31 October 2010

Ch 3, Pt 5, conclusion : "Closing Day at Bonanza" from "Legacy of the Chief"

Chapter 3: Closing Day at Bonanza, pt 5, conclusion

Dunkle smiled at the mine foreman and took off with the large strapped load in tow on top of a specially-constructed cart. Richelsen watched the load disappear down the tunnel. He dismissed the two mechanics, sending them over to the tram terminal to help unload the compressor when it arrived at the head of the ore tunnel. The electrician and a young miner remained at the empty compressor station waiting for instructions from the superintendent.

“Get ready at the transformer station to kill the remaining underground power. That compressor is the last piece of equipment we’re taking out of here, except for the two locomotives and their ore cars.”

The electrician nodded and headed back toward the tunnel entrance. Richelsen turned toward the young miner.

“Young man, have you ever operated one of these before?”

“Yes sir. I ran locomotives down in the 1,257 cross-cut.”

“You then, will have the distinct honor of running the last locomotive out of here. Pull the entire load completely out the adit door and clear the portal of all the ore cars so I can shut the door behind you.”

“Sir, I’m honored.”
  Bonanza 1955 Aerial (click photo for larger image)
"It has been a great run--much more so than we had ever dreamed.  This mine, as you all know, was my first great assignment. It is the one which I hold dearest because my career really began right here close to the place where I now stand.  The Bonanza-Jumbo, for a brief time, was a top producer world-wide.  We suspected in the beginning, and we know now, that the richness of the ore here has never been surpassed and probably never will be."  --Stephen Birch speaking to the engineers in the dining room of the Bonanza barrack in July, 1924.
Aerial view of the abandoned Bonanza mine site and Bonanza Peak, 1955. --AMHA, Ward Wells, 1723-54, B83.91.

Richelsen followed the last of the cars out the door. As he walked outside one of the mechanics ran up to tell him that the other locomotive had left 1,501 and was ready to be hoisted down the machine hoist just ahead of the much heavier compressor.

“Does that mean everyone is completely clear of the mine tunnels?”

“Yes sir. Just as you ordered. The foreman informed me that he has cleared that end and will wait for you over at 1,501.”

“Very good. Thank you.”

Richelsen looked up toward the electrician who stood at his station at the transformer building directly above the portal. He raised and then lowered his arm. The electrician pulled the lever while W.A. watched. The tunnel beyond the heavy door went black. Richelsen walked up to 1,503 to close the heavy door. A brisk breeze from somewhere miles below caused the door to resist closing. The young miner rushed over and helped Richelsen push and latch the door. They both walked over to the second door at the parallel 1,505 tunnel. The cold wind whistling from somewhere deep within the blackness chilled the superintendent. He felt relieved to have the help of this young man as they both struggled to close and latch this second, very heavy steel door.

“Two down. One to go. Come along, young man. You’ve been very helpful. You’ll be needed at the machine hoist.”

Richelsen watched from the tram terminal landing as the large group of miners worked the second locomotive and then the much heavier compressor down the very steep machine hoist. Wes Dunkle stood beside him. Up above, George Hancock directed the lowering of these final pieces of heavy equipment. Once the compressor was down, W.A. climbed the narrow stairs to the top where the 1,501 adit door remained open. The last tunnel to be closed appeared just as black as the others. The wind was not as strong at this adit, but the absolute darkness had become unnerving.

“Last one, George. This is it.”

He quietly shut door 1,501. It closed with almost no resistance.

“There. It’s done. The Bonanza mine is now officially closed. Let’s have lunch, George! You coming, Wes?”

As the three men reached the top of the landing at the rear of the main barrack, movement high in the air caught their attention. All three glanced up in time to spot four large ravens circling high over the mine site. Then the winds began to pick up, blasting each man’s face. The engineers headed for cover under the porch roof to escape the direct effects of the wind chill, but both felt a strong, impulsive need to look up so they could continue watching the strange circling birds high above. George had his own private thoughts.

Already Mother Nature’s moving back in -- reclaiming what was once hers. So impatient to take on a fresh kill--this abandoned mine barrack. Only a few more hours and it will be hers alone. She’ll never see the likes of any of us at this mine site again.

He turned and found himself facing the two engineers. They had moved back outside, transfixed at the sight of the ravens flying high above the barracks.

The temperature had taken a drop as the winds began to pick up. It had turned gusty and the snow was blowing, threatening to turn into a full-blown blizzard. The final loading of the tram would be hampered by the deteriorating weather conditions. A miserable final return trip from Bonanza to the mill was now virtually assured.

Richelsen shivered, as did the others. He was not sure if this was so much from the cold or from the sight of those ravens. There was something about those dark-colored birds which vaguely reminded him of the disastrous events at Mother Lode. It was going to be a long final day. He was beginning to feel increasingly anxious to leave. Richelsen would be quite happy if he never saw those birds again in his lifetime.

The last Kennecott superintendent Walter Richelsen on Silk Stocking Row, Kennecott.


Ch 3, Pt 4 : "Closing Day at Bonanza" from "Legacy of the Chief"

Chapter 3: Closing Day at Bonanza, pt 4

The largest of all the company dining rooms was the new one at Bonanza. It had seating for one-hundred fifty men. The same building also housed eighty-four men during the height of mining activity. There had even been men living in the the much older barrack no. one on the far side of the ore bunker in 1923 and 1924. For a time in 1916 and 1917, no. one was the only barrack at Bonanza. It was incredibly spartan, like the older ones at Jumbo. Now it stood forlorn in its ghostly silence, long unused--the bare brass bed frames being visible from some of the windows, possibly occupied by the spirits of deceased mine workers, W.A. thought to himself, before he checked his strange line of thinking.

  Bonanza Barracks View 1 (click photo for larger image)
For thirty years, the largest and most impressive of any of the mine buildings was the main barrack, mess and amusement hall--building no. 2.  Until 1968 it stood in silent vigil overlooking all that was once Kennecott from the lofty northeast corner of the property, still 1,000 feet below Bonanza Peak.  No. 2 had been the crown jewel of the barracks--a showcase where the high and mighty of the corporation first arrived to examine the mine system.  Every great Kennecott official who had ever worked or visited the area was familiar with this landmark which proudly towered high above all else, sometimes well above the cloud level of the glacial valley below.
The 140-foot main Bonanza barrack and mess, plus the ore bunker and tram terminal, circa 1925.  --Simpson files

What’s the matter with me today? I must really be on edge. Now I’m turning superstitious on myself. I’m an engineer. I know better than that.

