CONDITIONS IN ALASKA IN THE WORLD WAR I AND POSTWAR PERIODS (continued)
Despite some disgruntlement at Kantishna (particularly the protests of Charles Trundy and K.E. Casparis) over choice of the upper or park route for the main road, that decision would stand. In a letter to Trundy, responding to his advocacy of the Lignite-Toklat route, the ARC declined responsibility for that trail and the old miners' cabins on it that travelers used for shelter. ARC stated that pending completion of the main road through the park, ARC would maintain only the Roosevelt-Kantishna wagon road and the sled road and shelter cabins from Kobi to Kantishna via Knights Roadhouse, Diamond City, and Glacier. 
In the early 1920s mining activity began to pick up at Kantishna,  thus the pressure on the ARC for this route or that route, depending on the future road's proximity to the particular miner's claims. As time would prove, the old-style gold placer methodsopen cuts, shoveling in, and ground sluicingwould continue until the late Thirties to be the district's mainstay. But a brief excitement came in the years 1920-24, product of new thinking and new moneysome of it from Outside. Two outfitsMcKinley Gold Placers, Inc., on lower Caribou Creek and Glacier Creek, and Kantishna Hydraulic Mining Co. on Moose Creekput in major developments for large-scale hydraulic mining of bench deposits. Volume of processed material would make up for the sparse gold in the gravelso ran the theory. But costs of transportation wrecked that notion and the big companies soon folded. New management and local partnerships took over the hydraulic operations for a season or two, but they could not make a profit either.
Improvements in ground-sluicing techniquesusing automatic boomer dams to uncover paydirtextended the lives of some placer claims and opened up a few new ones, including a revival of Joe Dalton's old claims on Crooked Creek at the north end of the district. All of these were small operations typically employing two to four men.
The legacy of these Twenties and Thirties placer operations includes the remnants of the system (dam, ditch, and siphon) that brought water from Wonder Lake to the Moose Creek hydraulicking site (opposite the mouth of Eureka Creek); the camp buildings, equipment, and workings on Caribou and Glacier creeks; and remains of boomer dams and subsequent small-scale hydraulicking at places like Twenty-Two Gulch.
As the placers flattened toward subsistence levels, lode prospects became more attractive. Joe Quigley worked and leased claims on the ridge that bears his name. The Humbolt prospect near Glacier Peak and the Alpha prospect high on Eldorado were also active. Silver-lead ore paid handsomely after World War I, which stimulated more lode prospecting throughout the district. Again, costs of transportationparticularly painful for lode miners, who had to ship their bulk ore to Outside smeltersmade losers of mines that elsewhere would have shown profit. Lode gold mines, suffering the same problems, kept a few miners supplied with staples but made no fortunes. Joe Quigley, for example, grossed only $5,000 from his Red Top claim in the period 1920-24. Charles Trundy fared no better.
In 1920 Joe and Fanny Quigley found promising copper-zinc deposits at Copper Mountain (now Mount Bielson) within the park. Hundreds of claimants staked this and nearby mineralized zones, including Slippery Creek in the Mount McKinley foothills. But commercial values eluded the miners, and most of these claimsoften after years of hopeful assessment workwere abandoned and lapsed.
By early depression days the population of the Kantishna district and surrounding mining areas had dwindled to less than 20 souls. In 1930 only two miners wintered over at Eureka. One trader and one trapper lived at Diamond. This was a far cry from the distant days of stampedea cabin or two with smoke in the pipe, the rest falling and smothered with alders.
Quigley's serious injury, in a 1931 tunnel cave-in, ended his underground mining career. But his prospect there would pay handsomely in a few years.
By the mid-Thirties low metal pricestagged on to high transportation, equipment, and labor costshad just about whipped mining enterprise in the Kantishna and surrounding districts.
Then came a series of breaks that produced the Golden Years of Kantishna mining, 1937-42. President Roosevelt raised the price of gold to $35 an ounce. The park road reached Kantishna. And the depression's duration had spawned a roving army of cheap labor.
