Chicken History

My husband Ray, and My father-in-law Shep, standing near one of our few big trees. You can see the ground cover we have gotten to come back in the foreground.

As many of you who follow me know, we have a cabin in the interior of Alaska in a little community called Chicken. I have posted from time to time about how Chicken came to be named Chicken, and about our development of our little piece of paradise away from it all.

What a difference two months makes. When we were out here in April, we still had to feet of snow.

Since I have now started writing a few novels and novellas set in the interior of Alaska, in the region that Ray and I call home during the summer months, we decided to put together a timeline of sorts. We want to explain what brought people to this remote region in the first place.

The “Lost Chicken Dredge” in the Mosquito Fork of the 40-Mile River, these Dredges were not part of the first boom, but appeared in the 50’s and 60’s as part of the larger mining operations

Many people will respond, “the Yukon-Klondike Gold Rush, right?” Actually, no. Gold was discovered in the 40-mile region almost ten years before the Bonanza strike on the Canada side.

Many people will respond, “the Yukon-Klondike Gold Rush, right?” Actually, no. Gold was discovered in the 40-mile region almost ten years before the Bonanza strike on the Canada side.

This is the Pedro Dredge, not the same one shown at the top of the page. You can take a tour of this dredge in Chicken

Here is a timeline of mining in the 40-mile region:

View of Chicken Ridge and Warbelow from the cabin

Timeline Chicken, Alaska and Klondike Gold Rush Timeline

25 – 45,000 years ago – Bones of animals were discovered with obvious human tool marks around the area that is now the Yukon Territory and north-central Alaska. The Native people lived in this remote region, never visited by Western culture until the mid-1800’s.

1867 – June 20th, Alaska is proclaimed as a possession of the United States after its purchase from Russia. For the first ten years after the purchase, Sitka was the only settlement in Alaska inhabited by American settlers.

1873 – Gold was discovered near Sitka, Alaska.

1874 – The Alaska Commercial Company established a trading post called Fort Reliance along the north-east bank of the Yukon River. It was built to trade with the Han Natives for furs and provide them with provisions in return. The builders of the trading post thought they were in the U.S. However, they were actually in the Yukon Territory of Canada, approximately eight miles downriver from where Dawson City is located today. (Dawson City did not exist then). The trading post operated until 1877 when they were robbed by some of the Han Natives. The trading post supplied a few prospectors that were exploring the Stewart River area in Canada for gold.

1874 – “Belle Isle” is established along the southern bank of the Yukon River eight miles downriver from the Canadian border. A few cabins were built by a large bluff. “Belle Isle” would eventually grow and be renamed Eagle.

1880 – The U.S. government’s 1880 Census reports that Fort Reliance had 83 residents. One person was white and 82 were of the Tinneh Tribe. Erroneously, Fort Reliance was in fact 50 miles east of the Alaska/Canada boarder and well within Canadian jurisdiction.

1880 – Gold was discovered in Juneau, Alaska.

1883 – Ed Schieffelin found gold dust along the Yukon River, below the mouth of the Fortymile River. Word got out that there may be opportunities for prospectors in the area. Prospectors slowly moved into the region.

1884 – On May 17th, the District of Alaska is established by the United States Government.

1886 – An expedition up the Fortymile River found good-sized gold in Franklin Creek and within a sand bar south of Franklin Creek in the Fortymile River. Word slowly got out that gold of producible value had been located in the Fortymile drainage.

1886 – The Alaska Commercial Company establishes a trading post at the mouth of the Fortymile River where it meets the Yukon River. This was the first official town in Canada’s Yukon! Fortymile was named as it was approximately 40 miles downstream of Fort Reliance on the Yukon River.

1887 – Prospectors started arriving and spreading out into the Fortymile region. Supplies could be purchased at the village of Fortymile and boats could be poled and pulled up the Fortymile River.

