(1870 - 1944)
Fanny Quigley at garden site on flank of Quigley Ridge
Photo: Earl R. Pilgrim; photo originally published in Bundtzen and Inouye (1996)
Fannie Quigley is legendary in the Kantishna mining district. She arrived in 1906, and stayed until her death in 1944, at the age of 74. She staked her share of mining claims, and mined them, and although she had never shot an animal before she arrived in Kantishna, her prowess as a hunter became known throughout the Territory of Alaska. She learned to hunt caribou, sheep and moose, and to trap fox, wolves, wolverine and lynx. She was famous for her wilderness cooking, including her famous flaky pie crusts made from rendered bear lard. She grew remarkable gardens full of vegetables and flowers on the rocky slopes above timberline.
Quigley was born Frances Sedlacek in 1870, on a homestead in a Bohemian settlement near Wadoo, Nebraska. Fannie's mother died when she was six, and her father married again. He proved up on their homestead, only to sell it and move the family to a rented farm nearby. The years in Nebraska were among the most difficult in the history of homesteading, marked by plagues of locusts, disastrous farm prices, and record-breaking blizzards. The hardships of Fannie's youth would provide ample training for her later life.
Fannie left home at age 16, and worked her way west along the railroad. She was twenty-seven when she followed the stampede to the Klondike. There she developed the knack of being the first on the scene of a new gold strike. She would hike in, dragging a sled laden with a tent, a Yukon stove, and food supplies, and then hang out a shingle advertising meals. Far from Dawson and easy access to supplies of their own, the miners paid top dollar, and nicknamed her "Fannie the Hike". She also had her own free miner's certificate. Fannie staked a claim in August 1900 on a stampede to Clear Creek, a tributary of the Stewart River, 125 miles from Dawson, where she also met the dapper Angus McKenzie. They were married on October 1, 1900, just a few days after her return to Dawson.
Fannie and Angus operated a roadhouse at No. 18 Below on Hunker Creek, just upstream from the small settlement of Gold Bottom. According to the Klondike Nugget, she and Angus got into a few fights, most of them involving alcohol, with which she was to have problems for the rest of her life. In January, 1903, Fannie left Angus and the Klondike, and set off on an 800 mile hike down the Yukon River to Rampart, Alaska. From Rampart she followed the stampede to the Tanana, and was soon in the town of Chena. No record can be found of a divorce from Angus, though he was in the Iditarod by 1910, as one of the original discoverers of Otter Creek.
In August, 1906, Fannie struck out for the new Kantishna diggings, recently discovered by Joe Quigley and others. It was the beginning of Fannie's pursuit of mining, and her hopes for a profit from her years of effort.
Fannie staked 26 claims between 1907 and 1919 (all recorded under the name of Fannie, or F. McKenzie). She continued to mine after that date as well. Her first claim, staked on January 1 1907, was the Texas Bench, on the right limit of Glacier Creek, opposite No. 14 Above. It was witnessed by Joe Quigley, and filed on April 15, 1907. Fannie joined R. C. Wood and others active in the area in several large association claims on Glacier and Caribou Creeks.
In November of 1910, Joe located the Silver Pick, the first of his claims on a high, steeply sloping ridge between Eureka and Friday Creeks that would become known as Quigley Ridge. That same week, Fannie and Joe together located the Hard Luck Association claim, and Quigley staked the Golden Eagle Claim, both on Friday Creek.
Joe and Fannie were officially married in 1918, and they moved from Glacier Creek to the western end of Quigley Ridge, overlooking the confluence of Friday and Moose Creeks, near the townsite of Kantishna. Joe was developing hard rock claims, while Fannie had her own placer claims in Friday Creek. Fannie had also filed on No. 1, Eureka, the claim which had originally belonged to Joe Dalton, which had been worked continuously since 1905. Fannie continued to mine the small patches of placer material left by the earlier miners, providing additional support for the subsistence lifestyle the couple maintained while they developed their hard rock claims.
