Deadwood Cemetery burials tell the history of Central area in Interior Alaska
Turning on to Circle Hot Springs Road at Central and driving about 3/4 mile, you come to Cemetery Road just before crossing Graveyard Creek. About 1/2 mile along Cemetery Road lies a small burial ground. Only about a quarter-acre in size, the cemetery holds 36 graves, the oldest dating to 1905.
Established before Circle Hot Springs Road was built, the cemetery was originally situated next to the four-mile trail (blazed in the late 1890s) linking Central and Deadwood Creek. Now called Central Cemetery, early residents referred to it as Deadwood Cemetery.
Ruth Olson, a long-time area resident who spent her early childhood on Deadwood Creek, related in a 1997 interview with Jane Williams that during Circle Mining District’s early years there was little at Central besides a roadhouse (then called Central House and later Central Roadhouse).
Aside from a small Athabaskan enclave at Medicine Lake (north of the hot springs), most people in the Central-Circle Hot Springs area were gold miners living along nearby creeks — primarily Deadwood Creek. A 1905 U.S.G.S report states that in 1903 there were about 35 miners operating along Deadwood Creek and its tributaries. Between 1906 and 1924 Deadwood Creek had the only post office within 20 miles. Central did not gain its post office until after Deadwood Creek’s postmaster died.
Most burials at the cemetery up through the 1920s were of people from the Deadwood Creek area. It may have been Deadwood Creek residents who chose the cemetery’s location — on flat land near their claims, but in an area unsuitable for mining.
By 1920 the population along Deadwood Creek and its tributaries, as well as along other creeks in the district, had shrunk. This was partly due to consolidation of small claims into larger tracts on which operators could utilize more-efficient large-scale mining techniques and employ fewer workers. The decline was also because of the siphoning of young men into the military during World War I. Many of those leaving Alaska during the war never returned.
Conversely, Central’s population grew. The roadhouse was rebuilt and enlarged after a 1925 fire, a store and post office were added, and the number of cabins at Central gradually increased.
The burials in the cemetery reflect the economy and demographics of the area. There are few burials of women and children, indicative of their rarity along the creeks. In Ruth Olson’s interview she mentioned that her mother was the only adult woman living along Deadwood Creek in the 1910s and early 1920s.
At least a third of those buried in the cemetery were bachelor miners like Jens Langlow (1881-1969), who arrived in the Klondike in 1899 and migrated to Alaska in 1905. For a time he mined on Deadwood Creek with his partner, Nick Knutsen (1876-1949, also buried in the cemetery). Nick was 6-feet-7-inches tall, while Nels was much shorter. According to Connie Jeglum’s 2005 publication about the cemetery, the two were known as “the long and short of it.”
Several of those interred, like Earl Stout (1891-1983), were employees of the Alaska Road Commission. Stout came to Alaska in the 1920s to work on the railroad bridge across the Tanana River. He also mined in the Yukon River-Charley River region for many years before being employed by the Alaska Road Commission.
There are also several burials related to Central Roadhouse, including those of Alfred “Riley” Erickson (1869-1948) and Adolf “Diamond” Urban (1877-1950). Riley was the roadhouse proprietor, and Diamond was a retired circus clown and the roadhouse gardener.
The cemetery is still in use, the last burial being in 2014. Pioneers of Alaska Igloo No. 4, based in Fairbanks, has replaced six of the cemetery’s grave markers. The cemetery is maintained by the Circle District Historical Society, and is open to visitors.
- A Brief History of the People Buried in the Central Cemetery near Central, Alaska. Connie Jeglum. Fairbanks Genealogical Society. 2005
- Conversation with Leila Coskey, member of Circle District Historical Society
- Correspondence with Erika Miller, member of Fairbanks Women’s Igloo No. 8, Pioneers of Alaska
- Deadwood Cemetery Plot Map, Erika Miller, unpublished
- “Ruth and Roy Olson are interviewed by Sylvia Bouillion in Fairbanks, Alaska on January 31 and February 6, 1997.” UAF Oral History Collection.
- The Gold Placers of the Fortymile, Birch Creek and Fairbanks Regions, Alaska. L.M. Prindle. U.S.G.S. 1905