Kantishna's resurgence in the late Thirties and early Forties broke all production records for gold mining, indeed surpassing district totals of all the years preceding. Central to this revival was the Red Top Mining Company's 1935-38 development of the Banjo Mine under option from the Quigleys. When production started in 1939 the plant included road, airstrip, mill, assay shop, bunkhouses, blacksmith shop, and other facilities to tap the commercial-grade gold ore in the Banjo vein. Never before had commercial-scale milling of lode gold been attempted in this district. Banjo became the fourth largest lode mine in the Yukon Basin, producing in the years 1939-41 more than 6,000 ounces of gold and 7,000 of silver. As World War II approached the Banjo's success raised hopes that the district's marginal days had ended.
Lode-mining excitement extended to the antimony deposit at Stampede Creek, discovered long before but latent until the approaching war boosted prices for this critical metal. By 1941, 2,400 tons of ore yielding 1,300 tons of metallic antimony had been shipped from Stampede, making it Alaska's prime producer of this metal and one of the largest in the country. Earl Pilgrim, operator and eventual owner of the Stampede Mine, would be a continuing force in the Denali region's history, as will be demonstrated in Chapter 8.
Placer mining, too, resurged in this period. Reworking of previously mined creeks with new methodsnotably the Caribou Mines Co. work with dragline and other mechanized equipmentgave a foretaste of modern mining procedures that would become standard in Alaska placer fields after World War II. These techniques allowed enormous increases in production. Kantishna's aggregate placer-gold return of $139,000 in 1940 broke all previous records. The district's three all-time high production mines operated during this period.
Then, again, came a war. Transportation, manpower, fuel, supplies, and equipment all funnelled to the war effort, effectively crippling the boom. It died with the wartime order that banned gold mining as non-essential. A few small operations not covered by the ban limped along through the war years. Limited production, using bulldozers, loaders, and small-scale hydraulic outfits resumed in the late Forties. But the golden years were over.
Even the strategic-metal antimony mines on Stampede and Slate creeksat first stimulated by the warsuffered from wartime transportation and manpower limitations. The drop in demand for strategic metals after the war would dampen further the marginal interest in Kantishna's remote antimony mines. The small tonnage of ores and concentrates these mines managed to ship meant little in the general mining collapse, which reached nadir in the Fifties and Sixties.
It would be 30 years before the Kantishna would know another boom, and that really a boomlet. In the mid-Seventies, after abandonment of the gold standard the price of gold would soar to unimagined heights and the trek to the Kantishna Hills would again pick up its pace.
Other mining districts in the isolated Denali region experienced similar though locally varied histories in the years between the wars. As at Kantishna, the continuity of small outfit mining bridged the lean years between short-lived and usually disappointing excitements.
Life in the Kantishna carried on despite the somber progressions of history. Two fresh-eyed visitors in the early Twenties left verbal snapshots of day-to-day events that otherwise would have gone unrecorded. One, Mary Lee Davis, was the first woman to reach the camp via the yet unmarked park-road route over the high passes. She accompanied her mining-engineer husband on a business trip that, for her, was a pilgrimage to the land of The Most High. At the request of a prospector, the couple veered from course so John Davis could assess the man's claim. Mary wrote of long travel into the headwaters of a remote creek, "up the blackest gulch I think I ever saw, cracked open into the heart of barren hills that grew more eerie and more shadowed the further we reached into them. The 'cabin' was a mere hole blasted from the face of a mountain, and our 'bed' was a mere ledge, down which rock water dripped all night." 
Again en route they passed a cold night on spruce boughs and woke to a celestial sunrise that revealed the "unutterable majesty," the "patient stillness" of Mount McKinley. "A streamer of cloud, the hallmark of the very loftiest summits, drifted above like alder smoke. One seemed to see the very gate of heaven thrust open . . . with golden and crimson light draping this highest altar." 
Mary spent most of her Kantishna time with Fanny Quigleyand most of that time tramping the hills with pack dogs, for, said Fanny, "I can't be shut up in a cage." Her conversation ranged the spectrum of a frontier woman's life, from hauling logs for firewood to hunting, one of her favorite pursuits:
Years later, after Joe's crippling mine accident, while Fannie carried the whole load with the help of her dogs, she would write to Mary: "Went down six miles for some meat I killed. Then I have about fifteen cords of wood to haul, so you see when night comes I am tired." 
In 1922-23 Ed Brooker, Jr., took time off from his senior year in high school Outside to join his parents in Kantishna, where Ed Brooker, Sr., was U.S. Commissioner and Postmaster.  After riding the train from Seward young Ed was greeted by his mother at McKinley Station where she had been working as a cook at Morino's Roadhouse. Together they travelled by pack train through the park to Kantishna.
