The story of Joe Juneau, Richard Harris, and Chief Kowee
Chief Kowee, an Auk Indian who lived on Admiralty Island, should receive much of the credit for the discovery of gold in the Juneau area. With hopes of bringing prosperity to his people, he brought ore samples to Sitka where an entrepreneur named George Pilz offered to reward Indians who could lead his mining teams to gold. Pilz grubstaked Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, two veteran prospectors, whom he sent with Kowee to locate the source of the gold. The pair traded their rations with the Indians for large quantities of Hoochinoo (home brew) and never got far from the beach. They returned to Pilz empty handed. Kowee followed them back to Sitka with more ore and told Pilz how the miners had spent their grubstake. Pilz sent them back with Kowee, who literally dragged the reluctant prospectors up Gold Creek to what is now Silver Bow Basin.
Accounts are conflicting at this point, but it appears that Juneau and Harris loaded 1000 Ibs. of gold ore in their canoe and headed south to Canada instead of returning to Pilz in Sitka. Another of Pilz's prospectors encountered them en route and brought them back to Sitka at gunpoint. Thus began Alaska's first big gold rush, 16 years before the Klondike. The new town was first called Harrisburg, then Pilzburg, then Rockwell, but the final name was chosen when Joe Juneau used his first summer's earnings to buy the votes of his fellow miners.Back to index of stories.
Used with permission.
Gold Rush Centennial Task Force, State of Alaska.