December 1897: The Witch City Mining Company's Secret.


The Copper River Country -- land of mystery, land of promise, land of opportunity, so thought the men of the Witch City Mining Company. And, they had a secret, or so one of the party members confided to a Seattle Post Intelligencer reporter. B.F. Haines, the leader, knew a man who had ventured into the Copper River area and after a few weeks returned laden with gold. Haines had information on the country and particularly rich grounds.

B.F. Haines of Salem, Mass. put together the Witch City Mining Company. For an advance of $250, Haines guaranteed party members transportation to Orca and six month's supply of food, clothing and prospector's tools.

Some of the men were married. The partings were hard. When Lee kissed his wife and twelve year old daughter good-bye in Boston, his wife said she thought she'd never see him again.

By the time the Witch City Company reached Seattle in October, they had decided they needed a mountain man who had experience prospecting, a person who could teach them how to survive and prosper in the wilds of Alaska. Millard F. Tanner, a prospector from Montana, answered their inquiries, but he was short $70 of the $250 required to join. The others decided to grubstake him for the balance.



The Seattle P-I interviewed Haines. Like others going into the Copper River area, Haines refused to divulge the secret of his destination stating only that they would pick up dog teams in Sitka and proceed to Orca where they'd head up the Copper River. "We believe there is plenty of it [gold] for those who are strong and brave and who are determined to win. There are no quitters in our party. We will dig gold or die." The reporter notes that since members of the party have left successful businesses, are purchasing costly outfits, and are going at in the fall, they must know "where to find it."

When they arrived in Orca, they found others waiting. The Copper River was still flowing. It would be months, if ever, before the river would be accessible to dog teams. Worse yet, as they unloaded, more experienced members of the party such as Tanner and Hoag who had prospected in the Black Hills noted that there were insufficient supplies. Dissension broke out. The party split into two groups: one led by Haines and one by Hoag.

The Haines party left Orca for the Valdez Glacier route. Tanner, Call, Lee, and Pierce stayed with Haines.

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