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Wickersham Historic Site Manuscript Collection, 1884 - 1970's

Identifier: MS 107

Content Description

The James Wickersham Family Papers, 1884-1970, contain some correspondence and material of the immediate Wickersham family and Ruth Allman, his niece by marriage. The bulk of the collection covers the work and activities of James Wickersham. There is some documentation on his law practice and activities in Washington Territory from 1884-1900. However, the major coverage of the papers concerns his work and life in Alaska from 1900 until his death in 1939.

While letters received by Wickersham when he resided in Washington Territory/State are limited to three folders (Box 8), the Letterpress Books, 1884-1900 are more extensive. There are nine volumes (Boxes 22 and 23) of letters sent by Wickersham while he was in private law practice or working in association with several law firms. His work as a probate judge and personal correspondence are also in these volumes.

Other Washington related material include his DIARY, Jan.-June 1900 (Box 1, v. 1), law practice accounts and dockets (Box 43), one scrapbook (Box 58), some research and writings on the region and Washington Indians (Box 53). A Wickersham family expedition in 1890 into the Olympic Mountains led Wickersham to promote establishment of an Olympic National Park (Box 53, no. 8).

The DIARIES are a daily record of activities, events and comments of James Wickersham until his death. As such, they provide a thirty-nine year chronological record, including some references to the correspondence files. The concluding entry following his death was written by his wife, Grace.

The correspondence files cover the years 1885 - 1940 (Box 8-21) with some letters sent included with letters received. Other letters sent are in the Letterpress Books, 1884-1909 (Boxes 22-24). Wickersham also filed much of his correspondence in Subject Files with irregular date order (Boxes 25-41). These subject files largely document his work as U.S. District Judge, 1900-1907 (Box 25). Politics and elections, 1906-1932 (Boxes 26-29), his legislative work as Delegate to Congress relate to particular issues, needs, etc. The general correspondence files often include subjects that are also covered in the Subject Files. Some additional explanation is included as an introduction to these series in the inventory.

Wickersham's service as a judge covered a huge judicial area of 300,000 miles. His papers provide good insight into problems of the region and early administration of justice.

During his Congressional tenure, Wickersham did much to shape Alaska's future. He was a proponent of home rule and his efforts resulted in passage of the Organic Act in 1912. His legislative achievements included laws creating the land grant college in Fairbanks (now the University of Alaska), establishment of Mount McKinley National Park, and construction funds for the Alaska Railroad. The papers document this work; also his views and contributions on many aspects of Alaska's development.

This collection provides a wealth of information on Alaska politics at the territorial and national level (Boxes 26-29). There is material of a general nature, such as party platforms and brochures; also extensive correspondence with Wickersham supporters. While Wickersham referred to himself as a Republican, Alaska politics were such that he ran for delegate as an independent and also as a "Bull Moose" or Roosevelt Republican. The files include extensive material on Wickersham's contested elections, efforts on behalf of various candidates, etc. Politics of the period were "cut-throat" and one subject file titled "Muckraking" (Box 31) includes correspondence on political activity, conflicts, collusion and investigations with much on the Guggenheim Alaska Syndicate. Wickersham quite often held opposing views to Alaska's presidentially appointed governors fueling the political conflicts of his day.

Wickersham was a person of diverse interests, as reflected by his writings (Box 23, v. 9; Boxes 48-55), research (Box 56) and development of book and artifact collections (Boxes 42, 46). He had a keen interest in ethnology and American Indian culture as shown through his correspondence, writings and scrapbooks.

There are limited business records related to Wickersham’s law practice (Boxes 43-44), mining claims, property and tax files (Box 45). Most business correspondence is with the general correspondence. Some business related material, certificates and licenses are in the family/personal files (Box 46).

Wickersham also had some collected papers (Box 58) of varied types, ranging from an original letter of William H. Seward to poems from a school contest and a store ledger from Wrangell.

Some papers concerning Ruth Allman’s assistance to Grace and work directly associated with Wickersham, such as commemorative activities, are in the family/personal files (Box 46). The Ruth and Jack Allman file (Box 59) contains their personal papers; also Ruth’s operation of the House of Wickersham “living history tour” and efforts to obtain copyright renewal on Wickersham’s publications are in this file.

