Alaska History Footnotes: The Anti-Wickersham

From James Wickersham’s personal journal, reporting an item from the diary of Ass’t Engineer C. D. Harland, of the S.S. Queen, for August 13, 1901.

. . . As Judge Noyes came on deck from the boat or scow, alongside, he was so drunk as to be unsteady on his feet; he was covered by a large overcoat and carried a heavy pack beneath its folds.

In walking along the deck, in the darkness, he stumbled and fell; he was carrying a grip also. He finally arose, picked up his grip and went into his room. He fell just opposite Hardland’s door, in a dark passageway where a door or barrier had just been erected to assist in controlling the great crowd of people who had pressed passage upon the vessel.

The great crowd of people, the mass of baggage, etc. and the stormy sea prevented the cleaning up of the passageway or the decks generally, on that day after Judge Noyes came aboard. He was supplied with liquor and remained in his room all that day, drunk and in a dazed condition.

The next morning, twenty-eight hours after Noyes had fallen in the passageway, and about four o’clock a.m., Harland came up from the engine room to go into his room, opposite where Noyes had fallen. He slipped on the wet deck, one foot struck something hard in the scupper, or drainway on the outer side of the deck, among a lot of wet rubbish. He didn’t stop to see what it was but went directly into his room.

Then he began to wonder what it was his foot had struck and his curiosity was so keen that he went out on the deck, lit a match and looked for the object and found it. It was a large poke of gold dust, with a smaller poke tied to it. He carried the pokes into his room and put them under his pillow and turned in to sleep.

About 9 o’clock he got up and had breakfast, then called the chief engineer and they carried the pokes to the purser’s room, weighed them carefully, and placed them in the purser’s safe to await claimants.

In about an hour afterward, Judge Noyes came to the purser’s office and declared he had been robbed of a poke of gold dust containing $30,000 and gave the exact description – the exact weight of the large poke, and after careful consideration it was delivered to him.

He made no mention of the smaller poke, but when it was mentioned, he claimed it but the purser refused to deliver it to him and it was afterward given to Harland as a reward for finding the large poke. The small poke contained gold nuggets of the value of $625.

Judge Arthur Noyes was leaving Nome under indictment and presumed bankrupt. How he accumulated $30,000 in gold in one year, on an annual salary of $5,000 is best described in Rex Beach’s 1906 novel, The Spoilers. For perspective, that’s about $800,000 in current dollars. The gold today would be worth $1.4 million, more or less. A fortune in those times.

Judge Wickersham was sent from Fairbanks to Nome to clean up the vast mess Noyes and his cronies had created. It’s well described in Evangeline Atwood’s biography of Wickersham, Frontier Politics. In Alaska history, Noyes was the anti-Wickersham; venal, corrupt and an alcoholic.

WC would like to think that Noyes Slough, then a badly polluted channel of the Chena River, that makes Garden Island in Fairbanks, was named after Judge Noyes. It would be appropriate. But apparently it’s not so. Orth reports it is named after  lumberman with the same name whose sawmill was on the slough.

Noyes was appointed as judge by President William McKinley. Another reason why the Mountain should be named Denali.