Classic Alaskan books from the Sept-Oct and Nov-Dec issues of Alaskan History Magazine:
Conquering the Arctic Ice, by Ejnar Mikkelsen (1909)
In 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 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)
In 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)
Archibald 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)
Subtitled ‘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: 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)
Published 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 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)
Published 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.