Alaskan History Sept-Oct, 2020 VOLUME 2, NO. 5 ISBN 9798682613472
Published bimonthly by Northern Light Media
SPECIAL FEATURE MAPPING THE ARCTIC COAST, BY ERNEST DE KOVEN LEFFINGWELL - 40
Alaskan Roadhouses A Good Meal and a Warm Place to Sleep At the end of a long day’s journey the lights of a roadhouse in the distance could only be a welcome sight. No matter how rough the accommodations, the roadhouse signaled warmth and food and a place to rest for a few hours. There would be a shelter for one’s team, be they dogs or horses, hopefully a barn with good feed and fresh hay. Article begins on page 14
“The Alaskan roadhouse is a trail- or roadside hotel. It deserves and has earned the high regard that all Alaskan and northern travelers have for the ‘roadhouse.’” ~William E. Gordon, in Icy Hell (Wm. Brendan & Son, 1937).
Sept-Oct, 2020 WELLS FARGO & CO. IN ALASKA
FREIGHTING IN THE FAR NORTH ‘The invading concern will cover the entire field of the vast northland territory, which has been occupied only by the Alaska Pacific Express Company. Among the steamship concerns, stage lines and railways signing up with Wells Fargo are….
MCGREELY’S EXPRESS 1898
PRIVATE POST BETWEEN DYEA AND SKAGUAY One of Alaska’s most unusual contributions to the history of philately was the 1898 25¢ McGreely’s Express local stamp, designed for affixing to letters carried between the coastal towns of Dyea and Skaguay during the Klondike Gold Rush. RAY MALA
ALASKA’S HOLLYWOOD STAR Referred to in his heyday as the 'Eskimo Clark Gable,' due to numerous prominent roles in major Hollywood films, Ray Mala, an Inupiat born near Candle, Alaska, also played a role in mushing history. THE ALASKA CLUB
A SEATTLE SOCIAL CLUB FOR TRAVELING ALASKANS The Alaska Club was associated with one of the lesser-known facets of the gold rush era, that is, the formation of social institutions for the men who returned to the Seattle area from the Klondike and Alaskan gold rushes. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF ALASKAN LITERATURE, 1724-1924
JAMES WICKERSHAM’S 200 YEAR COMPILATION Containing the Titles of All Histories, Travels, Voyages, Newspapers, Periodicals, Public Documents, etc., Printed in English, Russian, German, French, Spanish, etc., Relating To, Descriptive Of, Or Published In Russian America or Alaska
Memorable Photographs from Alaska’s History. . . . . . . . . 6
Cover Notes, In this Issue . . . . . . . 1
Memorable Photographs . . . . . 6 - 7
Table of Contents . . . . . . . . . . . 2 - 3
Articles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8 to 39
Publisher’s Note . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Special Feature . . . . . . . . . . . 40 - 47
Magazine Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Resources used in this issue . . . . 48
Why Study History?
“The Past is Prologue”
Volume 2, Number 5
-William Shakespeare, The Tempest
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With so much happening all around us every day, is history worth the time it takes to read, research, study and understand? With the limited time we are given, why spend so much on what has already transpired, already happened, already in the past? History is the story of how people are affected by their daily actions, by the actions around them, and by actions over which they have no control. Explorations, discoveries, wars, political movements, pandemics, recessions, disasters, births, deaths, triumphs, defeats, achievements--all these and more are part of history and worth knowing about, but so too are the minutiae of everyday life. Some of our most compelling historic documents are no more than the journals of people who took time from their daily affairs and activities to put down their thoughts, emotions, travels, visitors, the weather, the ordinary and the profound. Alaskan historian Terrence Cole once commented that we should not be studying history so we don't repeat the mistakes of the past, noting that in fact we repeat them every day, and that the real value of history is to instill an appreciation for what we have, tempering our taking everything for granted. In this time of worldwide pandemic, instilling an appreciation for what we have seems more important than ever. All of the back issues and this current issue are available to read free in a digital format. The direct link to the online magazine archive is https://issuu.com/alaskanhistorymagazine Thanks for reading, and stay safe.
Helen Helen Hegener, Publisher • Northern Light Media ~ http://www.northernlightmedia.com • Alaskan History Magazine ~ http://www.alaskan-history.com • Digital magazine ~ https://issuu.com/alaskanhistorymagazine
Sept-Oct, 2020 • Changes to the magazine, beginning with this issue, include a new cover format, and a special feature at the end of each issue, replacing the ‘Focus’ and ‘Collectible Books’ sections. When a book excerpt is featured, a link to the digital edition of the complete book will be included.
• Resources used in researching the articles for each issue are shared on page 48, with links to the websites, PDFs and video and digital media. • Online The Alaskan History Magazine website features excerpts of almost every article which appears in the pages of this magazine. The website versions will often be expanded with additional information, photos, maps, and links to resources. Check it out at www.alaskan-history.com • Alaskan History Books Many of the historic books featured in every issue are available on the website for this magazine, www.alaskan-history.com. Purchases help support the continued publication of this magazine. • Social Media Alaskan History Magazine is active on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For information visit our website. • Back Issues Digital editions of Alaskan History Magazine are free at the premier digital publication site, Issuu, and print back issues are always available, see the website for details about ordering a single issue or a complete set. Every issue is 48 pages, full color, and ad-free.
A. E. “Cap” Lathrop In the spring of 1896 Austin Eugene Lathrop sailed north as captain of a small schooner, the LJ Perry, a year before news of the Klondike gold strike reached Seattle. Over the next half-century he became one of territorial Alaska’s most prominent businessmen. He developed coal mines, built apartments and movie theaters; started banks and radio stations; served as a c i t y m a y o r, a s t a t e legislator, and a university regent, produced a motion picture and became Alaska’s first millionaire.
A man of great drive and bold vision, the entreprenurial spirit of A. E. “Cap” Lathrop inspires the publication of Alaskan History Magazine! For information visit:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/AlaskanHistory/ https://twitter.com/HelenHegener https://www.instagram.com/akhistorymagazine/
www.alaskan-history.com or find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Memorable Photographs Capturing Alaskaâ€™s History on Glass Plates and Film Photographs of early Alaska from the Library of Congress: Right: Eskimo fish caches at the mouth of Neukluk River, Alaska. [Lomen Brothers, 1917. www.loc.gov/resource/ppmsc.02428/]
Below: Skagway, Alaska, 1899 [Pillsbury & Cleveland, photographer. www.loc.gov/ resource/cph.3b12751/]
Page 7, top: Fourth St. from F. looking west - Anchorage, Alaska, Aug. 28th 1915. [photo by Pyatt. www.loc.gov/item/99614949/]
Page 7, bottom, left: Saginaw Jake, of Killisnoo, Alaska. American Indian man, in uniform, on step below sign reading "By the Gouvernor's Commission and the Company's permission I am made the Grand THYEE, OF this entire ILLAHEE" [Winter & Pond, 1895. www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3b13390/]
Page 7, bottom, right: "A Happy Home in Alaska,â€? circa July 30, 1898. [Stereo copyrighted by the Keystone View Co., B.L. Singley. www.loc.gov/item/2004679458/]
See more Alaskan photographs at https://www.loc.gov/photos/?q=Alaska&st=gallery
In early 1911 Wells Fargo expanded their routes to include Alaska. Above: William Fargo (l) and Henry Wells. Right: Cover of Messenger, May, 1913.
Wells Fargo & Co. in Alaska Freighting in the Far North On January 24, 1848, gold was found at Sutter's Mill near Coloma, in northern California, and within the next few years approximately 300,000 people flocked to the territory seeking their own fortunes. In September, 1850 California became a state, and San Francisco, a small settlement of about 200 residents in 1846, would explode into a boomtown of 36,000 by 1852. Watching these developments with increasing interest were Vermont native Henry Wells and New Yorker William G. Fargo.
In his book Stagecoach: Wells Fargo and the American West, noted historian Phillip L. Fradkin captures the history succinctly: “Henry Wells and William G. Fargo, who both began their express careers as messengers in upstate New York, joined forces in 1845 and commenced the process that would result in bringing the functions of communications, speedy transportation, and banking together in California. Both were stern-visaged, bearded men who exuded rectitude. Wells was the mediator and Fargo the aggressive entrepreneur.”
