Tag Archives: Prince William Sound

“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.

Trailing and Camping in Alaska

Addison Powell coverTrailing and Camping in Alaska, subtitled Ten Years Spent Exploring, Hunting and Prospecting in Alaska – 1898 to 1909, was written in 1909 by Addison M. Powell, an adventurer, prospector, hunter, and a former guide for Captain William R. Abercrombie’s 1898 Copper River Exploring Expedition, which was one of three military expeditions organized under the direction of the Secretary of War with directives for exploring the interior of the new territory of Alaska. Powell’s familiarity with the land made him a valuable addition to Abercrombie’s efforts over the next several years, and brought him into contact with many men who would help to shape the future of Alaska.

Powell and Co. copper rock

Addison Powell, resting his chin in hand second from the left, with friends and a large nugget of copper found on Nugget Creek, in the Wrangell Mountains, summer of 1902. [Photos are from Addison Powell’s book, Trailing and Camping in Alaska, Wessels & Bissell, 1909]

The May-June 2019 issue of Alaskan History Magazine included selected excerpts from chapter 21 of Powell’s book, on his explorations around the Copper River country and the Wrangell Mountains. In the spring of 1898, Abercrombie was directed to organize his men and supplies at Valdez, on the coast, and to explore northward into the valley of the Copper River and its tributaries, and farther north to the Tanana River, seeking an all-American route from coastal Alaska to the Klondike gold fields.

The Copper River

The banks of the Copper River.

The following year Abercrombie would be responsible for constructing a military road from Prince William Sound at Valdez to Eagle on the Yukon River, a route which became known as the Eagle Trail. Powell, who had been exploring and prospecting in the country, once again joined the effort as a guide and surveyor. The following years are filled with exploration, adventures, and a continuing search for a lost gold strike. 

Addison Monroe Powell was born November 25, 1856, in Clinton County, Indiana; he was 42 years old when he joined Abercrombie’s 1898 expedition. His sub-report, published in Abercrombie’s 1899 Government Report on the Copper River Exploring Expedition, appears as chapters of this book. Powell passed away in Santa Barbara, California, on January 29, 1932, at the age of 75.

Trailing and Camping in Alaska, Ten Years Spent Exploring, Hunting and Prospecting in Alaska – 1898 to 1909, by Addison M. Powell. Originally published in 1909 by Newold Publishing Company, New York, New York. 300 pages, 30 b/w photos, published September, 2018 by Northern Light Media. $24.95 (plus shipping). Click here to order via PayPal.