Funter Bay History: The Old Man’s Draft

December 8, 2015

During WWII, the government required all males age 18-64 to register for the draft. Registrations were conducted in several rounds, the fourth of which was for those age 45-64, often referred to  as  “The Old Man’s Draft”. Registrants of this age group were not expected to serve in the military, but to be on hand in case their labor or skills were needed for the war effort.


Even small communities had a draft registrar, and in fact Funter Bay had two. Postmaster Harold Hargrave handled registrations for local fishermen and miners, while Pribilof Island internees were registered by Lee McMillan, a Fish & Wildlife Service employee. Registration for the 4th round was begun in April of 1942, Funter Bay registrations seem to have occurred between May and September. I have found records for 29 individuals registered at Funter (again, these were only men age 45-64).

I’ve typed up the records from these draft cards below. The name in parentheses is the person listed as “Person who will always know your address”, if there is no last name in parentheses it is the same as the man listed in that record. If the card is noted “Deceased” or similar, I have also noted that after the names. Spelling of some of the place names is taken from the cards and is not always correct or consistent. The date of birth listed on the cards may not be 100% accurate, as people did not always recall their exact age. The last line of each record is the employer or business listed on the card.

Draft registrants at Funter Bay for the 1942 Old Man’s Draft were:

Peter Bourdukofsky (Alexandra) -Deceased
Born 11/22/1879, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

John Fratis (Anfesa Galaktinonoff)
Born 6/18/1886, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Alexander Galanin (Mary) -Deceased
Born 9/11/1885, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

John Hanson (Frances Emanoff)
Born 4/7/1896, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Nekita Hapoff (Prascodia) -Deceased 9/6/43
Born 9/27/1888, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

John A Harold (Douglas Ainsworth)
Born Nov 29, 1877, “Calumete Michigan”
Fisherman – Funter Alaska

Ernest Samuel James (H.J. Hargrave)
Born May 3, 1896, Eureka California
Fisherman – Funter Alaska

John Irwin Lee (H.J. Hargrave)
Born March 7, 1880, Brown County So. Dakota
Fisherman – Funter Alaska

Walter Kashevarof (Helena)
Born 7/3/1887, Belkofsky Alaska
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Theodore Kochutin (Maria)
Born 11/1/1888, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Condrat Krukoff (Vassa)
Born 3/27/1890, Pribiliof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Theodore Kulchitzky (Nicolai Merculieff)
Born 1/22/1885, Sevoroye, Russia
Priest of Russian Church, Funter (St. George Native Community)

Anatoly Lekanof (Agnes)
Born 4/15/1890, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Serge Lekanof (Sophia)
Born 10/6/1891, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Nekifer Mandregan (Alexandra)
Born 2/18/1896, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Nicolai Merculief (Angelina)
Born 5/18/1880, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Stefan Merculief (Agrippina)
Born 9/27/1890, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

John Merculief (Mouza)
Born 1/19/1890, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Paul Merculieff (Alexandra)
Born 3/11/1890, Pribilof Island
F&WS Evacuation Camp

John Misikin (Natalia)
Born 9/28/1889, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Isidor Nederazof (Alexandra)
Born 2/5/1891, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Paul Nozekof (Mary)
Born 7/11/1896
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Neil Oustigoff (Mary)
Born 9/30/1890, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Vlass Pankoff (Moisey Shabolin) -Deceased
Born 2/22/1888, Pribilof Island
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Radoica Lazov Pekovich (W.S.)
Born ?/?/1881, Montenegro
W.S. Pekovich, Funter Alaska

Leonty Philemonof (Eoff)
Born 5/6/1894, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Vasilii Stepetin (Marva)
Born 2/8/1893, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Paul Swetzof (Julia)
Born 6/8/1892, Pribiloff Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp

Zachar Tetoff (Daria)
Born 5/21/1879, Pribilof Islands
F&WS Evacuation Camp


Funter Bay History: Helen Antonova, Mining Engineer

May 28, 2015

One of the first women to graduate with a degree in Mine Engineering, Helen Anatolievna Antonova arrived at Funter Bay in the fall of 1929. Born in Russia in 1904, Antonova traveled through China and Japan with her mother before moving to the United States. Her early life was spent in Siberian mining towns, and despite early work in theater, she always dreamed of becoming a mining engineer. She enrolled in the University of Washington’s College of Mines, the only woman to do so at the time (though not the first in the US).


University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Tyee 1928, pg 57. Courtesy UW Digital Archives.

As a female student in a traditionally male field, Antonova encountered much skepticism from officials and unfriendliness from classmates. She would later experience mistrust from coworkers (and their wives). Despite being told by the dean that no one would hire a woman for mine work, she led a successful career as a mine engineer, working throughout the US. On several occasions she was offered roles in theater and in Hollywood, but preferred surveying and assay work over acting.

