presence (Moffit,
1915:10)." However, some record does remain of their dis-

Placer gold had been found on the headwaters of the Delta River
(at Rainy Creek) in 1900, and possibly as early as 1898. Pros-
pectors who found gold there in 1900 returned to the "Eureka
district," as they named it, the following year along with 200 to
250 other hopefuls. But after sluicing showed poor returns, the
area was all but abandoned (Mendenhall, 1905:117).

Placer claims were also staked to the east on Slate Creek at the
head of the Chisna River around 1900. Although Eureka Creek,
Slate Creek, and Valdez Creek districts were all characterized by
gold-bearing slates, the slate-diorite association in the region
appeared to show little promise to early prospectors. Elsewhere
in Alaska gold had been found in association with mica schist
formations and prospectors for years "fought shy of the Susitna
country; on account of the absence of mica schist in the forma-
tion" (Priestley 1909:415). Interest in prospecting the region
was undoubtedly renewed after Monahan's strike on Valdez Creek
but did not result in comparable discoveries. In 1910, USGS
geologist Fred Moffit (1911:114) observed: "Nearly all the
streams heading in the Alaska Range between Slate Creek and
Valdez Creek have shown the presence of gold in their gravels,
but in most places the amount has not proved sufficient to make
mining profitable."

The Valdez-Fairbanks Trail passed within a few miles of the
Eureka district, and the trail as well as the rich strike which
had been made on Valdez Creek were probably responsible for
continued prospecting on Eureka and Rainy creeks through the
1910s. Moffit (1911:114) reported that in 1910 five men were
prospecting on Rainy Creek and two on Eureka Creek, but were
barely making wages. A cabin was in existence above Eureka Creek
at the mouth of Garrett Creek at this time (Moffit, 1912:65),
apparently built by one of the prospectors working in the area.
Recent and historic features both are evident in the area today.
Remnants of what appeared from the air to be a sled and debris
from a probable campsite were seen on the lower part of Eureka
Creek. Only a dam, probably for present-day mining, was seen on
Rainy Creek.

In 1910, a few men were also prospecting in the Alphabet Hills
west of Paxson Lake on the headwater streams of the western
tributaries of the Gulkana River. Though they found color, no
mineable concentrations were discovered (Moffit, 1912:66).
However, sometime before 1930 a mining camp was established on
the Middle Fork of the Gulkana River near Canyon Creek which
drains Swede Lake. After the camp was abandoned in the mid-
1930s, much of the equipment there was moved to Eureka and Rainy
Creeks. Slim Moore (pers. comm.) recalls that Don Whiteford

lost his mortgage on Paxson Roadhouse in 1930 and went to the
Rainy-Eureka creek area to prospect. Moore helped Whiteford haul
pipe from the Middle Fork over Swede and Tangle lakes to White-
ford's camp on Rainy Creek. The old mining camp on the Middle
Fork was reportedly located about one-fourth mile north of the
river, just west of Canyon Creek. Some buildings and an old
water wheel were still evident at the site as late as 1941 (Doc
Hufman, Sy Neeley, pers. comm.).

Gold was found to be present in much of the region that the
Monahan party prospected in 1903. They found color in most of
the streams along the east side of the Talkeetna Mountains and in
the area above the West Fork of the Susitna. However, none of
the gold they found was concentrated enough to warrant mining,
except at Valdez Creek. Further placer work was done on Wicker-
sham Creek, a tributary of Butte Creek, by L. S. Wickersham in
the 1910s. Wickersham reportedly built a cabin there, but found
the players unprofitable (Moffit, 1915:76).

As early as 1897 and 1898, prospectors were evidently investi-
gating the Susitna drainage where it cuts though the Talkeetna
Mountains. One of the exploration parties that ascended the
river reported meeting prospectors camped at Portage Creek
(Bayou, 1946:12). Though no concentrations of gold were ever
found along this part of the Susitna drainage and the area saw
little in the way of prolonged encampments, there is today a rock
face near the mouth of Portage Creek which bears the names of a
party that passed that way in 1897: "M. E. Decker, L. F. Judson,
W. A. Dickey, H. J. Kennaston, July 2, 1897."

