After the discovery of gold on Pedro Creek on July 22, 1902, by an Italian prospector named Felice Pedroni (who came to be known as Felix Pedro), a stampede ensued. Claims were staked and the Fairbanks District was established along with a mining town later to be named Fairbanks. During the eight years that followed, Felix worked his mine; married Mary Doran; fought off lawsuits; and with his wife, protected their rights as claim owners despite Felix’s dwindling health.
Pedro died from supposed heart trouble at Fairbanks in 1910. After his death, his body was shipped to San Francisco for burial and he was pretty much forgotten for several years other than a stray mention here and there of him being the “Discoverer of gold in the Fairbanks District.”
Felix Pedro (Felice Pedroni), a charter member of the Fairbanks Men's Igloo No. 4, was born 1858, in Fanano, Duchy of Modena, Italy. He arrived in Alaska in the early 1890s and prospected throughout the Interior of Alaska and Yukon before the major stampedes and his strike on the discovery claim of Pedro Creek. He died July 22, 1910, in Fairbanks, Alaska, from apparent heart trouble although his partner claimed Felix had no heart problems.
His body was embalmed and sent to San Francisco for burial. In 1972, his body was exhumed and sent to Italy where an autopsy was performed. The autopsy supported the conclusion that Felix was murdered. He was reburied in a small cemetery in his hometown.
For a more complete biography, see the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame website. --Photo courtesy of Pioneer Museum, Fairbanks.
It was not until October of 1924, that Felix's contribution to the history of the Fairbanks District was truly recognized in the form of a speech delivered by Past Pioneers of Alaska Grand President Joseph Ulmer to the men of Igloo No. 4. An enlarged photograph of Felix was also displayed and thus the Pioneers of Alaska were the first to honor the memory of this great pioneer.
Nothing further was mentioned of Felix until November 29, 1937, when the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner ran a story about the gold discovery along with a sketch of Pedro by local artist, T. R. Lambert. Only minor references were made regarding the discovery in subsequent years until 1947, when the first marker for the site was placed.
From discovery in July 1902, until the summer of 1947, the discovery claim on the creek named for Felix Pedro was mined, re-mined, and mined yet some more. A. A. Zimmerman held the mining rights of the claim through a lease for many years until it was purchased by U. S. Smelting and Refining in the late 1930s.
In June of 1947, several members of the Fairbanks Carnival Committee and Men's Pioneer Igloo No. 4 located the claim, the corner post, and where Pedro’s cabin had once stood. They also located the area of the first shaft sunk by Pedro but did not mark it due to active mining. With the newfound knowledge, the Carnival Association planned to commemorate his initial finding on the discovery claim with an historical marker which was completed and ready for placement by June 21, 1947. That Solstice Day, it was placed with the Pioneers of Alaska conducting dedication ceremonies 45 years after discovery was made. After it was unveiled, a second marker next to it was revealed. That marker was painted as a bright red and white target with an inscription inviting those who were compelled to shoot at signs to use the target instead of the historic marker.
First Pedro Discovery dedication in 1947. The marker reads:
The first Gold Discovery in the
Tanana Valley was made Here
by Felix Pedro July 22, 1902
--Photo from the Betsy Sharp Collection, courtesy of the Pioneer Museum, Fairbanks.
In October 1949, a third version of the discovery story since Ulmer’s 1924 speech was featured as an editorial in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. It pointed out increased interest in Pedro's story from other newspapers around the world due to a rumored recent gold strike at Fishwheel, Alaska, along the Yukon River.
By April 1952, plans were made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Pedro's gold discovery. This "Discovery Day" celebration was to be presented by the Fairbanks Pioneers of Alaska, Men's Igloo No. 4 and they set out to make it one to remember. The Fairbanks community took part in the event that became the precursor to today’s "Golden Days" celebrations.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner printed a special edition of the paper recounting memories of the early days in Fairbanks. Although a few historical articles and very small editions had been previously published, this was the first time the News-Miner produced something that created such sense of hometown pride within the residents of Fairbanks.
