Over 130 years ago on Oct. 4, 1880 — one day after the local discovery of gold — Joe Juneau and Richard Harris wrote a “Code of Local Laws” and staked their mining discovery. Since Juneau could not read or write in English, Harris acted as the recorder for the then nameless settlement.
On Oct. 18 of the same year (the date now observed as Alaska Day), the men blocked out an 160-acre town site on the beach and called it Harrisburg. By December, the town’s population had grown to 30 miners. That first Christmas in what would someday become Alaska’s capital city, the men feasted on clam soup, “Stikine” pot pie and stuffed porcupine.
On Jan. 15, 1887, the very first Juneau newspaper was printed. The name of the paper was The Alaska Free Press. The owners and publishers were J.C. Howard and his two sons, Arthur and Frank. The only other newspaper in print at the time in Alaska was The Alaskan, published in Sitka, owned by then Gov. A.P. Swineford.
J.C. wrote an introduction in his first publication, defining the level of integrity and honesty that he expected in his paper, and was very insightful of the future. He wrote:
“Fellow citizens, we were born and christened today and, as our name proclaim us, not a slave, but free from debt and independent of clique or corporation. Having presented ourselves as such, even the magic chains of gold will be powerless to have around us the bonds of slavery. Today we launch our little craft, this independent Free Press in your seas, and side by side with you to ride the glittering swells of fortune or breast the black waves of despair, hand in hand with you to unfurl the banner of industry over this great territory that it may be utilized for the good of man to that end for which an all wise Creator designed it. With yours, our shoulder is pressed against the gateway and, if we push as one man, smiling success and glittering fortune will press in at the opening. We open our eyes in a land as yet only spoken of and but little known, but in a land that will emanate from a wilderness into one of the richest sections on the globe. Our existence will be devoted solely to gathering and proclaiming the news of her advancements, and to make known and in a measure to remove all obstacles of a nature both local and national that may be strewn in her pathway. We will take side with no petty local quarrels, neither will we lend ourselves as the mouth-piece to monopoly, and will always lift a voice and assert our rights, and demand recognition as citizens under the U.S. Government. If under these conditions fellow citizens, you wish to receive us in your midst, all we ask of you is to make it manifest by giving us your support and lend your strength with ours that the end for which we labor sooner or later may be accomplished.”
From 1887 to the present day, many Juneau publications came into being. In fact, it wasn’t long after the launch of the Free Press that a weekly newspaper came along called the Weekly Mining Record. Its first issue published in 1899.
Then in 1912, the Alaska Daily Empire was born, changing its name to the Daily Alaska Empire in 1926. Then, in 1964, it became the Juneau Alaska Empire, changing yet again in 1968 to become the Southeast Alaska Empire. Finally in 1980, two significant events occurred: The Southeast Alaska Empire became the Juneau Empire and the Capital City Weekly was born. Today, we have the two papers that still follow the outstanding philosophy of that first issue of 1887.
Much of the vision J.P. described in his introduction has come about, but much is yet to come. The spirit of those first miners and publishers lives on in each of us and in each publication. Now, with the advent of the Internet, new and exciting methods have come into being that helps us bring the news to you, the reader, almost before it happens.
• Jack Marshall is a 32-year Alaska resident who has been in Juneau for 26 years. His parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were pioneers of Oregon and Washington, leaving Alaska for him to discover. The information in this column came from the Alaska State Historical library and “Bent Pins to Chains” by Evangeline Atwood and Lew Williams Jr.
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