After finishing her thesis and graduating in 1928, Antonova found a job with a mining company in Funter Bay. She recalled that the owner initially assumed her to be male, writing that he was surprised an engineer would have a woman’s name. Helen described Funter Bay as a small mining town, but noted that nothing could be purchased there. Despite its small size and remote location, Funter was home to a fellow female UW alumni. May Sophia Otteson (Tubbs) was a graduate of the class of 1916 and daughter of Charles and Mary Otteson, who ran another mine close to the one which employed Helen.

Conditions at Funter were spartan, a house was provided for Helen and her mother but was poorly insulated and had almost no supplies. The mine owner’s wife suggested they bring their own wood-burning stove with them. Groceries and goods were brought out on the weekly steamer from Juneau. Some medical care was available from a nurse living at the nearby cannery. Running water and electricity came from a waterfall, and stopped working during the winter. Helen took these conditions in stride, sometimes standing in icy water while surveying. The mine was reportedly very happy with Antonova’s work, and begged her to return after she moved back to Washington state.

Helen eventually married a Russian miner from Juneau (She mentioned that many Russian miners worked in Alaska, some sneaking over from Siberia illegally in rowboats). Her new husband became jealous of Helen’s superior position and income, and demanded they move back to Washington so he could pursue a degree of his own. She divorced him after his attitude and anger grew worse.

After moving back to the Lower 48, Helen held various jobs at mining and refining companies. She later married Nicholas All from New York (Her last name is sometimes listed as Antonovall). Helen Antonova All was interviewd in 1978 by author Joan Dufault, whose book Vintage: The Bold Survivors! contains more details of her life and experiences.

Funter Bay History: A 1906 Visit

April 23, 2015

An article in the January, 1906 issue of Recreation magazine describes a visit to Funter Bay. Mining Engineer Waverley Keeling penned the piece, entitled “From the Delaware to Alaska” from a bunkhouse in Funter Bay. He describes it as a business stop at “a quartz mine”, but mentions that his party would also “shoot some of the thousands of ducks and a few deer, dig clams at low tide, and catch halibut at any tide”.


From Keeling, Waverley; “From the Delaware to Alaska”; Recreation, vol 24, No 1, January 1906.

The photo from Funter Bay accompanying the text appears to show Coot Cove. The photographer was on the Western shore looking towards the area which would later be home to the cannery’s scow slipways.

Keeling describes his lodgings as a boarding house “near the shore of a beautiful little harbor called Funter Bay, and just back of us are the peaks of Snow Mountains some 4,000 feet high” (The mountain was not yet named for Robert Barron). He wrote from the combined kitchen and dining table, by the light of a large swinging lamp and tallow candle stuck in a beer bottle, sitting on “the hardest spruce-board stool that man ever constructed”. The group of six had purchased mining properties around Lake Atlin, BC, and had stopped in Funter as a side trip on the way North. They sailed to Funter on the “big Columbia River sailboat of that famous southeast Alaskan, Windy Bill”.

While Keeling notes the beauty and abundant wildlife of Funter Bay, he also comments on the downsides; “there is no particular season of the year when it doesn’t rain. The thermometer at Funter Bay since we came has been up to 40, and the rain which descended that day was as unmistakably an outpouring of ‘settled cloudiness’ as anything I have ever seen or felt in Pennsylvania”.

Funter Bay History: Dano Mine Part II

February 23, 2015

I recently acquired some photos that I believe are related to the Alaska-Dano Mine at Funter Bay, circa 1920. These needed a bit of detective work to place.

The first photo, taken at high tide, shows several buildings, a boat moored to a piling, and another boat full of people being rowed nearby.


Identifying this photo required some additional research into the Alaska-Dano Mining Co’s surveys, specifically US Mineral Survey No 1513. While the near-shore buildings are not shown on the survey plat, they are described in the text of the document as improvements to the property.

Dano Improvements

The directions in the survey are given in the 90-degree compass heading format used by surveyors, which allows the measurements to be plotted on a map. This results in roughly the layout seen below. Orange squares are buildings, with the two-story bunkhouse in the center and the two log cabins at the sides. The 4th log cabin mentioned was farther up the mountain.

Dano survey

Both of the frame structures in the photo seem to be built directly on tree stumps, a cheap and easy (if not long-lasting) foundation. The smaller frame building in front of the bunkhouse does not appear on the survey, so it may not have existed at the time (built later, or burned down prior). I would guess this to be a tool storage or workshop building. The smaller structure farther to the right is likely an outhouse, and the white structures behind the bunkhouse could be wall tents.

A two-story bunkhouse such as this indicates more than a few workers, structures of similar size at other mines housed a dozen or more men. (A photo from Katalla shows what the inside of an Alaskan bunkhouse might look like). A kitchen was sometimes located in the bunkhouse, although separate mess tents were also common to reduce fire hazards. Mine camps also usually had a blacksmith shop, an assay office where drill cores and samples were evaluated, and sometimes separate cabins for the owners or management. Stables for any horses or mules might also be found nearby.