Wells Fargo & Company quickly gained a reputation for speed and reliablility and developed a far-flung network of connections. Their policy of subcontracting express services to established companies, rather than duplicating existing services, was a key factor in Wells Fargo's early success, and that would be evident in their later move into the Alaska territory.
In March, 1911 a news release by the San Francisco Examiner detailed the contracts arranged with Alaskan transportation companies: “Pursuant to their recent decision to enter the Alaska field, Wells, Fargo & Co. and the steamship companies operated between Seattle
Photograph which ran in the Wells Fargo Messenger, May 1913
and Alaskan ports are entering into and signing contracts for handling express business. The invading concern will cover the entire field of the vast northland territory, which heretofore has been occupied only by the Alaska Pacific Express Company. Among the steamship concerns and stage lines and railways signing up with Wells Fargo are the Alaska Steamship Company, the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad; the Ed S. Orr Stage Company, operating from Chitina, the terminus of the Copper River and Northwestern, to Fairbanks; the Northwestern Navigation Company, operating on the Yukon River; the Western Alaska Steamship Company; and the Merchants’ Yukon Dispatch, successor to the old N.A.T. & T. Company.”
Wells Fargo’s history in Alaska began, however, in the 1880’s, a dozen years before the Klondike Gold Rush. The company opened offices in Sitka, Wrangell, and Juneau (then called Harrisburg), and contracted with steamship companies to carry goods to and from San Francisco, advertising they delivered “letters, money, valuables, packages, parcels and merchandise.” The company ceased operations in Alaska in 1885, and did not renew their northern routes until 1911.
The official newsletter of the company, The Wells Fargo Messenger, featured an article in the May, 1913 issue written by Kenneth C. Kerr, who shared details of two early trips:
“Two notable shipments made by Wells Fargo & Company in Alaska are remarkable examples of what an enterprising company and its dauntless representatives can accomplish during the winter months, when interior Alaska may be said to be hermetically sealed.
“On December 14, 1911, our company chartered two dog teams to bring a shipment of gold a distance of 479 miles from Iditarod to Seward. These two teams were under the charge of two noted drivers and mushers, Norton and Griffith.
“To aid in forming a clearer mental picture of this rigorous journey, a brief description here of the sled used by the company for this purpose may not be amiss. The Yukon sled, while not a thing of beauty, is usually built to stand all kinds of hard wear—which it seldom
Sept-Oct, 2020 escapes. This sort of sled is about eight feet long, leaves a trail from its wooden runners about sixteen inches wide, and is comparatively inexpensive. Another and more substantial pattern is the ‘basket sled,’ made also from hard wood—usually hickory, birch or oak—and its trail is nearly two feet wide. This sled is to the Yukon as a three-masted schooner is to a coal barge. The Yukon lies close to the ground, but the ‘basket’ sled is often a foot or more from the runners. The basket sleigh is often lashed together with rawhide thongs.
“But let us return to this remarkable value shipment. It comprised $558,863.34, in pure gold, and left the Iditarod district via Wells Fargo, on December 14, 1911. Through storm and wind, over hills and frozen rivers, this first Wells Fargo & Company dog express pushed bravely forward. If it were an unusual feat, the men handling it did not so regard it. It was merely an incident in the life of the North. In fact, they did not show any traces of undue excitement or satisfaction when they arrived in the streets of Seward, and drew up in front of our headquarters there, as shown in one of the accompanying pictures (page 10). The date of that arrival was February 6 of last year, and the shipment was immediately put aboard the steamer Alameda of the Alaska Steamship Company, being placed in the bank in Seattle five days later. Impatient to return, Norton and Griffith rested only two days in Seward before starting back on their thousand mile journey.
“None the less notable than this was the gold shipment made on sleds from Fairbanks to Valdez, before the railroad was built from Cordova, but horses instead of husky dogs furnished the motive power. The shipment was valued at $600,000 and was handled by Wells Fargo & Company over the stage road. It took eleven days, the distance being 376 miles. This has been considerably reduced by the building of the Copper River route, which connects with the winter stages at Chitina. Similar shipments are now quite common. The capacity of the Wells Fargo & Company has frequently been tested, but never found wanting.”
Justifably proud of its Alaskan dog team services, Wells Fargo included them in the parade and displays for the company’s day at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, where they were reportedly a favorite with the crowds. ~•~
The 1915 Panama-Pacific Expo’s Wells Fargo Day parade included 18 sled dogs and sledges from the company’s far north express services. Photo and cartoon from the August, 1915 Wells Fargo Messenger.
McGreely’s Express 1898 Private Post Between Dyea and Skaguay One of Alaska’s most unusual contributions to the history of philately, or postage stamp collecting, was the 1898 25¢ McGreely’s Express local stamp, designed for affixing to letters carried between the coastal towns of Dyea and Skaguay during the Klondike Gold Rush. It is known as a Cinderella stamp, defined as “virtually anything resembling a postage stamp, but not issued for postal purposes by a government postal administration.” Named after the folk-tale Cinderella who was treated as inferior in her family, Cinderella stamps, defined by what they are not, are similarly considered inferior to postage stamps.
The Canadian Aerophilatelist, the newsletter of the Canadian Aerophilatelic Society, included a letter in the March 15, 1991 issue, dated Dec. 4, 1990, from a Mr. Murray Heifetz to Mr. R. Malott, of Nepean, Ontario, describing the history of the stamp:
“Over the past while I have had several enquiries about the McGreely Express label sometimes found on the Klondike Airways covers prepared by Roessler. I thought it might be interesting to tell the story of this label in an issue of our CAS bulletin. The following excerpt is from one of Rosselers Stamp News.
“McGreely’s Express Stamp had a very short life. Seems to us that collectors of US locals should be interested in this. The lot that we turned up consists of about 400 stamps. When these are gone there will be no more available. The die and the stone from which they were printed were destroyed with the San Francisco earthquake - beg pardon, we mean fire.
Sept-Oct, 2020 There will never be any reprints. The following is an abstract from a letter from Mr. S. C. Marcuse, 514 Battery St. San Francisco (reprinted from the Philatelic Gazette):
“I was living in Dyea during 1908 and at that time there was no regular mail service, the mail for Dyea being left on the wharf at Skagway, as that was the nearest wharf for Dyea and no steamer would land at Dyea except very small boats. The mail would lie on the Skagway wharf until anyone who felt so disposed would bring it over to Dyea to the post office. On account of the irregularity of the mail leaving and coming at Dyea P. O., a man named McGreely who made daily trips to Skagway and return would mail any letter over there and enquire for mail, and for this service he would charge 25¢ for each letter coming or going. “After I became acquainted with McGreely, I suggested to him the use of stamps and he agreed to that. If I would furnish him with stamps he would attend to my mail without charge. Therefore I had the stamps printed in San Francisco and they reached Dyea a few days before April 1, 1908. We used only 100 between the date of arrival and April 1 when Mr. Clum, a Post Office inspector, arrived there and established a daily mail service between Dyea and Skagway. Naturally, this put Mr. McGreely out of business.” The author of the letter above, Seymore C. Marcuse, came to Dyea in January of 1898. He later traveled to Dawson City, noting that he met Mr. McGreely along the way, and by 1901 S. C. Marcuse had returned to San Francisco. He was an avid stamp collector who probably saw the potential value in producing specialty philatelic stamps for sale. In September, 1902, he had some of the McGreely’s Express stamps overprinted and distributed as souvenirs at the first exhibition of the Pacific Philatelic Society in San Francisco, of which he was the Secretary-Treasurer in 1914.
It is curious that McGreely’s Express stamp is illustrated with a dog team, as McGreely made his trips between Skaguay and Dyea in a boat. There is no record of his carrying the mail via dog team. ~•~
For more information about the McGreely’s Express stamp, see the Resources on page 48.
Dyea wharf, 1898. S. C. Marcuse lived in Dyea and furnished a private stamp for a local freighter, Mr. McGreely, in exchange for free mail services.
