Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Chicken, Alaska

In between many other writing assignments, I write a short column about gold prospecting for Gold Prospectors magazine. Here's the next column:

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Mining the Internet – Chicken, Alaska

By Garret Romaine

Two years ago I contacted Mike Busby about his website, http://www.chickengold.com and wrote up a few details about the new site, which describe his fee-dig operation up there. I’m happy to report that in the months since then, Mike has put a lot of work into his website (and his mining operation). If you have a vacation planned for the Dawson area, this historic gold camp is right on the way.

Chicken, Alaska reaches a population of about 150 in the summer, and boasts a saloon, rental cabins, a gas station, airport, and public gold panning. In 2007, the Chicken gold camp opened its doors to recreational gold miners, with very good results. The year before, the famed Pedro Dredge, rescued and moved to Chicken in 1998, was named to the National Register of Historic Places.

Gold Discovery

Myer’s Fork flows into Chicken Creek just north of Chicken, and Chicken Creek reaches the Mosquito Fork of the Fortymile River just south of town. Myer’s Fork was the site of the original gold discovery in the Chicken Creek drainage, located in 1896. According to Mike, values on bedrock have run slightly better on Myer’s Fork than on Chicken Creek. The mouth of Myer’s Fork and bottom ¼ mile of the creek have seen hand-mining only. The rest of the creek is still virgin territory.

The Chicken Creek drainage has been mined continuously since 1896, yielding about 100,000 ounces. The F.E. Company, a subsidiary of the U.S. Smelting Refining & Mining Co., acquired most of the claims during the 1940’s and dredged 2 miles of Chicken Creek from 1959 to 1967. Since then, several family operations have mined on the creek.

Mike continues: “We began operating the Chicken Creek Mine in 1990 as lessees and purchased ground in 1998. In 2000, we began to implement a sustainable development plan incorporating mining, reclamation, tourism and local history. In 2001, our efforts were recognized by the State of Alaska when we received the prestigious Alaska Governor’s Award for Mine Reclamation. In 2006, we were recognized nationally as the small mine operator of the year by the U.S. Interior Department with the Reclamation and Sustainable Mineral Development Award.

Lately, our mining operation has taken a back seat to the rest of the business, but we continue to operate the Chicken Creek Mine as time permits. When we are operating, you are welcome to view the operation. And when we are not, there is plenty of gold for you to find, since most of the remaining ground is available for panning and recreational mining opportunities.”

Gold nuggets to three ounces are reported from this area. Guests at the claims can work the creek for a daily fee. You can pan, sluice, run a metal detector, or operate a high-banker or sluice. Sluice intakes are limited to two inches in diameter. Rates are subject to change, but run as follows:

$15 per day for panning and metal detecting

$25 per day for hand sluices

$30 per day for high bankers

$40 per day for sluices

Rates are slightly higher for non-camping guests. There are also weekly discounts. The camp offers equipment rentals, concentrate clean-up, and demonstrations.

Pedro Dredge

http://www.explorenorth.com/library/mining/pedro_dredge.html

The Pedro Dredge is open for daily tours and is definitely worth a stop. Mike Busby wrote this article for ExploreNorth.com. The dredge was smaller than most Alaska dredges, as each bucket held only three cubic yards.

Here are a few excerpts:

“The Pedro dredge, originally driven by steam, was built by the Yuba Manufacturing Company in California, and was shipped from Oakland on the S.S. Point San Pablo on April 1, 1938. It was assembled on Pedro Creek and began operating on July 11th. The Dredge operated on Pedro Creek, with the exception of the war years, until October 1958. Having completed its available ground there, it was decided to move it to Chicken Creek, as the Cowden Dredge, also belonging to the company, had suffered from years of neglect.”

“During its production years on Chicken Creek, the dredge washed about 2,500 cubic yards of gravel each day (29 buckets per minute) at a cost of around 30 cents per cubic yard. Between 0.30 and 0.80 ounces of gold were recovered from each cubic yard of gravel. There were normally 16-20 men employed in the operation, with 10-12 involved directly with the dredging and the remainder mostly associated with thawing ground ahead of the dredge. The dredge mined over 55,000 ounces of gold in the eight years on Chicken Creek.”

“Until 1998, the Pedro Dredge was hardly visible, resting on upper Chicken Creek where it had been parked in 1967. In the fall of 1998, the dredge was moved a mile to it's present location in the center of Chicken by it's new owner, Bernie Karl, and the owner of the mining claims, Mike Busby. The million-pound artifact was moved in one piece, and took less than two weeks of preparation and two weeks of actual moving, during which 120 tires were used to support it.”

Tisha’s Grave

At the north end of Chicken is a small grave marker with the following history behind it:

From http://www.explorenorth.com/library/bios/purdy-ann_hobbs.html: “Anne Hobbs Purdy was born on November 10, 1901 in Missouri, and grew up in Longmont, Colorado. She came to Alaska in 1928 and taught for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Eagle, Tetlin, and Chicken. She married a gold miner, Fred Purdy of Chicken, Alaska, in 1940. The couple adopted and raised eleven children. In 1976, Anne Purdy wrote a popular book, Tisha, based on her experiences as a teacher. She also wrote another book, Dark Boundary, as well as numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Anne Purdy died at Dot Lake on April 15, 1987.”

I haven’t read the book, but Maudeen Wachsmith provided a short review at Amazon.com:

“Anne Hobbs is a prim and proper 19-year-old schoolteacher who yearns for adventure. She finds this and much more in a town with the unlikely name of Chicken, located deep in the Alaskan interior. It is 1927 and Chicken is a wild mining community flaming with gold fever. Anne quickly makes friends with many of the townspeople, but is soon ostracized when she not only befriends the local Indians but also falls in love with one.”

More info

http://www.explorenorth.com/library/communities/alaska/chicken.html

There are additional reference links form this page, taking you to information about the Chicken Hotel, downtown Chicken, several other large-scale dredges that offer tours, and a geologic map of the Chicken, Alaska area. Note in particular the large granitic intrusion north of Chicken, bounded by Devonian phyllite, quartzite, chert, limestone, greenstone, slate and tuff. From my limited prospecting experience, any area with a granite intrusion and local greenstone is ripe for exploration.

Additional References


Myers Fork is cited in the following literature:

Cobb, E.H., 1977, Summary of references to mineral occurrences in the Eagle quadrangle, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 77-845, 122 p.

Foster, H.L., 1969, Reconnaissance geology of the Eagle A-1 and A-2 quadrangles, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1271-G, p. G1-G30.

Mertie, J.B., Jr., 1938, Gold placers of the Fortymile, Eagle, and Circle districts, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 897-C, p. 133-261.

Prindle, L.M., 1909, The Fortymile quadrangle, Yukon-Tanana region, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 375, 52 p.

Prindle, L.M., 1905, The gold placers of the Fortymile, Birch Creek, and Fairbanks regions, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 251, 89 p.

Yeend, W., 1996, Gold placers of the historical Fortymile River region, Alaska: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 2125, 75 p.

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