IX. THE JUNEAU SECTION (Historic Information)
The oldest American settlement in Alaska is Juneau, and it has the most evident signs of that permanency which casual visitors are fond of denying to Alaskan towns. As the capital of the Territory, the metropolis of southeastern Alaska, and the centre of mining operations, Juneau was properly named for Joseph Juneau, whose discriminating eye and mining skill discovered the quartz and placer riches that have made this region famous.
Dominated by Mount Juneau, against whose background of sheer 3,000 feet the town is outlined as seen from the sea, the capital city is picturesque and interesting. The adjacent coasts of the Alaskan mainland are so steep that the average rise from the sea is about one foot in ten, while mountains a mile high are not unusual within five miles of the ocean, and even nearer in extreme cases. Juneau is built on the slope of a steep mountain, and within its limits there cannot be found a naturally level spot 100 feet square. Its prominent court-house is perched on the top of a high hill. The streets are necessarily winding in some places and in others rise sharply and in terraces, one above another. The roadways are plank-covered, and many vine-clad or flower-embowered cottages are reached by gray-mossed stairways. Altogether sightseeing is a vigorous and necessary exercise, for horses are few in Juneau.
With good hotels, indifferent variety shows, excellent restaurants, well-stocked curio shops, Indian basket pedlers, and a hospitable community, the town affords all comforts and many luxuries to visitors. For its residents there are schools, several churches, good markets and shops, a fine water supply, electric lights, an efficient telephone service, and cable connection with Seattle.
Moreover, Juneau is the commercial and supply centre for adjacent mining camps, has banks, assay offices, transportation facilities, hospitals, and other institutions. Here live the governor and other Federal officials for the transaction of judicial, administrative, and mining business. Two daily papers keep march with the world's progress, the chamber of commerce discusses trade and other public matters, the women assemble in their clubs, the few sick (for all Alaska is phenomenally healthy) are well cared for in hospitals, the children are in well-taught schools, the library is fair, and the community is hospitable, orderly, and enterprising. In ten visits there have been experienced no importunity by beggars, no affront from the mythical border ruffian, and no offensive drunken scenes or street disorders. In short, Juneau is a well-governed, intelligent, thriving, self respecting town, with a population varying between two and three thousand from summer to winter.
In addition to being on the through line of travel from Seattle to Skagway and to the upper Yukon, Juneau is the point of departure for the westward to Yakutat, Cordova, Valdez, Cook Inlet, Kodiak, Unalaska, and in summer to Bristol Bay. Adjacent mining camps, canneries, etc., are reached by local steamers - all travel in these regions being by water.
The Juneau gold-bearing areas extend along the mainland from Port Houghton to the head of Lynn Canal, and include the outlying islands, such as Douglass and Admiralty.
The Juneau mining industries owe their birth to placer and quartz discoveries made by Joe Juneau and by Richard Harris in 1880, the first ledge located being now worked by the Alaska-Juneau Company in the Silver Bow region.
The centre of quartz mining is on Douglas Island, where the operations of the famous Treadwell group of mines are conducted. The great Treadwell mining plant, with one exception the most extensive in the world, is the outgrowth of a prospector's location in 1881, which has developed a mill of 180 stamps in 1887 to an enormous system with workshops, concentrators, etc., and 880 stamps, of which 7S0 were in operation in 1907. Nine-tenths of the gold production in southeastern Alaska is from Douglas Island. Of the five great mines on Douglas Island, the Alaska-Treadwell Company own the Treadwell; the Alaska-Mexican Company the Mexican; and the Alaska-United Company the Ready Bullion and Seven Hundred Foot, the last named being leased to the Treadwell Company. An excellent account of these mines is to be found in Curle's "Gold Mines of the World," second edition, 1902; while a valuable treatise on the methods and statistics, written by the superintendent, A. H. Kinzie, has been published in "Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineering," Vol. V, p. 34.
The salient and interesting features of the Treadwell operations are, first, their practical continuity, day and night, every day in the year except Fourth of July and Christmas, and, second, that the material is low-grade ore which contains on an average in late years, with much very low-grade output, only a little over two dollars to the ton. It is a matter of interest that the lower veins, nearly 1,000 feet below the sea level, produce ore that is practically unchanged in its milling value from the upper layers.
The ore output of the Treadwell to January 1, 1903, was 4,500,000 tons, which averaged $4.02 gold per ton in its values. The production to January 1, 1906, of the Treadwell mine was $17,359,811; of the Alaska-Mexican from 1894 to 1904, inclusive, $4,176,833; of the Ready Bullion and Seven Hundred Foot, 1898 1904 inclusive, $3,222,184, aggregating $24,758,184. The Treadwell outputs of interest are. annual average of 1891-1900, $738,049, ranging from $568,857 in 1898 to $1,153,367 in 1900, average 1901-1900 inclusive, (1,520,354, ranging from $860,736 in 1901 to $2,007,482 in 1905.
