The founding of Harrisburgh and the decline of Harris

Accumulated Fragments: The founding of Harrisburgh and the decline of Harris

Editor’s note: This is the second of two parts. The first installment can be found online at


To say that George Pilz was unhappy about the results of this trip is undoubtedly a vast understatement. His unhappiness was not caused by the expenditure of an entire three-month outfit and the loss of 51 days of the prospecting season, but that when Harris and Juneau found a good creek, with 10 cents to the pan and some rich float ore, they failed to follow it up to learn where the float came from and whether there were any quartz outcroppings worth putting location stakes on.

And when pressured for the truth concerning the loss of their provisions, Harris and Juneau claimed the tide had risen and had pulled up their moorings and the boat had drifted out toward Taku Inlet with everything aboard.

About the time that Harris and Juneau were, according to Pilz, spinning this “pitiful yarn” in Sitka, Chief Kowee showed up with more ore samples from the upper part of Gold Creek.

He was, wrote Pilz, very distressed because Harris and Juneau had not followed him to upper Gold Creek so he could show them what was up there. Kowee got George Kostrometinoff as an interpreter and, said Pilz, “told me the true facts of Harris’s and Juneau’s trip to Auk Village and the Basin.”

Pilz wrote, “Chief Cowee said that once Harris and Juneau had landed at Auk Village with their outfit, they began immediately to trade off their outfit for hootch and squaws, and had remained drunk for over three weeks. He said they had used the boat to cross over to the Siwash village opposite to Gold Creek, and one night while they were drunk they had left the boat untied and it had been taken out by the tide and carried towards Taku inlet. He said there was nothing in the boat at the time it drifted away.”

Pilz went on to say that Harris and Juneau had given some Auk Indians one of their rifles to return them to Sitka.

Because Pilz had no one else to send and because Pilz himself was in ill health at the time, he sent Harris and Juneau back to Gastineau Channel with Chief Kowee. This time, Pilz had the steamer Favorite pull the canoe, furnished with a six-weeks outfit, mainly paid for by Sitka Merchant N.A.Fuller, to Hawk Inlet. From there they went by canoe to Gold Creek.

On Sept. 29, Harris wrote, “we landed at Gold Creek, put up our tent, and rested for four days”.

On Oct. 3 Chief Kowee, Juneau, and Harris started for the headwaters of Gold Creek and other tributaries.

Harris wrote: “We could not follow the creek as the brush was too compact and one or two canyons we could not well get around. Our only show was to climb the mountain. We followed up Snow Slide Gulch the summit we obtained a beautiful view of what is now called Silver Bow Basin and Quartz Gulch. The basin I named from the fact that it contained the most gold bearing quartz I had ever seen in one gulch.”

“We followed the gulch down from the summit of the mountain into the basin and it was a beautiful sight to see the large pieces of quartz. Before we got to the mouth of the gulch we examined several quartz lodes that cropped out of the edges of the gulch and I broke some with a hammer and Juneau and myself could hardly believe our eyes. We knew it was gold, but so much and not in particles; streaks running through the rock and little lumps as large as peas or beans. We then made our camp for the night down in Silver Bow Basin, and early in the morning while Juneau and the Indian were cooking breakfast, I took the gold pan, pick and shovel, and panned four pans and got $1.20 to $1.30 to the pan. After breakfast we went to staking and measuring the placer mines in the gulch.”

Harris continues, “October 4th — I wrote out a code of Local Laws giving the size of placer claims and the number of claims each miner could hold, and also quartz claims. We were then governed by military and Naval Laws. We prospected around Silver Bow Basin until the 18th of October, and had our Indians pack out to the beach on salt water about 1000 lbs. of gold quartz rock, the richest I ever seen. We picked the best specimens that we could find. We packed it over the highest mountain, a distance of three miles to salt water, along about the 20th of October.”

Harris and Juneau, having staked 19 placer claims and 16 lode claims in Silver Bow Basin during the early part of October, 1880, moved from the basin down to the shore of Gastineau Channel again on Oct. 18, according to Harris.

On that same day, which happened to be Alaska Day, they claimed a town-site along the beach.

The record entered by Harris reads, “this is to certify that R.T. Harris, Joseph Juneau and N.A. Fuller have this day recorded 160 acres for the purpose of erecting a town site, commencing at a point one mile above the mouth of Gold Creek and running up the coast one half mile and also the bay and anchorage right opposite Douglas Island, to be surveyed into 50 foot lots running back 200 feet. Said town site named and styled Harrisburgh. October 18, 1880, R.T. Harris, Recorder.”

It is interesting to note that N.A. Fuller’s name shows up on the recording of the town site. He certainly didn’t come with Harris and Juneau, but by Oct. 18 he seemed to be there at least in name.

Also, you might ask why Juneau did not take a stronger part in the recording of the gold find and the town site. The answer is that Juneau was French and could not read or write English whereas Harris was college educated.

Whatever the case, Harris seems to have been a little too flexible concerning the official mining laws and, because there was big money involved, every detail of his recordings were closely reviewed by the courts.

In 1882 Juneau sold his interests in the claims and Harris continued to work the ground with a succession of partners. The ground grew richer as they worked up the gulch and a part that may have overlapped the Fuller lode claim was the richest of all.

On June 17, 1885, N.A. Fuller, who was then assistant superintendent of the Treadwell Mine, filed suit against Harris in the U.S. District Court for Alaska, located in Sitka. In the lawsuit Harris lost all his mining interests. Further, because he was unable to pay a judgment, he lost everything.

In earlier years he had married Kitty, a young woman from Hoonah. There were four children, but only William John and R.E. Harris lived past infancy. After Kitty’s death, much of Harris’ concerns were centered around the education of his sons, who managed the difficult situation of being from two cultures much better than most.

Harris died in 1907 in a Masonic Home in Portland, Ore. Both Harris and Juneau are buried in Juneau’s Evergreen Cemetery. It is believed that relatives of both men still reside in Southeast Alaska.


Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation

The Alaskan, Sitka

The Alaska Free Press

The Daily Alaska Dispatch

Accounts and letters by Richard Harris

Letters by George E. Pilz

The Founding of Juneau by R.N. DeArmond


Alaska Historical Collections


  • Switchboard: 907-586-3740
  • Circulation and Delivery: 907-586-3740
  • Newsroom Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Business Fax: 907-586-9097
  • Accounts Receivable: 907-523-2230
  • View the Staff Directory
  • or Send feedback






Sun, 06/24/2018 - 07:36

Judgment or Grace?

Sun, 06/24/2018 - 07:33

Alaskaepoedia — The Whale Edition

JDHS student selected for Murkowski internship

Joseph Monsef of Juneau-Douglas High School has been named a summer intern for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Each year, interns from Alaska high schools... Read more