Tag Archives: Fairbanks

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

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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.

 

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.




 

Ed S. Orr Stage Co.

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A popular hand-tinted postcard circa 1910 depicting the Orr Stage leaving Valdez for Fairbanks.

The Edward S. Orr Stage Company, also known as the Fairbanks-Valdez Stage Company, was only one of several stage lines which operated along the Valdez-to-Fairbanks and Chitina to Fairbanks Trails in the early years of the twentieth century, but it was uncontestably the most successful. When the Klondike gold rush started, Ed Orr was in the right place and quickly made his way north. He formed a small freighting company with William V. Tukey, of Boise, Idaho.

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Pack train, Chilkoot Trail, 1897.

Their string of packhorses hauled goods for the Chilkoot Railroad & Transport Company over the Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, at tidewater, to Sheep Camp, where the cargo was transferred from horseback to buckets and sent to the summit via a cable tramway. In 1899, after completing their narrow-guage railroad over White Pass, the White Pass & Yukon Railroad bought out the Chilkoot Railroad & Transport Company, effectively ending Orr and Tukey’s freighting company.

In August, 1899, Orr and Tukey loaded 28 horses and 70 mules, along with a dozen people and several tons of goods, into nine scows and sailed them from Lake Bennett down the Yukon River to Dawson City, arriving to great fanfare on August 21st. Orr’s wife Jennie and their young son, Thorold, were among the passengers. Business was brisk in Dawson City, and Orr & Tukey advertised that they would carry “All kinds of freight, to any of the creeks, safely and quickly delivered,” utilizing horses, mules, and dogs, pulling various types of wagons or sleds.

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Orr & Turkey Stage at the Ogilvie Bridge over the Klondike River, Dawson, Yukon Territory.

James Wickersham, en route to his new appointment as territorial judge in Eagle, visited his old friend Ed Orr in Dawson City, and in his book, Old Yukon: Tales, Trails and Trials (St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1938), he described Orr as “six feet tall, handsome and generous.” In 1901 Orr & Tukey merged their freighting business with the Hadley Stage Line and expanded their freighting and stage business to a small mining camp on the Alaskan side of the border named Fairbanks, and it was soon one of the largest freighting companies in the territory.

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Orr Stage, circa 1906.

In 1905 Orr’s partner, William Tukey, retired to Idaho. The following year, 1906, Ed Orr moved his family and his freighting company to Valdez, Alaska. The Orr Stage Company was successful from the start, and Ed Orr bought out the rival Kennedy Stage Company, making his the largest such company in Alaska in 1909. The fare from Valdez to Fairbanks was $150, the return trip was $125, on sleighs which could carry ten passengers on four double seats. Horses were changed out every 20-25 miles, and a telegraph station could be found approximately every 40 miles for safety and convenience.

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Orr Stage, Keystone Canyon.

in 1910 Ed. S. Orr began considering a return to Washington state, as the myriad stresses of overseeing the company had resulted in his health declining. Jesse C. Martin, who had managed the company office in Valdez, was appointed General Manager of the stage line, and Ed. S. Orr and his family returned to Washington, where Orr underwent medical treatment and slowly regained his health. Back in Alaska the Orr Stage Company expanded to Chitina, but by the summer of 1911 the trail had been improved enough for wheeled vehicles to travel it during the summer, and  in April, 1914 a meeting was held in San Francisco at which the company directors gave their written consent to dissolve the company. Six months later, in September, 1914, Robert Sheldon drove the first car from Fairbanks to Chitina amidst much fanfare.

In the 1991 National Park Service’s Historic Structures Report on the Superintendent’s cabin at Chitina, a log cabin which had been built for the Orr Stage Company manager in 1910, the legacy of the Ed. S. Orr Stage Company is made clear:

“Although the Ed. S. Orr Stage Company only operated in Chitina for a short time, the company itself traces its roots deep into the development of the transportation industry in Alaska and the Yukon. Mr. Orr was one of the foremost pioneers in building not only a transportation empire, but through his efforts and good management of his company, he greatly impacted the development of the mining industry in and around Dawson City, Fairbanks, and finally along the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail.”

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A hand-tinted postcard showing the Orr Stage on the Fairbanks-Valdez Trail, circle 1910.

