Joseph Buffington Quigley

(1869 - 1958)

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Quigley portrait

Photo from Ken Quigley Collection

Joseph Buffington Quigley, born May 9, 1869, was the second youngest of Robert O. Quigley and Mary Graham Oliver Quigley's fourteen children. The Quigleys were a pioneer family of Scotch-Irish heritage with a farm near Kittanning, in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania. Joe Quigley left home at the age of 15 in 1884 and began a seven-year journey across the continent. He was already over six feet tall and able to get jobs along the way, including a three-year stint as a blacksmith's apprentice in Nebraska. By 1890, he was working in camps in Washington State, logging by bull teams, bucking and felling timber, when he met some men who told him about prospecting for gold in the interior of Alaska. He had saved some money all along the way of his journey and felt that this was the right time to spend it on a steamship ticket to Alaska.

In spring of 1891 Quigley arrived in Juneau where he met Billy Kaufman, Lew Pierce and Charley Frampton. The four men and some others started out toward the Chilkoot Pass, taking a year's worth of supplies with them. The group chartered a small fishing boat for Dyea, but bad weather kept them in Sunset Cove for fourteen days before they could continue on their way. It was April, with chunks of ice still in the water and the party had to take repeated trips, carrying one-hundred-pound packs, hiking through waist deep currents.

On the second day, several of the travelers turned back, leaving just four men on the trail to cut over seven hundred steps into the Chilkoot Pass to the summit. They arrived at the summit on May 8th, but found the sunny side of the hill was too soft for travel, so they waited on the top of the divide until the night got cool enough to harden the trail. On Joe Quigley's twenty-second birthday, May 9, 1891, the four men started relaying their outfits on sleds down to Summit Lake. The next day they went onto Lake Linderman, where they built a boat, went down the Linderman River to Lake Bennett, on past Miles Canyon and Whitehorse Rapids, through Squaw Rapids eventually to the Fortymile River.

Quigley found some coarse gold in Nugget Gulch and continued to prospect the gulches that ran into the Fortymile River. He "rocked on the bars for a while" and after the freeze-up in the fall of 1891, he freighted provisions on a sled. He had no dogs so he pulled the sled himself, on a solo journey up the Fortymile River about forty miles, and then over the divide seventy to eighty miles, then to theh eadwaters of the Sixtymile River. Joe Quigley was later described as a "mountain goat" and as "all bone and muscle." He could walk impressive distances in record time and this ability came in handy throughout his life as a prospector and miner.

From the winter of 1891 to the spring of 1893, Joe Quigley lived the solitary life, building a log cabin and working claims on Glacier Creek and the Sixtymile River. He found a little gold, but not a fortune. He eventually met Jerry Baker, an old-timer in the area who suggested that they go to the Circle diggings on Birch Creek. They used Quigley's boat for part of the trip and then hiked sixty miles to the Birch Creek tributary of the Tanana River, but found it was all staked. When Joe Quigley needed more money than he could make prospecting, he would hunt moose, dress and quarter the animals and bring them to Circle in a PeterboroughTM canoe, selling it for seventy-five cents a pound at market. He also did some trapping, catching beaver, mink, marten and ermine. He later remembered that time and said (we were):

"always looking for a million dollar mine, and never showing disappointment when we didn't find it."

By 1897 Quigley and Baker went up the Yukon River, where they went their separate ways, with Joe Quigley partnering up with Thomas Cook on #35 Eldorado in the Klondike. They sunk some holes, thawing with good fires, and that winter they sold their claim for ten-thousand dollars each. That same year, Quigley was inducted into the Yukon Order of Pioneers. (Joe Quigley is #17 in the group photograph, taken in Dawson in 1897).

Yukon Pioneers Group

Yukon Order of Pioneers in 1897—the year after the Klondike discovery. Joe Quigley is Number 17 on the lower right hand portion of the photo.
Photo Credit: University of Alaska Rasmussen Archives Accession Number UAF-1970-0058-00254-YOOP

Quigley went on to prospect, breaking trail across the Klondike Flats with Bob Beam and John Krishy, until they came upon a small creek that entered the Klondike River about a mile below Bear Creek. When they went in to record their claims, Captain Constantine of the Mounted Police asked "What creek?" The men told the Mountie that the creek didn't have a name yet and so he inquired as to who found it. The men said "Quigley" and so it officially became Quigley Creek on the map. The group sunk holes on Quigley Creek but did not find gold. Joe Quigley then prospected with John Krishy around Hunker Creek, until Quigley decided to build another boat and take a solo journey up the Tanana River in then remote Interior Alaska. Quigley poled up the Tanana River for many miles until he "ran out of water at the foot of a glacier." It was 1901, making him one of the first non-indigenous men to go all the way up the Tanana to its headwaters. He found a little gold, but not the "Million Dollar Mine" he was looking for, and then headed back down the Tanana, where he stayed with mail carrier Charlie Overheiser. Quigley continued prospecting and making river trips, until 1903, when he went to the new Fairbanks diggings.

