18 February 2011

Chapter 60: "The Bonanza Dies," Pt 1

            This is the future which the white men will
leave you--useless, empty buildings.   Some of them gone completely.  No
railroad.  No mine at Kennecott.  Just scars on the land.  Don’t listen to these
white people.  They are not here to stay.  They’re here to take and to spoil and
then to leave.   

            Believe only in yourself and your own people. 
Stay together no matter what happens.  If you follow the white man too far you
will be lost, for there are too many devil spirits among the white man. Learn
from him. Take what you can. But  remember, white man come and white man go. 
They have no roots here.  This is the land of the Ahtna. We will always be

            What exists now because of the white man will
fade away until there is nothing left.  Nothing at all.   They will leave you
destroyed as well unless you heed me. Always remember who you are. Only as
Saghanni Utsuuy can you hope to survive.  You are of the Ahtna Raven Clan--the
Children of the Earth.

-- Nicolai talking to Cap in a vision, McCarthy, 1925

Abandoned Bonanza 1965
The abandoned Bonanza upper camp during an August snow squall.    --1965

          It had been fifty years since Kennecott manager E.T. Stannard had ordered the rebuilding of the main Bonanza barracks, replacing the one which  burned down in 1917.  It had been thirty years since the tram lines carried copper ore down to the mill.  
Even now the aerial tram lines  remained intact on the upper end of the three-mile-long aerial cable.

          The elements had certainly taken their toll.  The most serious damage had occurred to the main barrack itself.  The western half of the large barrack roof had collapsed
to the attic floor under the weight of too many years of heavy snow.   While the
top front end was flattened,  the rear half of the roof remained standing.   The
the large extension to the dining hall had also long since collapsed.  But the
major part of the building stood intact, if leaning and twisted. The building
was noted for a large number of windows. Most of the glass of those windows
facing the view to the southwest remained intact.

          The two long snowsheds--one connecting the 1,501 ore adit to a waste ore dump and the other running between the main barrack and the tram terminal fell in years before. 
Oddly, the older barrack was completely intact, while many of the surrounding
structures sported collapsing roofs.  

          For thirty years the largest and most impressive of any of the mine buildings, the red
painted frame structure with the contrasting white trim, was the main barrack,
mess and amusement hall--Building No. Two.  It stood in  silence vigil
overlooking all that was once Kennecott from the lofty northeast corner of the
property, a thousand feet below Bonanza Peak.  No. Two 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 had been familiar with this landmark which
proudly towered high above the all buildings, sometimes well above the cloud
level of the glacial valley below.

Abandoned Bonanza 1955 view 1
1955 Bonanza aerial view 2 and detail of view 1: Ward Wells Collection, AMHA

Abandoned Bonanza 1955 view 2

          Now the winds blew through the long hallways and rooms where windows had been left open.  The doors on all the buildings remained closed as they had been the day the last man departed the camp.  Some of them had gradually been blocked shut by an endless
flow of rock debris coming off of the rapidly-eroding  Bonanza Peak.

          All three mine adit doors remained firmly closed, just as superintendent Richelson had left them thirty years before.  One of these was already completely iced in.

          Then came the day in the late summer of 1968 when the sounds of a single bulldozer ended thirty years of peace.  The D-6 was carving a new roadway over the old horse
trail that had been there since 1905.  Lars Erickson and his crew had finally
arrived.   Lars believed that a million dollars worth of ore lay in sight in the
talus around Bonanza camp.  His plan was to build a new road up to the old site
from the mill and then begin scooping up the ore for processing at his small
mill which his crew had just completed on the spot where the superintendent’s
house had been only weeks before.  Lars had acquired two old dump trucks that
would serve as ore carries, and a loader to scoop up the loose rock out of the
talus slide.

          Yet what appeared to be a large amount of rich copper would prove to be valueless.  Like the notorious Billum Lode--or the infamous Nicolai Prospect--the slide ore with
its hues of green and blue, appeared spectacular , but it was all show.  
The really valuable ore had been scooped up thirty years before when the
Kennecott mining engineers decided it was time to do a final cleanup.  Typical
for these engineers, their work had been thorough.  Even inside the mines,
nothing remained of value except deep down in what had now become an
inaccessible area. The  Bonanza-Motherlode boundary pillar and two other pillars
over a thousand feet below and one-half mile away by means of the collapsed
Bonanza main incline tunnel remained behind like a valuable piece of jewelry
left inside a casket, forever entombed in concrete to accompany the body of a
much-loved relative.  This was the ore which was truly worth a million dollars,
but it lay beyond the reach of Lars and his investors, never to see the light of

          Lars and his financial backers had no true understanding of the nature of the Kennecott copper veins.  Their agreement with Kennecott allowed them to take whatever they could from the waste ore dumps and talus slides. They even agreed not to enter
the mines, much less attempt to remove ore from the underground workings. The
engineers of old Kennecott would have thought this amateur mining company to be
a very curious operation indeed, if not a complete laughing stock. 

