April 16, 1858|
Fanano, Duchy of Modena
|Died||July 22, 1910
Fairbanks, Alaska, U.S.
|Other names||Felice Pedroni|
|Known for||Discovering gold in the Fairbanks area|
Felice Pedroni (April 16, 1858 – July 22, 1910), known best to Americans by his Hispanicized alias Felix Pedro, was an Italian immigrant whose discovery of gold in Interior Alaska marked the beginning of the 1902 Fairbanks Gold Rush.
Pedro was born April 16, 1858 to a family of subsistence farmers in the Apennine village of Trignano, Comune di Fanano and was the youngest of six brothers. Pedroni fled home in 1881 following the death of his father. He arrived in New York City and quickly assumed the name Felix Pedro.
He traveled to New York, Ohio, Washington, British Columbia, and the Yukon, working in each city until he earned enough to travel again. Once in Alaska, Pedro panned for gold in the Fortymile, the Piledriver Slough near present-day Salcha, and various other waterways, including the "Lost Creek" in which Pedro and his partner Tom Gilmore claimed to have found a sizable amount of gold in 1898, but were forced to abandon due to food shortage. Despite marking the spot and searching the next three years for it they were unable to find it again.
On August 26, 1901, prospector E. T. Barnette and Captain Charles W. Adams ran the 150-foot (46 m) steamer Lavelle Young aground 8 miles (13 km) up the Chena River which they mistakenly believed to be a distributary which would allow them to detour upstream from the unnavigable Bates Rapids to their intended destination in Tanacross. In accordance with their agreement, Barnette, his wife Isabelle, five hired hands, and 130 tons of supplies were unloaded onto the riverbank. The crew quickly built two log cabins and a series of tents, establishing a trading post named Chena City.
Adams returned downstream, and Barnette had his first visitors only hours later. Pedro and Gilmore, still in search of the Lost Creek, were perched on a nearby slope and had seen the plumes of smoke from the departing steam-boat. They stumbled into the camp, bought supplies, and headed northward into the hills. At the request of James Wickersham the camp was renamed Fairbanks, after Senator Charles W. Fairbanks (R-Indiana), in March 1902.
Felix Pedro discovered gold in the Tanana Hills northeast of Fairbanks on or about July 22, 1902 in a small unnamed stream (now known as "Pedro Creek") northeast of Fairbanks, prompting him to exclaim "There's gold in them there hills", and triggering a full-scale gold rush.
Business was booming for Barnette, but he wanted more. He sent letters to Dawson City, which arrived in the dead of winter and were published in the Dawson Daily News January 3, 1903. This triggered an influx of over 1,000 more prospectors in −53 °F (−47 °C) temperatures. Fairbanks continued to grow, and by 1908 it was the largest city in Alaska.
Felix Pedro died July 22, 1910 at age 52 at St. Joseph's Hospital in Fairbanks, reportedly of a heart attack. However, this was disputed by his business partner Vincenzo Gambiani who denied that Pedro was suffering any heart problems, and suspected Pedro's widow Mary Doran of foul play. Years later on his own death bed, Gambiani was asked once again about the death of Pedro. Unable to speak, he wrote only two words moglie-veleno ("wife-poison").
Pedro's body was embalmed and shipped to San Francisco and buried in nearby Colma. On October 12, 1972 Pedro's body was found, exhumed, and moved by Cortelloni Amato to Italy where an autopsy was performed, and the hair samples reportedly supported the conclusion that Pedroni was murdered. His remains were buried again in a small cemetery in Fanano.
The Alaskaland park in mid-town Fairbanks had been opened in 1967 to commemorate 100th anniversary of the Alaska purchase. However on July 22, 2002, the presumed 100th anniversary of Pedro's gold discovery (noted in Alaska as "Felix Pedro Day" Alaskaland was officially renamed Pioneer Park. Pioneer Park's annual Golden Days festival at Pioneer Park includes a Felix Pedro look-alike contest.
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- Madonna, Jim. Alaska Gold Trails. Volume IV. The life of Felix Pedro and The life of Earl Pilgrim. ISBN 1-891733-19-2.
- Turchi, Massimo. Alla fine dell'arcobaleno. La storia di Felice Pedroni da Fanano all'Alaska. ISBN 978-88-7418-357-9.
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- Felice Pedroni (Felix Pedro), an Italian immigrant into the Alaska gold rush (Italian language, some sections are in English language)
- Giorgio Comaschi. Felix Pedro. La straordinaria avventura di Felice Pedroni dalla miseria dell’Appennino all’oro dell’Alaska.