Alaska has a long, rich, and colorful history based in utilizing its resources. While there were small numbers of indigenous people and early explorers from Russia, the major influx of people to Alaska came just before, during and immediately after the Klondike Gold Rush between 1880 and 1900.
This stampede by tens of thousands of gold seekers from around the world to a vast, unsettled and ungoverned land lead to many hardships, much ingenuity and a dependence upon one another to survive. Often, miners organized themselves to handle the legal and social needs of the hastily formed communities in which they found themselves. Several fraternal organizations throughout the Klondike and Alaska were born as result. The Pioneers of Alaska were not the first of such organizations but it has achieved an amazing record of longevity.
The Pioneers of Alaska were first organized in Nome on February 14, 1907, with the mission:
To preserve the names of Alaska's pioneers on its rolls;
To collect and preserve the literature and incidents of Alaska's history;
And to promote the best interests of Alaska.
Small gold nuggets and dust were the main method of payment for goods and services during the gold rush years. Photo courtesy Susan Gibson
Divided into units called Igloos, they are governed by the Grand Igloo which meets every year in varying communities throughout Alaska. Originally an all male organization, the women established an all female auxiliary counterpart by the fall of 1912. In 2004, the Grand Igloo changed all the Women's Auxiliaries to Women's Igloos, paving the way for equality for all members. Currently, there are 32 active Igloos (one Men's and one Women's) located in 16 communities throughout the state with every member having one thing in common; they have all been Alaska residents for more than 20 years.
Several of the Igloos have more than 100 years of continuous activity. Throughout our long history, the Pioneers have influenced legislative action that resulted in improved roads, railroads, fish and wildlife management, natural resource development, senior citizen care and historical preservation.
The Fairbanks Igloos
The Fairbanks Men's Igloo was chartered in 1910 and the first Fairbanks Women's Igloo was chartered in 1916. While as a whole, the Pioneers of Alaska have achieved much for our state and its citizens, the Fairbanks Igloos have many accomplishments of their own:
- The Men's Igloo played a major role in the first ascent of Denali with the "Sourdough Expedition" in 1910.
- Men's Igloo No. 4 owns the Felix Pedro Discovery Claim.
- Both the Men's and Women's Igloos were key in the formation of Pioneer Park, the Pioneer Museum, and Golden Days celebrations.
- Both the Men's Igloo No. 4 and Women's Igloo No. 8 erected the Prospector Monument in Pioneer Park dedicated to the gold prospectors of the Fairbanks Mining District.
- Women's Igloo No. 8 operates the Kitty Hensley House Museum in Pioneer Park.
Active year-round, Fairbanks Pioneers are a vibrant part of the community and continue to participate in the following types of activities. If any of them sound interesting to you, why not join us?
Original charter of the Fairbanks Men's Igloo No. 4. It sports a birch and moosehide frame and lists all of the charter members.
What We Do
Each year, the Igloo No. 4 Foundation awards a scholarship to a descendant of members of Pioneers of Alaska Men's Igloo No. 4 or Women's Igloo No. 8. Applicants must be enrolled full-time at a University of Alaska facility for the Fall semester and have completed 12 or more credit hours of classes numbered 100 or above the previous Spring semester. There are additional requirements but if you have met the first three, you may want to consider applying.
The amount of the scholarship varies each year, depending upon the available funds.
Golden Days is an annual community event that celebrates our town's history stemming from our origin as a gold mining town. Taking place every July, the Igloos have a strong showing in several of the events and most are open to the public:
- Felix Pedro Monument Re-dedication
- Regent’s Tea
- Multiple entries in the Golden Days parade
- Pioneer Mug-Up Dinner (Non-members may attend as a guest of a Pioneer. Requires purchase of a ticket.)
In addition to Golden Days, many of the members participate in other events during the year such as the Annual 4K Charity Walk where the full entry fee goes to the charity of the entrant's choosing. In this very fun social family walk, participants are fed at points along the walk as the course meanders through the town. Many of our Pioneers choose to support the Kitty Hensley House.
Every Spring, both the Men's and Women's Igloos work together to clean up the Pioneer sections of the historic Clay St. Cemetery and Birch Hill Cemetery. During the summer months, work parties pick up trash, weed and generally tend the graves of our Pioneer ancestors.
On Pioneer "stampedes" to various locations during the summer months, the excursions will often include a short clean-up of a local cemetery or historical site.
Fairbanks Pioneers were key in the formation of Pioneer Park. It was the Pioneers who negotiated the land for the park, got the riverboat Nenana moved in, and helped to get Gold Rush Town created within the park, saving many of the old historic log cabins of early Fairbanks from decay and demolition. One of those cabins, the Kitty Hensley House, was renovated and furnished by the Pioneers and is now a living museum and shop.
Pioneer Hall was built on the edge of Gold Rush Town in the style of a 1900s era building. It is where the Pioneers meet and it is also the home of the Pioneer Museum. A long-awaited dream, the Museum was established along with the "Big Stampede" presentation with paintings by renowned artist, Rusty Heurlin, and narration by Ruben Gaines, both prominent Alaskans.
The Felix Pedro Gold Discovery Claim on Pedro Creek is owned by the Men's Igloo No. 4. The Igloo erected a monument on the site to honor the discoverer, Felice Pedroni (Felix Pedro). His discovery sparked the gold rush that founded Fairbanks. The monument is re-dedicated each year during the week-long Fairbanks Golden Days celebrations.
In 2017, the Pioneers erected the Prospector Monument in the Mining Valley at Pioneer Park to honor and commemorate the early prospectors who developed the Fairbanks Mining District into a major producer of gold.
The Pioneers of Alaska host many scheduled social activities all year long for its members statewide. Some are open to the public (P), some are open to the public as guests of a Pioneer and may require the purchase of tickets (G), and some are for members only (M). In Fairbanks, these include:
- Officer Installations (P)
- Regent’s Coronation (P)
- Men’s & Women’s Roll Call dinners (M)
- Annual Bocce Tournament (M)
- Regents' Tea (P)
- Golden Days Mug-Up (G)
- Annual BBQ & Potluck (G)
- Grand Igloo Convention, in years when hosted in Fairbanks (M)
- Mid-month potluck dinner & historical show during winter months (G)
- Christmas Dinner & Dance (G)
In addition to these events, each year, the Pioneers may choose a destination to "stampede". It is an opportunity for Pioneers of Alaska members throughout the state to gather in places like Chitina, McCarthy, or Wiseman to have fun and work on historical preservation projects while there.
The Pioneers have a long-standing tradition of providing support to the aged members of our community. Our members organize to provide rides, social activities, and general assistance to our elderly brothers and sisters.
The Igloos and Fairbanks Pioneer Home have combined activities throughout the year:
- Women's coffee with the female Pioneer residents.
- Men's coffee with the male Pioneer residents.
- Monthly birthday party, Bingo, and shopping.
- Mug-Up dinner.
- Christmas tree decoration.
- Christmas party.