 

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.

 

Canvas Tents

The July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine includes a collection of early photographs of the ubiquitous white canvas tent which housed thousands of Alaskan pioneers, from prospectors to doctors and from explorers to families. A few are shared below, and several which didn’t run in the issue are also shown here.

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E. P. Pond, ca. 1897. [Winter & Pond photo. ASL-P87-0722. ]

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Rear view of Marshal’s tent & barricade on Western Railway Company’s grade, Lowe River, Keystone Canyon, north of Valdez, September, 1907. Two men were shot in a dispute with Home Railway men. [Photographer P.S. Hunt, UAF-1980-68-44]

20a. Glacier Creek Roadhouse

Glacier Creek Roadhouse, Nome, Alaska, July 13th, 1906. [photo by F.H. Nowell]

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There are several signs in this photograph. The most prominent one reads: “Law office. Martin, Joslin & Griffin. Lawyers and mining brokers.” The sign on the tent to the left of the law office reads: “Bank of British North America.” Another smaller difficult to read sign on the law office appears to read: “Lots in A [illegible, possibly: 1/2] days addition [illegible].” Another sign on the law office appears to read: “Martin, Joslin & Griffin, mining brokers.” The last sign reads: “Office of Yukon Exploration Co. Falcon Joslin, manager. Mines, real estate, loans, investment.” The signs indicate this is in the Yukon Territory. Falcon Joslin lived in Dawson, Y.T., from 1897 to 1902. [UAF-1979-41-438. Falcon Joslin Papers]

Winter and Pond at the Taku Glacier.

Photographers Winter and Pond at the Taku Glacier.

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Chatanika, Alaska, Fairbanks Mining District, 1912. [Photo by Basil Clemons. Harold and Leila Waffle Collection, Alaska State Library. ASL-P281-073]

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Tent roadhouse, sign: “BEDS”, Ruby, Alaska. Undated. [ASL-P68-057.
Basil Clemons Photograph Collection, 1911-1914. ASL-PCA-68]

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A tent at Twelve-Mile, June 12, 1898. Four men and a dog pose in front of tent on rocky beach. Two hold saws, one a pickaxe. A clothesline with shirts stretches from tent. Photographer’s number 30. [ASL-P201-030. Neal D. Benedict Collection, ca. 1900. ASL-PCA-201]

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Tent store, Shushanna (Chisana), Alaska, June, 1914. Hand-written note across photo reads, “In God I trusted, Here I busted, Be God;” man sits in front of tent with sign reading “Store, Louis K. Schonborn.” [ASL-P178-149. Lorain Roberts Zacharias Collection, ca. 1903-1921. ASL-PCA-178]

U. S. Mail at Eldorado, Chisana, Alaska, June 22, 1915.

U. S. Mail at Eldorado, Chisana, Alaska, June 22, 1915.

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White Pass & Yukon Railroad hospital tent, Skagway, Alaska. Several men in hospital beds and in attendance. Photographer’s number 88. [photographer Harrie C. Barley, ASL-P75-020. Paul Sincic. Photographs, ca. 1898-1915. ASL-PCA-75]

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A photograph from Alaskan photographer P. S. Hunt shows travelers gathered at a tent roadhouse at the north end of the Valdez Glacier, on the gold rush trail to the Klondike, 1899.

 

 

 

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!

Alaskan Railroads

arr-coverThe May-June, 2019 issue of Alaskan History Magazine features an article and photographs of the construction of the Alaska Railroad, from 1902, when the Alaska Central Railroad was begun in Seward, through 1923, when President Warren G. Harding drove the golden spike in Nenana to open the Alaska Railroad. The article is based on the book by Helen Hegener, The Alaska Railroad 1902-1923 (Northern Light Media, 2017), and the broader railroad history below is edited from the book. Part 1, the first seven chapters, is available to read free online at this link.

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In the American west, during the latter half of the nineteenth century, the proliferation of railroads provided a rapid, versatile, and relatively low-cost means of transportation across the vast distances of the midwest and the Great Plains. But the railroads did not come easily, and they did not come without a large measure of doubt and ridicule. One prominent government official reportedly scoffed about the proposal of railroad travel, certain that it was not forthcoming anytime soon and pronouncing, “I would not buy a ticket on it for my grandchildren!”

