Seward Peninsula Region Alaska Gold Production

Posted July 16, 2009 in Gold Mining


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The gold placers of the Seward Peninsula, in western Alaska, rank second in production among Alaska's placer regions. The following description of its mining history has been abstracted from an excellent and detailed account by Collier, Hess, Smith, and Brooks (1908, p. 13-39).

Placer gold was discovered on Seward Peninsula in 1855-56 by Baron Otto von Bendeleben, an engineer leading a party exploring a possible route for a telegraph line. Nothing, apparently, came of this discovery, for as late as 1897 the Seward Peninsula was regarded as a wasteland. But about this time the rushes to the Klondike and the upper Yukon brought in many gold seekers who eventually prospected the lowly regarded gravels along the streams of Seward Peninsula. Discoveries were made at Council in 1897, and in 1898 the Nome district was organized. News spread slowly because of the isolation of this new district, but by 1899 the rush had begun and, swelled by new discoveries of beach placers and auriferous bench gravels, it continued through 1900.

In 1900, mining of placers began in the Fairhaven district in the northeastern part of the peninsula, and small production was made from discoveries in the Kougarok, Port Clarence, and Council districts. The Solomon-Bluff district, along the southern coast just east of Nome, also began producing placer gold in 1900, and from 1903 to 1907 lode gold was mined from the Big Hurrah mine in this district. During 1908-59 only very minor amounts of lode gold were produced from scattered localities on the peninsula.

The Koyuk district was not productive until 1918 even though for some years gold had been known in the gravels of the Koyuk River and Alameda Creek, one of its tributaries.

Through the 1950's placer mining continued to flourish on the Seward Peninsula, although at a somewhat lower rate than before World War II. The Nome district has been by far the largest producer; Council, Fairhaven, Solomon-Bluff, Kougarok, Koyuk, and Port Clarence have produced progressively lesser amounts. Total gold production of the Seward Peninsula from 1897 through 1959 was 6,060,000 ounces; all but about 10,000 ounces was from placers.

The geology of the Seward Peninsula was described by Collier (in Collier and others, 1908, p. 60-110). The peninsula is underlain chiefly by metasedimentary rocks comprising the Kigluaik and Nome Groups of early Paleozoic or older age and by unnamed slates, phyllites, and limestones some of which may be as young as Mississippian. Collectively these rocks can be considered a sequence of limestone, biotite gneiss, slate, quartzite, dark phyllite, and schist, cut locally by small bodies of greenstone and granite. Basalt of Pleistocene age covers a sizable area in the northeast part of the peninsula. Quaternary gravels blanket the low-lying coastal areas and occur in all the major stream valleys.

The Council district, in the southern part of the Seward Peninsula, includes all the drainage area of Golovnin Bay extending eastward almost to the Tubutulik River.

Although gold had been reported in the Council area as early as 1865, there was very little excitement and no mining until after the discoveries of the rich Ophir Creek gravels in 1896-97 (Smith and Eakin, 1910, p. 343). Production began in 1900, and the district was still active in 1959. Total production through 1959 was about 588,000 ounces, all from placers. Data for 1931-46 are incomplete.

Nearly all production came from creek gravels and bench deposits in the drainage basin of the Niukluk River—including Ophir, Melsing, Goldbot-tom, Mystery, and Elkhorn Creeks (Collier and others, 1908, p. 238). The following summary of the geology is from Collier, Hess, Smith, and Brooks (1908, p. 234-235).

The district is underlain by rocks of the Kigluaik Group and the Nome Group, except in the southeast where part of a large granite mass forms the bedrock. Schists of the Nome Group contain numerous small veins and stringers of quartz and calcite, many of which contain gold along with sulfides. The gold of the placers is believed to have come from these veins.

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Did You Know.......

A mine is a hole in the ground, owned by a liar.
-Mark Twain


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