Despite the different number of structures shown on the survey, I believe the photo matches the Dano Mine’s camp pretty closely. In addition to the two-story bunkhouse, the rise of land (tree tops) in the background matches the rise behind and to the right of the surveyed location.  Towards the top of this rise are found shafts and artifacts from the Dano Mine, and farther back is the first tunnel (seen collapsed in my earlier post), likely the “Little Pete” tunnel. The shoreline is fairly generic, but would match this location at high tide. Additionally, a slightly earlier and more distant view of the Dano Mine’s shore camp seems to show a large structure in approximately the right place to be the bunkhouse. The other frame structure did not seem to exist yet when this photo was taken (1919). A smear of light-colored material to the right is likely mine tailings from the tunnel and shafts.


Below is another map of the Dano claims (rectangles) with some of the tunnels labeled. The curving lines are streams.

Dano map

The next historic photo appears to be farther back from the beach, towards the Alaska Dano’s other tunnels near the base of the mountain.


This photo is not at any of the mine workings, so the people could be on a trail to the mine or on a hunting trip. They seem to be standing in a muskeg meadow with some swampy water in front of them, looking towards a nearby ridge with a mountain stream in the background and a round hill between. Identifying the exact location required a little more photo analysis. Below are some crops from a 1982 infrared aerial photo of Funter Bay, which helps to identify some of the terrain features in the older photo. This is a best guess based on my knowledge of the area and interpretation of the photo.


1982 CIR aerial courtesy of US Geological Survey.


Lastly, this photo seems to be looking North from near the Dano beach camp. The hills in the background seem to match the terrain behind the cannery, which is just barely visible along the far shoreline to the right.


Several men in a rowboat are roping an iceberg, maybe for use in local cold storage rooms or iceboxes. Summer icebergs used to be common sights along the Inside Passage and even in Downtown Juneau, but as the climate warms and glaciers retreat, they are much rarer today.

Unfortunately I don’t have any more information on these photos, such as the name of the photographer(s) or any of the people shown. Its possible some of these are related to a group of Seattle high school students who visited Funter Bay in 1919. If any readers happen to know more, I would love to hear about it!

Funter Bay History: Murder & Mayhem

March 25, 2014

Alaska’s history is filled with shady characters, dastardly deeds, and unsolved mysteries. Almost every town, mining camp, or cannery has its tales of murder, larceny, or swindles of one sort or another. In past installments of Funter Bay History, I’ve mentioned some of the criminal activities which went on in the area, including bootlegging, fish piracy, and other shenanigans. This post covers some more serious crimes, as well as various lesser incidents and shady dealings. Some of these are snippets from newspaper articles which are long on sensationalism and short on fact, multiple sources have been consulted when possible. Unfortunately there is not always follow-up information or detail readily available, so the outcome of some of these cases is not clear.


A murder on August 18th of 1894 reportedly involved two local prospectors. Archie Shelp and George Cleveland were accused of illegally selling whiskey to Natives, resulting in a drunken killing (or perhaps two killings, sources differ). The defendants claimed they were in or near Funter Bay during the supposed events, not at Chilkoot (Haines) where the murder took place. An 1895 article described how “two Indians bit the dust” during a drinking bout with two Swedes, which may or may not refer to the same case. Gus Lundgren, who had been camping at Funter,  testified that the two had been there on August 16th-17th of 1894. The defense claimed that they could not have sailed to Chilkoot in less than three days (from my own sailing experience, I would say it could be done in one long day with favorable winds). The prosecutor pointed out that there was no evidence Shelp and Cleveland were prospecting “with pan and shovel” as they claimed, and instead were “prospecting for the aboriginal native” with keg and tin cup. The two were convicted of illicit alcohol sales, and appealed.


An underground fight between miners at Funter Bay was reported in the Alaska Mining Record on June 10, 1896. William Williamson (Brother of Sandy Williamson) was supposedly attacked by Billy George, aka “Indian Charley”, and had a piece bitten out of his lip. The young Williamson had no experience in drilling and refused to strike double-handed. George, who had a “record as a biter” was upset with this and attacked him. After a 20-minute fight which left hair plastered on the walls of the shaft, the attacker fled. Billy George then gathered up his family and possessions and left in a canoe. (Excerpt in Barry Roderick’s A Preliminary History of Admiralty Island).


A “bloody battle”, and the first killing of an on-duty law enforcement officer in Alaska occurred near Funter Bay in 1897. That January, a “notorious young desperado” named William Thomas “Slim” Birch had been locked in the city jail, convicted of “mayhem”. The charge stemmed from a bar brawl in which Birch had bitten off part of Henry Osborne’s nose and ear. Birch was said to possess a “temper that runs wild” when under the influence of alcohol, frequently landing him in trouble. Despite his temper, “Slim” was a popular fellow in Juneau. He and his brothers had made some money early in the gold rush, partly through mining and perhaps partly through smuggling. They owned the Douglas City Hotel and Cafe, which featured a lively saloon, and had the support of many local miners. The night before Slim was to be shipped South to prison, a group of masked men staged a jailbreak, locking the jailer in his own cell. The group then fled in a sloop to Admiralty Island.

