The Tanana River is the largest tributary of the Yukon, and its mineral resources are unsurpassed by those of any other river basin of Alaska. In addition to its gold placers and coal beds, it has extensive forests, wonderful hot springs, and land areas suited to agriculture and forage plants.


Of overshadowing importance in the Tanana Valley are the gold placers of Fairbanks district, which annually produce more gold than any other district in the Territory.

The discoveries and explorations of Allen in 1885 in this valley, the charting of the Tanana River by Brooks and Peters in 1898, the establishment by E. T. Barnette of a trading post on the site of Fairbanks in 1901, and the discovery of paying placers by Pedro in 1902, were the successive factors which led up to the development of this great mining district, which yields yearly about $10,000,000 of gold, a larger amount than is elsewhere mined in an Alaskan district.

The modest output from Pedro Creek in 1902 gave rise to extravagant hopes and consequent disappointments in 1903, but the influx of miners continued, though the output for 3,000 prospectors in 1904 was less than $1,200 per man. The population doubled in the succeeding year, and the yield rose from $350,000 in 1904 to the phenomenal amount of $3,750,000 in 1905. Stampedes to other camps, union strikes, droughts, forest fires, and disturbed labor conditions affected the production to some extent, but it rose to $9,174,617 in 1906, and was not materially reduced either in 1907 or 1908.

There are four mining precincts at considerable distances from the central district at Fairbanks the Kantishna and Bonnefield to the southwest, the Tenderfoot to the southeast, and Hot Springs to the north.

Bonnefield and Kantishna Regions

These precincts lie southwest of Fairbanks, the Bonnefield placers being between Wood and Cantwell Rivers, while the other includes the Kantishna Basin and extends to the Mt. McKinley region. Bonnefield precinct is most difficult of access and the placers yet discovered are comparatively unprofitable at present.

The Kantishna is navigable about 175 miles, so that freight is easily landed at Diamond City on the Bear-paw, whence it is about 25 miles to Glacier City, the base of supplies for the two richest placers, Eureka and Glacier Creeks. Short seasons, high freights, and costly supplies have tended to retard materially the development of these precincts, which await more systematic examination and modern machinery.

In course of time the series of coal beds, which stretch from the upper Nenana eastward to the Delta River, will be exploited despite their low grade quality and remoteness of situation. Extensive deposits of lignite are prominently visible in Bonnefield precinct along the northern slopes of the Alaskan range, where there is an area of 600 square miles of known coal lands. Many claims have been staked, and some coal has been mined and used locally in the Kantishna region. While transportation of coal to market in adjacent mining regions is now unprofitable, yet it is anticipated that the coal may be utilized by generating electric power locally and transmitting it to Fairbanks, about 75 miles distant.

Tenderfoot Precinct

This precinct, about 75 miles southeast of Fairbanks, near and below the mouth of the Goodpaster River, comprises the basins of Banner, Shaw, and Tenderfoot Creeks. It was unpromising financially in 1904 to 1905, when freights were $80 per ton from Fairbanks, while communication was tedious and uncertain. Its output rose to $100,000 in 1906, and with an influx of prospectors and the discovery of good ground it increased to $325,000 in 1907, its yield is claimed to approximate $500,000 m 1908.

Hot Springs Precinct

The Baker Hot Springs are remarkable for their extent and their contributory effects on crops grown thereat. Lately they are identified with mining, through the gold placers lately discovered in their immediate vicinity, on Baker, Sullivan, and other adjacert creeks.


Far the greatest gold producer is the Fairbanks district, of which the centre is Cleary Creek, about 9 miles from the city of Fairbanks. Herein located the Pedro place, the first paying discovery to which the district owes its prosperity. Cleary stands first with its production of $10,000,000 or more of gold, from a creek 7 miles long. It bids fair to be surpassed in the aggregate by Ester Creek, where the best modern machinery has been installed, while the productivity of Goldstream, 40 miles long, will eventually be fabulous, judging from its past output. Original Pedro placer is yet mined, while Fairbanks, Dome, Vault, and other creeks are large producers. On each important stream has grown up a considerable camp, with populations varying from 200 to about 700.


The district is equipped with the best and most efficient mining machinery, is in telephonic communication with every mine or local business house of any importance, has its freight handled promptly and cheaply, is provided with railway transportation winter as well as summer to Fairbanks and adjacent mines and towns. Amply provided as it is with all the necessities and many of the luxuries of life, it seems rather to be a mining district in Montana or Nevada than in the interior of Alaska, almost on the edge of the Arctic Circle, 2,000 miles north of the Puget Sound ports.

