A Brief History of Marshall, Alaska
The history of Marshall can be divided into four phases. First a place on a Slough of the lower Yukon River known to the Yup´ik Eskimo and identified as Massercullermiut. In Yup´ik Eskimo
it means the place to catch spawning Chum Salmon. The second phase would be the gold rush town it became. Thirdly, Fortuna Hunter Odell indicated it became almost a ghost town. Now it has gone full
circle back to the Yup´ik place it had been but with almost 90 years of development.
The Marshall High School Journalism Class of 1984 spelled the Yup´ik word Maserculiq. They also found the Yup´ik Eskimo word Uglouaia meaning "little bow" designated the spot where Marshall,
Alaska is located. It is to be found in southwestern Alaska on the Lower Yukon River between two now abandoned villages of Ohogamiut and Takshak. From Ohogamiut, at the big bend where the river heads
north, it is twenty-five miles down river. Previous names for Ohogamiut are Ikuagmyut and Sabotnisky. From Takshak, on Poltes Slough, it is five miles up river. Takshak is also spelled Tukchuk and
historically was named Takchigmyut. By the late 1940's both villages had moved their people permanently to Marshall because of the Territorial laws regarding the schooling of the children.
Noel Polty, 71 in 1990, lived in Pilot Station on the lower Yukon River. He is well known in the region as an authority of Native history. Noel explained that Massercullermiut is located on Poltes Slough.
The Slough takes its name from steamboat skipper Otto Polte.
At the advent of a 1913 gold stampede Massercullermiut became known as Marshall and then Fortuna Ledge. That July the patriotic gold miners may have named their discovery creek Wilson Creek for the
newly elected President, Woodrow Wilson and their new camp for the then Vice President, Thomas R. Marshall.
Marshall is eight miles downriver from Marshall Landing, sometimes just called The Landing. Here is where sternwheelers found it easier to land and transfer merchandise and equipment. The Alaska Commercial
Company and later the Northern Commercial Company would deliver freight and passengers to Marshall Landing from ocean steamships that had traveled from Seattle to Nome some 2,500 miles. From Nome all were
transferred to smaller boats that went to St. Michael totaling 2,620 miles. The freight and passengers would again transfer to shallow draft boats that would travel the coast to the mouth and up the Yukon
River to Marshall Landing. After 1923 a second route opened for transportation of goods to the Interior and Lower Yukon. The Alaska Railroad like the White Pass and Yukon Railroad purchased sternwheelers
to continue movement of freight and passengers. The town of Nenana's connection to the ocean was the train from Seward, some 400 miles to the south. The connection in Nenana would be with the Gen.
Jeff C. Davis, the Gen. J. W. Jacobs, the Nenana, the Kenny B, the Alice II or the Yukon which would deliver along the Tanana and Yukon Rivers.
When freight came from either direction the freight could be stored near Marshall Landing for the pick up of the other Transportation Company.
Willow Creek is four miles inland from Marshall Landing. It was probably named for the type of trees found there. Willows may have been prevalent but Alders were the only trees up stream from about 1,500
feet below the Discovery claim. Wilson Creek is down river from the Marshall Landing with its mouth at Wilson Creek Slough. The headwaters of Willow Creek and Disappointment Creek, which flows into Wilson
Creek, are near each other on the south and north side respectively behind Mt. Okumiat´s 1,565 feet peak between two approximately 1,700 feet peaks.
These Creeks became the impetus for the last gold stampede on the Yukon River. Marshall became the 25th in 58 identified camps in Alaska's historical gold and silver production. The production figures at that
time included an area that was called Anvik-Andreafsky. It included the Russian Mission creeks of Kako, Buster, Montezuma and Stuyahok along with the Marshall area creeks. The total production to 1990 was
approximately 125,000 ounces. In terms of the discovery of gold, there were only three more stampedes in Alaskan gold rush history which followed the Marshall strike, Tolovana/Livengood in 1914, Koyuk in 1915
and Tolstoi/Cripple in 1916,
Judge John Randolph Tucker, in honor of then Vice President Thomas R. Marshall, may have named the new camp, Marshall. Woodrow Wilson appointed Judge Tucker in November of1913. After arriving in Nome some
of his first few official acts dealt with the large St. Michael mining district south of Nome. He divided the district in half. The new recording precinct was named for his wife's father, Wade Hampton. Wade
Hampton had been a lieutenant general in the Civil War, governor of South Carolina and U.S. Senator from South Carolina. Mr. Hampton had passed away in 1902. Judge Tucker made Marshall the headquarters of the
recording precinct and appointed Frank H. Waskey as the U. S. Commissioner. Frank Waskey was from Nome and in 1906 had been elected with Thomas Cale of Fairbanks as Alaska's first delegates to the U. S. Congress.
Judge Tucker served exactly four years on the bench at Nome but his father-in-law's name has lasted to present day as the area´s election district name. Judge Tucker returned to Virginia where he died
on December 18, 1926.
Fortuna Hunter Odell related that the new tent town of Marshall applied for post office in 1913. The United States Post Office indicated there was a town called Marshall in Alabama. Since people were likely
to abbreviate both Alaska and Alabama as Ala the Federal Post Office asked the towns people to either rename the town or the post office. A miners' meeting was held. At the time a majority of the citizens at
Marshall were either gold miners or workers at the gold mines. Consequently the name Fortuna Ledge was picked for Marshall's new post office. Fortuna in the Spanish or Latin language means fortune. There was
no doubt that the miners felt this area would be the strike they had been pursuing. In the back of their minds possibly they were also thinking of a pioneer named James Wilson Marshall who had caused the great
excitement of the January 1848 discovery of gold at Sutter´s Mill, California. Hoping that their new Fortuna Ledge and Marshall would be similar in its quantity of gold.
George Pilcher, who had been on the Lower Yukon since 1898, saw the new strike in 1913 as an opportunity to quit his life as a trader and at age 49 become a full-time miner. With several others he worked
claims on Elephant Creek which is up stream from Disappointment Creek and is a tributary to Wilson Creek. Until the Wade Hampton precinct was formed St. Michael was the place to record claims. That summer of
1913 many claims went unrecorded and many titles were lost. The respect of Pilcher´s fellow miners is seen in his election to the office of Recorder on October 25, 1913. The 1916 United States Geological
Survey done by George L. Harrington showed a sketch map of the area, which included a 1,948 feet high mountain north and east of Marshall, named for Pilcher. Today there is a creek flowing into Poltes Slough
north of Marshall also named for Pilcher. Another accolade given to George Pilcher was his Yup´ik Eskimo name, Chu-yu-lak. It means the one who wants to be first. Alex Evan thought it could describe
Grandpa Pilcher as being the first white man to live among them.
The postal address for Marshall was accepted by the United States Post Office as Fortuna Ledge. The Post Office was established there two years later in 1915. There is no doubt the miners received mail at their
camp previous to this date but the Federal designation did not come until H. Roy Hunter was appointed the first Postmaster on December 9, 1915. Mr. and Mrs. Hunter were also the proud parents of the first
child born in Marshall, August of 1916. They named her Fortuna. She was the fifth child of Roy and Anna Hunter. Fortuna's siblings are Norman, Clyde, Rose, Donald, Bruce, Emory, Norma and Vernon. H. Roy Hunter
held the job as Postmaster until September of 1944 when he retired. No one applied for the job so mail was destined to go to Pilot Station. However, Mr. Hunter reapplied in August and was reappointed in October
of 1944. By March 31, 1945 his son, Donald, Sr., replaced Mr. Hunter. He then held the Postmaster job until December 31, 1977 when Adele Cooper took over.