Released a Prisoner

Within weeks an informant reported Birch and co hiding out in a cabin on Bear Creek, 3 miles from the Juneau side of Admiralty Island (About 1-1.5 miles from Funter Bay). A posse consisting of two deputy US Marshals, the jailer, a jail guard, and an “Indian Policeman” set out in pursuit. After a tugboat trip from Juneau, followed by a long and grueling hike through snow and ice, the party reached the cabin. Accounts vary as to what happened next. One story was that Slim snuck out of the cabin and ambushed the deputies from high ground. Others say the fugitives fired through the door as the lawmen knocked on it. Other accounts say the officers found Birch and his accomplices sleeping and fired first.

“He is a desperate man and the deputies knew it, so they began shooting into the cabin, taking great chances on getting their man alive. Birch opened his cabin door and began to shoot with two revolvers” (from San Francisco Call)

While the truth of who fired first was not clear, all accounts show that the posse had the worst of the ensuing shootout. Jail Guard Bayes was hit and ran back towards the beach despite bleeding profusely from both legs. Deputy Marshal William C. Watts attempted to take cover behind a fallen tree but found the rotten wood a poor shield.  Deputy Hale exchanged shots with Slim Birch, then came under fire from the cabin. Struck in the chest as he tried to reach Watts, Hale staggered and fell into a small stream. He managed to pull himself out and make it out of range.  Jailer Lindquist hid behind a tree as it was riddled with bullets, and was hit in the eye by flying bark. The Native policeman, Sam Johnson, was the only one of the posse to remain uninjured. Johnson reportedly saw Birch and three or four other men inside the cabin, firing from “loopholes” between the logs. Watts was reportedly hit several more times during the gunfight. The other lawmen retreated, leaving the injured Watts behind. Hale’s wounds were said to be serious, but he eventually recovered.

After fleeing back to Juneau, the officers gathered a new posse of 20 men, along with a detachment of US Marines. A search party from “the neighboring cannery settlement” also hiked in to the cabin (The Funter cannery did not yet exist, but several others were in the area). Watt’s body was found “frozen stiff in the snow, where his cowardly companions had left him”. Several days searching resulted in nothing but frostbite for the posse members, and additional men came in from Sitka to join the manhunt. An investigation of the cabin found the floor “liberally scattered” with 38-90 and 45-70 rifle shells, and several firing loopholes cut into the logs to fortify the position. Also revealed were 50lbs of hidden gunpowder, thought to be part of a bank robbery scheme. Hiram Schell, one of Birch’s accomplices, had previously been in jail for gold robbery, the tale of which is a ridiculous adventure of its own and also involves a stop at Funter Bay.

The search ended when two cannery employees named Cheney and Olson discovered the heavily-armed Birch and Schell sleeping in dense underbrush. They reportedly had pistols in hand, requiring a stealthy approach to avoid waking them. The two cannery men crept up to a ledge above the fugitives, then leapt down and were able to manacle them after a brief struggle. The captors received a $500 reward for their efforts. The slain Deputy Watts had been a popular and well-known officer in Alaska, and tempers were high on all sides. The prisoners were taken to the Sitka jail for their own safety, as there was fear of encountering a lynch mob in Juneau.

At their trial for murder, Birch and Schell claimed self defense, and the contradictory statements from the lawmen confused jurors. Birch’s brothers and local miners  raised enough money to bring in “prominent” defense attorneys from Seattle. The defendants claimed that the deputies had not announced themselves before shooting, and they were thus responding to an unprovoked attack from unknown assailants. There was debate over the cause of Watt’s death, be it from his wounds, freezing, or both. Birch even claimed that he had been kidnapped from the jail and had not meant to escape in the first place! Eventually the pair were found not guilty of murdering Deputy Marshal Watts, an “outrageous” verdict which horrified the governor of Alaska. None of the other offenders were ever found, although a belt marked “W.H. Phillips” was recovered from the cabin.

Slim did end up serving 3 years at San Quentin for the original mayhem charge. He moved to Prescott, Arizona in 1902 and opened a saloon with his brothers Sidney “Kid” and Robert “Bob” Birch. Slim continued to get into bar brawls, including a 1908 affair in which all three brothers broke up a card shark scheme with flying fists. They also ran afoul of the law with gambling fines and prohibition violations. “Slim” died in 1952.

birch2Selected Sources:

-“Bloody Battle in Alaska; Between Desperadoes and a Marshal’s Posse” The Record-Union (Sacramento), 4 Feb 1897.