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Daniel Webster

Development of the west was considered a fool’s errand in the early years, the land deemed fit only for cattle and the wild and reckless cowboys who tended them on long drives to market. The great statesman Daniel Webster had growled about the West in 1845, “What do we want with this region of savages and wild beasts, of deserts, of shifting sands and whirlwinds of dust, of cactus and prairie dogs?”

By 1852 there was only a single five-mile track of rails west of the Mississippi River, but within a single generation more than 116 million acres of land would be granted to the railroads, and only eighteen years later, in 1870, more than 72,000 miles of track would criss-cross the western territories. When the last spike was driven to complete the Great Northern Railway’s track in 1893, five railroads spanned the West, and these five railroads would change the course of western history.

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The Yakutat and Southern Railway

Those early western railroads had an impact on the development of Alaska, for wise men noted that what had worked to open the American West to pioneering settlement and sowing the seeds of progress might work as well in the frozen north. And so, in the history of Alaska, as in other parts of the world, railroads played a large role, and were a major influence. In the early part of the twentieth century there were almost two dozen railroads at various stages of operation in the territory, including the Alaska Anthracite Railroad, Alaska Central Railway, Alaska Home Railroad, Catalla and Carbon Mountain Railway, Copper River and Northwestern Railway, Council City and Solomon River Railroad, Golovin Bay Railroad, Nome Arctic Railway, Northern Alaska Railway, Tanana Valley Railroad, Valdez-Copper River and Tanana Railroad, Wild Goose Railroad, and the Yakutat and Southern Railway.

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White Pass & Yukon, 1899

Many of these railroads were built and operated by various mining interests, others were funded by farsighted groups or individuals who understood the potential profitability of steel rails providing reliable access to a new and growing land. Of the many attempts and endeavors, only two remain in operation today, the White Pass and Yukon Railway from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory; and the Alaska Railroad from Seward to Fairbanks. Over the years all of the other railroads have either been absorbed by larger, more successful lines, gone bankrupt when funding ran out or resources were depleted, or simply outlived their usefulness as times changed and populations moved on.

Last Train

“Last Train to Nowhere.” The Council City & Solomon River Railroad, near Nome.

There are still many signs of the old railways across Alaska, and some have become almost iconic, such as the long-abandoned steam engines of the Council City & Solomon River Railroad, known as the “Last Train to Nowhere;” or the photogenic bridges and trestles of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway along the McCarthy Road. But colorful legacy or none, hundreds of miles of steel rails which opened the territory of Alaska to development now sit silent, unused, untraveled; mute reminders of a time when the forbidding terrain and harsh climate of Alaska yielded to the building of an Iron Trail.

An almost 100-year-old publication offers a unique look at the Alaska Railroad:

Screen Shot 2017-07-23 at 7.22.51 PMThe 1923 edition of Polk’s Directory, published shortly after the official opening ceremony of the railroad in Nenana, included the following description of the Alaska Railroad’s construction, the broader operations which fell under the railroad’s authority, a vivid look at the profound impact the railroad had on transportation within the territory, a suggestion for adventurous tourists, and a short but compelling description of the route followed from sea level to interior Alaska.

THE U.S. GOVERNMENT RAILWAY IN ALASKA
By Colonel James Gordon Steese, E.R.G.S. Chairman, The Alaska Railroad

The U. S. Government Railway Project in Alaska was originally reported on by the Alaska Railroad Commission, appointed by President Taft in 1912, and headed by General Jay J. Morrow, now Governor of the Panama Canal. Upon receiving authority by the Act of March 12, 1914, to go ahead with location, construction, etc., the President placed supervision of the project under the direction of the Secretary of the Interior and designated the Alaskan Engineering Commission as the construction agency to be permanently resident in Alaska to handle the work.

After additional surveys and investigations, the President selected the route in the spring of 1915, and active construction continued since that date except for the greatly curtailed activity during the war. On the 15th of July, 1923, the late President Harding drove a golden spike at the north end of the Tanana River Bridge, Nenana, Alaska, thereby officially completing the construction of The Alaska Railroad.

