XI. THE VALLEY OF THE YUKON (Historic Information)
The Yukon River has rendered possible the exploitation of the mineral resources of the interior of Alaska through its wondrous facilities for cheap and reliable transportation. The river and its tributaries are navigable by steamboats nearly 3,000 miles, with as much more additional water channels that are traversed by poling boats. There is not a mining camp in all the great watershed of the tributaries of the Yukon that is 100 miles distant from navigable water. The length of the navigable season of the Yukon is surprising, considering its high latitude. At Circle, near the Arctic Circle, in nine years the Yukon opened between May 11 and 22, while it does not close until early November.
The borders of the great river furnish scanty results to the gold seeker, while the few placer-paying tributaries flow from the south, the ice-clad flanks of the high Alaskan range being more prolific of gold than the lower mountains to the north.
The principal settlements in the Yukon Valley merit brief allusions. Eagle, a town of about 200, near the Canadian boundary, is the customs office for the region, and a trade centre for Fortymile and other camps. It adjoins Fort Egbert, garrisoned by two companies of Infantry.
Fort Yukon, in 67° N., 145° W., is an old trading post, around which cluster a few native settlements.
Circle, a town of a few hundred, on the Yukon, south of the Arctic Circle, is the supply centre for the Birch Creek mines.
Rampart with its population of about 400, is the trade centre for the Minook mining regions to the south. It has an agricultural experiment station, which has been very successful in its crops of vegetables and hardy cereals.
Tanana is a small town opposite the mouth of the Tanana River, and all boats in and out that stream stop at Tanana. It has also been called Weare. Adjoining Tanana is Fort Gibbon, garrisoned by two companies of Infantry and a company of the Signal Corps. About two miles distant, up the Yukon, is the St. James Episcopal Mission.
Nulato, an Indian settlement of about 300, is an old centre of trading. It is occupied also by the St. Peter Catholic Mission. There are three other missions in the lower Yukon, the Holy Cross (Jesuit), the Anvik (Episcopalian), and Ikogmut (Russian).
In the Koyukuk Valley is Coldfoot, a mining camp 100 miles above Bettles. The latter within the Arctic Circle, being the head of navigation, is the centre of supplies for the Koyukuk mining camps.
The few productive gold placers that have been discovered in the basins of the minor tributaries of the Yukon are here briefly described.
Agriculture in the Central Yukon Valley.
(Experiment station at Fairbanks.)The Fortymile precinct, in which was found the first of the Yukon gold-producing placers, has an area of about 2,000 square miles and is intersected by the International Boundary, so that part lies in Alaska and part in Canada. Mining has been done under many adverse conditions, owing to the very short season a little over four months difficult access, and harassing customs regulations. The greater part of the district is in Alaska, but the mouth of the Fortymile River is in Canada, so that all supplies carried in by river are subject to customs regulations. Besides, the navigation of Fortymile River, by poling boats only, is hard and dangerous. The production has steadily fallen off from $307,000 in 1904 to $140,000 in 1907. The introduction of dredges and the construction of a government road from Eagle, wholly within American territory, are expected to increase the output. To the north of this district there are a few small placers in basins near Eagle, such as Seventymile and American, which produce a few thousand dollars annually.
Gold-producing placers have been developed about 100 miles up the Chandlar River, which are reached by steamer. This region is mainly in the prospective stage as yet.
A most promising region is that tributary to Circle, though its development has been slow owing to expensive methods, lack of communication, and high prices) the latter due to lack of roads, which has raised freight to 12 cents per pound, or more, per 100 miles. Despite these drawbacks the Birch Creek district produced from 1898 to 1904 an aggregate of $3,560,000. These mines have been developed entirely without outside capital, but lately capital has become interested so that the output will be largely increased through the modern machinery lately installed. The basins of Mammoth and Mastodon Creeks have produced nearly sixty per cent, of all the gold up to 1906. The introduction of wireless telegraphy at Circle and the construction of roads by the Alaska Road Commission are greatly facilitating business and reducing the cost of freight.
Rampart is the commercial centre of the mines in the basins of Minook, Glenn, and Baker Creeks, which have an annual production of about $300,000. The construction of roads, both Federal and private, and the introduction of modern machinery promise to largely increase the output of this region, which is steadily growing in importance.
Several creeks, Columbo, Ruby, etc., are in the prospecting stage between Fort Gibbon and the mouth of the Koyukuk.
Important gold discoveries have been made on the upper Innoko, the largest easterly tributary of the lower Yukon. The two centres of production are the Detna River and Gains Creek, which are respectively 250 and 400 miles from the mouth of the Innoko. Steamboats can run up the Innoko 200 miles to Deekakat, an Indian village about 50 miles below the Detna placers. Gains Creek is difficult of access, and the freight poled up from Deekakat is most expensive in the early days $400 per ton from Nome.
The gold placers of the Koyukuk Valley have been mined since 1899, and have been moderately successful in their output, which averages about $125,000 annually. The richest placers are more than 600 miles from the mouth of the Koyukuk, which is navigated irregularly two or three times a year as far as Bettles, 500 miles, whence freight is taken to Coldfoot, 100 miles further, by poling boat in summer and by sled in winter. The last steamboat comes out of the Koyukuk about the end of September. The very short open season, the long winter with its extreme cold and prolonged darkness, make mining most arduous and trying in these Koyukuk camps, of which one, Nolan Creek, within the Arctic Circle, is said to be the most northerly gold placer in the world. Nevertheless, the output has been considerable, the greatest producers being Emma, Smith, Myrtle, and Nolan Creeks.
Some prospects have been made across the mountain summit to the north, on the Arctic slope, but their values are yet undetermined.
From time to time there have been expectations of the utilization of the extensive coal beds of the Yukon, of which the known area approximates 400 square miles. However, oil has tended to displace coal as supplementary fuel to the 30,000 cords of wood used annually by Yukon steamboats.
The principal coal beds of the lower Yukon are bituminous, while the upper Yukon coal is sub-bituminous. The opening of coal mines on the Canadian Yukon has been financially successful, but the stimulated efforts on the Alaska Yukon have been unprofitable, though attempted at several places, especially on Washington Creek and near Nulato.
The entire output from the ten or twelve mines which have been worked in the Yukon Valley, aggregates, according to Mr. A. J. Collier, about 9,000 tons, valued at $76,000.
The generally inferior quality of the coal, the difficulties of local transportation, and the high cost of labor, are cogent reasons against the successful exploitation of these coal-fields in the near future.