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The First Bush Pilots

Rodebaugh and Wien Leachs 1924

The July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine features an article on the early bush pilots of Alaska, spanning the years between 1911 and the 1930s, a time when the pioneer pilots, utterly fearless and a breed apart, totally dedicated to their work, soared over the Last Frontier. They crossed an incredibly immense and all-too-often hostile landscape which tried to kill them as frequently as it left them in awe of its towering mountains, endless rivers, and pristine lakes. And yet the fliers stayed the course, wresting information about the inhospitable landscape and the hostile weather at every turn, information which helped their fellow pilots adapt and learn and persevere, for while the hardships were many, there was magic in the air over Alaska.

The article opens with the somewhat amusing observation that the first airplane in Alaska never left the ground:

Professor Henry Peterson, an accomplished pianist, piano repairman, and music teacher in Nome, fabricated the first airplane ever built in Alaska. Intrigued by the idea of flying, he ordered an engine and a set of plans and constructed a biplane of muslin cloth, light wood, and – rather fittingly – piano wire. The “Flying Professor,” as he was fondly known, named his plane the Tingmayuk, Eskimo for bird, and scheduled its first flight for May 9, 1911, near Nome. Unfortunately, as the Nome Nugget later reported, the good professor was “unable to defy the laws of gravity,” and his carefully crafted Tingmayuk faded into obscurity.

Eielson Feb 21, 1924

Carl Ben Eielson, 1924

Two years later, in July, 1913, some businessmen in Fairbanks hired pioneer British aviator James Martin and his wife Lily to provide the first aerial exhibition in Alaska with their Gage-Martin tractor biplane, which they freighted to Alaska via the White Pass & Yukon Railway to Whitehorse, where it was loaded onto a barge for the trip down the Yukon River to Dawson City, Eagle, Circle City, Fort Yukon, Rampart, and finally up the Tanana River to Fairbanks, a trip of over 2,500 miles. They put on an impressive airshow, but once they re-crated their plane and headed south, it would be seven years before another airplane graced the northern horizons.

That was the famous Black Wolf Squadron in June, 1920, selected by U.S. Army Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell and tasked with making a historic flight to demonstrate how the East Coast could be linked to Siberia and the Far East via an airway crossing Alaska.

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Black Wolf Squadron, 1920

The article tells of Charles Hammontree and his Boeing C-11S, dubbed the ‘Mudhen,’ the first model designed by W.H. Boeing himself and the first plane to soar over the skies of Anchorage; Roy F. Jones, of Ketchikan and his biplane ‘Northbird;’ Carl Ben Eielson, who learned to fly in the U.S. Army Air Corps; James S. “Jimmy” Rodebaugh, a senior conductor on the Alaska Railroad who saw the potential of aviation in Alaska earlier than most; and Noel Wien, who spent several decades building a pioneer airline with his brothers, Ralph, Fritz, and Sig, and watched it grow to provide flights to most of the world.

Joe Crosson and his sister Marvel, Russell Merrill, famed aviator Wiley Post – the first pilot to fly solo around the world – and the humorist Will Rogers, and even the legendary Charles Lindbergh and his equally legendary wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, all played roles in the early aviation history of Alaska. You can read the article, illustrated with over a dozen historic photographs, in the July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE ISSUE OR SUBSCRIBE!  Jul-Aug cover

Other articles in this issue: Alaska’s first newspaper, The Esquimaux, which was published a little northwest of Nome; the Alaska Steamship Company, which became an Alaskan shipping monopoly; a 1916 horseback trip across the Kenai Peninsula by the dauntless world traveller Frank G. Carpenter; Alaska’s first commercially successful novelist, Barrett Willoughby, whose every book was about or set in Alaska, and two were made into movies; and an exciting childhood in the gold rush town of Nome by Irving Kenny, who saw it all first-hand!

May-June at issuu

M:J at issuuThe May-June issue of Alaskan History Magazine is available to read online, download, or share via email, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest at the digital magazine site issuu, an electronic publishing platform which was named one of Time magazine’s 50 Best Websites.

The 48-page May-June issue, which carries no advertising in its 8.5” x 11” format, is an anthology of excerpts from books published by Northern Light Media, featuring a look at the construction of the Alaska Railroad; a 1918 trip by Margaret Murie, traveling the Fairbanks-to-Valdez Trail as a 16-year-old girl; Addison Powell’s 1902 adventures in the Copper River Valley, the great All Alaska Sweepstakes sled dog race, the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle, and the 1935 Matanuska Colony barns. Shorter articles include a photo-feature of snowshoes, a look at a few Alaskan photographers, and brief reviews of a half-dozen classic books on Alaska.

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The first three digital issues will be free to view by anyone; issues after Sept-Oct, 2019 will be available only to subscribers and anyone who purchases that print issue of the magazine. For more information and to subscribe or purchase a single issue (also available at Amazon), visit the Alaskan History Magazine website.

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July-August Issue

Jul-Aug coverAlaskan History Magazine’s second issue ranges widely through Alaska’s past to bring an assortment of topics for readers to enjoy! In the opening photo feature the focus is on the missionaries who blazed trails across territorial Alaska, sharing their various versions and interpretations of God’s Word and building hospitals, schools, and churches which would change Alaska forever. Many missionaries, such as Hudson Stuck, wrote extenisvely about their northland adventures, leaving first-hand accounts and invaluable records of the times.

The cover touches on the main feature for this issue: the aviation pioneers who braved Alaskan skies with sketchy flying machines and even sketchier maps of the land below. Flinging themselves aloft with fragile contraptions of fabric and wood, they too changed Alaska forever. 

Ak Steamship Co 2 420Other articles in this issue explore Alaska’s first newspaper, the Alaska Steamship Company, a 1916 horseback trip across the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska’s first commercially successful novelist, and an exciting childhood in the gold rush town of Nome. 

The back section of each issue begins with a photo collection highlighting one aspect of Alaska’s history, and for tihis issue we’ve chosen the ubiquitous plain white canvas tent which gave shelter to countless explorers, pioneers and homesteaders. Here are tent stores, banks, schools, hospitals… One might say the history of Alaska was written on white canvas.  

Wrapping up this issue are brief highlights from half a dozen classic books on Alaska’s history, and a guide to some of the sources and resources used in researching this issue. You won’t want to miss this one!

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

 

At Amazon

Small AmazonSingle issues of Alaskan History Magazine are now available at Amazon for $10.00 plus shipping (free for orders over $25 or free two-day shipping for Amazon Prime customers, visit the site for details). The first few pages of the May-June issue can be previewed with Amazon’s nifty “Look Inside” feature, and future issues will always be available for viewing and purchase through Amazon. Please note that Amazon ONLY sells single issues; subscriptions can ONLY be ordered from my website or via mail or email. Click here, or click on any image to visit the Amazon website.

For those who may be wondering, I don’t make as much money on orders placed through Amazon, but for those who prefer this option it’s a fail-safe way to order, and the orders do add to my overall seller’s status at Amazon, so it’s still a win-win. Plus I don’t need to handle anything, Amazon does it all, so it saves time and effort on my end (time is money!). It’s probably most convenient to add a copy of the magazine to another order being placed to take advantage of the free shipping option.

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