As Kantishna's commissioner, the elder Brooker was judge, chief law officer, mining claim recorder, and, generally, "the Government" as it existed in bush Alaska in those early days. He had just finished leading a posse that subdued and shipped out a deranged German miner who had been shooting up the Glen Creek camp. When young Ed and his mother arrived unexpectedly at Brooker's tent on Friday Creek at midnight, the youngster shook the tent frame without saying a word, wanting to surprise his dad. Still jittery from the ordeal with the German, Brooker cried out, "Who's there?" Ed didn't answer, but shook the tent again, whereupon he heard: "Tell me who you are or I'm coming out shooting!" "Needless to say," Ed recalls, "I spoke up. We had a happy reunion."
That summer of 1922 Ed and his dad built a log cabin on Friday Creek, on the flat where it breaks out of the hills. They made it eight logs high so they would not have to stoop when they moved around inside. Frank Ten Byck, who also lived at the foot of the hill, helped them saw lumber for the roof, which they tarpapered and sodded.
Father and son climbed Monument Dome often that summer, so called because of the USGS survey marker on top. It is now called Brooker Mountain after Ed's dad. Ed accompanied Joe Quigley and "Dirty" Pete Pemberton on a trip out to the railroad and Fairbanks so he could visit old school friends. "Joe was a regular mountain goat in hiking, and Pete and I were dragged out at the end of each day. We went light and ate light. This was the way Joe traveled." Joe stayed on in Fairbanks so Ed and Pete traveled back without him over the still unmarked trail through the park. They carried a rifle for bear protection but didn't need it. "We saw all manner of wild game which was a thrill."
During winter keeping body and soul together was the main activity at Kantishna. When weather allowed, the miners used the frozen, snow-covered ground as a highway to ship out silver ore for the Tacoma smelter. Hawley Sterling, who would later supervise ARC construction of the park road, was one of the miners; Little Johnny Busia (Boo-SHAY), a Croat who had come over from Europe some years before, was another.
One time Jim O'Brien and Mace Farrar left Copper Mountain by dog team, bound for Kantishna in minus 40 degree weather. In camp on the McKinley River Mace chopped his lower leg to the bone when his axe glanced off a frozen cottonwood. He quickly smeared sugar on the wound to stop the bleeding. Then O'Brien loaded him in the dog sled and drove him non-stop more than 100 miles to get medical help. "Mace was OK again in a few weeks."
Ed clerked for his dad in the latter's role of recorder for the mining district. Ed's description of the recording procedure shows how miners established their claims:
Ed notes that these books were legal size and loose leaf, so notices could be typed and inserted. He used his dad's old portable Royal, commenting that the typewriter under his management at age 16 made many mistakes. Miners had to perform at least $100 dollars worth of work each year on each claim to retain their rights, then had to so swear by affidavit, which was also copied and filed in the recorder's book. Many recorders could not type, so wrote their entries; among them were calligraphers who produced "real works of art."
The isolation of the winter camp125 miles by winter trail from Nenanaforced the miners to hunt wild meat for subsistence. Besides, Ed comments, "Canned corned willie gets a bit tiresome." Spurred by the need for fresh meat Ed and John Bowman, who also lived on Friday Creek, set out with dogs for Copper Mountain to get a sheep. Mace Farrar and Fred Jungstgrubstaked by Ed's mother to prospect that mountainhad a tent below it in the Thorofare Basin. There the hunters aimed, planning to use the tent as a base camp. A sudden blizzard caused white-out conditions, and after miles of zero visibility, guiding themselves by contours and wind direction, the half-frozen nimrods luckily stumbled onto the tent. It was 10 miles from nearest timber, but the absent owners had left dry wood and shavings by the stove for quick fire and warmup, as demanded by the Code of the North. Next day they begun climbing to the wind swept ridges, where the sheep could dig down to forage through the shallow snow. The constant wind had packed Copper Mountain's snow slopes, forcing the hunters to kick steps in the plaster-like crust. After a day of futile labor, and another night in the tent, they returned to Friday Creek empty handed.
