Pioneer History Nugget

$750,000.00 (46,875 ounces) in Fairbanks gold dust at the Fairbanks Banking Co. awaiting shipment. There is an obvious typo on the value in the image. Courtesy of Fairbanks Pioneer Museum, Waugaman Postcards

Fairbanks in 1908, was a new city full of promise. Things were so good that a special edition of the Fairbanks Daily News was produced that was dedicated to the commercial success of the Fairbanks Mining District, that was titled the “Alaska Day” Edition, timed with the 41st anniversary of the Alaska Purchase. Gold mining is why we are here, and what built the city of Fairbanks. We should never forget our gilded history unearthed from the fabulous paystreaks of the Fairbanks Mining District. In the following article, the number of ounces is in parenthesis to give you an idea of just how much gold they were producing in those days, when the average exchange rate given was $16 per troy ounce.

Fairbanks Daily News – Sunday, October 18, 1908


Record of All Previous Years Broken in 1908, With an Output of $9,570,000 (598,125 ounces)

Today, 41 (154) years ago, when Hon. William H. Seward had the extreme gratification of seeing his campaign for the purchase of Alaska drawn to a successful conclusion. He dreamed of empires that in future years would rise in the vast wilderness of 600,000 square miles he had persuaded America to buy, and that would stand as monuments to the wisdom of the step for he unwavering and insistent support of which he had been assailed with ridicule and even abuse.

Hardly in his most sanguine dreams and hopes, however, did the great statesman, ever allow the reach of his wonderful faith and imagination to include expectations that have actually been realized within a brief two-score of years. Seward felt certain that the fisheries, the fur trade and possibly some small mineral industries would refund, with a liberal income, the 2 cents an acre Uncle Sam paid for his Northern Territory. Could he have lived another 41 years, and today have been in Fairbanks, he could have seen the source of gold mining, that in his day was hardly an infant in arms grown to full maturity—thousands of men toiling all the year round to take from the soil the tens of millions his foresight won for Americans.

The most gratifying feature of the tremendous industry of placer mining that has been built up in the neighborhood of Fairbanks, that each new lapse of a few months shows a growth in every line—shows a new length added to a paystreak here and there, an increase of plants in operation, a larger number of men employed and a greater volume of general business.

The year just ended has proved no exception, and in many ways can be said the most remarkable of any such period in the Tanana history. It was started under most unpromising conditions. There was a strike in progress. In January, the money panic that shook the whole nation struck North, and not a bank would lend money on gilt-edge security all winter. Then summer came and the already crippled operations were subjected to a handicap worse than all the other ills put together—60 days of drouth, which cut down the output by hundreds of thousands a week.

The effect of long months of preparation and development preceding had to tell, however, and right in the face of a year full of the most discouraging conditions the operators here ever had to face the Fairbanks section turned out the biggest output of any year in hist history!

Could a statistician take the time to prepare a yearly history of the Fairbanks district for the past five years his computations would show tables of marvelous comparisons. At this date five years ago, there was practically nothing in the shape of a steam mining plant in the country, and there was not as much pay in sight in the whole country as can be seen in any one of the 100 single claims now in operation. Since then, the progress forward has been made in comprehensive leaps and with not one faltering step backward.

There has never been a time in the Tanana, even under present conditions, when great plants of an aggregate of 8,360 horsepower capable of ripping up paystreak at the rate of $15,000,000 (937,500 ounces) a year in average ground are being driven night and day, when old finds were being worked out as fast as new ones were being made.

Today there are more than 40 miles of paystreak on just he big producers among the nearby creeks under development and not a month passes but there is recorded some new find that adds to the already long total.

Never until many years after, when the highest expectations of the most optimistic of the Tanana’s believers will possibly be realized in the same proportion as were those of Seward, will the magnitude of the treasure Tanana miners have uncovered in a few places be fully appreciated. Even now an inkling of the truth is being borne in upon the more observing by just one fact of the country’s growth. This is the foreing to the front line of big producers of streams that in the early days were regarded as barren, and whose names were unfamiliar even right here in the camp. The first of these was Dome. Then came Vault and the Chatanika, and lower Goldstream and Treasure and Engineer, and finally Little Eldorado. Millions will be taken out of every one of them, and only a few years ago a man could have had his pick of locations on any of them for the trouble of squaring a stake. It is reasonable to believe that practically every creek in this bounteously favored district has pay, if only the prospector will have the nerve to stay with his search.

