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Jack Marshall's Accumulated Fragments: Historically speaking, Alaska girls have always kicked butt

Posted: December 18, 2011 - 1:04am
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This photo shows the Eagle River Tram which, much like the neighboring tram used by the Petersons, allowed miners to transport heavy materials.   Alaska State Historical Archives
Alaska State Historical Archives
This photo shows the Eagle River Tram which, much like the neighboring tram used by the Petersons, allowed miners to transport heavy materials.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a
two -part column. The first ran Dec. 11.

Beginning in 1918 and over several years, newspapers and magazines wrote about the “two girls who own and operate a gold mine.” An example of such reporting was done in January of 1920 by The American Magazine:

“Alaska is furnishing her quota of ‘new age’ women. Two of them, barely out of their teens, have for the past five years operated a paying gold mine at Pearl Harbor, some forty miles from Juneau, Alaska. Their sole assistant has been another capable woman, their mother.

To operate a mine, in their case, means to do all the work. They do their own blacksmithing; sharpen steel; drill by hand the holes for powder; blast and transport the ore on a tram car hauled by mules over a mile to the mill. There they crush and stamp it; tend the amalgam plates and concentration tables; retort the amalgam; make the fine gold into bricks, which they carry to the local banks.

When the twenty-foot overshot waterwheel which drives the mill refused, because of old age, to function, they did send to Juneau for an expert to repair it. ‘But,’ said Miss Irma Peterson, ‘it broke down again before he had reached town. So Margaret and I took our axes, went out into the woods, hewed out timbers, and put in a new wheel that would stay.’

Last autumn they showed, with justifiable pride, the new development work they had carried out during the past two years, in addition to the work of keeping the mill running. Many tons of earth and overburden had been removed from the ore vein. Also, a hitherto hidden vein had been uncovered, and they estimated the new ore in sight at a modest fortune.

The price of hay for mule feed affects them not in the least now, for last season they homesteaded a convenient tract of hay land, and then hired a farmer to cut it with his mower. But they raked the hay, hauled it in, and stored it in a barn that they had built. The roof was of ‘shakes’ which they split from a hemlock tree, three feet in diameter.”

By the end of 1923 Irma and Margaret had decided to close the mine. Over the last 20 years the mine had produced about 200 ounces of gold. The demanding work had become too much for Margaret and she had a nervous breakdown. In 1928 she died of pneumonia. At the time she was living in Oregon.

Marie Peterson and her daughter Irma continued to live in the house at Pearl Harbor. In 1923 Irma met a nice young man who was the construction foreman with a road crew close to the Peterson Homestead at Pearl Harbor (It’s my belief the road he was developing became Glacier Highway later. However, at the time it was called the Eagle River Road). In 1925 Irma married Charles Olson. They had one son, Eddie Olson, born Jan. 17, 1933. Eddie died, after a short illness, on Sept. 15, 1949.

Charles came to Alaska in about 1908 from Arvicka, Sweden to work on the Alaska railroad. He entered the logging business in Juneau and contracted for the construction of many of the early bridges in this area. After he married Irma, the two of them fished for halibut and salmon, ran a large mink ranch and did assessment work on the mines. The Olsons, along with Marie Peterson, continued to live at the Peterson Homestead.

In 1958, Marie Peterson, also called Mary, died at Pearl Harbor at the age of 93. Charles Olson died in 1960 at the age of 78 and Irma Olson died Jan. 12, 1961 at the age of 66. Irma was survived by her uncle William Jensen and cousin Carl Jensen, who subsequently inherited the homestead and mining claims.

In 1951 Carl Jensen, who operated the Juneau Marine Wings from 1953 to 1964, married Caroline Hoff. Caroline was born in Eureka, Calif. in 1917. She attended schools in San Francisco and graduated from Commerce High School and Heald Business College. She worked for the California Department of Motor Vehicles, Rosenberg Bros. & Co. and the U.S. Geological Survey. In 1947 she was transferred by the USGS to Juneau when the agency officially opened offices in the area. She served as administrative assistant for the division’s three separate operating groups. She retired from government service in 1965, then worked for two years at Don Abel Building Supply as the full charge bookkeeper.

In 1951 she, along with Rev. H.E. Beyer and I.J. Montgomery, formed the Shank, Ship and Shutter Club. The club organized hikes and boat charters on Saturdays for several years. The club climbed many of the mountains in the area. She photographed the Juneau area from the 1940s through the 1970s. Because Caroline Jensen loved to garden, she and her husband beautified their homestead grounds at Pearl Harbor. Over the years, Caroline became famous in the Juneau Community for her extraordinary gardening abilities.

On April 3, 1986 Carl Jensen died, leaving the properties at Pearl Harbor to Caroline. On Feb. 1, 2006 Caroline died at age 89. Caroline had willed her home and property to the City and Borough of Juneau. In her words: “The vision of the Arboretum is to provide the people of Juneau a place that both teaches and inspires learning in horticulture, natural sciences and landscaping — to preserve the beauty of the landscape for pure aesthetic enjoyment — to maintain the historical and cultural context of the place and its people.”

Following the history of this outstanding Juneau family has been a great experience for me. There is much more that could be written however, space is limited. One of the key groups that helped me with this historical narrative was the Recreational Program at the U.S. Forest Service, Juneau Ranger District. They wanted me to point out that the Peterson Tram, trail and mines sites are on public lands and are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act among other statutes. They ask when you visit these sites (and any other historical sites) that you be a steward of the past:

• Treat remains of past cultures with respect.

• Tread lightly when visiting heritage sites.

• Leave artifacts where you find them.

• Photograph and enjoy rock art, but do not touch fragile surfaces.

• Help preserve the past by volunteering your time and talents.

Acknowledgements:

• U.S. Forest Service, Region 10, Juneau Ranger District; Ed Grossman, Recreational Project Manager; Rachael Myron, Archaeologist; K. Nicole Lantz, Archaeologist.

• U.S. Geological Survey, Bulletin 502; Adolph Knopf.

• State of Alaska, Department of Transportation and Public Facilities; Jeffery C. Ottesen, Andrew N. Hughes.

• Alaska Road Commission Historical Narrative, Naske, Claus M. - Jun-1983 A history from 1905 – 1956.

• Alaska Historical Collections, Alaska State Library.

• “Some Names around Juneau” by Robert Neil DeArmond.

• Daily Alaska Dispatch; February 1918.

• American Magazine; January 1920.

• Daily Alaska Empire, September 1949.

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