Back

Reuben Frederick McClellon

April 1859 - May 3, 1930

Reuben McClellan

Reuben McClellan, undated
Sketch: Logan Hovis, National Park Service

Reuben Frederick McClellan - everyone called him Fred1 - organized and was the central figure in the informal mining partnership that made the initial discoveries and negotiated the sales of the mineral claims that became Alaska’s Kennecott mines. In addition, the McClellan Party, as the group was known, was representative of many of the ad hoc prospecting groups that formed to search for gold and other metals during the gold rushes in Alaska and across western North America.

Fred was born in Maine in April 1859, and he moved with his family to Minnesota shortly after the end of the Civil War. By 1872, his father had passed away and his mother was raising the family in the town of Princeton, Minnesota. As a young man, Fred worked in the pine forests of Minnesota. Among other things, he was a surveyor. He also cleared his own land and ran a small, apparently popular local resort on Mille Lacs Lake north of Princeton. By all accounts he was a practiced woodsman. He appears to have been given to horse racing - successfully - and to the dramatic. His grand-daughter remembered that

"...he would ride into town with a brace of white horses while standing in his wagon with his flaming red hair blowing in the wind."2

Before heading north, he was a partner in a lumber yard and active in municipal politics. He was elected assayer for Princeton, Minnesota in 1892. He appears to have made investments in the California placer camps where he made what was later described as an independent fortune. When he returned to Minnesota later, he invested in timber lands and was appointed a timber cruiser for the State of Minnesota, a position he held until he turned his attentions to Alaska in 1898.

McClellan and his partners - he initially organized seven or eight men from the Princeton area - arrived in Valdez in March 1898. They spent the season looking for gold along the tributaries of the Copper River with some success. The next year, 1899, a reformed, slightly larger group returned and looked for copper as well as gold. Based on information from Native informants, they raced other prospecting groups for a number of copper prospects. In the end, they acquired a one-third interest in the Nikolai prospect, a bornite showing on McCarthy Creek east of the Kennicott Glacier4.

In the fall of 1899, the McClellan Party settled its affairs in Valdez and took on a number of new members. The arrangement between McClellan and his partners was simple. According to Clarence Warner, who joined the party in 1899:

"It was an agreement that we should go in the field as prospectors, standing our prorate [sic] of the expenses and sharing, share and share alike, in whatever might be found."
Several of the party had their own arrangements with backers in Minnesota. Another backer was a full partner. Major W. R. Abercrombie, head of the military exploration party to the Copper River area, acquired an equal share in the group in the spring of 1899 in exchange for some unspecified considerations, probably food or other supplies. Their business concluded for the year, the group dispersed, some to Minnesota and home, others to prospect in Prince William Sound.5

Over the winter, McClellan negotiated an agreement to manage the Nikolai prospect – to drive a tunnel and do other exploration work - for the Chittyna Exploration Company, a company formed to combine the interests of the three parties that laid claim to the Nikolai. McClellan hired some members of his Party to perform the work. Two other members, Smith and Warner, continued to prospect on behalf of the Party. On July 22, 1900, they staked the Bonanza outcrop, the rich, green chalcocite showing at the heart of the future Kennecott mines on behalf of the group. Two days later they staked the first claims on the nearby Jumbo showing.6

McClellan and the other partners negotiated the sale of their individual interests to Stephen Birch, who transferred title to the Alaska Syndicate a few years later. McClellan and several other members of the Party made arrangements with Birch to work on the Bonanza as well as prospect other locations. Among other things, he was the manager of the Kennecott Mines until the Copper River and Northwestern Railway was completed. McClellan continued to be associated with Birch and Alaska until after the Chisana gold rush.

McClellan had been wintering in California since 1901, and eventually lived there full time. For a while, he lived in Mariposa County where he had first made money in mining. He invested in real estate and opened a bank, the Citizens State Bank of Sawtelle. Politics attracted him again, and from 1916 until his death, he served on the Board of Supervisors for Los Angeles County. For the last few years of his life, he was President of the Board and was considered a political power in the area. Alaska had been good to him.7

By honoring Fred McClellan, we acknowledge his significant contributions to mining in Alaska. Through him, we also recognize and honor the many prospecting partnerships, formal or not, that were characteristic of the search for minerals during the gold rush era in Alaska and elsewhere.

By Logan Hovis, Historian, U.S. National Park Service, 2008

SOURCES

1 Jacquie Sorby to Logan Hovis, 02/04/2003. Ms Sorby of Princeton, MN—a genealogist and indirect descendent of R .F. McClellan—graciously provided most of the information on McClellan’s early life.

2 Anoka Union (January 27, 1886); Princeton Union (April 5, 1894); and Sorby, loc. cit.

3 Princeton Union (March 10, 1892), (June 9, 1892), “R. F. McCellean [sic] Dies in Los Angeles,” The Shelborne County Star News (January 15, 1930 ????);and “R. F. M’Clellan [sic], Alaska Pioneer, Called to Rest,” The Alaska Weekly, 33,6 (May 9, 1930): 1.

4 Unless otherwise indicated, the general discussion of the McClellan party’s activities is taken from Copper River Mining Company v McClellan, et. al., 2 Alaska Reports 134-157 (1903).

5 “Testimony of Clarence L. Warner,” in “Copper River Mining Co. v McClellan et. al.”, March 3, 1903, US Supreme Court Case #20006, Vol. II, p. 497, National Archives and Records Administration, pp. 470-471: and “Deposition of Major W. R. Abercrombie,” pp. 2507-2508, Copper River Mining Co., v. McClellan, et. al., Vol. VII, pp. 2507-2508, RG 26, National Archives and Records Administration.

6 Valdez News (4 May 1901): 1.

7 Princeton Union (May 15, 1930): 1.

Top of Page