Chapter 3, Part 1: Closing Day at BonanzaThe 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.
Part 2 of "Closing Day at Bonanza"
Part 2 of "Closing Day at Bonanza"