Category Archives: Books

Book excerpts, reviews, announcements and more.

Esther Birdsall Darling

Baldy of NomeAn article in the Jan-Feb issue of Alaskan History Magazine focuses on the author of several classic Alaskan books such as Baldy of Nome, Navarre of the North, and Boris, Grandson of Baldy. An avid fan of the sled dog races in Nome, Esther Birdsall Darling was also the kennel partner to the King of the Alaskan Trail, Allan Alexander “Scotty” Allan.

Esther Birdsall was born into wealth and privilege, the daughter of a prominent family in the early history of northern California. Born in 1868, Esther grew up in a fine home, tended by three live-in servants, in the state capitol of Sacramento. In 1907, at the relatively late age of 38, Esther married the co-owner of the Darling & Dean Hardware business in far-off Nome, Alaska.

Darling and Dean Steffanson dogs 420

The sled dogs of the Stefansson Expedition had formerly carried the mail to Nome. C. E. Darling, ‘Scotty’ Allan, and Vilhjalmur Stefansson are among the men seen here at Darling & Dean.

Charles Edward ‘Ned’ Darling was born in Ireland in 1871. He was working for a west-coast based paint company in 1900 when he decided to transport a supply of fireproof paint to the Nome gold camp for fire-proofing the miners’ tents. After looking things over he determined that a hardware store could prove profitable, and by 1915 his store, the farthest north hardware store on the American continent, would boast a $150,000 inventory of hardware, ship chandlery, roofing, dredging supplies, and mining and mill supplies. Darling & Dean Hardware outfitted several Arctic expeditions, including explorer and anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who in 1913 purchased $21,000 in supplies for a three-year scientific study of the Arctic. 

Baldy and Scotty Allan

A.A. “Scotty” Allan and Baldy

Charles Darling was also a musher, and in February of 1906 he set a world’s record for long distance mushing when he drove his dog team from Nome to Seattle—via Valdez and ship—in only 42 days. Dog teams were held in high esteem, for a string of strong huskies was the most reliable mode of transportation over winter trails. The secretary of Darling & Dean Hardware, a Scotsman named Allan Alexander Allan, known as “Scotty,” partnered with Charles Darling in a dog kennel, and when the new Mrs. Darling met the furry residents of this kennel it was love at first sight, and that love would blossom into a literary legacy.

Baldy of Nome, published in 1912, was kept it in print by popular demand for more than forty years. It was filled with exciting true stories such as the time during the 60-mile Solomon Derby when Scotty, leaning over his sled to look at a broken runner, hit his head on an iron trail marker and was knocked unconscious. Baldy stopped the team, returned to his injured driver and roused him with nudges and howls, and then led the team to win the race. Stories of Baldy’s descendants followed, including Boris, Grandson of Baldy; Navarre of the North, and collections of prose and poetry about Alaska. 

Esther Darling on steps 420Charles and Esther Darling left Alaska in 1918 and moved to Berkeley, California, and so also did Scotty Allan, taking along his old friend and trail mate Baldy. When Baldy died in 1922 Esther Darling and Scotty Allan obtained a special permit from the city to bury the famous dog in the back yard of the Allan home in Oakland, overlooking San Francisco Bay. A rose bush was planted over his grave, and a lengthy obituary ran in The New York Times. 

Esther Birdsall Darling spent her later years as a popular speaker at civic, charity, and other social events, describing life in Alaska during the heyday of the All Alaska Sweepstakes to her attentive audiences. She was justifiably proud of her partnership with A. A. “Scotty” Allan, who she always described as the best dog man in Alaska, and their champion leader Baldy. Esther passed away June 2, 1965, at the age of 96, in Auburn, California, near her childhood home. She was buried in the Sacramento City Cemetery, close to her parents and her husband. ~•~

 

esther

The entire article is in the Jan-Feb issue of Alaskan History Magazine

Ella Higginson

Portrait by Curtis 420

Portrait of Ella Higginson by Asahel Curtis

From the Jan-Feb, 2020 issue of Alaskan History Magazine:

Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862-1940) was one of America’s most celebrated early 20th century writers, the recipient of several national awards for her short fiction and the first Poet Laureate of Washington State, in 1931. In 1863, when Ella was a baby, her family traveled the Oregon Trail, and she was raised near present-day Portland. At 23 she married Russell Higginson, a druggist, and they moved to Bellingham, Washington in 1888, spending the rest of their lives there. Starting in 1904, Ella traveled to Alaska for four summers as part of the research for her book on Alaska.

