Story Time with Aunt Phil: The Story of Ruby
One northern town became an integral part of Alaska's gold rush history after prospectors sifting through red rocks along a creek south of the Yukon River thought they had found rubies mixed with gold nuggets. They named the new prospect Ruby Creek, although the “gems” turned out to be garnets.
The discovery of large quantities of gold in the creek in 1906 brought even more stampeders into Alaska’s Interior. And when word leaked out in 1910 that more gold had been found on Long Creek, about 30 miles south of Ruby, a new gold rush ensued.
By summer 1911 a tent city with a few framed buildings, nicknamed “The Gem of the Yukon,” was rising in the wilderness. Other people called it “The Hub of Alaska,” as it sat close to the geographical center of Alaska.
At its peak, sources say Ruby’s population ranged between 1,000 and 3,000 people. The town sported electric lights, telephones, hotels, saloons, a movie house and a show hall. There even was scheduled barge and riverboat service on the Yukon River, and Ruby rivaled Fairbanks as the center of civilization in the Last Frontier.
The Ruby Record, a weekly newspaper that merged with the Citizen Newspaper in October 1911, soon began reporting on a steady stream of gold discoveries in the area.
Prospectors discovered gold on Greenstone and Poorman creeks in 1912, on Swift Creek in 1914 and Moose Creek in 1920. Ruby became the supply center for the mines that sprang up in the area.
Its heydays were short lived, however. Many men left in 1918 to fight in World War I, then in the fall of that year the Princess Sophia sank near Sitka and many of Ruby’s businessmen perished. A fire in 1929 destroyed much of the business district, and then a flood in 1931 destroyed most of the buildings along the waterfront area that had survived the fire.
Today it is one of the checkpoints along the northern route of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and its citizens are mostly Koyukon Athabascan Indian.
A huge discovery in 1998 again put a spotlight on the area for a while. That’s when Barry Clay, working the same Swift Creek Mine that his grandfather had mined in 1915, discovered the largest gold nugget ever found in Alaska. Clay was operating a bulldozer at the time and noticed a giant nugget rolling off a pile of dirt just ahead of the bulldozer blade.
The nugget weighed in at 294.1 troy ounces. Before its discovery, a 182-ounce nugget found at Anvil Creek near Nome in 1903 had claimed the top spot for nearly 100 years. The largest nugget ever found in the Yukon weighed a little more than 126 ounces.