In 1914, there were rumors that valuable deposits of low grade
metallic ores had been discovered somewhere in the Broad Pass
area (Moffit, 1915:76), but it is not known if the location and
value of the discovery were ever confirmed. In 1922, a ruby/
silver prospect was found three miles up Portage Creek from
Devil's Canyon. A cabin was built and a foot trail was cut from
the mine to Chulitna Station on the Alaska Railroad. In 1928,
the foot trail was upgraded to a 12-foot wide sled road by the
Alaska Road Commission (Bacon, 1975).

The Cantwell Reindeer Project

The completion of the railroad to the Broad Pass area did encour-
age an enterprise in the region that was unrelated to mining.
Between 1921 and 1928 there was an attempt to establish a commer-
cial reindeer herd in the vicinity of Cantwell. The brief his-
tory of the experiment is documented in an article written by
Jack Luick (1973), director of the present-day Reindeer Research
Laboratory at Cantwell. The idea of establishing a reindeer herd
at Cantwell was conceived by William T. Lopp, then Superintendent
of Education for Natives in Alaska for the Bureau of Education.

Lopp chose the Broad Pass area as the best site for founding a
profitable reindeer industry for the Natives in Central Alaska.
Cantwell offered facilities for a base of operations, and the
railraod insured the expedient shipment of meat and hides to the
coast for local sale or export. In 1921, Lopp arranged for
Ben B. Mozee, Superintendent of the Bureau of Education's Central
District, to lead a drive of 1,437 reindeer from Goodnews Bay on
the Bering Sea, eastward and across the Alaska Range, to Cant-
well. The trek was made in 280 days, travelling across approxi-
mately 1,200 map miles. For six years the reindeer ranged the
broad valley of the Nenana River as far east as the Susitna
(Monahan) Flats. In 1923 President Harding stopped in Cantwell
to see the operation when he was on his way north to dedicate the
opening of the Alaska Railroad at Nenana. That same year
Normaln 0. Dawn used the reindeer herd in the production of his
motion picture "Lure of the Yukon," which was filmed on location
at Cantwell.

Native herders managed the reindeer, operating from cabins used
as base camps and overnight shelters on the range circuit. One
of these cabins was located one mile south of Cantwell on a ridge
west of the railroad. It had formerly been a railroad construc-
tion camp, but was used by the herders as winter headquarters.
In 1970, it burned to the ground, and today only an outline of
the structure is visible. Three other "reindeer cabins," as they
were called locally, were built during the early 1920s and are
still standing. They are located (see Map 2) at the Jack River
("4 mile cabin"), at Fish Creek ("7 mile cabin"), and at the foot
of the Caribou Mountains south of Twin Lakes ("10 mile cabin").
The industry was troubled by several problems which brought about
its eventual failure. Salaries were not high enough to encourage
herders to stay on for more than one season. Predation by wolf
packs and desertion of reindeer to join roaming bands of caribou
thinned the reindeer herd. The project also suffered from lack
of consistent direction, as there was a rapid turnover of project
supervisors. In 1928, the government stopped funding the rein-
deer project and the herd was left to join the wandering caribou.

Railroad-Related Development

Though the availability of coal deposits for fuel had been an
important factor in routing the railroad through Broad Pass,
there was no resultant development of coal deposits in the Valdez
Creek district. Monahan and party had found coal on a creek
(which they named Coal Creek) on the west side of the Susitna
above the Maclaren in 1903 when they first entered the region
(Moffit, 1915:76). Coal beds were also found on a small tribu-
tary of Clearwater Creek where the trail from Paxson's and Yost's
crossed Clearwater Creek. Small amounts of the coal from this
locality were mined for use in the blacksmith forges at Valdez
Creek. Though the coal was of good quality, it was not mined for

other than the limited use in forges (Ross, 1933:465), probably
because wood was available closer at hand for fuel and the rail-
road was too far away for commercial mining. The coal deposits
were viewed as a possible major asset to the dredging operation
planned by Coffield and his associates on Eldorado Creek in the
late 1940s. They planned to develop the coal deposits east of
Valdez Creek and install a coal burning electrical plant to power
the dredge and to work the quartz mine on Black Creek (Coffield,
letter, 10/05/77).

Primitive overland transportation from the Alaska Railroad at
Cantwell to Valdez Creek continued to hamper mining enterprises
in the district. Ironically the Alaska Road Commission's annual
report for 1930 (1931: 47-48) contains the following statement
about the Southwestern District.

