Remembering Tony Dimond

By Vic Kohring, April 10, 2016

Anthony J. "Tony" Dimond may largely be forgotten, but he still remains prominent in the annals of Alaska's history. Who was Tony Dimond? Have you heard of Dimond Boulevard in Anchorage? The Dimond Center mall? Dimond High School? These were all named after the man, a U.S. congressman from Alaska's territorial days who was also a district court judge, a lawyer, gold prospector and miner, school teacher and champion of Alaska statehood. He holds a special place in my own personal history as I'm a graduate of the high school in Anchorage named in his honor. Tony Dimond's final resting place is in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery downtown, one of the state's most notable burial sites and part of many a tour.

Dimond's career in law, which eventually led to several terms in Congress, began through self-study as he mined for gold in the foothills of the Wrangell Mountains. While trying to strike it rich, he simultaneously hit the books hard. This parlayed into success in the legal profession including service as a judge and appointment as Alaska's territorial congressman in 1933, the year FDR became president. Dimond's gold mine, roughly a hundred miles north of Cordova where he worked and studied, was nestled in a vast forested area along a remote creek that ran through a place called Calamity Gulch.  

As a 16-year old junior at Dimond High, I had the unique opportunity to experience a piece of Alaska's history connected with Tony Dimond. My brother Jim, an assistant big game guide in the Wrangell's at the time, was readying two camps for the winter following the end of the hunting season and asked that I help. So I left school for a week and arranged to fly out from Tolsona Lake near Glennallen in a Cessna on floats to meet him where I helped board up cabins and move a group of a half-dozen horses across a mountain pass to the Chitina River flats near a prominent geographic feature called Bryson Bar. It was late September 1974.

Jim and I decided to take a day off from our work and do some exploring. We had time as our pilot wasn't due for several more days and there was a break in the cold, rainy weather. We heard about Mr. Dimond's exploits at a nearby mine decades before and decided to check it out. Dimond's mine was about five miles from Big Bend Lakes where we were camped.

One crisp, chilly morning, we saddled up two horses, and armed with a topographic map and field glasses, took off on our little expedition. We traveled west through rugged, unmarked terrain along Young Creek until we reached the abandoned mine perched along the edge of Calamity Gulch. At the time I was battling a bad head cold but shrugged it off as I was too excited about our trip.

Dimond's gold mine was a remarkable place to visit, especially since it was largely intact after a half-century. It was as if we traveled back in time. No vandals had destroyed the place and the only real damage was from the elements. I remember old, decaying hoses and rusted hydraulic pumps used to blast water onto the sides of the Young Creek valley to remove gold. The gulch was just as scarred, ugly and barren of trees with eroding banks as if the mine was still in operation.

A large cabin where Dimond lived surprisingly remained in good condition, although it was mostly empty, dark and ghostly. He even had the convenience of a shower, heated from a barrel stove with water coils that circulated hot water to a shower stall. Inside the cabin were scattered papers and old law books, some of which bore Dimond's name hand-written inside the covers. 

Outside Dimond's cabin sat a rusting Model-A Ford with a flatbed, likely used for hauling gear and supplies. How a truck got to such a remote camp dozens of miles from the coast and with no road access is a mystery, although it was probably painstakingly hauled in by pieces on horseback and reassembled. The truck's tires and wooden bed were mostly rotted away, but amazingly, the keys were still in the ignition. Close by were the remains of a storage shed collapsed from exposure to snow, wind, and rain.

When digging through the debris, we found the remnants of rusted cans containing nails, screws, nuts, and bolts. We even found numerous old bottles, some of which had "Hudson's Bay Company" stamped on them. There was also an archaic Listerine bottle. Fascinating evidence of Dimond's life as an adventurous young man and items that should have found there way into a museum if we had the foresight.

As a teenager, I didn't fully appreciate our find from 42 years ago and the significance of seeing Dimond's mining operation first-hand. But as I look back, I realize how momentous it really was. The images of my visit in 1974 remain frozen in my mind and I can still visualize a fully operational gold mine from a century ago with Mr. Dimond leading the effort.

In 1980, federal ANILCA legislation was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, locking up and forever preserving Calamity Gulch. And I'm guessing after the passage of another 36 years that the weather, thieves armed with metal detectors and ravages of time have reduced the old camp to virtually nothing. A Google Earth search appears to confirm this.

It was fascinating to visit such a historic place in my youth prior to it disintegrating into only a memory. I believe God created a window of opportunity for me to witness the camp first-hand before it was gone forever, enabling me to appreciate Alaska's unique and special history. I'm proud of my connection with Tony Dimond and it was my honor to attend the school that today bears his name. This November 30th, I plan to celebrate "Anthony Dimond Day," an official state holiday. Please join me.