The Town of Fairbanks

The valley of the Tanana offers favorable conditions for permanent population that are unsurpassed elsewhere in Alaska. Fairbanks' permanent population approximates 4,000 in number, which is temporarily increased to 5,000 at certain seasons. Communication with the outside is convenient and comfortable in summer, either through Nome by river and sea, or up the Yukon to Dawson and thence out via Skagway and the inland passage. In winter, by easy stage travel with comfortable road-houses, the town is within eight or nine days of Valdez, an open winter port in weekly steamer communication with Seattle. Either route is, however, so expensive as to keep the labor supply down to the minimum for mining operations during the open season, May to September inclusive. Under such conditions wages are not unduly high, five to six dollars per day with board. "What is known as skilled labor commands considerably higher prices, but the demand for such labor is strictly limited.

Fairbanks is a well-built town, especially within its fire limits. An electric plant furnishes light and power; the telephone service includes nearly 300 stations in the city and extends by long-distance lines to seven adjacent towns; a central steam plant heats the business quarters and many private residences, the fire system has a capacity of 15 streams at 140 pounds pressure; there is a good supply of water distributed in the business section by mains; three banks, with assay offices, and foundries cover the material side of life. Among the moral elements are five religious denominations with pastors and churches, excellent schools for about 150 pupils, two efficient hospitals open to all, three newspapers (two dailies), and a quarterly religious magazine. The papers publish the cable news of the world, which appears in creditable form through type-setting machines and cylinder presses. There are comfortable hotels, excellent restaurants, and a variety of stores from which almost everything can be obtained. A large theatre, social clubs, base-ball park in summer, curling and skating halls in winter, supplement the more quiet amusements of the many attractive homes. Adjoining Fairbanks more than 30,000 acres have been homesteaded, from which are now annually produced large crops of potatoes and other vegetables, while hay and other forage are now grown on a large scale. The agricultural productions of the Hot Springs homestead, about 200 miles from Fairbanks in the lower valley of the Tanana, are simply astonishing in their variety, size, and quality. The lumber industry is so extensive that large capital, about 250 men, and five saw-mills are steadily engaged in handling the poplar, birch, hem lock, and spruce which in great quantities are rafted to Fairbanks from the upper Tanana and Chena Rivers.

Fairbanks Town, Tanana Valley, on July 4,1908.

An important enterprise is the electric plant of Fairbanks for furnishing light and power for the adjacent mining towns, from 9 to 15 miles distant. Eventually it is probable that long-distance power will be obtained economically through plants installed at convenient points in the coal regions of the valley.

The quantities of supplies in the way of machinery, clothing, food, etc., that are imported from the outside may be judged from the fact that the two great firms, the Northern Navigation and North American Trading Companies, annually bring into the Tanana Valley about 25,000 tons of freight, while considerably more is handled by independent steamboats. The distribution of this enormous quantity of freight would be practically impossible, if there had not been provided suitable road and railway facilities to meet the rapidly developing demands. As indicated in Chapter IV, very much has been done by the Alaska Road Commission to improve the local roads, thus to reduce rates of freight, facilitate travel by stage, and, most important, render possible a regular mail service. The work accomplished has been astonishing, and one now travels in comfort from October to May in fine modern stages, over the 373 miles of roads between Fairbanks and Valdez, the trip taking from eight to nine days. During the open season May to early October about three-quarters of this road can be travelled by wheeled conveyance, and probably by 1910 the whole distance will be thus passable. Over one section of this road there passed in a season 24 tons of mail, 1,540 tons of freight, and about 1,200 passengers. Around Fairbanks there have been built eight local roads, 75 miles in length, connecting every important town or camp with Fairbanks or the railway.

Important as are the roads, they are secondary in point of transportation to the Tanana Valley Railway, a system of 45 miles which has been constructed and operated by private enterprise. Commenced in 1900, it has since been operated continuously, winter and summer. Connecting the deep-water port of Chena and Fairbanks, the main line follows the placer mining region to Gilmore and Chatinika, thus reaching all the large producing placers. More than 54,000 passengers and about 15,000 tons of freight passed over the road in one season. When the railway was opened the local freight rate was $3 per ton mile, which has been steadily reduced by the railway from 88 cents per ton mile in 1906 to 58 cents in 1908. An idea of the enterprise of the railway builders, and of the cost involved, may be had from the statement that much of the material was moved 6,000 miles, while the freight cost twice the initial value of the rails.

It is evident that the gold production of the Tanana Valley is far from having reached its maximum, and that there are opportunities for the further development of its vast coal deposits, its forest wealth, and its agricultural possibilities. Further, the writer is of the opinion that many of the settlements in this great valley will be permanent, even when its gold placers shall yield in importance to other resources.

Back to Table of Contents