"The Alaska Railroad, the Yentna River, Cook Inlet and
other arms of the Gulf of Alaska provide through trans-
portation for this region so that only short roads are
required. A very excellent system of roads serving the
farms and mines of that vicinity is centered about
Wasilla while a good, though less extensive system
centers about Anchorage.

An especial effort has been made within this district
to furnish adequate roads, sled roads or trails to all
points of development in order that traffic may be
developed for the Alaska Railroad."

The mining settlement at Valdez Creek remained the center of
activity in the Denali region through the decades before World
War II in spite of poor transportation and marked fluctuations in
mining interest. With the exception of Cantwell, other centers
of activity were inconsequential. However, after the United
States entry into World War II, the Valdez Creek district was
practically abandoned.


World War II and the Exodus from Valdez Creek

On October 9, 1942, the U. S. War Production Board ordered a
shut-down of 200-300 of the nation's largest gold mines in order
to free enough manpower to work in mines producing copper, coal,
and other vital war materials (Cordova Daily Times, 10/09/42:1).
According to the government order, gold mines not producing other
needed minerals were to cease production within seven days and
had to terminate all operations within 60 days, except minimum
activity necessary to maintain buildings, equipment, and mines in
a safe condition. Twenty-one Senators protested President Roose-
velt's action to close the gold mines, stating that this would
ruin many communities whose livelihood depended upon gold. pro-
duction. However, the Alaska Commissioner of Mines, B. D.
Stewart, defended the President's decision and ordered all gold
mines in the territory to close (Cordova Dail Times, 10/14/42).
On October 16, 1942, mine operators in the interior of Alaska
observed strictly the order to stop production (Cordova Daily
Times, 10/16/42:4).

Mining operations at Valdez Creek were closed for the duration of
the war. Since it was no longer possible to earn a living at
Denali, the mining settlement and the Native community were
deserted. The white miners moved to the larger towns in Alaska
or went "outside" to fill jobs in war production. Laurence
Coffield returned to Bellingham, Washington, where he had a
family and worked as a contract coal miner (Coffield, letter,
09/13/77). For the duration of the war, the requirement for
annual assessment work on mining claims was deferred.

Other economic signs predicted decline for Denali. Concurrent
with the War Production Board (WPB) order, fur prices dropped.
With no mining and with trapping unprofitable, the Native popula-
tion was forced to leave Valdez Creek. In 1942, many of the
Native families at Valdez Creek moved to Cantwell. Others left
for Gulkana and Mendeltna.

Cantwell's railroad station, airfield, and businesses provided a
livelihood for many Natives during the war. Jake Tansy, John
Nickolai, Pete Tyone, Ole Nickolai, and Henry Peters went to work
on the railroad section crew. A copy of a newspaper article
titled "The Women Gandy Dancers of Cantwell" given to us by
Maggie Oliver shows an interesting facet of Cantwell's railroad
crew. In the spring of 1945 when the 714th Railway Operating
Battalion left Cantwell, there was an acute shortage of men.
Hugh Jones, the railroad foreman, persuaded Joe McNavish, the
roadmaster, to hire women laborers. Consequently, Alice Norton,
Lucille Tyone, and Yaddy and Mary Stickwan joined the section
crew in the summer of 1945. During the next two years Grace

Secondchief, Olga and Valdez Tyone, and Jane Tansy also comple-
mented the female contingent working to maintain the railroad.
The "Women Gandy Dancers" of Cantwell (Plate 51) proved them-
selves capable of the heavy work, especially Grace Secondchief,
who could drive spikes with a spike maul as well as any man.
Working for the railroad became a steady livelihood for many of
the Natives and enabled them to settle permanently at Cantwell.

The Post-War Period at Valdez Creek

Around 1946, when the miners began to return to their claims on
Valdez Creek after the war, they found everything in a deterio-
rated condition. Wallace Fairfield came back to Alaska from
Spokane and with the assistance of John Carlson tried to resume
hydraulic operations on their claims. They hired two or three
Natives to work for them, but the machinery was rusty and unwork-
able and operations could not be resumed. Failing in this effort,
the former association of Carlson and partners did not ever
regroup to mine actively. The Alaska Exploration and Mining
Company also sent a man to their claims on Valdez Creek to
inspect their property. He found the equipment dilapidated, the
10-gallon cans of gasoline full of rust or missing, the explosive
powder ruined by water leakage, and the camp facilities and tents
torn down.

