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Ottesen, Charles & Mary (Nielsen)

by Agnes Tubbs McAndrews, granddaughter

Charles Ottesen, who was born on Christmas Day in 1864, at Kjerminde, Denmark, left his homeland to go to sea at the age of 15. He had planned to return to Denmark with his ship, but unfortunately he was shanghaied while in France. During his years at sea, he sailed around Cape Horn and was shipwrecked in the China Sea. Shortly before his arrival in San Francisco, California, on a clipper ship, he broke some ribs during a bad storm. He was still in his teens. After his injuries healed, Charley, as he was called by his friends, sailed north to Tacoma, Washington where he stayed.

He met Hans and Mary Nielsen, brother and sister, who were also from Denmark and they became friends. A romance developed between Charley and Mary and they were married in 1890. The couple later moved to Seattle, where they made their home and became U.S. citizens. Charley and Hans first came to Southeast Alaska in 1894, settling in the Juneau area. They both worked at various jobs and prospected. Hans was accidentally killed about three years after their arrival, while working as a longshoreman, unloading livestock from a ship.

In 1896, Mary joined her husband in Juneau, bringing with her their daughter May. The family lived up the Basin Road, where Charley and Mary ran a boarding house for one of the mining companies. It was a dawn to dusk job. They had a real scare while they were there; their little girl, May, fell into Gold Creek while playing. A miner noticed her red curls bouncing on the water as she was being swept down the creek and was able to save her.

In 1898, Charley ferried passengers and freight from Juneau to the new mining camps at Skagway and Dyea. He became interested in an area at Funter Bay about 1900, and he prospected and developed the property. In 1921, the property was incorporated and became the Alaska Dano Mines Company. He served as president of the board of directors until his death. He owned a home in Juneau but spent many of his later years at Funter Bay as caretaker. He moved back to Juneau permanently when he was over eighty.

Charley worked for 16 years on the Georgia, a ship that carried passengers and freight between Juneau, Skagway and Sitka, with stops at villages along the way. He was the chief steward and was able to speak the Tlingit language, which enabled him to trade with the natives and supplement his income.

Charley liked people and had a jolly personality. When his grandson was a small boy, he nicknamed him Umpa and the name stuck. He played the accordion from the time he was a child and entertained his family and friends over the years. It was a happy occasion for his family when he played for them on his ninetieth birthday on Christmas Day. Charley lived an outdoor life and was fortunate to enjoy good health most of the time. He died at home in 1955, at the age of 90, and is buried next to his wife, May, at Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau.

Mary Nielsen Ottesen was born in Horsens, Denmark in 1871. When Mary was 15, her grandmother financed her journey to America to join her brother Hans. Both were sponsored by relatives who owned a farm in Minnesota. This was a difficult trip for a young girl, traveling alone as an immigrant, across the ocean and then by land, with little knowledge of the English language. When she arrived at the farm, she found that her brother had gone to Tacoma, Washington, where he thought there would be more opportunities for his future.

Mary worked on the farm until she was able to repay her sponsors in service and save enough money to join her brother in Washington. After joining Hans she studied nursing in Tacoma. She met her future husband, Charles Ottesen and after their courtship and marriage, they moved to Seattle.

They bought a house but during the bad Depression that hit the whole country, they lost their home in Seattle. The couple made the decision for Charley to go to Alaska to seek work. Mary followed with their small daughter May after Charley secured steady employment and housing in Juneau.

The Ottesens owned two houses in Juneau during their lifetime. The first house was at 313 Distin Street and is still a very nice home today. Mary was a nurse and gave much of her time in helping others including the natives who lived at the Indian village on Willoughby, which was right below their home. Mary prospected and worked with her husband at Funter Bay during the summers. She planted and maintained a huge garden which was carved out of the wilderness. Mary was an excellent cook, baker and seamstress. The Ottesens spent the majority of their later years at Funter Bay, taking care of their mining interests.

Their second home was built about 1915, at 802 Gold Belt Avenue and has a great partial view of Juneau and Douglas Island. The house was later shared with their daughter May, her husband Cary Tubbs and their family. During the early thirties, a second floor was added to accommodate a larger family, but it was lost in a bad fire in 1936, during a very cold winter. The second story was rebuilt the following spring. It was often referred to as the “Tubbs House.”

Mary, like many women of her time who lived away from the towns, endured many hardships and terrifying experiences. During one incident at Funter Bay, while picking blueberries above the cabin, she had an encounter with an Admiralty Island brown bear, which raised up on his hind legs right next to her. Micky, the family dog, raised quite a ruckus, running and barking in front of the bear, until it was finally scared off.

Mary, a woman of small stature, great strength and gentleness, died at the family home in Juneau in 1949, surrounded by her family.

Charles Ottesen, 1941.

Mary Ottesen, age 54, Funter Bay, Alaska Dano Mine Site, 1925.

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