AUTHOR’S NOTE: Part One introduced the mystery of Shackleford Creek in Cooper Landing, compounded by the mystery of Shackleford cabin. At first it seemed as though young Fred Shackleford, a miner over in Sunrise in 1900, might be the namesake of both. Then, as Part Two will demonstrate, a new Shackleford — sort of — emerged from the mists of history.
Frederic Walter Shackleford had fit the profile I was looking to fill — a miner with the proper surname, on the western Kenai Peninsula before 1910, which was probably when the phrase “Shackleford cabin” was first put in print.
But Fred wasn’t my guy.
New facts intruded upon my easy solution to the mysterious origins of the eponymously named creek and cabin on lower Kenai Lake. These new facts contained false leads, official but understandable errors and, ultimately, the truth — not every chapter of the narrative I was constructing, but enough chapters to assure me that I’d finally gotten it right.
First I learned that I had missed something while researching Fred Shackleford, starting with my examination of the second edition of Mary J. Barry’s “A History of Mining on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska.” I had looked only under “People,” and I had never bothered to check in her first edition.
Then Cooper Landing historian Mona Painter emailed me this question in mid-April: “Did you come across anything about the Shackleford mining company?”
“WHAT Shackleford mining company?” I wondered aloud.
Mona added: “I see that in Mary Barry’s first book about Seward … she mentions there was a house on the beach built of California redwood by the Shackleford Mining Company. Page 35. Sounds like it was built before 1902.”
Hmm. Fred Shackleford had been only 21 when he arrived in Alaska in 1898. By late March 1901, he was dead. Was it possible, somehow, that this young Rhode Island clerk had had the moxie and the financial wherewithal to start his own mining company, to build a house in Resurrection Bay — made of California redwood, no less — and still manage to be counted as a miner in Sunrise in March 1900?
The short answer, I was to learn — after overcoming my misguided theorizing and a propensity to see just what I wanted to see — was “No.”
After Mona’s query, I launched a flurry of new mini-investigations and began assembling fistfuls of factoids.
I emailed the Resurrection Bay Historical Society, Kasilof historian Brent Johnson, Mona Painter again, retired Kenai National Wildlife Refuge historian Gary Titus, and almost anyone else I could think of who might have answers or tell me where to look. My respondents sent me screen shots from old newspapers and pages from reference books, along with suggestions for further research.
I discovered Lewis Pinkerton Shackleford, an attorney who had lived and worked in Juneau. Interesting guy, with some tenuous Kenai Peninsula connections, but no cigar.
I found Charles “Red” Shackleford, owner of a Shackleford Mining Company in the 1800s. But he was born in, lived in and died in Kentucky, and his company mined for coal.
Then, under “Mines” in the first index of the second edition of Barry’s mining book, I found this: “Shackleford group,” page 78. There I read:
“The Shackleford group came in 1898 and landed at Resurrection Bay … on the 27th or 28th of March [one month before Fred Shackleford located in Alaska]. They brought equipment for hydraulic mining and a sawmill. … They built a warehouse at Resurrection Bay to hold their equipment… They worked with the Towle and Stetson group, traveling to Kenai Lake. Shackleford set up his mine on the lower end of Kenai Lake, while the Towle-Stetson outfit went on to Cooper Creek.
“Shackleford himself stayed only two years,” Barry added. “He kept men working at the claims for four or five years, but finally the property was sold in a marshal’s sale.”
Nowhere in her descriptions was even a hint of Shackleford’s first name. But Barry had, in fact, supplied an important clue to his identity: the house on the beach, constructed of California redwood.
Who brings redwood building materials to Resurrection Bay in 1898?
The answer, now obvious in retrospect, was “someone from California.”
The clues kept coming.
Next, I stumbled across a full copy of a 1900 U.S.G.S. report entitled “A Reconnaissance from Resurrection Bay to the Tanana River, Alaska, in 1898.” Penned by the geologist Walter Curran Mendenhall — namesake of Juneau’s famous glacier — the report narrates the journey of Mendenhall and two companions as they arrive in Resurrection Bay on May 30, begin the next day on an arduous overland trek to Kenai Lake, and quickly catch up to another group of travelers — “the main party of the Alaska Hydraulic Syndicate, in [the] charge of Mr. Shackleford.”
An internet search combining “Shackleford” and “Alaska Hydraulic Syndicate” led eventually to two discoveries: (1) a scheme hatched in California to make big money mining gold on the Kenai Peninsula and (2) a Californian named Richard Matthew Shackelford.
Note that it’s Shack-EL-ford, not Shack-LE-ford.
My first thought was that his name had been misspelled, but such was not the case. At the bottom of a letter he had typed to a prospective investor was his actual signature — as clear as day and spelled the “-EL” way.
How, I pondered, could this Shackelford be responsible for Shackleford Creek and the Shackleford cabin on Kenai Lake?
The answer lay with Mendenhall.
After he encountered Richard Shackelford in the wilderness on his trek to Kenai Lake, Mendenhall misspelled the name while writing his report. That report, published in 1900, two years after their meeting, provided an official data point for the historians and mapmakers who followed.
In Seward, Dr. David H. Sleem may have had access to that report in 1910 when he created his map of the Kenai Mining District. Mary Barry, also in Seward, definitely had access to it in 1973 when she wrote the first edition of her mining book; her description of Mendenhall meeting Shackelford is essentially a thin paraphrase of the geologist’s own words.
So, who was Richard Matthew Shackelford? Why did he leave Alaska so soon? And how did his short-lived venture on lower Kenai Lake result in the continuation of his (misspelled) name for more than a century?
The answers — in Part Three — involve California, financial woes, a drowning, and a pharmacist from Connecticut.