Olly W. Ashby
TWENTY-TWO years ago two boys left a hog ranch in Missouri, where they had
been born and reared, and started to Alaska in search of a fortune. These two
boys were O. W. and Thomas H. Ashby. They reached Juneau May 11 ,
1884, and were consequently among the early pioneers of Alaska. O. W. Ashby has
been identified with Alaska, and also with various enterprises in the district, for a period
of twenty-one years. In 1886 he and his brother went into the Yukon River country
and mined the bars of Stewart River. They poled 240 miles up the Stewart River
in the fall and floated back to the Yukon and poled out to Juneau, landing there in
October of the same year. In the fall of 1887 Thomas Ashby went into the Forty-
Mile country, O. W. Ashby remaining in Juneau.
These early trips in this northern wilderness were prospecting expeditions. Mr.
Ashby and his party mined on many bars of the Yukon and its tributaries, and made
as high as twenty-four dollars a day to the man in the richest diggings which they struck.
The country at this time was new and absolutely unknown except to the natives and the
few adventurous prospectors who were the pioneers of the northern gold fields. At
Stewart River (Alaska as it was then known) in 1886 mail was received but once a
year. There are but few people now living who have seen as much of Alaska as, Mr.
Ashby. He was a young man when he first came into the country, and many of the
older Yukon pioneers who were his associates have "mushed" over the great divide and
into that country whence no man returns. He was at the Treadwell Mine at the beginning
of operations on that wonderful ledge, when only five stamps were used in crushing the
ore. Now there are 840 stamps making the largest and best equipped plant in the
Twelve years after Mr. Ashby first went to Alaska he visited Circle City. He
was one of the earliest stampeders to Dawson, arriving in that camp in 1897. During
the summer of 1897-'98 he mined on 31 Eldorado, 2 below Bonanza, and other creeks.
In his mining operations in the Klondike region he was associated with his old friend
and partner, Billy Leake. In the fall of 1898 he went "outside" and purchased a fine
residence at Tacoma, Wash., where his family now resides.
The Nome strike and the excellent prospects of the country, which were developed
in 1899, induced Mr. Ashby to go to Nome in 1900. He shipped in 1,000,000 feet
of lumber on the Skookum, a nondescript vessel which was neither ship nor barge.
It had a great carrying capacity and was loaded with a miscellaneous cargo of lumber
and live stock. It was towed to Nome and anchored in the roadstead. After its cargo
had been discharged the big storm in September washed the craft ashore and made a
complete wreck of it.
Mr. Ashby disposed of his lumber. In the meantime he acquired mining interests
on the peninsula, and later he associated himself with Henry Bratnober and Dr.
Whitehead, becoming vice-president and general manager of the Topkuk Ditch Company,
which is one of the largest ditch concerns in Northwestern Alaska. This ditch was
completed in the fall of 1903. It was operated in the season of 1 904, and the returns
from the rich gravels of Daniels' Creek were fully up to the expectations of Mr. Ashby and
his associates, who had expended a small fortune in bringing water from the Kutcheblok River, twenty-two miles distant, for the purpose of mining this rich gravel deposit.
Mr. Ashby is a native of Missouri and was born in 1 862. While he has been
a pioneer ever since he reached man's estate, he is not the type of pioneer in appearance
which we read about in story books. He is essentially a self-made man and still in the
prime of life, possessing both mental and physical vigor. In character he possesses many
attributes that we may associate with the pioneer, such as firmness, honesty, directness of
method and a detestation of anything that is unjust and not amenable to the laws of
Source: Nome and Seward Peninsula by R. S. Harrison. Seattle:
The Metropolitan Press, 1905.