The postwar economic situation did not encourage the resumption
of mining. Prices for mining equipment were rising, the U. S.
Government was holding down the price of gold, and new government
regulations and paperwork confused the miners and frustrated
their mining efforts. The privilege of cutting timber for mining
purposes was no longer free. Timber taken from federal property
other than a mining claim had to be bought or taken only be
government permit (Coffield, letter, 09/13/77).

In spite of these circumstances, a few dedicated veterans
returned and remained to mine on Valdez Creek. Laurence Coffield
came back with the Skagit Alaska Mining Company which prospected
the lodes on Timberline. Lorne Campbell continued to sled sup-
plies from Cantwell to Denali for miners working claims leased
from John Carlson. During one such trip in the winter of 1949
Lorne Campbell failed to return to Cantwell. Later, his body was
found in the Nickolai cabin at the confluence of Brushkana Creek
and the Nenana River, roughly 26 miles east of Cantwell. Jack
Herman and Ole Nickolai of Cantwell and the District Commissioner
from Talkeetna identified the remains. Lorne Campbell and his
sled team had frozen to death, though the circumstances of his
death were never known. The only survivor was Campbell's favorite
sled dog, which they found in the cabin beside the body of his
master (Jack Herman, None Stickwan, pers. comm.).

Return of Laurence Coffield

With the termination of the war the lure of Alaska and the possi-
blity of a bonanza on Valdez Creek brought Laurence Coffield back
to relocate his claims. On his own initiative he made a special
trip to Alaska around 1946 (letter, 09/13/77).

"After World War II, I came to Valdez from Bellingham
on the S. S. Aleutian, caught the bus to Paxson (the
old Paxson), and started hiking on the old summer trail
to Denali. I waded through the Maclaren River at the
foot of the glacier, the only place you can wade it,
built a fire of dry willows and dried out, and got to
Black Creek. My tent was in good shape; the weather
and bears had treated me O.K. There was even useable
food in oil barrels with the top cut off and covered.
I relocated Black Creek, repeated my traveling perfor-
mance. At Valdez I mailed the mining claims for
recording at Talkeetna, took the next boat back to

From 1946 through the mid 1960s Laurence Coffield continued
intermittently to prospect the lodes on Timberline and the
players on Black Creek. His adventures and misadventures with the
Skagit Mining Company, in partnership with the Bott brothers, and
as an independent miner until his retirement are here summarized
from his letters.

The Skagit Alaska Mining Company

In 1947 or 1948 Laurence Coffield joined with three other men to
form the Skagit Alaska Mining Company. Coffield's partners were
the financiers of the company, including the company lawyer, Tipp
Conn, a garage owner; and a Mr. Clausen of Seattle who owned the
Everett Lime Products Company near Bellingham and was an agent in
the Pacific Northwest for the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company. The
Texas Gulf Sulphur company hired Pete Robbins, a mining engineer,
to prospect on their behalf in Alaska. Pete Robbins had a
brother, James who was the largest mine operator in the Nome
district on the Seward Peninsula. James Robbins was involved in
dredge mining and was looking for new dredging property.
Laurence Coffield recommended the Valdez Creek district to Pete
Robbins for its quartz lode potential and dredging prospects on
the tributaries such as Eldorado Creek.

The Skagit Alaska Mining Company decided to send Coffield and
Robbins to Valdez Creek to prospect the quartz lodes and also
evaluate the possibilities for dredge mining. A two-ton
(capacity per day), portable, Gibson stamp mill and engine were
bought for crushing ore from the lode claims. Coffield and
Robbins took this and other equipment with them by boat from

Seattle to Seward, then by railroad to Anchorage, and there
chartered three hydroplanes (McGee Airways) to fly them and the
equipment to Roosevelt Lake. Natives fishing at the lake were
hired to help transport the equipment to Black Creek (Coffield,
letter, 09/13/77). During the summer Coffield and Pete Robbins
drove a tunnel 150 feet deep, set up the Gibson stamp mill for
testing, and drilled 18 test pits 30-40 feet deep along Roosevelt
Creek between Black Creek and the mouth of Lucky Gulch. There
were no bonanzas, but the gold ore taken from the pits assayed at
a high value. Pete Robbins flew to Fairbanks to arrange plans
with his brother James to dismantle a dredge at Nome, fly the
machinery to Roosevelt Lake, and rebuild it on a new hull at the
mouth of Lucky Gulch. However, their enterprise was cut short by
the outbreak of the Korean War. Once again gold mining in Alaska
was interrupted by a war. Hiring "Smitty" (Edwin Smith) to watch
their claims and do the necessary assessment work, Coffield and
Robbins left Alaska.