George L. Harrington a surveyor for the United States Geological Survey visited the Anvik-Andreafsky Region of Alaska in 1916. This 2,000 square mile region included the Marshall area. Mr. Harrington spent
sixteen days of August in the vicinity of Marshall during his summer work. While he investigated the area he also recorded the history of the mining development. His findings at the time showed that Wilson
Creek had some prospectors searching for sufficient amounts of gold previous to 1913. However, it was not until July 15, 1913 that E. L. Mack and Joe Mills discovered enough gold on Wilson Creek to call it a
strike. Andrew Shorty Edgar and Al C. Rhodes staked claims within a few days. A stampede followed and as in many other areas of Alaska all the streams nearby were claimed by the influx of miners.
In June the following year prospectors W. C. Blanker, Ben Blanker and Robert Barr, made the Discovery strike on Willow Creek. They staked their claims on June 17, 1914. On August 8 of 1914 Tom Plunkett filed a quartz claim at the head of Willow Creek. Summarily then, Wilson Creek was discovered in 1913 and had been mined since 1914. Willow Creek´s discovery was in 1914 and it had been mined since 1915. Wilson Creek and Disappointment Creek produced about $15,000 in 1914. The 1915 production figure of $25,000 included Wilson Creek, Disappointment Creek and four claims on Willow Creek.
In the Report of the Territorial Mine Inspector to the Governor of Alaska for year 1915 it indicated that the Marshall district was visited in the latter part of June of that year. One placer claim on Wilson Creek and one on Disappointment Creek was being operated by the opencut, ground sluicing, and pick and shovel methods. In this district the active prospecting and development work was being done on four claims on Willow Creek at the time of visit. Those were being worked by the open cut methods. One bench claim on Number 5 above Discovery on Elephant Creek, a tributary of Wilson Creek, was being worked by the underground drifting method of mining. The ground was frozen on the bench and the ground in the creek bottoms was thawed. Some development work was done on a quartz vein near the head of Willow Creek. A return of $80 per ton was received from the mill test of the ore.
There were 150 men in the district. The prospectors were naming creeks all around the area. Names like First Chance, Surprise, Hungry and Happy were identified. Other Creeks were first name oriented like Dads, John´s, Bob´s, and Glenn. Still others were surname oriented like, St. Amand, Edgar, Davis, McNeill and Joe Wise. The miners were spread out as far as the Kuyukutuk River. However, the gold output for the year was estimated at $10,000. This was $15,000 short of the actual production figured after the clean up. In the area called the Marshall District at that time the report showed who was the principal miner on which creek being worked. On the Disappointment Creek Discovery Claim, Al Rhodes was the principal miner. John Tillie mined on the Butterfly Bench of Willow Creek. A Mr. F. Bradley was on the Discovery Claim of Willow Creek. Up stream on Willow Creek from Discovery on No.1 above, Eddie Mack mined that year. No. 2 above Discovery, showed Charles Gay as the principal miner. Frank Waskey had control of No. 1 below Discovery on Willow Creek in 1915.
A year later in 1916 when Mr. Harrington visited the area in August no one was working the Wilson Creek basin and none of the cabins on Wilson Creek were occupied. A small dump had been taken out on Elephant Creek in the spring of 1916. Also early that summer Wilson Creek proper had two claims worked at the mouth of Disappointment Creek. He considered the largest population to be on Willow Creek. He figured that there were about 225 white people at Marshall and Willow Creek. He estimated about 120 of the native population were between Marshall and Andreafsky, now St. Mary´s. He mentioned that the figures should be considered with the conditions of both white and native people travelling for fishing, hunting and prospecting not being counted.
Up to the summer of 1916 the Marshall district had produced about $40,000.00. In 1916 gold production reached $270,000.00 showing that men and equipment were in place. This total for the year came mostly from the two claims on Wilson and Disappointment Creeks and the seven claims on Willow Creek.
The claims on Willow Creek were between numbers 2 below Discovery and number 5 above Discovery. Both of the mentioned claims had shovel in type operations. A power plant was working on number 2 above Discovery. On the upper halves of both number 1 above and Discovery Claim on Willow Creek a slack-line scraper was used for stripping and hoisting the material to the elevated sluice boxes. Sluicing as well did some stripping with water being diverted from the East Fork of Willow Creek. On the lower half of Discovery the sluice box arrangement was made to contain more of the fine gold. The arrangement was still a shovel in operation with one shift of men. The large boulders were consistently a problem to the miners.
According to a map drawn by Leif R. Ostnes the Bumblebee claim is the same as number 1 below Discovery. This claim had been worked since 1915 and by August of 1916 the operation was moving to number 2 below. A ditch from Slope Creek had been dug to furnish addition water so sluicing could be done in the boxes. Bedrock here was between 8 and 10 feet below ground level. On Number 1 above Discovery the bedrock was between 12 and 16 feet deep.
Mr. Harrington indicated that nuggets ranging from five to ten dollars in value were common but the larger nuggets worth twenty dollars were scarce. There are people who can look at a piece of gold and tell where in Alaska it had been mined. One such person looking at Willow Creek gold would see it as coarse and rough. At the time the gold assays on the area´s gold were not prevalent. One assay report that Mr. Harrington did see showed the value at $18.30 an ounce at a time when the normal was $17.00 and ounce.
Though lode mines had been staked around the Kuyukutuk basin and on Edgar Creek the only lode mining being done was at the head of Willow Creek. This was at the Tom Plunkett claim was known as the Arnold lode. The work there included cuts deep enough to show a vein between 6 and 12 inches in width in one area and higher up the slope another vein showing 4 to 8 inches wide.
By 1917 practically all $425,000 in gold production came from six claims on Willow Creek. In 1918 the production value was down to $150,000.00 and even lower in 1919 at $100,000.00.
This basically indicates all the rich placers that individual prospectors could mine were taken. The Bonanza gold as it is called left the harder to capture and retrieve fine gold. The mining operations would now take more equipment and deeper digging to get more of the precious metal. Alfred Brooks mentioned that World War One had created better business opportunities and higher wages in the continental U. S. A. Because of this there was also a loss of over a thousand men and a decrease of 173 working gold mines to the mining industry in Alaska between 1918 and 1919.
Miners were receiving about $5.00 a day with room and board in 1916 by 1917 it was increased to $6.00 a day with room and board.
The cooks, blacksmiths and hoistmen would receive $7.00 a day with room and board. This was comparable throughout interior Alaska. At the time the larger outfits were working two shifts of eight hours and the smaller employers were working one shift. The Native workers were mainly from Takshak and some from Ohogamiut. They were paid between $2.00 and $3.00 a day.
Other ways to receive money could be received from the chopping of wood. Cords of wood would cost about $5.00. However, getting that cord from the forested area to the mines had an additional charge of between $5.00 to $7.00 for labor and hauling. The mines would use the cordwood for production of steam, heating and cooking. Separate from the mines there was reindeer herding, trapping and fishing. There was also some work in the service industry like the hotels, saloons and stores.
