Mastodon Creek has produced more gold than any creek in the Circle district, and in its early history was known as the “best creek in Alaska.” The creek was named in 1894 by prospectors for fossil mastodon bones found in muck overlying the creek gravels.
Mastodon, a mining camp complete with post office, was established on the creek between 1902 and 1906. Gold was first discovered on Mastodon Creek June 15, 1894, by Pat J. Kinnaley and John Gregory, following the earlier discovery on Birch Creek at Pitka’s Bar. These two prospectors panned out about 50 ounces a week, and it was not long until the entire length of the creek had been staked.
The paystreak width was determined by sinking shafts in the creek gravel. This was accomplished by building repeated fires in the shafts and melting the gravel down to bedrock. The gravel was panned as it melted.
There were 59 claims on the creek in the summer of 1897, although only 18 were worked because of the shortage of labor. Once the miners accumulated a “grub stake,” they were off to the newly discovered Klondike to prospect. Early exploratory drilling of Mastodon Creek gravel revealed values ranging from $5 to $800 per pan.
Mining on Mastodon Creek has been nearly continuous since gold was discovered. In the early 1900’s, most operations consisted of “shoveling in” gravel to an elevated sluicebox with wood riffles. A steam hoist and a hydraulic plant with a steam scraper were also used.
The first dredge in the district was installed in 1912 on Mastodon Creek. Called the Elmer Dredge after its owner, J.M. Elmer, it was also the first dredge in the Yukon Territory having been built on the Stewart River in 1898. It was subsequently floated down the Yukon River to Circle, dismantled, and hauled overland to Mastodon Creek. The dredge operated during the summer of 1912 and 1913 but proved unsatisfactory because it was too small to dig to bedrock. The dredge was abandoned and pieces of it including several buckets can be seen today along the middle part of Mastodon Creek.
The paystreak width ranged from 30 m in the upper valley to 300 m in the lower valley. The gold in the upper valley was fairly coarse compared to the fine and flaky gold downstream. Nuggets larger than 1 ounce were rarely found, and the coarse gold that was recovered commonly contained attached quartz.
Mastodon Creek produced an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 ounces of gold. The creek is quite thoroughly mined out, and much of the gravel in the creek-bed has been washed several times. Although there have been several operations in the 1980’s, it has been difficult to make a “go” of it on the creek.