Gold Rush Images
of the early prospectors arrived in Valdez during the spring of 1898 aboard
the Pacific Steam Whaling Company's converted whaler "Valencia."
The ship was converted for passengers on the east coast and sailed around
Cape Horn to carry gold seekers from San Francisco and Seattle to Port
Valdez. The shipping company was responsible for much of the misinformation
regarding the supposed wealth of the Copper River Gold Fields.
the gold rushers arrived at the head of Port Valdez, they found no dock
only an 18 inch thick sheet of ice on which to unload their tons of supplies.
Conditions in the early tent town perched on the edge of the glacier stream
were primitive indeed. The early camp called "Copper City" served as a
way station for the 3000 to 4000 stampeders who would hazard the hardships
of crossing Valdez Glacier in hopes of discovering another Klondike in
the Copper River Valley on the far side of the Chugach Mountain Range.
prospectors hauled as much as 2,000 pounds for thirty miles up and over
the 4,800 foot summit of Valdez Glacier and down into Klutina River Valley.
Depending on the steepness of the grade, loads of from 50 to 200 pounds
could be managed so numerous trips were necessary. Some labored for
as much as six weeks to move their year's supply of food and equipment
over the glacier. Many became discouraged by the hard work and the
tough winter conditions and turned back to Valdez. Others pushed
on hoping for the promised bonanza in the Copper River Valley.
off the glacier, the prospectors built boats by rip-sawing the local spruce
trees into planks and bulkheads. They first descended the upper Klutina
River to twenty-mile-long Lake Klutina which they rowed or sailed to its
outlet 25 miles above the Copper River. Many, while attempting to
reach the Copper River, lost their entire outfits shooting the rapids of
Those who reached the confluence of the Klutina and Copper Rivers found
a thriving encampment there known as "Copper Center."
the Prospector's who reached Copper Center, most became discouraged by
fall and returned home because of the poor prospects for gold in the Copper
River Basin. However, some 500 remained for the winter, hoping to
an early start at prospecting the next spring. Because of the poor
diet, those wintering over began to experience symptoms of scurvy.
There was a general panic and all but a few either crossed back over the
glacier or descended the Copper River to Orca by sled. More than
a few either died of scurvy or perished in their attempts to reach civilization.
to find a glacier-free route to the interior, Capt. Abercrombie sent several
scouting parties to search for a route. By the fall of 1898, Corporal
Heiden's group found Thompson Pass and cut a trail across the mountainside
above impassable Keystone Canyon. In 1899, Lt. Babcock, a few military
men and many destitute prospectors cut a 5 foot wide trail above Keystone
Canyon and a 10 foot wide trail to Thompson Pass, beginning the All-American,
ice-free route to Alaska's interior. The trail was originally to
extend to Eagle, but when gold was discovered in Fairbanks, the route was
changed to Fairbanks. Today, the Richardson Highway covers most of the
old trail, but parts of the historic trail are still visible and can be
hiked in the Keystone Canyon to Thompson Pass area.
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