Sept-Oct Digital Edition

 

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 12.51.42 AMThe Sept-Oct 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.

Screen Shot 2019-11-23 at 5.13.34 PMThe 48-page Sept-Oct issue, which carries no advertising in its 8.5” x 11” full-color format, features  the endearing sled dog artwork of Josephine Crumrine’s menu covers for The Alaska Steamship Company to the unprecedented luxury cruise of railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman and his carefully selected passenger list of scientists and artists. An excerpt from a book in progress by noted Alaskan author Tim Jones highlights the importance of a key player in Alaska’s history: the sea otter; and the featured article for this issue is the story of the SS Nenana, the Last Lady of the River, by Fairbanks writer and historian Patricia De Nardo Schmidt. Other articles in this third issue include the history of Alaska’s flag, and an excerpt from Josiah E. Spurr’s 1896 expedition to map and chart the interior of Alaska for the USGS. His unvarnished descriptions of the Birch Creek Mining District are among the first ever recorded. Wrapping up this issue are brief highlights from half a dozen classic books on Alaska’s history, a guide to some of the sources used in researching this issue, and a timeline.

Screen Shot 2019-11-24 at 12.52.11 AMTo help readers become familiar with the online format, the first three digital issues will be free to view by anyone. Digital issues after November 1, 2019 will be available only to subscribers and anyone who purchases the corresponding print issue of the magazine.

To read the first three issues of Alaskan History Magazine online at issuu, click here.

 

 

1898 Matanuska Valley

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Original artwork for Alaskan History Magazine ©2019 Jon Van Zyle

Among the great articles in the Nov-Dec issue of Alaskan History Magazine is a look back at the Matanuska Valley in 1898. Captain Edwin F. Glenn, Twenty-fifth Infantry, United States Army, was the officer in charge of explorations in southcentral Alaska in 1898. The main task of ‘Military Expedition No. 3,’ under the War Department, was to explore the country north of Cook Inlet in order to discover the most “direct and practicable” route from the coast to the Tanana River by utilizing passes through the Alaska Range.

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Knik Arm looking east [NLM/Helen Hegener]

Captain Glenn was charged with collecting and reporting on all information that was considered valuable to the development of the country, so his descriptions of the expedition are a fascinating look at one of the earliest official government incursions into the Cook Inlet and Matanuska regions, and northeast into the Copper River Basin.

Captain Glenn kept a diary of his travels, which is available to download or read free online at the UAA/UPC Consortium Library website. His sometimes blunt and unvarnished writings illuminate the many trials and travails which beset the expedition, but they also give voice to a keen observer of the world – and men – around him. 

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Knik Arm flats [NLM/Helen Hegener]

“We reached Knik Inlet finally, cast anchor, and waited for the vessel to go aground before attempting to unload. We were deeply impressed with the appearance of everything in this inlet. The weather was much more mild than in the lower part of the inlet, and the season more advanced than at Tyoonok or at Ladds Station by at least three weeks. The trees were in almost full leaf, and the grass a sort of jointed grass resembling the famous blue grass of Kentucky was abundant and at least a foot high. The length of this arm is about 25 miles. Coming in at the head of it were the Matanuska and Knik rivers, the former from the east, the latter from the south. The valley there is quite flat and about 20 miles across. In fact, the valleys of both streams are in full view from just above the trading station.”

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Walter C. Mendenhall, USGS

Geologist W. C. Mendenhall, a member of Captain Glenn’s expedition who would go on to a distinguished career (including Director of the USGS from 1930 to 1943), made the first rough geological survey of the Matanuska Valley and the routes followed by Glenn. He mentioned the guide, Mr. Hicks, who had been prospecting in the area for three years, in his highly detailed official report, A Reconnaissance from Resurrection Bay to the Tanana River, Alaska, in 1898 for the Twentieth Annual Report for the USGS, Part VII, Explorations in Alaska in 1898 [Mendenhall’s report begins on page 265]: “Among the prospectors at the head of Cook Inlet but one was found who was acquainted with the Matanuska country. This gentleman, Mr. H. H. Hicks, Captain Glenn was so fortunate as to secure as a guide for the expedition, but neither he nor anyone else could give us any definite idea of the character of the interior beyond the head of the Matanuska.”