The large dining capacity of the new building made it possible to feed the men who stayed at the seventy-five man Mother Lode camp across the ridge. The Mother Lode camp was accessed by a series of tunnels running well below the surface. But the camp had not existed in years.

Mother Lode camp was wiped out in 1927. People who inquired about the place would invariably receive an unsatisfactory answer which revealed nothing. No one wanted to talk about it. To do so was thought to invite bad luck.

The much more modern and complete barracks at Bonanza included a respectable gymnasium and a library and billiards room. An extensive drying and changing room complete with showers, toilets, and rows of lockers took up the entire lowest level. It was the assembly area before and after shift. It was a vast and shadowy area just below the well-lit dining hall. Soon all this would be history. Most of it would be left behind intact--given up to the mercy of the elements.

The faint hope that some of these structures could be reused remained, but W.A. seriously doubted that. He was intimately familiar with the inner workings of the entire fifty-two mile mine system. There was virtually nothing left in there to remove. Most of the recoverable copper ore had been wholly depleted. There remained one sizable area known as the “boundary pillar” on the claims boundary between Bonanza and Mother Lode. Although WA’s final report for 1938 would state that all the ore had been removed, this was not really true. Richelsen paused at that intriguing thought.

I wonder if anyone will ever enter those old mine portals again and see what we have really left behind That rich area we abandoned near the Mother Lode is bound to ignite some wild speculation. There may even be rumors that Kennecott will someday return to resume mining. If they only knew why we had to leave that area alone . . .


No doubt about it. Kennecott was truly done. Officially there was nothing left to mine. Now they would leave, just as that old chief Nicolai had claimed they would so many years before.

“Superintendent Richelsen! You made it up here early!”

Bonanza foreman George Hancock stood at the top of the long inclined snow-shed which connected the main barrack with the ore bunkers and tram terminal below. An open door just beyond the top end of the long snow-shed led into the old boiler room where W.A. could see one of the maintenance staff workers closing valves.

“ We kept this boiler alive as long as possible, but our heating system lost its water source when we shut down the Mother Lode at the end of July. We had a ready supply of water back then. Now we’ve barely been able to keep it fed with the water we have to tram up here from below. Leaks must have developed everywhere. I’ve finally given up on it. We’re shutting it down for good. We’d be looking at major work on the heating system if we had to stay up here much longer. Are you shutting down everything this afternoon as planned, Mr. Richelsen?”

“Yes George. I expect no last minute changes. We’re right on schedule. I’ll be here all day overseeing the last of our salvage operation. We’ll ship out what we can, but at five, we’re out of here, come what may.”
“Sounds like a good plan to me. I like that. It’s been a long run for all of us up here, sir. By the way, thought I’d remind you, Wes Dunkle is still here.”

“Nearly forgot about him in all the rush, George.”

The old consulting engineer had returned after many years of absence because he had arranged to purchase some of the mining equipment sitting just inside the tunnels. Down at the main camp Dunkle had bought out most of the machine shop equipment. Up here he was picking up the battery-powered locomotives and some of the ore cars.

“ I believe Wes is inside--up there in the dining room for an early breakfast.
“Thanks, George. I think I’ll join him.”

Richelsen started to head up the stairs for his own long-anticipated breakfast. It had been too early a start this morning. There had been no time to eat at home. Five o’clock had come too soon--even for W.A.. The last meal to be served at Bonanza would be lunch. After that the Japanese crew of cooks and waiters would be dismissed so they could pack up and leave.

  Bonanza Floor Plans (click drawing for larger image)
Bonanza floor plan c. 1916. The as-built was extended for a larger dining hall.  --Simpson files
  Bonanza Heat Dist Plan (click drawing for larger image)
Bonanza barrack steam heat distribution plan.  --Simpson Files

Nothing in the kitchen or mess hall was to be returned to camp. All company property used in the mess and barrack would be abandoned right down to the kitchen spices and the coffee samovar, frying pans, and the knives which had been the pride of a long line of cooks. Upstairs in the individual crew rooms, only the bedding and linen was packed for removal. The Bonanza camp would be abandoned almost completely intact.

Richelsen stopped and turned back. He looked up at the wide south-facing wall of the huge barracks. The lights were still shining bright through all that front glass in this one remaining live piece of upper Kennecott.

He walked into the small yard area behind the barrack. A stiff breeze blew out the large entry of the 1,503 tunnel from somewhere deep inside. He could see a long string of overhead lights running in a straight line toward the compressor station and beyond. The last of the four Bonanza compressors was shut down. Two battery-powered locomotives sat parked near the compressor area.

“George,” he shouted. “Is there someone in there unbolting that last compressor?”

“Yes sir. We’ll be using one of those locomotives you see down there to yank it out and haul it down the 1,501 tunnel. We have to run the compressor down the machine hoist at the top of the ore bins, since that’s the only ramp heavy enough to support it.”

“Good. George, let me know when they have it loose and ready to pull out. I want to be there. I’m going upstairs for coffee and breakfast.”

It was getting chilly in the upper floors of the barrack because the last of the radiator heat was nearly dissipated. The old boiler had finally given out. The cold seeped inside quickly on the two upper levels. Because it was late in October, the ground was frozen, which only served to hasten the advancing cold the was penetrating the large building. Light snow flakes were turning larger as they drifted to the ground. It would stay cold outside today. By this evening it would be just a cold inside the barracks as it was outside.

George Hancock looked up from his working place near the top of the inclined snow-shed. He observed the superintendent as he sat down at the table with Wes Dunkle. George knew that the compressor was ready to move, but decided to give Richelsen time to eat breakfast before bothering him.

Twenty minutes later George entered the barrack and headed for the center stairwell leading to the main floor.

The two engineers stood up from the table when they saw the foreman approach. George realized it was markedly warmer in the dining hall. No one else was in the large room except for the waiters who were setting up tables for one last lunch for the remaining crew at Bonanza.

It all looks so normal up here-- as if nothing unusual was about to happen. Typical Kennecott, keeping up appearances to the very end. Reminds me of our official send-off dinner just a few days ago--Thanksgiving early. I believe I’ll miss this old place.