In 1908 there were extensive improvements in the Treadwell mines, which materially increased its annual output and reduced the unit cost. Labor troubles were adjusted, the Treadwell mine extended to the 1,450-foot level, the water-power was increased, and oil replaced coal as fuel. Of these mines A. C. Spencer says:
The mines of the Treadwell group have always been the only great producers in the district, and the methods of mining and milling here employed represent about the highest possible attainment in the successful wording of low-grade ores under conditions which, though favorable, are not ideal.
As to the influence of the methods employed, and their extension to other low-grade lodes, Brooks adds:
At the Treadwell group (long an object lesson as a well-managed enterprise) the average cost of^ mining and milling is now about SI.30 per ton. The installation of hydro-electric plants in a region of such extensive water-powers will do much, in connection with the low cost of transportation, equable climate, abundance of timber, and favorable topography, to permit the exploitation of low-grade ore bodies [whether gold, silver, or copper].
From 60 to 75 per cent, of the ores are free-milling, the gold being crushed and then collected by mercurial methods, the balance is gathered in concentrates, assaying from $30 to $50 per ton, and sent to the Tacoma smelter for reduction.
Around the mines have grown two cities, the miners' town of Treadwell and the commercial town of Douglas City, the two containing between three and four thousand inhabitants. A regular ferry affords easy transit to Juneau, which is situated, five miles or so away, under the mountain across the Gastineau Channel. The mines of Douglas Island are brilliantly lighted by electricity and its towns are prosperous and orderly. The miners in the main are Scandinavians or Finns, whose pay ranges from $2.50 for common laborers to $4 or more daily for skilled miners.
On Gold Creek, near Juneau, lode mining has been successfully conducted for many years, and the output has been quite large each year. The permanent success of such enterprises depends on large ore bodies rather than on very rich ores. Late developments in the Gold Creek region justify belief in the presence there of very extensive veins. The Ebner Company since 1881 has gradually increased its installation to 25 stamps. The Alaska-Juneau Company worked continuously its 30 stamps during the seasons of 1907 and 1908. The Alaska-Perseverance Company, which has lately developed great bodies of ore, raised its installation of 50 stamps to 100 stamps in 1907, and notably increased its output in 1908. The lode deposit was uncovered in 1908 to the extent of 1,500 feet in length, varying from 60 to 100 feet in width.
On Sheep Creek, near Juneau, is the Silver Queen group of mines, which, discovered in 1887, have been brought under one management. With a 30-stamp mill, bucket trams, railway, water-power, etc., it has been a steady producer. The yield to the close of 1903 was placed at $465,000. The working season, May 1 to early November, depends largely on snowfall and water supply. Litigation, so common in Alaska, has hindered the development of the Gold Creek region.
North of Juneau, in the Lynn Canal region, there are many lodes located and under development, though slowly, especially in Montana and Yankee basins, Cowie, McGinnis, Windfall, and Salmon Creeks. At Peterson Creek a 2-stamp mill is in operation. On Eagle River operations have been steadily continued, and a 20-stamp mill was continuously working during 1907 and 1908. In the Berner Bay region most mines are tied up by litigation, but the Jualin Mine worked its 10-stamp mill during 1907, and had produced to 1907 about half a million of gold. Even larger amounts have been yielded by the Sherman group of mines in that locality.
South of Juneau the scattered mines are largely in the development stage at Holkham Bay, Limestone Inlet, and on Admiralty Island. At Snettisham the installation and operation of a 5-stamp mill place it in the productive class.
The Sitka District
The Sitkan mines are in a separate district, but are here treated owing to their minor importance at present. Several gold mines have been operated near Sitka, but only the DeGroff Mine, where a 2-stamp mill is now operated, has reached the producing stage.
Sitka itself is most interesting, but its situation on the outer edge of the islands, which made it convenient to Russia, puts it at a disadvantage with other Alaskan towns. In 1867 it was the capital of Alaska, the headquarters of the military district and of the Treasury agents, and the recognized centre of Alaskan interests. The establishment of a mission with school and hospital, the location of an agricultural experiment station, its selection as the diocesan residence of Bishop Rowe, and the establishment of cable communication, all added to its importance, while its designation as a naval station, with marine garrison and coal depot, was thought to have insured its prosperity. Suffering from the diversion of trade, it is, however, gradually losing its commercial importance.
