Callahan Hero

Helen Callahan

Pioneer in Fairbanks and Beyond

Helen Callahan’s story, like several of our past #ExtraToughWomenAK subjects, is almost totally absent from the “official” historical record.

From the few biographical materials available, we know that Helen was born in the 1880s, around Koyukuk, Alaska, to Athabascan and Russian parents Sergai and Erinia Cherosky. In 1893, Sergai and other family members discovered gold along a stretch of the Yukon River. The family relocated to the area to stake a claim before white miners caught word of the discovery. The family was followed by roughly 100 other miners and the small town of Circle City was created.

When Helen was about thirteen, her parents divorced, and her mother remarried. Helen stayed with her mother and new stepfather, relocating to Fairbanks, where she helped establish a family sewing business while completing high school.

Helen never married and appears to have stayed in the Fairbanks area throughout the rest of her life. According to one source, Helen was the first Native woman to own an automobile and was the first member of the Doyon Corporation after the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (1971).

In 1971, Helen was interviewed by Neville Jacobs as part of an oral history project called “Pioneers of Alaska” with KENI radio. Unfortunately, the audio quality of the surviving recording is quite poor, leaving many details of Helen’s remarkable life shrouded in mystery.

Do you have a story about Helen that you’d like to share? Or more information on her life that we can add to our records? We’d love to know about the powerful women in your life. Share your images and stories with us on Instagram and Facebook by tagging us (@anchoragemuseum and #ExtraToughWomenAK) and we’ll add them to our ongoing digital curation project. Stay tuned for more #ExtraToughWomenAK posts and come see the exhibition on view through Labor Day.

Image credits: Dr. Ernest A. Cook Photograph Collection, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, University of Alaska Fairbanks, UAF-2003-109-148.

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