Classic Books on Alaska

Six non-fiction books briefly noted in the inaugural issue of Alaskan History Magazine, presented here with links to their digital versions, free to read online, where available.

The Ascent of Denali (Mount McKinley), by Hudson Stuck (1918)

Ascent of DenaliHudson Stuck, an Episcopal Archdeacon, organized, financed and co-led the first expedition to successfully climb the South Peak of Mt. McKinley (Denali). With co-leader Harry Karstens (later the first Superintendent of Mt. McKinley Nat’l Park), and four native youths, Stuck departed Nenana on March 17, 1913 and reached the summit of McKinley on June 7, 1913. Walter Harper, a native Alaskan, reached the summit first. Illustrated with Stuck’s photos from the journey and published in 1918 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, “The Ascent of Denali” is Stuck’s fascinating account of that pioneering expedition.

 Project Gutenberg Edition


A Woman Who Went to Alaska, by May Kellogg Sullivan (1902)

Woman Who Went to Alaska“Two trips, covering a period of eighteen months and a distance of over twelve thousand miles were made practically alone. Neither home nor children claimed my attention. No good reason, I thought, stood in the way of my going to Alaska…”

With these words the plucky and determined May Kellogg Sullivan opens her book, recounting her extensive travels to Yukon and Alaskan gold camps and beyond, seeking adventure and her fortune,  at a time when few women ventured anywhere alone. Published in 1902 by James H. Earle & Co.

Project Gutenberg Edition


Golden Alaska, An Up-to-Date Guide, by Ernest Ingersoll (1897)

Golden Alaska

Subtitled “a complete account to date of the Yukon Valley; its history, geography, mineral and other resources, opportunities and means of access.” 

The Dial, a literary journal of the time, noted in their July 1, 1897 issue that Ingersoll’s book was “a timely publication just issued,” citing the author as “a well-known writer of books of travel,” and noting the book was “well printed and contains numerous half-tone reproductions from photographs of Alaskan scenery.” Published in 1897 by Rand, McNalley & Co. 

Project Gutenberg Edition


The Alaska Railroad 1914-1964, Bernardine Prince (1964)

The Alaska Railroad 1914-1964Bernadine LeMay Prince, who joined the U.S. Government-run 470-mile Alaska Railroad company in 1948, worked with seven Alaska Railroad managers. In the early 1960’s she used her almost 20+ years of experience and knowledge of the railroad to compile a remarkable two-volume photographic record of the construction and growth of the Alaska Railroad.

Utilizing photos from the Alaska Engineering Commission’s photographers, among others, she traced the railroad’s history from it’s beginnings in 1914 through decades of sometimes difficult change, to the earthquake of March, 1964. Included are over 2,100 b&w photographs and line drawings. Published by Ken Wray’s Print Shop, Anchorage, 1964.

Not available in digital format. 


Compilation of Narratives of Exploration in Alaska (1900)

Collected RepostsBy the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, United States Congress, 1900. An important gathering of reports by Frederick Schwatka, Ivan Petrof, W.R. Abercrombie, Henry T. Allen, and many others, comprising the records of expansion of non-natives’ knowledge of the territory. Assembled to facilitate a review of territory covered, and the possibilities of opening all American routes to the interior of Alaska. 

“Henry Allen in his report of the reconnaissance of Copper River and Tanana River valleys states that the Indians drew a number of maps. The one he reproduces …. shows the route to Cook Inlet via Suchitno river.” Sixteen reports with 27 folding maps and 33 b/w plates. U.S. Gov’t. Printing Office, 1900. 

Google Books Edition


Old Yukon Tales-Trails-Trials, James Wickersham (1938)

Old Yukon Tales-Trails-TrialsTerritorial judge James Wickersham describes his career as a pioneer attorney, judge, and later as a congressional representative, assigned to a district extending over 300,000 square miles. He made the first recorded attempt of Mt. Denali in 1903; the summit he attempted is now known as Wickersham’s Wall. 

