I wanted the gold and I sought it,
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
MY GRANDMOTHER GAVE ME a copy of Robert Service’s The Spell of the Yukon when I was ten years old. He is better known for Sam McGee and Dan McGrew but I loved the title poem best, with its descriptions of Alaska (“some mighty-mouthed hollow that’s plumb-full of hush to the brim”). Service might not have made it to the Yukon until the Klondike was all over, but he stuck around long enough to see what he could see, and he described the north as well as anyone ever has.
The Independence Mine is tucked into another such mighty-mouthed hollow, an alpine valley thirty-five hundred feet high surrounded by the ragged Talkeetna Mountain, with a spectacular view of the Matanuska Valley, the Hunter Creek Glacier and the Chugach Mountains. You could go for the scenery alone. Robert Hatcher discovered and staked the first lode claim near the top of Skyscraper Mountain in 1906. In 1935 Alaska-Pacific Mines, Inc., bought out the two existing mining operations and Independence Mine became the largest producer of gold in the area. Their peak years were 1936 to 1942, when they produced a total of 152,429 fine ounces of gold, which at $35 an ounce was worth $5,334,700. Gold in Alaska makes people think of the Klondike Gold Rush and George Carmack panning it out of Eldorado Creek (or his wife Kate scrubbing it out of the breakfast dishes with a handful of sand, depending on which story you believe).
My father took a less romantic view; he and his brother Danny worked at the Independence Mine the winter of 1949-1950, and Dad said it was a wet, dirty, dangerous job for which nobody ever paid him enough money.
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