Alaska is known as the last frontier. The state’s capital city, Juneau, has a rich history in native culture and gold mining. Today, the city thrives on tourism, but that wasn’t always so. One of the last lands for Europeans to explore, local natives were the first to live in Alaska. They fished the salmon-rich waters to feed their families.
Mining for Gold
In 1880, a German engineer named George Pilz hired people to search for gold and silver in the area. He also offered rewards to the natives for gold. Chief Cowee of the Auk Tlingits tribe gave him gold samples, so Pilz sent out miners to find more. Two miners were chosen: Joe Juneau and Richard Harris.
The miners found gold ore. On October 18, they staked a 160-acre town site on the beach. The next month, boatloads of hopeful prospectors came to try their hand at gold mining. Harris named this area after himself, calling it Harrisburgh.
The US Navy sent a steamboat of sailors to help keep order in the mining camp. One of the first town meetings was held in February 1881, where it was decided that too many American towns were already called Harrisburgh. The town’s name was changed to “Rockwell” in honor of Lieutenant Commander Charles Rockwell, the Navy commander who had been sent to help keep order.
Joe Juneau complained that his name had not been used. After all, he and his partner Harris were had discovered the gold and brought miners to build up the small camp. The miners agreed, and the city’s name was changed to Juneau.
- The US bought Alaska from the Russian Empire on March 30, 1867, for $7.2 million.
- Juneau was named Alaska’s capital in 1906.
- Fishing and mining are still important to Juneau’s economy.