Irving McKenny Reed

(1889 - 1968)

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Photo of Irving Reed

Undated photo from the Reed family files at Pioneers of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Anyone searching through archived Alaska Territorial mining records will come across the name Irving McKenny Reed. The son of Nome Gold Rush participant Thomas Reed, Irving grew up in the remote mining camps of Nome, Iditarod, Livengood, and Takotna. As a Territorial Mining Engineer active during the early-to-mid 20th Century, Irving Reed was trusted and respected by the entire Alaska mining fraternity, and played a professional role in the development of the Goodnews Bay placer platinum deposits. During the same time, Reed served on the Alaska Game Commission, and was instrumental in getting musk oxen reintroduced into Alaska (on Nunivak Island), bison introduced (near Delta Junction), and elk (on Afognak Island). In later years, he served as municipal project engineer for the City of Fairbanks - then Alaska's largest community, and was elected to the then distinguished position of Alaska Territorial Highway Engineer, a job he held from 1953-1957.

Alaska Beginnings

Irving McKenny Reed was born on July 13, 1889 in Seattle, Washington to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas H. Reed. Both parents had distinguished American backgrounds. Thomas Reed's father was a California Forty-niner, and his great-great grandfather helped Daniel Boone settle Kentucky. Irving's mother was the daughter of a high-ranking Civil War officer fighting on the Union side of the conflict. Irving's father would become a lawyer who participated in the Cape Nome Gold Rush, who would subsequently serve as a U.S. Commissioner under Judge James Wickersham, then as a clerk of the Alaska Territorial Senate, and eventually as U.S. District Court judge for the First Judicial District in Juneau.

In May, 1900, ten-year-old Irving, with his mother and younger sister, Donna, traveled to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to meet Thomas. The trip from Seattle on the steamer Oregon took 34 days and was a storm-tossed voyage. Passage was arranged by Irving's uncle, Mark Reed, who owned about 40 percent of the Oregon. Irving's father was not seeking gold in the Aleutians. At the beginning of the 20th Century, the great deposits of sulfur in Louisiana and East Texas had not yet been discovered, and United States industry depended on sulfur imports from Sicily, Cyprus, and Asia. So when Thomas Reed discovered deposits of nearly pure sulfur high on the slopes of Makushin Volcano (elevation 6,680 feet) on Unalaska Island in 1899, sulfur was a valuable industrial commodity of interest to investors. During the winter of 1899-1900, Thomas Reed and his wife traveled east, where they found a wealthy Philadelphia investor interested in developing the Makushin sulfur deposits.

When young Irving stepped foot on Amaknak, Unalaska, and Akutan Islands, his father had already established a large base camp at tidewater on Unalaska Island designed to facilitate the exploration and development of the sulfur deposit. In addition, a small pilot reduction plant was constructed at tidewater on Akutan, and a few tons of 'high grade' sulfur ore were processed.

The sulfur reduction pilot plant built by Thomas Reed in 1899 on Akutan Island, Aleutian Islands, Alaska.  Photo taken by Roger Mercer in 1983.

The sulfur reduction pilot plant built by Thomas Reed in 1899 on Akutan Island, Aleutian Islands, Alaska.
Photo taken by Roger Mercer in 1983.

Irving's first memories of Alaska were of the wide variety of marine mammals plying the harbors and eddies of Amaknak, Unalaska and Akutan Islands, the enormous populations of sea birds, the huge runs of salmon in the streams draining the islands, and the often-stormy weather conditions. Thomas Reed put his young son to work managing a string of burros used to transport supplies up to the sulfur deposits, which occurred at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet within the crater of the volcano. Perhaps signaling his future professional interests, young Irving created a topographic map of Makushin Volcano and environs because there were no published maps available. Years later, the sketch map was still considered a useful depiction of the terrain, even though it had been created without the benefit of a transit or plane table.