NLM 1898 Mat ValleyMendenhall’s explorations covered areas on the western shore of Prince William Sound and a route extending from Resurrection Bay to the head of Turnagain Arm, thence by way of Glacier and Yukla Creeks– the Crow Pass route between Girdwood and Eagle River–to Knik Arm, up the Matanuska Valley to its head, and then northward to the Tanana River. After describing the the Matanuska River’s attributes and tributaries, relative heights and characteristics of the mountains, and vegetation in the Valley, Mendenhall’s report turns to accessibility:

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Matanuska Valley from Hatcher Pass [NLM/Helen Hegener]

“The Matanuska Valley is at present reached from Knik, which is the head of navigation on Cook Inlet, and to which vessels of shallow draft can go at high tide. There is a good horse trail from Knik to the upper end of Matanuska Valley, and the character of the ground and of the vegetation is such that this trail could be made into a wagon road at comparatively slight expense. It takes horses from one to two days to reach Moose Creek, depending on the load, and … a day and a half to go from Moose Creek to Chickaloon River.” 

“The principal trading and mining centers are Sunrise, Hope, Tyonek, and Knik, and in these camps or the mining regions adjacent to them most of the whites may be found. A few each year penetrate some distance beyond the borders of the well-known districts and reach the interior of the Kenai Peninsula or prospect within the Matanuska Valley. Two small parties this year (1898) succeeded in getting nearly across the Copper River Plateau, and a few hardy traders or prospectors in previous years have reached the interior, but they have left no records.”

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Matanuska River [NLM/Helen Hegener]

And finally, Mendenhall described the Valley as an access route to interior Alaska: “From the head of Knik Arm the Copper River Plateau and all of the interior accessible from it is reached by way of the Matanuska Valley. For the greater part of the way from Palmer’s store on Knik Arm to Tahneta Pass, at the head of the river, travel is easy. A sharp climb of 1,000 feet after crossing Chickaloon Creek, a little rough work in getting across the canyon of Hicks Creek, and a short steep climb out of the valley of Caribou [Creek], are the principal obstacles. The Tazlina River heads east of this gap, and by following it the Copper will be reached a few miles above the new town of Copper Center. This route has been followed by the Copper River Indians for many years in their annual trading trips to the stores on Cook Inlet.” 

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“The Runaways,” by Alaskan artist Eustace Paul Ziegler

An example of Mendenhall’s fascinating account of their trip: “Our progress over the rolling forested floor of the lower valley  was without more important incident than the occasional retreat of the pack animals overnight and the consequent delay next day, until we came to the ford of Kings Creek on July 29. This stream, like all those on the western slope of the coastal mountains in Alaska, is turbulent, but ordinarily its volume of water is not great; recent rains, however, had raised it to much beyond the normal. Just below the broad and comparatively shallow ford is a reach of swift, wild water, where the stream is confined in a narrow channel, across which a couple of logs had been placed side by side to serve as a footbridge.

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Pack horses were a favorite subject of Ziegler’s. Detail of “The Goldseekers.”

“Canwell, the ex-cavalryman of the party and an excellent horseman, volunteered to try the ford and mounted the bellmare for the purpose. Everything seemed to be going well until he reached the middle of the channel, when his mount stumbled over a bowlder in the creek bed. She fell far enough for the swift current to catch her pack, and then in an instant was swept off her feet and carried stumbling and struggling into the rapids, Canwell clinging to her and trying to direct her struggles toward the shore. In the swift water she was rolled over and over, now head and pack, now heels, appearing above the muddy current, until man and horse crashed into the footbridge. For an instant it resisted, and then was carried down by the weight. A few yards below Canwell was pulled out, shivering, bruised, and half drowned, but there seemed no hope of saving the old mare. She was rapidly weakening, and even when she regained her feet in the quieter water farther down the stream she could not stand. Fortunately she had on a riding saddle instead of a pack saddle, and the pack finally loosened and came off. Thus relieved of her load, she succeeded in getting ashore, but 200 pounds of our precious provisions were on their way to the Pacific; later we would have given much for them. Further move was out of the question for that day. We spent the afternoon drying out, for some of the pack mules had followed their leader, and nursing our invalids.”


