Detecting in Coldfoot Alaska
By Vernon Cross
The windshield of the old Ford van was covered with the splattered remains of thousands of Alaskan mosquitoes, we had been driving for 14 hours straight from our home in Wasilla Alaska to my brother-in-law's home in Coldfoot Alaska, just this side of the Brooks Range. We would be staying with him and his family for a few days while I did a little detecting at a couple of historical mining towns.
The old town site of Coldfoot Alaska is 70 miles above the Arctic Circle. The decaying remains of this rough and tumble, turn of the century gold mining town is now reduced to but a few crumbling log cabins, grown over with trees and field grass. All but lost with the passage of time. The old town is located at the mouth of Slate Creek on the east bank of the Middle Fork Koyukuk River were gold was discovered in the late 1890's. In fact, the town was first named Slate Creek but later the name was changed to Coldfoot because many of the miners got "cold feet" and departed. The town was fairly short lived however as better paying gold was found further north in the Wisman area and most of the miners dismantled and moved the cabins up to Wiseman in the early part of the 1900's
It was a hot, muggy, mosquito infested summer day. I waded through the thin, waist deep grass detecting with my Whites XLT among the tons of rusting cans, cable, and discarded junk. This was a typical interior Alaska scorcher. Most people would find it hard to believe that temperatures in Alaska, and particularly the arctic, can reach 90 to 100 degrees in mid-summer. With barely any humidity, you feel every degree of it too. I saw evidence of a couple of college archaeological digs that I was told were in the area. The amount of old rusting metal was causing the XLT to chatter almost continuously. I left one ear phone off to help listen for bears, and my S&W 44 mag is always with me in the "pucker brush".
Because of the endless amount of trash signals as well as the blanket of visible trash, I really wasn't expecting to find much. Searching in front of one of the last remaining cabins, the XLT sounded off smartly over a good target. Digging down about three inches, I saw the clean glint of silver, and soon found I had one end of a piece of jewelry. The other end was held firmly in the ground by a wad of small roots that had wrapped themselves all through the intricately woven tail feathers of a stone-studded, silver peacock brooch! It was as if the old town did not want to give up the tangible memories of the past. I knelt and admired the old brooch for awhile, as I pulled out the remaining roots from the tail feathers and ran my thumb across the shining blue and green stones. A few were missing, but I managed to find all but one in the hole. The last missing stone I had replaced by a jeweler who estimated the brooch to be approximately 100 to 140 years old!
Had the old brooch belonged to one of the "fallen angels" that followed the mining towns, perhaps dropped in the snow one long cold winter night? We'll never know. But I love to hold it and wonder of the way things were back then, a tough people in a tough land, long ago.
Vernon Cross is a painter of nature and it's situations.
He is a longtime prospector and expert detectorist.
His work can be seen here: Vern Cross...Alaska Mining Artist