Category Archives: New issue

“My Dear Mother”: Dr. James T. White

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“My Dear Mother”: Dr. James Taylor White

Edited by Gary C. Stein, from the March-April, 2020 issue of Alaskan History Magazine

In February 1894 Treasury Secretary John G. Carlisle authorized Captain Michael A. Healy to employ Seattle physician James Taylor White as surgeon for the upcoming Arctic cruise of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear. This was White’s third cruise to Alaska for the department’s Revenue-Cutter Service, a predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1894 White participated in missionary Sheldon Jackson’s three-year-old project transporting domesticated Siberian reindeer to Alaska to prevent supposed starvation among Alaska’s Native population.

Bear

Iconic shot of the USRC Bear

White was an astute observer. Not only a physician, he was an avid naturalist and amateur ethnographer. Everything he saw interested him. While his 1894 diary thoroughly describes people and places he encountered, there is a briefer source offering another perspective of that summer on the Bear. His personal correspondence is in the Alaska and Polar Regions Collection and Archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He wrote extensively to his mother, Ione Taylor White, throughout his 1894 cruise describing not only what he saw but his personal opinions as well, some of which material never entered his diary.

White boarded the Bear at San Francisco in mid-April. At the end of that month the cutter sailed to Seattle for coal and then stood north for Sitka, arriving at Alaska’s capital on May 11. By early June the Bear had cruised along Prince William Sound to Kodiak Island.

Kodiak circa 1900

Kodiak circa 1900

My dear Mother:

We left St. Paul [harbor], Kadiak Island yesterday. … After having been in smooth water so long it rather upsets one to be suddenly plunging into a rough sea. Strange to say it affects me very little and I have noticed, as well as others, that it has little or no effect on my appetite. 

The trip has been delightful and peaceable. On the whole we have a nice set of officers and no trouble has been experienced, though it is rather too early to talk much. If all is as well when we get through the Arctic part of the trip as now I will be thankful, for that is when it tries one to the utmost. Mrs. H— [Mary Jane Healy, the Captain’s wife] is very pleasant to all and I think influences the Capt. more than he or anyone else imagines.

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The Bear in Dutch Harbor, 1897-98

Dutch Harbor Alaska. June 11th ‘94

My dear Mother:

Dutch Harbor is the headquarters of the new trading company [North American Transportation and Trading Company], and as it is their interests we are to look after we stay here. It is only a couple of miles from Unalaska, so we spend most of our time there. I went over yesterday to attend some of the school children, and I am going in today to patch up a broken head.

Just when we leave here for the Arctic I don’t know but presume it will be about the 16th inst. We have received no mail so far and if the mail steamer is not on time, we will not receive any until next September. Not knowing how things are there I can but hope and wish that all of you are well and that my letters when received will speak of good and happy times.

Today is beautiful, bright and warm. We are taking on coal and everything is dirty and upset. To be continued in my next—-

I remain, well and contented, your affectionate Son

James.

For More Information:

• Gary C. Stein “‘A Desperate and Dangerous Man’: Captain Michael A. Healy’s Arctic Cruise of 1900.” The Alaska Journal, 15 (Spring 1985): 39-45. 

• Gary C. Stein “‘The Old Man is Good and Drunk Now’: Captain Michael A. Healy and the Cruise of 1889.” Alaska History, 24 (Spring 2009): 16-43.

• Gary C. Stein “‘Their Feast of Death’: The Wreck of the Whaler James Allen.” Coriolis, 7 (No. 2, 2017): 21-48.

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Dept. of Botany Collections.

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March-April 2020 Cover 600Alaskan History Magazine is an independently produced magazine dedicated to portraying the colorful and important past of the Last Frontier as an interesting and exciting journey of exploration. The style is conversational, yet confident and informative, thoroughly researched to bring the true stories of the people, places and events which shaped Alaskan history to a wide readership.

Published bimonthly by Northern Light Media. Full color, no advertising. Subscribe, order all the back issues, or just order a single issue at this link.

The Early Settlement of Valdez

valdezFrom the March-April issue of Alaskan History Magazine:

The Pathfinder is the official publication of the Pioneers of Alaska, a fraternal group which traces its history to the Yukon Order of Pioneers, organized at Fortymile in 1898. The following article on the early settlement of Valdez is from The Pathfinder, February, 1920. The issue is available to read or download at Google Books.

