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   Chapter 11 BURIED WEALTH

The Land of Tomorrow By William B. Stephenson Characters: 13938

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

IT is not the purpose of such a book as this to go into detail in regard to the gold and the other minerals which lie hidden in the heart of Alaska. There are many volumes dealing with the gold fields and with mines and mining which contain such definite information along those lines as the student may seek. But to those who knew Alaska both before and after the great stampede of 1898 the change of scene in the locality offers food for thought. In the great Interior, where once man alone, with only his pick and shovel, coaxed from Mother Earth in small quantities the precious yellow metal, huge monsters with an endless chain of buckets now swoop down, dig up sand and gravel by the ton and search every ounce of it for gold. One may now take a motor car and ride out to the spots where in the early days bewildering fortunes were made in a short space of time,-fortunes which in many cases were spent as fast as they were made. A well-known missionary of the Episcopal Church relates that one day during his travels he met a man freighting with dogs along the Koyakuk River. He learned while stopping at the camp that night that in the palmy days of the gold rush this man had offered a dance-hall girl her weight in gold dust if she would marry him. She refused. But she told him she would get his dust anyway. And she did!

Twenty years have gone by since the madness at Dawson, Nome, and the other gold centers was at its height. The true story of the stampede to Klondike has never been written. Perhaps it never will be. It was unique,-not so much in the number who flocked to the gold fields. Of those who went between 1897 and 1900 thirty thousand is an elastic estimate. Far greater was the multitude which flooded California during the wild rush of '49. Eighty thousand in one year! Five thousand ships, deserted by both owners and crews, tossed idly in San Francisco Bay. Three years later there was a much larger migration to Australia. A hundred thousand gold seekers entered the port of Melbourne in 1852! But the Klondike stampede is without a parallel in history because of the conditions to be confronted. Never before had a gold region been so inaccessible, so remote. Never before had such masses of men flung themselves against an Arctic wilderness, determined to do or die! The result was only what was to be expected. The physically unfit perished. Only the hardy survived. Hundreds of men, fresh from offices and shops, came, bringing their city-bred habits and customs. They found them of no value in this land where Nature, in her fiercest and most savage mood, awaited them. They died,-died in almost every conceivable manner. They perished of exhaustion, of starvation, of disease. They were the victims of their own ignorance and lack of experience. They were drowned. They were smothered in snow-slides. Only the fittest held out. These, making long journeys up and down the frozen rivers, through dense forests and over rough mountains, ofttimes pulling their own sleds,-these have left no record of those tragic days for the world to read!

The Matanuska coal fields are the richest in the world, not excepting the rich mines of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky. They lie in ninety square miles of territory. The vein is fourteen feet and bears the highest grade of coking coal,-the only coal except that to be found in Virginia which is fit for the use of the Navy. It is estimated that this coal can be mined and shipped to San Francisco at a cost of four dollars a ton, that if it should be sold at retail at six dollars a ton, the price would be nine dollars cheaper than the present price of coal in Los Angeles! In my judgment this solves the coal question, both as to its use for domestic purposes and in time of war as well. The new government railroad leads directly into the Matanuska coal fields.

As far as the mineral deposits,-the gold, copper, tin, etc.,-are concerned one may truthfully say that they have not yet been touched, although the yearly output is more than thirty-two million dollars. The richest mines are not the gold mines. They are the copper mines. Last year (1917) the Kennicott copper mines produced the largest per cent of the thirty-two million. And the copper production doubles in value the entire production of gold. Since the purchase of Alaska the country has produced in excess of five hundred million dollars,-a country which was bought for seven million two hundred and fifty thousand! Alaska was Uncle Sam's best bargain.

Harry Olsen, a member of Stefanson's latest expedition, asserts that fabulous deposits of native copper were seen by them on Bank's Island, about six hundred miles north of Great Bear Lake. The Eskimos use copper for everything for which any kind of metal is used and because it is so plentiful and so easy to obtain they think it of no value.

In 1913 I was going from Nome to Siberia on the S. S. Victoria. Among the passengers were Dr. and Mrs. Anderson and several members of Stefanson's party. We put them off into their own boats in the Roadstead, outside of Nome. The expedition was wrecked just after leaving Diomede Islands and the party lost for a year. Amundsen, when he returned through the Northwest Passage, reported having seen a tribe of blond Eskimos. Stefanson was on his way to verify that report. Later a second expedition was fitted out and the report substantiated.

There are many famous placer gold mines,-at Nome, at Dawson, and at the other localities in the Yukon. Two of the largest quartz mines in the world are at Juneau,-the Alaska Juneau and the Alaska Gastineau. Each plant handles from eight to ten thousand tons of ore a day. The Juneau mines had produced sixty-two millions of dollars' worth of ore when the ocean broke through and flooded the works. Two-thirds of the property was ruined. But the remaining third, now enclosed by a huge concrete dam, is still producing. The famous Treadwell mines are on Douglas Island and have recently had a similar experience. About a year ago they also were flooded and sustained a serious loss.





