Saturday, May 23, 2015

Deadwood Creek mining camp near Central survives as family retreat

Deadwood Creek is a 20-mile-long northeasterly flowing stream in the Circle Mining District. It tumbles down out of the mountains before meandering across flats and emptying into Crooked Creek a few miles east of Central.

Reputed to be the “most mined-out” creek in the region, Deadwood has been pretty much continuously mined since the early 1890s. It and its tributaries, along with the Mastodon Creek area to the west, were the two primary gold-producing areas in the Circle Mining District.

Gold was discovered on nearby Birch Creek in 1892 and by November 1893 the entire length of Deadwood Creek had been staked. When Josiah Spurr toured the area for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in 1896, local miners referred to the creek as “Hog’em Gulch,” since, as Spurr wrote, “Its discoverer tried to hog all the claims for himself, taking up some for his wife, his wife’s brother, his brother, and the niece of his wife’s particular friend; even, it is said, inventing fictitious personages that he might stake out claims for them.”

At an organizing meeting of miners, the question of naming the creek arose. One miner suggested the “Hog’em” moniker, but cooler heads prevailed and the more dignified “Deadwood Creek” was chosen. However, locals called it Hog’em Gulch for years afterward.

The gold-producing placers of the Circle Mining District are relatively shallow, and during the district’s early years, operations were typified by individuals or small groups of miners using simple methods such as drifting (underground mining of frozen gold-bearing gravels sitting on top of bedrock), open-cut mining (excavating from the surface to reach gold-bearing gravels), and small-scale hydraulicking (washing out gold-bearing gravels using high-pressure jets of water).

According to the USGS report, Gold Placers of the Circle Mining District, there were 106 claims along Deadwood Creek in 1907, but over the years claims were consolidated as more efficient large-scale mining techniques were introduced. After 1909, large hydraulic operations were the norm until they in turn were replaced by mechanized operations starting in the mid-1930s. By 1936, only six placer gold-mining operations worked the creek.

Those operations were along the upper portions of the creek, but in the latter 1930s a small dredge churned the gravels along the lower creek. Miners Andrew Olson, Tony Lindstrom and Alex Palmgren formed the Deadwood Mining Company and built a small dredge that operated along Deadwood Creek during 1937 and 1938. The trio moved the dredge to Nome Creek (on the other side of Eagle and 12-Mile Summits) in 1939.

Wrede Brothers Mining Company, sometimes called Deadwood Creek Mining, was one of the few placer operations along the upper creek during the mid 1900s. The four Wrede brothers — Bill, Fritz, Everett and Ray —came to Alaska in the 1930s and settled into mining in the Circle District. Bill and Ray eventually moved to Fairbanks and operated a dry-cleaning business called College Cleaners. Fritz and Everett stayed in mining and ran a small drag-line operation along Deadwood Creek, just upstream from the confluence of Deadwood and Switch Creek.

They built a small mining camp just above the creek on the downhill side of Deadwood Creek Road. There are six buildings still standing, all of them wood-frame structures sheathed with tar paper. A large cook shack and two smaller buildings sit to one side the road leading down into the camp, with two small bunkhouses and an even smaller storage shed/workshop on the opposite side of the road.

My drawing shows the storage shed and one of the bunkhouses. The camp, typical of small mining operations, is still owned and used by the Wrede family.


  •  Bill O’Leary interview with Mary and Frank Warren at Central 1984. University of Alaska Oral History Collection. (Bill was a long-time Central area resident.)
  •  Conversations with Pat Babcock and Jeanette Wrede  (Ray Wrede’s daughters)
  • “Gold Placers of the Circle District, Alaska—Past, Present, and Future.” Warren Yeend. U.S. Geological Survey. 1991
  • “Mining in the Circle District.” J. B. Mertie, Jr.. In Mineral Resources of Alaska. U.S. Geological Service. 1929
  • Yukon Frontiers—Historic Resource Study of the Proposed Yukon-Charley National River. Melody Webb Grauman. National Park Service. 1977
  • Through the Yukon Gold Diggings. Josiah Edward Spurr. Eastern Publishing. 1900

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Venerable Central Roadhouse almost made it to 21st century

The Central Roadhouse as it looked in the mid 1980s

In the summer of 1896, Josiah Spurr, Frank Schrader and Harold Goodrich floated the Yukon River, investigating mining areas for the U.S. Geological Survey. One of their objectives was the “Birch Creek Diggings” (now called the Circle Mining District) 50 miles southwest of Circle. In Spurr’s book, Through the Gold Diggings, he relates that during their Birch Creek side-trip they patronized four roadhouses.