On the 22nd day of September, 1897, the schooner Laninfa sailed from San Francisco with 33 passengers aboard enroute to the mouth of the Copper River in Alaska. They had been told that they could navigate this river with small power boats and were fully equipped to make a trip up that turbulent stream. On their arrival at Orca they learned that it was impossible for them to ascend the Copper River with any kind of boat, so about 20 of the men in the party chartered a cannery craft and came on up to Valdez Bay having been told that men had gone to the Copper River by that route thus landing above the glaciers and rapids of that river. The cannery boat carrying 22 men came into Valdez Bay on the 10th day of November, 1897 and landed its passengers at the place now known as Swanport, just below where Fort Liscum now is built. This was the first settlement on the shores of Valdez Bay.

Sch. Moonlight on Valdes Bay

Schooner Moonlight in Valdez Bay, March, 1898. Neal Benedict [ASL Neal D. Benedict Collection P201-009]

Sometime in December, about a month after the landing of the Swanport party, the schooner Bering Sea hove into port with a large number of passengers bound for the Klondike by way of the Copper River.  In February, 1898, the steamer Valencia arrived in the Bay with 600 passengers, and crafts of all kinds then came thick and fast until there were over 4,000 men climbing over the glacier bound for the Copper River enroute to the Klondike. In 1898 Capt. Abercrombie arrived in Valdez Bay for the purpose of opening a road from the Bay to the Interior. 

In the winter of 1898 a group of gold seekers traveled to Alaska aboard the schooner Moonlight, bound for Valdez and the Copper River country beyond its great glacier. Among these prospectors were Charles Margeson, who would write a book of their adventures (Experiences of Gold Hunters in Alaska, 1899), and Neal D. Benedict, who took many photographs. 

Arriving in Valdez Bay in March, 1898, Margeson was dismayed to find not the wharf they’d expected, but a large shelf of ice extending a long ways out into the bay. He described their landing and unloading, and what they found when going ashore: 

“About a mile from where the schooner was anchored was a piece of timber containing two or three hundred acres, and running down through this was a clear stream of pure water. In the edge of this timber, and near this little stream, were about one hundred tents, clustered together, and others were being set up. This unique camp—for it was about that—presented a scene of unusual activity. Some were tramping down the snow, preparing a place to put up their tents; some were cutting tent poles, and others were cutting firewood, while others were getting their dog teams ready for hauling their goods up to the foot of the glacier, which was five miles away.”

Learn more about early Valdez

Valdez Museum & Historical Archives  

Experiences of Gold Hunters in Alaska, Charles Margeson 

History of the Valdez Trail National Park Service 

History of Valdez 


March-April 2020 Cover 600You can subscribe to Alaskan History Magazine via PayPal at this link, you can also order a single issue for yourself or a friend, or order any back issues you may be missing.

Single back issues of Alaskan History Magazine, which carries no advertising in its 48 page 8.5” x 11” full-color format, are available for $10.00 each postpaid (U.S. only). Descriptions are on this page, select the issue or issues you’d like to order and payment can be made via PayPal or with any credit card – but please indicate which back issue(s) you are ordering.

 

Early Alaskan Trails

oie_102620WSyIUI9hFrom the March-April issue of Alaskan History Magazine:

The first trails in Alaska were made by animals, those which came after that showed where the earliest men and women traveled. Then came the explorers, the missionaries, the scientists, the prospectors….

The Yukon, Tanana, & Kuskokwim Rivers

The earliest trails in Alaska were generally those which relied on the frozen rivers, lakes, and streams which crossed the land, the largest rivers being the main thoroughfares, with smaller streams branching off toward destinations, and lakes and ponds providing easy access across sometimes rough country. Most early maps of Alaska include the notations for Winter Trails; in the other three seasons these trails simply did not exist, or they were traveled by rafts, boats or canoes. Still today many trails rely on frozen waterways for part of their length, i.e. the Iditarod Trail on the Yukon River between Ruby and Kaltag. Yukon River mail team

The Native Trails

Native groups traditionally created their own transportation networks, utilizing local paths for subsistence activities, while longer trails were used for hunting, intertribal trade, and occasional raiding trips. These routes usually followed the contours of the land, tracing natural corridors. Exploring Keystone Canyon north of Valdez in 1884, Lt. Abercrombie reported “a deep and well-worn trail up the canyon and across to the Tiekel River in the Copper River valley.” 

Copper River packdogs

Glacier Trails

In the late 1880’s prospectors objecting to foreign control of the Chilkoot and White Pass transportation corridors began seeking an All American route to the Klondike goldfields, but they found only one way across the mighty Chugach mountain range: an exceptionally difficult and dangerous path over the Valdez and Klutina glaciers. In 1898, the army sent Abercrombie back to locate a safer way. Spotting the remains of a Chugach trail leading to the north toward Keystone Canyon, he proceeded to the interior via the Valdez Glacier, and found an Ahtna path leading up the right (or western) bank of the Copper River. Both were eventually utilized by the Valdez Trail. 

Packtrain crossing Russell Glacier

Read more about the early trails in Alaska in the March-April issue of Alaskan History Magazine.

