While the Gold Rush brought in thousands of prospectors to the Valdez region, very few made their fortunes. By the 1910s, the era of the lone prospector panning for gold along the river beds was nearing a close, becoming eclipsed by larger scale hard-rock mining operations run by corporations. Off of the glacier moraine of Shoup Glacier, the Cliff Mine staked by H.E. “Red” Ellis was leased to the Cliff Gold Mining Company, which ran the mine until 1942. Elsewhere in Prince William Sound, the mining towns of Ellamar and Latouche sprung up in addition to the company town of McCarthy that served the Kennecott Mining Company in the Wrangell Mountains. These endeavors were made possible by corporations that were able to bring in heavy equipment to extract ores in ways not attainable by a single individual.
This did not stop people from attempting to find wealth through placer mining, however, and the remains of prospector’s cabins can still be found in the backwoods along the Copper River Basin today. The Valdez Museum’s mining exhibit includes artifacts from both hard rock and placer mining, plus a miner’s cabin giving a glimpse of the interior of a typical miner’s cabin from the 1920s.
The Miner’s Cabin display was refurbished in 2011, including A Scent of Gold, an interactive scratch and sniff booklet describing the items in the cabin. Scratch the stickers in the booklet to experience the smells that would be found in the miner’s cabin, scents such as gunpowder, a wood stove, and tanned leather. The exterior of the cabin features three-dimensional models that describe methods of cabin construction. Also featured within the exhibit is a touchable display of furs and pelts, describing the fur industry that was influential to the economic development of the region and a second profession frequently practiced by prospectors living in the Interior and coastal regions alike.