Mining: An Alaska Tradition
Pre European Contact
Minerals have always been important for livelihoods in the north. Native Alaskans used gold, copper and other metals for jewelry, utensils, and weapons and for trade prior to European contact.
The first documented mining by others was of iron ore by Russians on the Kenai Peninsula in 1793 followed by gold prospecting and placer mining in the early 1800’s. After acquisition by the United States, exploration and mining continued and gradually increased for both hard rock and placer minerals.
Turnagain arm was experiencing a gold rush in 1895 and this led to the development of two towns, Hope and Sunrise. The Turnagain arm has seen over 100 years of varying activity and has produced 134K ounces of gold.
A high-grade gold deposit was discovered between the Matanuska and Susitna basins in 1886 and became the Independence Mine. The mine contributed almost 172K ounces to the Willow Creek Hatcher Pass district’s production of 666K ounces. Before the Klondike gold rush in 1896, discoveries along Birch Creek caused several prospectors to arrive at what is now known as the Circle mining district. The Circle district has produced 1 million ounces of gold.
About 1880 young mining engineer by the name of George Pilz, while exploring southeast Alaska, offered a reward to any local native chiefs who could show him a gold deposit. Chief Kowee of the Auk Tlingit arrived with ore samples from the Gastineau Channel and Pilz hired Joseph Juneau and Richard Harris to do additional prospecting. Juneau and Harris found a large gold deposit at the head of what was to be named Gold Creek. This became the A-J Mine. The Treadwell mine was also developed in the area.
The discovery and development of the A-J and Treadwell gold deposits eventually led to the territorial Capitol moving from Sitka to Juneau. The southeast Alaska discoveries were followed by the discovery of the Fortymile, Central, Nome, Fairbanks, Iditarod, and many other significant placer gold districts.
Prospecting in the Interior followed discovery of the Klondike in Yukon and the Fortymile in Alaska. The Fortymile district, discovered in 1896, has produced over 550K ounces of placer gold. By 1899 placer gold was discovered in Nome and led to an 11-year surge of miners that produced 46 million dollars’ worth of gold. The Cape Nome district has produced 5 million ounces and sparked mining in the Council-Solomon district that has reached 1 million ounces so far.
Felix Pedro discovered gold on Goldstream Creek near Fairbanks in 1902. By 1905 the Fairbanks district production had reached 6 million dollars a year.
The Kennicott copper deposit was discovered by Clarence Warner and Jack Smith in the early 1900s. It eventually proved to contain the largest and richest copper ore deposits ever found. This mine was commissioned in 1905 and operated 33 years producing 590K tons of copper and 9 million ounces of silver before closing.
The Hot Springs and Tolovana-Livengood districts, mined in the same era and adjacent to the Fairbanks District, have produced 580K and 530K ounces, respectively. From 1908 to 1910 Iditarod joined the gold rush districts and produced over 1.5 million ounces of gold. This centrally located discovery led to others in the area including the Innoko-Tolstoi-Ophir district at 730K ounces and the Aniak-Tuluksak district at 588K ounces of production.
Gold was discovered at Valdez Creek in 1903 by J.C. Clarkson, John M. Johnson, James S. Smith and Peter Monahan from Valdez, for which the creek was named.
The Goodnews Bay platinum placer deposit was discovered in 1938. Mining by a floating dredge produced over 500,000 ounces of platinum since that date.