Richard Tighe Harris
(1833 - 1907)
Richard Harris, undated
Photo from Alaska's Digital Archives.
Richard T. Harris was born in or near Drummadonald, County Down, Ireland, on October 31, 1837, to John and Mary Anderson Harris. He was the youngest child of the second marriage of John Harris, and at least three of his siblings came to the United States in the great Irish immigration of the 1840s and 50s. Richard was in America by 1855, and was naturalized by about 1858. Some of the Harris and Anderson families were already in the United States, making the transition easier for Harris than for some immigrants. By 1859, Harris was on his way to the frontier. He may have spent some time in the Colorado territory, but by 1864 he was in Bannack City, Montana. He was in Virginia City and Butte (Silver Bow), Montana in the 1860's, where he was involved in both placer and lode mining.
In 1877, Harris was in British Columbia, and in the late winter and spring of 1879, Harris began to prospect and mine for George Pilz. By 1879, Richard T. Harris had twenty years of frontier experience, and a better than average knowledge of mining law and procedures.
In October of 1880, Harris, with partner Joe Juneau, made one of the most significant discoveries of American prospecting.
Within a two week period, they discovered and staked some of the richest placer mines in Silver Bow basin, but more importantly the lode system that ultimately became the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mine (AJ Mine). The men shared discovery with the Takou claims, the basis of the Ebner. The Takou claims are above Last Chance Basin and would have been closer to the beach, hence probably more visible.
Although his partner, Joe Juneau, sold out his interest in the claims, Harris, relatives, other whites and local Indians mined the Discovery Placer claim profitably from 1881 through 1885.
During the off-season of these years, Harris visited relatives in the United States and shared his wealth with them and with the Harris family remaining in Ireland.
In a lawsuit filled by N.A. Fuller, former partner of George Pilz, Harris lost all his mining interests. Pilz, who would have been his best supporter, was in jail in San Francisco, waiting for trial and unable to make bond. The trial needs further scrutiny, but regardless of its merits, Harris appears to have lost too much. Because he was unable to pay a judgement, he lost everything.
In the earlier and happier years, Harris and Kitty, a young girl from Hoonah, entered into what each regarded as marriage. There were four children, but only William John and R. E. Harris lived past infancy. After Kitty's early death, much of Harris' concerns were centered around the education of his sons, who managed the difficult situation of being from two cultures much better than most.
Richard Harris and his family in front of their home on Courthouse Hill in Juneau, 1889.
Photo and caption from Alaska's Digital Archives.
Harris died in 1907 in a Masonic Home in Portland, Oregon. He was honored by the Juneau pioneers who recognized his tremendous accomplishments in one brief period in 1880. He continued to be honored by the vigorous descendants of Richard Harris, a son of Ireland, and Kitty, a daughter of Alaska's Hoonah.
By David B. Stone and Charles C. Hawley, 1999.