Historic Valdez Trail

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The Historic Valdez Trail

To learn more about the Valdez trail, we suggest these two books:

  • Trailing and Camping in Alaska Valdez Trail by Addison Powell
  • Valdez Gold Rush Trails of 1898-1899 by Jim and Nancy Lethcoe

Historical photo circa 1898 from the Candy Waugamen Collection showing a camp used in 1898 by the Conneticut company. Valdez Trail - 1898 Trail Through Klutina Lake and Valdez Glacier

Historical photo circa 1898 from the Candy Waugamen Collection showing a camp used in 1898 by the Conneticut company.

Hoping to follow an all American route to the rich Klondike gold fields, thousands of prospectors from across the country flocked to the small port Valdez in the spring and summer of 1898. They then followed an extremely dangerous route into the Copper River Basin up over the Valdez Glacier and down the Klutina Glacier. This glacier route and the Klutina River claimed the lives and supplies of countless gold seekers before they could arrive in Copper Center. Many of these remaining miners, graced with luck and stamina, continued on, following old native and newly blazed trails toward Eagle City on the Yukon River, over three hundred miles away.

Waugamen Peninsula Camp Circa 1899Valdez Trail - 1899 Trail to Eagle. The Old Military Trail

Valdez to Eagle Trail: The Trans-Alaska Military Road

During the spring of 1899, Captain William Abercrombie was sent back to Valdez to find a safer route into the Alaskan Interior. He followed an old trading trail used by the Ahtna and Chugach natives through Keystone Canyon and over Thompson Pass. Construction of new trail and improvement of the old native trail started soon afterward. His men constructed 93 miles of packhorse trail and another 112 miles of improved foot trail by October 1899, opening up a new route to Copper Center for prospectors heading to Eagle City and Fort Egbert. This military road blazed the route for the current Richardson Highway, which was built on the old road and now accommodates thousands of motor travelers each year.

Bleakley Hogan Cabin on Valdez TrailValdez to Eagle Trail: The WAMCATS

One year after the beginning of the military road, the Federal Government authorized building a telegraph line connecting the military forts in Alaska with Washington D.C. via the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS). The telegraph line was to follow the newly constructed military road and provide both military and civilian communications for Alaska. Young First Lieutenant William “Billy” Mitchell was directed to construct the difficult portion of line from Fort Egbert and Eagle City to the Tanana River, where it would join the segment constructed by Captain George Burnell from Valdez. This connection was completed in 1902, allowing communication with the lower 48 states along a telegraph line strung between Eagle and Vancouver B.C. Since the line was frequently broken, detachments of Army Signal Corps maintained the line from cabins spaced 40 miles apart along its length. The WAMCATS operated until about 1910, sending a total of 253,338 commercial and 53,116 official messages. One of the Army Signal Corps cabins is currently on display at Alaska Land in Fairbanks and miles of telegraph cable remain along the routes they were placed over a hundred years ago.

Copper River Historical Map ThumbnailClick on photo to see enlarged map. (The map is very large, Right click on the link provided to save time downloading to your computer.)  Photo Link

Photo Credits:

     Candy Wugamen Collection
      Valdez Museum