Between 1914 and 1919 a total of 47,649 ounces of gold and 6,800 ounces of silver were mined from the Wilson and Willow creeks and their tributaries. Between 1914 and 1990 approximately 125,000 ounces of gold and silver were produced in the same areas. This shows that a little under two-fifths of the total gold production happened in the first six years and three quarters of that in 1916 and 1917. Alfred Brooks, Head of United States Geological Survey work in Alaska, wrote in his 1921 annual report regarding mining in 1919, productive mining in the Marshall district was nearly all confined to Willow Creek. About eight mines were operated in the district during the summer of 1919, employing some 56 men.
The miners were said to number around 3,000 in the early days of the stampede. This number has not been substantiated and under 1,000 is more likely. However, many times the miners who were considered the floating or prospecting population were not counted by the visiting government geologists who were earth scientists concerned primarily with the rocks and their formations. The miners who stayed brought with them the western civilization that had slowly been moving into western Alaska since the early 1800's.
Massercullermiut went from a fishing place to mining camp in a hurry. The stampeders built cabins, stores, saloons and dance halls. One saloon's foundation is still visible near the Soda Springs near the Willow Creek area. This spring made for convenient use of the effervescent water. The geologists found the Soda Spring´s water contained mainly iron and lime carbonates. The cinders of the free carbon dioxide had built up showing cones of material 4 to 6 feet high. Very little vegetation grew on the cinders but the solid footing afforded by them was a change from the soft tundra.
The country and western dances and dog races used for entertainment have lingered to this day. In talking with the elders Alex Evan related that the dog races held in Marshall were the only races in the lower Yukon River area. Also, people would walk from as far as Russian Mission to come to a dance in the mining camp. Speaking with former Magistrate Nora Guinn, she remembered Lars Ostnes teaching her to dance in Marshall. Today Marshall still hosts annual March dog races at the town's Winter Carnival. The dances held in present day Marshall still have the twang of country western tunes.
Placer mining methods and costs in Alaska by Norman L. Wimmler tells of the Marshall Mining District. Mr. Wimmler also reports that the principal placer operations were conducted on Willow Creek. For the year of 1924 the cost of transporting supplies from Marshall to the Willow Creek operations was 4 cents per pound in the summer and 2 to 2 1/2 cents in the winter. This equals $80.00 a ton for summer transportation and about $40.00 a ton in the winter. The average base rate on freight from Seattle to Marshall was about $35 per ton.
In comparison when Mr. Harrington visited the area in 1916 the cost of transporting supplies in the summer from Marshall to the Marshall Landing was $15.00 a ton. Another freight rate applied to get supplies to the mines. To the lower claims it was $30.00 a ton more. To the upper points on Willow Creek it was an additional $40.00 a ton. The freight rate in 1916 from Seattle to Marshall by way of St. Michael was $45.50 per ton for the general supplies. In the early days of mining the freight had to be taken across a lake from Marshall Landing. Spruce Creek flowed into the lake and the waters of the lake emptied into the Wilson Creek Slough. Later the road was built around the lake to the Landing.
The 1922 Report of the Territorial Mine Inspector indicated only placer mines were working on Willow, Disappointment, Elephant, Creeks. Buster and Stuyak Creeks near Russian Mission were had 5 and 7 men working them respectively. The principal mining being done on Willow Creek. There were about 25 men working there. There was one hydraulic outfit with 4 to 6 men and the rest working in five other operations ground sluicing and shoveling into sluice boxes. Some drilling and sinking of shafts had been done on lower Willow Creek. This prospect work showed good signs of future development. Disappointment Creek had five men working a hydraulic operation and one man hydraulicing on Elephant Creek.
In 1924 J.W. Hill and J.G. Johnston groundsluiced to within 4 feet of bedrock on Willow Creek. The remaining gravel and bedrock were being shoveled-in. There are numerous boulders and most of the bedrock had to be carefully cleaned, owing to crevices. Side pay was being mined, the main pay streak having formerly been worked out. Joseph Plein and one man sniped a small area of virgin ground about 20 feet deep on the Discovery Claim of Willow Creek, which had been covered by an old dump. Leo Moore and his wife groundsluiced and shoveled-in on No. 1 above Discovery on Willow Creek. Also on Willow Creek William Jamison was sniping on No. 2 above; P. Oliver mined on the Spider Fraction; Tony Jurack sniped on No. 3 above and N. F. Patten was sniping on side pay of No. 4 above.
Wilson Creek lies over the range from Willow Creek and empties into the Wilson Creek Slough several miles below Marshall Landing. No mining was being done on Wilson Creek proper in 1924, but was confined to its tributaries, Disappointment and Elephant Creeks. One or both of the Blankers and Andrew Edgar with a crew of 5 men hydraulicked on Disappointment Creek, using a small scraper for stacking the tailings. George Pilcher, working alone, hydraulic mined on Elephant Creek.
In 1925 very little placer mining activity is reported from the Marshall district. A few small open cut operations were conducted on Willow Creek. Also some work was being conducted on Disappointment and Elephant Creeks, tributaries of Wilson Creek.
In 1926, Mr. Wimmler wrote, Placer Mining in Alaska. He did not visit the Marshall area but gave special acknowledgment to George Marsh and Chris Betsch of Marshall among others for the following information. Twenty-five men were engaged in placer mining and development work in the Marshall district and preparations were made for increased mining operation. There was but little change in the production, which for several years has been averaging around $12,000 per year. Most of the mining was done on Willow Creek. Marsh, Wirem and Company installed a cable-way excavator plant on the Bon Rosa claim on Willow Creek during the season. The Bon Rosa claim is located between number 3 below Discovery and number 2 Bench on lower Willow Creek. With this plant a long bed rock drain was dug, thus opening up the ground for future productive operation.
Drilling during several previous seasons showed promise on this ground and it was said to average from 25 feet to 30 feet in depth with very little muck over burden. The gravel is not frozen, but is coarse and contains quite a number of large boulders. Bedrock consists of porphyry which, it was claimed, could be readily dug and cleaned. A 3-drum, 8-¼ inch by 10 inch, double cylinder hoist of local construction operates the cableway-excavator. From 6 to 8 men were employed that season with Marsh, Wirem and Company. Mining was planned for the spring of 1927. It was planned first to strip off the upper 15 feet of barren or low-grade gravel, with the excavator, and then to mine the remaining gravel according to usual cableway-excavator methods. Tom Plunkett, Joe Plein, Leo Moore, James Johnston, W.H. Parks, Tony Jurack and Patton & Hill, all conducted small open-cut operations on Willow Creek. Edgar & Duggan hydraulicking on Disappointment Creek were using a scraper to stack tailings. George Pilcher hydraulic mined on Elephant Creek.
The North Country had been calling in the back of Lars Ostnes' mind for some time and he made the decision to return to Alaska. He had been in Alaska from 1903 through 1919 mainly mining for and finding gold from the Juneau and Dawson area to Fairbanks and Iditarod. In 1919 he had returned to his native Norway to baptize his son Leif and visit his and wife Elise's families. Returning to America Lars worked as a Superintendent at Concord Oil Company, an oil drilling operation in Texas and worked with N. C. Jensen in Washington doing some wildcat work drilling for oil in Washington until around 1929.
