Articles written by Laurel Downing Bill

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Vices abound in Anchorage's early history

The seeds of Alaska's biggest city were planted in April 1915 when the federal government authorized construction of a new railroad to connect Interior Alaska to tidewater in Seward and hundreds of...

 

52 years of Iditarod and counting

The two legendary visionaries who conceived the 1,049-mile race from Anchorage to Nome hardly could have imagined the success and changes that would happen over the next half century of the "Last...

 

Japanese Alaskans interred during WWII

Following the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and six months later at Kiska and Attu, wartime hysteria and fear of sabotage and espionage ran rampant across the country. President...

 

Woody Island's lucrative Alaska export: Ice

A little "two-by-four" island, a couple of miles off the city of Kodiak, has several Alaska firsts. The first horses in Alaska were brought here, the first road constructed, the Territory's first...

 

'Eskimo Scouts' volunteer by thousands

When the U.S. Government needed them, Alaska's Native population came out in droves. From the beaches of Bristol Bay to the far corners of Bethel, Kotzebue and Barrow, villagers didn't hesitate to...

 

Search for son launches Alaskan odyssey

Many adventurous souls headed north during the 1890s after prospectors first discovered coarse placer gold in the Yukon River basin on Fortymile River. But a widowed German immigrant who traveled...

 

Fire hazards and the day Dawson burned

Fire was the curse of many towns during the Klondike Gold Rush era, and Dawson was no exception. The extreme cold, coupled with dryness, meant fires burned in all buildings when occupied. Stovepipes...

 

From bankruptcy to Skagway elite

Harriet Smith Pullen left her children with friends in Seattle, and a bankrupt farm in Cape Flattery, and arrived broke in Skagway on Sept. 8, 1897. Although husband Daniel came with her, their...

 

Alcatraz inmate No. 594 had an Alaska connection

Before he became well-known around the country, one of America's most famous prison inmates dug gold nuggets out of a mine in Juneau during 1908. But justice proved swift and sure after he killed a...

 

City of Seattle turns to piracy

If you have ever traveled to Seattle you may have visited its iconic Pioneer Square, which once was the heart of the Washington city. During the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1890s, Seattle was the...

 

Surprising history of once-booming Alaska town

Thousands of gold seekers flooded into the North country during the late 1800s and settled around new towns such as Nome, Juneau and Dawson. Several also streamed into Cook Inlet. They hacked out...

 

WWII Japanese ousted from Aleutians, May 1943

This coming Memorial Day, it seems fitting to honor the sacrifice that America's brave military made in the Aleutians 80 years ago this month. Under the mistaken belief the Doolittle Raiders had...

 

Anchorage's Midtown Mall is aging well at year 55

Have you ever wondered how the mall that sits at Northern Lights Boulevard and the New Seward Highway got its start? This Anchorage landmark opened its doors to the public for the first time 55 years...

 

Seward's folly became U.S. treasure 156 years ago

On March 30, 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward and Russian minister to the United States Edouard de Stoeckl exchanged copies of the Treaty of Cession, whereby America agreed to pay...

 

The Flame of the Yukon

After brief stints in Skagway and Whitehorse, one Kansas girl swirled her way into gold rush history when she stepped on stage at the Palace Grand in Dawson City in 1900. Kathleen Eloisa Rockwell,...

 

Sisters of Providence head to Nome

Many images come to mind when one thinks of gold rush days in Alaska: bearded prospectors swishing pans filled with water as they search for specks of gold; saloons beckoning the hardworking boys to...

 

Loneliness and hardship for early trappers

Some adventurous souls who came to Alaska didn't search the creek beds and mountains for golden riches. Instead they chose to make their fortunes through trapping furs. From early in the fall to the c...

 

Early Miners' code ruled in the Last Frontier

As hordes of prospectors streamed into Alaska and Canada in the 1880s and 1890s, crime like thefts and claim jumping became more common. The Canadians had not yet established a law and order presence...

 

Ancient rock pictures dot Alaska shores

Not only does Alaska have a history steeped in fur trading, whale harvesting and gold mining. It also has drawings on rocks usually associated with primitive people in exotic faraway lands....

 

Pioneering tourism with Alaska's first streetcar

A three-hour stopover in Skagway in July 1923 by President Warren G. Harding turned into a booming business for one Alaskan sourdough. Martin Itjen, an immigrant who came north from Florida in 1898...

 

Ship Creek school oversight causes delay

When Land Office chief Andrew Christensen opened the auction for townsites above Ship Creek on July 10, 1915, bidding became so brisk that prospective lot owners couldn't hold down prices. After sales...

 

Beacons in the wilderness for prospectors

Some courageous pioneers saw the possibilities of the Yukon Basin years before the Klondike Gold Rush. And a few stand out above the rest, including Leroy Napoleon "Jack" McQuesten, Alfred Mayo and...

 

Last shot of Civil War lands in Bering Sea

Seventy-four days after Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his Confederate forces at the Appomattox courthouse in Virginia, and almost two months after the Confederate Army stopped fighting on land, the l...

 

Girdwood settles on Crow Creek

As news of gold spread through America in the mid-1890s, hundreds of people flooded onto Seattle docks seeking transportation northward. Among the 100 passengers who packed onto the Cook Inlet-bound...

 

Howard Rock's burning light lives on

In 1911, near the village of Tikigaq, Howard Rock's shaman grandmother predicted he would become a great man. More than 50 years later, the prophecy came true. Rock, small in stature, did indeed...

 

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