Legacy of the Chief, Chapter 24: "Green Butte Copper-1924"
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Legacy of the Chief, Chapter 24: "Green Butte Copper-1924"
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The fog began to lift by the time the three men left
the two-story log building which both housed and fed men at the
creek level. The Indians were now officially working for Green
Butte Copper Company.
“I had no idea the line would be this high, Cap.”
“We don’t have a fear of heights, remember, Johnny?”
“Yeah, Cap. I just can’t believe how far up this line
runs. Look up there. You can barely make out anything.”
“It’s still foggy, but I can see a building hanging on
the cliff wall, Johnny. Strange place to put a building.”
“That’s a snowshed, Cap. It covers a portal that
leads to the center area of our mine. We have a back-up
generator in there. Don’t want to lose our lights or
compressors, you know. So, which one of you goes first?”
“I’ll go first, boss.”
“Okay, Johnny. I’ll follow Cap. Wait for me at the
Up they went, a cable distance of 2,800 feet to the main
level of the mine.
“Cap, look at this! The view up here is spectacular,
even through the fog. I wonder when it will clear up enough to
see across the canyon?”
“Should be soon. The fog is lifting quickly, now.”
“Oh, hi again, boss. Great view up here. I have to
wonder what possessed those prospectors to work their way up to
nearly inaccessible places like this one in search of gold.”
“Copper. It was copper. But it could just as well
have been gold. Good question, Johnny. Let’s head toward my new
barrack toward the south and I’ll try to explain it to you.
“All the paying copper in the Nizina district seems to
occur only at these higher altitudes. The good copper runs in
almost a straight line from the Erie to the Nicolai Prospect and
possibly even beyond. It was those early prospectors over at
Nicolai who figured that the Nicolai probably was just an
indicator of a much greater copper pay streak which had to lie
somewhere in the area.”
“We know that only too well.”
“Right, you’re grandsons of old Nicolai himself, you
“You mean, Chief Nicolai, Tyone of Taral.”
“He was the supreme chief, boss. The tyone was the
chief of chiefs in the Copper River.”
“I’ll bet he regretted ever showing the location of
“It wasn’t really his to give, Mr. Barrett. We needed
to save ourselves from starvation. Grandfather bought our
people some time. He ended up getting a lot more than that,
“Well, you two are here. Some of you Indians
obviously survived. And you learned to read our English
language. Not bad.”
“Yes, Mr. Barrett. We’re here. We wanted to see what
the big deal was about all this copper. You white men have gone
to a lot of trouble to get at it. Was it really worth it ?”
“I don’t know. This mine never really did much more
than provide a living. I realized that this particular spot lay
along the line. I hiked up here the hard way back then in
1906. Sure enough, there were exposed copper veins along the
cliff. I staked these claims. But the real heroes were
Clarence Smith and “Tarantula” Jack Warner who found the other
end of this long line of copper vein at Bonanza. They were
also the ones who staked the Mother Lode, which is three miles
up this creek.”
“Not to take it all away from you pioneering
prospectors, but I hope you realize that the Nicolai Prospect
was in my grandfather’s old sheep hunting country. Your copper
mining activities ended that. Our people never come up this way
“These claims fall under federal mining laws. They
are rightfully mine.”
“Rightfully? How can you say that? No one gave any
of you title to this land.
“As for Smith and Warner, they’re the only ones who
became famous. It all really started with us--the Natives. If
we’re not going to benefit from all this, at least you should
give our grandfather more credit for his part in making you
white men rich.”
“Us white men? All of us?”
“I mean you white men.”
“Cap, he wasn’t one of them. I’m sure Barrett doesn’t
“Don’t let Cap get you too upset, Mr. Barrett. We
still want to work here.”
“That’s all right. I understand, I think. I can’t
promise you anything special. But you have jobs here now. I’m
not one of those rich white men like Cap thinks I am. I’m just
another small business owner who’d really like to get rich off
this mine. That’s why I still have it.”
“We came here for the work and the adventure, Mr.
Barrett. We’re following the words of our grandfather. He and
others before him long predicted the coming of those of you from
“He did? That was easy to predict. The Russians were
here before us for a good century.”
“Yes, but we drove them off. Nicolai told our people
it was useless to stand in the way of the white man, but he
meant you Americans. But we’re not letting you miners and the
rest of you settlers run wild up here, either. It’s still our
country. We won’t leave. This is the home of our ancestors.
They are all buried here. Someday we’ll be buried here.
We’ll see that when you’re done here that you will leave us a
land we can still live in.”
“Seems fair to me, Johnny.”
“Don’t take us for granted and we’ll try not to
disappoint you. We know that in some way things have changed
forever. We’ll survive this. It’s our way to adapt to change.
After all, we’ve lived here thousands of years. No one else can
make that claim.”