The Depression hit the U.S.A. and by 1930 Lars and his partner Jim Johnston were in the Marshall District of Alaska. Jim Johnston had mined the Willow Creek at different areas since the early 1920´s. They leased the Bon Rosa claim on Willow Creek from George Marsh. George had mined on and off since the mid 1920´s. By the mid 1930´s the Marsh´s were running a small hotel and George was the U. S. Commissioner for the area. In the 1940´s George worked as an assistant to Louie Kier at the Chris Betsch store in Marshall.
George Pilcher in 1933 had decided on retirement. Professor Bill Hunt of the University of Alaska had written a small paper on George Pilcher. In it he wrote, a rich source for an appreciation of life along the lower Yukon River are the twenty-one diaries of George M. Pilcher, woodcutter, homesteader, trapper, trader, engineer, miner, journalist, artist and inventor. In the last diary Pilcher wrote about his retirement, Have made up my mind in the last few days to fix for solid comfort here on the creek and end the fight at mining. Friends want me to move to Anchorage but I feel too far down the line to make a new start in strange surroundings. Fortunately, Pilcher realized that his diaries, Modest Account of Daily Occurrences, might be of importance and presented them to the University of Alaska in 1935 in deep regret at their shortcoming. Pilcher in 1940 however was leasing his mining claims on Elephant Creek to A. V. Ericksen, owner of Wilson Creek Mining Company.
In the 1930´s Willow Creek was practically the only creek with pay. It is located eight miles from Marshall by river to Marshall Landing and then four miles overland to the camp Johnston and Ostnes built. The camp´s location near Marshall Landing on the Yukon River was convenient for riverboat landings. Supplies at that time were landed at the mouth of Spruce Creek, which now was flowing into the slough, from which a good road, traversable by auto, lead to the camp.
The partners were back to hand mining. Panning the creek in different areas then, depending on the colors, holes were sunk. The conditions were primitive at first. Using bonfires to thaw frozen ground and hand hoisting buckets of the gravels they would sluice until freeze up. When conditions became impossible to continue mining the two partners would work at various settlements along the Yukon River. The two partners stayed at Mountain Village through two winters, as there was a hospital there at that time. They both could do a little work there to survive. Jim Johnston met his wife to be Mable, at the Hospital where she worked as a nurse. There was a Lutheran Church at Mountain Village too, which had Reverend Wilson in charge. Being part Eskimo, Reverend Wilson was no doubt knowledgeable about winter and surviving and was helpful to a life long Lutheran, Lars. After 1932 they stayed at Willow Creek but friendships that would last for years brought the partners back to the various villages many times.
There was much backbreaking work in the early 1930´s. Huge rock and boulders were cleared by hand. In time a steam donkey was acquired to hoist a platform of rocks to the top of the tailing piles. A slack line scraper was used at first to get the gravels to the sluice boxes. Later large pipes from ten inches to sixteen inches in diameter were installed at the penstock to carry water a mile or so down to the cut. Wing gates were installed on each side of the sluice box. Two number 2 hydraulic Giants washed the gravels, soil and gold toward the gates for diversion into the sluice box. At the bottom of the sluice box were slotted metal forms.
The riffles of the sluice box were taken up for the clean up. After drying, smaller amounts were put in gold pans where it was picked over removing gravel and dust. The dry gold was stored in leather pokes. The nuggets were put aside and kept in containers like coffee cans.
By 1936 Lars was making a request at the First National Bank in Seattle for a large equipment loan. When he was asked how he would repay the loan Lars responded with Cash, 120 days from delivery. It was approved as a hand shake arrangement. The equipment went to Seward by boat, to Nenana by railroad then to Marshall Landing by barge with the riverboat Nenana. Vernon Hunter remembered when the equipment arrived and was delivered to the Landing. He said because the Wilson Creek Slough was so narrow the Nenana had to back up all the way to Marshall in order to return to the Yukon River. An RD-7 Caterpillar, a P & H dragline model 705 with a regular bucket and an extra 1-½ yard rock bucket, a welder and a pump were the big items. The sluice box would be improved with manganese riffles.
There were three shifts working that year. In the Marshall area general labor was about $6.00 for a 12 hour shift in open cut mining operations. The cost for room and board for each person in the camp cost between $2.50 and $3.00 a day. Nellie Johansen was hired as the cook and her husband Edwin was the carpenter. Both were kept very busy. The camp was known for it´s superior grub, an important consideration for those seeking work. With lumber brought down from Ruby a new mess hall and a bunkhouse were built for the workers. For the machinery a large machine shop was built for repair and maintenance as well as winter storage. Edwin also built a good-sized house for Lars' family at both Willow Creek and at Marshall. The Johnstons stayed in the original house built by the partners. The workers hired stayed in the bunkhouse. The Johansens had an attached area on the mess hall. When George and Ethel Marsh came out to camp for the clean up, they stayed in a small guesthouse across from the mess hall.
The Ostnes family took the S. S. Victoria to Nome that year. The fourteen-day trip went on the Pacific Ocean then through the Aleutian Islands to the Bering Sea. Since there was not a harbor at Nome passengers were taken ashore in small boats. A new type of transportation was available for Alaskan´s by then, the aviation. They then transferred to a bush plane bound for St. Michael then again to another bush plane and on to Marshall. Another trip into Marshall the family took Alaska Steamship to Seward, a train to Anchorage, then bush plane to Marshall. Looking over the ground from the air and explaining how Lars used to drive his dog team over the same area must have been grand conversation.
The bush pilots were invaluable to Alaskans, providing a link for medical aid, transportation of some supplies and delivery of mail to name a few. A crude telephone system was available through the Alaska Communication System, but most of the messages were sent in and out by radiophones. A broken or worn-out part of the mining equipment could slow down the whole operation so quick replacement was a necessity. The pilots became good friends, often spending the night at the camp. If their schedules did not allow for a stopover, they would buzz the camp, wag their wings and drop the mail or whatever else was to be delivered out of the plane.
Vernon Hunter remembers the mine was low on meat one time. The Ostnes' called in to the store for a half a side of beef to be delivered. When the time came to deliver the meat Vernon and pilot Howard Beymer flew the cargo out to the mine. Since there were no airstrips they buzzed the mine and flew real low. As Howard tipped the plane Vernon shoved out a quarter of the side of beef. They flew around and checked where the meat had landed so they could drop the second. The meat had landed right in front of the mess house. They continued around and dropped the second quarter of beef close to the first. As they went around to check the results Howard decided to drop a couple of beers. Vernon dropped two bottles in the tundra and they burst wide open. They tried one more time with two more bottles and one survived the drop. Leif Ostnes was able to find and give a toast with the bottle of beer as Vernon and Howard circled to return to Marshall.
The lower Yukon down to Marshall was still served by the Alaska Railroad river steamers, which haul freight from the railroad in Nenana. From Seattle, Washington to Marshall the distance for freight was 3,299 miles. The freight rate was the same over the whole river, regardless of the distance from Nenana. Rates did not include charges for handling, wharfage, storage, transfer or other terminal charges or marine insurance. Average handling and wharfage charges are about $3.00 to $4.00 per ton at both ends. The Steamers brought in practically all of the mining and other supplies.
