She used mine shafts as a beer fridge and shot bears to get lard for pie crusts.
TALES OF ALASKA’S GOLD RUSHES, which began in the 1890s, are full of larger-than-life men—bold, cantankerous fellows who drank and swore and shot as they chased promises of gold across the stark, untrammeled tundra. But nestled among all the stories of men is the story of Fannie Quigley, a five-foot-tall frontierswoman who spent almost 40 years homesteading and prospecting in Kantishna, a remote Alaskan mining region that would later become part of Denali National Park.
Like the men around her, Quigley drank, swore, and shot bears—but unlike those men, she used her bear lard to create the legendarily flaky crusts of the rhubarb pies she served to her backcountry guests.
Over her decades in the backcountry, Quigley acquired a reputation as not only a renowned hostess and cook, but one of the finest hunters the region had ever seen. Her guests—who were many, despite the fact that her cabin was only accessible by foot or dogsled—were universally impressed by the woman who “tracks her own game, prefers to hunt alone, skins and dresses, packs and caches even such massive beasts as moose and bear, skins out the cape and horns of mountain sheep and can both butcher and cook any game meat to the queen’s taste.”
Quigley was born in Wahoo, Nebraska, in 1870 to a community of Czech-speaking immigrants from the Bohemian region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Her upbringing inured her to unforgiving environments and ruthless austerity, and her family subsisted as farmers during a time of record-breaking blizzards, plagues of locusts, systemic financial collapse, and a drought that lasted seven years.
Still, something in the harsh landscapes and scarce resources of her childhood captured her fascination, and Fannie spent the rest of her life deliberately seeking out the demanding freedoms of the frontier.
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