“It’s ready? Good. We’ll follow you out to the tunnel, George.”

The three of them headed back to the central stairwell the led to the basement drying room. It is a distance of over seventy-five feet from the stairwell landing to the outer door at the rear end of the building. This was the usual route for the miners to reach to the underground workings.

“I want to run this loco myself,” Dunkle said.

“I’ll ride with you, sir. I don’t want it heading down the wrong tunnel. We might find ourselves accidentally dumping our cargo load down the incline shaft.”

Richelsen smiled on hearing George say this.

“Signal me when you reach the other end of 1,501.”

“Will do, sir.”

Ch 3, Pt 3 : "Closing Day at Bonanza" from "Legacy of the Chief"

Chapter 3: Closing Day at Bonanza, pt 3

At tower number sixteen of the lower tram the cables began to rise at a much steeper rate. Then the distance between the towers began to increase. Just past tower thirteen was the first tension station. This was where the cable first crossed National Creek. The ground dropped precipitously some two hundred feet to the narrow canyon floor. W.A. avoided looking down. He was not particularly fond of heights. Above him the rock glacier seemed to just hang.

Talk about being suspended in time. Where else in the world would one encounter something called a rock glacier except here? It’s so slow moving, we haven’t noted a change in it as far back as I can remember. It sure is magnificent. Fascinating country. I’ll really miss the spectacular scenery.

The tram bucket reached the far side of the creek, passed through two more towers and then re-crossed National Creek. Then climb began to level off again as it reached the mid-point. This was the angle station at the 4,015 foot elevation.
At the angle station the tram changed directions from easterly to northerly, turning a full forty-nine degrees. One cable system ended, and another began. The buckets were shifted to overhead rails and then remounted onto the upper tram system for the final climb. The station sat on a gently-sloping meadow that was three hundred feet above the tree line. The steep ridge separating the Kennicott Glacier valley from McCarthy Creek rose sharply east of the station. The massiveness of the nearby ridge made the station within its shadow seem very small.

Only two men remained to tend the station. The other four had already headed back for the camp. Their work was over. They would be departing on the next train out. The last of the ore would slide on by late this afternoon. The two remaining tram-tenders would shut down the station tomorrow and take a final tram ride back to the mill. They would become the last men ever to ride the aerial tram.

“Good day, sir. At least, it would be if it were not for those clouds moving in on us. You’re the last man we have scheduled to travel up the tram, as you undoubtedly know. Everyone else will be returning from up the hill. You have the honor, sir. Will you be the last one coming down as well?”

“Good day to you. I’ll call you from the Bonanza and let you know what to expect. It certainly does look like a winter storm’s approaching. That may affect the schedule today.”

“Only if it gets too windy up there, sir. Hopefully not.”

Richelsen stepped onto the bucket at the upper end of the elevated angle station. The operator lifted the brake handle. W.A. ducked as the bucket passed through the entry. He was once again on his way.
The rise was gentle as the tram continued over the meadow toward the break-over on the southern rim of Bonanza Canyon. It was a 1,500 foot gap where the cable crossed the canyon at the far end of the break-over. The small creek was 300 to 400 feet below his bucket. It had become usually gusty over Bonanza canyon. Due to the length of the crossing in combination with the rising wind, an unnerving swing developed in this long stretch of cable.

  Angle Station 
At the angle station the tram changed directions from easterly to northerly, turning a full forty-nine degrees. One cable system ended, and another began. The buckets were shifted to overhead rails and then remounted onto the upper tram system for the final climb. The station sat on a gently-sloping meadow that was three hundred feet above the tree line. The steep ridge separating the Kennicott Glacier valley from McCarthy Creek rose sharply east of the station. The massiveness of the nearby ridge made the station within its shadow seem very small. 
Looking down the tram to the Bonanza angle station.  --Alaska & Polar Regions Dept., UAF, Alaska Historical Society, 84-48-44

He crossed the white-knuckle stretch uneventfully, meaning that he made it across without being dumped out of the bucket. Richelsen would try to recover his insides after he reached the Bonanza. The cable began yet another steep ascent as it passed through a series of heavily-reinforced towers. Full buckets of ore passed W.A. to his right, heading downward in a steep pitch toward the mill at the rate of five miles per hour.
To his left the 10,000-volt power line paralleled his ride up the tram towers all the way to Bonanza. They terminated at the Bonanza transformer station. The station would be shut down and dismantled in a matter of hours. The power lines from the station followed an underground route to the Mother Lode at the 800 cross-cut and the Jumbo at the 600 cross-cut tunnel. Power to those remote mines had already been shut off. Jumbo was alive only days before. Mother Lode had been dark since the first of August.

The tram bucket finally reached the top of the ridge separating the Bonanza from the Glacier Mine. At this high elevation, many of the towers were reinforced to counter-act the stress caused by the avalanches which were common-place at this altitude. A large number of towers have been replaced over the years, especially near the top of the tram. Sometimes this was simply to upgrade the load requirements. More often it was because avalanches had taken them out. Even this final year, with the end clearly in sight, towers number twenty-five and forty-three had to be replaced to ensure safe and uninterrupted operations.

Thank God, one last trip after this and I’m done with this young man’s dare-devil tram run for good.

The tram passed through a thin layer of low-lying fog. It did not look quite so ominous above the narrow ceiling, but the view below him disappeared. His mind began to drift back to the events at Mother Lode.

Here I am still thinking about that dreadful, damnable thing, and I haven’t gotten off the tram yet to recover my insides.

Richelsen caught himself again. He would have to be more careful. Though he was not superstitious, there was something about that event which seemed to haunt the mine sites. No one ever spoke of it. Not ever. But it was always in the back of the minds of those who had been here at the time.

The upper tram terminal was minutes away. It had taken a long forty-five minutes to reach the top end. The tram was gravity operated. The ore buckets were spaced at even intervals in both directions for balance. Ordinarily the tram would not move without the weight of all that ore--or some other heavy object coming down the line.

Lately, there had been plenty of that. Much of the load coming down the tram was heavy, salvaged mining equipment. Three of the four compressors at Bonanza had already arrived at the mill yard for shipment outside. The battery-powered locomotives and other remaining large pieces would come down today along with what little ore remained in the storage bins. There was a back-up electric motor at the Bonanza and at the angle station to run the tram without gravity if it became necessary. This feature was particularly useful during start-ups.