Quigley still had most of his ten-thousand dollars from the sale of #35 on Eldorado in the bank, when he saw Jack Horn in Fairbanks, in the fall of 1904. Horn and Quigley had met originally in Dawson, some years earlier. When they heard Judge Wickersham in Fairbanks, talking about his expedition to Kantishna, they decided to use Quigley's savings and Horn's dog team and head down to the Kantishna country. They took the outfit on a sled and small trailer and started out in February 1905, across the Toklat River following it to the headwaters of the Kantishna River. Quigley built a cabin and they began prospecting, locating on Glacier Creek at Glacier City, and on Caribou Creek, Moose Creek and Eureka Creek, naming creeks and sketching the area. They located claims for themselves and friends, and built a boat after the break-up to take themselves and the dogs back toward Fairbanks by way of the Kantishna River to the Tanana River.

Joe Quigley recorded claims for himself, Jack Horn and about a dozen others on July 10, 1905. Meanwhile, Dalton and Stiles were prospecting in the same area and registered their claims on July 12, 1905. That summer Quigley and Horn went back up the Kantishna in a small motor boat, spearheading a large group of friends and prospectors. A new mining district was formed and the recordings were transferred from Fairbanks. The activity inspired a stampede of perhaps several thousand people, mostly arriving by boat. A year later, when it became apparent that placer mining there was not as profitable as they had hoped, many of the stampeders left and the population dwindled to about fifty miners.

Among the first group of people to arrive in Kantishna was Fannie McKenzie, later to become Joe Quigley's wife, the legendary Fannie Quigley. Joe, who was an exemplary outdoorsman, taught Fannie how to hunt and trap. In 1908 Joe and Fannie both spent time hunting with conservationist and "Father of Mt. McKinley National Park" Charles Sheldon and Sheldon's guide, Harry Karstens, who Quigley had known from Dawson. Sheldon was impressed with Joe and Fannie and described Joe in his journal:

"Quigley was one of those rare honest chivalrous men, found here and there in Alaska, who combined successful individual mining with the traits of a true hunter and an accurate observer of Nature."

Joe Quigley was respected as an honest man of vision, reserve, and persistence, and was considered a reliable source for the press. He had a wry sense of humor and was known as someone who would go out of his way to do a friend a favor or give advice when asked. Park ranger Grant Pearson recalled a time when Quigley was walking home after hiking from the Toklat River, on his way to see some mining engineers in the area. He noticed that Pearson's food cache had fallen down and that Pearson wasn't home. In spite of the fact that Quigley was in a hurry for a potentially profitable meeting, he stopped to pick up all of the food and take it into Pearson's cabin. Community minded, Quigley became a charter member of the Pioneers of Alaska in 1909, and in 1921, a member of the Freemasons, Tanana Lodge number 162.

By the time the original Kantishna stampede died down, Joe Quigley realized that significant amounts of gold were not only in the creeks but also were in the hills. He staked several Quartz claims and began digging tunnels. Once he began hard rock mining, he realized that he would benefit from more knowledge of geology and assaying, so he took courses at the University of Alaska (then known as The Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines), taking courses from Charles Bunnell and AMHF Inductee Earl Pilgrim.

Quigley was known for his skills as a self-taught mineralogist and was regularly consulted by visiting government geologists and local prospectors. He discovered gold, silver, lead, zinc, and antimony, learned to be a scientific prospector and had his own assaying outfit. He was intellectually curious and spent his evenings studying and assaying samples found by himself and other prospectors. Quigley also continually worked to bring better transportation to the Kantishna area, because the lack of transportation was the blockage to making lode mining profitable there. He continued to do placer mining on the bars on the creeks in the summer and build tunnels for his hard rock mining in the winter. He was a diligent worker and had mastered many skills, including blacksmith, musher, mechanic, carpenter, hunter and trapper. He was a tireless hiker and even with a thirty-pound pack could walk 150 miles in four or five days.

Although Joe Quigley and Fannie McKenzie had been a couple and business partners for many years, they weren't officially married until February, 1918. He did the mining work for her claims as well as his own, and she did the cooking, gardening and other domestic work.

Moose hunt

From Left, Fannie Quigley, Joe Quigley, Ruth Wilson, and Joe Dalton on a moose hunt, November, 1919. The early mining pioneers of Kantishna subsisted off the land by harvesting big game and gardening. Originally published in Bundtzen (1978)
Photo Credit: Stephen Foster Collection, University of Alaska Rasmussen Archives.