S. C. Marcuse is listed as Secretary-Treasurer, 1914
Martin Slisco's Roadhouse, Wiseman [ASL-P42-035, Fred B. Dodge Collection]
Roadhouses in Alaska A Good Meal and a Warm Place to Sleep “The Alaskan roadhouse is a trail or roadside hotel. It deserves and has earned the high regard that all Alaskan and northern travelers have for the ‘roadhouse.’” ~William E. Gordon, in Icy Hell (Wm. Brendan & Son, 1937) The roadhouses of Alaska and the Yukon Territory in Canada were a creation of the times in which they flourished, a time when men and women traveled slowly and laboriously over thin trails through an almost unimaginable wilderness, coping day after day with hostile weather, treacherous river crossings, and mountains which loomed and only grudgingly presented high passes through which to cross. At the end of a long day’s journey the lights of a roadhouse in the distance could only be a welcome sight. No matter how rough the accommodations, the roadhouse signaled warmth and food and a place to rest for a few hours. There would be a shelter for one’s team, be they dogs or horses, hopefully a barn with good feed and fresh hay. The roadhouse proprietor would
Beaver Dam Roadhouse, Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, 1915. [UAF-1975-43-1, Hamburger-Kittridge Family Collection]
Wortman's Roadhouse,19miles from Valdez on Valdez-Fairbanks Wagon Road, ca. 1906. Photographer Phinney S. Hunt.
have news of the trail ahead, and he would be ready to listen to the tales of the trail just crossed, so he could pass the information along to the next travelers who stopped there. The network of roadhouses along Alaska’s far-flung trails was an interconnected lifeline which made travel possible, and the role they played in the history of the north cannot be overstated. Hudson Stuck described a common travail of northern travel in A Winter Circuit of our Arctic Coast, A Narrative of a Journey with Dog Sleds [Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920]: "We awoke next morning to changed conditions; two or three inches of new snow lay on the earth. And all day long it snowed and a drifting wind filled up the trail and sledding grew heavier and heavier. The toboggan became such a drag in the wet snow from the remains of yesterday's ice, lingering notwithstanding repeated beatings, that by and by we set it bodily on top of the sled and hitched the ten dogs to the double load with advantage. It took us five hours to make the eighteen miles to the next roadhouse, and here we stayed for lunch and took the toboggan into the house and thawed off the ice in front of the stove." Judge James Wickersham’s travels across Alaska’s Third Judicial District covered 300,000 square miles, and he kept detailed diaries and often described the roadhouses he frequented, such as this one northeast of Circle City: “Webber's one-room log tavern with a dirt floor stood at the edge of a dense forest. The side walls of the cabin, built of small round logs, were head high, and the central roof log was just above the outstretched fingertips. The tavern was about ten by sixteen feet square inside. It was finished with one clapboard door hung on wooden pins, and one window sash.
Central Roadhouse, Central, Steese Highway. [Photograph by E.L. Fisher for Alaska Steamship Co.]
“The dining table consisted of boards nailed to poles, about three feet long, driven into auger-holes about four feet apart just below the window. Two pole bunks of similar design adorned the back wall. The dirt floor was spattered with grease from the stove. There was one chair of riven slab set on three pole legs. The two other chairs were boxes, one marked in large letters, 'Hunter's Old Rye,' and the other, 'Eagle Brand Milk.' A dog stable, much smaller than the tavern, stood alongside. These buildings and their accommodations for travelers were typical of those along the Yukon River Trail.” As dog team, stage, and foot traffic increased on these trails between far-flung towns and villages, more and more roadhouses sprang up, built by enterprising individuals and offering a place to rest and recuperate from the harsh rigors of the trail. Through the center of the territory the Trans-Alaska Military Trail and Wagon Road became the Valdez-Eagle Trail, which spawned the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail which then became the Richardson Highway, the first actual road in Alaska. As the primary route from the Pacific coast to Interior Alaska, the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail sprouted more roadhouses than any other route, including some of the most colorful and iconic: Sullivans, Rika’s, Sourdough, Tiekhell, Beaver Dam, Gakona, Black Rapids, Comfort, Ptarmigan Drop, Wortman’s, Paxson, Yost’s, Tsaina, Tonsina…. Only one other route produced such a litany, the famed Iditarod Trail; one listing names almost 40 roadhouses in the first 500 miles to the Iditarod gold fields. That’s a roadhouse approximately every twelve miles. In 1908 Col. Walter L. Goodwin provided the initial exploration of the Iditarod Trail and a first-hand description of the route, and he included a listing of the
Alaskan History many roadhouses along the trail from Seward to Iditarod, approximately 10 to 20 miles apart and including Glacier Creek, Raven Creek, Knik, Susitna, Skwentna, Happy River, Pass Creek, Rainy Pass, Rohn River, Farewell, Kuskokwim, Tacotna, and many others, but he makes only the briefest mentions of two roadhouses further north in his 1908 report. The first is just after the party leaves Ophir Creek: "In forty miles we arrived at Dishakaket, an Indian Village on Shagaluk Slough (to the Yukon) and are told it is 86 miles to Kaltag, but which I find to be but 59 miles. Here are 100 or more natives and some dozen white people, with two stores, a saloon and a roadhouse. This is thought the be the head of navigation, but later boats have been up the Innoko and Ditna to Hanes Ldg., said to be forty miles from Gane Creek." The second mention: "From Dishakaket we follow the very crooked trail through rolling, swampy, sparsely timbered country to the Kaiyuh Slough where there is a roadhouse. This place is some three miles up the river and up the slough, and is said to be 18 miles from Kaltag. This I found to be about 14.5 miles while the Alaska map shows it to be by scale 24 miles." Paxson Roadhouse Back on the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, the Paxson Roadhouse stood for many decades as a popular landmark for travelers and locals alike, going through at least three locations in the area. In 1896 Alvin J. Paxson came to Alaska on his way to the Klondike to look for gold. He never struck it rich, but he made a living prospecting, carrying the mail, and working at a number of mining camps in the Yukon River drainage. Paxson worked in a trading post, helped set up a store, and in 1906, he built his first roadhouse eight miles south of Isabel Pass, on the then-new Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. The Pass Creek Roadhouse, or Andersonâ€™s, in Rainy Pass. Photo by Irving McKenny Reed, 1920. [UAF-1968-21-217]
Sept-Oct, 2020 Timberline Tent Roadhouse consisted of a small cabin and two tents, and for additional income Paxson outfitted miners bound for the nearby gold camps. The following year, as the Alaska Road Commission was working on a new section of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail which would bypass his first location, Paxson selected a new site about three miles south of Summit Lake and built a 30-foot by 80-foot two-story log lodge. With his new roadhouse located in an area well-sheltered by tall spruce trees from the harsh winds blowing down out of Isabel Pass, business was good, a Washington Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS) telegraph station was built, and when the Orr Stage Line made Paxson's Roadhouse a regular stop, a large barn, the first of several, was added to the roadhouse site. Alvin Paxson became known for his hospitality, and a small community began to grow around his roadhouse. Trails to the new mining areas of Slate Creek and Valdez Creek made the roadhouse a junction and supply point. A post office opened in 1912 and Alvin Paxson was appointed postmaster. In Alaska's Wolf Man: The 1915-55 Wilderness Adventures of Frank Glaser, author Jim Rearden describes a trip Glaser undertook in 1915, when he passed through the area: "At Paxsons we found a big roadhouse, a signal corps station, and an Indian village consisting of seven or eight cabins. Sled dogs ran loose in the village. In the fall sockeye salmon ran into Summit Lake via the nearby Gulkana River after swimming up from the Copper River. Almost every year a huge migration of caribou passed nearby. The trail climbed gradually to Summit Lake in Isabel Pass. Though it was after mid-May, seven-mile-long Summit Lake at 3,210 elevation was still frozen." In 1916, poor health forced Alvin Paxson to leave Alaska for a warmer climate, but the small community kept the name of its founder. The original Paxson Roadhouse, three miles south of Summit Lake on the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail.