1887 – The Anglican Church established the first mission school in the Yukon at the town of Fortymile.

1887 – George M. Dawson, a geologist for the Geological Survey of Canada, explored and mapped the upper Yukon River drainage. At that time, he and his assistant were the first white people to go into that region of Canada. The First Nations people were there for approximately 12,000 years previously.

1891 – Prospectors not finding suitable staking locations along Walker Fork or Franklin make the gradual progression around Chicken Ridge on the river. Gold of producible value was found in Chicken Creek. Prospectors build cabins and a town appears almost overnight. A shorter over-land route from Franklin to Chicken was established over Chicken Ridge.

1892 – 1896 – More prospectors started arriving in the Fortymile district. Most of the good locations for placer mining had already been staked and/or in production. Prospectors started going farther up the Yukon River into Canada looking for gold.

1890’s – The town of Boundary was established adjacent to the Canadian border, north of The Walker Fork of the Forty Mile River. The Walker Fork had many successful placer mining claims.

1893 – Gold was discovered near Birch Creek in the Circle Mining District. Some area miners left, speculating for better opportunities than in the Fortymile area.

1896 – On August 16th, an American named George Carmack, his Tagish wife Kate Carmack, her brother Skookum Jim, and their nephew Dawson Charlie, discovered gold on Rabbit Creek. They staked four claims along the creek. They decided to let George file the claims as they feared the government might not grant claim rights to Natives. The Creek became known as Bonanza Creek. Local prospectors flocked to the area to stake out additional claims.

1897 – Slightly north of the Bonanza Creek Gold Strike, on the opposite bank from the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers, a town was founded. In January, Joseph Ladue named the town Dawson City after George M. Dawson, who had previously explored and mapped the area.

1897 – Jack Wade was established on a creek that was a tributary of the Walker Fork of the Fortymile River. Supposedly the town received its name because of the two main miners; Jack and Wade. Jack Wade and Jack Wade Creek are still mined today.

1897 – Gold from the Dawson City region made its way to America. The steam ships The Excelsior and The Portland, arrived in Seattle and San Francisco with, “a ton of gold” from the gold fields. The Klondike Goldrush was on!

1897 – Jack London sails to Alaska with his sister’s husband, Captain James Shepard. They travelled north to Port Townsend on the “SS Umatilla.”  They then transferred to the “City of Topeka” for the trip up the Inside Passage to Juneau. He probably took a small steamer from there. Jack arrived in Dawson City. He subsequently developed scurvy, lost his four front teeth, and was in all-around poor health.

1897-98 – Over 100,000 people started the rush north to the Klondike. The main route was from Seattle to Skagway, over the pass, and then down the Yukon River to Dawson City. The expensive, and easier route was by paddlewheel up the Yukon River starting out in St. Mary’s, on the western coast of Alaska.

1898 – Over 30,000 stampeders were estimated to have arrived in Dawson City. Most could not stay as there were limited services, food, and opportunities for employment.

1898 – On the American side of the Gold Rush, Eagle was the governmental headquarters for the District of Alaska. To travel to Chicken from Eagle, one took the pioneer trail from Eagle to Steel Creek. From Steel Creek over Steel Dome to Jack Wade, from Jack Wade over another ridge and across the Fortymile to Franklin, then up Franklin Creek and down Chicken Ridge into Chicken.

1898 – Eagle had a population over 1700 people.

1898 – Jack London leaves Dawson City and moves back to Oakland, CA. He found no gold other than the experiences he had to take with him back to America. He left Dawson City by a “rough boat” down the Yukon River. He passed the abandoned remains of Fort Reliance, the town of Fortymile, as well as the city of Eagle on his way to St. Mary’s. There, he got a job on a steamer as a coal stoker to pay for his passage back to California.

1899 – Fort Egbert was established in Eagle. The Military Established Martial Law until a “civil government” could be established. Eagle was the first city in the interior District of Alaska to be incorporated. It became the District headquarters for the Territorial Government.