 

March-April Issue

March-April 2020 Cover 600The March-April, 2020 issue of Alaskan History Magazine features a wide range of Alaskan history, from some of the first photographs and the earliest settlers at Valdez to an adventuresome lady musher who blazed trails where today’s Alaska Highway crosses the northern landscape. 

Eadweard Muybridge was a man as strange as his oddly-spelled name, but his photographs of southeastern Alaska and Sitka for the Department of the Army provide a fascinating look at the area barely six months after the transferral ceremony of the land purchased from Russia by the U.S. government. The second article explores the contentious disagreement over the geographic boundaries between the southeastern part of the territory of Alaska and the province of British Columbia, whose foreign affairs were still under British authority. 

Wikipedia Bear

U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear

Dr. Gary Stein shares letters penned in 1894 by physician James Taylor White, who wrote them to his mother while serving as surgeon aboard the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear, under Captain Michael A. Healy. Dr. White described the journey, the land, and the people, and shared his personal opinions about what he saw on his Arctic travels. 

Dr. Thomas Eley writes of the adventurous Luther Sage “Yellowstone” Kelly, an Indian scout from the Old West whose wide travels in Alaska helped write our state’s history. The founding and settling of the gold rush town of Valdez, and the 1,000 mile sled dog journey of Taku Lodge owner Mary Joyce, from Juneau to Fairbanks in the winter of 1936, round out this issue! 


Back Issues pageYou can subscribe to Alaskan History Magazine via PayPal at this link, or order a single issue for yourself or a friend; or order any back issues you may be missing at this page.

Single back issues of Alaskan History Magazine, which carries no advertising in its 48 page 8.5” x 11” full-color format, are available for $10.00 each postpaid (U.S. only). Descriptions are on this page, select the issue or issues you’d like to order and payment can be made via PayPal or with any credit card – but please indicate which back issue(s) you are ordering.

 

The 1915 Tanana Chiefs Conference

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Group portrait at the first Tanana Chiefs Conference, 1915. Seated front, L to R: Chief Alexander of Tolovana, Chief Thomas of Nenana, Chief Evan of Koschakat, Chief Alexander William of Tanana. Standing at rear, L to R: Chief William of Tanana, Paul Williams of Tanana, and Chief Charlie of Minto. [Albert Johnson Photograph Collection, University of Alaska Fairbanks.]

The Jan-Feb issue of Alaskan History Magazine includes an article about the 1915 Tanana Chiefs Conference, which brought together Native Athabascan leaders from the Tanana River villages of Crossjacket, Chena, Minto, Nenana, Salchaket, Tanana/Ft. Gibbon, and Tolovana to meet with government officials to discuss the many changes happening in the Territory of Alaska at that time.

Taking place July 5 and 6, 1915, the government officials at the Council included Judge James Wickersham, Thomas Riggs of the Alaska Engineering Commission, C. W. Richie and H. J. Atwell of the U. S. Land Office, and the Reverend Guy Madara from the Episcopal Church. Also present were interpreter Paul Williams of Ft. Gibbon and G. F. Cramer, Special Disbursing Agent of the Alaskan Engineering Commission.

Tanana Chiefs book 420In March, 2018, the University of Alaska Press published The Tanana Chiefs: Native Rights and Western Law, edited by UAF Emeritus Professor William Schneider, noting about the meeting, “It was one of the first times that Native voices were part of the official record. They sought education and medical assistance, and they wanted to know what they could expect from the federal government. They hoped for a balance between preserving their way of life with seeking new opportunities under the law.”

Tanana Chiefs Full group 420Schneider explains further in his Introduction: “For Native leaders and students of Native history, the record of this meeting is a baseline for measuring progress in areas such as governmental relations, recognition of legal rights, land claims, health care, social services, and education. The meeting is also important because it demonstrated the leadership of the Native chiefs, who stated their concerns and expressed their desire to work with the federal government, even though they couldn’t agree with all that was asked of them.”

Tanana Chiefs Transcript 420The transcript of the meeting is at the Alaska State Library [ASL-MS-0107-38-001], and it is a compelling read for anyone interested in Alaskan history, clearly showing the simple clarity and intelligence of the Indian words, and the paternalistic assurances of the white men present.

Resources

• The Tanana Chiefs: Native Rights and Western Law, William Schneider, UA Press, 2018

1915 Tanana Chiefs Meeting, by William Schneider, at Alaska Historical Society, 2015

Typewritten Transcript, Proceedings of a Council, at the Alaska State Library

Transcript of the meeting, at the Alaska State Library (easier to read)

George C. Thomas Memorial Library in Fairbanks, at Wikipedia

National Register of Historic Places, nomination form for the George C. Thomas Memorial Library in Fairbanks, 1976

George Thompson Library 420

The George C. Thomas Library in July 2011, almost the same as when it was built 102 years ago. 