-“Capture of Slim Birch” San Francisco Call, 4 February 1897

-Fletcher, Amy. “Whitman shines light on a dark chapter of Alaska history”. Juneau Empire, 27 Oct 2013. (link)

-Hunt, William. “Distant Justice: Policing the Alaskan Frontier”. OK: U of OK Press, 1987.

-Roderick, Barry. “A Preliminary History of Admiralty Island” Douglas, AK, 1982.

-“To Plead for an Alaska Outlaw” San Francisco Call, 28 Feb 1897

-Wilbanks, William. “Forgotten Heroes: Police Officers Killed in Alaska, 1850-1997”. Turner Publishing Co, 1999. (link)


An article in the Juneau Record-Miner from July 11, 1907 had the headline “LOOKS LIKE MURDER”. A man named Herman Smith had disappeared under suspicious circumstances, with “strong indications that foul murder has been done somewhere between Douglas and Funter Bay”. Smith’s boat the “O.K.” ran out of gas at Cordwood Creek on the way to pick up fish, so he borrowed a small boat from Harry Scott at a Funter Bay fishing station. After getting fuel he left Douglas to return to the O.K., but then vanished. The article stated that “An Indian woman claims to have seen him murdered in the vicinity of Cordwood creek”. Reportedly missing were $130 cash and a month’s worth of provisions.


A fugitive from Sitka by the name of Ah-kee was pursued and overtaken at Funter Bay in July of 1909, and brought to court by Deputy Marshal Shoup (Shoup is also mentioned in a previous post).


In November of 1912, a miner named Martin Damourette was arrested and charged with larceny, accused by his mining partner L.C. Wilson. The two had stored equipment at their Funter Bay claim, and Damourette supposedly stole it while Wilson was absent. The court dismissed the criminal case almost immediately. Wilson filed a civil suit, but Damourette “ducked out of town” for Seattle the same night.


Another disappearance occurred at or near Funter Bay in 1915. Robert McGregor was reported missing by crew of the Santa Rita the morning after arriving at Funter Bay. He was a carpenter from Gypsum who had worked at various mines and camps around Alaska. Cannery officials supposed that he wandered off in the dark and became lost, but a search of the area found nothing.


Illicit booze continued to be an issue in the area, especially since it could sometimes be mail-ordered!
mail order beer


In October of 1917, two men named Thorensen and Okerberg were indited for furnishing liquor to Natives at Funter Bay.


In 1922 the body of Oscar “Terrible Swede” Lindberg was found burned to death on the beach at Bear Creek, across the island from Funter Bay. The case is filed under “Murders” in the Bayers notes.


Funter Bay History: Water & Hydropower Part II

December 22, 2013

After previously writing about local water use for industry and power generation at Funter Bay, I came across a few more maps of such projects. The first, below, shows the pipeline from the Thlinket Packing Co cannery to “Nimrod Creek”, near “Pipeline Meadow” (local names). This creek is one of the larger and more reliable water sources convenient to the cannery. The grid lines on the map are old mining claims which have since lapsed. The small pond at the upper right is from a long-existing beaver dam which can still be found today.


The Lake Kathleen project was a 1931 proposal to construct a hydroelectric station, fed by water from a tunnel. Power would be used at Funter Bay for an electric smelter.


Electricity would have been transmitted to Funter Bay over lines strung along the beach for approximately 30 miles. The power line itself was considered relatively trivial once the necessary permits were acquired to use Tongass National Forest land and the tunnel had been dug. The major choke point would have been the crossing of Hawk Inlet, but this was planned to use a sandbar to build poles partway across the water.


The high flow and storage capacity available at Lake Kathleen outweighed the inconvenience of distance. Precedents for such a project included the Chichagof Mine at Klag Bay, as well as various other power projects around Southeast Alaska. Today many communities in Southeast Alaska rely on distant hydroelectric stations. Ultimately the Lake Kathleen project never materialized, either due to a lack of funding or other issues. Today the Greens Creek mine is located at Hawk Inlet much closer to this lake, but uses an underwater power cable from Juneau instead of local sources. Meanwhile, the Lake Kathleen area has been clearcut from the Cube Cove logging camp.

When large single sources of water were not available or practical to tap, another trick was to connect multiple sources with a lateral ditch. This technique was widely used throughout Alaska, from Nome to Fairbanks to Juneau. Engineers would pick an elevation contour and build a ditch at that level, exactly following the horizontal bends of the hillside while maintaining a slight vertical drop to keep the water flowing. Streams along the route were intercepted and diverted into the ditch, which eventually dumped their combined flow into a pipeline or another (previously smaller) stream where the water was needed. At Funter Bay, ditches and streams were sometimes daisy-chained, with one stream diverted to another, then that (now combined) stream diverted again farther down its course. This took advantage of different optimal contours for each leg.