1899 – Klondike Kate moves to Dawson City, Yukon Territory. She started mining the miners.

1900 – Judge James Wickersham was appointed as the District Judge for Alaska by President William McKinley. The courthouse is still present in Eagle and acts as Eagle’s Historical Commission headquarters.

1900 – A military trail and telegraph line started to be built from Eagle to Dawson City to connect with Canada’s line from Dawson City to Whitehorse. A message in Eagle could be sent to Whitehorse where it was carried overland to Skagway and sent my mailship to Seattle. The message was then telegraphed anywhere in the U.S. The process took five days. The price? 56 cents a word!

1900 – On July 23rd, Eagle was released from Martial Law.

1901 – In order to have a U.S. only communications route, the U.S. Army Signal Corps started to build a telegraph line from Eagle to Valdez, AK. The telegraph line became known as WAMCATS; the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System. The trail and telegraph passed Taylor Mountain, about twelve miles west of Chicken, Alaska. The telegraph line went south to Tanacross. At Tanacross, one line continued south to Valdez. Another line paralleled the Tanana River down to the Yukon, and then west to St. Michael, and then north to Nome. From Valdez, the cable went underwater to the lower 48.

1901 – Lieutenant William “Billy” Mitchell arrives in Eagle to expedite construction of the WAMCATS telegraph line.

1901 – The Post Office opens in Steel Creek, Alaska. Steel Creek was in the U.S., upriver from the Canadian Village of Fortymile. It was the location of the first crossing of the Fortymile River on the trail to Chicken.

1902 – August 24th, The WAMCATS line is completed from Eagle to Valdez.

1902 – Chicken became the second legally-incorporated city in the interior of the District of Alaska.

1902 – Jack London writes, “To Build a Fire.”

1902 – The Post Office opens in Franklin, formerly known as “Franklin Gulch.”

1903 – Judge James Wickersham moves the courthouse from Eagle to Fairbanks, Alaska. In May, Wickersham and four others became the first group to attempt to climb Denali. They were stopped by a shear vertical wall. The edifice was named by Bradford Washburn in 1945 as the, “The Wickersham Wall.” With a vertical rise of 9000 feet it is one of the steepest, continuous cliff-faces on earth.

1903 – Jack London writes, “The Call of the Wild.” He made $2750.00 from the sale of the book.

1903 – The Post Office in Chicken opened for business on March 13th.

1903 – Robert Service is hired by the Canadian Bank of Commerce.

1904 – The Canadian Bank of Commerce moves Robert Service to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

1905 – Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen drives a sled dog team from the arctic to Eagle to announce that come spring, when the ice breaks up, they will have successfully completed the first crossing of the Northwest Passage.

1906 – The name of the Steel Creek Post Office was rescinded on August 6th and changed to Steelburg.

1907 – Robert Service’s “Songs of a Sourdough” is published. In the United States it was re-named, “The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses.”

1908 – Robert Service moves to Dawson City, Yukon Territory.

1908 – Anne Purdy is born in Prownington, Missouri.

1909 – Steelburg’s Post Office changes the name back to Steel Creek on April 11th.

1910 – The Alaska Road Commission constructs a rudimentary road from Eagle to Jack Wade. The road probably crossed the Fortymile River at Steel Creek.

1911 – Fort Egbert was abandoned except for a contingent of the Army Signal Corps who operated WAMCATS as well as a wireless station.

1915 – WAMCATS was abandoned as radio technology made the need for a land line through difficult territory obsolete.

19?? Anne Purdy teaches for three years in Franklin Creek. One year in Chenin. Dot lake and Eagle 6 -7 years. Ten years in Chicken.

1925 – The Army Signal Corp’s wireless transmits a message from Nome, Alaska that they have a diphtheria outbreak. Serum was run from Seward, Alaska to Nome via the Ididarod Trail. Later that year the wireless station burned to the ground and the Army presence in Eagle ended.

