Fort Gibbon, Tanana, Alaska, on the Yukon River


Private 1st Class Vern McAninch, U.S. Army Signal Corps, was stationed at Fort Gibbon, Alaska,

for two years, June / July 1910 to June 1912, including two severe winters in the Alaskan interior.


Tanana was an established native village and central trading location long before the Russians

and Americans came to Alaska. Located in the geographic center of Alaska, on the north bank of

the main Yukon River, where the Tanana River comes in from the south [Note 21.d. (topo maps)],

and close to the Koyukuk River on the north, which flows south out of the ‘Gates of the Arctic’

and the Brooks Range mountains, Tanana had been a center of native commerce and trade for

hundreds of years before the various ‘Gold Rush’(s). The Army built Fort Gibbon at Tanana in

1900, taking advantage of the central location, and the established facilities on the Yukon River.


There is quite a bit of historical material archived and available for Fort Gibbon, Tanana, and the

Yukon River area, including a lot of photographs that were taken at about the same time that Vern

was stationed there, photographs that show the area as he would have seen it [Note 16.b. (pictures),

Note 20.a.,b. (pictures), 21.c. (pictures), 21.d. (topo maps), 22. a.,b. (pictures),  23. a.,b.,c.(pictures),

Note 24. a.,b. (pictures), 27. (pictures), 28. (pictures), 29. (pictures), and 30. (pictures)].


Unfortunately, there are no known photographs of Vern in Alaska. Also, only a few of the Army

post records survive [Note 32 ‘Alaska Post Records’ (extracts transcribed in Appendix A.), and

Note 33, ‘Fort Gibbon Military Records’ (extracts transcribed in Appendix B.)]. In general, these

Army records only show the names of the officers, along with the number of enlisted servicemen

in different categories (including ‘Present and Fit for Duty’, ‘Arrest and Confinement’ and ‘Sick’).


Local Tanana newspaper accounts report Signal Corps personnel arriving at Fort Gibbon on

July 14th, 1910, and Vern would likely have been with this group [Note 25.a.]. The 16th Infantry

came in August, and that is probably when Major Farnsworth assumed command of Fort Gibbon

[Note 25.b., Farnsworth Note 31].


Signal Corps Capt. A. C. Knowles was appointed Sept. 27th [Note 33, App. B., Sept. 27, 1910]

and arrived at Fort Gibbon in October [Note 32, App. A., A.7]. Capt. Knowles, who would have

been Vern’s commanding officer, was in command of Signal Corps Company ‘K’ at Fort Gibbon

for a full two-year assignment; the appointment of his successor was announced in April 1912

[Note 26.a., and Note 32, App. A., June 1912, A.13, A.14], although he could not actually leave

the Fort until June 1912, after spring ‘break up’ on the Yukon River [Note 32, App. A, A.13, A.14].


Alden C. Knowles was a career Infantry officer who was assigned to the Signal Corps for 3 years.

He served in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and was wounded there in 1898. Knowles

had a distinguished Army career, rising through Infantry assignments to become a full Colonel,

who commanded the 315th Infantry in France during the trench warfare of World War I [Note 36].



McAninch Family History NL v.XX n.3 / July 2012 / Frank McAninch, Editor / page 2012-23


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