Screen Shot 2019-10-25 at 1.48.24 PMSubscribe to Alaskan History Magazine for great articles in your mailbox with every issue! Among the articles featured in the Nov-Dec issue are the Ed S. Orr Stage Co. which ran from Valdez to Fairbanks, the startling history of the remote Woodchopper Roadhouse, Tlinget activist for Native rights Elizabeth Peratrovich, and the 1935 WPA Guide to Alaska. Also Alaskan artists, old postcards, and classic books on Alaska’s history! 

Click here for details! 

1935 WPA Guide to Alaska

Best cover 420 resAn article in the Nov-Dec issue of Alaskan History Magazine tells how, in 1935, with the nation in the grip of a crippling depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Federal Writers Project as part of the United States Work Progress Administration (WPA), a New Deal jobs program designed to provide employment for historians, teachers, writers, editors, cartographers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. The purpose of the project–and its most visible legacy–was a series of guidebooks which focused on the scenic, historical, cultural, and economic resources of the United States, comprising the first self-portrait of America.

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Artwork by Merlin Pollock

The 427-page guide for the territory of Alaska was written by Merle Colby, who was already the author of two novels and numerous short stories about the American frontier. The WPA Guide to Alaska was described by Kirkus Review in 1939 as a “Comprehensive fact book of Alaska’s history, points of interest, resources, train, boat and plane and highway travel, anecdotes, hunting and fishing, places to stay, prices, etc., etc. Complete coverage for the prospective traveler, with suggestions for various types of trips, and ways of getting to Alaska. Not a personal experience travel book, but manages to convey a sense of enthusiasm for the territory, its background and future. Good library item, and practically a must for Alaska travelers.”

Screen Shot 2019-09-18 at 8.51.14 AMToday Merle Colby’s WPA Guide to Alaska provides a richly detailed look at the territory at an important time in the history of America, and at a critically transitional time for the future 49th state. Copies are often available at online book sources, and the full book is available to download or read online.

Subscribe to Alaskan History Magazine for great articles in your mailbox with every issue! Click here for details! 

 

Ezra Meeker in Alaska

oie_2592726OeC5rLmpEzra Manning Meeker (1830–1928) was a pioneer who traveled the Oregon Trail in 1852 with his wife, their young son, and his brother, a journey which took them nearly six months. In his late 70s, after making and losing a fortune, he repeatedly re-traveled the route, meeting with President Theodore Roosevelt and working to memorialize the Trail he’d travelled as a young man.

Once known as the “Hop King of the World” for growing the hops used in making beer, Meeker was the first mayor of the town of Puyallup, Washington, in the Puget Sound region. By 1887, his business had made him wealthy, but in 1891 an infestation of hop aphids destroyed his crops and thereby much of his fortune.

oie_259246VQV1PkkbIn 1896, gold was discovered both in Alaska and in Canada, and the Meeker family, seeing the finds as a possible road to financial recovery, turned their attentions north. After a few less than successful ventures, Meeker was certain there was a way to make money from the gold rush. He and his wife spent much of the winter of 1897–1898 drying vegetables, and Ezra Meeker departed for Skagway, Alaska, on March 20, 1898 with 30,000 pounds of dried produce, His son Fred Meeker and his wife Clara were already across the border in what would soon be designated as the Yukon Territory

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Meeker, far right, stands before his first grocery store, Dawson City, November 19, 1898.

The 67-year-old Meeker, with one business associate, climbed the steep Chilkoot Pass, floated down the Yukon River to Dawson City, and once the ice broke up in late May, and sold his vegetables in two weeks. He returned to Puyallup in July, only to set out again with more supplies the following month. This time, he and his son-in-law, Roderick McDonald, opened a store, the Log Cabin Grocery, in Dawson City, and remained through the winter.

