Alaska Outdoor Journal logo
Goldpanning on the Kenai Peninsula
- Page 4 -

AOJ Outdoor Activities

Kenai Peninsula mining - a history

Crew members from the St. Peter, a Russian vessel commanded by Vitus Bering, were the first Europeans to set foot in Russian America (Alaska) in 1741. But it was not until 1848 that the Russians mounted an expedition solely to search for precious metals in Alaska.

In 1848, Peter Doroshin, a Russian mining engineer, was sent by the Russian-America Co. to prospect for precious metals in Alaska. He found only a few ounces of placer gold in the upper Kenai River (Figure 6) and his mining venture was abandoned. Doroshin was convinced, however, that large placer gold deposits were present in the Kenai Mountains. Thirty-eight years later, his hunch was proven correct.

In the late 1880s, after two seasons of prospecting along Turnagain Arm, a miner named King was rewarded with four pokes of gold. Looking for King's discovery, other prospectors found gold on Resurrection Creek, and other nearby streams in 1894.

As word spread of these discoveries, prospectors began to trickle into the region. In 1895, claims were staked on Mills and Sixmile Creeks and gold was discovered near Girdwood.

Figure 1. Hydraulic mining on Juneau Creek. Note hand-stacked boulders and precarious wheelbarrow bridge.
By 1896, a full-fledged gold rush was on! The first arrivals were seasoned miners from the American west and Canada. Late comers tended to be inexperienced miners with grand dreams of easy riches. Thousands of prospectors arrived in Cook Inlet during this period to seek their fortunes. News of the district's richness became exaggerated over time dooming many stampeders to bitter failure.

A record amount of gold was produced in 1897. A second short-lived rush occurred in 1898--mainly due to an overflow of miners from the Yukon gold rush in Canada. Mining was simple--liberal use of a pick and shovel and a strong back. Miners shoveled gold-bearing stream gravels into sluices (long narrow wooden boxes through which water was run). Slats lying crosswise in the bottom of the boxes caught the gold, and let the gravel waste (tailings) wash through. Rich, shallow deposits were soon gone.

Figure 2. Sluice box operation on Lynx Creek. Gold-bearing gravel from the stream cut on the right of the photo was shoveled into the sluice box.

Later, hydraulicking was used. A high pressure waterjet broke up the gravels, which in turn were washed through a sluice box. Large amounts of gravel could be processed in a shorter time, allowing lower grade gravels to be mined at a profit. To get enough water at the pressure needed, miners dug long ditches on hillsides above their operations to collect water and funnel it down to the mining area. One such ditch exists today as a straight strip of alder brush on the hillside east of Canyon Creek, 3.2 miles south of Hope Junction.

In some streams, early miners noticed milky-white quartz boulders with small specks of gold in them. Curious prospectors, looking for the source, discovered gold-rich quartz veins on Palmer, Bear, and Sawmill Creeks in 1898.

Settlements at Hope and Sunrise sprang up along the shores of Turnagain Arm. Both mining communities served as supply and entertainment sources for thousands of people. Sunrise all but disappeared after nearby mining played out and fire destroyed much of the town. Placer mining on nearby Resurrection Creek and lode deposits in Palmer Creek kept Hope going. By 1931, only about 20 men were actively engaged in placer mining on local creeks. Today, scant evidence exists of Sunrise, but Hope survives.

Almost 100 years of mining in the northern Kenai Peninsula has produced about 133,800 oz. of placer gold. Hard rock mines produced an additional 30,000 oz. Suction dredging is currently the dominate mining method.


Page One

Home | Outdoor Activities

Original Content Copyright 1996-2010
Visual Media Design & Alaska Outdoor Journal
All Rights Reserved