Moose Creek near Sutton used to be a busy coal-mining area
The face shovel shown in the drawing is a World War II-era Buckeye “Clipper,” built by the Buckeye Traction Digger Company of Findlay, Ohio. It was used at the Premier coal mine on Moose Creek, and is now on display at Alpine Historical Park in Sutton.
Moose Creek, called “Tsidek’etna” by the indigenous Ahtna, is a Matanuska River tributary that tumbles southward out of the Talkeetna Mountains. Its mouth is located approximately eight miles northwest of Palmer and seven miles southwest of Sutton.
The creek is one of three Matanuska tributaries that were sites for coal mines during the 20th century. The others were Chickaloon River and Eska Creek.
Government expeditions in the late 1890s and early 1900s noted the presence of coal along the Matanuska River, and by 1906 several small mines were operating in the area. However, that year the federal government withdrew all coal lands from entry, and the Matanuska mines closed. Not until 1916, after coal leasing had been re-opened and work had started on the Alaska Railroad (ARR) did the industry blossom again.
In 1916-1917 a branch line of the ARR was constructed from Matanuska Junction northeast to the Chickaloon River to access coal deposits there. Shortly after the tracks reached Moose Creek in 1916, R. G. Doherty began mining about 3/4 mile from the creeks mouth, near where the Glenn Highway now crosses the creek.
The mine was small and the coal of poor quality, and like most mines that developed along Moose Creek, it cycled through several owners and only operated intermittently. That first mine quickly folded. Mary Bauer, in her book on the early history of the area’s mines, writes that a local farmer then applied for a permit to mine Doherty coal for personal use, utilizing the coal to heat his pig and cattle barns. The mine’s later incarnations operated for short periods during the 1920s and 1950s.
The next oldest mine on the creek appears to be that of Henry Baxter, who began developing coal deposits about five miles above Moose Creek’s mouth in 1917. During its early years the mine only operated during winter when coal could be sledded down the creek to the railroad. A narrow-gauge railroad spur was pushed up the creek from the Chickaloon branch line to the mine in 1923. The mine operated intermittently until 1925 when it was abandoned.
Another early Moose Creek mine was the Rawson, which began development in 1921. It was located two miles above the Baxter Mine, and was never a large coal-producer.
Bruno Agostino opened a mine in 1923 a few miles below the Baxter mine. Mine operations began on the east side of Moose Creek, but then shifted to the west banks. Like the Doherty, this mine went through several owners, and is now best known as the Premier Mine. It became one of the largest coal producers along Moose Creek and operated intermittently until the 1980s.
Other mines that operated along the creek, all above the Baxter Mine, were the Matanuska Center Mine (1926), the Wishbone Hill Mine (1932), and the Buffalo Mine (1939).
The Moose Creek railroad spur was extended farther up the creek in 1925, and in 1926 the narrow-gauge tracks from the Chickaloon line to the Premier Mine were replaced with standard-gauge tracks. Severe flooding along Moose Creek in 1942 destroyed the tracks below the Premier Mine, and the ARR decided not to repair them. After that coal from the Premier and Buffalo mines (the only mines operating by then) was trucked to the railroad.
All the mines along Moose Creek are now closed. According to a 2015 Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman article, between 2005 and 2006 the creek’s streambed was rehabilitated to repair damage resulting from mining activities and construction of the railroad spur.
- A History of Coal-mining in the Sutton-Chickaloon area prior to WW II. Mary Cracraft Bauer & Victoria Cole. Alaska Historical Commission Studies in History. 1985
- Bituminous Coal Deposits of the Matanuska Coalfield, Alaska: Central and Western Parts, Wishbone District. Robert S. Warfield. U.S. Bureau of Mines. 1962
- “Multi-year habitat restoration project supports salmon.” Kim Sollien. In Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. 5-2-2015
- Signage at Alpine Historical Park, Sutton
- “Wishbone Hill Coal Mine.” From Ground Truth Trekking website 2017