Meeker returned to the Yukon twice more, in 1899 and 1900. Most of the money earned through groceries was invested in gold mining and lost. Ezra’s son Fred died of pneumonia in Dawson City on January 30, 1901, and a few weeks later, in April, 1901, Ezra departed the Klondike for the last time. 

In his autobiographical book, The Busy Life of Eighty-Five Years of Ezra Meeker, he wrote about his northland adventures:

THE KLONDIKE VENTURE.

I had lived in the old Oregon country forty-four years and had never seen a mine. Mining had no attraction for me, any more than corner lots in new, embryo cities. I did not understand the value of either, and left both severely alone. But when my accumulations had all been swallowed up, the land I had previously owned gone into other hands, and, in fact, my occupation gone, I concluded to take a chance in a mining country; matters could not well be much worse, and probably could be made better, and so in the spring of 1898 I made my first trip over the Chilcoot Pass, and then down the Yukon River to Dawson in a flatboat, and ran the famous White Horse Rapids with my load of vegetables for the Klondike miners.

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Chilkoot Pass

One may read of the Chilcoot Pass the most graphic descriptions written, and yet when he is up against the experience of crossing, he will find the difficulties more formidable than his wildest fancy or expectation had pictured. I started in with fifteen tons of freight, and got through with nine. On one stretch of 2,000 feet I paid forty dollars a ton freight, and I knew of others paying more. The trip for a part of the way reminded me of the scenes on the Plains in 1852—such crowds that they jostled each other on the several parallel trails where there was room for more than one track. At the pass, most of the travel came upon one track, and so steep that the ascent could only be made by cutting steps in the ice and snow—1,500 in all.

Frequently every step would be full, while crowds jostled each other at the foot of the ascent to get into the single file, each man carrying from one hundred (it was said) to two hundred pounds pack on his back. Nevertheless, after all sorts of experiences, I arrived in Dawson, with nine tons of my outfit, sold my fresh potatoes at $36.00 a bushel and other things in like proportionate prices and in two weeks started up the river, homeward bound, with two hundred ounces of Klondike gold in my belt. But four round trips in two years satisfied me that I did not want any more of like experience.

As I have said, the trips to the Klondike became real adventures. Fortunately detained for a couple of days, I escaped the avalanche that buried fifty-two people in the snow, and passed by the morgue the second day after the catastrophe on my way to the summit, and doubtless over the bodies of many unknown dead, imbedded so deeply in the snow that it was utterly impossible to recover them.

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Whitehorse Rapids

I received a good ducking in my first passage through the White Horse Rapids, and vowed I would not go through there again, but I did, the very next trip that same year, and came out of it dry; then when going down the thirty-mile river, it did seem as though we could not escape being dashed upon the rocks, but somehow or another got through safely while the bank of that river was strewed with wrecks, and the waters had swallowed up many victims. When the Yukon proper was reached, the current was not so swift but the shoals were numerous, and more than once we were “hung up” on the bar, and always with an uncertainty as to how we would get off. In all of this experience of the two trips by the scows no damage resulted, except once when a hole was jammed into the scow, and we thought we were “goners” certain, but effected a landing so quickly as to unload our cargo dry. I now blame myself for taking such risks, but curiously enough I must admit that I enjoyed it, sustained, no doubt, with the high hopes of coming out with “my pile.” But fate or something else was against me, for the after mining experience swept all the accumulation away “slick as a mitten,” as the old saying goes, and I came out over the rotten ice of the Yukon in April of 1901 to stay, and to vow I never wanted to see another mine, or visit another mining country.

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First Oregon Trail marker erected by Ezra Meeker, in Tenino, Washington

Small wonder, you may say, when I write, that in two weeks’ time after arriving home I was able to, and did celebrate our golden wedding with the wife of fifty years and enjoyed the joys of a welcome home even if I did not have my pockets filled with gold. I had then passed the seventy-year mark, and thought my “pet project,” as some people call it, of marking the old Oregon Trail, was hung up indefinitely, but the sequel is shown in what followed and is the answer to my foreboding. I am now at this writing past the eighty-fifth year mark, and cannot see but I am as strong as when I floated down the Yukon in a flatboat, or packed my goods over the Chilcoot Pass, or drove my ox team over the summit of the Rocky Mountains on my recent trip to mark the historic Oregon Trail. 

