Monday, July 8, 2013

Kantishna's Fannie Quigley, larger-than-life frontier woman



Quigley cabin as it looked in the 1990s
Fannie Quigley was a larger-than-life Alaskan whose story has probably been embellished over the years. A 1990 Alaska Magazine article related that Fannie “was quick on the trigger, she could wrestle a bear, she could outsmart a wolf, and she could outdrink and outcuss just about any man in the north.”

Undoubtedly overstated, but what isn’t exaggerated is that she was an independent spirit in the days when women were supposed to be meek — dependent on their men.


Fannie’s maiden name was Francis Sedlacek, and she was born in 1871 on a Nebraska homestead to Bohemian immigrants. (Bohemia is now part of the Czech Republic.) Homesteading the Nebraska prairie was difficult, and Fannie left home when she was 16. She spoke little English growing up, and acquired her “colorful” version of the language from salty railroad workers as she worked her way west, probably waiting on tables and cooking in railroad camps.

She just kept moving west, and in 1899 joined the Klondike gold rush. Fannie ended up in Dawson City, where some stories relate she worked as a dance hall girl. However, with her experience cooking for construction crews, she realized her ticket to possible fortune was not through a dollar-a-dance with lonesome miners, but through the stomachs of hungry stampeders.

Miners on the creeks often had no time or inclination to cook, and were quite willing to pay for a hot meal. Fannie began following the stampeders to new diggings, pulling a sled loaded with tent, Yukon stove and provisions. Arriving at a new camp she would set up her tent, post a sign announcing, “Meals for Sale” and open for business. When activity on one creek died down she would move on. From this business model she earned the handle, “Fannie the Hike.”

In 1901 she married Angus McKenzie. The marriage was not to last though, and in 1903 Fannie took off again — alone — for the next rumored strike, 800 miles away in Rampart. According to Jane Haigh's  book, Searching for Fannie Quigley, her marriage was probably never legally dissolved.

Fannie quickly passed through Rampart and on to the new gold camp at Fairbanks. Then, in 1905, came word of a gold strike in the Kantishna region and Fannie was off again.

After arriving in Kantishna (then called Eureka), for a time she operated a roadhouse called Mother McKenzie’s. However, the lure of prospecting had always been strong in Fannie. She staked her first claim in the Kantishna area in 1907, and ended up staking scores of additional claims.

She also staked out a different sort of claim — on Kantishna miner Joe Quigley. By 1907 she and Joe were living together. Many early accounts of Fannie’s life, not wishing to offend cultural norms, stated that she and Joe were married in 1906, but in reality they were not married until 1918. (It’s possible she did not marry Joe until after her first husband had died.)

In 1930 Joe had a life-threatening accident which ended his mining career. He began spending increasing amounts of time away from Kantishna, and in 1937 the two divorced. Joe eventually moved Outside, but Fannie refused to leave Kantishna.

Earlier that same year the Quigleys sold their claims on the ridge between Friday and Eureka creeks above Kantishna to the Red Top Mining Company (RTMC). It was the RTMC that built the wood-frame home shown in the drawing. either in 1938 or 1939. Located just north of Friday Creek in Kantishna, this is where Fannie moved sometime after 1939, and where she lived until her death in 1944. She is buried in the Birch Hill Cemetery in Fairbanks.

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