[Manuscript maps of a remarkable Alaskan Gold Rush miner]. James E. Girdwood.
[Manuscript maps of a remarkable Alaskan Gold Rush miner].
[Manuscript maps of a remarkable Alaskan Gold Rush miner].
[Manuscript maps of a remarkable Alaskan Gold Rush miner].
[Manuscript maps of a remarkable Alaskan Gold Rush miner].
[Manuscript maps of a remarkable Alaskan Gold Rush miner].
[Manuscript maps of a remarkable Alaskan Gold Rush miner].

[Manuscript maps of a remarkable Alaskan Gold Rush miner].

Crow Creek, Alaska, [ca. 1896-1900]. 3 manuscript maps on two leaves, pencil, ink, wash and colored pencil, each 5” x 8”, one leaf with maps on both sides; with signed portrait photograph of Girdwood, by Edward S. Curtis, signed “Curtis” in ink on lower right.

Three remarkable manuscript maps, evidently by well-known miner James Girdwood, providing detailed representations of his placer mines located on Crow Creek, in Glacier City, Alaska, as well as the topography thereabouts, accompanied by a portrait photograph of Girdwood by noted western photographer Edward Curtis.

 

Following in the footsteps of his Dubliner father, the Belfast-born, Scots-Irish entrepreneur, miner and frontiersman "Colonel" James E. Girdwood (1862–1928) cut his teeth in America as a linen salesman. In 1882, at the age of 20, Girdwood arrived in New York City with a mere savings of $400; within 14 years, he would come to command over half of the Irish linen market in the United States. After selling off his business, Girdwood would venture north to Alaska and put his capital into mining. Arriving in 1896, he soon built a cabin in Glacier City, a small mountain supply settlement, and staked the first four gold claims on Crow Creek, dubbing them the Annex, Omega, Alpha, and Little Gussie. Success abounded for him at the turn of the century: 

[Girdwood's] Crow Creek Alaska Hydraulic Gold Mining Co. was operating some of the largest hydraulic plants in the Turnagain Arm region by June 1904. The mining claims paid off in subsequent years, yielding bullion income exceeding $106,000 a year. And Girdwood proved so popular with his fellow miners that they gave him the honorary title of “colonel” and renamed Glacier City after him. (Bill, Laurel Downing. Girdwood Settles on Crow Creek).  

The most richly detailed of the maps offered here depicts Girdwood’s operations in the Crow Creek Valley, which—as the map shows—are located just north of, and inland from, "Turnagain Arm of Cooks Inlet" (roughly 42 miles South-East of Anchorage). From the Inlet, which leads out to the Gulf of Alaska, there is a dotted trail leading to his mining claims (and a "cache" is located along the way), which runs parallel to the "Cle-char-cow River or Twenty Mile Creek.” Situated on Crow Creek just above a waterfall, the four adjacent claims (identified in the key on the right as “our claims”) are nestled in between the Chugach mountain range with its “high peaks” and ridges, amidst numerous creeks and glaciers as well as a lake just north of “Gold Fork.” His cabin is depicted along Milk Creek, a tributary of Crow Creek. He notes the elevation of the claims is "about 1500 feet" and that "growth of heavy timber extends to falls"; these falls are indicated by the "X" on the map, while the claims are denoted by four contiguous rectangles. Relief—and there is much of it—is shown by hachure. Above the mountain range Girdwood has evocatively written: "snow and ice—perpetual."

On the verso of the first map, there is another map or "diagram showing four claims of 1500 linear feet each or 6000 feet in all." The drawing focuses on the four claims on Crow Creek that lie in between the "Falls" and "Gold Fork," and each is carefully detailed. The first claim is described as "yielding coarse gold,” while the second yields "heavy fine gold with some coarser." The third and fourth are described as “small cuts sluiced to prospect surface gravel” and are said to “Yield equal to No 2.” The diagram indicates a "point at head of falls where the mine will be opened by running a cut to bedrock"—next to which the fourth claim is situated.

 

The third map, apparently of a slightly later date, and entitled MAP of Crow Cr Turnagain Arm Alaska, is more skeletal than the first but depicts the same region and provides details not found on the first—noting, in particular, a new claim, dubbed the "Bull Dog claim," adjacent to which the names "Girdwood and Skoyen" are scrawled. Indeed, Skoyen, who is known to have helped Girdwood build his cabin, appears here to have been a partner in the Bull Dog claim located on California Creek, which was built after the four initial claims detailed above. This map also depicts a "field of ice" that surrounds the Crow Creek Valley and two "unexplored" regions north and east of the Valley. Cook’s Inlet is also described as "mud flats," containing "no deep water." In the lower left corner, Girdwood notes the "greatest elevation" is "about 3000 f[t]" and writes that it is "coverd with heavy growth of spruce hemlock-alder birch and willow + many varieties of under brush; and all the surface covered with heavy gravel, on a slate bedrock."

 

On the heels of his successes with his gold-mining company, Girdwood turned to another lucrative metal found in Alaska: copper. This would lead him to stake copper claims on the nearby Latouche Island, Alaska. In the winter of 1907, he founded the Latouche Copper Mining Co. in New York and became close friends with two of the Guggenheim brothers, Daniel and Isaac—an eminent family also involved in the mining industry. In 1921 he would sell his copper claims to the Ladysmith Corp., which in turn sold them to Kennecott Copper Co. In time, Girdwood’s gold-mining operation became "too demanding, and the practice of dumping tailings into the creek started raising legal problems. A court injunction finally closed the operation” (Bill). In the mid-1920s, Girdwood would make an attempt to rekindle the mining operation, but failed and subsequently returned to the East Coast. In 1928, he died in his home in New Jersey, where he spent winters following his successes in his namesake town.

 

Three fascinating manuscript maps providing a detailed representation of the scene of Girdwood’s gold mining operations and vivdly reflecting his mind at work as he sought to extract wealth from the rugged lands of Alaska.

REFERENCES: For much of the background on Girdwood we are indebted to [Bill, Laurel Downing]. Girdwood Settles on Crow Creek at auntphilstrunk.com; also The Roundhouse at Alyeska Museum, ed. The James Girdwood Collection: Photos from 1896-1904(play.google .com)

CONDITION: Chips and tape repairs at edges, but all manuscript intact.

Item #4252

Price: $5,750.00

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