• Read more about Ezra Meeker’s life

My Busy Life of Eighty Five Years at Gutenberg.org

Meeker Mansion, Puyallup, Washington

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!

 

S. S. Nenana

oie_22193644K9uupFSWFrom the September-October issue of Alaskan History Magazine:

At one period in Alaskan history, there were over 300 flat-bottomed sternwheelers navigating on the Yukon River and its tributaries. These sternwheelers were essential in the development of the history of Alaska. Of all these lifelines of the rivers, only one remains, the Steamer SS Nenana, located in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks. The wooden-hulled, western rivers-style steam sternwheel passenger boat Nenana is one of only three steam-powered passenger sternwheelers of any kind left in the U.S., and the only large wooden hulled sternwheeler. She is a living museum of history that must be preserved for perpetuity.

oie_22193533uv0oBLYkShe was built and operated by the Alaska Railroad. With the completion of the railroad from Seward to Fairbanks in 1923, a way to haul freight to the villages and towns was needed. On September 16, 1922, the War Department deactivated the steamers General Jeff C. Davis, and General J. Jacobs from the U.S. Army and made them available to the Alaska Railroad free of charge by Executive Order.

The article about the SS Nenana is by Patricia De Nardo Schmidt, who came to Alaska in 1959, growing up in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and living in Fairbanks since 1969. Patricia watched the history of Fairbanks being lost over the years as buildings were being demolished or falling into ruin and collapse, and when she heard the Steamer SS Nenana was closed to the public in March of 2018 and in danger of being demolished she knew she had to take action. Joining with others who had the same interest in saving the Alaskan steamship, the group Friends of SS Nenana was formed.

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SS Nenana being built, 1932. [1968-013-025 Bill Berry Coll. [Property Pioneers of AK Museum of Fairbanks.]

For more information about Friends of SS Nenana or how to get involved, go to their website (friendsofssnenana.com) or their Facebook page: Friends of SS Nenana. Donations to help support the SS Nenana can also be made through these sites or the North Star Community Foundation SS Nenana page (www.nscfundalaska.org/FSSN).

National Historic Landmark  https://www.nps.gov/places/nenana.htm

Sept:Oct cover smallThe Sept-Oct issue of Alaskan History Magazine, which also features articles about Josephine Crumrine’s sled dog menu covers for The Alaska Steamship Company, the unprecedented luxury cruise of railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman and his carefully selected passenger list of scientists and artists, the story of sea otters in the Aleutian Islands, the history of Alaska’s flag, and an excerpt from Josiah E. Spurr’s 1896 expedition to map and chart the interior of Alaska for the USGS.  The issue can be ordered from the Alaskan History Magazine website.

 

Alaska’s Flag

Screen Shot 2019-08-02 at 7.20.13 PM“Eight stars of gold on a field of blue…” was the basis of a design submitted by a 13-year-old Aleut boy from Seward in the 1927 contest to design a flag for the territory of Alaska. Benny Benson’s story is told in the Sept-Oct issue of Alaskan History Magazine, and several of the competing designs from the contest are also displayed.

PC Alaska's Flag song words copyAlso included is a bit of related history, the Alaska’s Flag poem by Marie Drake, set to music composed by Elinor Dusenbury, and how it became Alaska’s state song. Benny’s design was adopted by the Alaska Territorial Legislature in May, 1927. He was awarded a gold watch engraved with his flag design, and $1,000, equal to about $15,000 today, to apply to his education. Benny’s description submitted with his design explained: “The blue field is for the Alaska Sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaskan flower. The North Star is for the future of Alaska, the most northerly in the union. The Dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength.”

The Sept-Oct issue, with this article and many others, can be ordered from the Alaskan History Magazine website.

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