Anyone even casually familiar with south central Alaska history should recognize George Hazelet’s name. A ubiquitous figure, he appears in many contemporary gold rush accounts and played key roles in the discovery and development of the Chistochina mining district, the founding of Valdez and Cordova, and the construction of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway.
Hazelet, like many similar gold seekers, entered the Copper Basin over the Valdez Glacier in early 1898. This journal highlights his experiences during that stampede, but continues further, relating the story of his gold discoveries along the upper reaches of the Chistochina River and his subsequent effort to supply, develop, and hold those claims. In this respect, Hazelet’s narrative is practically unique. Most surviving accounts of the Copper Basin gold rush were written by the losers’men who came, searched fruitlessly, went broke, and eventually fled. Hazelet stayed and ultimately flourished.
Hazelet’s use of language is often terse, to be expected when keeping a journal under such primitive conditions. But he was a keen observer, addressing such disparate topics as his fellow stampeders, U.S. Army explorers, pack animals, hunting, weather, and even Mrs. Meals’s fruitcake. He also describes the local Ahtna Indians at length, and was favorably impressed by both their character and demeanor.
Douglas Keeney’s prologue provides Hazelet’s motives for joining the gold stampede, but the epilogue is far less enlightening. Covering the period from 1902 to Hazlet’s death in 1926, it relates the facts but imparts little additional insight. How, for example, was Hazelet able to convert his bankruptcy into prosperity; his initial failure into such resounding success. Such a radical change demands further explanation.
A fascinating narrative as far as it goes, Hazelet’s journal might also have profited from a bit more context. While the editor provided numerous photos and a fine map, a few short informational footnotes would have greatly enriched the text, identifying some of its more important supporting players and explaining their significance. Several became significant regional figures in their own right and deserved greater recognition.
One fact is certain. While accessible to researchers for many years, the journal demanded wider circulation, and the editor/publisher has done local scholars an exceptional service by producing it. Hazelet stands among the dozen or so most significant regional characters and this narrative cannot help but enhance his reputation.
Review by Geoffrey Bleakley,-Alaska Historian,-Alaska Historical Society contributor