2- North Fork Spruce Creek Part 2.jpg

North Fork of Spruce Creek, center, leading upwards to the mining site. The site is roughly six miles west of Seward on the southwest side of Bear Mountain. 

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. This story will be interspersed with passages from my dad’s poems, “Pards on the Spruce” and “The Conifered Heights.” The poems appear in italic type.

 

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 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 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 northwest) 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.

In Part 3: How I found the “King Midas Mine” about 70 years after it was abandoned.

A lifetime Alaskan, Frank Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. He lived in Seward from 1946-58.