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The Cowden Gold Dredge

a.k.a. the "Lost Chicken" Dredge or Mosquito Fork Dredge - Chicken, Alaska
by Murray Lundberg


Click on each of the photos to enlarge them.

The ruins of the Cowden gold dredge sitting in the Mosquito Fork river, Chicken, Alaska The ruins of the Cowden gold dredge sitting in the Mosquito Fork river near Chicken, Alaska.
 
    If you're heading across the Taylor Highway between Tok and Dawson City, there's a walking trail at Mile 68.3 (2 miles east of Chicken) that provides a great break from the road for both nature lovers and history buffs. The 2.8-mile trail winds through a peaceful forest and ends at the edge of a cliff overooking the old Cowden gold dredge, which was brought into the district in 1936.

    Little seems to be known about the dredge's origins. The following information on its life in Alaska is based on a BLM handout available at the trailhead, cited to Warren Yeend's 1996 publication Gold Placers of the Historical Fortymile River Region, Alaska (USGS Bulletin 2125):
The Lost Chicken Dredge (also known today as the Cowden Dredge), was shipped from Skagway to Whitehorse on the White Pass & Yukon railroad; from Whitehorse to the mouth of the Fortymile River by steamboat, and, during the winter of 1936-1937, by Caterpillar tractors up the Fortymile River and South Fork to a point about 0.9 mile below the mouth of Lost Chicken Creek.

    The dredge, owned by the Alaska Gold Dredging Corporation, initially burned coal obtained in the area around Chicken. It was soon converted to burn wood, however, due to the poor quality of the coal - not enough steam could be produced to power the dredge efficiently.

    The dredge had 64 buckets, each with a capacity of only 0.14 cubic yards, and it burned about 7 cords of wood per day. Thirteen men were required to operate the dredge, and they worked in 3 shifts of 8 hours each.

    After only a year and a half of operation, the dredge was bought by the Northern Commercial Company, who shut it down.

    The trail to the dredge overlook is little-used, and you're walking on a thick carpet of moss most of the time. Benches have been placed in particularly pleasant spots, providing a comfortable break on the slightly uphill walk back to your vehicle. All in all, a very pleasant trail.


Mosquito Fork gold dredge trail - Taylor Highway, Alaska Most of the trail to the historic gold dredge (which the BLM calls the Mosquito Fork Dredge Trail) wanders through a dry forest, but a few hundred feet of boardwalk have been built across a wet section.

Mosquito Fork gold dredge trail - Taylor Highway, Alaska The trail offers some great views over the valleys of the Mosquito Fork and West Fork Rivers (below and ahead, respectively).

Mosquito Fork gold dredge - Taylor Highway, Alaska Another look at the dredge from the trail's overlook.

The ruins of the Cowden gold dredge sitting in the Mosquito Fork river, Chicken, Alaska Damage to the dredge, probably from spring ice, is quite substantial on the upstream (right) end. This photo was shot in September 1999.

Mosquito Fork gold dredge - Taylor Highway, Alaska The bow (digging ladder) section of the dredge as it looked on June 2, 2011.

The Cowden gold dredge in the valley of the Mosquito Fork River, Alaska

The valley of the Mosquito Fork River.

Mosquito Fork gold dredge - Taylor Highway, Alaska The bow of the dredge as it looked on June 2, 2011. There's no trail down to the river, and any route down from the overlook is steep, unstable and should probably just be considered plain dangerous.

Mosquito Fork gold dredge - Taylor Highway, Alaska A closeup of the dredge controls, with the house fallen off at some point. This photo was shot on June 2, 2011.

Mosquito Fork gold dredge - Taylor Highway, Alaska I tried to wade across the Mosquito Fork River to the dredge on June 2, 2011, but the main channel was too deep for the way I was equipped.

The Cowden gold dredge in the valley of the Mosquito Fork River, Alaska

The bucket line and main drive wheel of the Cowden dredge. Photo by Crystal Fagundes Burns, April 2003.

The Cowden gold dredge in the valley of the Mosquito Fork River, Alaska

The bow gantry and bucket line dominate this view of the dredge. Photo by Crystal Fagundes Burns, April 2003.

Looking up the Mosquito Fork River, Alaska

Looking up the Mosquito Fork River from the Cowden Gold Dredge overlook in September 1999.

To Gold Dredges of the North

A Guide to Chicken, Alaska