The Skagit Alaska Mining Company did not survive their first year
of operations. Drafted into the Army Corps of Engineers for
combat duty in Korea, Pete Robbins was killed overseas in the
first year of the war. James Robbins terminated his mining inter-
ests at Nome, left Alaska, and returned to his home in Oak Park,
Illinois. That winter (circa 1949 or 1950) Clausen was killed by
an accidental explosion in one of his lime quarries. This ironic
set of events eliminated the financiers and leaders of the com-
pany, which subsequently dissolved. Coffield resumed contract
coal mining in Bellingham, Washington (letter, 10/05/77).

In Partnership with the Bott Brothers

In the early 1950s the coal mine in Bellingham where Coffield
worked shut down. He returned to Alaska to work at the Healy
coal mines. There he met the Bott brothers, who had previously
worked for years on their placer mine on the Koyukuk River near
Wiseman. Later Coffield and the Bott brothers, Earl and Lyle,
decided to form a mining partnership and stake claims together on
Valdez Creek. Chartering an airplane from Fairbanks, the three
flew to Valdez Creek, landed at the old airfield, and located
claims on Timberline and Black Creek. While waiting for their
return flight to Fairbanks they met two men doing assessment work
on Carlson's claims. From them they learned of John Carlson's
death several years earlier. As executor of Carlson's estate,
Jack West (Plate 49) had taken over Carlson's claims, his busi-
ness at Cantwell and just about everything Carlson had owned.
Carlson's children, Alice Norton and Bud Carlson, and the nephew
Elmer Carlson had apparently received little or nothing of his
estate. Jack West was not a miner, but was a trapper by profes-
sion and had little interest in mining. He never went out to
Valdez Creek and lost the claims and improvements at Denali to
relocators Thompson, Waldron, and Saxton in 1955 (Talkeetna
Records: Book 20:134-137, 190-191).

Early in the spring after their trip to Valdez Creek, Coffield
and the Botts prepared to start mining operations. From Fort
Wainwright surplus they purchased a D-6 dozer with hydraulic
blade, a 6 by 6 Army truck (3 driving wheels on each side), a
compressor, jackhammers, lumber and tools, and a Dodge power
wagon, all at a fraction of the regular price. They hired a
low-boy trailer to transport the D-6 Cat and drove to Paxson.
Felling spruce trees near the old Paxson Roadhouse, they used the
logs for skids and on them built a wanigan, insulated with moss
in the floor and walls and provided with a cast iron range and
three bunks. Following along behind the snow clearing crew on the
Denali Highway, which was under the construction (1951-57), they
crossed the ice of the Maclaren River, passed by the little cabin
built by "Tex," a veteran trapper, on Little Clearwater Creek,
and survived two snow avalanches triggered by the dozer while
plowing their way through Roosevelt Pass. When they had reached
Valdez Creek, they opted to begin placering on Rusty Creek
(Coffield, letter, 10/25/77).

Placing a large boomer across Rusty Creek, Coffield and the Bott
brothers cut the creek bed down more than 20 feet. The gold
content was satisfactory, but they still had not reached bedrock.
Moving operations up to Black Creek, the partners set up their
wanigan. Laurence and Earl started placer mining, using the
dozer blade to push gravel into sluice boxes, while Lyle operated
the Gibson stamp mill to crush the highest grade ore. At the end
of the work season Earl Bott took the cleanup and went to Fair-
banks while Laurence and Lyle remained on the claim site and did
some tunneling during the winter. From Fairbanks Earl chartered
planes to fly groceries and supplies to his partners who "tramped
out" a landing strip in the snow at the mouth of Black Creek.
With the spring thaw Earl rejoined his brother and Laurence
Coffield on Black Creek. They worked together another season and
then all returned to Fairbanks in the fall. That- winter an
avalanche tore their wanigan to bits (letter, 10/31/77).