OPERATIONS OF THE ALASKA RAILROAD

The distance from Seward to Fairbanks, over the operated line, is 470.3 miles. Spurs to the Eska, Jonesville, and Chickaloon coal mines in the Matanuska District, and to the Healy River coal mines in the Nenana District, aggregate an additional 46 miles of standard gauge. A four and one-half mile narrow gauge spur to the Moose Creek coal mines and a 39-mile narrow gauge branch from Fairbanks to the gold creeks as far as Chatanika bring the total operated mileage up to 560 miles. The Alaska Railroad also operates a River Boat Service on the Tanana and Yukon Rivers between Nenana and Holy Cross, a distance of 750 miles, carrying passengers, mail, express, and freight.

It has through billing agreements covering freight service from Seattle or Tacoma to points on the Yukon River and its principal tributaries between the International Boundary at Eagle and Bering Sea at St. Michael. It also has an agreement covering automobile service on the Richardson Highway from Fairbanks to Chitina and Valdez, 410 miles. In addition, it operates telegraph and telephone lines, coal mines, docks, power plants, hospitals, hotels, and commissaries.

In 1915, Seward and Fairbanks were flourishing towns, each being the distributing center for an immense hinterland. Seward received its supplies all year round by ocean service from Seattle. Fairbanks received all its supplies by river boat during the open season of navigation. The country between was an almost uninhabited wilderness. The only overland route then in existence was the Richardson Highway, some 200 miles eastward of the route selected for the railroad. It was necessary therefore to develop and carry various agencies along with the actual railroad construction. Ocean docks, towns, and camps, machine shops, hospitals, schools, etc., all had to be provided. Rolling-stock, construction equipment and supplies of all kinds had to be shipped in from Seattle. Such supplies were then carried inland by boat or pack-horse in summer and by horse-sled or dog-team in winter.

In the actual construction, clearing of right of way, grubbing, grading, excavation and other kinds of labor which could be standardized, were let out to station-men. All tools, powder, camp equipment, subsistence supplies, etc., were rented or sold to the station-men by the railway supply department. Building of bridges, snowsheds, laying of track etc., were performed on force account. Several large steel bridges were fabricated and erected by contract, the piers and approaches being built on force account.

TRANSPORTATION SITUATION

The entire transportation situation in the Territory has been changed by the completion of The Alaska Railroad. Whereas, heretofore it had been necessary for all supplies for an entire year to be shipped up the Yukon River during the short summer season, with the attendant heavy charges for interest on investment, insurance, storage, deterioration, and depreciation, it is now possible to distribute the same shipments throughout the entire year. Frequently shipments missed the last boat, causing great inconvenience and even distress.

For example, in the fall of 1920 an important bridge was ordered for a stream crossing about 28 miles out of Fairbanks. This bridge was shipped from Seattle to St. Michael in the summer of 1921 soon after navigation opened. It caught the last boat up the river. An early freeze-up caught this boat 200 miles short of destination. As it would have cost $135 per thousand board feet for freighting over the snow, the bridge as well as all other supplies lay there till the summer of 1922, when it reached Fairbanks, was freighted overland and erected. Meanwhile, about $1,200 was spent on patching up the old bridge to carry the 1921 traffic. Last winter, a 250-foot highway bridge was taken down, using ice as false-work, freighted three miles by bob-sled to The Alaska Railroad, hauled about 400 miles over the Alaska Range into the interior, freighted 12 miles again over the snow by bob-sled and re-erected over another river, again using ice as false-work, and all in less than 90 days.

In another case, a rush order of 200 tons of heavy mining equipment left Seattle in January of 1923. In sixty days, these supplies traveled 1,600 miles by ocean freighter to Seward, 470 miles by rail to Fairbanks, and 86 miles by bob-sleds drawn by caterpillar tractors over the Richardson Highway and tributaries to their final destination. Without The Alaska Railroad, that equipment would have landed in Fairbanks during the summer of 1923, where it would have lain till mid-winter of 1924 when snow conditions would permit it to be handled over the last 43 miles of sled-road tributary to the Richardson Highway.

