1917 Yukon Nuggets
Pueblo Mine disaster
The Whitehorse Copper Belt is - in some ways - cursed. The mineral belt, running for about 30 kilometers, is hidden just under the hills to the west of town. Copper deposits were noted here as early as 1897, by prospectors on their way to Dawson City.
A Klondike-bound prospector, John McIntyre, staked the first claim in the Whitehorse Copper Belt on July 6th, 1898. A month later he sold half an interest to Kentuckian miner, William Grainger.
The pair brought the first hard-rock mine in the Yukon into production. They called it the Copper King. In 1900, the North West Mounted Police reported that "copper has been the all-absorbing question". But funds to operate the Copper King were low so, in 1902, McIntyre hired on as a mail carrier on the Atlin to Log Cabin run. On November 29th, he left Atlin with a load of mail. Jack McIntyre never arrived at Log Cabin. In May, 1903 his body was found in a shallow bay. He had fallen through the ice of Taku Inlet.
Grainger remained as manager of the Copper King, working hard on the mine and at one time had thirty miners working for him.
In the spring of 1907, Grainger optioned the Copper King property to a Pennsylvanian syndicate for $200,000 and a royalty. Grainger would continue as mine manager. But a few days after the take over, both Grainger and his young assistant Gilbert Joyce were found dead at the bottom of the Copper King shaft, the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.
William Grainger was a popular miner and the entire town of Whitehorse attended the funeral, including the famous Sam McGee, who also held claims in the Copper Belt and was one of six pallbearers. Now, death had claimed two of the most prominent proponents of the Copper Belt. However, activity in the region increased and soon numerous claims, including War Eagle, Hoodoo, and Pueblo were staked.
Pueblo was the most productive of all the claims and it also proved to be the deadliest. On March 21, 1917, nine miners were trapped by a cave-in.
A mine rescue team punched a tunnel into the mine and rescued three of the men, but the remaining six were never found. The rescue effort had to be called off and the six miners were never found.
An investigation into the tragedy found that the cave-in was caused by numerous underground water streams which washed away the sand and silt, weakening a chamber to the point where it collapsed.
Following the accident, the Pueblo Mine was closed. The deadly chamber was never disturbed and the bodies of the six men were never recovered.
A plaque marking the tragic event stands just off the Fish Lake Road in the Whitehorse Copper Belt, which had experienced more than its share of mining disasters.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.