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Who are you Duffy?



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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

Andrew Jackson "A.J." Duffy was a cantankerous Knik bachelor who was known for complaining about anything and everything. While most of his tirades (labeled "Duffy's 2 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 due to 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.

Agnews Insane Asylum  

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 killing Wacksmuth and sentenced to 8 years in San Quentin Prison. The whole ordeal, so traumatized Duffy's 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 came to 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 at least.

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.

Duffy's Roadhouse 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.

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