I might be returning on electrical power this afternoon since there will be no ore weight on the tram line. That will be a different experience.

It had been a very busy season. Richelsen had placed the miners and the mill crew on two shifts to complete the mining retreat plan by the scheduled date. Twenty-four hour operations had been unusual in the last ten years as production had slowed. But in the last few months the rush was on. Now the closing date had finally arrived.

Just a few days before, Richelsen oversaw the closing of the Jumbo tram. Just before that he had closed down the Erie Mine. The Erie crew moved first to the Jumbo and then to the Bonanza site. Everything was closed according to a carefully planned sequence of mine retreat to ensure that as much ore and equipment was removed as possible.

All the salvageable equipment from the Erie and Jumbo was moved to the head of the Jumbo incline shaft and was trammed out by the 18th. This consisted largely of pneumatic drilling rigs, the larger series of side-dump ore cars, and the telephones.

The battery-powered locomotive moved over to Mother Lode and was then trammed to the surface at Bonanza. The locomotive had been used as the hauler on the 1500 cross-cut to Erie ever since the cross-cut was completed in 1924. The single compressor at Erie was hauled down the Erie tram to the base at Root Glacier and then dragged on a wagon to the main camp. Richelsen supervised that operation as well. Ore production at Erie exceeded expectations to the point that production had delayed the shut-down schedule.

At the closing of the Jumbo, W.A. stood by to watch as the head electrician pulled the switches for the last time, sending the camp and all the northern tunnels into a state of permanent darkness. Then the electricians removed the large transformers in one final act of salvaging. W.A. followed one of those transformers in the last bucket to leave the Jumbo camp.

Now it was Bonanza’s turn.

His thoughts were interrupted as the ore bucket he was riding finally stopped at the upper terminal where a tram attendant helped the superintendent off at the landing. W.A. greeted everyone one final time at the Bonanza loading dock, then he headed toward the long, tracked inclined snow-shed leading up toward Bonanza building number two--the main barrack and mess hall. This was the largest barrack ever built anywhere at this elevation in Alaska. It was four stories high, not counting the attic area.

This barrack had served for twenty-one years as a company showpiece. Most official visitors to the mines had arrived at Bonanza first. Over the years, this would be the single most photographed building outside of the mill site. It was surely a magnificent appearing structure.

He had ordered the building repainted with a new coat of red with white trim shortly after the mines reopened during the early summer of 1935. But that was about the extent of the maintenance. The company did not want unwarranted sums spent on buildings which would soon be abandoned. It became routine to defer maintenance if at all possible. This practice was in contradiction to the policy which had existed until 1925. In those days the company seemed to operate on an almost unlimited budget.

Only one other mining camp building had the finished appearance the main Bonanza barracks boasted. Number four at the Jumbo was the newest one over there. It had been given a painted, finished look, because it had tongue-in-groove siding as opposed to shiplap covered with tar paper and lathe sticks. Number four was irretrievably damaged when the the edge of the receding rock glacier it stood on gave way, causing one end to shift fifteen degrees off of level.

  Jumbo Barracks 4 
Building No. 4, Jumbo Camp, was built in 1918.  It was a completely finished barrack, designed to house sixty men.  It contained the recreation  hall. Natural forces damaged the structure beyond repair while Kennecott was still in operation.  --McCarthy-Kennicott Museum

Since then the large Jumbo barrack had shifted even farther--leaning about twenty degrees to the southwest. It now served mainly as an ominous reminder of the power of nature in its ongoing showdown against mankind. No one had been there to witness the damaging event. It occurred sometime during the first shutdown of 1932-35. The entire Jumbo camp finally stood empty. Two of the other barracks had also begun to lean as the rock glacier retreated far below. Each of the four barracks would be left to fall toward the ever-widening precipice in their own good time. No one would be there to stop the gradual demise of these two-story buildings which somehow appeared much taller than two stories.

Continue with

Ch 3, Pt 2 : "Closing Day at Bonanza" from "Legacy of the Chief"

Chapter 3: Closing Day at Bonanza, pt 2

Reinforced tower near top of Bonanza tram --Cordova Museum

Once the railway arrived at the Bonanza lower camp, the old era came to an abrupt end. The railroad brought with it the modern world of a neatly laid-out company town of painted frame structures. Everything one could possibly want could be found either at the new town of Kennecott or at the nearby community of McCarthy. If the stores did not have a particular item, the Sears and Roebuck catalog could be counted on to fill the need or desire.

McCarthy. Good old ‘anything-goes’ McCarthy. About to become one of our casualties. Dead. Gone. History. They don’t even know it yet -- and they’ll never know what hit ‘em when that last train of ours pulls out.

W.A. chuckled to himself as he worked his way up the interior mill stairwell, headed toward the tram terminal floor on the twelfth level. Because W.A. had made a career out of Kennecott, he had participated in every major event which occurred over the years.

I know this camp and mine system inside and out--more so than anyone alive except Bill Douglass himself. Now I’m quickly becoming the obsolete key to a dead mine.

W.A. stepped into the tram bucket.

There’s barely room to sit down in this narrow steel tub. Not too safe or comfortable, to say the least. What a way to take a scenic trip.

Many engineers had come and gone, but W.A. had been a part of Kennecott almost from the beginning. He arrived fresh from the Colorado School of Mines in 1915. That was the year that the Jumbo took off with the discovery of the single richest copper deposit ever found. The number-crunchers figured it had a value of thirty-five million dollars--far more than the final cost of building the railroad.

He worked his way up from surveyor to the position of Chief Engineer--a job he held for so many years that other engineers came and left in frustration, waiting for W.A. to move on so they could advance. Now W.A. was the site superintendent

I’m the last one standing. They had to make me superintendent. There was no one else left. What an irony. I finally made it to the top and now I have to be the one to shut down my own camp.

W.A. watched the ground move away from him as the tram bucket he was riding began to lift smoothly toward the first tower.