After a period of delays, the Philadelphia millionaire arrived in Dutch Harbor to take a look at the sulfur deposit, and to provide additional expenditures. Irving's father left for the sulfur deposit with his investor, but much to the surprise of the Reed family, the party returned after only three days - with the millionaire on a stretcher. The nearly 5,000 feet of altitude and extreme exertion of the climb triggered a heart attack, and despite being attended by four doctors and even more attendants, Thomas Reed's sulfur mine backer died in the hospital at Dutch Harbor. Irving's father took the death of his financial backer as a bad omen, and he permanently terminated the development of the Makushin sulfur deposits. He then decided to move his family to the gold rush town of Nome on Norton Sound.

After sending his wife and daughter to Seattle via the steamer Roanoke, Thomas booked passage for his son Irving and himself aboard the steamer C. D. Lane bound for Nome. Although the 12 day passage included a blow off Saint Lawrence Island that threatened to sink the boat, the C.D. Lane arrived at Nome on August 2, 1900. Irving stayed with his father in the West End Hotel in Nome until his father could find a house for the family. His mother arrived in Nome from Washington State on the last steamer of the season. Sister Donna, who wintered in Olympia, would join the family the next year. Irving witnessed the great storm of September 11, 1900, when scores of vessels of all descriptions were driven onto the beach at Nome, with substantial loss of life. Irving's father saw two men drown in the breakers that day, and Thomas became depressed afterward because he had not been able save them. 1900 was a tough year for Thomas Reed.

Irving Reed with his sister, Donna, and their dog, Lassie, in 1901.  Photo from the Mineral Industry Research Laboratory files.

Irving Reed with his sister, Donna, and their dog, Lassie, in 1901.
Photo from the Mineral Industry Research Laboratory files.

The Nome Years

Memories of Nome would stay with Irving for the rest of his life. When he arrived there in 1900, he had just reached his 11th birthday. Irving remembered his graduation from the primary school grammar department on May 29, 1903, when he delivered an oration entitled 'The American Flag'. Reed entered Nome High School in the fall of 1903 with 38 other students. Although he spent part of one year in a California military academy, he returned to Nome to graduate in 1907. Soon after its establishment in 1901, the Nome High School quickly focused on preparing students for college, and became an accredited school for college entrance. Much of this was the result of strong leadership in the Nome Public Schools, which included Seward Peninsula newspaper man J. F. A. Strong, and champion dog musher and school board member Scotty Allan. Irving's coursework included three years of Latin, three years of German, three years of mathematics, including algebra and geometry, physics, English literature, professional writing, ancient history, geography, music, and physical education. For the 12 year period from 1901-1913, the Nome public school system was so highly regarded that high school graduates could be admitted without entrance requirements to Stanford University, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, the University of Minnesota, the University of Washington, the University of Oregon, and Washington State University. In 1966, two years before his death, Irving would say that his education at Nome had been more than sufficient to prepare him for the rigors of his future mining engineering curriculum at the University of California-Berkeley.

Nome High School organized both men's and women's basketball games, with the former team playing games at the high school gymnasium and latter team playing games at the Arctic Brotherhood Hall. Although he had never played basketball before, Irving became the captain of the men's basketball team by his senior year. Interestingly enough, Alice Clum, the daughter of John Clum - an inductee of the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame - was captain of the women's basketball team during the same year. In addition, skiing and tobogganing were encouraged by the school faculty, which proclaimed:

"any boy or girl who cannot slide down a hill on a pair of skis is behind the times".

Irving Reed as captain of the Nome High School basketball team in 1907.  Photo from the Reed family collection.

Irving Reed as captain of the Nome High School basketball team in 1907.
Photo from the Reed family collection.

