Story last updated at 7/25/2012 - 2:32 pm
Today, those who travel up Lynn Canal to Haines and Skagway pass timbered bays on the western shore indenting the mainland of Alaska. Did pioneers explore, live and develop entrepreneurial operations in those bays? One such indentation is William Henry Bay. Hudson's Bay traders must have utilized it because Navy Commander Richard W. Mead obtained the name from some of the traders and applied it in 1869, two years after the Alaska purchase.
Another early Navy Commander, L. A. Beardslee, came to the bay in the chartered steamer "Favorite" in the summer of 1880. The steamer stopped because Beardslee heard the Natives cut and corded wood here for $2 per cord. The steamer loaded wood for its boilers from the depot on the north side of the bay. At that time, Navy surveyors made a complete hydrographic survey. This meant taking soundings to determine the depth of water, drawing the shorelines, and making other surveys that appear on marine charts.
After that came homesteaders. Many of the men had been farmers back home. They searched sheltered bays and glacial valleys for rich soil to farm. A stream to provide water was a necessity. The Beardslee River flows into the head of William Henry Bay and was a perfect source.
At least two men had farms at the head of the bay. James Cannon chose to grow strawberries. By 1916 he advertised in the Juneau newspapers offering you-pick strawberries, a campsite, fishing and hunting for $1.50 per day. He reported the launch "Murelette" called at his farm once a week.
Another farmer, "Sailar" Roley, chose rutabagas as his prime crop. He shipped a carload of this vegetable South in the late fall of 1916. At that time, there was a good market in the Puget Sound for rutabagas. In a neighboring bay, St. James Bay, a farmer produced and shipped ten tons of rutabagas in 1915.
Cannon also prospected for any mineral that appeared to be in a quantity sufficient to be mined. It was Cannon with C. C. Miller and an unknown third party who located copper claims about a mile south-southwest of the head of the bay. The history of this mine will appear as a separate column.
The Alaska Endicott Mining and Milling Company, which developed the copper claims, also tried its hand at gold placer mining in 1921. It located the Bonanza placer claims on the North Fork of the Beardslee River. Today's USGS topographical maps show a trail up that fork.
To obtain any gold, the company did hydraulic excavation. This meant it used stream water under pressure through a nozzle to blast the gravel and dirt beside the stream bed. A sluice box separated the heavier gold from this debris. From October 1-10, an area about 30 feet wide, 7 feet deep and l00 feet long was removed of approximately 3,000 yards of dirt. No results were published. About this time, the company realized its copper mine was not profitable, so it did not return to the placer operations.
In the 1950s, the U.S. Government encouraged prospectors to locate radioactive minerals, causing a "uranium rush." Equipped with nucliometers and scintilometers from the air, or with Geiger counters from the ground, prospectors answered the call wandering all over Southeast targeting radioactive minerals.
In July of 1955, six uranium claims and a tunnel site were staked by Howard Hayes, Ray Mansfield, Jim Lenz, Gordon Kanouse, Jim Smith and Joe Mulligan. The men called their outfit Southeastern Mining and Exploration Company. Radiation was discovered by an airborne survey about two miles northwest of the bay at an elevation of 1,800 feet. The tunnel site was to be at 75-foot elevation. Hayes told the Juneau Empire the surface deposits were of lead and galena (silver), and it would be necessary to drill to uncover radioactive material. He speculated that the ore contained either uranium or thorium.
The company sent assays off to several places, and these revealed the surface sample showed minerals of commercial value. Exploration took place in 1958. That year a bear conducted guerrilla warfare against the prospectors. The camp's water system was a plastic pipe running some hundred yards from a nearby stream. The bear chewed the pipe in two and "provided unneeded irrigation for a patch of wilderness some yards from camp," according to a newspaper.
Noranda Exploration, Inc. and Nippon Mining each examined the claims. These claims were core drilled in the 1950s, but the core recovery was poor. There were traces of radioactivity but not in sufficient quantities to merit further development.
In 1985, Dale Henkins was one of the owners of nine continuous federal claims called the Lucky Six uranium prospect. Henkins was looking for precious metals or rare earth metals. This attempt also proved nonproductive.
Another use of William Henry Bay was never visible. There were Alaska Communication Systems (ACS) communication cables traveling under the bay. In November 1958, a cable ship came to mend breaks in the main coaxial cable. Four major splices were mended, and new cable laid to restore Alaska's communications.
There are still submarine communication cables in Southeast. On the website "submarinecablemap.com", there are four major cables in the deep water of the Pacific Ocean off of Alaska. A branch goes to Southeast. Alaska United Southeast has landing points at Angoon, Hawk Inlet, Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka and Wrangell. The maps do not show an active cable going through William Henry Bay.