Story last updated at 4/9/2014 - 3:51 pm
On the side of a mountain on Kasaan Peninsula on the east coast of Prince of Wales Island, my husband Frank, Arlene Pickrell and I sat on a pile of waste tailings looking down at the remains of the Mt. Andrew copper mining site.
Before we tackled the hike to the mine in July 1971, I had researched to help us understand what we were seeing. This included a history of the mine discovered about 1899 by Sam Lichtenstadter as outlined in last week's column. Work began, and in 1901, fire destroyed a building containing the office, cookhouse, and assay office. This was the beginning of Lichtenstadter's troubles.
His next setback came when he applied for ownership of the land. Application for a patent on mining claims was considered a fairly routine matter. Lichtenstadter and his backer, Herbert H. Andrew of England, hired U.S. deputy mineral surveyor N. B. Whitfield Jr. to survey the claims, put permanent monuments at the claim corners and prepare plats and field notes for submission to the government. Little did anyone envision what would happen next. At the last possible minute, Frank Black, one of the men who had been with Lichtenstadter when he staked the claims, filed a protest. He said Lichtenstadter was not a U.S. citizen and, on trial in London, claimed he was a resident of London. He also protested that part of the property had been transferred to Andrew, an alien. In those days, non-U.S. citizens could not own property in Alaska.
Operations on the claims were discontinued in Nov. 1902. This prompted the editor of the Ketchikan newspaper to write that work would not be resumed until the "reprehensible and utterly frivolous" proceedings were settled. The litigation dragged on through 1903, complicated by Hugh Munyon, who restaked the claims despite assessment work conducted by Lichtenstadter and his partners. The court threw out Munyon's adverse claim.
In 1904, the litigation was over, as the Ketchikan editor wrote, "... by payment of a small amount of blood money to the parties."
The decision was overshadowed by the unexpected death of Andrew in New York. Although the family kept interest in the mine, Lichtenstadter had to seek new financing.
He arranged a lease with Britannia Smelting Co. in Crofton, B.C. That company began development. The machine and ore bins were soon in place at Mount Andrew Landing - the beach cove where we started our hike. The aerial tramway was used to haul lumber and equipment to the mine. Miners took out considerable ore, and the first ore was shipped on Oct. 7, 1906.
These golden days did not last. In fall 1907, the price of copper plunged. All Kasaan Peninsula copper operations closed, including Mt. Andrew.
During this financial depression, the lease was terminated. The mine was left in charge of a watchman. Then in 1909, prices rose again, and Lichtenstadter opened the property with the help of the heirs of the Andrew estate. The next few years the mine regularly shipped ore.
The mine's troubles were not over. In spring 1909, the barge Charger arrived at Mount Andrew Landing to load 2,300 tons of ore. The barge sprang a leak and was quickly towed to shallow water in Karta Bay where it sank. It seems inevitable that the ore aboard was reported to be the richest ever mined, supposedly being 5.5 percent copper with some gold and silver. During summer 1912, most of the ore was recovered by hard-hat divers.
Sam Lichtenstadter died suddenly in September 1911, leaving the company without a leader. In 1914, J. W. Rodgers, who had experience mining at Kasaan Bay, hired a crew and resumed mining and repairing the facilities. The mine produced intermittent shipments from 1916 until the close of World War I. With the collapse of the copper market and exhaustion of accessible and high-grade deposits, production ceased forever.
In the fall of 1943 and summer 1944, the U.S. Geological Survey sent a crew to take samples of outcroppings and conduct diamond drilling to ascertain, with this technology, if more ore bodies could be located. John Bufvers, a longtime prospector, told me years ago that he packed supplies to the mine and repaired the trail that Frank, Arlene and I had just climbed. The buildings we saw at the beach were built by the USGS. Bufvers found nothing left of the old dock when he arrived 25 years after the closure. Southeasterly winds with heavy seas strike full force on the beach.
Utah Construction and Mining Company carried out exploration on the claims from 1957 through 1968. It continued drilling started by the USGS. Apparently the company did not find what it had hoped.
Our "exploration" crew descended the tailing piles. We found buildings from all the operations conducted over the years. Between the tailings and the main camp, I found the big drum of the Riblett tramway terminal sprawled amid a maze of splintered wood. There were several bunkhouses intact from the days of Utah Construction and Mining. The cook house and mess hall had collapsed, strewing cooking paraphernalia everywhere. Two sheds stacked with trays of rock cores from the diamond drilling tilted precariously askew. We peered into the main portal of the tunnel where the ore was brought out to the tramway.
Frank and I hiked farther up the trail to more mine workings: the surface pits and glory holes, the latter where ore was removed from the bottom of the surface pit and taken out through mine tunnels.
These were the gopher holes we saw from the airplane when we arrived. We found five open pits although there were supposed to be 10. The biggest pit was a great, gaping hole in the earth. We scrambled down a sloping rock wall. Openings indented the mountain from all sides of the pit. The largest entrance had remains of the narrow gauge railroad track going into it. Another opening disclosed the curve of a track, both ends going off into black nothingness. There was something eerie about peering into the tunnel. The black was almost thick. The only sound was the steady dripping of water: plonk, plonk, plonk. Reuniting with Arlene, she pointed out evidence of more old cabins. No time to explore: We had to leave the rubble and start down the trail to meet the plane.
Did Lichtenstadter's misfortunes hex us? When we reached the beach, all our belongings were gone. It seemed impossible at such a remote location. A young fellow had found our stash. He met us on the beach and agreed to return to Happy Harbor to retrieve the items. He came back just as Ketchikan Air's float plane came in over smooth water. A mighty hungry and tired trio climbed aboard.