During his boyhood years in Nome, Irving never personally met the 'Three Lucky Swedes' - Erik Lindblom, Jafet Lindeberg, and John Brynteson - but he did know their crucial supporter, Charles D. Lane, the namesake of the boat on which he had arrived. Irving remembered Lane as

"a tall, raw-boned man with white whiskers stained with tobacco juice",
who was
"farsighted, with the instinctive desire to build and expand the country he was operating in".
In later years, Irving remembered the infamous Judge Arthur H. Noyes as
"a fat old man with graying hair".
Yet the Reed family sympathized with the disgraced judge, who would soon afterwards "die of a broken heart". Thomas Reed would later remark that if Judge Noyes
"had just shown a little strength of character, he would have cleared the (claim jumping) mess up in one week".
Judge Noyes' widow became a close friend of the Reeds', and would stay with the family for an extended period of time. Upon Mrs. Noyes return to Nome, the Reeds arranged to have a special picnic in honor of her reinstatement into the community - there were no hard feelings, and
"all was forgotten and forgiven concerning the judge's misdeeds".
During a panning party on Caribou Bill's mining claim at the head of Anvil Creek, Mrs. Noyes panned a ˝ ounce gold nugget, the largest found by the party that day.

Others of Irving's acquaintance included gold rush pioneers Rex Beach, Wyatt Earp, and Bill Betteley. Irving also fondly remembered his association with J.C. Brown, who discovered the famed Third Beachline, also known during the gold rush era as the Third Beach Bonanza, where nearly 70 percent of all the placer gold in the Cape Nome district was recovered. Irving thought Brown was the best prospector ever to explore the Seward Peninsula. The Cape Nome district is famous for the concentrations of economic quantities of placer gold in ancestral marine strandline deposits, and placer gold discovered in 1899 at the modern beach level precipitated international attention in mining and geological circles. But gold concentrations found more than two miles inland from the coastal plain became among the most important placer deposits ever discovered in the Nome area.

Brown was a tall, blue-eyed, Iowa native who staked the Discovery claim on Little Creek, a barely discernable depression in the tundra on the slopes of Anvil Mountain. Brown tested Little Creek with a deep shaft into frozen substrate. At approximately 150 feet below the surface, Brown encountered what became known as the Bessie Bench, a 3-inch-thick seam of garnet-rich, ruby sand full of visible gold. In Bessie Bench, Brown recognized similarities to the gold concentrations found on the modern beach deposits along the Nome coastline, even though early U.S. Geological Survey geologists Arthur Collier, Phillip Smith, and Alfred Brooks were not initially convinced that the Little Creek discovery was a marine strandline. The Third Beachline would yield large yardages of auriferous sands, which were initially exploited with underground drift mines, and later with bucketline stacker dredges operated by the USSR&M Company. The Third Beachline was the first placer deposit in Alaska to be developed with large scale drift mines, and the mining techniques perfected there were later used in the Fairbanks district and at other locales in Alaska.

Panoramic view of Little Creek, Third Beach Line at Brown Discovery Claim, Alaska, circa 1906.  Photo from the University of Alaska Museum.

Panoramic view of Little Creek, Third Beach Line at Brown Discovery Claim, Alaska, circa 1906.
Photo from the University of Alaska Museum.

At the invitation of Brown, Irving and his father went down the discovery shaft on Dry Creek, and observed first-hand the rich, gold bearing, red beach sands that were speckled with visible gold. After Irving became a mining engineer, he did some engineering and mineral survey studies for the then elderly Brown on other properties in the Nome area.

Irving Reed attended college and obtained a degree in Mining Engineering at the University of California-Berkeley. While attending Berkley, Irving worked for a short time in a northern Californian underground quartz-gold mine operated by Nome pioneer Jafet Lindeberg. Irving returned to Nome in 1913, and established an assaying and mineral surveying business there. Between 1913 and 1917, he traveled throughout Alaska and established temporary living quarters in various remote mining camps, including Livengood, Flat, and Takotna (a bedroom mining community near Ophir), but kept his office headquarters in Nome.

In 1917, at the onset of World War I, Irving Reed left Nome to enlist in the U.S. Army. While waiting to be officially accepted by the military in Washington State, Irving took a temporary job as an assayer at the ASARCO smelter in Tacoma. Although details are not known, an accident occurred on the job and Irving was nearly killed. He was incapacitated and bed-ridden for more than a year. The industrial accident ended any chance of military service for Irving Reed.

Marriage And On To Fairbanks

After recovering from his injuries, Irving Reed returned to Alaska in 1919 or 1920. His life became greatly enriched by Eleanor Doris Stoy, born in 1897 in Seattle, Washington. Eleanor came to Alaska after World War I for adventure, met Irving there, and married him in San Francisco on January 7, 1923. Eleanor was an accomplished writer and artist, and her understanding of the nuances of story telling rubbed off on Reed. He later wrote remarkably complete accounts of mining activities throughout the Alaska Territory, and attributed some of his prose to the influence of his wife. After marriage, the couple would live in Nome for a year, before deciding to move to Fairbanks, where they lived for the rest of their lives. The couple would have two children, Irving Stoy Reed Junior and Nancy Reed Bauer, and eleven grandchildren. Besides art, Eleanor was an accomplished skin sewer. In the 1940s she made a parka out of rabbit skins, which Irving wore until his death in 1968.

Painted portrait of Eleanor Reed by Claire Taylor, circa 1928.  Photo from the Mineral Industry Research Laboratory files.

Painted portrait of Eleanor Reed by Claire Taylor, circa 1928.
Photo from the Mineral Industry Research Laboratory files.

Irving Reed's Professional Achievements

In 1925, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the Alaska Game Commission (AGC). One individual from each of the four judicial districts was appointed to the AGC, with the fifth being from the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. Irving Reed was appointed to represent the 4th Judicial Division in Fairbanks, and served on the AGC from 1927 to 1940. For about half of that time, Reed served as Chairman of the AGC, and was sometimes referred to, inaccurately, as the 'Game Commissioner '. Reed is widely credited with securing legislation for the reestablishment of musk oxen in Alaska (on Nunivak Island), the establishment of bison (near Delta Junction), elk (on Afognak Island), snowshoe hares (on Kodiak Island), and Sitka black-tailed deer (near Cordova). He would later say that his motivations were the desire to offer new big game hunting opportunities and the chance to provide 'red meat' in remote parts of Alaska where high protein foods were in demand and game was scarce. As a youth growing up in Nome, Irving witnessed the dramatic decline of caribou in the Brooks Range and on the Seward Peninsula, and the subsequent near-starvation and forced displacement of Inupiat Eskimos, who depended on the caribou for meat. The food crisis prompted Sheldon Jackson to bring Saami (Scandinavian) herdsmen and Siberian reindeer to Alaska to provide a red meat protein source for rural Alaskans. Reed was also responsible for the establishment of the first game and fur management units in Alaska, from which he sometimes borrowed concepts used in the determination of Alaska's mining district boundaries. In 1927, Territorial Governor George Parks named Reed Alaska's first Fire Warden, and awarded him a $150 dollar annual budget to fight wildfires in the Interior.

Bison at Darius Creek, Big Delta, Alaska in October, 1937.  Photo from the Alaska State Archives.

Bison at Darius Creek, Big Delta, Alaska in October, 1937.
Photo from the Alaska State Archives.

In 1929, Territorial Department of Mines Commissioner B.D. Stewart selected two associate mining engineers to oversee the mining industry throughout the vast Alaska Territory: Earl Pilgrim and Irving Reed. During a thirteen-year long career, Reed would cover mineral districts throughout the Interior, in the Brooks Range, on his old home turf, the Seward Peninsula, and in the Kuskokwim Mountains, including the Goodnews Bay platinum district. His more than twenty report filings included classics like the comprehensive, 200-page-plus, 1938 report on the gold mines of the Wiseman, Chandalar and Bettles area, his 1931 account of the lode and placer platinum mineralization in the Goodnews Bay area, and several 1930s reports on mining activities in the Kobuk and Squirrel River areas of the western Brooks Range.

After Irving Reed inspected the bedrock geology enveloping the small surface placer mine at Goodnews Bay in 1931, he published the following observation:

"various types of ultrabasic rocks have a rough zonal arrangement around Red Mountain, in which a gradational contact occurs between diorite, gabbro, and darker, more ultrabasic rocks……The theory is advanced that this arrangement is zonal, that originally the less basic rocks lay next to the contact with sedimentary rocks and the more basic rocks lie towards the interior of the intrusion due to magmatic differentiation"
This remarkably accurate description would pre-date modern petrologic classification of the Goodnews Bay intrusion as a 'Ural-Alaska' zoned complex by nearly 50 years. The name Ural-Alaska is derived from type localities in the Ural Mountains of Russia and examples in Southeastern Alaska. The published observation also reveals that mining engineer Irving Reed was well-versed in geologic terminology, typical of educated professionals of that time period. The Fairbanks Daily News Miner reported in the 1960s that Reed was instrumental in establishing the platinum industry of Southwest Alaska. Although Reed retired from the Territorial Department of Mines in 1941, he continued to make report contributions late into the 1940s, including examinations of industrial minerals as well as metals. He would provide consulting advice as a mining engineer into the early 1950s.

Irving Reed enroute to the Goodnews Bay region in 1931.  Photo from Alaska's Digital Archives.

Irving Reed enroute to the Goodnews Bay region in 1931.
Photo from Alaska's Digital Archives.

In 1952, as a Republican, Irving Reed ran for and was elected to the position of Territorial Highway Engineer. The 63-year-old pioneer obtained the sought-after position by defeating the popular Democratic contender Donald McDonald. As with the Alaska Game Commission, he was often referred to as the Territorial Highway Commissioner. In addition to overseeing surface road networks, his duties included oversight and development of the fledging marine highway system of coastal Alaska, which would bloom in the years following Statehood. He was instrumental in establishing floating docks and wharves throughout southeast and south-central Alaska. In 1954, Irving became involved in an industrial development plan for southeast Alaska and northwestern Canada, and assisted in the transportation planning part of the effort.

Later Years

During and immediately after his retirement from the Highway Engineer position, Irving and Eleanor became involved in the fight for Alaska Statehood. Alaska's Delegate to Congress, Democrat E.L. Bob Bartlett, reasoned that getting the support of influential Republicans from Interior Alaska, including journalist C.W. Snedden, E.B. Collins, and Irving and Eleanor Reed, might be important to the success of selling the idea of Alaska Statehood to the skeptical Republican administration of President Dwight Eisenhower. The problem was that both Hawaii and Alaska were strongly aligned with the Democratic Party, and if both states were admitted into the Union at the same time, it might create a 'super majority' for the Democrats in the U.S. Senate. In addition, Pentagon planners had asked the administration to set aside vast acreages of northern Alaska for new military reservations and training areas, and Statehood could complicate these plans.

Telegrams strongly supporting the merits of Alaska Statehood were sent by both Eleanor and Irving Reed to Speaker of the House Joe Martin, U.S. Senator Hugh Butler, Chair of the Committee on Territories and Insular Affairs and Senator Guy Gordon, a member of that Committee Anthony Lausi, the Deputy Director, Office of Territories, Department of Interior, and to President Eisenhower himself. Generally positive responses were received from all those who received telegrams from the Reeds. In addition, Eleanor sent personal letters to Senator Neuberger and to Senator 'Scoop' Jackson of Washington State, the letter written to the latter to refute the contention that

"western and northern Alaska were just wastelands".
No one can say for sure how important these lobbying efforts were, but they certainly didn't hurt the cause for Alaska Statehood.

Irving Reed's remaining active years centered on local Fairbanks issues. Reed served on the Fairbanks City Council for eight years, and also served as municipal project engineer for Fairbanks. In civic and pioneer affairs, he helped negotiate the lease that created Pioneer Park - where the 1967 Centennial Park (Alaskaland) was built. Reed was President of the Pioneers of Alaska Igloo #4, and later was appointed to a three-year term as Trustee of the Order. In 1963, Reed served as King Regent for the Winter Carnival and Golden Days Celebration in Fairbanks. In his last public participation as a professional engineer, he testified during late 1967 hearings on the technical merits of building the proposed Moose Creek diversion dam in order to protect Fairbanks from flooding such as occurred during the August 1967 flood.

Irving and Eleanor Reed lived in a two story log home near Ballaine Lake off Famers Loop Road west of Fairbanks. In retirement years, both could be seen walking two to three miles per day along the side of the road, often in sub-zero temperatures. When asked if they needed a ride, the reply was always 'no thanks', with a smile. In January, 1968, Irving Reed died suddenly and unexpectedly at his Ballaine Lake home. Both Eleanor and Irving were planning on entering the Fairbanks Pioneers Home later that year. On January 24, 1968, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner included the following in his eulogy:

"Mr. Reed never espoused any borrowed ideas. They were always his own and during his long and varied career as a public servant in the city and throughout Alaska, many of his ideas reached constructive fulfillment…..Not many of us will have as many original ideas to live on as those of Irving McKenny Reed."
By Thomas K. Bundtzen, March 2, 2010.


Cole, Terrence, Chief Editor, 1984, Nome-"City of the Golden Beaches": Alaska Geographic, Vol. 11, No. 1, 183 pages.

Collier, A.J., Hess, F.L., Smith, P.S., and Brooks, A.H., 1908, The gold placers of parts of the Seward Peninsula, Alaska, including Nome, Council, Kougarok, Point Clarence, and Goodhope Precincts: U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 328, 339 pages.

Emanuel, Richard P., 1997, The Golden Gamble: Alaska Geographic, Vol. 24, No. 2, 96 ages.

Poling, John M., 1970, A history of Nome Public Schools: 1899-1958-From Gold Rush to Statehood: University of Alaska Masters in Education, 185 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1927, Report on some gold prospects in the Chandalar district: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 31-2, 4 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1929, Report on the Mining conditions of the Seward Peninsula: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 192-2, 44 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1930a, Report on the Little Squaw area of the Chandalar area: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 31-4, 18 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1930b, The future of the placer mining industry on the Seward Peninsula and in Interior Alaska: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 195-13, 16 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1931a, Report on the placer deposits of the upper Kobuk goldfields: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 28-1, 57 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1931b, Report on the placer deposit of the Goodnews-Aorlic gold field: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 101-2, 38 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1931c, Report on the platinum placers south of Goodnews Bay: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 123-1, 35 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1932, Report on the placer deposits of the Squirrel River area: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 53-1, 33 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1933a, Report on the coal and placer gold deposits of the lower Kugruk River valley: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 44-1, 12 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1933b, Report on the Bluff mining area of Seward Peninsula: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 44-1, 36 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1937, Itinerary of summer's field work for year 1937, Wild River district: Alaska Territorial Department of Mines, IR 30-19 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1938a, Report on the lode mining and development in the Year 1938 in the Fairbanks district: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 194-6,28 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1938b, Upper Koyukuk Region, Alaska (Wiseman, Chandalar, and Bettles): Territorial Department of Mines, MR 194-7, 201 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1938c, American Eagle lode, Fairbanks district: Territorial Department of Mines, PE 49-2, 2 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1938d, Brief report on the Twin lode mine in the Fairbanks district: Territorial Department of Mines, PE 49-3, 2 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1938e, Brief report on the Hi Yu Mining Company (Fairbanks Creek): Territorial Department of Mines, PE 49-4, 3 pages.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1947, Report on investigation for brick clay in Fairbanks area: Territorial Department of Mines, MR 58-6.

Reed, Irving McKenny, 1969, Boyhood in the Nome Gold Camp: University of Alaska Mineral Industry Research Laboratory, 70 pages.

______________, 1968, End of the Trail-Irving McK. Reed: Alaska Sportsman, April, 1968, page 55.

______________,1968, Pioneer Alaska Leader Irving Reed Dies at Home, Fairbanks Daily News Miner January 23rd, 1968.

______________, 1968, Irving Reed, a Man of Ideas, None Borrowed: Fairbanks Daily News Miner January 24th, 1968.

Reed, Irving S., 2005, Alaska to Algrorithms - My Journey from the Northern Frontier to the Digital Age; ELIBRIS Corp, 209 pp.

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