It was a 1,500 foot gap where the cable crossed the canyon at the far end of the break-over. The small creek was 300 to 400 feet below his bucket. It had become usually gusty over Bonanza canyon. Due to the length of the crossing in combination with the rising wind, an unnerving swing developed in this long stretch of cable.
Riding the Bonanza aerial tram --Candy Waugaman Collection

At one time there had been a corporate representative here referred to as the manager. The very first had been Stephen Birch himself. A long line of managers had come and gone since then. Mr. Birch himself had retired. There was no longer a manager here--not since 1932.

Stannard was the manager who had ordered the construction of the Stephen Birch house as a honeymoon cottage for the visiting couple in 1916. Mary Birch was thoroughly and annoyingly unimpressed. The couple ended their Alaska honeymoon early. After that the white house on the hill served as the manager’s residence, though it remained largely unoccupied.

Imagine that. Here’s one of the most influential and powerful men in the territory, if not the country, maybe even the world. Yet his own bride was so stuck in her debutante, spoiled rich-kid city-girl ways that she threw one tantrum after another. She hated Alaska. She hated the mines. She even hated the railroad and its special Kennecott car which was specially built just for her. And she was thoroughly unimpressed with the cottage built especially for their honeymoon. What an embarrassment for all of us. It must have been hell for Stephen. The whole affair just killed his interest in Alaska. That was it for him. Too bad.

It had been an incredibly exciting twenty-two years in some of the most spectacular country in the world. Richelsen had participated in many mineral investigations for Kennecott in the Chitina and Nizina Valleys--and even in the Nabesna area. In the last few years, he had headed several of these prospects, including the promising one at Glacier Creek where they built a sizable, if temporary, camp. The engineers thoroughly investigated one prospect after another only to be disappointed. No extensive copper or other mineral veins were ever found outside of the original Kennecott claims or that of the adjacent Mother Lode properties.

It was not for lack of trying. The Kennecott corporate office had sent many consulting engineers into the field. Each one had come in search of one more big find--something which would extend the life of Kennecott and its Copper River and Northwestern Railway.


CR and NW--Can’t Run and Never Will-- indeed. Those pioneering men built one of the greatest wilderness railroads ever. It was born of the copper and it will die of the copper--or the lack of it.

Those idiots. We could hardly believe the political foolishness of that Wilson administration which chose the wrong railroad line to extend to Fairbanks. We built this railroad of ours far better than anything they could ever have even dreamed. Now we have to kill it along with the mine. Those jackasses. It should not have ended this way.

He ducked instinctively as his ore bucket passed under the third tower.

Leave it to the government to screw it all up. Listen to me. I’m sounding bitter. Too many years here. Too big an investment. I’ve been here most of my life. God, how I hate to see it die!

He began to consider the hazardous nature of hard rock mining in the territory. The wilderness was everywhere. It began mere yards from the railroad right-of-way. The land proved rugged enough to challenge even the hardiest of men. Mining was by its nature inherently dangerous. The company, for insurance purposes, routinely predicted the number of mining-related accidents which would occur in any given year. It was usually very close.

Numbers. To them it’s all numbers. Our engineering is first rate and our predictions prove it, for we have almost always been right. Between our crackerjack geologists and those number-crunchers, we’ve accomplished an ongoing miracle up here. I can’t imagine a better organized company than ours. It works well, but I’ll be so happy to get away from that part of it, if I ever do.

Kennecott had proved to be an unusually safe place for miners to work. The company track record had been very good compared to other big Alaskan operations. The large gold mining operations near Juneau--the Treadwell, the A-J and the Gastineau were notorious killers. Not Kennecott. So far this year there had been no fatal accidents at all. Kennecott would be pulling out of the Wrangells with a record free of fatalities in its last two years of operation.

There had been one catastrophe which had long troubled not only W.A., but everyone else who had been at Kennecott at the time. Even though it had been over a decade since the disaster at the Mother Lode camp, the calamity continued to reverberate in its own peculiar way all these years after it should have faded away.

Kennecott was on the verge of completely abandoning the area. With the mine shut down there would be no one left to remember the series of events which took the lives of those five unfortunate souls. It was the loss of the junior engineer that W.A. found most troubling. It hit too close to home.

Without us being here, even his name will soon be forgotten. We were the only family of our beloved junior engineer. I still find myself holding much of the blame for that catastrophe. What a shame it all was.

Ch 3, Pt 1 : "Closing Day at Bonanza" from "Legacy of the Chief"

Chapter 3, Part 1: Closing Day at Bonanza
The White Man has come to take his precious metals from the earth. He cares nothing of this land--nor of us. He will take his precious metals, upset the earth, and then he will leave.
 We have no use for his treasures, nor for him. Nor should we. Soon we will have our land back and be able to live in peace as before.

 -- Nicolai the Tyone of Taral, talking to his oldest grandson at the abandoned Spirit Camp of Taral, September 1910. 

The faint hope that some of these structures could be reused remained, but W.A. seriously doubted that. He was intimately familiar with the inner workings of the entire fifty-two mile mine system. There was virtually nothing left in there to remove. Most of the recoverable copper ore had been wholly depleted. There remained one sizable area known as the “boundary pillar” on the claims boundary between Bonanza and Mother Lode.
Looking northeast up the 16,400-foot-long Bonanza aerial tram toward the main Bonanza barrack, mess and amusement hall, circa 1919.  --McCarthy-Kennicott Museum

The Bonanza aerial tram extended from the rear of the Kennecott discharge terminal which sat at the 2,338 foot level at track grade, according to the Copper River and Northwestern Railway survey of 1910. The first tower, twenty-second from the angle station, and forty-fourth from the Bonanza discharge terminal, not counting the angle station itself, stood little more than a hundred feet beyond the mill loading dock. The next six towers followed a relatively gentle slope and were spaced an average of approximately 300 feet apart. At that point the tram cables crossed National Creek canyon.

As had been the case twice a week since May 1935 when the mill reopened after a two-and-a-half year closure due to low copper prices, W.A. Richelsen, the site superintendent since 1935, was about to board the tram for the three-mile ride to Bonanza Mine, located at the 6,016 foot elevation. W.A. followed a pattern set by his well-known predecessor who managed the site during most of the previous decade. When Bill Douglass took the reins from E.T. Stannard in 1920, he instilled in the 550-man camp a sense of benevolence and permanence which had not existed at Kennecott until he arrived. Even though the sense of permanence was an illusion, it served the purposes of Douglass, as did the benevolent face he presented which masked the reality of a very large corporation run by hard-nosed engineers, accountants, bankers and lawyers who were primarily motivated by the bottom line.

