Donald Rae


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photo of Donald Rae at work

Donald Rae

Don Rae was a prospector, miner, assayer, and promoter who was at home throughout the west: Arizona, Oregon, Montana, Nevada, several districts in Alaska, perhaps more successful than many, but never wealthy. Rae lacked the wealth generation capacity of other better known North Country pioneers but never-the-less, he represented an active, multi-faceted and successful, western mining entrepreneur of the Alaska-Yukon Gold rush period and even earlier in the American West.

Rae was of Scottish decent, born in Montreal, Canada, June 25, 1864 and naturalized as a U.S. citizen in Colorado in 1879. He moved often but stayed long enough to accumulate potential and establish a mining reputation.

Rae's early years have not been traced. In 1899, he acquired a lease on one of the substantial veins of the richly endowed Bi-Metallic Mine in the Philipsburg District, Montana. In 1901, he bought and operated the Klondike Mine at Granite Pass, Oregon.

His Alaska career began in 1903 when he departed Dawson City, Yukon Territory via the Porcupine District (Haines) near the Dawson Trail, and arrived in Juneau where he acquired a lease option on the Humbolt Mine. From 1904-1907, Rae acquired claims and water rights in the Humbolt, Jualpa, Reliance, Recine and Ebner mines in the Juneau and Porcupine districts. He may have worked in the Treadwell mine group on Douglas Island; he was called as an expert witness for the defense in a lawsuit concerning the deaths of several miners in the Treadwell mines.

From 1908-to-1910, Rae returned to the American southwest and acquired numerous claims near Yuma, Arizona, including the area around near the North Star and Golden Star Mines near Castle Dome. Later in 1910, he was an assayer at the Buckhorn Mine at Eureka, Nevada.

By 1913, Don Rae had returned to Alaska to work in mines in the Hatcher Pass area, where he would spend much of the remainder of his career; he is frequently mentioned in the diary of the Knik-Wasilla pioneer--Orville Herning. Initially, Rae operated a fire assay laboratory for miners and prospectors operating out of Knik.

Rae with horse cart

Don Rae, adorned with a mosquito head net, attends to a horse-drawn wagon in Hatcher Pass area, circa 1913
Photo Credit: Dan Carney

In 1914, Rae began a prospecting venture with Frank and Alonzo Wells, who had discovered what became the Golden Zone gold mine in Broad Pass district southeast of Cantwell. (Alaska Mining Hall of Fame inductee Wesley Earl Dunkle developed the property into a producing gold mine at the onset of World War II). His original investigations included the Gold Dollar and Bluff Numbers 1 and 2, which cover important portions of the Golden Zone system.

In 1915, Rae revisited the Broad Pass area, where he worked the Golden Zone Extension #3 property. Rae is pictured with the Wells brothers in a 1914 article and photograph published in a Butte, Montana newspaper.

Mining paper publisheButte mining paper articled in Butte Montana during 1914 featured an article 'Hunting for Gold in Alaska' describing exploration of the newly discovered Golden Zone gold deposit, The photo on the upper right shows Rae and the Wells brothers, the prospectors that discovered the deposit.

The Rae-Wallace Mining Company was incorporated in Wallace, Idaho to operate in the Willow Creek (Hatcher Pass) mining district of south-central Alaska. The company proposed to develop 11 claims, including the Sun, Morning Star, Moon and Evening Star, which were acquired from well-known district miner William Martin, while locating seven additional claims.

During mine development, Don Rae purchased lots in Wasilla town site and built a house. From 1918-to-1919, Don worked at an Alaska Railroad pump station at Montana Creek south of Talkeetna. He also did some contract work for the Jonesville Coal Mine near Sutton.

From 1920-to-1923, Don Rae reached the peak of his activities in the Willow Creek (Hatcher Pass) mining district. In 1920 and 1921, he formed the Alaska Willow Creek Mines Development Company, which goal was to develop lodes and placers in the area. He located the Rae Group and Colorado #1 claims in the district. At the same time, he again resumed employment in the Jonesville Mine near Sutton until a fire and flood caused operations to temporarily cease there. He began to prospect with Paddy Marion and told Orville Herning that he started a new company — the Virginia Mining Company.

What Don Rae is best known for during this latter period of activity was his compilation map of the Willow Creek Mines, a copy of which can be found in the Anchorage Museum archives. This map shows the locations of all operating mines and associated infrastructure active to about 1922. Future explorations geologists, including U.S. Geological Survey scientists, would use this map during their investigations of the Willow Creek Mining District.

By June, 1923, Don S. Rae was in poor health. He received medical assistance in Anchorage, where he is diagnosed with Pulmonary Tuberculosis. At the recommendation of hospital staff, he traveled to Seattle, Washington for further treatment. In Washington State, his condition progressively worsened and he signed over his mineral estate to long time fellow prospector William Martin. In early 1924, Don S. Rae passed away in Pocatello, Idaho.

Compiled by Charles C. Hawley, Dan Carney, and T.K. Bundtzen — October 29th, 2015


1. Family papers, 2015

2. Mine map Bi-Metallic Mine

3. A. C. Spencer, 1905, USGS Bulletin 287; Ebner-Humboldt

4. William L. Stoll, 1997, Hunting for Gold in Alaska's Talkeetna Mountains

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