          The terms of the agreement allowed the new company to salvage anything off the surface they wanted and even to destroy the existing structures.  Now Lars saw before 
him a huge obstacle which could best be removed with by means of one very large
bonfire.   He speculated that some of the best ore must surely lie under this
huge, useless, abandoned barrack.  Lars and his crew had learned back at
National Creek how easy it was to dispatch an old wooden building to eternity
with a single flick of a match.  In their evil wake of destruction lay the still
smoldering remains of the staff house, the superintendent’s residence and the
Stephen Birch house.  Now they had arrived at the most massive old obstruction
of them all.

          Behind the dozer followed the loader and the two dump trucks. Jesse was operating the loader.  The remainder of the crew were in the two dump trucks.Lars pulled the D-6 to the place on the trail where the inclined snowshed had collapsed.  He shut down
the motor and stepped down. Jesse pulled up immediately behind him. 

Abandoned Bonanza 1965 view 2
1965 shot showing the two remaining barracks on either side of the ore bunker and tram terminal at Bonanza.  The cat trail is on the right.      --UAF Archives

          “There it is, Jesse.  Only this old barracks stands between us  and what my investors believe is enormous profits.”

          “Impressive.  We could see this half way up the hill. What a place it must have been. We better go through it first, boss.”

          “Let’s find a way in.  Looks like the front doors are out of the question. We’ll have to work our way through the rubble to the back end up there by that boiler stack.”

          The collapsed snowshed left a mess of rail and pipe to as well as large pieces of timber and jagged-edged broken siding to negotiate.  Once the group arrived at the back of
the mine building, they found the door leading into the large drying room.  Two
of Jesse’s men forced the door open.

          “This is a spooky place, boss.  Have to watch where you step in this dark area.  Darn.  We left the flashlights in the trucks.”

          “Has to be a stairway in here somewhere.  Ah!  Here it is, Jesse.  This looks good.  Follow me, men.”

          The stairs led from a very dark area to one that had at minimal light.  The wide hallway was dark because someone had left the doors to all the rooms shut. At one end of the hallway was the main door.  Lars and Jesse pushed it open.  It led to a porch
way that had started to collapse.

          “Not safe out here.  We’ll leave this one open for light.”

          As they worked their way down the hall, Lars found the foreman’s office, the library, film room and billiards room  At the far end was a double-door leading into the dining

          “Wow! It’s bright in here.  What a view!  Magnificent.  Are you sure we can’t spare this
building, boss?  This place is incredible.  It has real character.  It even looks almost usable.”

          Lars thought back to the buildings he burned on staff row. He had a momentary feeling of regret when he destroyed that first building at National Creek.  Like a
murderer, he found that destroying structures came easier with each kill. 

          But this Bonanza building was so much larger and more impressive  that Lars began to question the wisdom of what he was about to do.

          I guess it matters little anymore what I think.  My backers
want us to scoop up the ore.  That’s why we’re here. Besides, this whole
operation is my idea. I have to follow through.  But I’m no longer so sure I
like what I’m doing.

          Lars and the crew examined the entire area up to the third floor.  They found the stairs blocked beyond that because the roof had collapsed onto it. Much of the building
was beginning to show severe water damage.  

          We can’t ever use this building.  Can’t keep heat in it.  No
way to keep it dry or prevent the wind from whistling through it.  Too much

          “We’ll spend tomorrow removing some salvageable items.  Have the crew set up camp here, Jesse.  There are good sleeping rooms on the second level where the gym is

          The men found the place to have a hostile feeling.  Most spent a sleepless night in the upper rooms.  The weather remained good and nothing out of the ordinary happened at
the mine site while the men completed Lars’s salvage operation.  On the third
day, Lars was finally ready.

          “This was our last night in a condemned building, Jesse.  Time to evacuate the area.  Have the men start pulling the machines away from the building.  It’ll be a hot fire.”

Abandoned Bonanza 1955 view 3

1955 Bonanza aerial view 2 and detail of view 2: Ward Wells Collection, AMHA

Abandoned Bonanza 1955 view 4
The four ravens signifying an impending death:

4 Ravens

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