 

Jan-Feb 2020 Alaskan History Magazine

J:F 2020 CoverLARGEThe Jan-Feb, 2020 issue of Alaskan History Magazine features a look at the history of Chilkoot Pass and the ages-old trail which crossed it, not only in the Klondike gold rush era, but long before then as a vital trade route for the coastal Tlingit Indians, and later as an access route for the earliest gold prospectors, along with a large number of scientists, military expeditions, explorers and adventurers. 

The cover image is an 1897 theatrical posted titled “Across the Chikoot Pass,” by American playwright Scott Marble, created by The Strobridge Lithograph Co., Cincinnati & New York, part of the theatrical poster collection of the Library of Congress. Scott Marble (1847 – April 5, 1919) also wrote the stage melodrama The Great Train Robbery (1896), which would become a beloved movie classic. 

The first article in this issue is a look at the famous writer, Ella Rhodes Higginson, who became Washington State’s first Poet Laureate. Mrs. Higginson made four trips to Alaska just after the turn of the century,  researching and gathering material for her book titled Alaska, The Great Country, published in 1908. Her flowery detailed descriptions of the land, the people, the towns and villages and much more made her book a popular reference on Alaska for many years.

Tanana Chiefs book 420Also in this issue is a look at the great Davidson Ditch, a 90-mile aqueduct which channeled water from the Chatanika River over hills and across valleys to the rich gold diggings at Fox and Dome Creek, north of Fairbanks. And Fairbanks was the site of another article in this issue, the historic meeting of the Tanana Chiefs in 1915. An excellent book on that gathering was published by the University of Alaska Press in March, 2918: The Tanana Chiefs: Native Rights and Western Law, edited by UAF Emeritus Professor William Schneider, who wrote about the meeting, “It was one of the first times that Native voices were part of the official record. They sought education and medical assistance, and they wanted to know what they could expect from the federal government. They hoped for a balance between preserving their way of life with seeking new opportunities under the law.”

Esther B Darling and dogs 420To the north and west, at Nome, an unusual lady was making a place for herself in the history books as one of the great authors of children’s books, writing classics such as Baldy of Nome and Navarre of the North, beloved by not only children, but by anyone thrilling to a well-told tale about sled dogs and life in the north country. But Esther Birdsall Darling was also a high society lady from a wealthy California family, and her husband, Charles Edward ‘Ned’ Darling, not only founded the farthest north hardware store, but in 1906 he set a world’s record for long distance mushing when he drove his dog team from Nome to Seattle.

This issue concludes with an article about the great Bard of the Yukon, Robert Service, who penned the immortal lines of favorite northern ballads such as The Spell of the Yukon, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and The Cremation of Sam McGee. From crossing the Canadian prairies in his Buffalo Bill cowboy outfit to canoeing the dangerous “back door” to the Klondike, Robert Service’s life was filled with adventures which matched anything in his beloved poetry.

Also in this issue: Governors of Alaska 1867-1959, antique maps of Alaska, and classic books on Alaskan history, both old and new!


The Jan-Feb issue can be ordered via PayPal or Amazon (I’ll add links here when the issue is available), or you can subscribe to Alaskan History Magazine at this website.

 

Nov-Dec Issue

Screen Shot 2019-10-25 at 1.48.24 PMThe November-December issue, now printing, ranges widely across Alaska, from the early settlements of Tyonek and Knik to the frontier towns of Cordova, Chitina, and Valdez, and from the goldfields of the Fortymile District to the halls of the Territorial legislature in Juneau. Among the articles for this issue:

• A guidebook to territorial Alaska from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s U. S. Work Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal jobs program which created the Federal Writers Project.

• An unusual but little-known earth-moving project, notable for the remote location and for the size of the undertaking. 

Orr Stage ad• The Ed. S. Orr Stage Company, an important part of our past, which proudly claimed “Eight day service between Valdez and Fairbanks, a distance of 364 miles,” and “All stages equipped with abundance of fur robes and carbon-heated foot warmers.”

• The Woodchopper Roadhouse, at one time the oldest and largest log structure on the Yukon River between Eagle and Circle City.

• The story of pioneer Native rights activist Elizabeth Peratrovich.

• The 1898 explorations of Capt. Edwin F. Glenn and W. C. Mendenhall through the Matanuska Valley. 

• Pioneering Alaskan artists, color postcards from the turn of the century, a timeline, an index to the 2019 issues, and a few classic Alaskan books worth seeking out make this issue another worthwhile addition to your library shelves.

Click here to go to the orders page for subscriptions or single issues!