Saturday, March 5, 2016

Old Timers On Stowe Creek, 1901-1981.

    The History Channel here in Canada, and National Geographic in the states has been airing the new Yukon Gold series this past month, and my site gets hit-on pretty regular by arm-chair gold-diggers out there searching the series on the Internet. As I have posted about before, decades ago, my partner and I had Stowe and many other tributaries in the area staked-up, and watching Chris and Nika mining the old claims after all these years just cracks me up, and like I did so many years back, they probably wonder about them old-timers that were out there before them.

Discovered 1901.
   A handful of brave men ventured out of the Klondike into the Montana Ck. country south of the Indian River, into land that at the time was marked on maps as 'un-explored'.
A discovery claim was staked in the Spring of 1901, and the creek was named by prospector A.F Stowe. In August that year Danial Steers staked claim #6 above discovery on Stowe, and a few hours later staked another on Conglomerate Ck., a tributary on upper Stowe that cuts through a strata of conglomerate. Mining regulations at the time stipulated a miner could hold only one claim on a 'main' creek, and I know at the fork of Stowe and Conglomerate it is difficult to decide which could be the main creek. Carl Lund prospected the creek that November of 1901, and noticing Mr. Steers possible transgression, re-staked his claim on Conglomerate.

Things get litigious...
   A heated creek side argument spilled over into in a Dawson City courthouse the next year.
Steers vs. Lund, as reported in a 1902 edition of The Yukon Sun. Other claim-holders on the creek, prospectors Stowe, Donahue, Ackesson, McConnell and Walker served as witnesses, and a mining consultant had been sent out to have a look.
  An original decision was reversed and it was agreed Conglomerate was the main creek, as at the time it was deemed to have the greater flow of water, and Stowe being the tributary, or in miners lingo, the 'pup', and the claim was awarded to Mr. Lund.
The creek was re-named Conglomerate but sometime over the years reverted back to Stowe Creek on maps. I never considered Conglomerate anything more than a 'pup', so I suppose just like these days, it might pay to have the better lawyer.
   A.F. Stowe disappeared from the Dawson City registry after 1902, about time news of the gold discoveries north of Fairbanks reached Dawson. He and the others appeared to have dropped what they were doing and gone to the new strike in Alaska. Stowe's name appears here and there in the Fairbanks News for the next decade on the hotel guest-lists while in town on business, or articles regarding his involvement in various mining properties in the Tanana region. In the Winter of 1913-1914 he made a significant discovery on Redmond Creek.
   A bit of a writer old Stowe it seems,  and as late as 1921 was known to send long, humorous letters to the editor of the Fairbanks newspaper. He retired to a cabin in the Broad Pass region of Alaska, regarded as a true 'old-timer' by the gold mining community.

Re-discovered 1979.
   Eighty years after Stowe walked away from his Yukon gold prospect, when us characters circled around in the helicopter, chatting over the intercom, then hovered in and landed, time had taken over his old creek.  We found little had been done by the old-timers beyond burning down exploratory shafts, with moss covered rock-piles here and there along the narrow valley, and the odd collapsed-in remains of temporary habitation.

Old cabin.
June 1980, before I became an old-timer. There was an inscription in pencil on the inside of the door, I recall it read, 'Buck and Gertrude 1901'.  I would love to have that old door now.

Old workings.
Cousin Rod Watt at surface-cribbing from an old shaft. Signs of old-timer activity was visible from the air if you looked hard, and what first brought us down into Stowe.

Montana Creek Roadhouse.
   In 1902 the original route of the winter trail between Whitehorse and Dawson City was completed, a stage over the 330 mile route when paddle-wheelers were unable to run the Yukon due to ice.
   This was the remains (1980) of the road-house located on Montana Creek at the mouth of Steele Creek where they would change horses and maybe over-night, and it would be another day or so of cold traveling to Dawson City from there. The Winter trail crossed the mouth of Stowe Creek several miles from the road-house, any prospectors spending the Winter up Stowe burning-down shafts would have come here for mail or conversation, or maybe a lift to town. 

In our youthful optimism we staked Mr. Stowe's old discovery into a 3-mile gold exploration lease in '79. There were no roads into the country at the time, the only way in was the hard way, unless you did your hiking with a helicopter. We preferred the latter method when possible.
 The following season we converted the exploration lease into 26 placer claims, and a half dozen more were added from the mouth up. With plans for a future small-scale mine and a proposed camp at Hidden Treasure Ck, the elevated gravels between Stowe and Bismark Ck were staked into bench claims, we thought it might make a good future air-strip for servicing the camp by fixed-wing aircraft.

Base-lines were cut, and some light-cat work and prospecting was done that first year.
The fork of Stowe (L) and Conglomerate Ck.(R)

 We flew in a small test-box to go through the old-timer's dump-piles, set-up here next to an old shaft beside our #2 post on claim 6.

At the end of the season we trucked out fuel, supplies and materials for the next season's sampling program, then flew it all into Stowe from the nearest road access.

'The Contraption', Indian River, Mar. 81
This old cable-tool drill-rig was located in the junk-pile out back of a water-well drilling outfit in southern BC, resurrected from the bone-yard once more, mounted on a Bombardier track-machine and trucked to Yukon, then walked way the hell out there the next season, to prove-up (or not) our holdings.

Setting up on Stowe for the first test-hole, pretty exciting.

The 6" pipe (casing) with a 7.5" bit or 'shoe',  was driven into the ground several feet at a time, and brought the core of frozen gravel up to the surface, and then warmed with a tiger-torch releasing the sample. The old-timers would have worked for months burning down with fire to reach bed-rock.
Some mornings where downright frosty, and it took a bit of coaxing to crank things up.