Once seated as a congressional delegate for the District of Alaska, beginning his term in 1909, Wickersham orchestrated changes to Alaska’s relationship with the federal government, in passage of the Second Organic Act in 1912, establishing Alaska officially as a United States territory with a legislature. Wickersham would go on to serve several more terms as Alaska’s delegate to Congress, his last term running from 1931-1933. Published by Washington Law Book Co., 1938.

Not available in digital format.



 

The Kink in the North Fork

From the Nov-Dec issue of Alaskan History Magazine:

The Kink 1

“Oblique photo looking north, channel that was blasted is in lower left quadrant. Entrance and exit of old river channel seen above and below a portion of ridge.” [USGS 1996]

The North Fork River is a major tributary of the Fortymile River in the eastern Interior of Alaska, flowing through the remote country north of the community of Chicken. Originally, the southeasterly path of the North Fork River was interrupted by a rock ridge 100 feet thick at the base and over 100 feet high. This rock ridge caused a two-and-three-quarter-mile oxbow meander to the west. In the U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin No. 2125, titled Gold Placers of the Historical Fortymile River Region, Alaska (USGS 1996), on page 21, is this description of a singular leftover from the gold rush era (note that dates differ in accounts):

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The Kink on the North Fork of the Fortymile River: “Oblique aerial looking west showing the artificial channel and the 2 3//4 mile meander that was bypassed.” [USGS 1996]

“Approximately 20 miles up the North Fork from its confluence with the South Fork is a curious point on the map called The Kink. It is a very recently unnatural abandoned meander of the river. It was created in 1900 when an English-backed company blasted away a 100-foot-high bedrock ridge. The blast changed the course of the river and laid bare the 2 3/4-mile-long abandoned river bed meander. The original width of the cut-off was only about 16 feet, and at first only a small quantity of water flowed through it, but after a few hours the main body rushed through and soon worked out a channel over 39 feet wide (Prindle, 1905). The company had determined that the newly exposed gravels contained gold valued at approximately $9.00 per cubic yard so they were intent on mining them. In 1901 while an attempt was being made to mine the gravels with horses and scoops, a rock slide occurred that covered the gravels after which the company abandoned the area (Scott, 1990).”

The Kink was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. 

 

 

 

Elizabeth Peratrovich, Tlingit Activist

Young Peratrovich 420 res“No Natives Allowed” read the notice on a hotel door in Douglas, Alaska.

Elizabeth Peratrovich and her husband, Roy, Tlingit natives, had seen such signs before, growing up as they had in a segregated Alaska, with separate schools, hospitals, theaters, restaurants and cemeteries for whites and for natives. But this time something stirred within them, and so they wrote to territorial governor Ernest Gruening, and began their campaign to fight discrimination in Alaska. It would be a long, hard fight. An article in the Nov-Dec, 2019 issue of Alaskan History Magazine tells Elizabeth’s story.

Elizabeth Peratrovich (1911-1958) was born in Petersburg, District of Alaska, a member of the Lukaax̱.ádi clan, in the Raven moiety of the Tlingit nation. In 1931, at the age of 20, she married Roy Peratrovich, (1908–1989), also a Tlingit, of mixed native and Serbian descent who worked in a cannery. They lived in Klawock, where Roy was elected to four terms as mayor, and they had three children. Looking for greater opportunities, they moved their family to Juneau, the capital of what was by then the Alaska Territory. 

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Alaska Native Brotherhood, 1929

In Juneau, the Peratroviches found extensive social and racial discrimination against Alaska Natives, and signs banning Native entry to public facilities. The Peratroviches were active in the Alaska Native Brotherhood and its counterpart, the Sisterhood. By 1944, Roy and Elizabeth were leading their respective sides of the organization.

