1902 Yukon Nuggets
John McIntyre of Pembroke, Ontario sailed north on an ocean-going vessel from San Francisco to Saint Michael, Alaska in 1895. From there, he prospected along the Yukon river system, finally ending up in Circle, Alaska in 1897. By 1898, while stampeders were swarming down the river to Dawson, McIntyre was still working his way up the river. He arrived in Whitehorse in July of 1898.
On July 6th, 1898, John McIntyre staked the Copper King claim in the hills just west of the tiny town of Whitehorse. It was not only the first claim staked in the mineral belt but it was also the first to become a mine. The first payload of nine tons of high grade copper ore was ready for shipment south the day the White Pass railway arrived in Whitehorse in 1900.
The Copper King mine lived up to its name and became richest of the early Whitehorse Copper Belt producers.
Shortly after staking the Copper King, McIntyre sold half interest for a thousand dollars to William Grainger. Together the partners developed the Yukon's first hard-rock mine.
In the years that followed there was much mining action in the area, including the War Eagle, staked on July 16, 1899 by the real Sam McGee of Robert Service fame. In 1900, the North-West Mounted Police reported that "copper has been the all-absorbing question" in the Whitehorse area.
Between 1902 and 1909 the Territorial government built almost forty miles of wagon roads and, by 1909, the White Pass and Yukon Route had built a railway spur to the mines.
But the mining business was not much different then as it is now. Money was scarce, so in the fall of 1902, McIntyre hired on as a mail carrier, on the Atlin to Log Cabin run in BC. He needed the money.
Near the end of November, McIntyre and fellow mail carrier Joseph Abbey, left Atlin bound for Log Cabin driving two dog teams. The carriers never reached their destination and a search party was sent to look for them.
Sled tracks were found at the Golden Gate Channel on Taku Inlet and nearby the two dog teams and sleds were found frozen solid under the ice. The fate of the two men remained a mystery until May 1903 when their bodies were found in a nearby shallow bay.
It was a shock for the Whitehorse mining community. McIntyre and Abbey were skilled travellers and had often been in worse difficulties before, without incident. McIntyre and Abbey were buried in the Atlin Pioneer Cemetery.
Shortly after his death, they named Mount McIntyre in his honour and, later, McIntyre Creek, that ran through the Copper King deposit, was also named for him.
Today, McIntyre Creek, flowing from the high hills behind the Copper belt on its meandering course down to the Yukon River, is a central watershed that holds a unique ecosystem for plants, animals and fish.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.