They both hunted for their food and did some trapping for cash. The couple lived in relative luxury compared to other miners at the camp. Joe Quigley built several cabins and storage buildings to form a compound that included a darkroom, where he could develop the photographs he shot of wildlife and some of the many guests who came to visit. The compound also had terraced gardens and cold storage tunnels that were dug into the permafrost to preserve food year-round. Over time, Joe and Fannie's relationship as business partners continued on, but their marriage deteriorated, and the couple often fought over Fannie's heavy drinking. By 1930, Joe was only going back to the cabin he shared with Fannie once a week, while he worked, building hundreds of feet of tunnels, single-handedly.

On May 21, 1930 Joe Quigley had a catastrophic mining accident, when a tunnel he was building in his Banjo claim caved in, piling three-thousand pounds of rock on him. His right shoulder was badly injured, severing the nerves, and his left femur was crushed up to the hip. When he regained consciousness, he managed to uncover his leg, using his left hand to lift the rocks, and dragged himself to the shack near the mouth of the tunnel, where he had been sleeping during the week. Fannie Quigley found him there and got the other miners to come and help. He was eventually flown to a hospital in Fairbanks, for an estimated three month stay.

Although he was still recovering from his injuries, he continued to help bring transportation to Kantishna, and in August of 1930 testified before the Senate Committee that big tonnage for the Alaska Railroad would be assured if there was a transportation link across the eighty miles that separated the region from the railroad. He explained to the committee that excessive transportation costs made it unprofitable to ship any but the richest ore. During his time in the Kantishna, Quigley leased the silver-lead Little Annie Mine to Thomas Aitken from 1919 — 1921, and the Red Top Mine was leased to a Fairbanks miner in 1922.

After his accident, Joe Quigley was not physically able to continue working as a miner and was not as suited to the hard life of living off the land in the wilderness, as he once was. He was still active, reportedly walking eight miles a day only a few months after the accident, and had an alert mind always on the lookout for new possibilities, but his right arm was permanently injured. He found it difficult to stay in Kantishna and put every effort into finding investors for his claims so that he could move on to a more suitable life style. He had patented seventeen claims, owned two-thirds interest in four more claims, plus four more unpatented claims and holdings in the Banjo Mine. In 1933 he sold an option on a claim to General A. D. MacRae, splitting the proceeds with Fannie. In 1937, Joe sold his seventeen patented claims to W. E. Dunkle for one hundred fifty thousand dollars (equivalent to approximately two and a half million dollars in 2018), plus ten percent of gross profits.

Quigley with sled and dog team

Joe Quigley and dog team, undated.
Photo Credit: Denali National Park and Preserve Collection #3511.

Once again, Joe and Fannie Quigley split the money fifty-fifty, and this was their last transaction as partners. Joe Quigley spent that winter in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he filed for divorce from Fannie. Quigley loved to travel. He bought a new car in 1938 and toured the United States putting 18,000 miles on the vehicle before moving to Seattle permanently, where he lived with his second wife Julia, a registered nurse. He continued to collect royalties from his mines until 1942, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order L-208, limiting or preventing outright gold mining throughout the United States.

Joe Quigley maintained contact with the Fairbanks press and continued his interests in prospecting and in photography, but never worked as a miner again. He enjoyed his retirement, saying that "growing things" was his hobby. Fannie Quigley died in 1944 and Joe's second wife Julia Quigley died in 1950. He was described in 1953 as:

"A widower with no children, who has a merry twinkle in his eye and gets a kick out of life. Tall and husky yet, except for the injured arm, which he can now use for light work, he likes flowers and gardens and has planted peach and apple trees and is content."

Joe Quigley died on November 23, 1958, at the age of eighty-nine.

By Cheryl Fair, Great-Grand Niece of Joseph Buffington Quigley, October, 2018
Biography Reviewed by Paul S. Glavinovich and Thomas K. Bundtzen


Polar Regions Archives, Lindberg Collection of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Hazel Lindberg, Box 7, Folder 7

DENA 5462_B-12_EBrooker.pdf

Tom Walker, "Kantishna, Musher, Miner, Mountaineers", Pictorial Histories Publication, 2005

Charles Sheldon, "The Wilderness of Denali", C. Scribner's Sons, 1930

Grant Pearson, "The Alaska Sportsman" vol. 16, no. 3, 1950

Jane Haigh, "Searching for Fannie Quigley" Swallow Press Pub. 2007

Stephen R. Capps of the U.S. Geological Survey, 1919, 75-76

Chris Allan, "Kantishna Gold!" Denali National Park and Preserve

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, June 1, 1930, August 25, 1930

Tom Bundtzen, 1978, A History of Mining in the Kantishna Hills: The Alaska Journal, Volume 8, No. 2, pages 151-161.

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