Kennecott Mines claims map drawn up by Walter Richelsen in July, 1924, showing the Bonanza tram and Bonanza mine.   --Simpson Files

E.T. Stannard was a truly great engineer who developed the ammonia leaching process which vastly improved copper ore recovery at Kennecott. Stephen Birch, the true genius behind Kennecott, brought Stannard in to find a way to process the carbonate coppers which resisted the mechanical separation process that worked so well on the sulfide ores. Stannard’s innovative process helped assure enormous profits for this remote Alaskan part of Stephen Birch’s vast copper empire. It resulted in an average recovery rate of ninety-six percent.

Stannard became the camp manager in 1916, which was the year of the Birch honeymoon debacle. Stannard never maintained good relations with the miners, but his successor, Bill Douglass, transformed Kennecott into a place that would be fondly remembered by almost everyone who worked, lived, or grew up there.

Stannard moved up the corporate chain, ultimately succeeding Birch as president of the international conglomerate which derived its name from the small glacier at the base of Bonanza Ridge where Kennecott had its origins. Stannard never returned. After 1924, neither did Birch. The last Birch visit signaled the beginning of the end, a full fourteen years before the last load of ore headed down the tram on this, the 22nd day of October.

Douglass was responsible for establishing the engineering standards and procedures which served the mine well to the very end. As a dedicated family man, it was also Bill Douglass who set the tone of a family-friendly company town. In the midst of the wildly unpredictable sub-arctic elements, he infused a sense of peace and stability, the likes of which existed in no other place in the wilderness of Alaska.

W.A. Richelsen, the long-serving senior engineer who finally was given the job as the very last of the superintendents, tried his best to duplicate the operating style of his old boss and predecessor. Even though he meant well, W.A. lacked the aura and personal charm which came as second nature to Bill Douglass.
The routine of making a twice-weekly on-site inspection of the mine sites had been set by Douglass long before he was promoted to superintendent. This time the superintendent’s visit would hardly be a routine one, for today was October 22, 1938. The Bonanza and the Jumbo mines had simultaneously shut down operations on October 16th. Because there was so much copper ore on hand, it took several more days to complete the below-ground tramming and hoisting of the last of the copper stored in the many large ore pockets. The final shipment of this ore would depart the upper Bonanza tram terminal this afternoon.
It seemed only appropriate that this last load of ore was to be taken from the Bonanza. This was the site of the original discovery thirty-eight years before. The discovery was in 1900. The railroad arrived in 1911. After twenty-seven years of sending ore down the rails, the last of it is about to be trammed from the very place where it all began.

Over the twenty-seven years of mining operations, it had become a very different world. The Bonanza aerial tram began at the original discovery lode. Smith and Warner, the prospectors who came upon this exposed ore body high along a glacial cirque on the southwest side of Bonanza Ridge realized almost immediately that they had found something not just unique, but almost beyond belief in its size and richness.
This was the discovery that forced the construction of the railroad which in turn brought civilization to the Wrangells. But the discovery and development days had been an entirely different era. It was a time when the Ahtnas could still claim a measure of dominance over the Copper and Chitina River valleys. It occurred at a time when the Klondike gold rush had faded prospectors were spreading out over Alaska and the Yukon in search of even more gold. The early camp consisted of a mill and tram terminal plus a very few basic support buildings for the Bonanza Mine. The camp had a very primitive appearance, with buildings of log or crude frame construction that lacked any amenities at all.

Ch 2 : "The Wrangell Formation," Pt 5-conclusion, from "Legacy of the Chief"

The  Wrangell Formation, Pt 5, conclusion
Wesley Dunkle  -- Chapter 2 of "Legacy of the Chief"

      Dunkle looked straight at Johnny, who smiled slightly.   Outside it was getting dark.  The sun was giving way to city lights. He paused to take a drink of water from the pitcher set on the desk beside him.
Anchorage High School 1956
Anchorage High School (West High) in 1956--where the lecture would have taken place
 This is all I have left now.  I offer the past.  I am the past.  Even Johnny over there represents the past.  We are not really part of this post-war world,  unlike these much younger people.   Like the twilight outside I represent something which is rapidly vanishing. So does that Native, even though he is much younger than I.