The Wickersham Addition is a rounding out of the materials contained in the original Wickersham inventory excluding diaries and letterpress books. The Addition Papers had previously been stored in the Wickersham House for possible exhibit purposes. These Papers cover the period from 1894-1970. The Papers after Wickersham’s death in 1939 were kept by his wife, Grace Wickersham, but primarily, by Ruth Coffin Allman, his wife’s niece. Allman added to his scrapbooks and subject files as well as to the collected papers. This collection contains several boxes of Ruth Allman’s papers that document her activities centering around the Wickersham House.

Wickersham’s General Correspondence, both incoming and outgoing, centers on his activities as a U.S. District Judge from 1900-1907 and on his legislative work in Washington, D.C. as a Delegate to Congress intermittently from 1909-1933. Wickersham’s correspondence is also contained in other series, such as Subject Files, Business Records, Family/Personal Files, Writings, and Research Files.

The Subject Files center around Wickersham’s life in the political arena, his interest in Alaska Native legislation, and his collecting activity for the Alaskan bibliography and subsequent writing of the history of Alaska. The Political Files include items from his tenure in Washington but primarily focus on his activities in Alaska and Washington, D.C. Several files contain political campaign literature, speeches, and election returns, and his campaign for nomination as the Alaska’s territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress.

The Subject Files reflect the major role Wickersham played in defending Alaska’s full territorial form of government, in promoting the Alaska Railroad bill, and in statehood legislation. These files document his ongoing work toward Alaska Native claims legislation and includes correspondence from influential Alaska Native leaders such as William Paul. The will of the Klukwan chief Yish-cock regarding Native curios is included herein and the trouble between Klukwan chief Jimmie Young and Tlingit Indian Louis Shotridge regarding Native art is documented in these files. Early Alaska newspapers are contained in the Subject Files. Many are obscure and esoteric “rags” such as the Egg Island Journal and Kwunduk Nenlinatsidenja. Finally the Subject Files contain a card file of Alaska Firsts.

The Business Records Files and Family/Personal Files are very brief as most of these documents are contained in the original Wickersham Papers. Of note is a collection of theatre programs as well as the first-grade report card of Wickersham’s son, Howard.

Wickersham’s work on his Bibliography of Alaskan Literature comprises the bulk of his Writings file. This includes his correspondence, book lists, collected stories, and articles. Also closely tied to his bibliography was his work on writing the History of Alaska. In these files are various Alaska subjects such as education, natural history, and literature and authors of Alaska. Contained herein also is Wickersham’s correspondence with Charles Bunnell, President of the University of Alaska (formerly The Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines), with whom he discussed their mutual effort to research, write, and publish the definitive history of Alaska. The University of Alaska files also includes Grace Wickersham’s correspondence regarding her position on the University’s Board of Trustees and arrangements concerning Wickersham’s commencement address, delivered May 21, 1934, at the University.

Scrapbooks include collections of items, but usually not writings or notes. Ruth Allman probably added items to the scrapbooks. The Collected Papers include works collected by Wickersham, such as the Skookum papers and documents concerning the Western Union Telegraph Company. Of note is a map drawn by E-too’-ach-in-na, the Eskimo chief at Ip-now-ruk on Shishmaref Inlet.

The Post-Wickersham files were kept by Grace Wickersham and Ruth Coffin Allman after Judge Wickersham’s death. They include letters, telegrams, sympathy cards, and newspaper clippings about his death. They also include information about memorials, a special stamp, and Wickersham’s Juneau home as an historic site.

The Ruth Allman files are comprised of records of her studies in Seattle, correspondence, clippings, photographs, and collected publications; there is also a tribute to Marie Drake, a scrapbook of memorabilia. Information on Jack Allman’s business, Tongass Lodge, is also covered.

The Oversize boxes contain items that are collocated primarily because of size. These include political posters, prints, programs, charts, and a scrapbook of newspaper clippings and Judge Wickersham’s honorary degree from the University of Alaska.


