Alaska’s Quiet Gold Rush – by Mike Coppock (True West Magazine – March 1, 2009)

A history of Alaska’s gold rushes reveals riches found in historic mines today.

He said his name was Tommy. In his 60s, he had driven his compact pickup truck from Mississippi all the way to Alaska. Arriving in Homer, he spent nearly $1,000 having the vehicle transported by the ocean ferry Tustumena for Popof Island, nearly 300 miles west of Kodiak.

Popof can be one of Alaska’s most stunning vistas with its emerald grasslands and powerful mountain backdrops. But, not today. Aleutian-style weather had set it. It was late May, and I was amused that I could see my breath as horizontal rain dug deep into my face and clothes. Only my long johns kept me dry.

Tommy was oblivious to the weather or anything else. With the musical draw that defines a Southern accent, he showed me his equipment he had just lugged down from the cliff above. He had set up a sluice operation along a lonely beach just a few hundred feet from the edge of a runway serving as the town of Sand Point’s airport.

Through the pounding rain, I could make out the outline of nearby Unga Island across the narrows. In those rolling hills, the fabled Apollo Gold Mine once operated from 1894 to 1908.

One does not think of the Aleutians when it comes to gold. Yet the Apollo was one of Alaska’s most profitable gold mines. The Unga Mining District produced more than 112,000 ounces of the precious metal.I had already met two men with diving equipment a few days earlier in the fishing village of King Cove even farther west. Their plan was to hunt for gold deposits at the shorelines of surrounding islands.

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