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Valdez Museum & Historical Archive

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Gold Rush Info

Valdez, Prince William Sound, & Copper River Gold Rush Timeline


Pre-Gold Rush Highlights:


William Busby and others make first mining claim in Prince William Sound area on Middleton Island and form Prince William Sound Mining District.


Increased prospecting activity by cannery personnel from Orca, prospectors from Hope area on Cook Inlet and businessmen from Juneau and Sitka leads to first claims in areas that would later be important: A. K. Beatson files copper claims for Latouche Island; M. O. Gladhaugh and others file
claims for copper and gold deposits at Virgin Bay [Ellamar] area; Nels Jacobsen and Louis Thorstensen file claims at Landlocked Bay; and first claims made in Solomon Gulch, Port Valdez.

The Gold Rush begins:

July 16-18, 1897

The Excelsior arrives in San Francisco with $400,000 in gold from the Klondike.  On July 18th, the Portland docks in Seattle with $700,000 in Klondike gold.  Newspapers spread the word rapidly across the country.  The gold rush begins.

Although most stampeders would go to the Canadian Klondike, about 3,500-4,000 listened to the newspaper reports of even greater amounts of gold waiting to be discovered in Alaska's Copper River area and chose to pursue the Valdez Glacier trail to the Copper River gold fields.

Nov. 10, 1897 

Adam Swan, "The Father of Valdez," arrives in at the head of Port Valdez with his party.

January 2, 1898 

Doc Tanner is lynched for shooting members of his party who planned to cast him out.  The Valdez Trail becomes known as a "law and order" trail.

January 17, 1898 

The first party crosses Valdez Glacier and establishes this as the route to the Copper River area.

February to May 1898

3,000 to 4,000 gold rushers stampede across Valdez Glacier to the Copper River Area.

March 21, 1898

Joe Bourke arrives in Valdez.

April 23, 1898 

Valdez citizens, opposed to a few people trying to make a profit off of townsites, meet to organize a Valdez Townsite and elect Trustees. Townsite lots made available to anyone able to pay $2 and willing to build on the lot.

April 30, 1898 

A major snow storm dumps 8 feet of snow on the gold rushers ascending Valdez Glacier causing numerous avalanches which account for at least 5 deaths.

May 3, 1898 

Lt. Brookfield and U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey geologist Frank Schrader make the first survey of the Valdez Glacier route.

June 3, 1898 

Lt. Brookfield and party cross the mountains and make the first raft trip through Keystone Canyon.

August 5, 1898

Captain Abercrombie employing horses leads a military expedition across Valdez Glacier and into the Copper River Valley.

Sept. to Oct. 1898 

Corporal Heiden's party finds the All-American glacier-free route to interior found and clears the first trail through Keystone Canyon.  Thompson Pass is identified as a route to the interior.

October 18, 1898 

Pete Cashman, "King of the Mountain Guides," and two companions become the first to go from Valdez to Copper Center via Keystone Canyon, Thompson Pass, Quartz Creek, and the Klutina River Route.

February to April 1898

Scurvy strikes prospectors in the Copper River area and along the trail.

June 18, 1899 

Lt. Babcock and crew complete a 5 foot trail through Keystone Canyon; first parties of prospectors and government officials use the trail.

July 27, 1899 

Military and prospectors complete trail from Valdez to Thompson Pass and Worthington Glacier area.

February 26 ,1899

The Logan party of fleeing the Copper River scurvy "epidemic" back across Valdez Glacier perish in a storm.

Summer 1899

Profitable gold placer claims are made at Chisna, Miller Gulch, and Slate Creek area.  Chief Nicolai's copper deposits are located in the McCarthy area.

Sept. 1899 

Military completes All-American trail to Camp. No. 3 (Tsaina Lodge Area).

Summer 1900

More claims are made in the Chisna, Miller Gulch, Slate Creek Area. Clarence Warner and "Arizona Jack" Smith find the Bonanza Copper Mine also in the McCarthy area.

March 9, 1901

Valdez Chamber of Commerce incorporated.

July 4, 1901

Valdez votes to become an incorporated city and elects its first city council.

Summer 1902

Gold discovered in the Fairbanks area.


Debney relocates Red Ellis' copper/gold deposit at the head of Solomon Gulch starting a minor gold and copper rush in the Port Valdez area.


Valdez major transportation and supply center for Fairbanks gold rush and development. Port Valdez area center of considerable prospecting and mining claims.  Valdez becomes an enterprizing Gold Rush port town similar to th Skagway of '98.


Red Ellis discovers the gold vein for the Cliff Mine on the north side of Port Valdez.


By 1912, over 120 gold claims had been staked in the immediate vicinity of Valdez and 42 more claims between Valdez and Columbia Glacier.  Two of the Sound's productive copper claims, the Midas Mine in Solomon Gulch and the Ellamar Mine on Tatitlek Narrows, were undergoing


Nine stamp mills were in operation in the Valdez area employing from 250 to 300 people.  Sixteen claims were active in the Mineral Creek Area.

Valdez continues as an important transportation and outfitting center for prospectors and miners in Prince William Sound, Valdez area, and the interior until World War I halts prospecting and mining development.

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Valdez Museum & Historical Archive

217 Egan Drive

P. O. Box 8

Valdez, AK 99686-0008

(907) 835-2764    FAX (907) 835-5800

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Last modified: October 17, 1998