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Walter William Stoll

(1888 - 1949)

Walter Stoll

Walter W. Stoll in the summer of 1939.
Photo from Wm. M. Stoll (1997)

One of the major figures in the history of the Willow Creek district, Walter W. Stoll, was a late-comer to mining, but proved to be an exceptional mine manager - rivaled only by W.E. Dunkle in the district. Before tackling the Independence Mine in 1936, Stoll had mainly been in the salmon trade, acting as General Manager for Gorman and Company, and for his own operations in Cook Inlet. Stoll was prepared by education - he had graduated as an engineer from the University of Washington (UAW). Running large canneries at remote sites far from market was not bad preparation for mining operations. As in the mines, his salmon crews were large and mostly general laborers. Freighting was complex, and power was supplied by hydraulic force or large marine diesels. Production lines in a fish processing facility are comparable to hard rock gold mills. With a base in Alaska, Stoll would at least hear the latest mine gossip and know which properties seemed to have the most potential and the fewest problems.

Stoll was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in about 1888. His family, of probable German origin, moved to the Seattle area in 1900. Stoll graduated from the UAW School of Engineering in 1911. He was an exceptional athlete, lettering in track, but he also managed the student newspaper for four years. Undoubtedly he met some Alaskans, and made contacts strengthened by commercial fisheries work out of Seattle.

Except for Carle's early work, and production by Billy Martin from the Skyscraper gold lode, little had been done on the veins that outcropped on Granite and Skyscraper Mountains in the Willow Creek district. There was little doubt that the Independence vein on Granite Mountain extended into a similar vein on Skyscraper Mountain, one that had been mined by the Alaska Free Gold Company. The Great Depression, consequent deflated prices, available labor, and in December of 1934, a much higher price for gold, provided an incentive to reexamine the situation.

The Alaska Free Gold Company had produced no ore since 1920, and its shareholders had long looked for new mine management. In 1934, Charles L. Harrison, a substantial shareholder of the company, appeared with a new proposal for a lease that paid a 20% royalty to the shareholders. Harrison offered the same deal to the owners of the Independence Gold Mining Company on Granite Mountain, setting the stage for a substantial operation. Harrison assigned his leases to a 1934 Seattle-based company called Alaska Pacific Mines, Inc. (Alaska Pacific). The deal included Stoll.

At this stage, both Harrison and Stoll preferred a passive operation, where the leases would be assigned to an established mining company who would finance the operation and pay a royalty to Alaska Pacific. There were interested companies. In May 1935, Alaska Pacific struck a deal with Vancouver-based Bralco Mines Inc. (Braclo), the operator of the Bralorne gold mine in British Columbia. Bralco would form a new company, Bralaska Mining Company, where Bralco would have the controlling interest. The deal appeared secure, and operations commenced.

Billy Martin, an attorney and former operator on Skyscraper Mountain, had other ideas. He claimed that the Alaska Free Gold trustees had lacked the authority to lease the property and that the lease was invalid. Martin also opened a campaign to contact shareholders to urge them to cancel the lease. Although the lease was upheld by the Superior Court (Washington), operational problems and the failure to find new ore below the Skyscraper outcrops disillusioned Bralco who pulled out, leaving Alaska Pacific without an operating structure, and with properties whose reputation had been damaged.

The way was left open for Walter William Stoll to become a miner and the savior of the new company, now Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mines. Stoll began from scratch. His first crew was hired in early summer 1936, and consisted of his two mining engineer student sons and five men hired at Wasilla, one of whom claimed to be a cook. The budget was about the $16,000 - all that remained in the company treasury. Later in the season Stoll hired Albert G. Dodson to mine some ore - from uncertain locations - so the crew would have something to show for its efforts. Luckily, ore was found in old workings of the Independence Mine, and before Stoll left in the fall he hired Dodson to continue mining in the old Carle-Robe winze area (900 level) over the winter months. Dodson drove more than 400 feet of workings during the winter months, then, quickly, another 400 feet. The workings were mostly in ore of greater than 1 ounce gold/ton and Stoll's gamble had paid off. Production in 1937 totaled 11,316 ounces of gold, in 1938 it totaled 18,450 ounces, and in 1939, 24,338 ounces. From 1936 into the war year of 1943, Independence mined more than 149,000 tons of ore. Counting production from the Skyscraper vein (27,000 ounces) the Independence Mine group produced 215,000 ounces of gold through 1951.

