On this day in Alaska history…
The Discovery of Gold at Pedro Creek
“There’s gold in them there hills!” claimed Felix Pedro on July 22, 1902. He had been searching in the Tanana area near E.T. Barnett’s trading post for a few years and finally found what he was looking for—14 feet under an unnamed creek that would later be called Pedro Creek. His partner, Tom Gilmore, and other colleagues were prospecting in Circle at the time, but Pedro’s find was worth sending word for them to come stake their own claims, just 12 miles northeast of the new town of Fairbanks. Mile 16.6 of the Steese Highway might not look like much today, but this easy-to-miss spot on the side of the road sparked a significant stampede for gold in Alaska and led to Fairbanks becoming the largest city in Alaska years before our current largest city, Anchorage, existed.
I learned gold can still be found in this very place during a visit with my daughter, Laura, and family who live outside of Fairbanks. Our family has an interest in Alaska’s gold-mining history and Laura was excited about taking us to pan at Pedro Creek. We brought our pans and shovels to try our luck and dug what we hoped would be pay dirt from the stream bed and banks. The Interior’s summer day temperature was near 80°F so we all enjoyed the cool water, especially my daughter and grandsons in their bare feet. The creek was shallow and safe for young ones to play in and around. One of them did step in an unexpected hole and took a quick dunk, but the warm sunshine soon made everything right again.
Today, Pedro Creek is open for free recreational gold panning thanks to the Pioneers of Alaska, Igloo #4 who own the claim. An old peeling sign across the stream says NOTICE in huge red letters. Upon close inspection I discovered that it was an invitation to pan and at the bottom the words: Good Panning & Good Luck!, made us feel welcome. We found a couple flakes of gold at the bottom of our pans, enticing us to continue until the dinner hour.
Just across the road from Pedro Creek is a monument to Felix Pedro along with nice interpretive signs, sharing the importance of this place. A quote from one of the signs caught my interest as it relates to current day events: “The Pioneers of Alaska Igloo #4 on July 22, 1952, organized a celebration for Pedro’s discovery. This celebration is now an annual event called the Golden Days Festival.” If you happen to be in Fairbanks on July 22nd there is a parade and lots of activities going on, but if the Golden Days Festival crowds are too much for you just head to that quiet place up the road where it all began.
Story by Wendy Wesser of Last Frontier Magazine
Love reading about history in Alaska? Check out, “First Airplane Flight in Alaska,” and learn about a Fourth of July celebration in Fairbanks, Alaska, unlike any other.