Chicken Alaska Ghost town
Why do they call it "Chicken?"
The Town of Chicken was once the mining hub for the Fortymile district. In 1886, ten years before the Klondike Gold Rush, gold was discovered on Franklin Creek and the community of Chicken was founded In the late 1800's. Early miners traveled far in search of gold. Food was sometimes scarce, but a particular area near the South Fork of the 40-Mile River was abundant in Ptarmigan. Just so happens that is the Alaska state bird. Sort of looks like a chicken. The miners kept themselves alive with the help of the Ptarmigan. They tasted mighty fine. In 1902, the town was to become incorporated, the second town in Alaska to do so. The name "Ptarmigan" was suggested. Many people liked the name, but felt the quotation marks were too presumptuous. The name was shortened to Ptarmigan. The only problem was that nobody could agree on the correct spelling. They didn't want their town name to be the source of ridicule and laughter, so they decided on "Chicken."
Gold mining has been carried on in the area since 1886, and the post office, established in 1903, is one of the oldest in the interior of Alaska. Chicken is one of the few surviving “gold rush” towns in Alaska and it is on the Alaska Register of Historical Sites.
By the early 1900's, Chicken had grown to a mining population of about 400. Now, it ranges from 50 in the summer to 6 in the winter. Miners still work the nearby hills, hoping to find that elusive pay streak. Most use suction dredges but there are still a few placer miners working claims. Massive dredges that were used up until the mid 1960’s to mine the creeks are found not far from town. They were abandoned in 1967 by the F.E. Gold Company.
Chicken was an important supply point for these men, everything, including the mail, had to be brought in from Eagle on the Yukon River by boat and horses in the summer and by horse-drawn sleds up the frozen Yukon in the winter. The telegraph lines doubles as a trail for travelers who walked the Valdez-Eagle Trail. They stayed and ate at the Road House in Chicken, Alaska.
In 1959 the Pedro Gold Dredge was dismantled in Fairbanks and trucked to Chicken where it was reassembled and began dredging at the mouth of Chicken Creek. The dredge can now be seen where it was stopped for the season and never restarted.
Numerous buildings remain, the old schoolhouse where Tisha, one of the area’s most famous characters, once taught school, the Chicken Creek Hotel and the Chicken Roadhouse. Tisha, also known as Anne Hobbs Purdy, raised 10 children after arriving in Chicken from the Lower-48 in 1927. Purdy is famous for her amazing work ethic and dedication in educating the area’s native children. She is buried next to her husband on their homestead in Chicken.
Photos courtesy of Mike and Joan Sinnwell June 2010
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