James Wickersham was one of Alaska’s most famous men in history. He was born August 24, 1857 close to Patoka, Illinois. In 1883 he moved, with his wife Deborah, to Tacoma, Washington. There he worked as county probate judge and attorney, and was elected to the Washington House of Representatives in 1898. Later, in 1900, he came to help Alaska, being appointed by President McKinley as Alaska’s first interior judge. He impacted many situations in the fortune of Alaska becoming a territory and that is why he is so important to study in Alaska’s history.

Wickersham acquired two main positions during his life which he fulfilled faithfully; district judge and delegate to Congress. Over three hundred thousand square miles were given him to oversee as district judge, in which the only way to get places was by boat in summer and dogsled in winter. He made many long thousand mile trips and in the end there was always about four days of court to go through. He resigned in 1908. Serving as delegate to Congress from 1908 until 1920, James Wickersham served Alaska in many ways. The passing of the Organic Act of 1912 was secured, and he introduced many bills that would help make Alaska a greater territory and state. He retired from the position of delegate at the age of 76. While he was in these two positions he worked diligently on two main projects which he hoped he would accomplish. These were the removing of the J.P. Morgan/Guggenheim domination of Alaska’s economy and begging Congress to make Alaska first a territory and then a state. He worked furiously on these two points of concern. The solution for the situation with the J.P. Morgan/Guggenheim syndicate was for them to pay taxes and eventually, years later, they were no longer allowed to control Alaska. He also finally got Congress to pay attention to Alaska after many bills to the house. He definitely had to work hard!

Along with his many trips he took, Wickersham always found time to get off by himself and do the things he most loved. Hunting, hiking, and writing were some of his hobbies that he enjoyed most. Also on his vacations he would stop at the native villages and learn all he could about their culture and history. He was the first man to attempt to climb Mt. McKinley in the summer of 1903. In order to pay for this expensive trip he wrote a newspaper called The Fairbanks Miner. He also published a book chronicling his expedition entitled Old Yukon: Tails, Trails, and Trial. This book also recorded his life in Alaska while he was a judge. He was a very busy man.

James Wickersham made his mark on Alaska. He helped Alaska in so many ways while he was in office. For example he established McKinley Park; he created the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. He also wrote many articles and a few books that people still read even today. He was also a greater influence on the forming of the Alaska Territory than anyone else. He died on October 23, 1939 in Juneau. We honored him by declaring his birthday August 24, Wickersham Day. He was a man who left a marvelous legacy, through his life of faithful service, that he is remembered for today.