The Italian Government commissioned a bronze bust of Felix Pedro that was presented to the University of Alaska by Consul General Baron Filippo Muzi Falconi of San Francisco at the dedication ceremony of the Brooks Memorial Mines Building located on the Fairbanks Campus, which then housed the School of Mines. The life-size bust was cast in Italy near the hometown of Felix Pedro and today it is displayed on the 3nd floor of the Elmer E. Rasumsson Library in the Alaska History section.
A proclamation was issued by Fairbanks City Mayor Robert Hoopes, the Pioneer Women of Alaska hosted a tea, a Mug-up dinner was given, and a new bronze plaque mounted onto a boulder was placed as a permanent monument to Felix Pedro. An additional smaller plaque for the monument with the correct name of Felice Pedroni was commissioned for the monument by the Italian government as a gift. At the time of placement, the monument could not be erected at the discovery shaft site due to active mining. Instead, it was placed near the cabin of Nick Kupoff, the last miner to lease the claim. The cabin was located along what is now known as the Old Steese Highway. and the road was widened to accommodate visitors to the site.
Over 250 people made their way to the Pedro Monument dedication and the events were well attended with dignitaries and VIPs. Most notably were the Baron and Baroness Falconi of the Italian Consul office in San Francisco; August Hanot, whose father was Pedro’s financial backer and partner; and Lulu Fairbanks the daughter of U.S. Vice President Charles Fairbanks, for whom our city was named. An annual re-dedication ceremony has been held by the Pioneers of Alaska Fairbanks to remember our heritage since the initial dedication ceremony.
In 1952, the granite boulder for the permanent monument was found in Fairbanks by mining engineer and Igloo No. 4 President, Pat O'Neill, who had it moved to the commemoration site. The two bronze plaques were then attached.
In 1961, it was moved to the site of the discovery shaft and after years of glaciation from the creek, it was moved again in the 1970s to higher ground on the claim to its permanent location to by the roadside.
--Photo courtesy of Jim Plaquet.
By the late 1950s only a few folks could say they had met Felix Pedro. The old-timers were rapidly being replaced by a younger population who did not always appreciate the significance of Felix Pedro’s discovery of gold. In June of 1959, a group of young men on a drinking binge peppered the monument with bullets which left unsightly marks to his bronze face and brought about public outrage. The vandals were never caught.
The discovery claim and other associated Pedro Creek claims were actively mined until about 1960. In 1961, the U.S. Smelting Mining & Refining Co. deeded Pedro’s Discovery Claim to Igloo No. 4. The Pedro monument was then moved from its location at 16 mile Old Steese Highway to the exact spot where Pedro sank his discovery shaft in the bottom of the creek that bears his name along the new Steese Highway.
At the 1964 re-dedication, the guest speaker was Governor William A. Eagan who announced the winning bid to build the Pioneer Museum and Stampede Room at Pioneer Park.
The State of Alaska Department of Transportation constructed the lower part of the Pedro Monument wayside, still in use today, as part of the rebuilding of the Steese Highway in 1965.
In 1968, all Pioneer of Alaska member legislators from the Fairbanks area were recognized and honored.
During the 1970s, the monument frequently glaciated during the winter months with overflow from Pedro Creek. In the winter of 1976, it became totally engulfed. Due to the rising cost of gold during this period, there was an onslaught of trespassing miners and vandalism became a problem. Both issues were finally solved by opening the 19 acre claim to the public for gold panning only, moving the monument from the discovery shaft to its present location on a hill, and clearing the roadsides of debris and tailing piles. The claim is still open to the public today courtesy of Pioneers of Alaska Men's Igloo No. 4.
--Edited from a re-dedication speech given by Women's Igloo No. 8 President Joan Skilbred in July 2014. All images and text Copyright 2018, Pioneer Memorial Park, Inc. Photos courtesy of Pioneer Museum, Fairbanks and Jim Plaquet.
The Felix Pedro Monument is located 16.6 miles northeast of the city of Fairbanks.
Mile Post 16.6, Steese Highway, Fairbanks, Alaska 99712, United States