‘Alaska, the Great Country,’ an annotated history of Alaska and an absorbing travelogue of Higginson’s adventures there, was published in 1908, went through several editions, and was quoted by leading authorities of the day. Her observations of territorial Alaska are online to read free at the Project Gutenberg website.

Ellas Book 420A few excerpts from her book are shared here: 

• The spell of Alaska falls upon every lover of beauty who has voyaged along those far northern snow-pearled shores with the violet waves of the North Pacific Ocean breaking splendidly upon them; or who has drifted down the mighty rivers of the interior which flow, bell-toned and lonely, to the sea. I know not how the spell is wrought; nor have I ever met one who could put the miracle of its working into words. No writer has ever described Alaska; no one writer ever will; but each must do his share, according to the spell that the country casts upon him.

Sitka long shot 420

Sitka

• Something gives Sitka a different look and atmosphere from any other town. It may be her whiteness, glistening against the rich green background of forest and hill, with the whiteness of the mountains shining in the higher lights; or it may be the severely white and plain Greek church, rising in the centre of the main street, not more than a block from the water, that gives Sitka her chaste and immaculate appearance. 

Screen Shot 2019-10-08 at 1.50.52 AM• We sailed into the lovely bay of Unalaska on the fourth day of July. The entire village, native and white, had gone on a picnic to the hills. We spent the afternoon loitering about the deserted streets and the green and flowery hills. One could sit contentedly for a week upon the hills,—as the natives used to sit upon the roofs of their barabaras,—doing nothing but looking down upon the idyllic loveliness shimmering in every direction. In the centre of the town rises the Greek-Russian church, green-roofed and bulbous-domed, adding the final touch of mysticism and poetry to this already enchanting scene. At sunset the mists gathered, slowly, delicately, beautifully. They moved in softly through the same strait by which we had entered—little rose-colored masses that drifted up to meet the violet-tinted ones from the other end of the bay. In the centre of the water valley they met and mixed together, and, in their new and more marvellous coloring, pushed up about the town and the lower slopes. Out of them lifted and shone the green roof and domes of the church; more brilliantly above them, napped thick and soft as velvet, glowed the hills; and more lustrously against the saffron sky flashed the pearl of the higher peaks.

RESOURCES

Laffrado book 420Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature is a book about Ella Higginson’s life and writing, by Laura Laffrado, a professor of English at Western Washington University, published in 2015 by the Whatcom County Historical Society. 

Dr. Laura Laffredo, an authority on Ella Higginson’s life   

Alaska, The Great Country, by Ella Higginson at the Gutenberg Project  

 

1935 WPA Federal Writers Project

ND Cover 420 resThe November-December issue of Alaskan History Magazine includes an article about the WPA Guide to Alaska, which was written as part of the Federal Writers Project, an interesting study of the territory in which the preface sagely advises, “The best way to know Alaska is to spend a lifetime there.”

WPACAThe Federal Writers’ Project was created in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of the United States Work Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal jobs program, to provide employment for historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. Originally, the purpose of the project was to produce a series of sectional guide books, focusing on the scenic, historical, cultural, and economic resources of the United States (including the territory of Alaska, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.). The project was expanded to include local histories, oral histories, ethnographies, children’s books and other works.