Airplanes were mainly relied on for traveling and for emergencies. During the period when the steamers were not in commission, airplanes offered the only practical means of transportation over long distances. Airplane service was less certain in the lower Yukon country than further inland, because of higher winds and generally more stormy weather. The planes made no scheduled flights. Like tramp steamers, they traveled where ever the business was needed and returned to their base only when carrying freight or passengers, or for periodic overhauls. Most of the planes were based at Anchorage. The Star Airlines did most of the business in this region.
Small airplanes would land at Marshall after Jim Johnston and Leif Ostnes used the two caterpillars to dig an airfield out of the tundra behind the town. Pictures showed there was quite an assortment of planes. The airfield however in later times sunk due to the permafrost problem prevalent in the area.
The Yukon and other navigable rivers and sloughs are suitable for use by pontoon planes in summer, and by planes mounted on skis in winter. The only auto road in the region was the one to Willow Creek. The camps at Flat and Wilson Creeks were served by partly graded cat roads, for which the Road Commission appropriated part of the money. John Fitzhugh was the Road Commission Foreman in the area. He would regularly bring in a dump truck to the Johnston and Ostnes operation on Willow Creek to obtain gravel. Operators tried to ship in their heavy supplies in the spring, or in the early summer before the ground thawed. This required a certain amount of forethought, and in some cases, additional credit or cash, as the supplies would have to be landed by steamer late in the preceding summer. In this manner much expensive road building and maintenance could be avoided, and supplies ordinarily could be brought in more cheaply.
The importance of radio communication in this region is indicated by the fact that nearly every mining camp has a radio receiver and transmitter. Private stations also were maintained in Holy Cross and Marshall, and most of the planes were equipped with a two way radio. A few of the stations used code. Because the region is isolated, and the distance between mining operations is great, radiophones were used for calling airplanes, sending and receiving weather reports and for transacting general business. A telephone line installed in the mid thirty´s connected the Willow Creek camp with Marshall. The phone was in the mess hall. It was a big wall type telephone with out a dial, just a spinning crank. According to Eleanor´s recollection calling the Ostnes camp was two short rings and one long ring.
Lars and Elise´s son Leif was on the payroll, first on the rock crew then working his way up to equipment operator, welder and mechanic. During one summer on the rock crew Leif remembered some tourists that had come up to see the operation. One particular young lady asked the men to hold still while she took a picture. Leif recalled one fellow on the crew who normally would pass over bigger rocks when loading the rock platform picked up quite a large rock for the picture. The poor fellow kept holding the rock while the young lady fumbled with her camera. The fellow´s face kept getting redder and his knees began to shake. Just as the lady said she was ready to take the picture the fellow gave out and dropped the rock. Leif wasn´t sure how the picture turned out but the poor fellow on the crew never heard the end of it.
Lars made Leif his Assistant Superintendent when Jim Johnston passed away in the mid 1940's. There were new improvements continually and other less time consuming methods integrated as the mine expanded. The operation of the Willow Creek Mining Company had ground being mined averaging $1.25 a bedrock foot, or $1.15 a cubic yard. The operation was profitable, although the large boulders and thick gravel overburden made mining costs high. The gravel on Willow Creek was coarse, and sub-angular to rounded, instead of fine and well rounded as on other creeks of the area such as Flat, Kako and Wilson Creeks. On Willow Creek the gold was coarse and rough in part, and occurred throughout the lower eight feet of gravel instead of on bedrock as in the other creeks. The gravel was composed of mainly greenstone, with some granite and a few quartz pebbles. Boulders of greenstone up to three feet in diameter were common. The bedrock was a decomposed argillite. An outcropping of Granitic rocks were also at the head of the creek.
Marshall in the 1930's was small and spread out. The most imposing structure was the centrally located store owned by Chris Betsch. Mr. Betsch owned four stores along the Yukon in Pilots Point, Marshall, Ohogamiut and Russian Mission. Mr. Betsch usually stayed in Russian Mission just up river from Marshall. He and Lars were good friends and many a time while visiting the Ostnes family he would regal them all with his stories of when he was a cabin boy on the U. S. Constitution. His store was huge and carried everything many and varied items. Snowshoes, skis, oil lamps, candy and canned goods to name a few were stocked. Muskrat and fox pelt hung on the walls next to mukluk boots, parkas and rifles. When in September the last river boat of the season had unloaded it cargo the supplies had to last until the river was free of ice the following spring. This general store then had by necessity a very thoroughly stocked and unusual inventory.
When Eleanor and Olive Ostnes would visit the friendly storekeeper, Louie Kier, he would always give them a box of Society chocolates. One summer day he announced to the girls he was going to make a special treat for them, strawberry ice cream! They would watch as he poured the ingredients into a large, hand crank freezer: 10 tins of canned milk, a dozen eggs, a bottle of vanilla, a sack of sugar and a large can of canned strawberries. Nothing was measured just poured in. He then began to hand crank the machine. He let them lick the paddles when all was finished before serving up a dish of the delicious and creamy ice cream.
Up river the next imposing structure was a two-story building that served the U. S. Commissioner, George Marsh, and his wife Ethel as a hotel. Ethel was almost blind so hired the local Yup'ik Eskimo girls to clean the rooms and do washing. In the story by the Marshall High School Journalism Class of 1984, Exenia Fitka remembered cleaning the hotel for one dollar a day. Others would bring two five-gallon buckets of water on a yoke for 25 cents a trip. A little further up river was Bill Amouak's house.
Going down river from the Betsch store H. Roy Hunter's house and Post Office loomed high on the horizon. The Hunter's had a small farm area near them with goats, chickens, rabbits and a horse. H. Roy Hunter became U. S. Commissioner in the 1940's. Between the Post Office and the Betsch store was a small old Catholic Church, a larger newer Catholic Church, the Alaska Territorial Guard bunk house, U. S. Marshall, Eric Johnson's house, and Columbia Bean´s house. Near the Betsch store there was a one-room schoolhouse, which had the teachers quarters attached. Also near the Betsch store was a jail and a house used between 1942 and 1952 by the family of U. S. Marshall, Albert Bahls. Up river from the Betsch store and a further back from the Yukon River stood the Ostnes house, the Marsh house, the hotel, Al and Anna Maranzie's store and finally Bill Amouak's house.
With the help of Charlie Fitka, Alex Evan, Vernon and Dorothy Hunter the following information was gathered. Today the Betsch store and the Albert Bahls house are standing, however they are relocated to the Mt. Village further down the Yukon River from Marshall. In Marshall today the Catholic Church, Ostnes house, Marsh house, the Marsh hotel and Bill Amouak's house still stand.
During the summer months, most of the Yup'ik Eskimo moved up and down river to their fish camps. The summer catch of fish would be caught in either a fish wheel or nets. The women cleaned the fish, cut them into strips, sides or fillets. These then would be hung on large lines and drying racks to dry over alder wood fires. It was important to preserve the salmon for it was and is still today a food not only for the people but for the main diet of the dogs as well. The salmon strips were a delicacy for all. They were about the width of a finger and perhaps two feet long. They could be chewed on for hours.