TOUR OF ALASKA

With the completion of The Alaska Railroad, a most remarkable circular tour through the interior of the Territory is now possible. This tour included a 1,600-mile ocean voyage from Seattle or Vancouver up the Inside Passage, then across the Gulf of Alaska, through Prince William Sound, and up Resurrection Bay to Seward, touching at all Alaskan ports; then 470 miles over The Alaska Railroad to Fairbanks, then 320 miles over the Richardson Highway to Chitina, then 130 miles over the Copper River & Northwestern Railway to Cordova, and then a 1,400-mile return ocean voyage through Prince William Sound, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Inside Passage. This tour was formally inaugurated last summer by the Brooklyn Daily Eagle party of 70 people, over half of them being ladies. The entire tour requires three weeks from Seattle back to Seattle and costs about $350, all expenses included.

Leaving Seward, The Alaska Railroad crosses the Chugach Range through two passes amidst snow-covered mountains, glaciers, and lakes, then follows the shore of Turnagain Arm to Anchorage, Mile 114. It then follows Knik Arm, crosses the Matanuska Valley, and follows up the Susitna River to the summit of the Alaska Range through Broad Pass, Mile 313, elevation 2337 feet. Several large glaciers are passed within a stone’s throw of the track. There are tunnels, trestle spirals, and one complete loop where the track makes two reversed horseshoe bends and then crosses under itself. The Susitna River is crossed upon a simple steel truss of 504-foot span. Hurricane Creek is crossed upon a steel arch of 384-foot span, 300 feet above the creek.

After leaving Broad Pass, The Alaska Railroad follows down the north slope of the main Alaska Range, past Mt. McKinley National Park, through the Nenana and Healy River Canyons, and across the Tanana River bottom to Nenana. At Nenana the Tanana River is crossed on a 700-foot bridge, 45 feet above the highest high water. The railroad then follows up the valley of Coldstream, across a low divide, and into Fairbanks.  ~•~

Excerpted from the Preface and Introduction:

ARR CoverThe Alaska Railroad: 1902-1923, Blazing an Iron Trail Across The Last Frontier, by Helen Hegener, published in May, 2017 by Northern Light Media. 400 pages, over 100 b/w historic photos, maps, bibliography, indexed. The book can be ordered via PayPal for $24.00 plus $5.00 postage, by clicking here (credit cards accepted). The Alaska Railroad: 1902-1923 is also available at Amazon, IndieBound, and can be ordered through your favorite bookstore. Part 1, the first seven chapters of the book, is available to read free online at this link.

 

 

 

 

A People at Large

Copper-TintsThe following is a chapter from a slim book titled Copper-Tints: A Book of Cordova Sketches, by Katherine Wilson, illustrated by Eustace P. Ziegler, and published in 1923 by the Cordova Daily Times Press.

A People at Large

That more or less indefinite region north of the Yukon known as the Chandalar Country owes its name to one given by the early French-Canadian traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company to the singular native tribes that ranged there. Because these came from none knew where, recognizing no boundaries and taking to themselves no local designations, they were called gens de large––people at large. With peculiar fitness the name applies to all Alaskans, for in more ways than one we are a people at large. Coming from everywhere, we go vagrantly here and there, ranging over a great area. A vast country is ours, and in appropriating it to ourselves we recognize no local limitations. Perhaps this is nowhere more true than with us of the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound. Here, midway of all adventurings into and out of the Territory, from contact and habit we think in terms of far places. And so, in our common concerns we speak an itinerant tongue. 

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

To us, all the world is divided into two parts: Alaska and Elsewhere. And in reference to either, one talks in none but generalities. That portion of the globe which in a definite and specific way stands for civilization must never be specifically named; far too remote and magical is it for that! Seattle, San Francisco, New York, are never referred to as such, but with grandiose cosmopolitanism as “The Outside.”

Similarly, the country to the north in any direction is “The Interior.” The Tanana, the Koyukuk, the Iditarod, the Kuskokwim or the Porcupine Country, each a remote and vasty section of the great Territory, is definitely enough, Inside. And so with Coast destinations. En route to Anchorage or Kodiak, Nushagak or St. Michaels, a difference of a thousand miles or two one way or the other calls for no special designation; one journeys nonchalantly “to The Westward.” Even a jaunt to Juneau or Ketchikan is “to the Panhandle.” Speaking judiciously, the terms may be varied by reference to the First, Second, or Fourth Division. But to particularize on their respective centers as Sitka, Nome or Fairbanks is to confess a perspective unworthy of any but a chechako! 