Ptarmigan Drop Roadhouse, north side of Thompson Pass, Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, ca. 1906, by P. S. Hunt
Talkeetna Roadhouse One of the most well-known roadhouses in Alaska is the Talkeetna Roadhouse, in the railroad town of Talkeetna, built sometime around 1916-17 by brothers Frank and Ed Lee. They were from Michigan, and they made their living freighting supplies to the gold mines in the Peters Hills, Cache Creek, and Dutch Hills areas west of the Susitna River, in the southernmost foothills of Mt. McKinley. Talkeetna’s first businesswoman, Isabella “Belle” Grindrod Lee McDonald, arrived in Talkeetna in 1917 and married Ed Lee, Frank’s brother, a year later. With her brother-in-law Frank Lee as her head freighter, Belle developed the Talkeetna Trading Post, a freighting service, stable, blacksmith shop, and the beginnings of a roadhouse, located half a mile west of the present-day Talkeetna Roadhouse, at the edge of the wide Susitna River. After Ed died in 1928, Frank and Belle continued the freighting business together, and at some point the precursor of the current roadhouse came into service. In her 1974 book, Talkeetna Cronies, Nola H. Campbell, who owned and operated the Fairview Inn for a time with her husband John, wrote of Belle McDonald’s Talkeetna Trading Post, the forerunner of the Talkeetna Roadhouse: “Belle’s place was like home to many tired, weary and hungry men who came in from the hills. The walls were covered with hanging fur pelts of many kinds: mink, marten, weasel, lynx and wolf. Gold scales, beaver skins, blankets and kits were stacked in the corners, and traps and gear was piled around.” Today’s Talkeetna Roadhouse welcomes travelers from around the world.
Sept-Oct, 2020 Gakona Roadhouse The Gakona roadhouse, dated from the first buildings constructed on the site, is the oldest still-operating roadhouse in Alaska. Originally called Doyle's Ranch, the Gakona Roadhouse was constructed by Jim Doyle, who homesteaded the site in 1902 on the banks of the fast-flowing Gakona River, which joins the mighty Copper River a few hundred yards downstream. His homestead was at mile 132 of the Trans-Alaska Military Road, which was the name of the thennew Valdez-to-Eagle Trail, built by the U.S. Army to link its post at Fort Liscum, near Valdez, with Fort Egbert, at Eagle on the Yukon River. The Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail branched north near the site, making the junction of the two trails an excellent location for a roadhouse. In 1910, the roadhouse become the main stop for the Orr Stage Company, and Doyle added a blacksmith shop and a barn that could hold up to a dozen horses. He also raised oats and hay on over sixty acres of fields. Jim Doyle sold the roadhouse in 1912, and the property went through the property had several owners, including the Slate Creek Mining Company. In 1926 Arne N. Sundt, a director of the Nabesna Mining Company, discovered that the manager of the Slate Creek mine, a fellow named Elmer, was sidetracking the gold which should be going to the mine owners. In a 1993 interview for the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Oral History Program, Arne N. Sundt's widow, Henra Sundt, explained what happened next: "Arne put on the only suit that he ever owned," and traveled to the offices of the mining company and told them what was transpiring. They told Arne he "could just take over the place as Elmer hadn't sent them one ounce of gold in years!" Arne made an agreement to mine the company's holdings on Slate Creek and send them a percentage, and they sold the roadhouse to him as part of the deal. When Arne got back to Gakona Roadhouse, 1984. Photograph by Jet Lowe. [HABS AK-27-1]
Alaskan History Gakona and confronted Elmer with the news, "Elmer got pretty upset and pulled a gun on him, but Arne just reached out and took the gun away from him." Henra explained, "[Elmer] was just a little guy, but my husband was six feet tall! So Elmer left, but he stayed around the country, mining his own claims on Slate Creek." In 1929 Arne Sundt built a new roadhouse, much larger than its predecessor, in an Lshaped, gable-roofed plan, with 9 private rooms, a bunkhouse on the upper floor, two bathrooms, a general store, and a post office. He also built a separate ownerâ€™s residence, two cabins, a wagon repair shop, and other buildings. Arne and Henra, who had traveled to Alaska from Norway in 1928 to marry Arne, ran the roadhouse together for 22 years, until Arne's untimely death from a heart attack in 1949. When he died, her friends said Henra should sell the roadhouse, but she felt running the roadhouse would provide a good living for her and her children, and she prospered, raising two sons and a daughter, finally selling the roadhouse in 1979. All of the buildings on the site - all but two of them made of logs - have been subsequently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Dexter Roadhouse The Dexter Roadhouse, 62 miles south and east of Nome, was a key point on the Iditarod Trail in 1925, when men and dogs raced blizzard conditions to bring a life-saving antitoxin to the gold rush city of Nome. The roadhouse was situated at the end of two of the biggest challenges on the trail: the shifting pack ice of Norton Sound and the harrowing climb to the summit of
Mrs. Turnerâ€™s Solomon River Roadhouse, near Nome.
Golovin, Dexter’s Roadhouse on the left, his tombstone on the right. [Walter Smalling, Jr., July, 1981, for HABS]
what was known locally as Little McKinley. Both would be crossed in a raging blizzard by champion dog driver Leonhard Seppala and his champion racing team of Siberian Huskies, with the inimitable leader Togo finding the way. The tough little Siberian’s efforts won him a place in history, and the landmark roadhouse won a mention in Gay and Laney Salisbury’s book about the serum run, The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic: “With few reserves to call on, the team began to stumble from exhaustion. But they did not stop, and strained up the final ascent, then raced three miles down to Dexter’s Roadhouse in Golovin.” Around 1890, John Dexter, one of the employees of the nearby Omalik mines, married an Eskimo woman and established a trading post and roadhouse that became the center for swapping prospecting information for the entire Seward Peninsula. There were silver mines on the Fish River, and when gold was discovered at Council in 1898 Golovin became a supply point for the gold fields, but two years later, when gold was discovered in what is now Nome, much of the activity moved there and Golovin’s population declined. Sullivan Roadhouse The Sullivan Roadhouse dates to the winter of 1905-06, when gold rush pioneers John and Florence Sullivan built a log roadhouse on the winter shortcut known as the Donnelly-Washburn Cut-off, which left the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail and ran southeast to the Delta River, cutting 35 miles off the route. They constructed a long, low 20' x 60' cabin with a unique open 'dogtrot' in the middle section which allowed mushers to drive their teams under the shelter of the sod roof before unloading passengers and freight, or unhooking their dogs.
Johnny Buscia and Bill Julian, two of the last gold miners living in the area, stand in front of the Kantishna Roadhouse northwest of Wonder Lake, north of Denali (Mt. McKinley). Date unknown.
The following year the Alaska Road Commission changed the route of the winter cut-off and the Sullivan Roadhouse was suddenly four miles off the trail. The Sullivans resolutely disassembled their roadhouse, hauled it log by log to the new location, and rebuilt their roadhouse, adding a metal roof and enclosing the dogtrot middle section. Additional buildings were added, including a barn, a blacksmith shop, and a guest cabin. With welcoming owners and comfortable accommodations, the Sullivan Roadhouse was a favorite stop for the freighters on the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, and business was good until around 1920, when the main trail, by then known as the Richardson Highway, became the favored route. The Sullivans packed their belongings and moved to Fairbanks in 1923, and the old roadhouse sat abandoned for the next seven decades. In 1997 the Sullivan Roadhouse, the oldest existing roadhouse in Interior Alaska, was once again disassembled and moved, this time to Delta Junction, where it was lovingly refurbished, refurnished, and became the state’s premiere roadhouse museum, showcasing the history of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail with a large collection of historical artifacts and photographs. Kantishna Roadhouse The community of Kantishna was founded as a gold mining camp in 1905, and like many such camps, was originally called by the popular goldrush name “Eureka.” On the north side of
Sept-Oct, 2020 Mt. McKinley, with an elevation of 1,696 feet, Kantishna was three miles northwest of scenic Wonder Lake. With the discovery of gold in the area in 1904 several such camps sprouted, but the settlement which became known as Kantishna was located closest to the gold-producing creeks. As the nearby gold camps were abandoned, those who stayed in the area migrated to Kantishna, and a post office by that name was established in 1905, officially stamping the name of the community. In 1909, a land recording office was established, with local miner Bill Lloyd serving as the first commissioner of Kantishna. In 1919 U.S. Geological Survey geologist Stephen R. Capps reported “since 1906 the population of the Kantishna district has remained nearly stationary, ranging from 30 to 50.” In 1919-20, C. Herbert Wilson became Kantishna’s commissioner, and he constructed the two-story log building which would become the Kantishna roadhouse as a residence for his family. Over the years, the large structure became a focal point of the community, serving as the post office, commissioner’s office, a community gathering spot and a place for travelers to spend the night. The historic Kantishna Roadhouse still stands on its original site, while the modern facility and popular tourist destination of the same name is nearby. Alaskan roadhouses played an important role in early transportation routes, but time and the harsh elements of the north have destroyed most of them. What remains today is only a glimpse of the great network of roadhouses which once crossed the land, providing food, shelter, and a brief respite from the trail to the hardy travelers who took comfort within their walls. ~•~ Excerpts from the book Alaskan Roadhouses, Shelter Food and Lodging Along Alaska’s Roads and Trails, by Helen Hegener (Northern Light Media, 2015). See Resources on page 48.