Dorothy Hunter explained that her family fish camp, Ingrihak, was about six miles up from Marshall, maybe three miles from the Marshall Landing. Oney and Flora Amouak fished with their family at Ingrihak every summer. Oney´s father and mother, Oliver and Olga Amouak, were married at Willow Creek. At some point the missionaries or schoolteachers decided there were too many Amouaks' in Marshall. Therefore, some of Oney and Flora's children began to be identified by their father´s first name used as their last name. Franklin Amouak remembered when he and his brother John Oney would deliver fish for the Willow Creek Mine. They would catch the fish then walk three miles to the Edgar Cabin and call in the message. On those occasions the telephone at Willow Creek camp would ring and the message would be Fish at the Landing. The fish would be delivered whole and then covered with grass so the sun would not dry out the fish before the camp could send someone to pick up the fish. Eleanor Ostnes remembered in the 1930's they would drive down the four miles in the Model A and there would be six or seven large fish weighing up to twenty five pounds. The fish would be neatly cleaned and stuffed with grass. For this the fishermen would ask about $1.00 a fish.
At the Willow Creek camp Eleanor remembered the hills surrounding the camp were covered with soft tundra. When the blueberries were ripe she and Olive would pick them lazily lying on the tundra not having to move very far. Wild iris grew along the streams and rose colored fireweed covered the hills. The cranberries ripened later in the fall. Elise would pay the Yup'ik Eskimo women to pick gallons of the tart berries. She would later ship them to Seattle in butter barrels.
When not doing chores Eleanor and Olive would roam the hills and follow the creeks. An old hermit, as they used to call Tony Jurack, lived back behind the camp at an abandoned quartz mine. This transplanted Spanish Basque had a small cabin with a lovely creek running in front, a cache nearby, a drying rack for skins, snowshoes and of course the equipment to mine for gold. Picks, shovels, gold pans and small sluice box were about all he needed. Tony had been in the Marshall area mining since the early 1920's. He had spent his whole live looking for a strike but then in his declining years all he wanted was peace and quiet. Tony was extremely fond of Lars and Lars in turn respected Tony and his chosen way of life. Lars would keep an eye on him. One time Lars brought Tony some supplies and in gratitude Tony insisted on Lars staying and eat dinner with him. Tony was cooking up a rabbit stew. It did smell good but when Tony made a stew he put everything in it. When he dished up a bowl, Lars saw two very large eyeballs floating. It was almost too much for Lars. Out of politeness though Lars made a weak attempt to eat a little.
Another old timer out in the area was Jim Douglas. He prospected a little on upper Willow Creek. He lived alone in a small cabin and cared for his team of huskies on Slope Creek, which is about half way to Willow Creek camp from Marshall Landing. Leif kept in shape for the track team he was a member of in Seattle. Every morning Leif would get up before breakfast and run down the road past Slope Creek and back to camp. One day old Jim came to Lars for advice on a very puzzling problem. He told Lars that about five in the morning all the dogs woke him up with their barking. He would go out and calm them down and then go back to bed. About fifteen minutes later the howling would start up again and he could not understand what was upsetting his dogs. He had checked for bear and other wild critters but found no evidence. Lars of course knew the source of the problem but never let on he knew. Leif however from the next morning on confined his running to the camp side of Slope Creek.
Bears were a common occurrence in and around the Marshall area. In fact the bears there were well known to jump in the river and swim after boats. Once when Eleanor and Olive were out in the hills when they detected the familiar odor of bear. Their numerous trips to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle had perfected their olfactory senses. They did not investigate but ran as fast as they could to report the bear at camp. Lars and Leif took their rifles and investigated but the bear had evidently had run as fast as the girls but in the other direction as there was no sight of it. Another time when Leif and the girls were out in the hills together they came upon a porcupine. The girls wanted the quills for handiwork so persuaded Leif to kill it. When they returned to camp with their trophy they faced angry disapproval and a tongue lashing from Lars. He thoroughly admonished them and concluded with we only kill wildlife for meat and only when needed!
While in the Willow Creek camp or out in the hills the women wore knee high laced up boots called jodhpurs with heavy wool socks. The ferocity of the mosquitoes and small gnats called no-see-ums would be checked in the evenings. The bites attested to the ability of these insects to penetrate the boots and socks. This lasted only for a short period of time during the summer so the assault was endured. Some times though mosquito netting was slipped over safari type hats with varying lengths. The men would tie the netting above their chest and the girls would tie the netting around their waists. All the bedding was covered with mosquito netting as well.
When a change of bedding occurred in camp, along with other clothing, the laundry was an all day chore for the girls. The sheets and towels were washed in a large copper boiler on top of the stove. For the work clothes the camp cook would make a strong lye-soap. Then the oily, greasy clothes were put into a large barrel with boiling water and the lye-soap. A large plunger was used to circulate the clothing in the water. The plunging was done for the wash as well as for the double rinsing. After the rinsing, the clothes and bedding would be wrung out by hand and hung on clotheslines to dry. To say the least it was a hard and trying chore.
To handle the wrinkles on the clothing they used a three-pound cast iron flat-iron. It was heated on the stove to the right temperature then used quickly and placed back on the stove for further heating. An ancient treadle-sewing machine or hand sewing with needle and thread took care of what little repair work was needed.
The houses were not equipped with plumbing or central heat. The ubiquitous outhouse handled all the sanitary needs. All of the houses and mess hall were heated with wood burning pot-bellied stoves. Kerosene lamps provided lighting except in the mess hall. There a generator would provide the modern convenience of electricity.
The mess hall was one of the favorite spots in camp. A root cellar underneath the mess hall kept potatoes, onions, butter barrels, hams and slabs of bacon at perfect temperatures. Fresh fruit and vegetables were unobtainable but the dried fruit and canned vegetables were always on hand. Canned and powdered milk were used exclusively. The Willow Creek camp was well known for its superior grub, this being an important consideration when one considers employment. Whether the shifts were three eight-hour shifts or two twelve-hour shifts, good food and plenty of it was available to the workers. Breakfast was at six a.m., lunch was at noon and dinner at six p.m. An ordinary breakfast would consist of hot and cold cereal, ham, bacon and eggs, sourdough pancakes, hot biscuits, canned fruit, toast and coffee. The cooks would always save some sourdough batter for the girls when they arrived late for breakfast. Lunches were full meals too, meat and potatoes, vegetables, fresh bread or biscuits with jam and honey, pies, cakes or canned fruit for desert. Raised donuts were another desert treat; the cooks would fill a big washtub with the donuts for all to eat. Dinner was similar with perhaps fish, ducks, geese or a large ham for a variety in meat. Pie was always there for everyone. Vernon Hunter worked at Willow Creek Mine in 1948 and again in 1953 as an oiler. His brother Don Sr. worked as a cat skinner in the late forties and early fifties. Vernon has a fond remembrance of the pies in the mess house and was one to ask for seconds later in the evening.
