The late fall sun offered little warmth to the riverboat passengers standing on the well worn wooden decks. For most, there was little to do on the ardous journey up the Yukon and Tanana Rivers except watch the river slowly roll by. That the landscape was changing from the verdant greens of summer to the brilliant golds of fall was a fact lost on precious few on board. With an abundance of caution, Captain Charles Adams navigated the ship up the muddy Tanana River toward a destination some were sure they would never reach.
For one passenger in particular, expectations and indeed frustrations were high. A sizable fortune had been gambled on a dream almost as big as the territory of Alaska. Fueled by gold fever, and despite several failed attempts to reach his destination, 37 year old Elbridge Truman (E.T.) Barnette was not going to be easily discouraged. That mettle would come to serve him well in the coming years.
Then, as now, the Tanana River was a fickle mistress. With an ever changing channel, even experienced skippers found it difficult to navigate. Deckhands would have been sounding the river so as to help the Captain keep the low riding ship from running aground. Around midday the captain of the 150' steamer Lavelle Young announced that the water had become too shallow for the heavy laden vessel to continue.
This was not welcome news as Barnette was still hundreds of miles from his intended destination of Tanacross. Barnette convinced the skeptical Captain to turn back and try navigating the Chena River in hopes of bypassing the shallow rapids of the Tanana. Barnette was optimistic as the Lavelle Young labored up the Chena River approximately 20 miles until Captain Adams realized the shallow water would make continuing impossible.
Barnette was undeterred. He instructed the Captain to take him back to the confluence of the Chena and Tanana Rivers. From there he surmised he could continue his journey by a shallow-draft barge when the river ice melted the following May. Captain Adams was unwilling to risk grounding the loaded ship going downriver. Doing so would have made dislodging the ship against the current a herculean task.
Despite protests from Barnette and his sobbing wife, the Captain reminded him their contract stated Barnette, his wife, crew and 130 tons of supplies were to be unloaded at the farthest point the Lavelle Young could reach... and they were there.
At 4PM on August 26, 1901, on a heavily wooded cut bank of a narrow river deep in Alaska's Interior, Fairbanks was born.
Barnette's dream of continuing to Tanacross was permanently shelved the following summer when Felix Pedro discovered gold on a small unnamed creek just 13 miles north of Barnette's trading post. In 1903, US District Judge James Wickersham moved his judicial seat to Fairbanks from Eagle, further cementing the future of the fledgling community.
Few would have imagined that Barnette's Landing would eventually grow into one of the largest cities in Alaska.