When Letha MacLachlan become involved in the Eagle Project at Dublin Gulch a few years ago, little did she know that her great-grandfather had been there a hundred years before her. Dugald MacLachlan is the man with white beard in the foreground. (Submitted/Gates collection)

History Hunter: There was more than gold in them thar hills

With placer production and the general population of the Yukon both declining a decade after the Klondike gold rush, more attention was paid to the hard rock opportunities that might be found. R.G. McConnell of the Geological Survey of Canada noted that plenty of quartz claims had been staked, but the paying veins of minerals in the Yukon were few and far between.

On February 12, 1912, the Yukon Miners’ Association appealed to the federal government to assist in the development of lode mining. The Geological Survey responded.

A mining engineer, Thomas Archibald MacLean, of Nova Scotia, was hired by the Geological Survey to visit the Yukon and report on the quality and distribution of mineral prospects in the region. MacLean hired his father-in-law, Dugald MacLachlan to accompany him to the Yukon because of his “experience in prospecting, sampling and milling in Nova Scotia gold mines.

On August, 21, 1912, the MacLean party boarded the Steamer Vidette in Dawson City and were transported to Mayo, where they arrived three days later. They set out immediately for Dublin Gulch.

The first ten miles of road to Dublin Gulch were over a good wagon road as far as Minto Bridge, followed by another ten miles of rough wagon road to Lookout Cabin, at the foot of Mount Haldane. Beyond that, the trail passed through muskeg and marsh, and was only passable during the summer months, by pack horse. “It will thus be seen,” reported MacLean, “that the prospectors at Dublin gulch are labouring under a severe handicap through lack of a good road for ingress and egress.” The problem would persist for decades.

For eight days, they explored various Dublin Gulch mining properties, including the Stewart and Catto group, the Olive, the Blue Lead, and the Eagle groups. MacLean compared the results of his work on Dublin Gulch, with findings at the Lone Star deposit, on Victoria Gulch near Dawson City, concluding that the Dublin ore would have to contain at least twice the amount of gold to make mining viable. Three reasons were cited for this: the nature of the deposits, the distance and difficulty of access, and the greater cost of recovery.

MacLean concluded, hopefully, that though the current values of the samples assayed fell below the level that would permit economic mining of the properties, “…there is a strong possibility that further development, accompanied by more detailed work … might result in establishing beyond reasonable doubt, the existence of one or two good mines.”

Having concluded their examination of the Dublin Gulch prospect, MacLean and MacLachlan returned to Mayo and paddled down the Stewart River in a canoe to the Yukon River and Dawson City, which they reached on September 13, 1912.

Harry McWhorter, an American prospector who had staked claims on Dublin Gulch in earlier days, had moved on to Alaska, but returned to the Yukon in 1912 where, in the fall of the year, he and a partner took a lay on the “Midas” and “Ophir” claims on Dublin Gulch. In February, 1913, McWhorter purchased the “Midas” claim from Frank Carscallen for $50,000 ($5,000 down payment), and then the two prospectors worked their way up the McQuesten River valley to a property on what later became known as Galena Creek.

This claim had been abandoned by J. A. Davidson some years before, and samples given to McWhorter from this property assayed at 300 ounces of silver to the ton, but McWhorter was looking for gold and paid no heed to it at the time.

They arrived at the abandoned property and McWhorter restaked it as the “Silver King.” In the spring of 1913, he gave two men, Jack Alverson and Grant Huffman, a 100% lay on the claim in exchange for building a cabin on the property and doing some development work. Within a year, they had stockpiled 60 tons of ore, which yielded nearly $16,000, it caused a staking rush and soon forty men were locating claims in this area.

Alverson and Huffman were so successful with their work in the “Silver King” that McWhorter cancelled his lease arrangement with them. Two years later, Thomas Aitken purchased the “Silver King” from McWhorter for $75,000, and high graded the property. By the time he was finished, Aitken had earned nearly a half million dollars, and for the next half century, mines in this vicinity continued to yield high grade silver ore and drive the regional economy.

By 1914, there were men prospecting and mining in all of the creeks and tributaries of the Mayo district. Mining activity on Dublin Gulch continued on the major groupings of claims, including the Stewart and Catto property, the adjacent “Olive” claim, and Frank Carscallen’s “Midas” claim. B.C. Sprague’s “Blue Lead” was showing promise, and his Eagle group yielded samples from $16 to $27 per ton.

A Dawson Daily News editorial acknowledged the increasing mineral development around Mayo and optimistically forecast a stable future for mining. The town of Mayo started to grow; river traffic had increased to the point where there were regular weekly steamer trips between Dawson City and Mayo, and during the winter months, there was bi-monthly stage service between Dawson and Minto Bridge.

During the First World War, many men were drawn away to fight in the Canadian Expeditionary Force overseas. Meanwhile, Dublin Gulch continued to be a promising mining location during the years of conflict. In 1915, all the miners working there seemed to be highly optimistic that Dublin Gulch would become a great quartz camp. After examining the area, Dr. Cairnes of the Geological Survey of Canada “reported considerable scheelite tungsten on Dublin gulch, and said the proposition looked promising.”

To the placer miners, scheelite was nothing more than a nuisance, and no further interest was shown to the mineral until 1912, when another geologist from the Geological Survey encouraged the miners to save this light coloured by-product. They subsequently started putting this mineral aside at the rate of 182 kg per week.

Scheelite had strategic importance to the war effort and interest in the region grew as a result. Dr. Alfred Thompson, the Yukon’s Member of Parliament lobbied hard, without success, to get a government purchasing agent located in Dawson to buy Tungsten ore for the war effort.

Yet the die-hard prospectors of Dublin Gulch persisted. By 1921, Bobby Fisher and Jack Stewart, the most industrious of all Dublin Gulch miners, continued to tunnel, and remained abundantly confident of the future of the property.

But interest in Dublin Gulch was eclipsed by new discoveries farther up the McQuesten valley. It would be another century before the potential of this area would be realized with the completion of Victoria Gold’s Eagle gold mine.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His book, From the Klondike to Berlin, was shortlisted for a national book award. You can contact him at msgates@northwestel.net

History Hunter