The annual goose hunt would be taken in the Molly Lee. Lars and his friends would travel up river in this boat after Lars purchased it around 1940 from the itinerant dentist Dr. LaRue. Previous to this purchase a small skiff was used for water transportation. The Molly Lee was luxurious compared to the skiff. The Molly Lee was also used to for mini-vacations. The family would take trips up to Russian Mission to visit Chris Betsch. The town also had a small Russian Orthodox Church dating from 1845 and other buildings dating from the Russian American Company's trading post. The general store would occasionally have a few fresh cabbages and carrots. The family would also travel down river to visit Jack and Ruth Emil who had a fish cannery in Alukanuk. Every fall Frank Amouak remembers Lars coming into Marshall with the Molly Lee to meet with the sternwheeler Nenana. Supplies and equipment would be shipped in and passengers would travel back up river to Nenana and beyond on the sternwheeler Nenana. Dorothy Hunter remembers when Lars Ostnes would come to town in the Molly Lee she and Jeanne Bahls and other children would hurry to see if they could clean the boat up as a chore. Lars would allow it and go off to his house up the hill. The children would later go to the house and Lars would get down on his knees and say whose going to give me a hug first?´ They all would and get their just rewards in candy.
In the early 1940´s the Willow Creek Mining Co was now developing a 300 to 500 feet wide streak at Lower Willow Creek. It was reported to contain $3.00 a bedrock foot. That year a D-8 Caterpillar was delivered to Willow Creek as well as another large piece of equipment, a huge washing plant. This was shipped to the site in pieces and erected by Leif in order for it to work that season in September. This equipment, some call a dry land dredge, resembled a five-story dredge on tracks. The dragline, usually operated by Sam Gullick, would dump its bucket of gravels into a hopper at the top. There water from angled 1 ½ inch pipes would wash the material down to a huge revolving cylinder. This cylinder was surrounded with plates that were perforated. Water would wash the gravels as the cylinder revolved. The holes allowed the sand, gold and small gravel to pass through to the sluice boxes set below. The boxes were situated in a switch back manner down to the bottom and caught the gold bearing pay. This machine eliminated the need for long sluice boxes previously placed past the wing gates at the cut. A conveyor belt within the washing plant expedited the placement of tailings through the stacker.
A disadvantage of the machine was the size of the holes in the plates surrounding the revolving cylinder. Some of the larger nuggets could pass through to the tailings pile. Also as the work progressed toward the end of the creek the boulders were much larger. The washing plant could not take the bigger rock so towards the 1950's the mine was back to using the wing gates and nozzles to push gravels toward the long sluice boxes.
The shifts were now two twelve-hour shifts. Another added convenience for the workers was the construction of a shower house built behind the mess house. It was operated by a boiler, which delivered copious amounts of warm water. The water was also piped directly into the mess house. A large improvement to carrying water from the springs by means of a large wooden yoke over the shoulders with five-gallon cans that hung from each side. The plumbing was never in doors though. Outhouses only still because of the winter weather. A generator to the mess house continued to provide electricity there only. Other structures had kerosene lamps for light and wood stoves for heat.
On of their more successful years, a clean up produced 1,785 ounces. Close to 40 miners held that gold and many pictures were taken. The backs of all the pictures note that it was between $54,000.00 and $57,000.00 for the year.
Over in the Wilson Creek area mining had resumed with a Bucyrus-Erie 37B dragline on Disappointment Creek in 1938. A. V. Ericksen and Associates owned the Wilson Creek Mining Company. There was a Road Commission funded cat road serving Wilson Creek. By 1940 the Wilson Creek Mining Company leased and open cut mined on George Pilcher´s property on Elephant Creek. In addition to the dragline they had a RD 6 and a RD7 for moving the gravels. They also used 700 feet of 16-inch pipe to move water for the number 2 giant used for sluicing. They were running three shifts. They acquired a 6-inch drill for prospect work. They had plans of moving down Elephant Creek later in the summer of 1940 as the drilling revealed a paystreak about 150 feet wide.
Other solitary prospectors who had been in the area at varying times continued to look for gold. Individuals who were still prospecting and mining in 1940 were people like Andrew Edgar, Bill Allman and Cy St. Amand. Albert Malden made a trip to the Marshall area for the University of Alaska´s Department of Mines in the summer of 1940. He mentioned Edgar was up on Quartz Creek in the Kuyukutuk basin. He also mentioned there were a couple of Wilson Creek employees, Barney Olsen and Paddy McDermott who were prospecting by sinking a shaft. They were on Whiskey Creek, a tributary of West Fork of the Kuyukutuk River. They were finding some colors but no pay. Of a sample sent to the Colorado School of Mines the assay came back with 35 cents to the ton in gold with a trace of silver.
Bill Allman, a World War One veteran, unrelenting in his search for the elusive mineral, had been in Alaska since 1924. Bill had been born about 1900 and grew up a childhood friend of Will Rogers in Claremore, Oklahoma. Bill had worked as a ranger, a mail carrier, a fisherman and of course a miner and prospector. He based his prospecting out of Marshall. Alex Evan mentioned he was considered by many of the children of Marshall as a grandpa. Bill had relations in North Carolina and would occasionally go out to the lower 48 for a vacation. When leaving Marshall he would make visits to his friends like the Ostnes family in Fairbanks, the Marsh and Gularte family in Anchorage and the Bahl´s, Emil´s and Ostnes families in the Seattle area. During some of his spare time he would build miniature cabin dioramas that included sod roof and a brass gun shell for the chimney.
A meat cache and other normal cabin outdoor fixtures would also be included. Usually after a visit one of these dioramas would be left for his friends.
Also in the 1940´s the Chelson´s and the Peterkin´s had a partnership venture on Disappointment Creek. Jeanne Bahls remembered their mine and the Willow Creek mine as being the only ones operating during her 1942 to 1952 childhood in Marshall. This partnership was probably the Wade-Hampton Mining Company
As in Lars´ earlier years-another World War loomed. For the Willow Creek Mining Company from 1941 to 1945 the war effort necessarily reduced operations. Lars however must have had a permit to work through World War II. Oil and fuel necessary for running all equipment was difficult to obtain in the quantities needed. Elise took over the job of cooking for the camp and ordering supplies for the season. Supplies were delayed, travel was curtailed and most of the manpower was off to war. In February of 1943 Lars was in Marfa, Texas pinning Pilot wings on his son Leif. Lars had flown 750 miles from Marshall to Seward, took a six-day steamship trip of 1,800 miles to Seattle then a train ride to Marfa, Texas. Leif would pilot B-17s, also known as the flying fortress, in Europe. Lars and Elise continued their operations but at a much slower pace. The Report of Commissioner of Mines for the Territory of Alaska for 1945 and 1946 listed for 1945 the Willow Creek Mining Company as a dragline operation. It indicated there was one shovel in operation working the area and there was mention of three prospectors. George Pilcher and Bill Allman were definitely two of the three.
After the war Leif returned and established a family in Fairbanks. Meredith Toy and Leif were married in 1942. When Leif returned to Alaska in 1946 he and Meredith had two girls, Dianne and Carol. Leif had bought a house in the Garden Island area of Fairbanks. Meredith and the children stayed in Fairbanks in 1946 where a third child, Larry, was born and Leif mined on Willow Creek. The mining was done with the dragline, bulldozer and the washing plant. In 1946 besides the Ostnes Willow Creek mining operation with 12 workers, the Wade-Hampton Mining Company continued on Disappointment Creek with 5 workers using a bulldozer and hydraulic operation. Over on Kako Creek near Russian Mission the Yukon Mining Company had a dragline, bulldozer and washing plant operation with 8 workers. Also, incredibly George Pilcher was drilling on Elephant Creek at an approximate age of 82 and Jim Douglas, also by himself, continued to shovel in on Upper Willow Creek.