Boxes 1-7: DIARIES ;



Boxes 25-42: SUBJECT FILES ;



Boxes 48-55: WRITINGS ;





ADDITION: Box 60: General Correspondence, 1894-1939 ;

Boxes 61-64: Subject Files ;

Box 65: Business Records ;

Box 65: Family/Personal Files ;

Boxes 66-67: Writings ;

Boxes 68-72: Scrapbooks ;

Box 73-74: Collected Papers ;

Box 75: Post-Wickersham Files ;

Box 76-77: Ruth Allman Files

Boxes 78-80: Oversize -- Ephemera and Miscellaneous


  • 1884 - 1970's

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is unrestricted.


James Wickersham, an Alaskan pioneer, left a lasting legacy through his judicial/political accomplishments, writings, and the diversity of Alaska resource material in his private papers, photographs and collection of published works.

Born August 24, 1857 in Patoka, Illinois, Wickersham became a lawyer admitted to the Illinois Bar in 1880. Wickersham left Illinois, venturing west to become a probate judge for Pierce County in Tacoma, Washington. He next served as Tacoma City attorney from 1892-1898 and was a member of the Washington State House of Representatives from 1898-1900.

Appointed as a U.S. District Judge for Alaska's new third Judicial District at Eagle, Wickersham came to Alaska in 1900. He served as a judge for a district stretching from Eagle to Valdez, Prince William Sound and the upper Yukon Valley north to the Arctic Ocean. Wickersham also sat as a substitute judge in both the First (Juneau) and Second (St. Michael, later Nome) Judicial Districts. Ernest Gruening wrote of Wickersham:

"He proved to be an able and upright Judge who combined integrity with legal scholarship. When the corrupt Federal Judge of the Second Division, Arthur H. Noyes, had been removed for malfeasance after a brazen conspiracy to defraud the first successful gold miners in the Nome area of their claims, Wickersham was sent in from the Third Division to clean up the mess. Judge Wickersham promptly restored faith and confidence in the judicial system." (Box 46, Folder 17).

In 1907 his judgeship ended when he failed to receive U.S. Senate confirmation for this office. A major contribution to this judicial era was Wickersham's compilation of a multi-volume set of judicial opinions from Alaska published as ALASKA LAW REPORTS. His early experiences in interior Alaska are recorded in his book, OLD YUKON: TALES, TRAILS AND TRIALS.

In 1908 Wickersham opened a law firm in Alaska, but soon declared himself a candidate for "Delegate in Congress from Alaska." A Republican, he was elected delegate, beginning service in 1909. His political battles included several contested elections, but he served nearly six full terms from 1909 into 1921 and a seventh term from 1931-1933.

Wickersham married twice. He married Debbie Bell in 1880 and they had three sons; two died in their youth. Darrell, their surviving son, was a U.S. Naval Academy graduate. Debbie died in 1926 after years of poor health. At age seventy, Wickersham married Grace Vrooman Bishop, a widowed school teacher. After their marriage, they lived in Washington, D.C. for Wickersham's last term as delegate. Upon return to Alaska, they spent the rest of their lives in Juneau where Wickersham continued his law practice.

Until his death on October 24, 1939, Wickersham continued to develop his extensive library of Pacific Northwest and Alaska publications. In 1927 he published A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ALASKAN LITERATURE, 1724-1924, which had spurred his collection development activity.