At the end of that season the three decided to terminate their
partnership. The Bott brothers took the claims on Timber line
Creek while Coffield kept the claims on Black Creek. The mining
equipment was to be shared between them. Several years later
Earl Bott caught pneumonia while struggling through a blizzard on
Timberline Creek and died. His wife, Iris, who used to operate
the liquor store next to the Lacy Street Hotel in Fairbanks, and
Lyle Bott both moved to Anchorage. Lyle died of a heart attack
in 1977. Iris still resides in Anchorage with her nephew, James
Smith, who maintains the family's interest in the claims on
Timberline Creek.

Final Years on Valdez Creek

After the dissolution of his partnership with the Botts, Laurence
Coffield continued to mine periodically on Black Creek on his
own. He used the dozer the first year and built a ditch from the
head of White Creek to the head of Black Creek. The Bott's did
not work their claims on Timberline that year. Since the evacua-
tion of Denali during World War II, certain species of game had
returned to the area in larger number than before. Coffield was
able to occasionally kill moose to supplement the tedium of his
usual camper's diet (letter, 10/31/77). After two full seasons on
Black Creek, Coffield spent a summer at the U. S. Mining and
Smelting Company at Hogatza as night foreman for stripping opera-
tions. The following two years he worked on construction of the
BMEWS (Ballistic Missile Early Warning System) installation at

He continued to do assessment work at Black Creek during the
early 1960s and freighted a two-speed winch, a 5-horsepower
air-cooled engine, and cable (to remove boulders) by truck to the
airstrip just east of the Susitna River Bridge. From there he
chartered a helicopter, for $600-700 to take his supplies and
equipment to Black Creek. Much of his equipment was later stolen
and taken out by snowmobile and sled at a time when there was a
wave of vandalism on the Denali Highway. During the winter
months, the cabins, roadhouses, and mining buildings were looted
and vandalized. Coffield lost two jackhammers, a blacksmithing
outfit, guns, gold scales, and other equipment necessary for his
mining. Since it was no longer safe to keep expensive mining
equipment on Valdez Creek, and costs were increasing in a period
when the advent of the Vietnam War was not economically favorable
for gold mining, Coffield gave up trying to mine on Valdez Creek.
Getting along in years, he moved to Tacoma, Washington, where he
retired. Coffield gave half of his Black Creek claims to his son
Truman who resides in Anchorage. Not a miner, Truman leases the
Black Creek claims to H. L. Lightfoot of Mercer Island,

Laurence Coffield finished his narrative of Valdez Creek with
the following:

"I'll conclude by saying my time in Alaska was a great
experience, though I didn't get rich" (letter,

We are indebted to Laurence Coffield for his coopera-
tion. His letters are an invaluable documentation of
the history of the Valdez Creek Mining District from
1928 to the 1960s.

Other Recollections

We are also indebted to Ed Smith, who visited our camp at Denali
the evening of July 7. Accompanied by his partner, Julio
Ferrerez, Ed Smith took us on a tour of the Denali settlement
buildings, explaining the use of each, identifying machinery, and
relating some anecdotes about life at Denali. Ed Smith, a
veteran miner from Grogg Creek, lived at the Denali bunkhouse
from 1935 to 1936 with eight other miners. Ed's bunk was in
room #2, left of the front door, coming through the north
entrance. He said that the Denali buildings the "bunkhouse" as
he called it, (sometimes referred to as the "Denali Hotel"), the
surrounding buildings, the workshops, and the superintendent's
house were all built around the beginning of World War I.
Smith recalled that once $5,000 worth of gold dust fell on the
floor on the mess hall. According to Smith most of it was
recovered, but some remained in the cracks of the floor boards.
For the miners, every day, except for the Fourth of July, was a
work day, with life at Denali revolving around work shifts,
eating, and sleeping, and little or no free time to do anything
else. There were times, however, when "the boys got ahold of some
liquor or moonshine." The strong spirits were reportedly kept in
the "West" building safe along with the gold and money.

