VII. MINING IN GENERAL GOLD, COPPER, AND COAL (Historic Information)
In connection with the mining industries of Alaska, very brief though inadequate allusion is made to the United States Geological Survey, both on account of its intimate relations with mineral products and also for its invaluable labors in the interests of the Territory. Its able officials have made geologic reconnaissances in Alaska covering about 100,000 square miles, topographic surveys of about 120,000 square miles, and hydrographic studies covering some 2,o00 square miles. The results of such surveys have been incorporated in fifty or more separate publications, which cover the subjects and areas under consideration with such fulness, practicality, and accuracy as to elicit the high est commendation. These volumes have been most beneficial to the mining public, and are invaluable to all Alaskan interests. It may be added that practically all the data now discussed have been drawn from the official publications of the Geological Survey.
While the importance of mining in Alaska is well known, its great extent is illustrated by the following statement of Mr. A. H. Brooks, an acknowledged authority.
It is estimated that during 1908 there were about 770 productive placer mines in Alaska, employing about 4,400 men. In the same year there were 12 auriferous lode mines and 9 copper mines on a productive basis, giving employment to about 2,000 men. In addition there were probably about 4,000 men engaged in prospecting and in dead work in connection with
Alaska is the latest region to enter the list of mineral-producing countries of the world. It is but seventeen years since, in 1892, Alaska excited a faint and transitory interest by passing the million-dollar mark in gold productivity. When in 1900 the despised Seward Peninsula, which in 1899 contributed only three per cent, of the Territory's mineral output, produced by itself more gold than all Alaska had yielded the year preceding, the world turned its attention for a moment from South Africa and the Klondike to the barren shores of Bering Sea and its wondrous wealth of golden sands. A similar diversion of interest occurred when the gold production of the Yukon basin (the Fairbanks district) more than quintupled from $1,300,000 in 1904 to 86,900,000 in 1905.
In speaking of the mineral resources of Alaska, one has in mind only the gold production, as the output (in round numbers) of $148,000,000 from 1880 to 1908 inclusive, consisted of $142,000,000 gold as against $4,100,000 (less than three per cent, of the total) in copper, $1,150,000 in silver, and less than half a million of dollars in coal, tin, marble, and gypsum.
The following figures show the more important increases in the total mineral output for various years : 1890, $2,585,575, 1899, $5,703,076, 1900, $8,238,294, 1904, $9,567,535, 1905, $16,478,142, 1906, $23,37o,008, 1907, $20,887,055, and 1908 $19,929,800.
The earliest gold production recorded was in 1880, $20,000, from the Juneau region, which district held the supremacy until its yield of $2,152,000 in 1899 was surpassed that year by the Seward (Nome) Peninsula's output of $2,800,000. Nome gave way in 1905 to the Yukon Basin (Fairbanks) yield of $6,900,000, which district has since held the palm.
The copper mines of Alaska are in their initiatory stage of development, the only productive operations being confined to Prince of Wales Island and Prince William Sound. The extension of railway facilities up the Copper Valley in 1908 opens up the valuable and extensive deposits of the Kotsina-Chitina region. Within the next few years the copper production will very largely increase.
The coal deposits of Alaska are extensive, widespread, and of very great value, there being known coal fields of an area of 12,600 square miles. To prevent monopoly President Roosevelt withdrew coal lands from location and by regulations of April 12, 1907, authorized entries in limited quantities.
On this subject the Commissioner of the General Land Office says:
These withdrawals were occasioned by the widespread belief that public coal lands were being improvidently disposed of, and that they were even falling into the ownership of corporations able to control the output of the mines and fix their own prices on the product.
Placer Mining on Ester Creek, near Fairbanks. (Washing up) the dump, or frozen gravel, mined in winter.)
To the present time the amount of the coal mined in Alaska has been nominal, the output of 1897, with its value of $28,000, being the maximum. Mines are worked for local use on Alaska and Seward peninsulas and at Bering Lake. The important coal veins of the Controller Bay region are in process of development, and much prospecting has been done in the promising Matanuska coal belt. Although lignite is mined and largely used on the Canadian Yukon, yet it has been neglected on the Alaskan River and displaced by oil. The extensive and high-grade coal deposits of the Controller Bay and Matanuska fields are without reasonable doubt destined to furnish fuel for the entire Pacific coast region.
The petroleum fields of Cook Inlet and Controller Bay are practically in the non-productive stage of development, though the Katalla wells furnish petroleum fuel for local construction work in that region.
Deposits of antimony, graphite, iron, quicksilver, and tungsten have been found, but as yet not in such quantities or under such conditions as to make their development profitable.
The tin mines of Seward Peninsula are still in process of development, there being but two mines in operation, with a maximum output of $38,640 in 1906.
In 1906 the placers yielded 84 per cent, of the gold, and the gold silicious ores 16 per cent.; the copper-ore production was only four-tenths of one per cent. In 1908 the preliminary statement of the United States Geological Survey shows a marked change, though possibly of a temporary duration, since the production from the gold silicious ores had risen to 19 per cent., and that of the placers correspondingly decreased.
Interior mining is done under great disadvantages of severe climate, short season (about four months each year), costly transportation, insufficient water, expensive fuel, frozen ground, and uncertain labor. These adverse conditions particularly affect placer mining, which produces about 85 per cent, of the gold output. Along the southeastern coast, however, where transportation is rapid, freights low, and fuel comparatively cheap, mining operations aie conducted at a minimum cost, as is illustrated later in the account of the Treadwell mines.
The costly, elaborate plants which are found in all rich placer districts make Alaska a rich man s country. Bonanzas are exceedingly rare, and to an increasing extent the product comes from mines operated by men of considerable capital. In general the cost of production is double what it is in the United States proper. During nearly eight months of the long winter the demand for labor is very greatly reduced in the Yukon Basin and on Seward Peninsula, which causes thousands of men to leave each autumn for the "outside," with a consequent uncertainty of their return the following season. With constantly changing force and the necessity of using much new and untrained labor, the situation has been aggravated in some years by labor strikes. As the extended journey out and back from Fairbanks costs about $200, and entails a loss of time exceeding a month, the enhanced cost of production is obvious. Mining industries in southeastern Alaska are almost entirely free from these disadvantages.
Cheaper, more rapid transportation, and less costly fuel are the two great needs for the further development of placer mining. Coal costs about a cent and a half per pound on Seward Peninsula, and at Juneau its price has risen to such a point that it is being rapidly replaced by oil. With improved conditions and reduced rates of transportation there must be an enormous increase in the mineral output of interior Alaska, where present prices are prohibitory of any mining, except of the richest ground.