They petitioned the territorial governor, Ernest Gruening, to ban the “No Natives Allowed” signs then common in that city and elsewhere. Gruening agreed with the Peratroviches, and they joined forces. In 1943, they attempted to usher an antidiscrimination bill through Alaska’s Territorial Legislature. It failed, with a tie vote of 8-8 in the House. Undaunted, the Peratroviches traveled across the territory urging Natives to get involved, to run for political seats, to challenge the status quo and work toward change. 

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Alaska Native Sisterhood

As leaders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood, the Peratroviches redoubled their efforts, and a new antidiscrimination bill reached the Senate floor on February 5, 1945. By then two Natives had been elected to the territory’s legislature, including Roy’s brother Frank, and Alaska’s House had already approved the bill. There were so many onlookers that the crowd spilled out of the gallery doors and into the hall. 

An article in the March 20, 2019 New York Times explained what happened next: “Senator Allen Shattuck argued that the measure would ‘aggravate rather than allay’ racial tensions. “‘Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind us?’ he was quoted as saying in Gruening’s 1973 autobiography, Many Battles.

Elizabeth_Peratrovich 420 res“When the floor was opened to public comments, Peratrovich set down her knitting needles and rose from her seat in the back. Taking the podium, she said: ‘I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind the gentlemen with 5,000 years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights.’

“She gave examples of the injustices that she and her family had faced because of their background and called on the lawmakers to act. ‘You as legislators,’ she said, ‘can assert to the world that you recognize the evil of the present situation and speak your intent to help us overcome discrimination.’

“Elizabeth’s calm, measured, and eloquent testimony shamed the opposition into what The Daily Alaska Empire termed a ‘defensive whisper.’ The gallery broke out in ‘a wild burst of applause,’ and the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Act was passed by a vote of 11 to 5. Governor Gruening signed the bill into law on Feb. 16, a date now honored by the state each year. The new legislation entitled all Alaskans to “full and equal enjoyment” of public establishments, set a misdemeanor penalty for violators of the law, and banned posting of discriminatory signs based on race.

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Territorial Governor Gruening signs the legislation, Feb. 16, 1945. L to R: Sen. O. D. Cochran, Elizabeth Peratrovich, Rep. Edward Anderson, Sen. Norman Walker, and Roy Peratrovich.

In 1954, Roy Peratrovich accepted a position with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the family moved to Oklahoma. Two years later Elizabeth learned that she had breast cancer, and they returned to Juneau. When her illness worsened, she was admitted to a Christian Science care center in Seattle, where her son, Roy Jr., was attending college. She died on Dec. 1, 1958, at the age of only 47, and was buried in Juneau’s Evergreen Cemetery.

Velvet Gloves 420 res

Fighter in Velvet Gloves is the story of Elizabeth Peratrovich, by Annie Boochever and Roy Peratrovich, Jr., published in February, 2019 by the University of Alaska Press. Annie writes on her website, “As a former librarian and teacher in Juneau, I had long wished for a book about Elizabeth Peratrovich that was accessible to younger readers. When Roy said he would help me document his mother’s legacy, I was thrilled.”

Elizabeth’s son, Roy Jr., would become the first Alaska Native to be registered as a professional civil engineer, designing the original Brotherhood Bridge over the Mendenhall River near Juneau. The Brotherhood Bridge symbolized the bridging of the gap between Native and non-Native Alaskans, and among those attending the dedication of the original Brotherhood Bridge were his father, Roy Sr. who represented the Alaska office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and his uncle, Frank Peratrovich, a state senator from Klawock.

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Ravenworks Art

A gallery of the Alaska House of Representatives has been named in honor of Elizabeth Peratrovich, the only one named for someone other than a former legislator, and a bronze bust sculpted by her son Roy Jr. is on permanent display in the lobby of the State Capitol. Roy writes on his website, “I have shown my mother in an evening wrap, as she looked the night she and Dad celebrated the passage of Alaska’s first Anti-Discrimination Bill. They danced all night at the Baranof Hotel in Juneau, February 16, 1945.”