       “In any case, these lava flows filled the rift-formed basin and were subsequently covered by warm, shallow, tropical seas.  Many layers of sediment, primarily from coral reefs, deposited as marine-based limestone. Most important was the Chitistone limestone.  Within the Chitistone formation was a dolomite limestone which became the favorable host rock for the high-grade copper deposits which would follow.  Other sediments which were deposited above and below this layer included both limestones and shales.   The name Chitistone comes from the Ahtna word chiti, which means copper, because the rich copper deposits are found only in the Chitistone limestone.”
      “We call it ‘tsedi,’ not ‘chiti,’ but we found out long ago that you non-Indians have a way of corrupting our language.”
      “Thank you, Johnny.  I didn’t realize that.  But I’m not all that surprised at what you are saying, either.
      “Where was I?  Oh, yes.  Over the last 200 million years this terrane gradually worked its way north,  riding on the back of the highly fluid and northwesterly-moving Pacific plate,  until it finally welded itself into the area extending from what is now British Columbia all the way into south-central Alaska.   Other terranes followed this route.  These were the composite terrane and the Yakutat terrane. 
      “The strong subduction caused by the action of the Yakutat terrane slipping under the composite and Wrangellia terranes no longer produces as much volcanic activity as it had originally  because  the strike-slip movement of nearby faults have started to absorb much of the stress caused by the ongoing actions  of the Pacific plate and all the terranes which ride on this plate.  Instead we have increasing seismic activity in the area.  This slowing down of the volcanic processes only began in the last 200,000 years. While the process of the building of volcanoes appears to be over, the possibilities for massive earthquakes in the area appear to be increasing.  All that energy caused by continuing subduction has to go somewhere. My guess is that  considerable stress is building up within the fault zones which could ultimately result in massive earthquake activity in the area, but that is another matter.
      “As to the volcanoes, the only active one left is the youngest of these, which is known as Mount Wrangell--a huge shield-type volcano which has been formed by a gradual building up of lava flows rather than by  erupting, fast moving, and highly explosives lavas.  Mount Wrangell and the older Mt. Blackburn to the east, are  the closest large geological features to Kennecott , but their  existence did not contribute directly to the formation of the famous copper deposits.
      “Because the area is characterized by rapid erosion, the older volcanoes have lost their original shield-like shapes. They have been worn down by unrelenting glacial action and other processes of erosion which occur almost as quickly as the mountains form.  The rapid process of erosion caused the early exposure of copper ore to the water and air.
      “The early basaltic flows of 200 million years ago which included the Nicolai greenstone also contained the coppers that were settled out to a composition of less than one-tenth of one percent within the greenstone.   This is too weak a concentration to have any economic value, yet it is this greenstone which is  the ultimate source of the copper in the region.  On the other hand, the native copper which formed south of the Nizina River, though not economically important, includes some very large nuggets weighing thousands of pounds.  One of them still rests at Chitina.  It was brought in from the Chititu area.  A larger nugget found at Dan Creek is now at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.  No such nuggets are to be found in the greenstone of the area where the Chitistone copper formations exist.
      “When the shallow warm seas formed over the early basalt flows, coral reefs built up a succession of deposits of  limestones and shales that settled over the greenstone, as I already said.  After the Wrangellia Terrane moved into its present position the sublimation resulted in uplift, tilting and folding of these layers.  This process continued until the Chitistone formation ended up with an average tilt of twenty-three to thirty-three degrees.  The Chitistone formation was  heavily fractured and faulted by the same process.
      “Some very early volcanic activity resulted in the creation of a dome of hot molten porphyry that was appropriately named  Porphyry Mountain.  This is the large mound to the immediate south of the Bonanza Ridge and just to the northeast of McCarthy.  Porphyry dominates the landscape to the east of the small town.   Limited prospecting in the basalt dome revealed no minerals of any real value.
      “This local formation process at Porphyry was a very violent one.  The volcanic activity around Porphyry intruded  large amounts of hot molten lava into the earlier formations. The magma heated the circulating brine waters that sought the copper out of the underlying greenstone. It concentrated the copper and forced it through the faults and fissures into the overlying Chitistone limestone. 
Mt Porphyry
Porphyry Mountain as seen from the Bonanza Mine
      “The dolomite limestone layer occurs fifty to seventy-five feet above the contact point between the greenstone and the overlying limestone formations. As I pointed out, it proved to be the congenial host rock.  The dolomite limestone had the right type of physical and chemical composition to enable it to be readily replaced by the concentrated copper deposits.  The deposits followed along the fractures, breccia and fault zones into the dolomite limestone, settling as heavy, rich deposits of predominantly sulfide coppers. The sulfide results from the organic remains of the coral. The copper has been referred to as a replacement deposit, since it forced its way into the dolomite and  widened the faults and  fractures by dissolving the immediate limestone and then filling the resulting openings with the rich deposits.   
       “Thus the  existence of Porphyry Mountain at the lower end of the Bonanza Ridge became the key to the whole process.  The richest and heaviest concentrations of copper tended to occur in the dolomite limestone which was closest to the porphyry dome.  The farther one gets from the porphyry, the less likely it is that copper of significant concentrations will occur.
      “Oddly enough, the richer Kennecott copper deposits were not the ones closest to the mountain.  Bonanza Ridge extends from Root Glacier on the northwest, heading southeast until it meets Porphyry Mountain.  The closest Kennecott mine to  Porphyry Mountain is the Bonanza, followed by the Motherlode, then the Jumbo, and finally the Erie. The richest high grade copper was found at Erie while the lowest occurred at Bonanza and Motherlode.  The Green Butte mine deposits to the east of this porphyry was a direct beneficiary of this process as well, though its deposits did not compare in quality or quantity to the massive ones of the Kennecott claims.
      “With the volcanic activity of Porphyry Mountain the necessary geologic factors were brought together in this one relatively small and unique area to produce the Kennicott Formation.  What had originally appeared to be great promise for the district as a whole was really limited to copper deposits existing only within Bonanza Ridge because the formation process was so localized.
      “Because the layers of Chitistone limestone were already tilted to an average of  thirty degrees, the copper was deposited along this  incline at a distance of about fifty to seventy-five feet above the underlying greenstone at the same angle.  While the greenstone is the source of the copper, it appears to contain no economically-significant deposits.
      To repeat, the point where the Chitistone formation rests on the Nicolai greenstone is called the contact zone.  The contact zone is readily apparent from the surface due to an obvious change in color, but the bedding plane of the copper rests fifty to seventy-five feet above this contact zone at an average angle of thirty degrees.
      “Rapid erosion almost immediately began cutting into this new formation once it rose above sea level.  The process of oxidation began when ground water and air came into contact with the exposed copper sulfide deposits.   The oxidation stopped abruptly when  a prolonged period of glaciation overwhelmed the area.   As mechanical erosion resumed with the subsiding of the glaciers, the ore which was exposed occurred mainly as an unaltered chalcocite which is the copper sulfide, as well as lesser amounts of carbonates, which is the copper altered by the earlier process of oxidation. This proved to be an important consideration in Kennecott’s design of the mill since the carbonates do not mechanically separate from the host rock as well as the sulfides.
      “Kennecott brought up a young engineer named E. T.  Stannard who developed a unique ammonia leaching process which proved to be the key to separating the carbonate coppers from the dolomite limestone host rock. The ammonia leaching plant was the first of its kind and worked very well once we combined it with a good water flotation process.  Stannard later went on to become president of Kennecott, succeeding the founder, the great Stephen Birch himself.
E.T. Stannard
E.T. Stannard