The first was 12-Mile Roadhouse, located where the trail crossed Birch Creek. From there the trail branched, with one segment heading south-southwest to Deadwood Creek (then called Hog’em Gulch) approximately seven miles east of Central. Hog’em Junction Roadhouse was located where Deadwood Creek emptied into Crooked Creek.

The other branch veered west through what we now call Central, roughly following the current route of the Steese Highway. Mammoth Junction Roadhouse (later called Miller House) was located on Mammoth Creek just north of Eagle Summit, about 32 miles from 12-Mile roadhouse. Central Roadhouse was situated where the trail from Mammoth Creek crossed Crooked Creek, about midway between Miller House and 12-Mile Roadhouse.

With the 1902 discovery of gold in the hills north of the Chena River, a route linking the Circle-Miller House trail to Fairbanks developed. In Judge James Wickersham's book, Old Yukon: Tales, Trails and Trials, he mentioned lunching at Central Roadhouse on his way from Circle to Fairbanks in the spring of 1903.

The Hog’em Junction Roadhouse eventually disappeared, probably after the Alaska Road Commission finished upgrading the Circle-Miller House trail into a wagon road in the early 1910s. Central Roadhouse survived and prospered though, and a small community grew up around it, providing shelter for travelers, and goods and services for miners in the surrounding hills.

Little is known of the roadhouse’s earliest owners, but by the 1920s it was owned by Henry “Old Man” Stade. During this period Alf “Riley” Erickson (who eventually took over the roadhouse) began working there. (Erickson was also the Central postmaster from 1925-42.)

When the roadhouse burned down in 1925, Stade and Erickson immediately began rebuilding. According to National Register of Historic Places documents, by 1926 they had replaced the original one-story roadhouse with a larger two-story 20-by-52-foot log structure (shown in the drawing). The new roadhouse had a shallow gable roof insulated with dirt and covered with galvanized metal roofing.

The roadhouse, which was situated south of and directly adjacent to the road, originally had a small arctic entry on its north, road-facing side, and a large storage shed tacked on to the south side. There were also numerous outbuildings, including a residence next to the roadhouse, barn and several warehouses across the road.

The Steese Highway was completed in 1928, and while it brought more traffic through Central, it also reduced the need for overnight lodging. Circle Hot Springs Hotel, opened in 1930, offered more luxurious accommodations, and travelers between Fairbanks and Circle often bypassed the roadhouse.

The roadhouse served as a community center for many years, but that wasn’t really enough to keep it solvent. In 1948, several months after the owner, Riley Erickson, died, the roadhouse closed and never re-opened. New owners used it for storage after that, and garage doors were installed on the east end of the building.

The outbuildings gradually disappeared, but the roadhouse itself was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Its owners hoped to rehabilitate the structure into a community center and museum, but decades of neglect made the project too expensive. However, when the Circle District Historical Society Museum was constructed about a half mile down the road, many of the roadhouse's furnishings and accoutrements were moved there.

According to Central resident Al Cook, repeated vandalism and trespassing forced the building’s owners to raze it in the early 1990s. All that is left is a pile of logs beside the Steese Highway, just east of the Crooked Creek.