“What Johnny says speaks for me as well. We’re not
your cigar-store Indians, Barrett. We’re real people. Treat us
the same as anyone else and we’ll show you and your other men
what real work is. We can follow directions and we can work.
We worked hard on the railroad for eight years. We’ll do the
same for you--for a while.”
The three of them arrived at the new, two-story frame
“Jacob, these are our new workers. This is Johnny
Gadanski and Cap Goodlataw.
Meet the foreman. This is Jacob Harrison. Jacob, I’m going in
to check progress on the main stope.”
“I’ll go with you, Mr. Barrett. Harry!”
The Chinese cook appeared from a lower stairway.
“Harry, set these guys up with a room, would you?
I’ll be back for them soon.”
“Guys, wait here at the barrack while I accompany Mr.
Barrett. Have some coffee from the pot on the stove over
there. I’ll be back shortly.”
The two bosses headed up the hill through the covered
walkway to the main portal, leaving Johnny and Cap in the rustic
mess hall with the Oriental cook.
“Boys, pick up your bedrolls and follow.”
He led them up the stairs to a single room with two
“It’s all yours. Set yourselves up. The coffee is on
downstairs, just as the boss said. See you for lunch.”
Harry turned and swiftly headed down the stairs,
leaving the two Indians alone.
“Sometimes I think you say too much, Johnny. You
were sounding almost too white. I’m not sure I want them to
know all that much of what we’re thinking.”
“Cap, I sometimes wonder myself if I’m saying too
much. But I need to draw some kind of line without scaring them
off. That would do nothing for us. Right now we need men like
Barrett just to let us in the door. Remember, George Brown?”
The two new Indian miners began their first day of
underground work as apprentice powder men and muckers
immediately after Jacob Harrison returned. The Green Butte
copper, like that at Kennecott, was found in the Chitistone
limestone on a bedding plane angle of about thirty degrees
tilting toward the northeast. It followed that the main haulage
tunnels were thirty-degree inclines, cut along the base of the
bedding plane where the productive Chitistone limestone
contacted the basalt base of the Nicolai greenstone. As in
most mines which use incline tunnels, the Green Butte haulage
tunnels were tracked for moving the ore to the surface in skips
pulled by electric motors. Alongside the skip tracks were
wooden stairs leading to the various levels. Green Butte had
eight levels at hundred-foot intervals.
The two apprentices absorbed much about mining and
miners during the month they worked at Green Butte. It became
obvious to the two that there was little likelihood that the
Green Butte would become a major producer. It seemed a miracle
that it was operating at all, given the small amount of
production which occurred while they were there. As a result,
working at the Green Butte did not hold much interest for the
Indians for very long.
They were joined the second day by the Siberian mutt,
just as Johnny had predicted. This was grizzly bear country.
Most of the crew was quite happy to have a large dog at camp who
would help to keep the bears at bay. Kay-yew-nee never lacked
for scraps. It was a small and friendly camp, but the Native
team found themselves getting restless after only two weeks.
On the beginning of the third week, while Cap was
pushing an ore bucket out the main adit just above the upper
camp barracks he looked toward the sky to see a large amount of
heavy black smoke coming from the northwest.
C’eyuuni lede’! No. Too close for that. Must be
Kennecott. They’re losing something they value. Nicolai always
told us to look toward the sky for the smoke. It is a sign.
Something is changing. Soon it will be time to leave.
Cap ran back into the tunnel. Johnny was at the top
of the incline.
“Sla’cheen! It’s smoking heavily out there! Come,
He rushed down the tunnel toward the entry at the
“I thought at first it must be Wrangell smoking, but
it’s too close. It has to be Kennecott!”
“I hope it’s not the whole camp, Cap. Maybe it’s a
“Look! The smoke is already clearing. Someone is
knocking down the fire already. It can’t be that big.”
“Let’s hope not, Cap. Father still works there. I’d
like to have a chance to work there, too.”
It was three days later when Jacob brought in the
“Cap, it’s from that man I met last year at Smitty’s.
Frank the geologist.”
“The one you beat at pool?”
“I beat everyone at pool, Cap even you.”
“Don’t get too cocky, arrogant one. I just might
surprise you one day.”
“Was Frank that Kennecott engineer?”
“Yes, he writes that he works for a man named William
C. Douglass. Name sounds familiar. Now that I think of it, he
mentioned that name to me back in Chitina. He writes that Father
is growing too ill to work much longer. I knew that already. We
saw him, ourselves.
“Listen to this, Cap. Frank wants me to work at
Kennecott where I can be closer to my father.”
“What about the smoke?”
“I’m getting to that, Cap. It reads: ‘Due to a
recent fire which took out the power plant and one cottage
there is now plenty of extra work available. The superintendent
has agreed to hire you.’
“He means me.”
