Click on each photo to greatly enlarge it
Tantalus Butte was named in 1883 by Lt. Frederick Schwatka, who was frustrated by the many bends in
the Yukon River in what is now the Carmacks area. He kept expecting to reach the hill, then the
river would take him away from it again. In A Summer in Alaska (1893), he says:
In the region about the mouth of the Nordenskiöld River a conspicuous bald butte could be seen directly
in front of our raft no less than seven times, on as many different stretches of the river. I
called it Tantalus Butte, and was glad enough to see it disappear from sight.
Tantalus was the son of Zeus, and was
punished by being forced to stand in water that moved away when the tried to drink it, and under
fruit trees whose branches he couldn't reach. The photo to the left shows the river in May 2003,
with Tantalus Butte to the north in the background. In the enlarged photo you can see the
North Klondike Highway just to the left of the hill.
To the Northern Tutchone people who have lived near the hill for thousands of years, it
was known as Gun Tthi, which means worm hill. They believed that a giant worm with eyes like the sun
lived in the hill, and if they made too much noise while passing by on the river, the worm
would cause a big wind that would upset their boat.
It is often reported that coal was discovered in the area
by George Carmack in 1893. However, George Dawson had reported in 1887 that coal outcrops
in the area provided a source of fuel for prospectors and trappers.
Between 1900 and about 1908, commercial mining took place sporadically on
a pair of small seams on the southeast bank of the Yukon River 6 miles upsteam from Five
Finger Rapids (136° 20' W., 62° 12' N.). The Yukon Sun of May 22, 1900
reported on the discovery and development:
Captain Miller, who commanded the steamer Reindeer, is a lucky man. He discovered a coal mine
two miles south of Reindeer station or six miles from the Five Finger rapids. It is a blanket vein,
three foot seam, and he has already 8 tons out.
The mine is located right beside the river and Captain Miller has already
built a wharf 115 feet long, ice proof. The quality of the coal is very good, being between an
anthracite and a bituminous, more like the
Cumberland blacksmith coal and fit for general use. He will soon be able to get out about 20
tons a day as soon as he can get a second chamber opened for working. He certainly has a bonanza
as coal in that section of the Yukon will be a godsend to steamers and railroads.
The coal from Five Fingers was intended primarily to fuel river
steamers, but contrary to the report above, the quality of the coal
was considered quite poor, with a high ash content. The
White Pass & Yukon Route railway (WP&YR),
which was expected to become a major user of this coal, brought theirs up from Vancouver
Island by ship instead.
In 1900 and the spring of 1901, there were scores of coal deposits reported
in the Yukon, most of them quite close to Dawson City.
Many were apparently questionable, because in late June 1901 the federal government stopped selling
land with reported coal deposits. From that point on, only leases were available, and at $1 per year
per acre, speculation was much more limited.
In 1903, Captain Miller sold the mine to a group which organized as the Five Fingers
Coal Company. He then opened (in his wife's name) the Hidden Treasure coal mine,
located along the river just above Carmacks (136° 16' W., 62° 06' N.).
The following year, 370 tons of coal was shipped. In 1906 the mine,
now named the Tantalus Coal Mine, reported production of 5,173 tons of coal, and in 1907 almost 10,000 tons.
Although the quality of the coal was better here than it was at Five Fingers, the few steamboats
that had tried to use coal reverted back to wood fuel. The photo above shows the sternwheeler Casca
delivering supplies to the mine in about 1910.
Despite the quality issues, the rock formations in the Carmacks area
were soon widely recognized to be an indicator that coal would be present, and "Tantalus
conglomerates" show up in many coal-related geology reports, in British Columbia as well as the Yukon.
In the current report
The Geological Framework of the Yukon Territory, C. Hart reports that:
The Tantalus Formation occurs in small isolated exposures that range from south of Whitehorse
to Carmacks and to just south of Dawson. These exposures are mainly of quartz-rich sandstone
and conglomerate and host the Whitehorse, Division Mountain, Tantalus Butte and Haystack Mountain
coal deposits. Tantalus Formation rocks range in age from 140 to 60 million years old and are
deposited on Stikinia, Quesnellia and Yukon-Tanana Terrane.
On the 1908 map below, Tantalus conglomerates are indicated by light green.
Click on it to see all the coal mines discussed in this article.
After 1918, production at the Tantalus mine dropped to a few hundred tons per year,
mostly used by homes and businesses in Dawson City.
The Tantalus Mine was closed in 1922 when a fault
was reached in the main tunnel, and the coal vein could not be relocated.
Development work then shifted to the Tantalus Butte Mine on the opposite side of the Yukon
River (136° 15' W., 62° 08' N.).
A forest fire in the 1950s ignited a small coal seam at
the old mine, and some locals report that smoke can
occasionally still be seen coming out of cracks in the ground around the old workings. The remains of the old dock and a small coal
seam can still (2003) be seen on the south side of the river about a hundred yards upriver from the highway bridge.
The Tantalus Butte Mine was never able to develop a large market, and yearly
production ranged from 300 to 600 tons until 1938 when the mine closed. In 1948 the Yukon Coal Company,
owned by Cassiar Asbestos,
reopened the mine with a federal loan of $300,000. Production increased to nearly 13,000 tons
by 1954, but then declined to 8,806 tons by 1965 as demand by the United Keno Hill Mines decreased.
This photo shows the main adit and loading platform in September 2001.
The mine closed in 1967, but two years later, Anvil Mining Corporation reopened
it, with the coal to be used at their Faro
lead/zinc mine for concentrate drying and plant heating. In the mid-1970s, production peaked
at about 18,000 tons per year, and most of what is visible at the mine site today is from that era.
This photo shows the ore dump, with the Yukon River and the road to the Faro mine in the background. September 2001.
Another view of the ore dump and the Yukon River.
Renamed Cyprus Anvil, the company calculated reserves of approximately 85,000 tons in 1976, but
most of that was mined before operations were shut down for the final time in 1982 due to the
closure of the Faro mine. The closure of that mine also spelled the end of freight service on
the WP&YR, which had undergone a major upgrade to service to mine.
An underground fire had started in an abandoned section of the mine in 1978,
and the unsuccessful efforts to extinguish it may have also been a consideration in the
decision to not keep the mine open while new markets were sought.
In this photo, the hillside above the main adit is slowly collapsing, and has
been fenced off. September 2001.
This photo hints at the conditions that faced the miners underground. Even in early September, the air
coming out of this shaft is cold enough to form substantial quantities of ice on the timbers!
A general view of the mine workings in September 2001.
A winze (an angled shaft), with the Yukon River below and the community of Carmacks barely visible
in the distance. The coal seams angled into the mountain at angles of from 16-50 degrees, so standard tunnels (horizontal) and shafts (vertical)
couldn't follow them.
The road down from the mine. It's passable by cars except in very wet weather, but
not by larger vehicles due to overgrowth.
Yukon Coal Resources