Ditches were relatively cheap to dig, but had the disadvantage of needing constant maintenance. They were eroded by use, damaged by ice, blocked by fallen trees, and tended to fill in with silt, leaves, and other debris.

An abandoned ditch at Funter Bay, the water has found or made an easier path to the left, with the dry section beyond slowly filling in with organic debris:


Alaskan Mine Names

December 12, 2013

I recently came across a large collection of mine names in Alaska. Names containing “Treasure”, “Rich”, “Jumbo”, “Bonanza”, etc are quite popular as a way to entice investors, but here are a few less enticing and perhaps more descriptive mine names!

Bum Cat
Holy Moses
Troublesome Creek
Wicked Witch
Crazy Mountain
Singin’ Sam’s Rainbow Mine
Problem Gulch
Poor Chance
Slug Gulch
The Smell
Whiskey Creek
Smuggler’s Cover
Agony #1 & 2
Aching Back

And of course, a few named after wives, girlfriends, or perhaps local ladies of negotiable affection:

Lucky Lou
Clara Bea
Fanny Gulch
Nancy’s Hope Chest
Pricilla’s Delight
Darling Creek
Sweetheart Ridge
Little Sue
Lucky Nell
Lucky Lady
Maid of Mexico
Busty Belle
Double D Mining Co

Funter Bay History: Tall Tales

October 29, 2013

One of the finest traditions of Alaskan culture is the Tall Tale or “BS Story”. Whether a heroic adventure, unlikely wildlife encounter, lost treasure, or exaggerated fish, Alaskans have made an art of far-fetched claims. These days they’re usually related in person, over the marine radio, or at the bar, but in the old days you could get them printed in the newspaper! Actually, you probably still can in certain less-rigorously-edited publications!

One common “BS” news story in the early 20th century was the ever-popular “Next Treadwell” mine. Newspaper editors knew that attracting outside investors to the state would help grow their small towns’ economies, so almost every mine, no matter how small, was compared favorably to Treadwell (an operation known to be highly profitable). The Sitka Alaskan of Feb 27, 1886 describes deposits in the Funter Bay area as “equally as large and rich [as the “great gold belt of Douglas island”]”. After Treadwell caved in and flooded in 1917, local editors had to come up with more general terms like “the great Juneau mines”.

Of the two Juneau papers at the time, the Daily Alaska Dispatch seemed to talk up Funter Bay the most, although the Daily Record-Miner was also favorably biased towards local mines. The Dispatch referred to Funter Bay as “One of the very best camps in the district” (May 8, 1903), “The best copper proposition in this district” (Apr 16, 1909), and as having “claims which will unquestionably become good producers within a short time” (Oct 15, 1915). A July 31, 1902 article describes a Funter Bay claim “richly impregnated with gold” as well as being “40% copper”, and being “highly mineralized all the way through” and “a great big chunk of the world’s wealth”.

Reading these articles leads one to think that Funter Bay was constantly poised to become a major competitor in the national economy, but the mines referred to in these articles were mostly one or two-man prospects that never got beyond 50ft of tunnel, such as the Mansfield Mine.

Otteson’s Dano mine was also mentioned in the Dispatch, described as having a “big and rich ledge” (3 Aug 1909) and producing “rich gold bearing samples” (27 July 1919). Despite all this richness, the mine did not develop into a major producer. The papers handled such delays in promised wealth with their usual optimism, an 1903 article mentions that barren rock encountered in the first 50ft of a mine at Funter must have been “all cap-rock”, and “a change has taken place… the values in the quartz now are very good”. Any mine which failed or went bankrupt, if mentioned at all, was promptly blamed on the incompetence of the prior managers, and never on the geology of the claim.

Another great tall tale appeared in the Dispatch on Sept 12, 1912.

Explores Unknown Region on Admiralty Island

W. C. Miller Finds Lake and River Alive With Mountain Trout and Tremendous Wall of Ice.
W.C. Miller, a well known Alaskan who has valuable prospects at Funter Bay, has just returned from an exploration of the “unknown country” of Admiralty Island, and this trip is believed to be the first exploration of that region. The country lies near the center of Admiralty Island, between Hawk Inlet and Seymour Canal. Mr. Miller was accompanied by his nephew, F. E. Koeper.
“The entire territory,” said Mr. Miller, “is worthless to the prospector. We found a little gold, but nothing worth while, except mountain trout.”
At the head of a river Mr. Miller found a lake four miles long and a mile wide, alive with mountain trout of unusually large size. “We had no bait but venison,” said Mr. Miller, “but a crowd of fish entered into competition for the hook as often as Koeper threw it in.” Miller and his companion came back by a shallow river, a hundred feet wide, and this stream was also alive with trout. No salmon were seen, and Mr. Miller believes that on account of the swiftness of the current the salmon are not able to swim a very great distance in it. Mr. Miller named the lake “Isaac Walton Lake” in honor of the great angler.
The explorers found a new glacier with a wall of ice sixty feet high, running along the top of the range for miles. (From Daily Alaska Dispatch, Sept 12, 1912).