Alex Grubus’ Forks Road House. Flat Creek, 1919. [ASL-P373-056, Wm. “Buzz” Mitchell Photograph Collection]
In 1933, Ray Mala hired Melbourne Spurr to create a new set of headshots for him. This is one of the images from that photo shoot. The Mala family selected this photograph to represent Ray Mala on Wikipedia. [Credit: "The Mala Collection" University of Alaska, Anchorage]
Ray Mala An Alaskan film star, who also filmed a historic mushing event for Pathe News The Alaskan Native who would become a Hollywood film star, cameraman and director, Ray Mala was born two days after Christmas in the small gold mining town of Candle, 200 miles north of Nome, on December 27th, 1906. Named Ray Agnaqsiaq Wise, his mother was an unusually tall and strikingly beautiful Inupiat Eskimo named Karenak Ellen “Casina” Armstrong, and his father, Bill Wise, was a successful and well-liked trader who did not meet his son until many years later, in California. Ray’s mother sent him to the Quaker school in Kotzebue where Ray learned to read and write and adopt the white man’s social graces. Meanwhile his maternal grandmother, Nancy Armstrong, also taught young Ray about the subsistence lifestyle, and he became an accomplished outdoorsman, skilled with the spear and bow and arrow. A natural athelete comfortably proficient in both worlds, young Ray Mala was destined for great things from a young age. In the spring of 1920, at only fourteen years of age and with fifteen dollars in his pocket, Ray made his way to the largest town in western Alaska, the seacoast city of Nome, and secured a job as a cook on the ship Silver Wave, bound for Seattle. He met an arctic explorer and filmmaker, Captain
Sept-Oct, 2020 Kleinschmidt, on the ship, and was hired to carry a movie camera on a scientic expedition to Wrangell Island. When the filmmaker’s hands got too cold to operate the hand-cranked camera, he taught the young man how to photograph scenes, and Ray proved to be a quick learner with a sharp eye for focus, producing good footage and encouraging Kleinschmidt to teach him more, including developing the film and acting in scenes of northern drama. In her book, Freeze Frame: Alaska Eskimos in the Movies (Univrsity of Washington Press, 1995), author and anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan tells what happened next: “….the Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen took him on an expedition to East Cape (Siberia). The boy had a steady hand and the ability to manage a hand-held camera in the cold, skills that made him a valuable addition to exploring parties coming North. The men he worked with liked him and remembered him, passing his name on to those who followed them.” Ray Wise was living in Nome when the 1925 diphtheria epidemic struck the town, closing the schools, cancelling social events, and triggering the epic Serum Run from Nenana to Nome. A relay series of dog teams, primarily mail carriers, covered the 675-mile trail in only seven days with the lifesaving antitoxin in what would become known as the "Great Race of Mercy.” During the relay, many Americans were transfixed by the story as it unfolded almost in real time via the marvelous new invention of radio. The story gripped the imagination of the entire nation, both the mushers and their dogs were portrayed as heroes, and the story received headline coverage in newspapers across the United States. Through the local newspaper, the Nome Nugget, Ray Wise realized the importance of the story and borrowed a movie camera from a friend. Because it was too dark for photos when the antitoxin arrived in the early morning hours, Ray staged and filmed a re-enactment later that morning of the final musher, Gunnar Kaasen, arriving and delivering the antitoxin to Dr. Curtis Welch, who administers it Ray Wise in a promotional shot from the 1932 movie ‘Igloo.’
Ray Mala, cameraman
Dorothy Lamour and Ray Mala, ‘The Jungle Princess.’
to his young patients with the assistance of his nurse. The sale of that valuable historic film footage to Pathe News, and assistance from his old friend and Pathe News photographer Merl LaVoy, helped Ray Wise gain the attention of Fox Studios in Hollywood, where he soon landed a job as assistant cameraman and became a valued member of the film crew. Historian and journalist Lael Morgan wrote about Ray Wise’s work in her book Eskimo Star: From the Tundra to Tinseltown, the Ray Mala Story (Epicenter Press, 2011): “The assignment required focusing the camera manually by estimating the distance from subject to lens and moving the focal distance markings on the barrel. This had to be done without looking through the viewfinder, which was the domain of the head cameraman. Few possessed that skill, but LaVoy had claimed Wise was a natural, and the would-be hire quickly proved himself. In fact, Wise had already mastered the difficult ‘feather focus’ which made distance shifts unnoticeable. He was as unobtrusive as he was efficient at placing marks on the floors of sets so actors would know where to stand. And he also did well as second cameraman, shooting negatives for the European market.” Ray Wise worked in acting roles and as a cameraman in films over the next few years, and in 1932 he landed a leading role in the silent film Igloo for Universal Pictures. When that film was a success, he was cast in the lead role of Mala—a name he would later make his own—in MGM’s blockbuster Eskimo, directed by W. S. Van Dyke and billed as “the biggest picture ever made.” The movie premiered at the Astor Theatre in Times Square, New York City, in 1933, with a blazing marquee of 70,000 light bulbs. The New York Times called it “a remarkable film,” and Ray was suddenly a star. At the Academy Awards that year the movie won the first Oscar for Best Film Editing. The next leading role was in Last of the Pagans (1935), filmed on location in Tahiti, followed by The Jungle Princess (1936), which launched Dorothy Lamour's career. Ray played the lead in
Sept-Oct, 2020 Republic Pictures' Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island (1936) which was one of the first serials the studio made, and he shared top billing with Herman Brix in Republic's Hawk of the Wilderness (1938). Over the next fourteen years Ray Wise—who adopted the last name Mala after his role in Eskimo— made films with stars such as Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Iron Eyes Cody, Gary Cooper, Olivia de Haviland, Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton, Gene Tierney, Betty Grable and many others. He went on location as a cameraman on films by directors such as Cecil B. DeMille, Otto Preminger, and Alfred Hitchcock, and became Hollywood’s most famous indigenous actor and cameraman. In 1932, near the end of filming Eskimo, Ray married a longtime friend from Alaska, but the relationship was short-lived. In 1937 he and a young actress and dancer, Galina Liss, eloped across the border, and nine years later, in 1946, a son, Theodore, was born to the adoring couple. It was a golden time in Hollywood, and the Mala family was happy and joy-filled. Ray Mala—he often dropped ‘Wise’ from his name—continued working on films, making over twenty-five in his thirty years in Hollywood. He was working on a new film in Mexico when he collapsed, and less than a month later unexpectedly passed away in a Los Angeles hospital at the age of 45. His wife Galina died less than a year later, leaving their six-year-old son Ted an orphan. Ray and Galina’s son would grow up, graduate from Harvard University, and return to Alaska to become a respected physician in Anchorage. In 2018 Dr. Ted Mala spearheaded the return of his parents’ remains to Alaska, for reburial in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery. In 2008, to celebrate the 50th birthday of "The Last Frontier,” Time magazine selected Ray Wise Mala as one of the state’s Top Ten Most Memorable Alaskans. ~•~
The Alaska Club published an almanac each year which provided a wealth of information about Alaska, including photos, a business directory for towns in Alaska, a compilation of local laws, maps, United States Geological Society articles about its work in Alaska, tables of distances, listings of federal officers, newspapers, mail routes, army posts, railroads, and more. The 1905 and 1907 Almanacs are digitized and can be read free online at the University of Alaskaâ€™s Rare Books & Maps site: https://archives.library.uaf.edu/islandora/objects/eerl-rare-aca
Sept-Oct, 2020 "The Alaska Club" logo
