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.

Sources:

  •  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

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