  • “Alaska’s historic roadhouses.” Michael Smith. Alaska Division of Parks, 1974
  • “Central Roadhouse - National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form.” Jane Williams & Patricia Oakes. National Park Service. 1977
  • Conversation with Al Cook, resident of Central
  • Jane Williams interview by Laurel Tyrrel. Oral History Collection at University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives. 1995. Jane was a long-time resident of Central and co-owner of the Central Roadhouse.
  • “Old Yukon: Tales, Trails, and Trials.” James Wickersham. Washington Law Book Company. 1938
  • Ruth Olson interview by Laurel Tyrrel. Oral History Collection at University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives. 1995. Ruth was a long-time resident of Central.
  • “Through the Yukon Gold Diggings.” Josiah Edward Spurr. Eastern Publishing. 1900.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The East Fork Cabin at Denali National Park and Preserve - Adolf Murie's base camp for pioneering wolf studies

The East Fork (Murie) cabin in the 1990s

As early as 1922, rangers erected a tent near the confluence of the East Fork of the Toklat River and Coal Creek (43 miles from park headquarters) for shelter during winter patrols of Mount McKinley National Park. In 1928 the Alaska Road Commission (ARC), which was building a road through the park, constructed a shelter cabin there.
The “East Fork” cabin became part of a construction camp providing support for constructing a bridge across the East Fork and the section of road over Polychrome Pass. Photos of the camp show about 10 tents spread out below the cabin. After the road was completed, rangers used the cabin for shelter during their patrols.

According to National Register of Historic Places documents, the one-room 14-foot by 16-foot cabin is constructed of peeled logs sawn flat on three sides. The ends of the logs are squared notched. A gable roof extends beyond the cabin front, forming a porch, and there is a small storage platform under the eaves to the left of the front door.

The cabin was originally roofed with rolled roofing, which has been replaced with wood shakes. The rear wall has a small window, and there is a larger double window in the south wall. Both windows were originally multi-pane, but have been upgraded with single-pane windows. When the cabin is not occupied, the windows are protected with bear-proof shutters (with nails protruding outward to discourage bruins) and a removable bear-proof door.

The cabin has been occupied by many park employees in its 80-plus years but the most well-known resident was Adolf Murie, renowned wildlife biologist and wolf expert. Adolf (1899-1974) first came to Denali in 1922 as the assistant to his older half-brother Olaus Murie, who was studying caribou for the U.S. Biological Survey.

During parts of their “off” seasons, the brothers rented a cabin in Fairbanks. While there they became acquainted with Margaret Thomas and her half-sister, Louise Gillette. Olaus married Margaret in 1924, and Adolf and Louise were married in 1932.

After the 1923 field season Adolf returned to the Lower 48 to complete his education, eventually receiving his Ph.D from the University of Michigan in 1929. He was hired by the newly formed Wildlife Division of the National Park Service in 1934 and was sent back to Mount McKinley National Park in 1939 to study the relationship between wolves and Dall sheep.

During the 1939 field season Adolf worked out of the Igloo Creek patrol cabin at 33 Mile of the park road with two assistants. In his book, The Wolves of Mt. McKinley, he wrote that he hiked about 1,700 miles that summer.

The next summer Adolf (along with his wife, 4-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son) moved into the East Fork cabin. Adolf conducted his wildlife studies solo that year, while Louise and children stayed at the cabin. Adolf wrote of arriving home one evening to discover that Louise, brandishing a stove poker, had been forced to chase a grizzly away from the cabin that day.

Adolf’s pioneering wolf study (published in 1944) forever changed how people viewed wolves. He depicted wolves as complex creatures with unique individual personalities and strong family ties. He even named the wolves he studied. Adolf also demonstrated the inter-dependent and generally beneficial relationship between predator and prey.

He later worked full-time at Mount McKinley National Park, and according to the book, Snapshots from the Past; a roadside history of Denali National Park and Preserve, spent several full years and over 25 summers” at Denali. Eight of those summers were spent at what is now called the Murie cabin.


"Adolph Murie: Denali’s wilderness conscience." Linda Franklin. Master’s thesis, University of Alaska Fairbanks. 2004  
 “Patrol Cabins – Mt. McKinley National Park, National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form.” National Park Service. 1986  

Snapshots from the Past: a roadside history of Denali National Park and Preserve. Jane Bryant. National Park Service. 2011  

The Wolves of Mt. McKinley. Adolf Murie. National Park Service. 1944