Story last updated at 12/26/2012 - 4:12 pm
Almost 20 years before the crew of the F/V "Pelican" arrived at Lisianski Inlet, Southeast Alaska, for the purpose of building a cold storage, another major project was in its infancy. In 1919 Captain John H. Cann filed a gold claim up a valley opposite of present day Pelican. The property would remain under the control of the Cann family until the death of Mrs. Jenny Cann in 1953.
The end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century witnessed a swarm of prospectors seeking gold in Alaska and the Yukon. Gold discoveries in Juneau in 1880, the Klondike in 1898, Nome in 1899, and Fairbanks in 1902 are clear indicators of the then epidemic of gold fever. If you were too late for the rush to the latest discovery, then look elsewhere. As the 20th century dawned, there were many areas yet to be prospected.
How and when Capt. J.H. Cann came to Lisianski Inlet is unknown; we do know that by 1923 he was promoting a gold discovery. In the newspaper "The Alaska Weekly, April 27th edition, the following article appeared:
"MILL FOR CANN MINE" "Another Chichagof Gold Quartz Property to be Placed on a Producing Basis"
"Captain J.H. Cann, well known Alaska mining man, and Mrs. Cann returned during the week from a business trip to Southern California, where they succeeded in adequately financing their gold quartz holdings, which are located on Chichagof Island. These properties were located about four years ago and enough development work has been done and enough good ore blocked out to justify the installation of a stamp mill and equipment. For this purpose, the financing was necessary. The Cann mine bears all earmarks of a big gold producer, the ore carrying high values. The property is located in the vicinity of the famous Chichagof mine, which enjoys the record of free milling gold quartz properties in Alaska."
During the mid-1920s substantial progress was made to turn the Apex-El Nido from an exploratory mine into a producing mine. In 1923 a five stamp mill was moved from a mine at Amalga, near Juneau, to the Lisianski site. Up the valley, towers were erected to hold an aerial tram designed to transport ore from the mine portal to the valley floor. Within the valley, buckets of ore were dumped from the tram into carts that utilized a narrow set of iron tracks leading to the stamp mill. The stamp mill was located approximately one mile up the valley from tidewater. A wood corduroy road was constructed from the beach to the stamp mill; the refined concentrate was taken by truck to the shoreline.
I first visited the area in 1966. At that time there was one building standing along the shoreline and the remains of an old truck in the brush. The plank road was in poor shape; marginally suitable for walking. The "road" disappeared on the right hand side of the creek; the trail re-formed on the left side. There were a few places the plank road was no longer usable. Arriving on the opposite side of the creek from the stamp mill, the water was too swift for wading and a steep set of falls discouraged any attempt. There was a big log lying across the creek. In the late 60s I walked it, and in the 80s I crawled across it. The log seemed smaller over time, the potential fall into the chasm much further, and the water much faster; but maybe I just got a bit wiser.
The stamp mill deteriorated severely between my first visit in the 60s and 20 some odd years later. The mill is now flattened. In the 60s, it was possible to walk in to at least two rooms where large pieces of machinery stood. Bronze cups off a waterwheel were found in the stream bed. Rooting around, I located a mold constructed of iron. The casting part of the mold was about the size of a small loaf of bread. The sides and bottom of the mold were about an inch thick; it weighed all of 50 pounds. A few years ago I was cleaning the rust off the inside when a smear of a soft gold colored substance appeared. I ceased the scraping and applied a coat of verathane to slow down oxidation and preserve the gold colored smear. Newspaper accounts reported on Captain Cann appearing at public events and displaying gold bars, allegedly from the Apex mine.
While I never visited the underground portion of the mine, it is well described. "The Apex Mine had 4 levels and about 3,600 feet of workings; the El Nido had about 1,800 feet of workings." (USGS, Open File Report, Berg & Grybeck, 2005). A Pelican resident that visited the site in the 90s reported there was water in the tunnels and a waterfall that dropped into a large hole in the tunnel floor.
Capt. J.H. Cann succeeded in readying the mine for production. It was worked in 1925, '26, and '27 by a crew from the Hirst Chichagof Mine. The Apex mine produced approximately 18,000 ounces of gold and 2,000 ounces of silver.
In a news article, The All Alaska Weekly, 12/30/27 edition, reported that "A dividend of $30,000 has been declared by the Apex-El Nido Gold Mining Company." In the same article a more ominous mention that Captain Cann was departing soon for Minnesota where he would place himself in the care of the Mayo Clinic. Cann had been in ill health. After 1930, there were no further news articles referencing him as the manger/owner of the mine. In 1937, the mine was mentioned as part of the "Cann estate."
It would be accurate to state that after 1927, no significant amount of ore was mined at the Apex-El Nido and after 1939, production ceased. There is no evidence that after 1927 the crews returned to work the mine as they previously had for three years. Whether the lack of production was due to poor mining conditions, Captain Cann's evident illness, or the economic depression is unknown. Within the earlier mentioned USGS Berg & Grybeck report, there is a description of estimated reserves still present at the mine. According to the report, the U.S. Bureau of Mines examined the mines and "identified resource of 26,633 tons of material with an average grade of 0.945 ounces of gold per ton."
Presently the mineral claim is owned by the Apex El Nido Gold Mines, Inc., Joe Henri, president. The company is located in Anchorage; the claim is being actively marketed. Perhaps there is another gold rush in our future in Lisianski!
Alaska, Saga of a Bold Land, Borneman. Mineral Resources of Alaska, 1921, USGS Bulletin 739. Mineral Industry in Alaska in 1933, US Dept. of Interior, Bulletin 864-A. Property Examination Report, Ariel Property, Sitka Quadrangle, Gold and Tungsten, James A. Williams, 1955. USGS, Alaska resource Data File, Sitka, Henry Berg & Donald Grybeck, 2005.