Tag Archives: Kodiak

“My Dear Mother”: Dr. James T. White

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“My Dear Mother”: Dr. James Taylor White

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

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

Bear

Iconic shot of the USRC Bear

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

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

Kodiak circa 1900

Kodiak circa 1900

My dear Mother:

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

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

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The Bear in Dutch Harbor, 1897-98

Dutch Harbor Alaska. June 11th ‘94

My dear Mother:

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

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

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

I remain, well and contented, your affectionate Son

James.

For More Information:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rim of Red Water

oie_2117355x9JBAV1v“Out across those open turbulent waters in the Aleutian Islands, among the last to be explored by Europeans, is where Christopher Columbus, if he could have sailed farther, might have taken his three ships right off the edge of the Earth, somewhere west of Kodiak.”

Writer Tim Jones (The Last Great Race, Race Across Alaska, Keep the Round Side Down) brings a new perspective to Alaskan History Magazine with an excerpt from a book he’s been working on for a few decades, paralleling the life and importance of sea otters with the growth and history of Alaska. Beginning with the first inhabitants of the windswept rocky islands of the Aleutian chain, Jones traces the story over centuries, exploring the lives of the first people, who lived in harmony with the land and the creatures of the sea and honored the friendly, funny sea otters, and then contrasting that harshly with the relentless mayhem wrought by the men who came seeking only the sleek rich fur of the sea otters.

Sea Otter color“But those early explorers and later the merchants, ever restless, ever reaching out, were relentless in their searches for new lands and new riches, and as exploration spread it reached closer to the Aleutian Islands. Many of the early explorations, though not actually touching the islands, had a bearing on their future. And the sea otters became the valued objects that drew the first Europeans to Aleutian and subsequently Alaskan shores.”

Tim Jones has uploaded the entire text of his still-unfinished book – with illustrations – to his blog, Alaska With Attitude, and the history he writes is a fascinating, surprising, and quite enjoyable romp through a part of our past which can be as mysterious and elusive as the fog-shrouded Aleutians where it take place.

The Sept-Oct issue, with this article and many others, including the story of the SS Nenana, the Last Lady of the River, by Fairbanks writer and historian Patricia De Nardo Schmidt, can be ordered from the Alaskan History Magazine website.

Aleut hunters etching

Aleutian Sea Otter Hunters, by Charles Melville Scammon in The Marine Mammals of the North-Western Coast of North America, Described and Illustrated; Together With an Account of the American Whale-Fishery (1874)

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.