John Bowman was used to failure. After making a small fortune in the Klondike, he lost it in the saloons of Dawson. Subsequent mining in the Koyukuk district, 400 miles north of Denali, and in the Kantishna, had not improved his finances. But somehow he always got enough booze. Ed recalls a Bowman birthday party in mid-winter. One of his cronies on Slate Creek constructed a wooden birthday cake, then covered it with tasty frosting. Following a convivial dinner, Bowman tried to cut the cake, finally giving up with the comment, "It musht be froshen."
Commissioner Brooker had finally married Joe and Fanny Quigley after they had consorted for many years without benefit of nuptials. It was rumored in camp that the commissioner, lacking a Bible, sealed the sacrament with a Montgomery Ward catalogue. Upon recordation in the commissioner's ledger, however, all was legal and binding.
Personal feuds and friendships tempered neighborliness at Kantishna, as elsewhere. In 1954 Johnny Busia told Ed Brooker that around 1950 only Johnny, Joe Dalton, and Pete Anderson wintered in Kantishna. Dalton had given Johnny trouble over mining claims. So when Dalton died, Johnnyin his words"wrapped him in a blanket and put him in a shallow hole with an old board to mark his grave." Later, Johnny found his friend Pete Anderson dead in his bunk: "I made a good box, put Pete in carefully, dug a good hole, buried Pete and put a good fence around the grave and put up a good marker."
Ed's mother told him of the flu epidemic that spread from Fairbanks to Nenana in March 1920 when "bigshots" traveled through by train and broke quarantine. His mother closed her restaurant to serve as a volunteer nurse. Whiskey, used by some as a cure, proved negative. The Nenana Indians were nearly wiped out. "Wooden boxes (rather than coffins) could not be built fast enough. Several bodies were put in a single box."
When Ed went into Nenana, he attended Joe Burns' movie house, where Vic Durand provided music to accompany the silent film on the screen, "playing the piano with his feet, playing the mouth organ from a rack over his shoulders, and playing a violin with his hands." Fanny Quigley got into Nenana about once a year to see a film. "Fanny, with a dress on top of her overalls would, in a loud voice, explain what the movie was all about and what was going to happen next. No one had the nerve to ask her to keep quiet."
About midway through the 1922-23 winter, Ed Brooker departed to resume his schooling:
Recent correspondence with Ed Brooker, in his eighties a man of sharp recall, has helped resolve the construction date of the two-story log structure known locally as the Kantishna Roadhouse. According to Ed, coincident with the post-World War I mining boomlet, spurred partly by a pegged price for silver, a man named Wilson along with his wife and child, came to Eureka (the early name for Kantishna) about 1919 or 1920 and built the two-story log cabin for his family. Wilson preceded Ed's dad as Postmaster and U.S. Commissioner in the Kantishna.  These remembrances are independently supported by a telegram dated March 29, 1921, to Col. James Steese requesting ARC's completion of the Roosevelt-Kantishna road, and listing concerned citizens of Kantishna and Nenana as signatories. Joined with familiar names such as Joe Dalton, the Quigleys and the Hamiltons is the name and title: C HERBERT WILSON COMMISSIONER.  A USGS photograph by geologist P.S. Smith in 1922 shows the two-story structure at the Eureka townsite surrounded by tents and small cabins. Another informant, Art Schmuck (presently of Nenana but formerly a Kantishna miner) recalled to this author the structure's door-lintel date of 1919 when he first saw it in 1955. The carved date on the lintel (no longer in place) reflected traditional practice for noting a cabin's construction date. The carved 1919 stuck in Art's memory because that was the year of his birth. With all of this evidence assembled we can state with certainty that the cabin was in place by summer 1922 (from the photo). And, by way of the Brooker and Schmuck remembrances, plus the supporting wire, we can assign with reasonable certainty a 1919 or 1920 construction date. The contextual occurrence of the 1920-1924 mining boomlet, which attracted professional "boomers," including Ed's dad, is also supportive of construction during this period. The building's ongoing roles as post office (Johnny Busia always called it "the post office"), as informal roadhouse (a place where visitors not otherwise accommodated could spread their bedding), and as community meeting place lends substantive significance to "the Roadhouse."
Ed Brooker's life spans the revolution from 19th Century to 21st. In his reflections on those long-ago days at Kantishna he wrote a simple profundity that riveted this writer: "One thought in this account is that, never again, will children be born and grow in an environment without cars and airplanes, but rather with horses, dogs and their own two feet."
Last Updated: 04-Jan-2004