Peratrovich coin 420 resIn 2018, Elizabeth Peratrovich was chosen by the National Women’s History Project as one of its honorees, and in 2020 the United States Mint will commemorate her legacy on a one dollar coin. From the U.S. Mint website: “The obverse (heads) design retains the central figure of the “Sacagawea” design first produced in 2000.

“The reverse (tails) design features a portrait of Elizabeth Peratrovich, whose advocacy was considered a deciding factor in the passage of the 1945 Anti-Discrimination Law in the Alaskan Territorial Government. The foreground features a symbol of the Tlingit Raven moiety, of which she was a member.”

 

 

 

Ed S. Orr Stage Co.

Orr Stage leaving Valdez PC

A popular hand-tinted postcard circa 1910 depicting the Orr Stage leaving Valdez for Fairbanks.

The Edward S. Orr Stage Company, also known as the Fairbanks-Valdez Stage Company, was only one of several stage lines which operated along the Valdez-to-Fairbanks and Chitina to Fairbanks Trails in the early years of the twentieth century, but it was uncontestably the most successful. When the Klondike gold rush started, Ed Orr was in the right place and quickly made his way north. He formed a small freighting company with William V. Tukey, of Boise, Idaho.

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Pack train, Chilkoot Trail, 1897.

Their string of packhorses hauled goods for the Chilkoot Railroad & Transport Company over the Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, at tidewater, to Sheep Camp, where the cargo was transferred from horseback to buckets and sent to the summit via a cable tramway. In 1899, after completing their narrow-guage railroad over White Pass, the White Pass & Yukon Railroad bought out the Chilkoot Railroad & Transport Company, effectively ending Orr and Tukey’s freighting company.

In August, 1899, Orr and Tukey loaded 28 horses and 70 mules, along with a dozen people and several tons of goods, into nine scows and sailed them from Lake Bennett down the Yukon River to Dawson City, arriving to great fanfare on August 21st. Orr’s wife Jennie and their young son, Thorold, were among the passengers. Business was brisk in Dawson City, and Orr & Tukey advertised that they would carry “All kinds of freight, to any of the creeks, safely and quickly delivered,” utilizing horses, mules, and dogs, pulling various types of wagons or sleds.

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Orr & Turkey Stage at the Ogilvie Bridge over the Klondike River, Dawson, Yukon Territory.

James Wickersham, en route to his new appointment as territorial judge in Eagle, visited his old friend Ed Orr in Dawson City, and in his book, Old Yukon: Tales, Trails and Trials (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1938), he described Orr as “six feet tall, handsome and generous.” In 1901 Orr & Tukey merged their freighting business with the Hadley Stage Line and expanded their freighting and stage business to a small mining camp on the Alaskan side of the border named Fairbanks, and it was soon one of the largest freighting companies in the territory.

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Orr Stage, circa 1906.

In 1905 Orr’s partner, William Tukey, retired to Idaho. The following year, 1906, Ed Orr moved his family and his freighting company to Valdez, Alaska. The Orr Stage Company was successful from the start, and Ed Orr bought out the rival Kennedy Stage Company, making his the largest such company in Alaska in 1909. The fare from Valdez to Fairbanks was $150, the return trip was $125, on sleighs which could carry ten passengers on four double seats. Horses were changed out every 20-25 miles, and a telegraph station could be found approximately every 40 miles for safety and convenience.

Keystone Stage not used

Orr Stage, Keystone Canyon.

in 1910 Ed. S. Orr began considering a return to Washington state, as the myriad stresses of overseeing the company had resulted in his health declining. Jesse C. Martin, who had managed the company office in Valdez, was appointed General Manager of the stage line, and Ed. S. Orr and his family returned to Washington, where Orr underwent medical treatment and slowly regained his health. Back in Alaska the Orr Stage Company expanded to Chitina, but by the summer of 1911 the trail had been improved enough for wheeled vehicles to travel it during the summer, and  in April, 1914 a meeting was held in San Francisco at which the company directors gave their written consent to dissolve the company. Six months later, in September, 1914, Robert Sheldon drove the first car from Fairbanks to Chitina amidst much fanfare.

