Infamous Alaskans: The Witch of Kantishna

Fanny Quigley Cabin

Alaska’s history is full of characters whose stories are as wild and fascinating as the land in which they lived. Fannie Quigley, a wilderness woman whose colorful reputation earned her the “Witch of Kantishna” nickname, is one of them.

Fannie came to Alaska in the late 1800s. She was an expert drinker and cusser whose famed foul language she picked up while working more than 15 years in railroad camps and lawless mining towns. She was also industrious, funding her way along the gold rush trails by making and selling meals out of a canvas tent she hauled on a sled. Fannie eventually made her way to Kantishna on the northern side of Denali. It was in this remote wilderness that she made her home.

Having quite the green thumb, Fannie proved that with a little care and effort you could grow bountiful produce even in Alaska. She built her gardens on top of the tundra, hewing planks and digging stones to form terraced beds she later filled with soil up hauled up from the valley floor. A cold frame extended the scant 10-week growing season. In these beds she cultivated rhubarb, cabbage, onions, rutabagas, cauliflower, potatoes, lettuce, and even warm weather crops like corn, tomato, and cucumber.

Fanny Quigley CabinHer gardens weren’t all for sustenance. In a show of whimsy for an otherwise pragmatic woman, Fannie also grew flowers, propagating poppies, pansies, and wildflowers that she’d later press and dry. In the winter she worked on a fine embroidered tablecloth, recreating those pretty flowers in thread. (more…)