The Alaska Club An Alaskan Social Community in Seattle The Alaska Club was associated with one of the lesser-known facets of the gold rush era, that is, the formation of social and commerical institutions for the men who returned to the Seattle area from the Klondike and Alaskan gold rushes. Although most of the men who headed north found no gold, a small percentage of them did return with more than just memories, and the Alaska Club was founded as a social club with the intent to promote business ventures between Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Incorporated on December 7, 1903, with the object of promoting Alaska and its resources, the Alaska Club provided an exclusive social community for those who had ventured forth on what was perhaps the greatest adventure of their lifetime and had returned with a repertoire of engaging stories to tell about Alaska and the Yukon. Through the Club they could make business connections and enjoy the camaraderie of other men who had also traveled through that wild and beautiful north country. They would spend hours regaling each other with their splendid - although sometimes harrowing - adventures. Simply living through them had instilled in them all a common bond; a shared sense of a brotherhood of the north which many nurtured to their dying days. The Alaska Club also became a social community for some of Seattleâ€™s most prominent businessmen, providing a gathering place for men with interests in or ties to Alaska, including gold rush miners, travelers en route to or coming from Alaska, former Alaska
Alaskan History residents who had chosen to settle in Seattle, and wealthy men whose memorable tales of hardship and adventure enlivened many an evening. A 1904 letter from the Alaska Club to its members outlined the goals of the club and encouraged new members to join, stating, "We want to bring close, mutual and friendly relations between the people of Seattle and those who go to the front to open up new fields for the thrift and energy of the American in that new field of wealth, Alaska." The letter continued, "We want the Alaska Club in effect to be an Alaska Business Exchange, where all having Alaskan interests, or seeking business therein, may meet 'on change' to discuss matters of mutual interest. We want all Alaskans, Seattle Business Men and Visitors, to enroll their names on the Club’s register books. Any person of good moral character, who is interested in the present and future development of Alaska is eligible for membership in the Club.” In the Yukon Territory newspaper, the Dawson Daily News, dated September 30, 1907, an article headlined “Troy Is At Helm” told readers how John W. Troy, former editor of the Skagway Daily Alaskan, had been made Superintendent of the Alaska Club of Seattle. Subtitled “Old Time Northern Man Now in Charge of Alaska Club,” the article explained that Troy– who would one day become governor of Alaska–was hoping to secure membership of 5,000 northerners “in anticipation of the rush of Alaskans who will make Seattle their headquarters this winter.” After explaining that Troy was well known for his ability and integrity, the newspaper noted, “The demands on the club are large. It has done and is doing splendid work. It is
This stained glass dogteam was in the Alaskan Cafe at the first Arctic Club building (now the Morrison Hotel), at 3rd Avenue and Jefferson Street. The glasswork now hangs in Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI).
John W. Troy, first Superintendent of the Alaska Club.
Falcon Joslin, first president of the Arctic Club.
Seattle’s contribution to Alaska. The Alaskans never fail to avail themselves of the Club’s privileges. It was in the Alaska Club that the 1909 exposition idea was born and brought to a practical head. It is the duty of every business man from a practical business point of view, if no other, to identify himself with this organization by applying for an active membership.” In 1908 a similar organization, the Arctic Club, was formed when it was realized that a more social organization was needed in juxtaposition to the Alaska Club’s largely commercial nature. In 1909 the two clubs merged, taking the name of the Arctic Club. This merger is described in the book, Private Clubs of Seattle, by Celeste Louise Smith and Julie D. Pheasant-Albright (Arcadia Publishing, 2009). The first chapter is titled ‘The Arctic Club,’ and shares the history behind the association and the part played by the Alaska Club: “The Arctic Club was incorporated in 1908, but its roots went back further, to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. On December 7, 1903 the Alaska Club was formed to promote Alaska and its resources and industry. In 1904, the 300 members of the Alaska Club moved to the Alaska Building on the corner of Second Avenue and Cherry Street. Located on the 15th floor, the Alaska Club contained a meeting room, reception room, and a large collection of Alaskan artifacts supplied by J. E. Standley, proprietor of Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe. “Soon it became apparent that the Alaska Club, which was largely commerial, needed more of a social aspect, and the Arctic Club was formed in April 1908. In 1909, the Arctic and Alaska Clubs merged. The first president was Falcon Joslin.”
In 1905 the Alaska Club played a key role in bringing the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition idea to fruition.
An article by Senior Contributing Staff Historian Jennifer Ott at the free online encyclopedia of Washington state history, Historylink.org, gives more details of the Alaska Club's beginnings and one of its most significant contributions: "A group of Alaskans at the Trans-Mississippi Commercial Congress in Seattle in 1903 conceived of the Alaska Club as a means to promote Alaska. The Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 had focused the world's attention on Alaska's gold resources and gold continued to come out of the northern gold fields, but after the turn of the century Alaskans looked for ways to draw attention to Alaska's other attractions. Other minerals, agricultural land, fisheries, and timber all abounded in Alaska. It remained remote, however, so Alaskans made a concerted effort to get the word out. The Alaska Club, located in Seattle because, "when coming south Alaskans all reach the same place," offered a central point from which to disseminate information about the territory and at which interested parties could gather. "Upon forming in 1903, the club had nearly 300 members, including prominent politicians such as Richard A. Ballinger, then mayor of Seattle. Although the club sought to highlight Alaska's advantages beyond gold, that attraction still captivated people's attention. The building promoted this imagery by placing a gold nugget in the front door.â€? "In 1905 the Alaska Club played a key role in bringing the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition idea to fruition. Godfrey Chealander of Skagway, Alaska, stopped in Seattle while working on preparing the Alaska exhibit for the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland. Having realized that there was not enough time to prepare a sufficient exhibit, Chealander
Sept-Oct, 2020 suggested to J. E. Chilberg, president of the Alaska Club (and of the Miners and Merchants Bank in Nome), that Seattle mount its own exposition, focused on Alaska. Chilberg then brought the idea to the Alaska Club executive board, which agreed. The executive board and Chealander proposed the idea to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, which also supported the concept. The idea grew to include the Yukon and the Pacific. The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition opened in Seattle on June 1, 1909." The Alaska Club, and later the Arctic Club, played a role in Seattle’s architectural history. In 1904 the construction of the 14 story Alaska Building, the first steel frame skyscraper in Seattle, was financed by Jafet Lindeberg, one of three “Lucky Swedes” who struck gold in Nome in 1898, along with other stockholders. It was the second home of the Alaska Club. In 1916 the Arctic Construction Company, made up of investors from the Arctic Club, built the magnificent Arctic Building, with terra cotta walrus-heads lining the third floor. It was the last home of the Arctic Club, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. In bringing together men whose business and social interests were invested in Alaska, the Alaska Club helped keep their profits going to Seattle’s merchants, bankers, investors, and others, and by 1910 the city’s population had surpassed that of rival city Portland, Oregon to the south. In 1921 historian Ezra Meeker wrote “without Alaska, Washington would not now have attained the commanding development that is her pride.” ~•~ From The Stained Glass Dog Team, The Mystery Behind a Craftsman’s Contribution to the History of Seattle, by Helen Hegener, published in 2014 by Northern Light Media. www.northernlightmedia.com
1907 penny postcard of the Alaska Building, the penthouse level was home to the Alaska Club.
Terra cotta walrus heads line the third floor of the Arctic Building, built in 1916 for the Arctic Club. The orignal design included a polar bear over the Third Avenue entrace to the building.
