Clarence Jackson Berry (1867 – 1930), known as C.J., was a businessman and successful gold miner in the Klondike Gold Rush. He and his wife, Ethel Bush Berry, made a further fortune in Ester, Alaska in 1902, and founded several oil companies over the years, which eventually became Berry Petroleum Company.
In Ester, Berry pioneered the use of the cold water point and the steam point, used to thaw frozen soil and permafrost in a safer manner for drift mining than boring shafts using hot rocks or underground fires, which rendered the excavations and tunnels far more susceptible to collapse. The Berrys operated No. 8 Below Discovery Claim.
Clarence went to Alaska in 1894 in search of gold after his fruit farming venture failed in California. CJ during his first year in Alaska received education by local natives on how to survive the hostile environment. It was a very difficult year for CJ during the winter of 94/95 as he got trapped deep into the Forty Mile Creek area and had only beans to eat for two months. The multitude of hardships working a mining operation solo were extensive. After a long day of hard labor the cabin would have to be heated with chopped wood and water defrosted for drinking and cooking.
CJ returned to Selma in 1895 and married his childhood sweetheart Ethel Bush in 1896. The newlywed couple and CJ's brother Fred returned to Alaska for the honeymoon. Ethyl was the first white woman to climb the Chilkoot Pass into the interior of Alaska. The honeymooners settled in at Forty Mile Creek outpost on the Yukon River. Clarence got a job as the local bartender.
In the summer of 1896 George Carmack walked into the Forty Mile Creek Saloon and paid for his drink with gold nuggets. CJ felt there was credibility in Carmack's story and left immediately together with his brother Fred to stake claims. CJ and Fred, staying very close to shore in their small boat, pushed themselves upriver with "poles" slowly but surely against the mighty Yukon River current. It was hard work but the Berry brothers made the fifty-mile journey upstream to the claims within a few days. They both staked claims on Rabbit Creek which quickly became known as Bonanza Creek. They each explored their claims, digging to approximately 20 ft deep through the permafrost with some luck. These claims were sold as no significant amount of gold was discovered. (A hundred years later these stakes are still being mined with the payzone being 60 ft deep.)
CJ traded half of his claim on Bonanza Creek for a half claim on Little Rabbit Creek which later became known as El Dorado Creek. They built a small cabin. Ethyl took care of heating the cabin, cleaning and cooking for the men. CJ and Fred gathered firewood and built large fires everyday melting the permafrost allowing them to dig 6 inches deeper every day. Fred and Clarence would chop a tree down uphill and "ride" it into camp. Clarence dug his own pit on the upper left side and Fred had a hole on the upper right of their 1/2 claim. (a claim was 500 ft measured with a rope and later resurveyed) Shoring the holes was not necessary as the frozen ground was structurally sound. The gold was abundant the deeper they went. When they got to 30 ft deep they were astounded. They had reached a payzone several feet thick of black sand containing gold with every shovel full being worth hundreds of dollars (gold at $16.00 an ounce) Champion pans paid more than $500.00 per pan.
CJ and Fred were savvy businessmen as they managed to immediately accumulate two adjacent claims on the El Dorado before the word got out of the riches beneath. CJ left a bucket of gold nuggets and a bottle of whiskey outside his cabin with a note saying "help yourself". Immediately CJ sent for help from his former fruit farm workers. About a dozen of his workers in 1897 arrived from Selma. They were trusted workers and well compensated at an ounce of gold daily. Clarence called his workers "Selmanites".
In 1897 CJ and Ethyl Bush Berry were on the ship SS Portland which arrived in Seattle with a "ton of gold". CJ's story and picture was on the front cover of the Seattle and San Francisco Newspapers. A worldwide gold rush ensued. Ethyl is on the cover of a book called "Gold Rush Women" and Fred is on the cover of a book called "Gold Rush Dogs". In later years CJ and his three brothers (Fred, Henry and Frank) worked as a team alternating 6 month shifts at the Northern mining camps. CJ went on to acquiring prolific mining claims in Fairbanks (Berry Alaska later changed to Ester Alaska) and a mine in the Circle District called "Berry Camp"
In 1909 CJ purchased several sections of land in Maricopa near Taft, California which became known as Berry Holding Company. Berry Petroleum was formed and turned public on the NYSE "BRY" in 1985. Berry produced its 100,000,000 barrel of oil in 1996. In 1926 CJ's oil producing properties in Mexico were expropriated.
Clarence's brother Henry later owned two professional baseball teams in the "Pacific Coast League," including the San Francisco Seals, for many years.
When CJ died in 1930 one of his pall bearers was Jay Jefferies, the former world heavy weight boxing champion.
In 1996 CJ Berry was inducted into the Mining Hall of Fame located in Leadville, Colorado