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Articles written by Laurel Downing Bill

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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...

 

How the city of Seward got its name

In March, Alaskans celebrate Seward's Day in honor of the man who succeeded in persuading the United States to buy Alaska from the Russians. And there are many landmarks named after President...

 

Prospector spins words into gold

As a young man, famous American novelist Rex Ellingwood Beach struck out from Illinois in 1897 in search of his fortune in the gold-filled Klondike. Along with others who had some money and time, he...

 

Enterprising cook mines Nome's miners

Fired with the romance of the undertaking and inspired by exciting rumors, thousands thronged to Nome's beaches in 1900 after gold nuggets were found in the sand. Lured by the siren's cry of "gold,"...

 

Alaska's island of mystery

Capt. James Cook reported seeing a tall, sail-like rock about 60 miles west of Dutch Harbor in 1778. Unbeknownst to him and his crew, a 6,000-foot volcano lay beneath the conical mountain and its...

 

Anchorage's first mayor faced weighty issues

Anchorage's first mayor, elected on Nov. 29, 1920, bore the responsibility of governing a railroad town of 1,856 people after five years of Alaska Engineering Commission management ended. When Judge...

 

Immigrant puts the right foot forward

One of Anchorage's now-closed department stores can trace its roots to the Gold Rush days of the Klondike when a young Swede hunkered down with pick and ax and chipped out a small fortune. John W....

 

Crime syndicate and the Keystone Canyon affair

Prospectors searching for gold in the Wrangell mountains during the early 1900s found a mountain of copper instead. That discovery brought the famous Guggenheim-Morgan Syndicate into the history of...

 

Klondike discovery launched a gold rush

George Washington Carmack and his two inseparable friends, "Skookum" Jim Mason and Tagish Charlie, had wandered up and down the Yukon for several years before their gold discovery electrified the...

 

Horses cross raging waters in riverboat

Hair-raising experiences, hardships and back-breaking toil were common to the lives of those who struggled to take from Nature her wealth of precious minerals. Few emerged victorious, thousands...

 

Settlers' early days in the Mat-Su Valley

Long before the Matanuska Valley became one of the fastest-growing communities in the nation, Russians tried to establish agricultural settlements on its fertile soil. They taught the Dena'ina how to...

 

Seaworthy captain full of adventures

When news reached Seattle of gold discoveries in Cook Inlet in 1896, every available vessel was pressed into service. With ships scarce, those heading north were filled to capacity with prospectors...

 

World War 2 brings military to Anchorage

Six years before World War II broke out, Anthony J. Dimond, Alaska's delegate to Congress, started asking for military planes, airfields, army garrisons and a highway to link the Lower 48 to Alaska. W...

 

Riches eluded John Bremner, but not fame

In the Koyukuk country, two rivers and a lake are named after a grizzled old Scottish prospector who explored the Copper River Valley. Not much is known of John Bremner's life before he arrived in...

 

Clarence Berry, Klondike's luckiest man

A few years before Lady Luck showered riches on Clarence Berry, the "luckiest man in the Klondike" didn't have enough money to pay his room rent. Caught in the panic of 1893, he was broke. He...

 

Famous painter was Cordova's preacher

It was a cold, snowy, windy January day in 1909 when a short, slightly built 22-year-old disembarked from the Yakutan in Prince William Sound. Eustace Paul Ziegler arrived in the boom town of Cordova...

 

Alaska's first law officer knew crime well

Alaska's first law officer in the Interior knew a thing or two about the criminal element. Frank Canton, appointed deputy marshal for Circle in winter 1898, had served with distinction as a peace...

 

This is your 100th birthday, Anchorage!

Technically speaking, Anchorage was born in November 1920. According to information gleaned by the League of Women Voters many years ago, it was eligible to become a first-class city because it had a...

 

Sourdough governor understands Alaskans

Alaska's governor from 1933 to 1939 believed that more people and more roads would help the territory achieve statehood. And John Weir Troy, who came to Alaska during the gold rush in 1897, thought a...

 

Alaska targets criminals running amok

Criminals dabbling in everything from prostitution to bootlegging to gambling flourished in the Alaska territory during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Believing that gold miners and other citizens...

 

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