Garden Club hears presentation on Alaskan pioneer Fannie Quigley

Local historian and gardener Jane Haigh gave an overdue presentation about her years researching Fannie Quigley, a renowned Alaskan pioneer and gardener, at Tuesday’s Central Peninsula Gardening Club meeting.

“It is Haigh’s first time speaking for the garden club,” said Garden Club President Marion Nelson. “It is great to have it finally happen.”

Nelson had heard Haigh speak previously about her book Searching for Fannie Quigley: A Wilderness Life in the Shadow of Mt. McKinley, published in 2007. Haigh is currently the Assistant Professor of History at the Kenai Peninsula College.

Quigley is an example of a gardener who was able to cultivate highly productive beds in the remote and harsh Alaskan terrain, Nelson said. She hauled buckets of soil up the steep hillside to her cabin “under the shadow of Mount McKinley,” just to make the soil the best it could be.

“She went above and beyond to make her growing efforts worth while and more nutritious,” Nelson said.

Quigley and her husband settled beside their mining claim in 1906 in the Kantishna mining district, where she mined, gardened and homesteaded for nearly 44 years, Haigh said.

Haigh tracked down the details of Quigley’s life through documents she left with the Mormon Church, state mining claim records, old newspapers, and the direct accounts of travelers who spent time with the woman herself. Finally, Haigh went on foot to personally witness the now overgrown sites of Quigley’s cabin, mining claim and tiered gardens.

Early mountaineer Belmore Browne, who stayed with Quigley while visiting the land that one year later became Denali National Park, left with quite an impression, Haigh said.

“(Quigley) lived in the wild life as men did, and she was as much at home in the open with a rifle as a city woman is on a city avenue,” Browne wrote of the female homesteader.

Audience members speculated on what flowers and vegetables covered the flourishing tiers of Quigley’s garden in the photographs Haigh showed the group.

The raised beds were sloped to allow for the maximum exposure of sunlight, Haigh said. It is certain Quigely was able to grow celery, potatoes, lettuce, carrots and corn at a 2500-foot elevation. Quigley mastered her microclimate, Haigh said.

Quigley also transformed her crops into savory meals, Haigh said. Belmore described her cooking as some of the most delicious meals he had ever consumed.

Moose nose jelly, spiced corn moose meat, pies, and potato beer are some of the recipes that frequented Quigley’s household, Haigh said.

“There’s some stories of Fannie unfortunately drinking a little too much of the potato beer,” Haigh said with a laugh. Audience members responded by saying it did not matter if she indulged because of her daily level of productivity.

 

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com

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