“These guests want to go to the gold mines. We’ll be at the mines and Chicken Creek, I think for the whole trip. They have gold fever. If they decide on some fishing, we can just head over to the lakes.”
Copper mining inspired some of the early prospectors to travel to what is now the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, but it was the discovery of gold in Chisana (pronounced Shoo-shana) that began the last great gold rush in Alaska.
America’s last great historic gold rush was how many term the brief boom and excitement of the discovery made by Four-Nels Nelson, Billy James, Matilda Wales and Fred Best along with the Alaska Native nicknamed Shushanna Joe in May of 1913.
The Chisana Gold Rush brought a stampede of between 8,000 and 10, 000 people to the area which gave it the honor of being the largest log cabin town in the State of Alaska.
By 1916 the last historic gold rush was already fading and by an account from Milton Medary, a hunter who visited the old gold rush town in 1924 described it as “452 cabins in which one man lives alone.”
Pioneer Outfitters was founded in 1924. Chisana is hidden deep within the Wrangell Mountains and is only accessible by air. The artifacts and flumes, remains of an era gone by are locked in this land for ever.
On the Chisana Gold Rush Adventure, we will pan and dredge for gold in the cold glacial creeks. We will show you what remains of the last Historic Gold Rush.
Alaskan Sourdough Jim, a lifetime gold miner of Chisana, will show us how gold was found, how you will find it, the science and pure luck that had equal influence on the prospectors more than a century before.
When I spent my first week up at the mines, years ago, it was an experience that changed the way I thought about everything I had learned and experienced since coming to Alaska.
The first time you watch gold appear in your pan, that you are holding with fingers you cannot feel, it isn’t a surprise as much as recognition. The knowing.
Laying on your stomach for hours picking at a crevice in the rock with tweezers, seeing for the first time, each time, a solitary chunk of gold, just sitting there, not a flake, but an actual piece of gold. Then another, and another. The understanding.
Exploring the old Shushanna whore house, seeing the pieces of what would have been luxuries in the tea cups and the remains of the wall paper that had been glued to the interior logs, the divided rooms, for privacy instead of the bigger and fewer (usually only 1-2) rooms with multi uses as most cabins were made.
The history is there, a tea cup, broken now, sitting on a rough-slab table, a buckled, high heeled shoe laying in the corner of what had to have been a closet. You can see what remains of the fabric, used as a curtain and the scraps still clinging to the log walls, of what was surely an attempt at wall paper.
It is an amazing Adventure. One that fills your soul with the knowledge that you came, at some point, from those dreamers, those frightfully brave people that crossed glaciers, rivers and wilderness for the chance at something more.
There has always been “more” here in Chisana. More feeling, more freedom. More space, more need. For me. For you.