 Checking a sample off bed-rock.

From a handful of gravel thawed beside the fire, the first gold to come out of Stowe Ck. in 80 years.

Smart dog
My better half at the time Fang (Wild Fang Of The Yukon) would sit in the cab of the carrier next to the engine to stay warm.

Not all fun and games...

Lots of moving parts and high wear items, plenty of maintenance and welding skills required.
 And don't forget to grease that top pulley!

Making full use of the short Winter days.

The local wolves came around after dark, interested in the activity.

The things a guy does when he's young, and has his whole life ahead of him...
Me with a toe-hold on the top pulley, Cousin Rod at the controls of the Hughes.

   When things went as planned, which managed to happen now and again, we could figure on banging down a hole in the permafrost to bedrock a day. We'd pound holes in a line across the valley bottom as we went, rim to rim, bagging and recording the samples of frozen gravel. But with all those moving parts and variables of the project itself, some days were good for a some bad language.
   The 'thousand dollar pry-bar' comes to mind, the day I raised the drill-stem and my helper accidentally dropped my favorite pry-bar down a drill-hole at about mid-point Stowe. The steel bar slipped from his hand and dropped 27 feet, landing cock-eyed at the bottom of a frozen 6" hole that we had just pounded down with no little amount of determination and expense. I tried everything I could think of to fish it out, then lowered the tools back into the hole in an attempt to drive the bit through. I had to abandon the hole several feet short of bed-rock, where the most valuable sample would be, hopefully, and ended up needing to move the whole operation a few feet and start all over.

Home on the range. 

The local bears came around when they felt like it, interested in the activity.

Stowe in style.

'The Stowe Creek Gentleman's Club.'
We were getting pretty civilized when we skidded out the new accommodation.

    A rough road had been bulldozed down from the Eureka Dome as far as the other side of Montana Ck., just across from the old road-house. We parked the 4x4 there and back-packed our groceries and parts into Stowe from there. The tote-road saved a whole bundle on helicopter fuel for sure, but hoofing it in from there was a little low on the old fun-meter. It didn't take me long to get a motorcycle shipped up and flown out. What the old-timers would have done for one of these!
We negotiated the various creeks en-route using makeshift log crossings, and it was challenging going everywhere in between, not like there was a beaten trail or anything, especially with supplies or heavy parts, or fuel for the generator.

I don't know what the hell I was thinking, one evening I decided to fore go the narrow log crossing, and attempted to blast across Bismark Ck.

Well that was smart, and cold.
After a bit of a cold swim I hauled the bike out and stood it upside down resting on the handlebars, removed the spark-plug and pumped the water out of the engine, fired it up and carried on to Stowe Ck., hopefully a little smarter from the experience you would think.

Apparently not.
Another bad day on Bismark.
And I got wet and cold and pissed-off all over again.
And yes, it was a bit of a job to get it out of there.

Movin' on.
 We finished the Stowe project a little later in the season than we had figured on, bear-proofed the Stowe Ck. Gentleman's Club, piled the camping gear on top of the D6, and with drill in-tow, moved onto testing other areas.

 The drill unit was later removed from the Bombardier carrier and mounted on a skid with a powerful winch to move it around for a fly-in job over in the Rosebute country. Here we are re-assembling it with aid of a heavy lift machine. I went out early the next year on the snow with the D6 cat and hauled it out of there overland back to the mouth of Stowe Ck.

 The cantankerous old drill-rig, or The Contraption as I liked to call it on good days, served us pretty well I have to admit, and was sold off when we were done with it. I forget to whom, but I have often wondered what became of it in the last 35 years.

Klondike legend?   
Well wouldn't you know it, last week I'm sitting at my laptop watching an episode of the Gold Rush series, and my jaw dropped when what do I see on the screen but none other than the Old Contraption itself. Turns out that Beets character ended up with it, using it to test ground in his early days up there, and I'm sure he had plenty of swear days of his own.
    At this point, I wouldn't be too surprised to see my rusty old thousand-dollar pry-bar appear in a future episode of Yukon Gold, some old-timer's junk being sluiced out of the Stowe Ck gravels, and no doubt jamming up Chris and Nika's equipment. 

   We never did develop our Stowe Creek mine, the price of gold took a dive while we were testing it and I spent the next season back mining at Eureka. Eventually the claims lapsed and it wasn't until years later someone began scratching around a bit down on the Montana Ck benches near the mouth of Stowe, and sluicing sections of our proposed old air-strip.

   Ten years ago, a quarter century after all that fun us young-pups had out there, I took about the only real holiday I've had in my life and flew back to Yukon, rented a camper in Whitehorse, and headed straight for familiar surroundings, driving down our old road off the Dome and setting up camp for a few nights not far from where the old Montana Ck Roadhouse use to be, and did that hike into Stowe Ck., for what will probably be, for this old-timer, one last look back.


Helicopter drill move


  1. Great Story!

    Sure is amazing how small the world can be at times.

  2. I found you on search, fun read and thanks for sharing your old photos. I've read quite a lot of your blog, very interesting.
    An Arm-Chair Miner

  3. Thanks Anonymous's, I appreciate you taking the time to leave a note...means a lot. :)

  4. Fascinating story, Robin. Came here the long way while looking for info on the August Jacobs hotspring, after visiting T'sek a couple weeks back, stuck around for your very entertaining writing.

    This young guy wishes such shenanigans were still possible, and the Yukon wasn't staked out by ponzi-scheme junior mining groups. ;)

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    Many thanks again for a quality post!

  6. That last comment is obviously spam, but it was so flattering I had to post it.!