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Badger Remembers Custer, Early Days in Local Camp (January 5, 1960)
A man who remembers the Custer massacre and who was town recorder when the city of Fairbanks was being born, today is in St. Joseph's Hospital for a checkup.
Harry Badger - 90-year-old pioneer - is still in good condition and still spry. His doctor says he should be back at his homestead at Mile 12, Badger Road, within a few days.
The leisure and care Badger is getting at the hospital gave him time to look back at almost a century of eventful historic years, spanning the Old West, the Klondike, and early Fairbanks.
Badger was born Nov. 19, 1969 on a farm near Sunrise Minn., a point now called oddly enough, "Wyoming."
"I remember the time of Custer's massacre very clearly," Badger said. "It spread terror through our part of the country. The massacre wasn't too far from where I lived. All the women and children moved to St. Paul. My granddad - he was a doctor with Indian Service - said 'I'm not going. I know these Indians - they won't hurt me.'"
After working in the pine woods of Minnesota for $15 a month and heading for the state of Washington when he was a lad of 20, Badger was fired up by news of the Klondike strike.
"I was working a mine on Canyon creek in the Skagit country when some fellows who never had anything came back from Dawson with a good piece of money. I sold my horse and buggy and 13 stands of honeybees and we hit the trail to Dawson.
"We went over White Pass, pulling our sleds by the neck. At the Lake Bennett customs office they cleaned us - took all we had - which was maybe $6.97 between us.
"We were 40 days n the trail. When we arrived at Dawson we had $2.50 between us. Believe it or not, we were able to buy dinner for a dollar each and had 50 centers left. So my partner and I bought two cigars at two bits each - 'might as well start out clean without any of that Outside money.' I told him."
Badger got a job freighting to Cheechako Hill which made him about $25 a day. He was able to accumulate $5,000 which he sank into a virtually worthless claim.
How did he happen to come to Fairbanks?
"Barnette had a trading post on the Chena and he didn't have any salt for his customers. He sent a Jap up to Dawson who told us they had a 9 feet of 25-cent dirt in Fairbanks - that was pretty rich. We beat it down here. When we got here, Pedro had one hole to bedrock on Pedro Creek but he wasn't on paystreak and he let us go down in and pan. By scraping bedrock we got three cents.
"We were pretty discouraged, but within 30 days two rich strikes were made - one on Cleary Creek and one on Fairbanks Creek. That was the making of the camp."
Badger became one of the city's first town recorders. All that was required to obtain a town lot was to pay $2.50 to the recorder to get your name down on the book as the owner of a specific lot.
"You could stake lots anywhere - didn't make much difference. One fellow staked a lot that was long enough for four lots."
The first lots were staked on the corner of 1st avenue and Cushman street. Badger remembers that Barnette made a gift to Judge Wickersham of that first lot. Wickersham later sold the south half of it to Luther Hess who later became vice president of the first bank in Fairbanks.
'Just a Camp'
"We didn't pay too much attention in those days to the way we laid out the town. We figured it was just a mining camp which wasn't ever going to grow. I sure was surprised to see Fairbanks sprout up like it did - the way it turned into a city from just a rough camp."
The town recorder who preceded Badger did not fare so well. He made the mistake of selling a house and lot which belonged to a man who had gone to Circle City to get provisions. A miner's meeting was called and the recorder got 30 days notice to leave town.
"If he hadn't, they would have taken him out and laid him out and used a couple of birch switches on him," Badger recalls.
Badger said there was very little crime in early Fairbanks. "Oh, a couple of shootings and a couple of murders - but nothing really spectacular."
In 1916, Badger began homesteading on what is now Badger Road. "I walked in there - didn't see any use of staying in town. I went 12 miles out to stake. It was a place where I could get good water at 20 feet. I moved out there and put up a log building and never moved out of it."
Badger still lives on the homestead although he has sold the place to Gradelle Leigh with the stipulation that he be allowed to live on three acres of it until his death. His only companion at his cabin is a cat he calls "Bum - because that's what she is."
Looking out beyond the walls of his hospital room, Badger remembered the old times and the oldtimers.
"They are all passing on...all my kinfolk...my brothers - the men I used to know in early Fairbanks," he said. "I guess I'm what you call an old-timer. Our ranks are getting pretty thin now - there's just a few of us left. There's Hugh Wallace. And Bill Elwell up at Shaw Creek. Makes me feel kind of lonesome."
Badger, who qualifies as an Alaska pioneer by any standards, smiled and said "nowadays just about anybody is allowed to become a pioneer. I remember back when the Pioneers wanted to change it so you could join if you into Alaska in 1905 instead of 1900. Old Captain Cunningham stamped out of the meeting and quit.
"He said: 'Damned if I'm gonna associate with a lot of steam heat pioneers.'"
Badger cannot wait to get back to his homestead - a place he loves.
"Out there, I'm absolutely independent," the spry Alaska pioneer declared. "Out there I do just as I damn please."