Growing up on a farm out in the middle of nowhere, outside of radio, about the only entertainment I received was stories told to me by my grandparents or my parents. Otherwise, I was on my own to work and play out in the forest that seemed to go on for miles in any direction. One story that fascinated me was the lost blue bucket mine somewhere up on the side of Mount Hood, Ore. Many hours of my childhood consisted of walking the bottom of creeks, with only my imagination, looking for that fabled lost gold. So now, what seems to be eons later, when I happened to read about the Southeastern Alaska Lost Rocker Mine, my imagination started working again.
In 1867 Fred Culver and his partner left Wrangell by canoe, going north, with the idea to pan every swift mountain stream they came to. At each stream the men would stash their canoe and head up the stream; panning as they went. Some place along the way, they found a stream that looked promising. They followed the stream up into a small lake and yet into another stream. It wasn’t long until they found gold in rough abundance.
They built a “Rocker,” a wooden contraption to speed recovery of the gold, and mined furiously for two weeks. Suddenly, they were attacked by a native hunting party. Culver’s partner was killed and Culver was wounded. It was looking pretty grim but, Fred grabbed his poke of gold and started running down the creek. With the natives hot on his trail he was able to make it back to the beach, launch his canoe and paddle to safety; the natives did not have their canoes close by to continue the chase. The wound took its toll on Culver and it wasn’t long before he passed out and left the canoe to drift, possibly for many days or weeks.
A Hudson Bay Company steamer called the “Otter,” Captained by Herbert G. Lewis, was cruising the shores of Southeast Alaska on a fur-gathering expedition in the summer of 1867. Just off Stockade Point, at Taku Harbor, they found the drifting canoe with the almost lifeless body of Culver, along with his sack of gold and not much else. Not only had he been wounded, but he was emaciated as a result of starvation and lack of water. He was taken aboard and cared for, and when he revived he told his story. The ship returned to Victoria and later to Port Townsend, Washington Territory where Culver retold his story with the bag of gold as evidence. It turned out the bag of gold was valued at $1,500 which was quite a lot considering the price of gold at that time.
A party was organized by Culver to search for the Lost Rocker. The following spring of 1868 the schooner “Louisa Downes” left Port Townsend with Culver and his team. They stopped at Wrangell and Sitka and then went on to Taku Harbor to commence the search. There are two stories at this point; that Culver refused to recognize landmarks and when the other searchers threatened him he fell sick and was returned to Sitka. Or that Culver deliberately took the other searchers to prospect another creek first. It didn’t take long before the others became irate and abusive. At that point Culver refused to reveal the location. He became ill and was taken to Sitka. In both stories, he was returned to Sitka and died. Upon his death bed in early 1870, it is rumored, he gave Mike Powers of Juneau the exact directions for finding the Lost Rocker.
In an 1888 story in Juneau’s first newspaper, The Alaska Free Press, it was reported that Mike Powers had announced several times that as soon as the placers on Gold Creek were worked out he would go and find the Lost Rocker. However, before the Gold Creek placers were worked out, Powers was killed by a cave-in on some of his mining ground and the secret died with him.
Over the many years since Culver died, thousands of man hours were expended in combing the mainland of SE Alaska for the Lost Rocker Mine. As late as 1903 the “Lost Rocker Prospecting and Mining Company” was formed in Juneau to search for the site. As far as is known, the Lost Rocker was never found. Alternately, it may have been found but whoever found it may have failed to recognize it by that name or were unaware of its historic significance. Another possibility is that it was found but the discovery was kept secret while the ground was worked out. This would be especially possible if the deposit was small; a pocket of gold bearing gravel and decomposed quartz and other rock.
Robert DeArmond has suggested that Silver Bow Basin may have been the site of the Lost Rocker. He suggests that Fred and his partner started from the mouth of Carlson Creek on Taku Inlet. They could have followed the creek to the head of Gold Fork, crossed the pass there, and descended Granite Creek to Gold Creek and Silver Bow Basin. According to U.S.G.S, there was once a lake in Silver Bow Basin. The lake had dried up by the time Harris and Juneau arrived there in 1880. The Auks used the valley of Gold Creek as a hunting area and would certainly have reacted negatively if trespassers had been found.
I have two problems with that idea. If Culver and his partner had come up Gold Creek from the Gastineau Channel, the Auks would have had canoes at the beach also and Fred would not have made it out alive. On the other hand, if they had come into Silver Bow Basin the way Robert DeArmond suggested, can you imagine the almost impossible run by a wounded man, fearing for his life, racing through devil’s club, re-crossing the mountain pass, back down to the mouth of Carson Creek and into his canoe with all that gold? It does seem a bit of a stretch.
Old-timers can still be found that have studied the maps and prospected the creeks looking in vain for the Lost Rocker. The Lost Rocker may still be out there waiting, waiting for that special someone to claim its riches.
1. The Heritage of Alaska by Herb Hilscher
2. The Founding of Juneau by Robert DeArmond