Judge James Wickersham

As we have roamed Alaska, one of History on the Move's favorite historical figures to learn about has been James Wickersham (1857-1939). Originally appointed as a federal judge by President McKinley and dispatched to America's northernmost territory in 1883, Wickersham made it his lifelong career to represent and advocate for Alaska and its inhabitants. Of the many accomplishments of his distinguished career, he helped to establish a territorial legislature and began a movement for statehood. He also curbed corporation's profits from the region's natural resources and even attempted the earliest recorded ascent to the summit of Denali.

Reproduced here is a ninety-year-old poem about the Judge that commemorates his return to Alaska after serving as its delegate in Washington D.C.:


"Judge James Wickersham"
by Dominic Noonan
We greet today, my friends, men of the North,
One who has proved his excellence and worth.
In welcoming salutation we extend to him our hand,
Wishing him the gladness and the fulness of the Land;
This Land for which he labored long and many years,
Though oftimes o'er a path beset with doubts and fears.
Disappointment and illusion have often been his lot,
But never has he backward turned, one tithe or jot,
On that high road that leads to the success
Of making an empire out of a wilderness.
We welcome him today with outstretched arms,
No need of blaring trumpets' and tinkling bells' alarms;
Let our hearts speak the "honor and good repute
Which follow faithful service like the fruit."
So with glad hearts, without pretense or sham,
We welcome your return, James Wickersham!
 

Twenty years and more have passed in time
Since first the Judge came to this Northern clime.
But more than twenty years it means to those
Who still are numbered among the sourdoughs.
The history of those twenty years is writ
In terms of courage, fortitude and grit.
What hopes, what griefs, what joy and what despair,
For those that pioneered have been the share!
Ah me, those twenty years have been a span
Unequalled since the world began!
 

The "mad stampedes, the toil beyond all measure,"
The lust of greed, the scrambling after treasure!
The noble deeds, the heroism unfeigned
Of those who ventured where only silence reigned!
The happy day when gold at last was found,
The wild delirium when the lucky staked their ground!
The torch of anarchy, the flame of sin,
The strife, the turmoil, before the law came in!
All this the Judge has seen, and been a part
Of bringing order out of chaos at the start.
Wise in council, and in counsel grave,
The rugged miners heeded the advice he gave.
In time chosen as Alaska's Delegate,
Devotedly he gave his talents to affairs of state.
What a chronicle of pep and zeal and scrap,
As he struggled Congressional red-tape to unwrap!
What a record of accomplishment he made
In all things that would give Alaska aid!
I fain would laud the number of his acts,
But the Judge is modest and I only state the facts.

The Home Rule that we enjoy today

Was won by Judge Wickersham after years of fray;
The railroad that soon will haul Alaska's freight
Was made possible by his eloquent debate;
Our coal, our timber, that the plunderers would rob,
Were saved to us because the Judge was on the job;
Our mails were sent to us with fast dispatch.
And not shipped as common freight beneath the hatch;
He didn't camouflage and ask for more police,
Nor did he cater to any clique's caprice;
But we noted in his speeches beneath the Capitol dome
That he always spoke in reverence of Alaska as his home.
He didn't libel and traduce our body politic,
By calling us a bunch of rough-necks or Bolshevik,
But as men who labor in our sphere and give
Our love and loyalty to the Land in which we live.
Such the man who returns to us and tells the world,
That Alaska is Home, here his standard is unfurled;
That this is not a Land in which to earn one's bread
And then to go and live Outside instead.
How beautiful is this Land! how bright it gleams!
How it keeps one buoyant with its aspirations, dreams!
Land of Beginnings, its history's page but scratched,
Embryo States, fledglings of the Eagle, waiting to be hatched!
The Land of Youth, yet a Land that will engage
And reward the ripened wisdom of Old Age!

The Judge says he'll retire now and practice law,
Which sounds peace-like, as when savage takes a squaw.
What then? Shall we find no other work that he might do
Except our litigation when we stew?
Big things remain to do in this Land of Do and Dare,
Even for retired folk of silver hair.
The Judge, we hope, will no exception prove
That the man of action will ever find his groove.
Alaska now as ever is in need
Of strong, resolute, men of the Judge's breed.
Scholar, statesman, friend so tried and true,
James Wickersham, we shake your hand and welcome you!

--Mike Uhl

Noonan, Dominic A. “Judge James Wickersham.” In Alaska: Land of Now, 135-138. Seattle: D. A. Noonan, 1921.

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