In the 1991 National Park Service’s Historic Structures Report on the Superintendent’s cabin at Chitina, a log cabin which had been built for the Orr Stage Company manager in 1910, the legacy of the Ed. S. Orr Stage Company is made clear:

“Although the Ed. S. Orr Stage Company only operated in Chitina for a short time, the company itself traces its roots deep into the development of the transportation industry in Alaska and the Yukon. Mr. Orr was one of the foremost pioneers in building not only a transportation empire, but through his efforts and good management of his company, he greatly impacted the development of the mining industry in and around Dawson City, Fairbanks, and finally along the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail.”

Orr Stageload Albert Johnson PC

A hand-tinted postcard showing the Orr Stage on the Fairbanks-Valdez Trail, circle 1910.

 

Harriman Expedition Revisited

“One day in March 1899, Edward H. Harriman strode briskly into the office of C. Hart Merriam, chief of the U.S. Biological Survey. Without appointment or introduction, Harriman launched into a grand plan for an expedition along the coast of Alaska. Merriam, skeptical, listened politely, and, when Harriman left, checked the man’s credentials. He soon learned that E.H. Harriman was a highly respected railway magnate, who had the financial resources and the talent to realize such a grand scheme.” ~PBS

Screen Shot 2019-11-27 at 8.40.45 PMIn the Sept-Oct issue of Alaskan History Magazine the wondrous 1899 Harriman Expedition was described and explored, and that article can be read in the free online digital edition of that issue, or in a post from June on this website. In that earlier post I wrote about how the Harriman Alaska Expedition explored the coast of Alaska for almost two months, in June and July 1899, aboard the 250-foot steamship George W. Elder, which Harriman had refitted for the expedition with lecture rooms, a library with over 500 volumes on Alaska, a stable for animals, taxidermy studios, and luxurious rooms for his passengers. And his passengers were a hand-picked cream of the crop: America’s best scientists, artists, and photographers of the time, men whose names would go into the history books. It was a splendid expedition by anyone’s measure, and has been the subject of many books, articles, and papers.

“History has shown that the Harriman Alaska Expedition lived up to all expectations: genera and species new to science were described, fossil species newly recorded, natural history collections created, and the Harriman Fiord surveyed for the first time. By any standard, the world’s scientific and environmental portrait of Alaska was greatly enriched as a result of the 1899 Harriman Alaska Expedition.” ~PBS

oie_2872631REMX2LITOn July 22, 2001 over two dozen scientists, artists, and writers left Prince Rupert, British Columbia on the Harriman Expedition Retraced. The Clipper Odyssey followed the itinerary of E. H. Harriman’s lavishly-outfitted George W. Elder, sailing through the Inside Passage, the Gulf of Alaska, the Aleutian Archipelago, and northward through the Bering Sea. Four weeks later, on August 20, the travelers made their final stop in Nome.

The Expedition Log details the journey, and just as their 1899 predecessors had done, the expedition guests shared their findings and experiences through photos, artwork, a wonderful souvenir album, and a series of onboard lectures on a myriad of subjects. Use the Site Index to fully explore this wonderful resource commemorating the Harriman Alaska Expedition. There are many fascinating extras, such as this essay on The Boyhood of Harriman and information about The Documentary Film based on the two voyages. For a preview of that film, click here.

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Davidson Glacier, by Kesler Woodard

Alaskan Artists

The Nov-Dec issue of Alaskan History Magazine featured short biographic sketches of four great artists from Alaska’s past, and with this post I’ll share links to more information and examples of artwork from each of them.

