Seward Peninsula Region Alaska Gold Production


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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.


The Fairhaven district, about 40 miles long and 20 miles wide immediately south of Kotzebue Sound in the northeast part of Seward Peninsula, is bounded roughly by lat 65°40' and 66°10' N. and long 161°40' and 163°20' W.

Gold was discovered in this district in 1900 on Old Glory and Hannum Creeks, and although there was no production that year, the news of the discovery spread through crowded Nome that winter and prompted a rush to the new district in the spring of 1901 (Moffit, 1905, p. 49). Rich placers, the most productive in the district, were found along Candle Creek in 1901 (Moffit, 1905, p. 49). The district produced steadily and was still active in 1957. Total recorded production through 1959 (data are incomplete for 1931-36) was 379,200 ounces, all from placers.

The predominant bedrock in the district is a series of micaceous, chloritic, and graphitic schists with intercalated thin limestones believed by Collier (in Collier and others, 1908, p. 65) to be Devonian or Silurian in age. Unaltered conglomerate, sandstone, and shale unconformably overlie the schists in a few areas. Locally coal beds are present. Small bodies of granite and quartz diorite intrude the schists, but their age relations with the unaltered sedimentary rocks are not clear (Collier and others, 1908, p. 83, 108). Large areas of the district are covered by sheets of basaltic lava, remnants of a more extensive cover. The youngest of these flows is Pleistocene; the age of the older lavas has not been satisfactorily determined (Moffit, 1905, p. 34). Low-lying coastal areas and river valleys are blanketed by unconsolidated gravels. The gold of the placers was concentrated from small amounts disseminated in quartz veinlets and stringers in the schistose country rock. These low-grade lodes have never been productive.


The Kougarok district is in the central part of the Seward Peninsula between lat 65°10' and 65° 45' N. and long 164°20' and 165°20' W.

The district began producing gold in 1900, after the initial discoveries the previous year sparked a rush from Nome (Brooks, in Collier and others, 1908, p. 306-307). Because of its remoteness and its paucity of bonanza-type deposits, the district developed slowly. Water shortage necessitated the construction of ditches. By 1906 several ditches were completed and sufficient water for larger scale operations was assured. Afterward, the Kougarok placers were moderately productive and were active in 1957. A total of about 150,400 ounces of gold has been produced from the district, all from placers. This is a minimum total as data for 1931-46 are incomplete.

The geology of the district was discussed by Brooks (in Collier and others, 1908, p. 297-298) and is summarized as follows. The bedrock consists of the Kigluaik and Nome Groups, the former is predominantly schist and granite; the latter is made up of a sequence of phyllite, schist, greenstone, and a consistent unit, the Port Clarence Limestone. The schistose rocks of the Nome Group contain small auriferous quartz veinlets and stringers which appear to be the source of the placer gold that has been concentrated into minable quantities in present stream gravels, bench gravels, and flood-plain gravels. The lodes themselves are not of economic value.


The Koyuk district, in the southeast corner of the Seward Peninsula between lat 64°55' and 65°40' N. and long 160°20' and 162°00' W., includes the drainage area of the Koyuk River.

Although gold placers were known along Alameda and Knowles Creeks in 1900 (Smith and Eakin, 1910, p. 336^340), the area remained inactive until 1918. From 1918 to 1959, a recorded total of about 52,000 ounces of placer gold was produced, but the years 1931 through 1946 are not represented in this total because production data for these years cannot be found. The district was active in 1959.


The Nome district is in the south-central part of the Seward Peninsula between lat 64°25' and 64° 57' N. and long 165°00' and 165°30' W. More than half the gold mined on the peninsula has come from Nome placers. The brief summary that follows was abstracted from Brooks' (in Collier and others, 1908, p. 13-39) detailed history of mining on the Seward Peninsula.

Soon after the discoveries of placer gold at Council in 1897, placer gold was discovered on the Snake River near Nome and a short while later on Anvil Creek, Snow Gulch, Glacier Creek, and other streams. Miners streamed into the area from Golovnin Bay, and the Nome district was formed in October 1898. A great rush to the new district took place in 1899 and a still greater one in 1900. The new town was bursting, and the known placer grounds could not accommodate all those who sought gold.

The unrest thus created led to claim jumping and general lawlessness which taxed the small military garrison to the utmost. With the discovery of rich beach placers in the district, this unhealthy situation was relieved somewhat in that a large new area was available for prospecting and the miners were diverted to gold mining instead of preying upon one another. After 1900, the population stabilized somewhat and with additional discoveries of deep gravels and buried beach placers, the district settled down to a long period of economic stability and orderly growth.