Jack Herman, resident of Cantwell, Alaska, lived in the Denali
bunkhouse during 1936 and 1937 while working for John Carlson.
Jack put in 12 hours a day at the hyraulic operations. Later, he
switched to underground tunneling because this meant only eight
hours a day with the same pay $6.00 per diem. In 1910, a law
had been enacted in Alaska limiting the work day to 8 hours for
underground miners. Jack Herman had a friend named James I.
Brown who worked at the mines circa 1936-1940 as a hoist opera-
tor. Brown was an ex-mariner from Boston who came to Valdez
Creek to try his luck at gold mining. He wintered at Lost Indian
Creek, where he had a claim, built a cabin, and dug shafts pros-
pecting in the creek bed. These shafts still exist (Vernon and
Shirley Wickham, pers. comm.). Henry Peters (pers. comm.) attri-
butes the construction of a cabin still in evidence near the
mouth of Windy Creek to James I. Brown, who used it as a hunting
and trapping cabin. Brown rejoined the merchant marine at the
outbreak of World War II and was reported lost at sea in the
Pacific (Jack Herman, pers. comm.).

In July of 1977, we found a letter postmarked "Denali, July 6,
1933" (see Plate 21) among boxes of old correspondence from the
John Rumohr estate. The letter, unsigned, is addressed to a Lee
Swisher at McKinley Park, Alaska. The author, a miner working
the tunnels at Denali, writes about his daily routine, describes
life in the bunkhouse, and gives a description of his job. He
worked seven days a week, eight hours a day, at $1.00 per hour,
earning $6.00 per day, since $2.00 was withdrawn for daily board.
Mrs. Bucke was the cook at the bunkhouse, and the food was good.

Fred Bucke and his partner Gus Sjoberg, were the miner's bosses.
During May and early June they had finished a shaft 112 feet deep
to bedrock; hitting unfrozen gravel at 55 feet. When the letter
was written, on July 4, the crew was in the process of cutting
timber and sawing lagging for the horizontal tunnel which they
would extend to connect with the shaft. The author terminated
his letter with a request to Lee Swisher to send him an air
mattress, obviously to make his hard board bunk in the old hotel
a little more comfortable.

From various sources comes information about the people at
Denali. The Cordova Daily Times (08/15/21) mentions a "Gossie
Smith" in charge of the commissary of the McKinley Gold Placer
Company. C. W. Norton was a cook at the bunkhouse during the
1910s and 1920s (Coffield, letter, 08/17/77). Ed Smith pointed
out the east side addition to the bunkhouse as Norton's quarters.
Alice Norton (pers. comm.) also identified two other Denali cooks
in addition to her father. These were Helga Ohman (Dan Ohman's
sister) and Charlie Borgner who was the best cook of all. Borgner
is shown with Elmer Bohman, Elmer Carlson, Slim Gagnon, and Bud
Carlson in a photo (Plate 47) taken on the south porch of the
Denali bunkhouse around 1941. Mrs. Bucke was probably the cook
from 1931 to 1937, the years when her husband had the lease from
Carlson to tunnel the Tammany channel (Coffield, letter,
09/08/77; Swisher, letter, 07/6/33).

Recognition as a Historic Area

In the years following the boom period at Valdez Creek, little
formal attention was given the historical value of the early
mining center until the 1970s. One of the first sites entered on
the Alaska Heritage Resource Survey (started by the BLM, Anchor-
age District Office in 1973 and now maintained by the Alaska
Department of Parks, Office of History and Archeology) in the
Healy quadrangle was the old settlement of Denali on Valdez
Creek. In 1974 the site (HEA-003) was listed as an important
Alaskan historical location.

In 1975 the Alaska Department of Parks compiled a report entitled
"Heritage Resources along the Upper Susitna River," for the U. S.
Army Corps of Engineers (Bacon, 1975). Their report included a
cursory description and evaluation of historic resources in the
Valdez Creek district. However, their report pointed out the
need for identification and documentation of historic resources
in the region, many of "which are significant in local, state,
and national terms."

In 1975 and 1976, Holly Reckord, anthropologist, coordinating
Ahtna, Inc.'s selection of Native cemeteries and historic places
provided for in section 14(h)(l) of the Alaska Native Claims
Settlement Act, prepared a nine page statement on the historical

significance of Valdez Creek in Ahtna history. This selection
resulted in most of lower Valdez Creek being temporarily with-
drawn from other uses and appropriations in January 1977, subject
to prior valid existing rights.

In June 1976, Ahtna, Inc. regional corporation wrote BLM a letter
expressing their concern that mining might destroy Ahtna graves
and historical sites on Valdez Creek and requested that BLM
investigate the area and take necessary steps to protect those
historic resources from disturbance.