“What about me, Sla’cheen?”
“I’ll send back word that you’re here. He doesn’t
know you, but I’ll ask him to hire you as well.”
“You sure? What if they say no? They may not want
any other Indians there. If you ask them to take me, they may
not want you there, either. Your father’s dying. You need to
The two were resting at the top of the covered
stairwell, which led down to the upper barracks. The dog was
beside them as usual. The sun was going down over the ridge but
the sky still had bright streaks of color as the canyon below
fell into cold, deep shadows.
This was a one-shift mine. The day was over. The
others were down in the barrack having dinner.
Since the sken’nie first arrived the crew had
been driving the main incline farther down into the Chitistone
layer in search of ore which was not to be found except in
disappointingly small showings. Rumors of an impending camp
closure were rampant, but management remained adamant about
continuing the search for copper.
Cap focused on the rock glacier facing him from along
the west wall of the canyon. There were no formations like
this anywhere near Chitina, but Jacob told them rock glaciers
existed everywhere in this part of the country, especially up
and down Bonanza Ridge. This one extended from nearly the top
of the east face of Porphyry Mountain, which was 6,375 in
elevation, all the way to the creek bed--a vertical drop of
about 4,000 feet. The leading edge of the glacier was being cut
by the action of the fast moving waters. The McCarthy Creek
road crossed over the top of the rock glacier toe as the trail
worked its way northward up the canyon. There was no room
elsewhere to place the road.
“You don’t really need me here, Sla’cheen, but
I’ll go along if you can find a place for me. I’m not yet ready
to return to Chitina. I like it way up here. Very peaceful. No
family arguments. No drunks lying all over the place. ”
Johnny’s eyes followed the rock glacier to the narrow
part of the steep-walled canyon in the direction of Mother
Lode. It would soon be dark enough to see the lights from the
upper camp reflecting off the south face of Marvelous Ridge.
The camp itself was masked by Independence Ridge. In the
distance above Mother Lode camp was the nearly 7,000 foot-tall
Bonanza Peak--the tallest point on the ridge.
“Cap, if you and I were to stand up there, we could
probably see hundreds of miles. That’s the peak we saw above
Kennecott from the tracks. It overlooks this area like Spirit
Mountain watches over Nicolai’s country from Bremner to
Chitina. We need to climb that peak one day just to see what’s
“I said we. We’re a team. Inseparable, I hope.
Do you think I came all the way up here in the middle of the
white man’s world to work by myself? You’re my Sla’cheen.
We’ve always worked together. It wouldn’t seem right for me to
be up here without you.”
“I wasn’t sure, Johnny. You know I wouldn’t be
here by myself. These men at Green Butte seem reasonable, but
Kennecott’s different. It’s huge. I’d never go there without
another Indian to back me up. But it’s a lot more than that.
I’m too used to working with you to work way out here without
“I’ll write Frank a letter and see if I can get you
hired along with me. If not, I’ll try to get Dad to just come
back home to Chitina. Maybe Mom will take care of him there. I
don’t want him to die alone at Kennecott.”
The two pulled themselves up from their sitting
position on the waste ore dump. They slid their way down the
long pile to the back of the barracks. In the process, they
knocked several small rocks loose, which began catapulting down
the hill toward the buildings below. A number of them smacked
into the back of the barrack. There were no windows at that
level on the back side of the structure.
“I guess we could have taken the covered stairs, but
this was faster and more fun. We sure sent a lot of rocks
“I wouldn’t want to try to climb back up that loose
“Cap, I’m gong to pen a letter to Frank Buckner. I’ll
bet he’ll take you.”
They entered the mess hall. The dining table had been
cleared off already. It was too late for dinner. The two
usually ate their meals after the others were finished. The
cook was used to their habits and did his best to accommodate
Johnny sat down at the long table to compose the
letter while Cap pulled out a deck of cards and began playing
“You know, Sla’cheen, maybe I should just go
“Not just yet. Once we’ve tried Kennecott, then
we’ve done what we set out to do. What else is there up here
except the goldfields of the Nizina? Those are just small
operations, like this one. Maybe even smaller. But Kennecott
“Have you thought about leaving the country, Johnny?”hnny?”
“Yes, Cap, I have. I think someday I will. Maybe
soon. This is a great experience being up here. All the better
that you’re here to keep me company and work with me. But who
wants to muck rock or set rail all their lives? I know you
“No, not really. I have often wondered what’s really
out there beyond those mountains. I know what I’ve read, but
reading about it and seeing it are two different things.”
“But would you go, Cap?”
“Probably not. I belong here. I’d climb that peak
with you, but that would be about it. I can take just so much
of white society. Then I get upset. This was the only land I
know and I feel very attached to it, even out here. Maybe more
“Here? Really? Chitina is so far away from here.”
" pt 4, conclusion