      “Kennecott is a company of engineers.  The company has always relied on a number of consulting geologists such as myself.   We have a term called economic geology.  It  is a study of the various geologic factors in and around a mineral deposit which is then used as a guide to the evaluation, development and working of a mine system.  We entered a country where we had no experience when we tackled the sub-arctic region of Alaska.  We spent many years developing a base of knowledge for this area.  A correct interpretation of the minerals and their surrounding environment is essential for the successful discovery of ore veins and the proper development of the mine itself.
      “It took a number of  years before we determined just how unique our deposit was and that only the type of copper veins found at Kennecott could be worked profitably.  The geologic combination of factors which made these deposits possible is so unique that similar deposits have, to my knowledge, never been found anywhere else in the world.
      “Unfortunately, this also meant no where else in the Copper Valley region would a similar deposit be found.  Thus, once this one group of mines owned by Kennecott was worked out, there would be nothing else left in the valley of this type to mine.  When Kennecott was worked out, the district as a whole would be finished.
      “Still, if I was a young man, I would want to further explore the Wrangells in the admittedly remote hope of finding yet another significant deposit--whether it was copper, gold, or some other mineral.
Chief Goodlataw
Chief Goodlataw
      “There was also the native copper I alluded to, which existed in greater concentrations in the greenstone to the south side of the Nizina River.  These were found as nuggets as revealed in the small streams which cut through the area.  It was largely this copper which the Ahtna Indians used to fashion tools and hunting implements.  None of it proved of interest to Kennecott.
      “The most impressive copper was found by the Ahtnas at  the Nicolai Prospect, which is on the southeast end of the Kennicott Formation.  This particular outcropping consisted mostly of malachite stains on copper sulfide.  This small, but spectacular outcropping  wetted the appetites of those early prospectors who sought the mother lode of copper.  Thus the great Bonanza copper outcropping--just two ridges away--awaited its discovery.  Along with the Bonanza existed the adjacent Jumbo vein and the Mother Lode itself.  In this one case at least, there really was a mother lode.
      “Just imagine!  It all began because of a mysterious humble Indian chief we know only as Nicolai the tyone of Taral.  I have often wondered what he must have thought when he realized the magnitude of the human tidal wave he set off with his Nicolai Prospect.”

Continue with
"Closing Day at Bonanza"

Ch 2 : "The Wrangell Formation," Pt 4 from "Legacy of the Chief"

The  Wrangell Formation, Pt 4
Wesley Dunkle  -- Chapter 2 of "Legacy of the Chief"

      “Where was I?  Oh yes. I first heard about the building of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway and of the fabulously rich Bonanza copper mine while I was working at an iron mine in Minnesota.  I wanted to become a part of it. It was the copper which first brought me to Alaska.   In 1914 I made the first detailed study of the geology of the ore occurrences at Kennecott while employed as a field exploration engineer.  It was my study which determined that the ore bodies ran primarily to the northeast as massive bodies of chalcocite ore.   This was important later because it meant that Kennecott had to consider the possibility that it was sharing the same orebody with an adjacent mine on the opposite ridge facing McCarthy Creek.  This was the Mother Lode Mine.  The Mother Lode camp was actually sitting on the Bonanza-Motherlode vein, though the owners of the company did not realize it at the time.  The Mother Lode ultimately extended the life of the Kennecott mine system by many years.
      “Back to the topic of the terranes.  Let me show you on this map.”
AK minerals
Mineral Deposits in Alaska
      Behind him was a large United States Geological Survey map showing mineral occurrences in Alaska.
       “The mountains of volcanic origin which concern us are those of the western part of the Wrangells, which  were all formed within the last four million years.  The Wrangells extend over an  area beginning a few miles east of the Copper River--here-- and continuing  past the  eastern Alaska border into an area of the Yukon Territory known as the Kluane Range--there.  The Wrangells are roughly  bounded to the north and west by the Copper and Slana Rivers and to the south by the Chitina and Nizina Rivers. This is all a part of the Wrangellia Terrane.  The terrane extends well past the Wrangells to include part of the south slopes of the Alaska Range in the area of my own Golden Zone mine,   but it is the Wrangell Mountain formation where we found the unique Kennicott formation which contained those high-grade copper deposits.
      “The south end of the Chitina River valley, which essentially runs east to west, marks the northern edge of  the Chugach coastal range, which extends all the way to the Gulf of Alaska.  Running east to west this takes in an area extending from Yakutat,  to Cordova, Valdez and Seward, and then inland to include Anchorage. 
      “The Copper River is the only river system of such great size to pass through this coastal range. This river is the greatest in south-central Alaska, and includes such tributaries as the Chitina, Nizina, Bremner, Tonsina, Klutina, Tazlina, Gulkana, Gakona, Chistochina, and Slana Rivers.  The Chitina River is easily the equal of the Copper.  It enters the Copper near Chitina.  Both rivers flow through extensive areas of geologically-recent glacial deposits,  as well as  volcanic ash deposition.  As a result these combined rivers  contain an enormous amount of silt which rivals, if not exceeds, that of the more famous Yukon and Tanana Rivers north of the Alaska Range.
      “As late as ten thousand years ago the present-day Copper River valley was largely under the waters of Ahtna Lake.  This extinct, but once enormous water body was blocked along the Chugach Range by massive ice fields.   My guess is that the Miles and Childs Glaciers which face each other at the Million Dollar railroad bridge about fifty miles east of Cordova were at one time locked together as one super ice mass which effectively blocked any drainage from this extensive lake north of the coastal range.  As the last ice age came to an end, these glaciers receded until the lake water was finally able to burst free.   This rapid flood of water probably carved out the Woods Canyon area and began the process of building the Copper River delta area. 
      “The Wrangellia terrane includes  Mounts Wrangell, Blackburn, Sanford, Drum and Regal.   This terrane is a  part of a more complex group which were formed in a tropical environment that was very close to the equator.   We know this because of  the vast amount of marine fossils we have found in the limestone formations which cap the base rocks of this region. 
      There are at least two other distinct terranes in this area.  The composite terrane immediately south of the Wrangellia terrane contains the northern part of the Chugach Range.  It is called a composite terrain because of its  complex origins which point toward the likelihood that it is probably two or more combined terranes. Immediately south of this is the  much younger Yakutat terrane which accreted itself to this part of Alaska in the last 26 million years,  initiating the Wrangell Range volcanic formations.
Geology of the Kennecott area
      “The Wrangellia terrane began as a volcanic arc thousands of miles to the south along the  North American continent  300 million years ago.   As the volcanic activity subsided, the resulting rift between the main part of the continent and the arc  caused a massive eruption of basalt lava flows. This included a  significant layer of basalt which has come to be known as the Nicolai greenstone. This name was borrowed  from the great chief himself since he was the one who first revealed the Nicolai Prospect--the discovery which set into motion the prospecting activity which resulted in the discovery of the great Bonanza outcropping.”