Production of the district from 1897 through 1959 was about 3,606,000 ounces of gold, almost all production was from placers. Data are lacking for 1931-46, so that the total given is a minimum. Cobb (1962) reported small but undisclosed production from scattered lode claims in the district. The Nome district, one of the major producers of Alaska, was active in 1959.

The Nome placers are of several varieties - residual, stream, bench, and beach. Moffit (1913, p. 74-123) discussed these in detail, and his work is the source of information in the summary presented here.

Residual placers, produced by the solution and erosion of less durable components of bedrock, have been mined profitably at a few localities, particularly at Nekula Gulch.

Stream placers are gravels that contain gold that was removed either directly from bedrock or from older gravels that contained gold. Important among the stream placers are those on Anvil Creek, Dexter Creek, and other tributaries of the Nome and Snake Rivers.

The high bench placers are remnants of deposits of an older drainage system. Present streams have eroded away most of these deposits, so that only benches remain. Such placers occur at the head of Dexter Creek and have been profitably mined.

Rich placers occur in sands of the present beaches and in older beaches that were elevated above present sea level and then buried in coastal plain deposits. Five or six ancient beaches are known and have been given local names. The second and third beaches (the present beach is the first) have been the most productive.

Structures of two ages are identifiable in the metamorphic bedrock (Hummel, 1960). The older and major set consists of large north-trending folds of Mesozoic age transected by younger east-trending folds of Tertiary age. The younger system is also characterized by three sets of faults. Some of the minor faults and joints of the younger deformation are mineralized, and these lodes are probably the source of the gold in the Nome placers.


The Port Clarence district, an area of about 2,000 square miles on the west end of the Seward Peninsula, has produced small amounts of placer gold from the Bluestone and Agiapuk River basins and from a few streams that drain into Grantley Harbor. The district was prospected as early as 1898, and by 1903 an estimated $200,000 in gold had been produced (Collier and others, 1908, p. 269). Total recorded production through 1959 is about 28,000 ounces, all from placers, but 1931-46 production is not recorded. Since World War II there has been only small-scale activity.

The district is underlain by schist, limestone, and small intrusive bodies comprising the Kigluaik and Nome Groups of early Paleozoic or older age, and by Devonian (?) slate and Carboniferous (?) limestone. Stocks and dikes of granite and greenstone intrude the metasedimentary rocks. Quaternary gravels contain gold placers which are restricted in general to areas underlain by rocks of the Nome Group. These rocks seem to contain more auriferous veinlets and stringers than the other bedrock types. The foregoing account is from Collier, Hess, Smith, and Brooks (1908, p. 268-281).


The camps of Bluff and Solomon, an area enclosed by lat 64°30' to 65°00' N. and long 163°30' to 164°30' W., are combined here.

Gold was first discovered in this district in 1898 in gravels along the Casadepaga River, a tributary of the Solomon River. The following year other placers were found along the Solomon and on the beach of the mouth of Daniels Creek in the Bluff camp (Brooks, in Collier and others, 1908, p. 288). The beach placers were exhausted in about a year, but more extensive placers were found along Daniels Creek and along Hurrah and Shovel Creeks in the Solomon camp. These were worked by dredges and hydraulic methods (Smith, 1910, p. 139). The only important gold-quartz mine on the Seward Peninsula was the Big Hurrah in the Solomon camp, which was active from 1900 to 1937.

A total of 251,000 ounces of placer gold has come from the Solomon-Bluff district not including production from 1931 to 1946 for which records have not been found. Lode production was 9,375 ounces; all was presumably from the Big Hurrah mine. Total production recorded for the district is 260,375 ounces. No production was recorded from 1937 through 1959.

The district is underlain by rocks belonging to the lower part of the Nome Group of early Paleozoic or older age. These are a series of schist, slate, and limestone. The metasedimentary rocks were intruded by basic igneous rocks, were later altered to schist and greenstone, and were finally intruded by basalt (Smith, 1910, p. 49-137). Unconsolidated deposits consist of coastal plain deposits, stream gravels, and high-level gravels.

The lode deposit at the Big Hurrah mine consists of several quartz veins in a dense, hard, quartzitic, graphitic schist. There is a noticeable absence of sulfides; the minerals consist almost exclusively of native gold in quartz (Smith, 1910, p. 144).

The gold in the placers, which consist of stream and beach gravels in the Bluff area and stream and bench gravels in the Solomon area, was derived from disseminations and veinlets in rocks of the Nome Group, particularly in the schist and in the vicinity of schist-limestone contacts (Smith, 1910, p. 214-216).

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