JOSEPH BUFFINGTON QUIGLEY
Joseph Buffington Quigley was an American pioneer, prospector and miner in Alaska during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The second youngest of fourteen children, Joe Quigley left his parent’s western Pennsylvania farm in 1884 at age fifteen. He was already “six feet tall, and then some” and able to get work as he traveled across America during the next seven years, hopping trains and making his way to the west coast, then taking a steamship north to the Yukon. Five years before the Klondike gold rush, Joe Quigley crossed the Chilkoot Pass on his twenty-second birthday, May 9, 1891, and stayed in the far north for nearly fifty years, prospecting and mining, living off of the land in the wilderness, and exploring places where non-indigenous people had never gone before. He prospected in the Fortymile River area and in 1897 he made $10,000. (equivalent to approx. $300,000. in 2018) on the sale of #35 Eldorado. That same year Quigley was inducted into the Yukon Order of Pioneers. When remembering this part of his life Joe Quigley said “Most of the men who were in that country have long since passed on. There were not many, but I think they were the finest group of men who ever got together in one community. Our neighbors were few and we were scattered over a large country, especially during the mining season. But tough as things were at the time, I think we all enjoyed it. Always looking for a million-dollar mine, and never showing disappointment when we didn’t find it.” Joe had much more in mind to do in Alaska though, and stayed long beyond the gold rush.
When Joe Quigley and Jack Horn brought some large gold nuggets they’d found into a Fairbanks saloon on July 10, 1905, and Quigley registered the first claim in the Kantishna mining district, it set off the last gold stampede in Alaska. Soon after setting up camp near what is now called Quigley Ridge, Joe Quigley took on Fannie McKenzie as his partner (she later became his wife, the legendary Fannie Quigley). The two of them lived in the foothills of Denali (Mt. McKinley then) the highest mountain in North America, where they became hosts and friends to historically significant adventurers, conservationists and scientists. They saw their beloved community become part of the first national park created for the purpose of wildlife conservation. Conservationist and “Father of Denali National Park” Charles Sheldon said, “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.” Quigley continued to make “grub money” during the summer with placer mining, and in the winter would dig tunnels for Hard Rock mining. He used his skills as a prospector, miner, musher, blacksmith, carpenter, hunter, and photographer to build a unique life in Kantishna, was known for his generosity, kindness, and intellectual curiosity and was much loved by the people in this wilderness mining community.
At the age of sixty-one, still digging tunnels alone, by hand, Joe Quigley had a catastrophic mining accident, when the tunnel he was working on caved in, and three thousand pounds of rock fell on him. With a crushed femur and a severely injured right arm, he dug himself out of the mine, and his friends in the mining community came to carry him to the tiny biplane that would take him to the hospital in Fairbanks. He made an astounding recovery and although the accident did effectively end his mining career, he successfully negotiated the sale of his seventeen mines in 1938, for today’s equivalent of approx three and a half million dollars, plus royalties. With Fannie refusing to leave Kantishna, Joe and Fannie split the proceeds of the mine sales and divorced, with Joe moving to Seattle, Washington. Joe Quigley went on to explore the United States by automobile, putting 18,000 miles on his 1938 Chevrolet during the first year he owned it. He remarried and lived in Seattle with his second wife Julia, until her death in 1950, and continued to live there until his death at the age of eighty-nine, in 1958. He said of himself, “I am as happy as any old codger my age should hope to be” He was described at age 84 as “…a widower, with no children. Has a merry twinkle 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.”
Although there is considerable documentation about Joe Quigley’s work and life, there has never been a definitive biography written about him until now. “Joe Quigley, Alaska Pioneer: Beyond the Gold Rush” is now available from McFarland Publishing. It can be purchased directly from McFarland, or anywhere you like to buy books.
Joseph Buffington Quigley was inducted into the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame on November 6, 2018. His great-grand niece Cheryl Fair presented a condensed version of Quigley’s biography at the induction ceremony in Anchorage AK. Denali National Park and Preserve Deputy Superintendent Denice Swanke also spoke during the ceremony about Joe Quigley’s importance to the history of the park.