This is the first in a series of blogs focusing on Prince of Wales (PoW) Island’s geology and its rich mining history. This blog is about Charles Vincent Baranovich, a Dalmatian immigrant, and the Copper Queen Mine thought to be the first lode mine in Alaska. This early PoW mine was developed in copper sulfide deposits on the Kasaan Peninsula (see U.S. Geological Survey map, below). The Kasaan Peninsula is located south of the city of Thorne Bay, on the east side of PoW; Kasaan Bay lies to the south and Clarence Strait to the north and east.
Baranovich, known as “The Slav”, had been bitten by the gold fever of the 1849 California Gold Rush. When the California Gold Rush played out, Baranovich looked north to find his fortune in the gold fields of British Columbia (late 1850’s). In 1865, Baranovich obtained a trading permit from the Russian American Company to trade in Kasaan Bay where he built a trading post. At this time, Alaska still was owned by Russia but the Hudson’s Bay Company (British) controlled much of the trade with coastal natives from its hub at Fort Wrangell to the northeast.
Baranovich’s interest in prospecting led him to continue to explore the area around his trading post where he located a copper deposit. He was the first to find copper-bearing rock on the Kasaan Peninsula. Development of the copper deposit, which became the Copper Queen Mine, and later development of a salmon saltery (see Baranovich’s saltery
image, right) at this location largely were responsible for relocation of the Haida native village of Kasaan from Skowl Arm, situated to the south, to this site, today’s Haida native village of Kasaan.
The Copper Queen Mine subsequently changed hands several times – from San Francisco capitalists, to British Columbia businessmen, and to New Haven businessmen who formed the Kasaan Bay Mining Company. The Kasaan Bay Mining Company sunk a shaft and developed several rich copper pyrite ore bodies in the area. The company also built a store and salmon saltery in New Kasaan. In 1903, mining and saltery operations were closed down due to the company’s financial plight. The company’s assets were sold at a receiver’s sale in 1904. The story of the Copper Queen ends with its sale to an unknown purchaser in 1907 with 50 tons of ore still at the mine dump. The Copper Queen’s story fades from here.
The Copper Queen was not the largest copper mine on Prince of Wales or even on the Kasaan Peninsula. It never fulfilled Charles Baranovich’s dream of riches. However. the story of the Copper Queen Mine is a part of Kasaan Peninsula’s rich history involving native Haida, Russian, English, and American influence in the cultural melting pot that is Prince of Wales Island.
[Sources: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 345, Wright, et al., 1908; U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 87, Wright 1915; U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1090, Warner, et al, 1961; Fortunes From the Earth, Roppel,1991; U.S. Bureau of Mines Open File Report 81-92, Maas, et al, 1992; Sit News, Kiffer, 2006.]
Note: The financial plight of the Copper Queen was due to mining operations being no longer economically feasible. Due to water flooding the lower levels of the mine, the miners were pumping water out of the mine until early afternoon resulting in actual productive mining for a couple of hours. The increased cost of production, lowered production, plus the cost of copper extraction were not helped by the decreasing value of copper resulting in the decision to close the mine.