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

Long accustomed to measure his journeys by the hundred miles, his time by weeks and months, the real Alaskan is aware only of magnificent distances. Excursions by canoe and dog-team through regions noted only for their part in leading to the place he is bound for, have evolved in him but a passing interest in way-stations. It is a habit of years, which the coming of rapid transit and the consequent shrinking of space have failed to alter. A few hours’ trip by railway to Chitina, Strelna or Kennekott is invariably a run “up the Line,” while to continue to Gulkana or Paxson’s Roadhouse, even by automobile, is to go in ‘over The Trail.” By the same incorrigible vagrancy have the very railway stations been tagged, the place at which the trains stops to take on water or let off a lone prospector bound for his diggings being denoted no more specifically than as Mile 39, Mile 72, or Mile 115! 

The truth is that there is an engaging picturesqueness about all this. Alaskan names are in themselves all compact of romance. Traces left by the geography of early navigators and the mixed jargon of sealers and whalers, the marks of the Muskovite and the Oriental, remain in the nomenclature of a land that was an Eldorado long before the Pilgrims stepped on Plymouth Rock. Always the Mecca of adventurers, the country is permeated with the tang of the Seven Seas. To this the modern Alaskan instinctively reacts, his own inordinate love of the wilderness plunging him naturally into the language of Vagabondia. 

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by Eustace P. Ziegler, 1922

How long will this continue, who knows? The land is fast taking on the meagerness of civilization. Into it is coming the settler with his stationary mind, his paucity of imagination. And so, in the not too distant future we may see certain transformations. We, too, may have our Smith’s Coves, our Jonesville Crossings, our Schaefer’s Creeks; our Christianias, New Warsaws. Already the signs appear. But for a little while yet the land is ours. And until progress claims it for its own, it is our delight in our speech of it to indulge the inborn romanticism of the pioneer. 

~from Copper-Tints: A Book of Cordova Sketches, by Katherine Wilson, illustrated by Eustace P. Ziegler, and published in 1923 by the Cordova Daily Times Press.

The entire book can be read at this Google Books link.

 

AAHP Most Endangered List

Screen Shot 2019-06-03 at 8.58.55 PMThe Alaska Association for Historic Preservation has released its annual list of the ten most endangered historic properties in the state, and included this year are the 4th Avenue Theatre in Anchorage, the Jesse Lee Home in Seward, and the photogenic Eldred Rock Lighthouse near Haines. The Alaska Association for Historic Preservation annually helps several of the properties on the list get started with preservation work and leverage funding from other sources.

The sternwheeler Nenana was selected for inclusion. Patricia De Nardo Schmidt is President of the Friends of the SS Nenana, one of only three steam-powered passenger sternwheelers of any kind left in the U.S., and the only large wooden sternwheeler.

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Sternwheeler Nenana

Built in Nenana in 1933 for the Alaska Railroad, for service on the Yukon, Nenana, and Tanana Rivers, the Nenana opened up much of the territory of interior Alaska long before roads could be built. The Nenana carried military cargoes during World War II including lend-lease aircraft on the way to Russia. Retired in 1955, the SS Nenana now resides at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks. It was designated a National Historic Landmark on May 5, 1989.

The most endangered historic properties program started in 1991 and helps get public attention of cultural and architectural properties that are threatened. The complete list for 2019 includes:

Nenana Sternwheeler, Fairbanks
Eldred Rock Lighthouse, Haines vicinity
Coastal Archaeological Sites
Stevenson Hall (Sheldon Jackson School), Sitka
Leonhard Seppala House, Nome
4th Avenue Theatre, Anchorage
Government Hill Community Center, Anchorage
Pioneer School House, Anchorage
Bristol Bay Sailboats, Naknek, King Salmon, Egegik
Jesse Lee Home, Seward

To donate or learn more about the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation, contact Amber Sawyer at 907.929.9870 / akpreservation@gmail.com / http://www.aahp-online.net/

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The Bristol Bay salmon fleet circa 1948. (Ward Wells collection / Anchorage Museum)