Frank G. Manley

(1867 - 1933)

photo of Frank Manley

Frank G. Manley, date unknown.
Photo courtesy of Mary Manley.

A song of the California Gold Rush asks "Say, What Was Your Name in the States?" In the early days of California and Alaska, it was not a question asked lightly. Nicknames concealed many identities. Who was Water-Front Brown, or Two Step Louie, the Forty Horsepower Swede or, on the distaff side, Finn Annie or the Utah Filly? Prominent civic and mining leader, Frank G. Manley, would have at least paused before answering: Frank was born in Corryell County, Texasm, in 1867, and christened Hilliard Bascom Knowles. When Frank came to Alaska in the late 1890s, he left Mrs. Alice Knowles and two young sons, Tom and Claude, in California. He also may have had a reason or two to change his name. One family anecdote tells that Frank (or Hilliard) had to leave Placerville, California, in a hearse after he was caught selling liquor to the Indians. Another tells that he came to Alaska because he accidentally killed a man in a barroom fight. But like many other Alaskans of questionable name, Frank Manley, or Hilliard Knowles, became a valued Alaska citizen who contributed much to the young Alaska territory.

According to author Virginia Crowe Sims, Frank Manley arrived in Alaska by way of the vessels City of Topeka and The Rustler, and disembarked at Dyea. The Klondike had not yet been struck, but the Circle camp had some rich diggings. Manley joined the Circle City Miner's Association on November 11, 1896. After the Klondike discovery, Manley moved to Dawson, where he bought (and then sold) No. 61 Below on Bonanza Creek before it became a substantial mine. Throughout his Alaska career, Manley changed hats in midstream to switch to other businesses. When he returned to Seattle in 1900, he bought and operated a livery stable.

After Felix Pedro's gold discovery at Fairbanks, Manley returned to Alaska and acquired rich gold claims on Cleary Creek. Manley acquired the Discovery, No. 4 Below Discovery, and No. 5 Below Discovery claims on Cleary Creek from Captain Barnette, the founder of Fairbanks. Nos. 4 and 5 Below were very rich. Manley sold or leased some of his Cleary ground to brothers Tom and William Aitken - the beginning of a long, continued association with Thomas P. Aitken. Reportedly, the Cleary Creek claims produced $4 million worth of gold before they were sold to the forerunners of the Fairbanks Exploration Company in the 1920s.

Manley had several other associates at Cleary Creek, including father and son D. T. and Ben Boone. In one partnership, Manley bought out all his partners except the Boones, who would not relinquish a good thing. As an aftermath, the Boones filed suit on the division of the interests on Cleary Creek. Judge James Wickersham ruled in favor of the Boones, but his decision was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals that held for Manley.

Manley left Alaska briefly in the summer of 1907 for Seattle, but the Boones were ready for retaliation. Manley was extradited from Seattle to Texas to face a perjury charge for lying about the value of a jackass; the Boones testified against him. Allegedly, years before, Manley tied an ordinary jackass on the tracks of the Sante Fe Railroad, which proved fatal to the jackass. In settlement with the Santa Fe, Manley recovered damages for a good jackass. The charge was almost certainly trumped up. Manley told a Fairbanks Times reporter that the real object of the trial was to keep him out of Alaska so "designing persons," read "the Boones," could capture his wealth. The litigation with the Boones led to another law suit, when Manley's own attorney sued him, and won a $20,000 judgment.

Litigation in Texas, although time consuming, did not stop Manley's civic and entrepreneurial ventures in Alaska. According to long-time Fairbanks banker William Stroecker, Manley put up half of the capital for a new bank in Fairbanks. His friend Sam Bonnifield put up most of the rest. The bank became the First National Bank of Fairbanks, the forerunner of today's Key Bank branch in Fairbanks.

Manley also had extensive interests in the Hot Springs district, which began with an option of gold claims in Baker Creek. In 1906, Manley bought the interests to a hot springs site from miner-farmer J. F. Karschner, and began to construct a resort in the Alaska village which bears his name, Manley Hot Springs. Manley's resort, completed in 1907, included a palatial three and one half story log hotel, hot spring-fed swimming pool, a stable, and a couple of warehouses. Although Manley was often absent because of the Texas litigation and other business affairs, the resort complex operated profitably for four years during the heyday of the Hot Springs district boom between 1907 and 1911. The lodge and swimming pool structure burned in 1913. The resort exists today, but on a much less grand scale than envisaged by Manley.

Manley mined with Tom Aitken on Glen Creek in the Hot Springs district, and in 1910, stampeded to the new Iditarod mining district with Aitken and Henry Riley. Manley was associated with Aitken in the fabulous Marietta Association claim at Flat; Manley and Aitken were definitely co-owners of ground on Willow Creek in the district. Aitken and Manley were also involved with a hard-rock lead discovery south of Galena, and in the Keno Hill silver district in the Yukon.

Another Manley partner was long time Fairbanks attorney John T. McGinn. The Chisana (Shusatna) district in the eastern Alaska Range was discovered in 1914, and was a short-term wonder. Manley, McGinn, and two other Manley miners at Cleary Creek, Jack Price and J. Ives, made money in the rich early days of the Chisana district. With McGinn, Manley also made a very profitable California investment. The men bought acreage near Bakersfield, and hit an oil field that attained production worth $4 million before Manley's death. McGinn and Manley were less successful in oil drilling ventures in Texas.

After his successes in the Flat-Iditarod area, Manley set up headquarters in San Francisco, but visited Alaska frequently, and maintained his northern ventures. In the 1920s, he mined at Cleary Creek, perhaps acquired the large low-grade Willow Creek placer at Flat, and purchased a half-interest in the Roth Coal Mines in the Nenana field south of Fairbanks. Shortly before his death, Manley sold his Willow Creek property to a mining partnership organized by W. E. Dunkle, but he had mining plans of his own. Manley moved a big dragline from Fairbanks to Thistle Creek in the Yukon Territory in anticipation of a new operation.

In September 1932, before he could open a mine at Thistle Creek, Manley was seriously injured in an automobile accident, and was laid up for several months. He seemed to be recovering, but was felled by a heart attack on January 30, 1933, at his home in Rutherford, California. He was survived by his second wife, Lucile, and sons Thomas and Claude of his first marriage.

In his last years, Manley's hearing failed, but the handicap was largely ignored by Manley and his numerous friends throughout Alaska and northern Canada. At his death, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner noted that Manley never lost a youthful demeanor nor an erect carriage. His age was marked mainly by snowy white hair and his increasing deafness. Author Sims wrote

"But the little town in Interior Alaska which has been called in order, Baker Hot Springs, Karshner Hot Springs, (simply) Hot Springs, and Manleyville, is still very much Manley Hot Springs."
Frank G. Manley, or Hilliard B. Knowles was one of Alaska's premier mining men, and a founding citizen of Fairbanks, Alaska.

By Charles C. Hawley, 2002


"Frank Manley Wanders Off to Prospect Stream and Valley Over the Divide." Alaska Weekly (Seattle Weekly). February 2, 1933.

Godbey, W. G. "A Visit to Manley Hot Springs." Alaska Magazine, May 1965. pages 11-14.

Hot Springs Echo. May 12, 1911.

"Manley Hotel is Razed by Flames." Fairbanks Times. April 24, 1913.

Obituary. Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. January 30, 1933.

Sims, Virginia Crowe. "But His Name Wasn't Manley." Alaska Sportsman. May 1965. pages 14-15, 59-60.

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