A Bibliography of Alaskan Literature 1724-1924 In the October, 1928 issue of The Washington Historical Quarterly, published by The Washington University State Historical Society, there appeared a brief but historically interesting book review of James Wickersham’s A Bibliography of Alaskan Literature 1724-1924, a book of over 635 pages with an equally long subtitle: Containing the Titles of All Histories, Travels, Voyages, Newspapers, Periodicals, Public Documents, etc., Printed in English, Russian, German, French, Spanish, etc., Relating To, Descriptive Of, Or Published In Russian America or Alaska, From 1724 to and Including 1924. Charles Wesley Smith, the Quarterly’s business manager, key supporter, and frequent book reviewer, who would one day be University of Washington Librarian Emeritus, observed that the publication of Wickersham’s book “may well be considered a notable event.”
James Wickersham James Wickersham, a 43-year-old politically active lawyer in Tacoma, Washington, came to Alaska as a newly appointed federal judge in 1900, crossing the territory by dogteam in winter and steamship in summer to administer justice wherever it was needed. In 1903 he
Sept-Oct, 2020 made the first climbing attempt on Mount McKinley, but he was turned back by a sheer rock wall which now bears his name—the Wickersham Wall. In 1908 he was elected as Alaska’s first delegate to Congress, eventually serving seven terms, and even though as a delegate he never got to vote, his impact on Alaska cannot be overstated. He was instrumental in the passage of the Second Organic Act of 1912, which granted Alaska territorial status and an elected legislature; he secured funding for the Alaska Railroad in 1914, and he was responsible for the creation of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1915, which later became the University of Alaska, and for the Alaska public school system. He proposed the first Alaska Statehood Bill in 1916; and introduced legislation to establish Mount McKinley National Park in 1917. In the introduction to his edited edition of Wickersham’s 1938 memoir Old Yukon, Tales, Trails, and Trials, UAF historian Terrence Cole described Wickersham as “the federal judge, frontier lawyer, congressional delegate, political power broker, legal scholar, mountain climber, self-taught ethnologist, linguist, historian, and book collector who shaped the literature, law, history, education, commerce, and politics of Alaska.”
1928 Washington Historical Quarterly Book Review Charles Wesley Smith’s review of A Bibliography of Alaska Literature 1724-1924 (Cordova, Alaska: Cordova Daily Times Print, 1928. Pp.27+635), from the October, 1928 issue of The Washington Historical Quarterly: The publication of Judge James Wickersham’s Bibliography of Alaskan Literature may well be considered a notable event. This book brings together in available and convenient form more than ten thousand references to histories, travels, voyages, newspapers, periodicals and public documents relating to Russian America or Alaska from 1724 to and including 1924. It wholly supercedes the pioneer bibliographies of Dall and Baker (1879 and 1884) and the more recent list of A. H. Brooks (1906). Few if any of the commonwealths of the United States can claim an equally adequate and satisfactory survey of their bibliographical resources. The compilation of this monumental work began in 1908 when the compiler was sent to Congress as the Territorial Delegate from Alaska. Nearly twenty years of successful and persistent work has been devoted to collecting material and about two years to the actual task of compiling the manuscript. Associated with the compiler have been several specialists including such capable men as Mr. Hugh A. Morrison of the Library of Congress and Richard Geoghegan of Fairbanks, an expert Russian linguist. The scope of the bibliography is indicated by the following statement drawn from the preface: “Every reasonable effort has been made to secure every title of printed books or magazine articles relating to Alaska, and of every book or newspaper printed in the Territory.” Many of the references, more than three thousand items, refer to United States government publications. Librarians will especially appreciate the fullness of the citations to these federal documents, including as they do complete congressional designations together with serial numbers printed in black-face type.
Random sample pages from Wickershamâ€™s Bibliography. Read online at https://tinyurl.com/y4jhueo4
The arrangement is alphabetical under subjects such as: adventure, aeronautics, biography, birds, boundary, description, education, explorations, fiction, fur trade, history, etc. Under each subject the entries are alphabetted by author. Each entry is numbered in order, there being a total of 10,380 numbers. A voluminous index makes reference to the particular number of each item or title. A survey of the entire literature of any subject is most useful to all who make use of printed materials relating to it. Such bibliographies add range and effectiveness to research and greatly economize the labor of all workers in the field. The importance of this new publication is much greater therefore than that of an ordinary book since it will multiply the usefulness of all existing books relating to Alaska. The volume is a strictly Alaskan production. It has been published under provision of the Session Laws of Alaska, 1927. The printing was done in Cordova, and the distribution is under the direction of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines, Fairbanks (College Post Office) Alaska.
Narrative Outline of Alaska History Perhaps the most interesting section of Wickershamâ€™s book is the 17-part history of Alaska, beginning in 1724 with Peter the Great, who drew up plans for the Kamchatka Expedition, to determine the relationship between Asia and North America. The officer in charge of this expedition would be Captain Vitus Bering, for whom the Bering Sea is named.
“….probably the most valuable single book ever written about Alaska.”
There are several more sections on Russian explorations, and then the history turns to the international telegraph line in 1865; Spanish, English and French voyages to Russian Alaska; the transfer of Russian America to the United States; the missionaries in Alaska; the Klondike stampede; and the relationship of the Territory of Alaska with Canada’s Yukon Territory. Wickersham’s bibliography is well described in the Foreword by Charles Bunnell, the first President of the University of Alaska, who appreciated the author’s donation to the ‘Farthest North College’ of all monies realized from sales of the book: “For two hundred years the published information concerning Alaska has been scattered over the four corners of the Earth. There has been no instrument by which one could discover what has been written, who was the author, and who was the publisher. Honorable James Wickersham with infinite patience and industry undertook to provide such an instrument. He has rendered a very notable service, and has provided the casual inquirer as well as the student with a most comprehensive timesaving device.” Terrence Cole commented in his Introduction to Old Yukon: “Appropriately enough, the Wickersham bibliography was the first book published by the fledgling Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (now the University of Alaska), the institution that Wickersham had founded. Scholars and librarians immediately recognized that his ‘monumental’ bibliography was probably the most valuable single book ever written about Alaska.” James Wickersham championed the cause of Alaskan statehood until his death in Juneau, in the fall of 1939, at the age of 82. His homes in Juneau and Fairbanks have been preserved as museums, keeping alive his legacy and his legendary achievements. ~•~
Leffingwell with his dogs at Flaxman Island, Canning District, Northern Alaska, circa 1910
Ernest de Koven Leffingwell Mapping the Arctic Coast of Alaska Ernest de Koven Leffingwell was a joint commander, with Ejnar Mikkelsen, of the 1906-1908 Anglo-American Polar Expedition, which established that, contrary to long-held myths and stories, there was no land north of Alaska. Self-described as “the forgotten explorer,” as his efforts went largely unrecognized in his own time, Leffingwell is credited for later mapping about 150 miles of the Arctic coastline, between Point Barrow and Herschel Island, along with the adjacent Brooks Range, between 1906 and 1914. Leffingwell, Mikkelsen, and the members of their expedition became stranded on the coast of the Arctic Ocean when their schooner, the Duchess of Bedford, became ice-locked near Flaxman Island, 250 miles east of Pt. Barrow, the northernmost point of Alaska. While Leffingwell, Mikkelsen, and the ship’s physician, Dr. G.P. Howe, were exploring the coastline in March and April, 1907, the sailors in the expedition used wood from their badly-damaged ship to build a rough but serviceable cabin and other structures on Flaxman Island. For the next several years, Leffingwell stayed at the camp intermittently and conducted mapping projects
Sept-Oct, 2020 with Inupiat guides, traveling by dog team in the winter and following the coastline in a small boat during the summer months. Leffingwell’s cabin and several other buildings on Flaxman Island still stand, and a sign was placed on them in 1971 by geologist C. G. Mull for the Alaska Division of Parks which states: “From this base camp geologist Ernest D.K. Leffingwell almost singlehandedly mapped Alaska’s Arctic coast during the years 1907-1914. He also identified the Sadlerochit – main reservoir of the Prudhoe Bay field.” In 1978 Leffingwell’s camp was listed as a National Historic Landmark. Leffingwell’s writings include many original journals and related papers from his expeditions. In 1909 he contributed to a book, Conquering the Arctic Ice, authored by his friend and expedition co-commander, Ejnar Mikkelsen (Philadelphia: G. W. Jacobs); in 1915 he wrote an article, “A Communication from Leffingwell,” for the University of Chicago Magazine; and in 1919 he authored a 247-page Professional Paper on the Canning River Region for the U.S. Geological Survey. In Conquering the Arctic Ice Mikkelsen described buying dogs for the two-month exploratory expedition which he, Leffingwell, and Dr. Howe undertook in the spring of 1907: “Another serious question to be settled was that of the dogs, as several more of our pack had died, and some of those we had bought were useless. We had to get more and were willing to pay any
Map of the northeastern coast of Alaska showing the Canning River and Flaxman Island.