In January 1977, an article on Denali prepared by F. S. Pettyjohn
appeared in a special edition of Ruralite devoted to ghost towns
of the western states. According to the article, Pettyjohn first
visited Denali during the winter of 1958-59 and many relics from
bygone years were still left by the miners, including the Pelton
wheel and the powerhouse. His article expressed regret at the
loss of these relics in the 18 years intervening, "taken as loot
by visitors as a reward for having bravely ventured a mile from
the road."

Like in so many other cases, by the time the historical value of
Denali was recognized, almost everything that could be removed
had been carried off by relic seekers.

Destruction of Denali

The need for BLM to conduct a historical resource study of the
Valdez Creek district was recognized as early as 1974. After the
addition of a cultural resource specialist knowledgeable about
historical inventory procedures to the BLM, Anchorage District
Office staff in 1976, plans were made and funding requested to
undertake the study in 1977. Through WICHE, the BLM requested
two graduate students pursuing professional careers in history
and historical architecture to provide the needed expertise in
those disciplines. The project was originally scheduled to
commence in the winter of 1976-77 with historic background
research and then shift to field survey in the 1977 field season,
spanning nearly six months from start to finish. When students
with the skills needed were found to be unavailable at midpoint
in the school year, the project was rescheduled to begin in June
1977 with only preliminary historical background research before
the field survey began, and to extend through November 1977.

On June 30, 1977, we flew to Valdez Creek to reconnoiter the
mining area, see if the creek was fordable (no bridges exist on
Valdez Creek), and contact Leroy "Shorty" Kercher, who is appar-
ently the only year-round resident at Valdez Creek. We landed on
the south airstrip and were met by Kercher, who seemed interested
and cooperative when we explained that we were doing a study of
the history of the mining area. We returned to Anchorage that
same day and made plans to go to Valdez Creek and begin docu-
menting the old buildings and other features remaining.

When we arrived back at Valdez Creek on July 4, 1977, and met the
Clark brothers and their partner, Clarence "Rocky" Miller, their
first reaction was that we must be working for the Ahtna Native
Corporation. Ahtna's land selection in that area, based on his-
torical Native use, overlies mining claims on lower Valdez Creek
near Denali.

The Clarks echoed the feeling of many of the miners on Valdez
Creek that the Native historical claim in the area was exces-
sively large and posed a threat to their mining claims. We tried
to convince them that we were working for the BLM, not the Native
corporation. Our arrival had understandably taken the Clarks by
surprise. (Though they were starting work on the creek near the
end of June, Kercher said that they had gone out the morning of
the 30th when we flew to Valdez Creek). They made repeated
references to their rights as miners and referred to the old
Denali site as "their" land. Although one of our first tasks was
to locate and map active claim boundaries and document ownership
status, we were surprised and confused that unpatented mining
claims on public lands were considered private property.

However, the Clark's seemed interested in the history of the area
and appeared cooperative. Doug Clark showed us his cabin at the
bend on lower Valdez Creek. It had originally been the old
Denali (McKinley) post office and he seemed proud of its histori-
cal significance and his maintenance of the old structure. The
Clarks gave the impression that they were concerned about depre-
dation at Denali and wanted the old buildings around to be pre-
served. They had blocked the two trails from the access road to
the Denali townsite with earth berms to prevent motorized access
to the area by tourists and souvenir hunters and hopefully stop
further vandalism of the old buildings.

Later that evening, with the Clarks' permission, we proceeded to
the old townsite and began to set up camp near the old hotel or
bunkhouses as it was also called. This appeared to be the best
base of operations for recording the historic buildings and other
features on the north side of Valdez Creek and was also near the
best preserved and largest group of buildings to be recorded.

Doug Clark paid us a visit the following afternoon (July 5)
voicing more concern about his rights to mine his claim and
making repeated reference to "his" buildings. He said that
someday he just might want to put a "cut" right through the
townsite itself and a historic district might prevent that. We
tried to convince him that the BLM had no intentions of inter-
fering with his mining activities. We were there to inventory,
describe, and photograph the old structures and other features
and document the history of the area. We told him that even if
the buildings were put on the National Register, it would have no
effect on private ownership. But Clark did not seem convinced.
He was still suspicious of our connection with BLM, our status as

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