Copper Harbor, Hetta Inlet

Copper Harbor, Hetta Inlet

by | Jul 21, 2022

Copper Harbor is an embayment on Prince of Wales Island on the eastern shore of Hetta Inlet, and the site of the historical Coppermount mine, about  38 miles (61 km) west-southwest of Ketchikan and 8.6 miles (14 km) east-northeast of Hydaburg, Alaska. The harbor and mine are named after Copper Mountain which forms the northern shore and has an elevation of 3,816 feet (1,163 m). Hetta Inlet is named after the abandoned village of Hetta or Hettah which was historically situated in Hetta Cove about 3.5 miles (6 km) south-southeast of Copper Harbor. The name was first reported by Jefferson F. Moser in 1897 who commanded the U.S. Fish Commission steamer Albatross. Prince of Wales Island is part of the Alexander terrane, a fragment of an accretionary wedge that underlies much of southeastern Alaska, the Saint Elias Mountains of eastern Alaska, Yukon, and British Columbia, and part of the coastal region of west-central British Columbia. Copper Mountain is a granodiorite pluton that intruded the local rocks of the Descon Formation and Wales Group about 102 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The Wales Group is about 11,000 feet (3,400 m) thick and consists of varying amounts of marble, schist, and phyllite that formed during the Precambrian. In fault contact with the Wales Group at the head of Copper Harbor are marine sediments of the Descon Formation. These rocks consist of 26,000 feet (8,000 m) of turbidite, greywacke, mudstone, and basalt which have been dated to the Middle to Late Ordovician. During the Pleistocene, the area was covered by an ice sheet. Wisconsin-age valley glaciers carved classic U-shaped depressions in the valleys that today are mostly covered by glacial till. The mineral deposits that made this area famous occur where the Copper Mountain pluton intruded Wales Group calcareous rocks and created mineralizations of copper, zinc, molybdenum, and gold.

Prior to the Haida emigration to Southeast Alaska in the early 1700s, there were 3 major Tlingit settlements on Prince of Wales Island at Shakan, Tuxekan, and Klawock. The Tlingit lived in permanent villages during the winter, specifically from November to May, and moved to seasonal sites from May or June to October. When the Kaigani Haida migrated north from Haida Gwaii to the Alexander Archipelago, they displaced the Tlingit population who moved farther north. The Haida found sockeye salmon streams in Hetta Inlet and had a village or seasonal camp at Hetta Cove. In 1774, the Spanish explorer Juan José Pérez Hernández is believed to have established the first contact with the Haida at Cape Muzon on Dall Island. Later, the Spanish, Russians, French, and Americans conducted maritime fur trading expeditions along the northwest coast. However, Natives of the northwest coast retained substantial autonomy and control of their land and were able to protect their traditional culture and traditional activities, such as trading. But the economy of the Tlingit and Haida people changed from subsistence and trade to bartering and finally employment to pay for European manufactured goods. The commercial fishing of salmon in the Prince of Wales Island area started a few years after the Alaska Purchase in 1867. In 1878, the North Pacific Trading and Packing Company built the first salmon cannery in Klawock about 29 miles (47 km) northwest of Copper Harbor. The Kaigani Haida people who were employed in these salteries and canneries also contracted rent or lease agreements with the canneries’ operators and owners for access to and use of the sockeye streams that traditionally belonged to a house lineage. However, these lease agreements were soon neglected by the cannery owners and the local sockeye stocks were intensively fished. For example at Hetta Cove, 24,022 sockeye salmon were commercially harvested in 1886, 47,769 in 1894, and 201,299 in 1896. Kaigani Haida were seasonally employed by cannery owners to seine and process fish but later were replaced by floating fish traps operated by companies that employed immigrant laborers in the canneries. This forced some Haida men to work in the mines which proliferated in the late 1800s.

Two of the largest copper-producing mines in Alaska were at Hetta Inlet on the west side of Prince of Wales and Kasaan on the east side. The largest known deposit produced 10,194,264 lbs of copper, 87,778 oz of silver, and 7,676 oz of gold during the first part of the 20th century. The Copper Mountain property comprises a group of fifteen or twenty claims located north of and adjacent to Copper Harbor. A gravity cable tramway connected mining claims at the top of the mountain to the stamp mill and wharf at Coppermount on the north shore of Copper Harbor. A sawmill and a number of substantial buildings were also located near the wharf. The facility utilized a Pelton wheel to provide electric power for running the sawmill. A mine called the New York claim at the top of the mountain was an open cut about 40 feet (12 m) deep that followed a copper vein varying from 3 to 30 feet (1-9 m) wide. The copper vein was eventually reached by a tunnel 60 feet (18 m) long. Alaska’s first copper smelter was built in 1905 at Coppermount by the Alaska Copper Company. Five months later a second smelter was built at Hadley on the Kasaan Peninsula. The copper produced by these smelters was shipped elsewhere and profits were dependent on fluctuations in the global market. Prices rose from 12 cents a pound in 1904 to 24 cents a pound in 1906 and the local industry boomed and several new mines opened up to take advantage of the price. Communities such as Hadley and Coppermount grew rapidly, adding stores, and hotels but the main supplier and shipping point for these mining towns was still Ketchikan. The Coppermount post office was established here in 1900 and by 1905 the town had over 200 residents. In 1907, copper prices dropped back to pre-1904 levels. The Prince of Wales copper had never been as high grade as the copper in other areas and too much effort was required to process the ore. Coppermount closed and Hadley struggled on for a few more years. When the high-grade Kennecott Mine northeast of Cordova opened up in 1911, it was the end of most efforts to extract high-grade copper from Southeast Alaska including Coppermount. In 1921, the Hetta Packing Company built a salmon cannery at the old wharf site but it was closed in 1930. Read more here and here. Explore more of Copper Harbor and Hetta Inlet here:

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This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

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