“Digging 20 Tons of Gold a Year in the Tanana,” the general title under which the various creek divisions of the Tanana placer industry are reviewed in this issue of the News, has a romantic sound, but that no romance can be learned at any bank in the country. The miners have dug that much this year—in fact, several tons more than that—and it is a still more significant fact that the average has been maintained for the past three years. Sixty tons and more of the second most precious metal known mined in three years. Adding to the nation’s wealth in that time $27,000,000 (1,687,000 ounces) worth of the stuff from which golden eagles are minted!

Commercially considered these 20 tons are still keenly interesting. More than $150,000 worth of machinery was used to hoist the dirt that contained them. The digging gave a living and much more to probably 10,000 people. It kept two river steamboat lines and a fleet of big ocean carriers working all summer. The digging of the treasure has maintained Fairbanks, a modern-day city of several thousand inhabitants and a property valuation of at least $5,000,000, and a dozen smaller creek towns in flourishing prosperity. It kept a big home railway system in successful operation.

Study of this most interesting review will bring any intelligent reader to the conclusion that the Tanana still in its swaddling clothes is a world-wonder as a placer camp and is destined to a future the intrinsic value of which can be estimated now in only the wildest kind of speculation.

The 1908 gold output for the Faribanks district has already topped the $9,570,000 (598,125 ounces) mark—broken all previous records—and is hurrying along toward the great, round, impressive $10,000,000 (625,000 ounces) total at a rate that is almost certain promise of its achievement before the last shovelful of pay-dirt is thrown on the riffles in the Tanana this year.

At the close of business yesterday, the three big banking houses of the Tanana, the Washington-Alaska, Fairbanks Banking Co., and First National, had received since the beginning of the spring cleanup $9,570,000. (598,125 ounces) Usually at this date the cleanup season is practically ended, but all three banks report that dust shipments continue to arrive daily and that it is reasonable to expect several hundred thousand dollars more will be taken out before all sluicing for the year is ended. For instance, on Dome claim is turning out as high as $26,000 (1,625 ounces) to a cleanup, another on the same creek is running fully half that amount weekly and the Union Mining Co. on Goldstream is easily maintaining a daily average of $3,000. (187.5 ounces) All three of these outfits and several others will continue sluicing for weeks yet, and with the smaller plants that are still sluicing, and the many pokes of dust that have not yet been turned into the banks by operator in all parts of the district, the heads of all three banks feel confident that total will reach $10,000,000 (625,000 ounces) this year.

These were shown in the form of tables with the article above.

Some Fairbanks District Facts:

Tanana’s output this year, in silver dollars laid end to end, would reach from Fairbanks to San Francisco.

Cleary creek’s 6-mile paystreak has already produced more than the $7,200,000 (450,000 ounces) Uncle Sam paid for Alaska.

Little Eldorado produced a $348 (21.75 ounce) nugget this summer.

Fairbanks Creek’s output has averaged $1,000,000 (62,500 ounces) a year for six years.

Two below, one of the Barnette group claims on Dome, turned out more than $500,000 (31,250 ounces) better than a ton—of gold dust this summer.


Cleary Creek discovered August 1, 1902, by Felix Pedro.

Pedro Creek discovered on September 11, 1902, by Felix Pedro.

Dome Creek discovered September 11, 1902, by D. A. Shea.

Goldstream Creek discovered on September 12, 1902, by Felix Pedro.

Fairbanks Creek discovered September 12, 1902, by D. A. McCarthy.

Little Eldorado Creek discovered September 14, 1902, by J. A. Mathieson.

Vault Creek discovered September 30, 1902, by T. M. Gilmore.

Smallwood Creek discovered December 17, 1902, by J. C. McDonald.

Engineer Creek discovered December 29, 1902, by George Vautier.

Ester Creek discovered February 4, 1903, by L. A. Jones.

Steel Creek discovered March 25, 1903, by Karl Westiwich.

Tenderfoot Creek discovered February 13, 1905, by E. H. Luce.

Chatanika Flats were discovered in 1906 by John Dobbins.

Note: If these amounts have left your head spinning, consider that during the dredging era of our Fairbanks gold mining history, the Fairbanks Exploration Company took a total of 4.3 million placer ounces of gold which is comparable to the figures in the 1908 article. That turned into 3.8 million refined ounces of pure gold from the Fairbanks Mining District during the dredging operations, which has just over an 11% by products rate, during the refining process of the dredged gold. The dredging operations also took in a total production just about equal to the total production produced by the earlier placer miners. Now take into consideration that the Fairbanks Mining District is still producing plenty of gold today!

This glittering Golden Days History Nugget has been proudly brought to you by Men’s Igloo No. 4 and Women’s Igloo No. 8 of the Pioneers of Alaska who remind you that History Nuggets are posted every Monday to our website