AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Thomas Riggs, 1873-1945



Thomas Riggs, an honorary member of the Club, was born in Ilchester, Md., October 17, 1873, and died in nearby Washington in January, 1945, but during his more than three-score years and ten he spent much of his time thousands of miles away in the rugged Alaskan wilderness. Following undergraduate days at Princeton, and three years in the lumber business in Washington, Riggs headed north to the Klondike in '97 with some of the first gold seekers.

This was his first experience with prospecting and he ran the gamut of failure and success. Far more important to him than nuggets, however, were his rough and tumble experiences during ever known it, and Alaskans came to know him. He returned “down below” in 1902, only to go back to Alaska the next year as a member of the U. S. and Canadian Boundary Survey, and during the next three years advanced to become head of the party.

The rugged life of a surveyor in unmapped country greatly appealed to Riggs and he was a success from the start, as many an aging sourdough in the north country will gladly attest. In miner's boots and caribou jacket he worked steadily along the snow covered, jagged boundary where the St. Elias Range separates Alaska and Canada, making repeated ascents requiring real mountaineering and exploring the country in the true sense of the word.

Ensuing years found Riggs in turn Topographer of the U. S. Geological Survey, Surveyor to the Alaska Boundary Survey and Officer in Charge of the Fairbanks Division of the construction of government railroads in Alaska.

From 1918 to 1921 Thomas Riggs was Governor of Alaska, to the great benefit of Alaskans in all walks of life. Subsequently, he was appointed International Boundary Commissioner, an office he fulfilled brilliantly until his death. During his later life Riggs took a great interest in expeditions of all kinds into Alaska and the Yukon, and was particularly interested in the activities in the St. Elias Range of various parties from the American Alpine Club. He was one of the great Alaskan pioneers, a man whose warm, genial personality and ability to take decisive action will never be forgotten by those who knew him.

R. H. B.