Tag Archives: Robert Service

Robert Service

oie_2472830AK5Xg6wJRobert William Service (1874–1958) was a British-Canadian poet and writer, best known for his colorfully vivid descriptions of the land and the people of the Yukon Territory. Although he did not arrive in Dawson City until ten years after the great gold rush of 1898, his poetry and writings of the era helped shape the romantic ideals of the Klondike. 

The Jan-Feb, 2020 issue of Alaskan History Magazine features an article about the life of the great rhyme-maker, and his life was as unusual and adventuresome as the men he penned lines about. Hardbitten, down-on-their-luck, but ever-hopeful and sometimes incredibly fortunate men, and Robert Service had been all of these and more. Opening lines from The Man from Eldorado:

He’s the man from Eldorado, and he’s just arrived in town,
 In moccasins and oily buckskin shirt.
He’s gaunt as any Indian, and pretty nigh as brown;
 He’s greasy, and he smells of sweat and dirt.
He sports a crop of whiskers that would shame a healthy hog;
 Hard work has racked his joints and stooped his back;
He slops along the sidewalk followed by his yellow dog,
 But he’s got a bunch of gold-dust in his sack.

The noted Canadian author and journalist Pierre Berton interviewed Robert Service in 1958 in Monte Carlo—the last interview Service ever gave. Berton had crossed paths with Service since childhood; in his book, Prisoners of the North (Carroll & Graf, 2004), Berton wrote, “My mother knew him when she was a young kindergarten teacher in Dawson City; he even asked her to a dance—the kind of social affair he usually avoided. His original log cabin stood directly across from my childhood home under the hill overlooking the town.”

RWS on cabin porch 1910?

Robert Service at his beloved log cabin on the hill overlooking Dawson City, 1909-1911. 

In the Monte Carlo interview, recently uploaded to YouTube, Robert Service describes writing The Shooting of Dan McGrew after one of the churches asked him to do a bit in a program. Thinking it over on one of his long walks, he decided to take his friend Stroller’s advice and write something original: “….I heard sounds of revelry, and the line just popped into my head, ‘A bunch of the boys was a whoopin’ it up,’ and there I got my start. I felt quite excited about it, I ate scarcely any supper, and after supper I went to my teller’s cage and I started to write. Well, believe it or not, I wrote on almost continuously through that ballad, and finished it, oh, around about two in the morning. I wrote it as it stands now, scarcely a line has been changed, and finally I went to bed, my job was finished. I put it away in a drawer and forgot all about it.”

Pierre Berton asks him, “You didn’t recite it at the church social?”

Robert Service: “Oh no, the cuss words in it was something that they wouldn’t stand for!” 

There are many fine websites dedicated to Robert Service’s life and work, and Pierre Berton’s interview with Robert Service, in Monaco in 1958, can be found on YouTube.

Resources:

• Two extensive websites, with extended biographies, chronologies of his life, and many photos, newsclippings and other material from descendants of Robert Service:

 Robert Service          Robert Service

Prisoners of the North, by Pierre Berton. Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2004

• Vagabond of Verse: A Biography, by James A. Mackay, Mainstream Pub. Co., 1996

On the Trail of Robert Service, by G. W. Lockhart, Luath Press, 2004

• Biography at Encyclopedia Britannica

• Robert Service Resource Page at ExploreNorth

• Robert Service Facebook Page 

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Monument to the Bard in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

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.