Miners walk out of the Independence Mine at shift change.

Miners walk out of the Independence Mine at shift change.
Photo from the Gustav Johnson Collection in the University of Alaska-Anchorage archives.

Stoll was more flexible than some managers in the district. His miners earned the daily district wide wages of $5 to $6 for variable skill levels, but his foremen, like Dodson, who made the mine a success, earned more in an annual bonus than were paid foremen and shift bosses at other district mines. Stoll was sometimes accused of paying out too much, and of coddling his miners, but shareholders had no grounds for complaints, and Stoll continued to treat his young miners about the same way he treated his soon-to-be engineer sons.

George Lynch (left) and a young engineer weighing a retort sponge at the Independence Mine, circa 1937.

George Lynch (left) and a young engineer weighing a retort sponge at the Independence Mine, circa 1937.
Photo from the Russ Dow Collection in the University of Alaska-Anchorage archives.

World War II had a major effect on all gold mines. In addition to wartime restriction on gold mining, miners and supplies were often not available. For a time, it appeared that the Independence Gold Mine could continue operations as a tungsten mine as the ore contained small amounts of scheelite, a main ore mineral for strategic tungsten. In 1943, this option was lost and the mine closed. The Stolls, by now with two more qualified mining engineers to assist their father, looked optimistically for post war operations. The mine did re-open, and by going to a lease-block system, whereby experienced miners could produce gold for their own account, operations were profitable for a time.

In the fall of 1949, Walter W. Stoll was hospitalized in Anchorage; he was then moved to Seattle after Alaska treatment failed to yield improvement. Death was reported on November 14, 1949. William Stoll kept operations open into 1951, but the mine, operating under the fixed price of $35/ounce of gold, was not economic, and was closed, not to be reopened for almost 30 years.

Walter W. Stoll managed the transition from fish traps to underground gold mines. He was one of Alaska's best mine managers, and, with his two sons William M. and Walter C., a representative of one of Alaska's foremost mining families.

Walter left his wife Louise C., sons Walter (C.) and William M., a daughter Mrs. William M. Swayne of Port Madison, and sisters Mrs. Victor A. Montgomery of Seattle and Mrs. James M. Coe of Glendale, CA. Mrs. Montgomery was the wife of Walter's long time friend and corporate attorney and a director of Alaska Pacific.

By Charles C. Hawley


SOURCES

Anchorage Times, on death of Walter William Stoll, November 14, 1949 (p. 3)

Katherine K. Cohen, 1982, Independence Mine and Willow Creek District, Alaska: Anchorage, Dept. of Natural Resources, Office of History and Archaeology, Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation

Charles Caldwell Hawley, 2003, Wesley Earl Dunkle, Alaska's Flying Miner: Boulder, CO, University Press of Colorado, esp. Chapter 7, Pardners Mines and the Lucky Shot

Josette and William M. Stoll, Papers 1914-1987, 1997. Papers, Archives @ University of Alaska Anchorage

Walter C. Stoll, 1939, The Independence Mine, Willow Creek Alaska. B.Sc. Thesis, University of Washington

William M. Stoll, 1942, A Study of Operation, Metallurgical Control, and Costs at the Independence Mill, Alaska. Engineer and Mining Engineer Thesis, Stanford University.

William M. Stoll, 1997, Hunting for Gold in Alaska's Talkeetna Mountains, 1897-1951. Author, Ligonier Pennsylvania.

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