WPANDThe American Guide Series books were written and compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project, but printed by individual states, and contained detailed histories of each state with descriptions of every city and town. The format was uniform, comprising essays on the state’s history and culture, descriptions of major cities, automobile tours were one of the important attractions, and there was a portfolio of photographs in each book.

m7cEAnxa5C9XwK15ggTnnvwA Guide to Alaska: Last American Frontier, was written by Merle Colby, and includes a foreword by John W. Troy, then-Governor of the territory of Alaska. Troy wrote, “Scarcely more than a generation ago, well within the memory of many living Alaskans, the news was flashed in 1897 over telegraph wires that the steamer Portland had arrived in Seattle with ‘a ton of gold.'”

Troy continues: “Even more important, and certainly no less dramatic, is the less-known Alaska of today — the Alaska of graveled automobile roads, of airplanes, used as casually by Alaskans as are taxis in continental United States, of giant gold dredges, of great fishing fleets, of farms with the latest in modern equipment, of homes set in frames of flowers and surrounded with vegetable gardens, of large shops, theaters, churches, schools, clubs, newspapers, and America’s farthest-north university.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 11.52.08 AMThe entire book can be read online, and there are interesting details throughout the 1939 guidebook, such as this curious advice regarding money: “The 5-cent piece is the lowest monetary unit in Alaska; in the remote interior, the 25 cent piece (two bits). In the latter case, this does not mean that the lowest price of any article is 25 cents, but merely that a total purchase must amount to a multiple of 25 cents. Pennies are almost unknown, and in post offices the clerk will usually make change in one-cent stamps. Prices such as 39 cents and $1.98 are unheard of.”

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 8.17.01 AMThe guidebook’s description of roads in Alaska is notably brief: “Automobile Highways. The Richardson Highway (open in summer only), 371 miles long, begins at the port of Valdez, on Prince William Sound, and ends at Fairbanks, paralleling the Alaska Railroad. Frequent bus and truck service connect with steamship arrivals; good accommodations are available along the route.”

Note that the Alaska Railroad, which reportedly ‘parallels’ the Richardson Highway, does so at a distance of well over 100 miles.

Delta River, Richardson Hwy circa 1922“The Steese Highway (open in summer only) extends 163 miles from Fairbanks to Circle. Bus and truck service connect with train arrivals; there are accommodations along the route.

“Other major summer highways, all with bus or truck service, are:
• Gulkana to Slate Creek, 60 miles
• Anchorage to Palmer and Matanuska Valley, 50 miles
• Fairbanks to Livengood, 85 miles
• Nome to Council, 57 miles”

Screen Shot 2015-08-08 at 8.29.37 AMA few local roads between 5 and 39 miles in length are listed, along with the 80-mile Mt. McKinley National Park gravel road from Paxson, now known as the Denali Highway.

A Guide to Alaska is an interesting in-depth look at the territory in the first half of the twentieth century, divided into six distinct regions and described in terms which would do justice to any modern travel guide, such as this depiction of southcentral Alaska: “A number of large rivers, as well as Cook Inlet, break through the mountains fronting the coast and open up inland valleys having a light forest cover, moderate precipitation, short but rather warm summers, and winter temperatures not unlike those found in the northern tier of prairie States. The level and rolling lands afford excellent opportunities for agriculture. The Matanuska agricultural area is located in one of these valleys in the vicinity of Anchorage. Additional and even more extensive tracts of potential farm lands, notably the Kenai Peninsula agricultural area, are found in this same general locality. ”

The entire book can be read online here.

Still More Classic Alaskan Books

Classic Alaskan books from the Sept-Oct and Nov-Dec issues of Alaskan History Magazine:

Conquering the Arctic Ice, by Ejnar Mikkelsen (1909)

Eijnar MikkelsenIn October 1907 the Danish polar explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen, co-leader (with Ernest de Koven Leffingwell) of 1906-1908 Anglo-American Polar Expedition, which established that there was no land north of Alaska,  set out on a formidable journey, which would take him west along the Arctic coast from Flaxman Island to Barrow, Nome, Fort Gibbon, Manley Hot Springs, Fairbanks, and then down the Fairbanks-Valdez Trail to Valdez, where he boarded a ship for home.