I have already said that it is not my purpose to go into detail in regard to the mines and the other industries of the North. I wish only to reveal the opportunities which lie waiting for him who is alert for business chances. When the new railroad is completed any able-bodied man who has energy, initiative and ambition can get into the interior of this rich country at little expense. And if it were generally known how many hundred prospectors are laying their plans to be there during this present year (1918) the laggard would bestir himself! It can not be long until all the industries of Alaska will be opened up upon a l

arge scale. The climate, while severe at times, need not deter any well man or woman from going. People here dress for the weather. Real suffering from cold is seldom known. Nobody has "bad colds" in Alaska. The cold is dry and invigorating. Nowhere on earth will one find men and women of such perfect health. Nowhere will one see sturdier, healthier, more rosy-cheeked children. Moreover, novelists and playwrights to the contrary, the living and working conditions here are governed by the very same principles and laws as those of other lands. Any man or woman can get on in Alaska just as long as he or she is "on the square." Otherwise either of them, in my judgment, will, in time, come to grief anywhere.

As was the case with the railroads, the government was up against the proposition of government ownership or private monopoly in regard to the rich coal fields of Alaska. When their value was discovered, capitalists and entry men with speculative tendencies swooped down upon the coal treasures of the country, horse, foot and dragoon. For a time it seemed that the entire potential wealth of the land was to have the usual fate,-that of being brought under monopolistic control.

The United States Government has ill repaid Theodore Roosevelt for much that he has done. But Alaskans will not forget and the United States will one day realize what he did for them in this particular instance. When he saw what was about to happen, with his characteristic method of doing things first and asking permission afterward, he withdrew every acre of coal-bearing land in Alaska from entry! This was nearly fifteen years ago. Alaska sat helpless and gnashed her teeth while legislation fought with politics and speculation wrestled with finance.

Being able to see the absurdity which never fails to appear in such crises and to laugh at it has saved many a man from losing his chances of going to Heaven! One day in 1913 I chanced to be at Dutch Harbor where the battleship Maryland was coaling. Had the Maryland carried a gun such as the German one which fired on Paris on Good Friday of the present year she might have fired a volley which could have landed squarely in the Matanuska coal fields! There was nothing funny in the situation to an Alaskan, of course, but I was moved to unseemly mirth when I saw that Pocahontas coal from Virginia going into her bunkers! We in Alaska (miserere!) were importing coal for our own use from Washington, California and-Australia!

Now, however, Alaska has her reward. The Secretary of the Interior has re-opened the coal fields for entry. But permission is given only to lease the coal tracts. Before this book appears the first Alaskan coal will be helping to fill the bunkers, not only of Alaska herself but of the Pacific coast as well.

There is one noticeable thing about the conditions imposed upon the lessees of the coal fields by Secretary Lane and it is a point upon which both the prospective lessee and employee should be informed. These conditions provide for the safeguarding of the lives and welfare of the miners. No operator may mine coal at minimum cost without regard for the safety of his men. The rules are explicit. The lease requires him to "leave ample support for the roof of the drifts and stopes, to provide adequate ventilation, special exits, to guard against explosion, flooding, 'squeezes' and fire." The protection of the workman goes even further than this. No firm, or individual, operating in government land, may work the miners longer than eight hours a day. They must agree to pay them twice a month in cash. The forced buying at stores owned by the company is strictly prohibited. The operators, at the request of a majority of the miners, must grant one of their number, chosen by vote, permission to check and weigh the coal in cases where the miners' pay is based upon their output.

Wise provisions these! The stormy and bloody history of the Colorado fields is to have no repetition here if the foresight and the good judgment of the Department of the Interior can prevent it. All these things lend to the desirability of employment in Alaska. There are only two spots in the country where the coal lands are in possession of individuals or of private companies. Every other inch of it belongs to the government. And it will keep on belonging to it! The Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Franklin K. Lane, is the largest operating landlord in the world. While you may not buy coal land in Alaska you may lease it-for not more than fifty years. For each ton mined you pay a royalty to the government. You may then ship your coal in a government coal-car! One can see how easy it will be for a lessee to make money in coal in Alaska. All he has to do is to dig! No speculating in coal lands! No shifting and juggling of stocks and bonds of coal-carrying railroads! So far as the coal fields and mining in Alaska are concerned neither money, politics nor influence will avail to change the situation one jot or one tittle! Amen! Hallelujah!! Waltz me around again, Willie!!!

With farm and mineral lands, however, it is different. These may pass into the hands of private companies or individuals just as soon as the latter can qualify to meet the conditions. We who know the country can realize as outsiders can not what the railroad will mean to Alaska. One may take a boat at the mouth of the Yukon, traveling westward to southward, thence up the Tanana until he reaches Fairbanks which is within a hundred miles of the Arctic Circle. Here the new railroad will have its northern terminus. One may then take the train back to Seward, riding through the great gold country-a section the wealth of which is uncomputed-then on through the enormous coal fields, past farms laden with crops, finding himself, when the end of the journey is reached, at Seward, the terminus on the Peninsula, after a journey (not including the water voyage) of four hundred and fifty miles.

In proportion as commerce and industry grow opportunities for labor will increase. The omnipresent automobile will bring with it the necessity for the garage, the repair shop, the chauffeur, the mechanician. The railroad terminals mean new towns and new towns mean business houses. Wherever there is a road in process of construction there is always a chance for women. The workmen must be fed and provided with sleeping quarters. Boarding houses, laundries, etc., are indispensable. But--. I should not be honest either with myself or with my readers if I did not here utter one word of warning. No woman need be afraid to go to Alaska, but both men and women should go wisely and in full understanding of conditions there. Both must be equipped to meet those conditions. The first is the promise, oral or written, of a job before going! The other is the means to return home at any time. No one should go to Alaska without having first provided for one or both of these conditions.

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