1926 – The Alaska Road Commission extends the road from above Jack Wade to Boundary on the Canadian border. Canada extended their “Ridge Road” west, which was made to access to the Sixty Mile River mining area, to meet up with the ARC road. This road would become known as “The Top of the World Highway.” There was still a trail from Jack Wade to Franklin and Chicken, but no road.

1937 – The Alaska Gold Dredging Corporation completed moving the Mosquito Fork Dredge, also known as the “Cowden” or “Lost Chicken,” from the lower 48 to the mouth of the Mosquito Fork. The dredge started mining the lower reach of the Mosquito Fork of the Forty Mile River.

1938 – After two seasons of operation the Mosquito Fork Dredge shuts down. Burning low-grade coal and wood made the proposition uneconomical.

1940 – A post office was established in Boundary adjacent to the Canadian border.

1942 – the Alaska-Canadian Highway (ALCAN Highway) was constructed from Dawson Creek, British Colombia to Delta Junction, Alaska. The highway passed approximately seventy miles to the south of Chicken, Alaska.

1945 – The Post Office in Franklin, Alaska closed. Mail was then sent to Chicken, Alaska.

1949 – The Post Office discontinued service to Steel Creek on June 1st. Mail was then sent to the Boundary Post Office.

1953 – The Taylor Highway was completed from the ALCAN to Jack Wade Junction where it met up with the pre-existing “Top of the World Highway” to Dawson City, as well as the Alaska Road Commission road to Eagle. First called “The Fortymile Road” it was later renamed the Taylor Highway after Ike Taylor, the commissioner of the Alaska Road Commission from 1932- 1948.

1954 – “Dark Boundary” is published. This was a fictional account of Anne Purdy’s teaching experience in Eagle and dealing with the harshness of living in Alaska.

1956 – The Post Office in Boundary closes. Chicken and Eagle still have operating Post Offices to this day.

1959 – The Pedro Dredge, on Pedro Creek north of Fairbanks, is moved to Chicken piece-by-piece by the owner, The Fairbanks Exploration Company (FE CO.). Using diesel fuel, instead of coal and wood, this dredge operation proved to be economically viable.

1967 – In October, the Pedro Dredge stopped operating and was mothballed. It would never operate again. However, it had mined 55,000 ounces of gold from Chicken Creek in eight years.

1972 – Mt. Warbelow, about 14 miles from downtown Chicken is named after Marvin Warbelow. Marvin was an Alaskan pioneer bush pilot who flew throughout the Fortymile and Fairbanks region for over 40 years. Marvin was killed by an explosion while repainting an airplane. Both Warbelow Air and 40 Mile Air services were founded by Marvin.

1976 – “Tisha” is published. This is a fictional, semi-autobiographical book about Anne Purdy teaching in Chicken and her struggles with the locals and prejudice against the Native people.

1998 – The Pedro Dredge was moved to its current location at the Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost.

2004 – The Taylor Complex fire burns over six million acres in Alaska, including Areas north and south of Chicken.

2004 – The Airforce builds the Taylor Mountain LRR (Long Range Radar) System on the summit of Taylor Mountain. The radar is used for military and commercial purposes. It is a Lockheed TPS-77 L-band linear array with an array of 34 X 34 sensors.

2005 – The Pedro Dredge opened for tours by the public.

2006 – Raymond and Byron Shepard explore the Chicken area for staking opportunities for the State of Alaska Recreational Land Program. Arthur and Barbara Shepherd assist Ray in staking, brushing lines, and surveying approximately 12 acres.

2009 – Construction of the Shepard’s cabin in Chicken commences.

2016 – Raymond and Daniella purchase an additional, adjacent property giving them 30 continuous acres in Chicken.

2017 – Cornucopia and Alaskana Teliquana are the first two sculptures installed at the cabin.