Fairbanks’ Most Thankful Thanksgiving

By Jim Ducker

In 1938, August W. Conradt told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner about his first Thanksgiving in Fairbanks 35 years earlier.  Conradt arrived among the early gold rushers to Fairbanks in late 1902.  1903 was the first full year of scouring the area to assess if Felix Pedro’s find was an isolated rich pocket, or part of a field that could make a town.  The News-Miner quoted Conradt extensively, giving a picture of miners’ assessment of the field through the summer and a description of how townspeople celebrated Thanksgiving now so many years ago:

The stampede to Fairbanks began in the fall of 1902, and reached rather heavy proportions from Dawson and the lower Yukon river country in February and March 1903.

In the summer of 1903 the camp was regarded as a faze, and received an awful black eye.   In that summer the majority of early stampeders left.  No stocks of foodstuffs were ordered.  Supplies were scant and there was no demand for what there was.

Then shortly before the freeze-up pay was found on Fairbanks Creek.  That discovery established the permanency of the camp.

The steamboats Hamilton and Cudahy had left St. Michael with cargoes of food and other supplies for Dawson, Y.T.  But when gold was found on Fairbanks Creek, they changed their routing when they reached the mouth of the Tanana and came up the Tanana and up the Chena, 11 miles downstream from Fairbanks.  Cargoes of the craft furnished supplies for the Thanksgiving that marked Fairbanks as a permanent community.

There was canned turkey for those that wanted it, but few, if any, did.  There were plenty of wild geese that fall, and goose was the fowl generally served at Thanksgiving dinners.

That first Thanksgiving broke clear and warm.  It was a most delightful day.   There had been a fine freeze-up that fall, the Chena’s ice was as smooth as glass.

The old town of Chena was an important place then, and the residents were celebrating Thanksgiving in 1903 with a skating party.  Word of the party reached Fairbanks, and many residents of this city skated all the way down the Chena river to Chena.  A sort of potlatch was held there.  Everybody had a grand time.

There have been many notable Thanksgiving celebrations in Fairbanks in the intervening years between then and now, but I recall none observed with more thankfulness and morehappiness than the first–the Thanksgiving of 1903.

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, November 23, 1938