Screen Shot 2019-11-27 at 7.31.02 PMSydney Laurence (1865–1940), probably Alaska’s best-known artist, came north in 1903 and lived in Tyonek, later in Valdez, and in 1915 he moved to the new railroad town of Anchorage. By 1920 he was considered one of the most prominent artists in Alaska and through techniques he had learned in New York and Europe, helped define Alaska as the Last Frontier. There is a very good biography of Sydney Laurence at LitSite Alaska, another at the Alaska History site with photos from his time in Anchorage, and a gallery of his work at Artnet.com. See also: Sydney Laurence: Northern Exposures From A Brooklyn Boy (Seattle Times, 1990)

Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 8.50.50 PMTheodore Roosevelt Lambert (1905-1960), arrived in Alaska in 1925 or 1926 and worked as a sled dog musher hauling mail and freight, giving him insight to the land and its moods which he later captured on canvas. He also found jobs as a miner, logger, and trapper, which honed his observations about people. Lambert worked for the Fairbanks Exploration Company, making enough to study at the American Academy of Art in Chicago in 1931. He spent a winter in Seattle studying art with Eustace Ziegler. He married a young teacher and they had a daughter, but when he displayed paranoia and wild-animal behavior, she took their baby daughter and left. Lambert moved to a cabin on Bristol Bay. He mysteriously disappeared in 1960, leaving a stack of unfinished paintings and a 250,000 word manuscript. No trace of him was ever found. A short bio and a few paintings can be seen at The Antique Gallery, and there is a gallery of his artwork at the University of Alaska Museum of the North website.

Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 8.54.44 PMFred Machetanz (1908-2002) first came to the territory in 1935 to visit his uncle, Charles Traeger, who ran a trading post at Unalakleet. He volunteered for the U.S. Navy during World War II, requested a posting to the Aleutian Islands, and rose to Lt. Commander, responsible for intelligence for the North Pacific Command. He returned to Unalakleet in 1946. In 1947 Machetanz married writer Sara Dunn, and they settled near Palmer and had a son, Traeger. They published several books and collaborated on films for Walt Disney, the Territory of Alaska, and Encyclopedia Britannica. From 1948 through 1960 they made many lecture tours through the lower 48 states. He was named Alaskan of the Year in 1977, and American Artist of the Year in 1981 by American Artist magazine. Machetanz was also awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Alaska and Ohio State University. There is a short bio and many paintings and lithographs at the ArtNet website, and an excellent biography and samples of his art at LitSite Alaska. See also: A Northern Adventure: The Art of Fred Machetanz, introduction to the retrospective exhibition by Kesler Woodard.

Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 9.11.03 PMEustace Paul Ziegler (1881-1969) came north in 1909 at the age of 27 to manage an Episcopal mission in Cordova, one of the first artists from the United States to arrive in Alaska. He was trained in painting at the Detroit Museum of Art, and when his missionary work required extensive travel to the mining communities of the Copper River country, it gave him an opportunity to paint portraits of many different frontier characters, including miners, priests, fishermen and especially Alaskan Natives, for which he became widely known. Ziegler left the ministry and moved to Seattle in 1924, after receiving a major painting commission there. A prolific artist, he once estimated that he had painted over 50 paintings a year for 60 years. Ziegler continued to make trips to Alaska every year, becoming one of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest’s most popular artists. There is a short biography of the artist at the Alaska State Museum site, and over 200 of his artworks can be viewed at ArtNet.

Website Redesign

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 1.16.45 AMA completely different website layout for Alaskan History Magazine gives articles from each issue the entire screen rather than sharing the screen with the large sidebar on the previous rendition of the site. The menu at the top of each page now becomes the primary tool for navigating around the site’s features.

The posts are gathered under the Archives heading, and a later editing will make that easier to negotiate with dates and short descriptions of each linked post.

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 1.18.04 AMThe About heading drops down a menu which includes the FAQ, or Frequently Asked Questions; the social media links to our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts; Writer’s Guidelines, the history Timeline, and the Index to the first four issues.

Under Ordering you’ll find the links to Ordering from PayPal (and with credit cards, checks, or money orders), Ordering at Amazon, Back issues, Digital issues to read online, and a downloadable full color brochure for the magazine.

I hope this new format will make everything easier to navigate and enjoy!

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