Long before marshals and judges brought law and order to Alaska’s Interior districts, miners made a point of policing themselves. When a wrong was perceived, a meeting of miners was called and both the offender and offendee could explain their sides of the matter. Then the miners would render a verdict and carry out the sentence when necessary.
Such was the case in Circle City, called the biggest log cabin city in the world during the early 1900s, when a young lady claimed “a dance hall fiddler had played his way into her heart, then waltzed away from his promise of marriage,” according to a story recounted in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on July 20, 1966. The pregnant girl urged the miners to call a meeting.
When word went out about the damsel in distress, miners poured into town to make the matter right. They elected a judge and sheriff and issued a warrant to bring the fiddler back to Circle City for a trial.
“It was the ‘Minute Waltz’ to a tee,” the newspaper reported. “The girl told her story to appropriate murmurs of sympathy and the fiddler told his in the midst of an ominous silence.”
When all was said and done, the miners ruled that the fiddler had to pay the girl’s $500 hospital bill, give another $500 to the young lady herself and marry her as he had promised to do in the first place. They further ruled that the marriage had to happen that day by 5 p.m.
The saloons did a booming business the rest of the day, according to the newspaper account. And a “rip-roaring” wedding went off without a hitch by late afternoon.
Famous judge James Wickersham, who lived in Fairbanks at the time of the Yukon Valley’s first maternity suit, later said: “It would have taken my court two years, with many pleadings, hearings and arguments, instead of two hours, to give judgment, which in all probability would have been reversed on some technicality!”