(The following is a compilation from Treadwell Gold by Sheila Kelly, the Treadwell Historical Society, the Alaska State Library, and Juneau Empire Sports. Enjoy.)
Fourth of July celebrations were big in early Alaska as immigrants from all walks of life who came to call America home were far from ancestral ties and new-country ties.
Miners were, for the most part, working to bring their families to join them in Alaska. Some were born and raised in the mining communities here.
When money was made some went off to find their own claims or moved from Treadwell or Douglas across the channel to Juneau for work in other jobs or in other mines.
In 1914 the Treadwell Mining Complex was made up of the Treadwell Mine, Ready Bullion Mine, Mexican Mine and 700’ Mine. At their heyday the mines employed over 2,000 workers.
Hard work in the mines meant any holiday or day of rest was a chance to relax in “friendly” competitions. Even 4th of July bragging rights were documented and talked about.
At any rate, mines in Treadwell, Douglas, Juneau and Skagway would battle each other in feats of skill on the 4th of July that included traditional baseball, and skills associated with rock busting and fire fighting.
The fire hose race offered the biggest prize ($350 in gold in 1916) because it honed skills critical to the company.
There were two kinds of fire-team races.
For the chemical engine contest, 10 firemen filled a chemical tank on a two-wheeled truck with forty gallons of fire suppressant. In 1914, the Ready Bullion team did it in 42 seconds.
The hose race was over the same course.
At the beginning of the hose race, teams of 10 fireboys stepped up to the pile of five 50-foot lengths of hose neatly coiled at the hydrant. At the starting pistol shot, a pair of team members rolled out a length of hose straight and flat on the ground and coupled it to the hydrant. A second pair ran to the end of that portion, rolled out another segment, and coupled it to the first. This was repeated for five lengths. As the first section was connected to the hydrant, the hydrant man turned on the water full force.
In the meantime, the nozzle man ran the entire distance to couple the nozzle. He ran at high speed while water surged through the hose at his heels. The winners were the team with the fastest legs and the nimblest hands.
One year Milton Kelly had just enough time to put down his drum, change from his band uniform to his team shirt to help his team win the hose race in 22 seconds, collecting the $200 prize.
In 1916, the Fourth of July celebration reached a zenith. The $1,700 purse of prize money included $350 for the hose race and $250 for winners of the ballgame.
That game was a thriller. It was stated as “the best ever seen in the north.”
With no score up to the 11th inning, the Treadwell team scored two runs in the last half of the at-bats. The win was hailed as the greatest success since Captain Vancouver discovered Douglas Island.
The paper proclaimed that Fourth of July 1916 “will be remembered as a red letter page in Douglas Island history.”
Even as Gus Anderson (a central hoist operator in the mines) was packing up his family to move to Seattle (he was convinced that the mine was caving), the townspeople proclaimed confidence that next year’s Fourth of July would be even grander and that Treadwell would continue to field winning baseball teams for years to come, just as they trusted that the mines would support them for decades. In less than a year, those hopes would be dashed.