1857 Born August 24 in Patoka, Illinois to Alexander and Mary Jane (McHaney) Wickersham. Siblings were Nan, Edgar, Harry, Clyde, May, Frank, and Jennie.
1874 – 1877 Worked as schoolteacher in Patoka.
1877-83 Moved to Springfield, Illinois, where he worked as office boy, janitor, schoolteacher and finally law clerk in Governor John Palmer’s office.
1880 Admitted to the Illinois bar on January 14. Employed as law clerk, U.S. Census Bureau, Springfield.
1880 Married Deborah Susan Bell October 27 in Rochester, Illinois.
1882 Son Darrell Palmer born in Springfield, Illinois on April 2.
1883 Moved to Tacoma in spring, worked as carpenter in summer, formed law partnership in fall.
1884-1888 Elected Pierce County probate judge and served two two-year terms.
1886 Son Arthur James born on February 21.
1888 Son Arthur James died on February 20.
1889 Wickersham on trial for seduction of Sadie Brantner February through July; case dismissed.
1893 Son Howard Sullivan born on October 19.
1894-1896 Served as City Attorney of Tacoma.
1898-1900 Held seat in the Washington State House of Representatives.
1900 - 1901 Moved to Eagle City to serve as U.S. District Judge for Third Judicial district in Alaska. Also held court in Rampart, and Circle City.
1901 – 1902 Held court in Nome September 1901 through July 1902.
1902 Son Howard Sullivan died on January 11.
1902 Held “floating court” in Aleutian Islands July - August.
1903 Expedition to Mt. McKinley, leaving from Fairbanks in May and returning to Rampart in July.
1904 Opened court session and staked gold mining claims in Fairbanks in April, erected home in May, and convened court in new courthouse in June.
1904 - 1907
District Judge in Fairbanks. Wickersham repeatedly failed to receive U.S. Senate confirmation of his appointments as judge and received recess appointments from President Roosevelt. Wickersham submitted resignation from judgeship on September 7, 1907 and adjourned court on December 31, 1907.
1908 Opened law office in Fairbanks in January.
1908-1920 Served six times as Alaska’s elected territorial delegate in Congress.
1921 Opened law office in Juneau.
1926 Wife Deborah died in Seattle on November 23 of tuberculosis.
1927 Published "A Bibliography of Alaskan Literature, 1724 – 1924."
1928 Married Grace Vrooman Bishop in Des Moines, Washington on June 26.
1930-1932 Served a seventh term as territorial delegate in Congress.
1932 Defeated by Dimond in race for eighth term as delegate in Congress.
1938 Published "Old Yukon: Tales – Trails – and Trials."
1939 Died in St. Ann’s hospital, Juneau, following a stroke on Nov. 2. Buried in Old Tacoma Cemetery.


80 Volumes (80 Boxes)

Language of Materials



The papers were transferred from the House of Wickersham State Historic Site by the State of Alaska, Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Southeast Alaska in late 1989 and 1990. His personal papers and other materials remained in the Wickersham home and later were inherited by Ruth Allman, the niece of Grace Wickersham. In 1984 the State purchased the Wickersham home, personal papers and other materials. The Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Department of Natural Resources manages the home. It is now designated as the Wickersham State Historic Site. Wickersham's personal papers, photographs and some published works were transferred from the Wickersham State Historic Site to the Alaska Historical Library for preservation and use as a research collection.

Processing Information

The cooperative efforts of the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and the Alaska Division of State Libraries has enabled the state to make available this unique Alaska resource. Terry Rader from the Alaska Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation assisted with some processing of the manuscript collection and sorting publications. John Kinney, State Archivist, provided some temporary storage and consultation on the collection. Addition Processing: A folder level inventory is available. A few files are described at item-level, including the correspondence files, some subject files, and the collected papers. The received and sent correspondence files are arranged chronologically and are interfiled by date on correspondence. Correspondence files include other documents originally attached to the correspondence. Most of the collection, however, is processed to the folder level. Original order has been maintained whenever recognizable as in the scrapbooks and some subject files. The files were received in some disorder and may have been rearranged, in part, by Ruth Allman after Wickersham’s death. Some correspondence is included in other files if it was deemed to have been placed there by Wickersham. The entire collection has been reboxed and refoldered. Where possible, headings for file folders duplicate the file names given by Wickersham.

Finding Aid for the Wickersham Historic Site Manuscript Collection, 1884 - 1970's
In Progress
Processed by: Phyllis J. Demuth and Terry Rader, 1987 ; Revised by Gladi Kulp and Kathryn H. Shelton, 2005 ; ArchivesSpace Finding Aid by: Connie Hamann
2019 May
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Repository Details

Part of the Alaska State Library - Historical Collections Finding Aids Repository

PO Box 110571
Juneau AK 99811-0571 US
907-465-2151 (Fax)