For those unfamiliar with the area, Admiralty Island has no glaciers,  and mountain top snow of that thickness is unlikely in September . The size and location of the lake and river are also quite questionable!

On May 25th of 1937, lighthouse keepers at Point Retreat reported that they had seen a “Ragged wild man”. This was said to possibly be Bud May, a trapper from Funter Bay who had been missing for some time. However, a few days later, 65 year old Albert Miles arrived at Point Retreat and claimed that he is not “wild”, he had simply walked there after wrecking his boat near Cordwood Creek. Miles was later ruled to be insane (per Kinky Bayers’ notes).

I might have a few more of these lying around for a later update. If any readers have a contribution I would be glad to publish it! Names can be withheld or changed to protect the guilty!

The Funter Bay Railroad

July 17, 2013

In the first half of the 20th century, Funter Bay had a small railroad running to mine workings at the base of Mt. Robert Barron (originally known as “Funter Mountain”).


A short mine railroad was first reported in 1895, when a newspaper article described plans for “about 1,000 feet of railroad track” running along the beach to various mine tunnels. This would likely have carried ore carts pushed by hand or pulled by draft animals.

Newspaper reports state that workers began laying 36-inch narrow-gauge rails towards the mountain in 1912. Originally, this track consisted of 4×4 wooden rails, spiked to an existing corduroy wagon road bed. The rails could have had strap iron on top, as did other wooden tramways in the area.  A 1920 inventory of company assets describes the line as 4000′ of 36″ gauge surface tram, and a 1921 map labels it “wooden tramway”. It was elsewhere listed as a “tram road” (many of these terms are used interchangeably in describing small railroads). Initially four ore cars of about 3 tons were used, these had steel wheels and wooden boxes, and were hauled by mules along the wooden track. Although a “locomotive boiler 40hp with 40hp engine” is inventoried in 1920, this seems to have been connected to a sawmill at the time and not related to the tram.

Between 1920 and 1926, the track was upgraded with steel rails, laid on the same corduroy grade in between the existing wooden rails (which had become rotten by that time). The new line was approximately 25″ gauge, and seems to have used 20 or 25lb steel rails (30 tons of 20lb rails were purchased around 1926, along with frogs and switches, to supplement an existing stock of 11 tons of 20 and 25lb rail). Twelve additional all-steel ore cars were purchased second hand from the Gastineau Gold Mining Co in Juneau (which had shut down and begun selling off equipment in 1921). Also in 1926, consulting engineer A. A. Holland recommended that the track be straightened, graded, and ballasted to prevent derailing. Holland suggested that cars should be hauled by cable due to the grade near the mountain, noting that locomotive haulage would require new track to take the steepest part of the hill more gradually.

1926 photos showing wooden rails with and without steel rails laid between them:
Funter Track

Some of Holland’s suggested improvements were implemented over the next few years. A 1928 letter to Governor Ernest Gruening reported construction of a “surface railroad” and purchase of a locomotive and cars. The 1930 stockholder report describes “railroads, 24″ gauge, 20lb rails” and an 8-ton steam locomotive. Within a few years the wooden roadbed was replaced with gravel from mine tailings. The 1931 Annual Report to the company stockholders stated that; “The Railroad Bed leading from the main tunnel to the mill located on the shore, and which was constructed of corduroy, was found too weak for continuous heavy loads and therefore has been ballasted the entire distance with crushed rock derived from the various workings in the main tunnel. New 8″ x 8″ x 9′ long ties have been secured and thus the road made substantial for any load at present under contemplation”. The report also mentions a branch of the railroad along the shore to the wharf.

Beginning in the 1930s, the line is referred to on maps and documents as a railroad, vs a tramway. This distinction may have had two factors behind it. For one, many early tram/railroad lines in Alaska used wooden trestles or ungraded track for their entire length to avoid the cost of permanent gravel grades. The switch from corduroy to graded roadbed at Funter was a significant upgrade. Secondly, the use of a steam locomotive seems to have boosted the status of small operations. Short lines with locomotives were more often called “railroads” while longer horse-drawn lines often remained “tramways”.

The company acquired a used 0-4-0T “Dinky” saddle tank steam locomotive around 1928. It seems to have been built by the Davenport Locomotive Works and was categorized as an 8-ton engine. Unfortunately no identifying marks are left, so the construction number and year are uncertain. It is anecdotally reported to be surplus from the Treadwell mines, which used steam locomotives at least until 1912-1913. Treadwell suffered a collapse in 1917 and finally shut down the last shaft in 1922, then sold the remaining equipment and property to the Alaska Juneau mine in 1928. As the AJ used electric locomotives of different gauge, the surplus steam locomotives were probably made available at bargain rates.