His trip was detailed in his book, published in London in 1909 by William Heinemann. Available to read online at Google Books.


A Dog Puncher on the Yukon, by Arthur Treadwell Walden (1923)

Arthur T. WaldenArthur Treadwell Walden was a dog driver during the Klondike and Alaskan gold rushes. He would become a respected trainer and freighter on Admiral Byrd’s 1928-29 expedition to Antarctica, but thirty years before, in northern Canada, he gained  fame as a sled dog driver and freighter over the northern gold rush trails near Dawson City, Circle City, and Nome. 

After returning to New England Walden began a breeding program which produced the Chinook breed, based on a dog by that name which he knew as a sled dog driver in the North.


Dog Team Doctor, The Story of Dr. Romig, by Eva G. Anderson (1940)

Dr. Joseph RomigIn 1896 Dr. Joseph  H. Romig traveled to Bethel, Alaska, and opened the first doctor’s office and hospital west of Sitka, at a time when there were very few non-native people living in remote southwest Alaska.

 For a time, Dr. Romig was one of the only physicians in Alaska, and he became known as the “dog team doctor” for traveling by dog sled throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in the course of his work. Four decades later a book would be written about the good doctor’s adventurous and life-saving exploits across the vast northern territory.


Seward’s Icebox, by Archie W. Shiels (1933)

Sewards IceboxArchibald Williamson Shiels, born in Scotland, emigrated to the US in 1893. He became chief of staff to railroad contractor Michael Heney, supervising the construction of the White Pass & Yukon Railway, and was later involved in the construction of the Copper River and North Western Railroad. Shiels joined the Pacific American Fisheries in 1916, the largest salmon cannery in the world, and served as President of the company from 1930-1946.

Shiels collected a vast amount of informational material, from which he researched and wrote many historical manuscripts, books, and speeches. His well-researched Seward’s Icebox begins in 1867 with the transfer of Russia to the United States and continues to the date of publication. 


Tillicums of the Trail, by George C. F. Pringle (1922)

Tillicums of the TrailSubtitled ‘Being Klondike Yarns Told to Canadian Soldiers Overseas by a Sourdough Padre,’ this is a collection of true stories from the Klondike and nearby regions, as told to troops by the Chaplain to the 43rd Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Forces, at Avion, France, during the First World War. Pringle was a pioneer bush pilot and United Church minister and this book contains some classic northern tales, “….because in every man there is something that stirs responsive to tales of the mystic Northland, vast, white, and silent.” 

Pringle’s true stories to his men included his first trip by dogteam, the legend of the Lost Patrol, the story of Skagway’s notorious “Soapy” Smith, a trip down the Yukon River by scow from Whitehorse to Dawson City, Christmas and wedding celebrations in the Klondike and more. Available to read online at Project Gutenberg.


Ploughman of the Moon, by Robert W. Service (1945)

Ploughman of the Moon, ServicePloughman of the Moon: An Adventure into Memory is the autobioigraphy of Robert Service, famed Bard of the Yukon whose popular poetry includes The Spell of the Yukon, The Cremation of Sam McGee, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and countless others.

This warmly personal account traces the first half of his life, from his boyhood in Scotland to his emigration to Canada at the age of 21 with his Buffalo Bill outfit and dreams of becoming a cowboy, drifting around western North America from California to British Columbia, being sent to Whitehorse and later Dawson City by the Canadian Bank of Commerce, and gaining fame for his captivating way with words. The book is available to read online at Project Gutenberg 


Alaska Days, by Erastus Howard Scott (1923)

EH Scott book 420 resPublished in 1923 by Scott, Foresman & Co., this slim 100-page volume is the photo-rich recounting of a journey taken by Erastus Howard Scott and his wife as they travelled from Chicago to Seattle and boarded a ship which took them across the Gulf of Alaska to Katalla, Valdez, and finally Seward.

