Ivan John Minook
(1874 - 1940)
From left to right: Ambrose Minook (John's son), Helen Pitka McRae (Sally Heeter's half sister), Maragret Kokrine (Helen's daughter) Lucy Minook Callan (John's daughter), Fannie Callan (Lucy's daughter), Fannie Minook (John's daughter), Sally Silver (daughter of John's oldest daughter), Mrs. John Minook, John Minook (with axe at his feet), and Sally Heeter. The family is standing in front of their home in Rampart, circa mid-1890s.
Photo from the Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Kokrine collection, Alaska and Polar Regions Collection, University of Alaska, Fairbanks Polar Archives (UAF-897-2a)
John Minook, a.k.a. Ivan Pavaloff Jr., was born near the present site of the village of Tanana at the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers in 1874, just as the Yukon River traders Jack McQuesten, Alfred Mayo, and Arthur Harper had arrived in the North Country. Minook was the son of trader, interpreter and Russian-Koyukon Pitka Pavaloff and Nulato-Koyukon Malanka, which made John Minook three-quarters Koyukon (Athabascan). Ivan, who would be known as John his entire life, quickly absorbed prospecting skills, and before he was 20 years old, was recognized as an experienced prospector and woodsman. John's brother, Pitka, co-discovered the Circle district in 1893 with Sergei Cherosky. John's sister Erinia would later marry Cherosky.
John Minook participated in a number of early placer gold discoveries in Interior Alaska, which frequently involved the direct participation of his children as his 'prospecting partners'. In 1893, Minook, along with other prospectors, including Oliver C. Miller, prospected the length of the Koyukuk River and discovered numerous occurrences of placer gold. In the same year, he made the initial discovery of gold in the Rampart district - at what became Minook Creek. Minook also found paystreaks on Ruby, Slate, and Hunter Creeks in the main body of the Rampart mining district. In the fall of 1893, Minook discovered placer gold on Hess Creek in what became a part of the Livengood district. Rampart was briefly known as 'Minook City'.
In 1899-1900, Minook again prospected the length of the Koyukuk River, and made placer gold discoveries in the general vicinity of the Hammond River, now a part of the historic Wiseman district. In 1908, John Minook and his daughter Eliza discovered gold in the Melozitna River area on the Yukon River below Tanana, in what became known as the Tozi-Moran placer mining district. Like in other areas that he prospected, Minook located and recorded federal placer mining claims, which was unusual in his case as related below.
In 1896, the pioneer U.S. Geological Survey geologist Joshua E. Spurr, on an excursion throughout Interior Alaska, found John Minook at his diggings near Rampart. Spurr noted:
"He (Minook) had been the first to discover gold here, and was engaged in working a claim with a crew of natives, not withstanding the fact that the Indians, have, under our somewhat peculiar laws, no legal right to stake and own mines. He was a good natured fellow with a fair knowledge of English, which he was proud to air, especially the cuss words, which he introduced into the conversation gravely and irrelevantly."
During the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush, Native Americans could not own, sell or work (for profit) mining claims. The early Alaska Territory was administered by the Department of the Army. Under their jurisdiction, Native Americans were in a sort of legal limbo and not classified as Citizens of the United States, and instead, considered 'Wards of the State' to be administered by various Federal organizations. When the Rampart mining district was formed in 1896, the organizers of the district made an exception to the federal law banning Native ownership of claims, and recognized Minook's right to own, sell, and work his claims. The actions of this independent group of late 19th Century Alaska miners became part of a legal history involving Minook's mining rights. In 1904, Minook applied for U.S. Citizenship. In a widely read pronouncement at that time, Judge James Wickersham stated:
"The applicant is a citizen of the United States by virtue of the 3rd Article of the treaty between Alaska and Russia that ceded ownership of Alaska to the former jurisdiction."
In effect, the court couldn't make Minook anymore a citizen than he already was. Later, in the 1920s, this judicial ruling helped open up mineral location and development rights for Native Americans not only in Alaska but in other U.S. Territories as well.
Throughout his long career, John Minook was known as a very hard working and reliable prospector and placer gold miner. One issue of the Rampart Whirlwind described John as one the most honest men in Interior Alaska; many accounts attest to his reliability.
By Thomas K. Bundtzen, 1998; revised 2009
Goodrich, H.B., 1897, History and conditions of the Yukon Gold district to 1897, in, Spurr, J.E., 1897, Gelogy of the Yukon Gold district, Alaska: 18th Annual Report of the U.S. Geological Survey.
L'Ecuyer, Rosalie E., 1997, Historical study of the Rampart, Manley, Hot Springs, and Fort Gibbon Mining districts: U.S. Bureau of Land Management Archeological Report Number 61.
Spurr, J.E., 1900, Through the Yukon Gold Diggings: Boston, Eastern Publishing Company.
Wickersham, James, 1938, Old Yukon: Washington Law Book Company, Washington DC.