Story last updated at 12/5/2012 - 2:12 pm
Lost Gold! How often these words have stirred the hearts of adventure seekers. Wherever gold is found there soon follows stories of lost strikes that, if relocated, would make the discoverer wealthy beyond all dreams. Early-day Alaska and gold were nearly synonymous, so it's inevitable that gold legends abounded.
Interest in lost gold deposits was kept alive by these legends that circulate by word of mouth from prospector to prospector, giving the vagueness, and sometimes contradictory nature, so often attributed to a legend. Inevitably someone would tell a reporter, and newspapers would spread the legend far and wide. Here are a few of these stories that took place in the southern part of Southeast.
A gold strike that joined the ranks of the enormously rich, lost treasures is that of the "Dollar-a-Pound Mine." In the 1870s, so the story goes, two prospectors came North to try their luck finding gold nuggets. After reaching Alaska, these men met with heavy southeasterly winds that forced them to take shelter in a tiny cove behind three islands. Of course, they did not miss this opportunity to closely scrutinize the rock structures. As they prowled the shoreline, they came upon a ribbon of white quartz. To their amazement and delight, it was laced and flaked with gold - "virgin red gold," according to the legend. Hungrily they chipped away at the ore, but unfortunately they were not equipped to break the hard rock. Placer prospectors generally carried only a gold pan and shovel.
Their food was nearly gone when the winds lulled, and they were able to continue on their journey. They took only small rock fragments that had been wrenched away from the vein.
Once in Victoria B.C., the two were greedy to return with tools and powder to harvest their lucky strike. Bad luck struck. One of the partners died. The other drifted, telling his tale of ore that assayed a "dollar a pound," drawing maps, and seeking a new partner and a grubstake. Then he too died without returning to Alaska.
One of these maps came into the possession of a wealthy Virginia City, Nev., miner who outfitted a party to search for the fabulous "Dollar-a-Pound Mine." After a summer's fruitless searching, the men left Alaska.
Several other attempts to learn of the whereabouts of the lode were made. The original partners had hired a Native and his canoe, and he was there at the discovery. He was treated to many a tongue-loosening drinking session, but he told conflicting tales and could never be persuaded to lead a search. Perhaps the miners had not told him the significance of their find!
Next time we're out in the "Twinkle" near Prince of Wales Island, we'll check the charts to see if we can find that particular cove behind three islands with a vein of gold waiting to be found.
Another strike that awaits treasure seekers is supposedly somewhere along Dixon Entrance near the border. Legend has it that a lone white man traveling with his Native wife found gold-bearing-gravel on a small crescent beach exposed to the full sweep of the east wind across Dixon Entrance. He built a rocker and collected a poke of the precious placer gold.
His wife wearied of the isolation and wanted to return to her family and village. After a lengthy quarrel, the miner agreed to take her back to her people. Once there, the Natives wanted the miner to stay with them. When he declined, hinting he'd like to abandon his wife, they tried to force him by threatening to kill him. Fear for his life prevented him from returning to his beach of placer gold, so the story goes. He reportedly placed the rough-hewn wooden rocker under a large cedar log high on the right hand side of the beach. Since this "discovery" took place in the 1880s, neither clue seems helpful today.
Throughout legends of the West, Frenchmen seem to have phenomenal luck locating gold, but equally bad luck in losing it again. Alaska too has its "Frenchman's Lost Mine."
This particular Frenchman appeared out of nowhere in the early 1880s to purchase supplies at Howkan, a Native village on Long Island west of Prince of Wales Island. When it was time to pay, he did so with gold nuggets, something unusual in that part of Southeast. At that time little prospecting had occurred in this remote area.
As I wrote this column, I looked in several government mining bulletins, and no record of any placer gold in that area has been reported over the years.
After that, The Frenchman periodically returned to Howkan to purchase supplies, but he was very closed-mouthed about where he obtained his gold. Other miners and a few Natives attempted to follow him, but to no avail. He could nimbly weave his way through the islands and forests losing his pursuers in the process.
After a couple years, he boarded the twice-yearly steamer for Victoria, B.C., and was never seen nor heard from again. But the memory of his gold lingered on. Prospectors and hunters were always on the lookout for evidences of his camps. Then one day, beside a lake, on Dall Island, a Native located an abandoned rocker that he took back to Howkan. Imagine the disgruntlement of his gold-hungry friends when he could not locate the spot where he found it.
The Frenchman's Lost Gold joined the cove behind three islands, the Dollar-a-Pound Mine, and the placer beach on Dixon Entrance in the world of lost gold legends.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.