Red Devil is located on the bank of the Kuskokwim River. The village of 50 people is two miles from Red Devil Creek, 75 air miles from Aniak and 250 miles west of Anchorage. It was named after the Red Devil Mercury Mine, which was established by Hans Halverson in the 1920s and 1930s.
Native Mercury, or “quicksilver,” is very dense, conducts electricity, and is unique because it is the only metal that is liquid at normal temperatures. Historically, mercury was used for products like dental amalgams, vaccine preservatives, cosmetics and thermometers, and in the 18th century mercury salts were used for curing felt to make fancy hats. Mercury was used commonly to extract gold from other minerals because it combines with gold to form an amalgam, or alloy, which can later be heated to separate the mercury from the gold. Cinnabar, the principle ore of mercury, is found in Alaska mineral belts ranging from the Wrangell Mountains to Nome – with a major deposit in the Kuskokwim. The Red Devil deposit was discovered by accident, when a 10-yearold berry picker found pieces of high-grade cinnabar rubble on a hillside overlooking the Kuskokwim River near Sleetmute. Russian explorers in the 1800s also noted cinnabar-stibnite deposits while collecting furs in the Region.
During many years of its operation, the Red Devil quicksilver mine was the only lode metal mining operation active in Alaska. Mining at the site began in 1933 and operated continuously until 1946 when the mercury market price dropped. Production began again in 1952 and continued until a fire destroyed the mine and mill equipment in 1954. However, in 1955 it was rebuilt on the opposite side of Red Devil Creek and operated until 1971. In 1969, surface mining began, and by 1970 the Red Devil Mine was the largest mercury producer in Alaska and one of the largest in the U.S. The mine shut down in 1971 when the Mercury market dropped and has not operated since. The Red Devil Mine is on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management who is working with state and federal agencies to conduct a cleanup of the historic site.
A federally-recognized tribe is located in the community – the Red Devil Traditional Council – and the village consists of Yup’ik Eskimos, Athabascans and non-Native people with a highly active subsistence lifestyle. In the winter, the frozen river is used as an ice road by snowmachines for travel to neighboring villages. In summer, the Kuskokwim River serves as a major transportation link for bulk supplies and fuel oil. The village has a 4,800-foot-long airstrip and electricity is provided by Middle Kuskokwim Electric Cooperative.