The placer miners were recovering from the war induced problems faster than the lode miners were because of the equipment costs. In the following years though the increasing costs of mining and the fixed price of gold caused problems for the whole mining industry in Alaska. The Territory now had high paying defense construction projects that drained the work force away from the mining industry. The wages the mining operators were able to pay could not compete with government jobs.
In 1948 and 1949 Leif, Meredith and the three children all were at the mine. They all stayed in the little one room cabin across from Lars and Elise´s house. They flew into Marshall and were met by Charlie Fitka and Don Hunter Sr. with their dog teams. The children, Meredith and some supplies were bundled into Charlie´s huge freight sled with five dogs. Don and Leif took supplies in the other sled. On their ride to the mine the sled with Meredith and the children tipped over going up an embankment. Charlie had tied everyone in so tightly that when Charlie and Leif righted he sled no one had moved an inch. No one was hurt. Meredith remembered the trip and Charlie fondly with a smile. Because of start of school, Meredith and the children returned to Fairbanks in August. They traveled on the Nenana piloted by Capt. Adams. Meredith remembered giving the girls little willow sticks with strings hung from them. The girls would sit on the second level of the sternwheeler fishing for hours with their string blowing in the wind at about the level of main deck. This was before the annual clean up was completed so Leif would return later in October or November.
Leif Ostnes stopped working for Willow Creek mine in 1950. Now with a fourth child, Jeanne, he too needed a higher paying job. He continued mining though. In 1950 he was at Movelock Creek mining for Earl Wyman, Max Fenton and Ed Ferrel. In 1951 Leif worked for the Strandberg Mine and the Miscovich Mine in his birthplace, Discovery on Otter Creek near Iditarod.
In 1951 and 1952 Leif and son Larry returned to work with the Willow Creek Mining Company. Both years the Wade-Hampton Mining Company and Willow Creek Mining Company operated. They were scaled back as was the Yukon Mining Company operation on Kako Creek. Lars now was listed in Report of the Commissioner of Mines as a bulldozer and hydraulic operation with 4 workers. The Wade-Hampton Mining Company was designated the same with 3 workers. The Yukon Mining Company operation on Kako Creek was listed as a dragline operation with 5 workers. Jim Douglas was still on Upper Willow Creek with his shovel in operation.
In May of 1952 Leif flew Lars, Elise, his son Larry and himself into Marshall for the summer. The trip was made in an all metal 1938 built Cunningham Hall biplane. This particular biplane with tail #N 444 was one of only 5 or 6 of that model made. This cavernous plane could hold six passengers or be situated for 156 cubic feet of cargo. In one flight he not only brought in the work crew for the season but also included most of the supplies for the mine.
Lars Ostnes hired local residents at different times that included the following people. Some people may be left out as this is from personal memories. Bill Amouak, Bob Kamoka, Vernon Evan, Tom Oney, Johnny Oney, Don Hunter, Vernon Hunter and John Fitzhugh, Jr. They were hired during the summer and from what Vernon Hunter indicated the jobs gave work experience to the men. The pay would not support a family but the experience would allow the men to take jobs later in their work career that included working with heavy-duty equipment.
In 1953 the Willow Creek Mining Company had changed its name to Lars Ostnes and Company. He and Elise had 3 workers. Leif was one of them and son Larry was brought to the mine too. The Wade-Hampton Mining Company was still on Disappointment Creek with 3 workers but this would be their last year. Sadly only the Ostnes operation remained in 1954. Leif again was one of the 3 workers and son Larry was brought to the mine again. In both 1953 and 1954 Eric Johnson, former U. S. Marshall, and Paddy McDermott were prospecting on Edgar Creek. The Second Division that the Marshall district is located in saw a drop of 35 percent in the producing operations between 1953 and 1954. Active mines went from a total of 53 to 34.
The Territorial Commissioner of Mines felt there were four basic problems in the mining industry. First not enough prospectors are available to look for new mineral sites. Second he felt the knowledge about mineral resources of the Territory was woefully small. If more was known possibly more venture capital could be brought in to the market. Thirdly the ownership of the patented land was not well documented. If owners could not be found or were dead the land could not be developed until title was cleared. Finally he hoped an incentive package should be developed in the Federal tax structure. The overwhelming tribulations overshadowing all four problems were the high costs for labor, equipment, supplies and dependable transportation.
By December of 1954 Lars decided to sell his mining equipment. A Fairbanks Daily News article indicates that though he had decided to sell his mining equipment he made it clear to his friends that he does not intend to retire. The high cost of production and marginal ground was part of his decision to sell. Another article mentioned, He is not retiring though-he has seen too many men retire then die. When he disposes of his mining equipment he is going prospecting again-and for gold
In the late 1950´s Jack and Ruth (Johnson)Emil were contacted by Jack Cudahay. Mr. Cudahay was a lawyer in Anchorage and a good friend of Marsh´s, Emil´s and Ostnes´. Since the Bon Rosa property on Willow Creek was leased from George Marsh it was still in his name. When George Marsh died the mining property was holding up the settlement of the Marsh estate. Mr. Cudahay suggested that Jack and Ruth buy the claim. The Emil´s did for a nominal fee and the Marsh settlement was completed. In communicating with Mr. Emil, who was in his mid-80´s in 1998, he thought at one point a couple of people from the lower 48 bought the equipment. These outsiders did not know much about mining but had been bitten by gold fever. There are some remembrances of a large amount of supplies being shipped in for transport to Willow Creek. However, no people ever showed up to work the ground.
Gene Tetinek had been in Marshall for a number of years. Eleanor Ostnes remembers him around their Willow Creek camp. He would ask Lars if he could work the tailing piles in search of gold. When Al Maurance passed on Gene had married Anna, Al´s widow. Jack Emil could not remember the exact time when Gene bought the property on Willow Creek but he did. A schoolteacher in Marshall, Frank Keim and local resident Alex Evan have pictures from Gene Tetinek. Frank´s pictures show Gene working the large washing plant on the Willow Creek claim. The Territory of Alaska, Department of Mines report to the Commissioner of Mines for the biennium ending December 31, 1956 recorded only one mine in the Marshall District. They wrote that Eugene Tetinek was the one fully active operator in the District.
When Gene Tetinek died he left the Bon Rosa claim to the Marshall School. His hopes were that the school could use the property as a place to take the children for outdoor activities. In February 1989 Jeanne Bahls Vaughn and her daughter, Dorothy Hunter and Fortuna Hunter returned to Marshall. At that time Jeanne was taken to the Willow Creek Mining Company property on a snowmachine. She indicated that the buildings were in disrepair. The ones left at that time were the Mess Hall and various outbuildings. She remembered the Model A truck that Lars would use for transportation and it was still there. She remembered the place as always a fun place to go and was sad to see it in ruins.
©1999-2008 by Jeanne Ostnes Rinear and Eleanor Ostnes Vistaunet