On a Moose Hunt in the Kantishna Country, L-R, Fanny Quigley, Joe Quigley, Ruth Carson, and Joe Dalton, circa 1919.
Photo Credit: Stephen Foster Collection, University of Alaska Archives. Photo published in Bundtzen (1978)
In 1919, Joe and Fannie succeeded in leasing out the Little Annie claims to Alaska Mining Hall of Fame inductee Tom Aitken, an experienced mining man. From 1919-1924, 1435 tons of high grade silver-lead ore were mined with underground mine methods, and hauled out to market under difficult logistical situations. Quigley's high grade ores could not be commercially produced unless they contained at least 75 ounces/ton silver. Nevertheless, miners and their boosters in Nenana and Kantishna expected this development to be the big break the had been waiting for, and that the worth of the Kantishna district would finally be proven. Unfortunately, with declining silver prices and lease disagreements with the Quigleys, Aitken terminated the venture in 1924.
Fannie continued to provide for the mining camp, hunting, trapping and growing as much as she could in her garden. She hunted caribou, moose, sheep and bears, butchered the meat expertly, and carried the meat on her back through the high hills to her home. She used her dog team to haul wood for the cabin and bunkhouse.
Meanwhile, efforts in Washington had created the Mount McKinley National Park, and Fannie's old friend Harry Karstens was appointed Park superintendent in 1921. It was Fannie to whom young rangers like Grant Pearson turned for advice on how to survive in their new wilderness posting. With their claims leased, Fannie and Joe could finally afford to take a trip to the states; 1924 saw Fannies's first and only trip outside to visit her family, after 25 years in the North.
Fannie witnessed other great changes, too, like the arrival of airplanes to the North country. Once, when Joe hitched a ride back to Kantishna from town, the plane crashed in Moose Creek, leaving Joe with a severe gash through his nose. Fannie kept her wits about her, grabbed her needle and sewed Joe's nose using a baseball stitch.
In 1930, Joe was injured in a serious accident while tunneling into his claims. During his rehabilitation, he met a young nurse. While he continued to develop the claims, Joe never returned to the Kantishna to live full time. In 1937, the claims were leased to the Red Top Mining Company, bringing in an income for Joe and Fannie which they split as part of a divorce settlement.
While Joe married and moved to Seattle in 1937, Fannie, now 67, remained on her own in the country she loved, among the high hills. Once accessible only by dog team or on foot, there was now a new road through Mount McKinley Park to the Kantishna area. Park personnel, Alaska Road Commission staff, and many dignitaries came to call. Fannie Quigley's small cabin on the high bluff overlooking Friday Creek, with Fannie's fenced garden and the dogs staked nearby, was pictured in many photographs, and towards the end of her life, Fannie became a kind of curiosity.
Fannie used foul and gruff language, wore rough men's clothing, and her drinking habits were legendary. Unable and unwilling to adapt to civilization, she preferred life in the open. She was still there to greet Bradford Washburn when he descended from his successful summit climb on Denali in 1942, just as she had greeted the successful Denali climbing party of Hudson Stuck thirty years before. She died alone in her cabin in the summer of 1944.
By Jane Haigh, 2000; updated in 2009
Burford, Virgil, 1950, "North to Danger", John Day Publishing Company, 246 pages.
Bundtzen, T. K., 1978, "A History of Mining in the Kantishna Hills", The Alaska Journal, Spring 1978, pages 151-161.
Bundtzen, T.K., and Inouye, Ron, 1996, Names of Early Miners Carved in History: Heartland Magazine, July 21, 1996, pages H-6, H16.
Davis, Mary Lee, 1931, "We Are the Alaskans", Boston, Wilde, and Company, 350 pages.
Haigh, Jane, 2008, "Searching for Fannie Quigley", Swallow Press, Ohio University Press, 185 pages.
Hall, George, 1945, "Some Time Again", Superior Publishing Company, 350 pages.
Pearson, Grant, and Newhill, Phillip, 1962, My Life of High Adventure: Prentice Hall Publishing Company, 352 pages.