In 1741, the first Europeans to travel to Alaska were members of the crew from Russian vessel known and the St. Peter. However, the Russians didn’t mount an expedition for the sole purpose of prospecting for gold in Alaska until 1848.
A mining engineer from Russia named Peter Doroshin was sent by the Russian/America Company to search for gold in Alaska in 1848. However, this prospecting venture was soon abandoned when only a small amount of placer gold in the upper Kenai River was found. However, Doroshin was convinced that larger deposits of placer gold were available in the Kenai Mountains. He was proven correct some 38 years later.
A prospector by the name of King found four ounces of gold following two seasons of searching around Turnagain Arm in the late 1880’s. In 1894, in nearby streams such as Resurrection Creek, other miners found gold while they were trying to find King’s discovery. Soon, other miners started to go to this area, as the word spread about these discoveries. Claims were staked on Sixmile and Mills Creeks and near Girdwood and gold was discovered in 1895.
A gold rush was happening by 1896. The first prospectors to arrive were experienced from Canada and the American west. The Johnny-come-latelys were usually inexperienced prospectors who had grandiose dreams of easy money. During this time period, thousands of miners arrived at Cook Inlet trying to find their fortunes. However, many prospectors were doomed to failure as the news of the area’s richness was exaggerated in time.
In 1897, there was a record amount of gold discovered. In 1898, there was another gold rush that was short lived primarily as the result of an overabundance of prospectors from Canada’s Yukon gold rush. The mining only required a strong back and the use of a pick and a shovel. Prospectors shoveled stream gravels that they hoped would bear gold into long narrow boxes made from wood which had water running through it known as sluices. The prospectors laid slats crosswise in the bottom of these boxes to catch the gold, and allow the gravel tailings or waste wash through. Soon, the shallow, rich, gold deposits were gone.
Hydraulicking didn’t come into use until later. The water gravels were broken up by a high pressure waterjet, which were then washed through the sluice box. This permitted lower grades of gravel to be mined for a profit since a larger amount of water gravel could be processed in much less time. Prospectors began by digging long ditches on the hillsides that were over their mining processes to collect and funnel the water down to where it was being mined in order to obtain sufficient water at the pressure that was required.
Some early prospectors began to notice some quartz boulders that were milky white in color that had some small flecks of gold in some streams. In 1898, some inquisitive prospectors started to look for the source and found quartz veins that were rich in gold on Sawmill, Bear, and Palmer Creeks.
Next to the shores of Turnagain Arm, the settlements at sunrise and Hope sprang up. These prospecting towns both served as sources of entertainment and supply for thousands of people.