Neglected though it be by trade, Sitka is the most interesting Alaskan town for tourists from the southland. It is reached by the inland passage through winding channels, hedged in by emerald shores and fascinating islets that charm every lover of the beautiful and unusual.
The town itself has a striking background of mountains, which is greatly enhanced in attractiveness under the rays of the not too frequent summer sun. Westward one looks on a landscape made beautiful by the graceful blue slopes of volcanic Mount Edgecumbe, especially when from its extinct snow-filled crater there drift down alabaster streaks of newly fallen snow, or when a vanishing storm leaves its summit adorned by drifting bannerets of fleecy clouds.
The Bay of Sitka can scarce be equalled for scenery: in fine weather for its mingled softness of beauty and rugged picturesqueness, or on dark stormy days for its stern and sombre grandeur.
On shore first of all are the Indian curio women, with varied wealth of articles quaint, graceful, and original, or harsh, common, and barbaric, as runs the taste and judgment of the visitor.
Sitka Town presents few structures of interest beyond the moss-covered log buildings of a past age and former r�gime and the severely simple Greek church. Externally the church is a green-roofed, bulbous-domed building, with a clock-faced tower and sharp spire, attractive as a novelty to most tourists. Its interior and the furnishings appeal to every one appreciative ol unusual art forms, or interested in either the method or the outcome of religious systems. To one class appeal the interior arrangements the holy of holies, the screens, the silver-cased icons, the ancient vestments wrought of cloth of gold, and the artistic silver censers all enhanced aesthetically by the external and surrounding simplicity of the building itself. In contemplative and susceptible minds, however, rise up holy memories of the Russian priest who furnished the church, Veniaminof, the combined St. Paul and St. John the Baptist of Alaskan natives. The consideration of such a life of consecration, devotion, and self-sacrifice is a benison to any soul.
Turning from Russian to American efforts, the road to other churches and to the Industrial Training School winds partly by the shore of the bay and partly by shady paths along Indian River through a park of charm and beauty. Indian River Park is so thoroughly sylvan and so unexpected in its aspects, as to be strikingly impressive. One looks skyward through tangled vistas of tall dark spruces, fragrant yellow cedars, or sombre, graceful pines, and turns bis eyes earthward to enjoy the dense flower-covered sward and extended patches of edible berries, in great variety. Meanwhile the ear is filled with the murmur of babbling brook or by sound of gentle waterfall, and gladdened by such melodious and full bird song as is rarely heard elsewhere in Alaska. Unfortunate the Sitkan tourist who has not been there favored by bright sun and these other delightful experiences, for he fell on evil days.
Lode mining is by far the greatest industry of southeastern Alaska, yet the day of placers and beach washing has not entirely passed. The placers of Gold Creek, which flows past Juneau, have yielded at least $1,000,000 to January 1, 1904, and the end is not yet. A third of this amount came from the Nowell placers in Silver Bow basin, where the installation of a hydraulic elevator and other improvements is expected largely to increase the output.
There are numerous placer claims in the Juneau gold belt that are either developing slowly, or are waiting for enough working capital to install modern appliances. Among these may be mentioned those at Holkham and Windham Bays, Salmon, Lemon, Nugget, McGinnis, Sheep Creeks, and possibly a few more, neglecting those that have been worked out under old methods, or been temporarily abandoned. The comparative unimportance of placer mining in southern Alaska is shown by the output for 1907, $300,000 for all such mines from Ketchikan to Kodiak.
It should be added that placer mining is undergoing a marked revolution, progressing from the early crude methods, and by hand power, to the more effective application of well-equipped plants, operated by steam or water power. Placer mining by machinery is, however, scarcely less complicated and uncertain than lode mining. It involves a thorough knowledge not only of the difficulties attendant on all operations in Alaska, whether of climate, transportation, or labor, but also as to existent conditions as regards ground frost, gold content, unit cost, volume of alluvium, location of pay streaks, and depth of placer. It is beyond question that the installation of expensive plants without thorough preliminary tests as to these factors, accounts for the financial failure of many widely heralded and alluring enterprises.
Placer mining is here in the process of development rather than in a profitable producing stage, though the Chilkat drainage basin promises well on Porcupine and Nugget Creeks. Installations have lately been made on the Porcupine to work systematically the extensive alluvial deposits that are known to exist there.
The black and ruby auriferous beach sands of the Alaskan coasts have been mined with moderate success, and on a small scale at Lituya Bay and at Yaktag.
According to Spencer, the mineral deposits in the immediate vicinity of Skagway are of such character as to offer, at present, little encouragement for their further development.
The town of Skagway is the distributing point for mining operations in this region, both American and Canadian. Besides other Federal offices, the Alaskan Road Commission is here located.