0-4-0T locomotive from Funter Bay:

The locomotive may have looked something like this when operating.

The total height is about 6′ (Treadwell’s specs called for a 5’7″ maximum clearance). This would have been considered a “contractor’s locomotive”, a type frequently used on temporary track in construction sites, to move dirt or materials around before dump trucks became common. Mines found them convenient due to their light weight and ability to handle uneven, steep, or sharply curving rails. I am not sure if the locomotive had an open cab (as apparently did most of the steam locomotives at Treadwell), or if it had an enclosed or even removable cab (at least one Treadwell locomotive was ordered with a removable cab, and a wooden cab could have been added later). Southeast Alaska’s climate would make at least a roof desirable, other small locomotives in the area had standing-height cabs when there were no clearance restrictions.

Here are some similar locomotive configurations that could have resembled this one:
Davenport locomotive with enclosed cab (larger version than this one).
Small locomotive with open cab.
Similarly sized locomotive (this one a Porter) with low-profile cab.

Such locomotives and light railroad equipment could be mail-ordered new or used from catalogs or classified ads in industry magazines.


Front view of Funter Bay steam locomotive:

Eventually, the rail line from the beach to the mountain was 4100ft long. A branch of about 1500-2000ft ran parallel to the beach just above high-tide line, connecting older mine workings along the shore. A report from around 1915 mentions “several miles of railroad” running “along the shore and back into the various tunnels”, but this seems a bit optimistic. Below the surface, ore carts were hauled through the tunnels by mules, and later by electric battery locomotives. Several documents mention multiple electric locomotives purchased prior to 1956, including a 3-ton GE. The tunnels along the beach are now collapsed or flooded.

Funter Track 2

Two sizes of rail wheels and axles lying on the beach at Funter Bay, the larger gauge set may have been from the 36″ gauge mule tram:

Railroad trestle at Funter Bay in the 1920s:


Courtesy of Alaska State Library, MS 247 1_02

The following picture shows some track along the beach and what might be a switch:

dual gauge

Courtesy of Alaska State Library, MS 247 1_01

Today the beachfront track is mostly washed out, rusted away, or buried under decades of organic debris which are slowly forming new soil on top of the railway.


The steam locomotive was used until around 1951, when the owners seem to have decided it was inefficient. I am not sure if it was fueled by wood or coal, but feeding it would have been time consuming either way. The owners attempted to “modernize” the unit by converting it to a Plymouth gasoline engine. Such was sometimes the fate of other steam locomotives in Alaska and elsewhere. An untitled, undated (but probably from 1951 or ’52) note in government files mentions that the conversion cost $1,000. Another note in the file mentions work on a Plymouth engine cowling and head in April 1952. Another sheet mentions that “A steam locomotive for use on the surface tramway was being converted to gasoline power.” and that the $1,000 price tag included “Repairs to locomotive surface and aerial tram (haulage)”.

locomotive conversion

Since the front of the dinky locomotive was cast to the frame, it would have been hard to simply cut the boiler off. The miners used the old standby of Alaska repairs: If you don’t have the right tool, try dynamite! The story goes that they simply blasted the boiler off the frame, resulting in severe cracking to the front casting:


The gas engine conversion proved to be underpowered; the unit worked on level ground but was unable to make it up the hill between the waterfront branch and the main line to the mountain. The whole rig was abandoned until the early 1970s, when it was salvaged by railroad enthusiast Jim Walsh and moved to Nevada.

A map showing part of the former rail line. The beach section is not shown.

RR map 2

By the late 1950s, maps begin show the line as a road rather than a railroad or tramway, the mine having switched to trucks for transportation. Today there is essentially nothing left of the railroad at Funter Bay. The tracks have all become buried or salvaged for other projects (such as Ray Martin’s marine railroad and planned logging railroad). The land is privately owned and not generally open to visitors.

The locomotive is probably the last major artifact left from this line, and I am greatly appreciative of Jim Walsh’s time and generosity in letting me see it! I am still searching for additional information on this locomotive, such as the construction year, ownership history (Treadwell or otherwise), mechanical specifications, or even old blueprints, but I’ve been unable to track down many details (I spun off another page on small Alaska railroads based on information found during this research). If any readers know of a source for such information, or a possible line of inquiry, I would love to hear about it! As usual, my email address is (replace <AT> with @): gabe <AT>

Sidetracked: Obscure Railroads of Alaska

July 9, 2013

So… while researching AK history I accidentally found a whole bunch of forgotten railroads that aren’t well documented (if at all) in official rail histories. Kind of like finding spare change in the couch, but with more rust! I managed to get myself totally distracted from my Funter Bay history, while I typed up a quick list of these lines. I’ve tried to include links to supplementary information, but it’s a work in progress, and any information anyone might have would be appreciated!  Since it’s a long list, I’ve gone ahead and made it a separate page on the site, you can find it at the link below: