Eugene E. Swanson

(1864 - 1943)

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Eugene Swanson Portrait

Eugene Swanson
Photo from Fairbanks Daily News Miner, 1938

Eugene E. Swanson was reported to be the only consistently successful miner in the Rampart Mining District according to a 1938 article published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. This achievement was the result of a lot of hard work and years of self-directed learning by reading everything he could on geology, mining engineering, and psychology from the extensive library he built for himself over the forty-plus years he resided in the Rampart area. It was said that he was one of the last mining men who were expert in the old ways of mining engineering prior to the advent of modern heavy machinery.

The details of Swanson's early life are a bit murky, with conflicting information in official records. In most records he said he was born in December 1864 near Chicago, Illinois. However, in 1899, when he enlisted in the United States Army at Chattanooga, Tennessee, he said that he was born in 1873 at Rockford, Alabama.

Swanson said his father was a Baptist minister and a teamster. After the Civil War his family was engaged in sharecropping, and they ended up living in the Chicago area while Eugene was still a boy. Swanson was consistent in his statements that his last name was taken from the owner of the plantation his family lived at and that he was born to a slave.

Swanson signed up for a three-year enlistment in the United States Army on April 10, 1899 and was assigned to the 24th Infantry, Company L, which is also known as the "Buffalo Soldiers," a famous regiment of black soldiers. At that time, he listed his occupation as being a painter. His physical description stated he was 5'11" tall, with black hair, brown eyes, and a light complexion.

One month after his enlistment, he arrived at Ft. Wrangell in May 1899, on his way to his duty station at Skagway, where he served out the rest of his term. According to his official Army records, he was discharged with the rank of Corporal on April 9, 1902, at the end of his enlistment with an excellent service record.

In a later newspaper interview, Swanson stated that he was in Alaska prior to his military service. He also said he had enlisted at Seattle and served in the 9th Calvary. Those statements do no match the official information found in his service records. It is unclear why Swanson gave misleading information regarding his life prior to his arrival at Rampart.

After his Army discharge, he went North to the Klondike, where he worked as a teamster for a couple of years. On October 19, 1903, he notified the Dawson City Post Office to forward any mail addressed to him to the Rampart Post Office.

Swanson later stated in a 1942 newspaper article that after he left Skagway he went to Dawson for a couple of years, then tried Nome for a short time, and ended up settling at Rampart in 1904.

By 1910, Swanson was married and had a daughter named Gracie who was born in Rampart. His wife was Amelia Buckworth, a widow that he met during his Army days in Skagway. Gracie grew up in Rampart and after she got married, she moved to Bethel, Alaska with her husband whose last name was Riley.

Together Eugene and Amelia Swanson owned several mining claims or interests in mining claims in the Rampart District during the teens and twenties. Some of the creeks they prospected and mined on were Little Minook Jr., Chapman and Hunter Creeks. During the mid-teens Swanson had also secured a mail contract to deliver mail between Fairbanks and several Tanana and Yukon river communities, including Rampart, by dog-team.

It was while mining on Hunter Creek during 1920's and 1930's, that Eugene made a name for himself by running the most successful operation in the district. He mined the old pioneer way, by drifting, and using flumes and ditching, instead of relying on a lot of heavy equipment. Swanson stated that the key to successful placer mining was in careful prospecting, which would focus only on ground that payed at a profitable rate and not wasting time and money on lower grade dirt. Drift mining is the ideal method for implementing that philosophy.

By 1938 the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that he had the largest mining operation in the Rampart District, which employed a five-man crew that consisted of John Evans, Arthur Mayo, Will Woods, Bill Burke, Theodore Harwood and Katherine Evans as the cook.

A few years after the death of his wife Amelia, Swanson married Alice Graves in Fairbanks on January 17, 1935. In the fever of his new-found affections, Eugene deeded half of his mining claims to Alice who also worked as a cook for the mine. They were No. 14, 15, 16, 24, 25, and 26 above Discovery on Hunter Creek.

It was a short-lived marriage that ended when she abandoned him and left for Seattle in 1936. A couple of years later Alice sued Eugene for half of the profits from the Hunter Creek mine. According to the court records the case was dismissed in 1939.

In the summer of 1939, Eugene Swanson ran a six-man crew on Hunter Creek. He was in his late seventies and it was to be the last sluicing season of his mining career. When the season ended, Swanson, along with his friend Estella Harris, relocated to prospect ground on Hess Creek in the Livengood District from late 1939 and into 1940


After that Eugene Swanson moved to Fairbanks when his health began to fail due to cancer. While living his remaining days in Fairbanks, he put his affairs in order by drafting a last will & testament stating that he was leaving $1 to his ex-wife, Estella and $100 each to his three grandchildren residing in Bethel, from his deceased daughter Gracie Riley. The rest of his estate would go to his friend, Estelle Harris who, by that time, was living in Kodiak. In 1941 the Hunter Creek holdings were to be liquidated according to an advertised Marshal's sale notice published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Swanson appointed AMHF Inductee E. B. Collins as executor of his estate. Collins, a former mayor of Fairbanks at the time, was also a respected miner and lawyer who served in the First Territorial Legislature as Speaker of the House in 1913 and much later, as a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention during the 1950s.

Eugene Swanson succumbed to cancer on December 30, 1942 at the age of 78. His funeral was conducted by the Veterans of Foreign War. The funeral notice published in the newspaper said that "Six Negro soldiers were pallbearers and gave a military flavor to the services." Swanson's final resting place was in the old Fairbanks Cemetery located along Clay St.

In the several newspaper articles that were published about Eugene Swanson, it was reported that he was a congenial man who was well liked by everyone, and that he always had a positive outlook on life. It can also be said that he was a diligent worker who reaped the many rewards of his efforts mining on Hunter Creek, where he lived the quiet and contented life of the old-time Alaskan miner.

Joan Skilbred, 2018

Newspaper Article on Swanson

News Article
Fairbanks Daily News Miner


Newspaper Articles

Fairbanks Daily Times- February 15 and 18, 1913

Fairbanks Daily News Miner- August 17, 1934;

October 26, 1938;

December 9, 1938;

June 12, 1939;

March 5, 1941;

March 7, 1942;

January 8, 1943;

and January 11, 1943

Federal Census

1900, 1910, 1920, 1930 and 1940

Court Records

Last Will & Testament- Fairbanks District, General Index, Vol. 1, Wills, p. 403,

District Court, 4th Division, Alaska, Swanson v Swanson Civil Case No. 4203

United States Military Records

National Archives- US Army Register of Enlistments, 1899, p. 134

National Archives- Military Pension Application No. 1548522

Department of Natural Resources, State of Alaska Mining Claim location notices for Rampart Mining District

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