Who are you Duffy?
In the spring of 2017, a marble
gravestone was found at Susitna Station, two miles below the confluence
of the Yentna and Susitna Rivers. The stone had fallen over years ago
and was covered with a thick layer of dead vegetation. After unearthing
the pieces and setting it back up, you could easily read: "A.J. Duffy
Died Jan 4, 1910".
Photo taken by Cindy Calzada
Susitna Station 2017
Jackson "A.J." Duffy was a cantankerous Knik bachelor who was known for
complaining about anything and everything. While most of his tirades (called
"Duffy's two hour earaches" by the locals), were about people who had "wronged
him" or people he had "sour business dealings with", there were also humorous
"earaches" like the lengthy town-wide debate he started over Mrs. Grover
Cleveland's maiden name; he lost a $6 wager on that one. I'm guessing
that Duffy probably inherited his quick temper from his father, Patrick
Duffy, an Irish immigrant who lost a small fortune in California real estate
because of a family grudge.
In 1886, Duffy became the
3rd husband of a wealthy California woman named Ida Lussier. Ida,
known for her beauty, started showing signs of mental instability in
1890. By 1893, a newspaper article described her as "violently insane"
and Duffy had her committed to the Agnews Insane Asylum in Santa Clara
County. After 4 weeks in the hospital, she was declared competent and released,
but the Duffy marriage never recovered.
In the chaos of the following year, Duffy (a very jealous man)
suspected his wife might be involved with a young Deputy Constable named
Fred E. Wacksmuth. Duffy confronted him in a hotel bar one night, and when
the conversation became heated, Duffy was kicked out of the hotel. Furious
and not ready for the argument to be over, Duffy waited for Wacksmuth to
come outside, where he attacked him, fatally stabbing him in the
heart; Wacksmuth was 24 years old.
On December 31, 1894, Duffy was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced
to 8 years in San Quentin Prison. The whole ordeal, so traumatized his
unstable wife, that she tried to burn down the court house and the judge
sent her back to the Agnews Asylum, where she died two years later (1896).
Duffy was released from San Quentin on 4/30/1900. Exactly
what year he left for Alaska is not certain, however, there is a potential
clue in his Alaska homestead paperwork. Duffy's 320 acre homestead at Knik,
was granted on 2/12/1907. Since one of the homestead requirements was that
the a person had to live on the land for 5 years before he
would be granted title to it; that suggests that Duffy had been living on
his homestead since 1902.
Knik was a tiny Alaskan town located on the main foot trail between the coastal
town of Seward and the Willow Creek Mining District. He obviously saw business
potential in Knik because he built a log roadhouse there in 1903. By 1907,
business was good enough that he added a second story to the building and
re-named it the Pioneer Hotel.
in Knik, Alaska
By 1908, Duffy was suffering from a serious stomach ailment
but seemed to be able to treat it himself until the winter of 1909 when
harsh weather delayed boats from bringing the mail (and Duffy's medicine)
to Knik. By the end of December, his health had worsened and he was taken
to the nearest doctor at Susitna Station, 20 miles north. He died there
on January 4, 1910; he was 56 years old.
In 1911, Duffy's estate was sold at public auction. The
Pioneer Hotel was sold to T.J. McLaughlin for $580 (about $14,000
by today's values). McLaughlin re-sold it, a week later, to Frank B.
Cannon for $600. Cannon added a restaurant to the hotel and operated the
business until the fall of 1916 when he became ill and sold it to Alex
Frasier for $1,500.
The people who found and restored Duffy's gravestone in April of 2017,
were Jeff Hanson and Cindy Calzada. Their historical "good deed" was 100
years (almost to the day) after the Pioneer Hotel burned down on April 13,
1917. Because of their efforts, the story of Andrew Jackson "A.J." Duffy
will live on, thank you.