Author’s note: In the summer of 1947 my father, Kenneth D. Baker, and a friend, Forrest Davis, ventured up Spruce Creek near Seward in search of gold. In their research, they learned that only a couple of miners had previously prospected the area, and without success. From my father’s notes and poems, I have compiled what I believe is an accurate account of their extraordinary activities from 1947-50. In two parts, this story will be interspersed with passages from my dad’s poems, “Pards on the Spruce” and “The Conifered Heights.”
Part 1- The Spruce Creek discovery
There was no identifiable trail as the pair hiked up Spruce Creek, which enters Resurrection Bay just south of Seward. It was early July in 1947, but they knew there was still some snow up high. They followed the stream’s gravel bars, which required numerous crossings.
“The creek was in wild meander; guttering gravel and stone; and fording that glacial torrent hurt through flesh and bone. Fighting the tortuous alders, coursing beds of boulders, and damning the needled devils clubs higher than head and shoulders.”
Neither my father or his friend Forrest Davis had any previous mining experience. After arriving in Seward from Pennsylvania in 1945, my dad consulted with veteran miners such Robert “Bob” Hatcher, who achieved fame for his gold strike in a pass later named after him – Hatcher Pass—north of Palmer.
Hatcher offered encouragement, mentioning that he had seen gold in the pan on Spruce Creek’s upper reaches.
“Packs and feet waxed heavy, trudging that creek’s defile, as the water chill and alders got meaner mile on mile…”
After about six hours of arduous hiking, with the occasional bear scrambling up the hillsides away from them, the valley narrowed into a gorge. They quickly realized they would have to climb to their right (north) and out of the gorge to reach the north fork of Spruce Creek, which Hatcher believed held potential.
“We changed our socks at a table rock near the scarp of the waterfall, and gazed enrapt at the splendor of the panoramic sprawl. Scattered spruces spiked the sky their roots in meadowed green, that sloped to crags and nameless mountains with glaciers tucked between.”
They set up camp at the edge of timberline near a small creek, and during the next days ventured up into the alpine tundra along the north fork of Spruce Creek.
“From our camp at timber’s edge where vistas opened wide, we searched eroded gullies and scanned the country side. The naked rock was seamed with quartz—flinty and mineral dearth—that in eons past had bullied its way from the bowels of the earth.”
They worked their way onto ridges that contained large seams of quartz, the parent rock of gold. And without even excavating or blasting with dynamite, soon found a rock that contained a small speck of gold. They would name their discovery “King Midas Mine.”
“The summer had waned ere we found the rock with a glob of gold stuck in it. Locating the lode it came from didn’t take more than a minute. On a striated knoll, a vein of quartz in an epoch feat of yore, had pressured and oozed it’s mineralized magma up from Vulcan’s store.”
Part 2- Developing the claim
Developing what they believed was a significant strike would not only take time and effort, but also money. Hard rock mining can be more involved than placer mining and requires big equipment. While my dad made a good living as a stevedore on Seward’s docks, I remember my mother’s consternation.
“Five hundred dollars for a ball mill!?” She questioned.
“And how do you propose to get it all the way up there?”
“By parachute in pieces,” my dad said. “We’ll assemble it on site.”
“You’re hiring a bush pilot?” She exclaimed.
There were no helicopters available in Seward back in those days, so in the summer of 1948, the ball mill, piping and other equipment were parachuted into the site by fixed wing aircraft. And later, some material and supplies were flown in by noted Seward bush pilot Gentry Shuster, who landed with skis on a large gravel flat above and about ¼ mile the north of the site my dad chose for the ball mill.
From the prospect hole to the west where they blasted with dynamite, they used a toboggan sled to drag chunks of ore across the tundra to the milling site. There, the ore was placed in a barrel drum containing baseball-sized steel balls that crushed the rock preparatory to the screening and chemical- extraction process.
“Each round and burst of dynamite is a new hand in the game; mucking out is the hole card turned to win or lose your claim.”
Trail weary but in good spirits, they returned to Seward in the fall of 1948 with respectable gold samples.
“The assays made declared high grade, now you know the future is booked. It’s to live with and do the prospector’s milieu, you’ve taken the bait and you’re hooked.”
During the summers of 1949-50, whenever they could get away from work, the pair hiked the seven miles to Spruce Creek to work the claim.
But after a while it became apparent that while the gold was high grade, there wasn’t enough of it to make the enterprise worthwhile. Back then gold was $35/ounce, and from what my dad told me in later years, it was doubtful he and his partner pulled out more than a few thousand dollars.
“Dammit that outcrop looked healthy! Might’ve fooled the best. Sure beats hell how they’ll pinch and run lean, now you’re tired, sore and distressed.”
In the 1940s parts of the Phoenix Glacier (to the west) stretched down to my dad’s mine site. He often mentioned that the vein containing gold, the stringer vein, went directly beneath the ice and was unreachable.
“The strike of the stringer goes under the expanse of ice and snow; a Methusalehan time in a tropical clime couldn’t melt off that glacial plateau.”
Today, the glacier has receded and the area in question is clear of multi-year ice. But subsequent mining by a Seward old timer, Ed Goreson, was not successful, and the late prospector’s claims have since lapsed.
Next month in Part 3: How I found the “King Midas Mine” about 70 years after it was abandoned.