From Seward they rode the newly-built Alaska Railroad to Fairbanks, photographing and describing everything along the way, including a memorial stop for the recently departed President Harding. Available to read online at Google Books.


Alaska The Great Country, by Ella Higginson (1908)

Ella Higginson book 420 resElla Rhoads Higginson (1862-1940) was one of America’s most celebrated early 20th century writers, and the first Poet Laureate of Washington State, 1931. Her book ‘Alaska, the Great Country,’ an annotated history of Alaska and an absorbing  travelogue of Higginson’s adventures there, was published in 1908 and went through several editions.

Higginson describes her trip with the less than politically correct mores and values of her time, but her keenly written observations of territorial Alaska make this a fascinating account. Available to read online at Project Gutenberg.


A Summer in Alaska (Along Alaska’s Great River) F. Schwatka (1893)

Schwatka book 420 resPublished by J W Henry, St. Louis, in 1893, ‘A Summer in Alaska, A popular account of an Alaska exploration along the great Yukon River from its source to its mouth,’ by Frederick Schwatka, is the enlarged edition of his ‘Along Alaska’s Great River, published in 1885. 

The book details Schwatka’s explorations along the Yukon River, from its source in northwestern Canada to its mouth on the west coast of Alaska, the first full-length navigation of Alaska’s greatest waterway. Available to read online at Project Gutenberg.




 

Trailing and Camping in Alaska

Addison Powell coverTrailing and Camping in Alaska, subtitled Ten Years Spent Exploring, Hunting and Prospecting in Alaska – 1898 to 1909, was written in 1909 by Addison M. Powell, an adventurer, prospector, hunter, and a former guide for Captain William R. Abercrombie’s 1898 Copper River Exploring Expedition, which was one of three military expeditions organized under the direction of the Secretary of War with directives for exploring the interior of the new territory of Alaska. Powell’s familiarity with the land made him a valuable addition to Abercrombie’s efforts over the next several years, and brought him into contact with many men who would help to shape the future of Alaska.

Powell and Co. copper rock

Addison Powell, resting his chin in hand second from the left, with friends and a large nugget of copper found on Nugget Creek, in the Wrangell Mountains, summer of 1902. [Photos are from Addison Powell’s book, Trailing and Camping in Alaska, Wessels & Bissell, 1909]

The May-June 2019 issue of Alaskan History Magazine included selected excerpts from chapter 21 of Powell’s book, on his explorations around the Copper River country and the Wrangell Mountains. In the spring of 1898, Abercrombie was directed to organize his men and supplies at Valdez, on the coast, and to explore northward into the valley of the Copper River and its tributaries, and farther north to the Tanana River, seeking an all-American route from coastal Alaska to the Klondike gold fields.

The Copper River

The banks of the Copper River.

The following year Abercrombie would be responsible for constructing a military road from Prince William Sound at Valdez to Eagle on the Yukon River, a route which became known as the Eagle Trail. Powell, who had been exploring and prospecting in the country, once again joined the effort as a guide and surveyor. The following years are filled with exploration, adventures, and a continuing search for a lost gold strike. 

Addison Monroe Powell was born November 25, 1856, in Clinton County, Indiana; he was 42 years old when he joined Abercrombie’s 1898 expedition. His sub-report, published in Abercrombie’s 1899 Government Report on the Copper River Exploring Expedition, appears as chapters of this book. Powell passed away in Santa Barbara, California, on January 29, 1932, at the age of 75.

Trailing and Camping in Alaska, Ten Years Spent Exploring, Hunting and Prospecting in Alaska – 1898 to 1909, by Addison M. Powell. Originally published in 1909 by Newold Publishing Company, New York, New York. 300 pages, 30 b/w photos, published September, 2018 by Northern Light Media. $24.95 (plus shipping). Click here to order via PayPal.

More Classic Alaskan Books

The books section of the July-August, 2019 issue:

46.

47.


July:Aug 2019 cover Small

The entire July-August issue can be read online free at the issuu digital publication site. The May-June and Sept-Oct issues are also available at issuu.

 


 

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.