Alaskan History price for them. We began at once to look about us for dogs in the possession of the Eskimos which we knew would stand us in good stead for the ones lost, but we had to pay exorbitant prices for them. For example, one which we bought from Kanara was paid for with two sacks of flour, 25 lbs. beans, 6 lbs. coffee, 20 lbs. dried potatoes, 12 lbs. cocoa, one shot-gun, 250 rounds of ammunition, and one broken-down tent; and another bought from Uxra with two sacks of flour, one sack of cornmeal, 5 lbs. coffee, 20 lbs. dried potatoes, 25 lbs. sugar, 4 lbs. prunes, 4 lbs. malted milk, 200 rounds of cartridges, and one hatchet file. The prices, as said above, were exorbitant, but the dogs were good, and what was more, we needed them.” Joe Henderson is a dog musher and arctic traveler who has explored the remote regions of Alaska over the past 30 years with his intrepid team of twenty-two Alaskan Malamutes. During the winters of 2006-2008, Joe and his Malamutes made a series of unprecedented solo expeditions in the Brooks Range and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Pulling three sleds in tandem with two tons of supplies, Joe and the team mushed entirely unsupported for up to five months at a time without seeing another human being. Henderson’s expedition was a tribute to the “forgotten explorer,” Ernest de Koven Leffingwell. Traveling with Leffingwell’s journals as a guide, Joe covered much of the same country, camped in many of the same localities, and experienced some of the same weather and ground conditions that Leffingwell had a century before. On the third year of the expedition, Joe found Leffingwell’s cabin during a whiteout blizzard.
Leffingwell’s winter quarters at Flaxman Island on the northeastern coast of Alaska.
Sept-Oct, 2020 Joe kept a detailed journal of his travels, and he wrote a three-part series of articles for the sled dog focused Mushing magazine which appeared in three issues from 2006 to 2008. An excerpt: “It always amazes me how much ground Leffingwell covered. Leffingwell, along with some local Inupiat assistants, had spent six winters and nine summers surveying, mapping and studying Alaska’s arctic environment. He traveled by dogteam or small boat over 4,500 miles, drew a sketch map of the entire coast between Point Barrow and the Canadian border, triangulated 150 miles of coast, and mapped the geographic features of 4,000 square miles of mainland. He also named several geologic formations, including the one that is the source of oil at the Prudhoe Bay oilfield. He journeyed 20,000 miles by ship, and he mentioned pitching camp 380 times! These are just a few of his extraordinary accomplishments.” [Joe Henderson, Retracing Leffingwell, Mushing Magazine, Nov/Dec, 2008] Ernest de Koven Leffingwell was awarded the Patron’s Medal by the Royal Geographical Society and the Charles P. Daly Medal by the American Geographical Society, both in 1922. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Trinity College in 1923. Leffingwell Fork, a stream on Alaska’s North Slope, Leffingwell Crags in Canada’s Northwest Territories, and Leffingwell Nunatak in Greenland are named for him. When he died in Carmel, California, in 1971 at the age of 96, he was believed to have been the oldest surviving polar explorer. Leffingwell wrote—and was written about—extensively, and there are numerous links to references and further reading at his biographical sketch on Wikipedia. One article which does
Ernest de Koven Leffingwell, Captain Eijnar Mikkelsen, and Dr. G.P. Howe, February, 1907, Anglo-American Polar Expedition, Canning District, Alaska.
Leffingwell’s article for Collier’s Outdoor America, Oct-March, 1908-09.
not appear there was published in Collier’s Weekly magazine, one of the largest selling magazines in the United States at the turn of the century. Titled “Camping Alone by the Frozen Sea,” Leffingwell’s article described the land and the people of the Northern coast of Alaska. The introduction sets the stage: “Here’s a man who chose three half-fed years of isolation on the Arctic Coast in preference to comrades and food in plenty, and now—on coming home—writes about his experiences with as little elation as though it had been a trip to Liverpool and back. Mr. Leffingwell went out with the Mikkelsen-Leffingwell Expedition to find land in the great Arctic Sea. The rest of the party came back after a year’s try, and when their ship had sunk off Flaxman Island; but Leffingwell stayed on in that silent solitude, three hundred miles from the nearest outpost (Point Barrow); and when he came out, two or three months ago, he brought with him detailed maps of the Arctic Coast line from Beaufort Sea to the Yukon Divide. No doubt Mr. Leffingwell thinks he was moved to remain in the North for the opportunity offering to make maps of unmapped land and geological surveys of unexplored sections, but it sounds to us like the Call of the North. And who can explain it?” The article by Leffingwell is a unique first-hand report on conditions faced by explorers in the far north at the turn of the century. He begins with a description of the expedition itself: “For many years geographers have been interested in having the Arctic Ocean explored, especially to the north of Alaska. There were many reasons for believing land existed there as well as to the east and west, where numerous islands had already been discovered by the early explorers. Our plan was to explore that area, and both the Royal Geographical Society of London and the American Geographical Society of New York gave their influence as well as funds. The larger part of the money, however, was from private sources. After the usual financial difficulties we sailed in May, 1906, from Victoria, British Columbia, in a small sailing schooner, with provisions for two years. Our outfit was the usual one for Arctic expeditions, with sled, skis, canvas canoes, and
Sept-Oct, 2020 furs made in Norway after Nansen’s plans. Our party consisted of eight men, of whom Captain Mikkelsen and I were joint commanders. Our scientific staff was completed by Dr. G. P. Howe of Lawrence, Massachusetts; the rest were sailors. “The ship was unable to penetrate any farther along the north coast of Alaska than Flaxman Island, about three hundred miles to the east of Point Barrow. Here she was frozen in, but well protected from any pressure by the heavy sea ice. During January and February all our energies were bent upon preparation for our sled trip northward to explore that area. We were away from the ship for two months, and covered about five hundred miles, but failed to find land where it had been reported by whalers and natives. Instead we found the sea to be over two thousand feet deep within fifty miles of shore, which is accepted as very strong evidence against the existence of land in the vicinity. Having finished the exploration of that portion of the Arctic Ocean, and being unable to repair our leaking vessel, the expedition came to an end, and the members, with the exception of the writer, returned to civilization. “My chief interest lay in geology, and the mountains, which could be seen about fifty miles inland, offered a virgin field. With the exception of a few prospectors, no white man had penetrated the interior, and nothing of its geology or geography is known to the world. Consequently I decided to remain with the Eskimos two years longer and to explore this most attractive region.” The next few paragraphs describe the geography and weather of the northern coast of Alaska, and while quite informative, it is Leffingwell’s comments about the native populations which provoke historic interest. “Along the whole coast of Arctic America, Eskimos, or evidence of their former existence, are found. Judging from the abandoned houses and villages, they were once numerous along the north shore of Alaska. But now their numbers are being fast reduced by the contagious diseases brought in by white men, against which they have developed no immunity. At Point Barrow where a few white men have been engaged in whaling and trading for a quarter of a century, and where there are also a missionary and a schoolteacher, is still a village of two or three hundred Eskimos. Another settlement of much less size has gathered at Herschel Island, where the whaleships have long wintered. In all the five hundred miles of coast between these two villages there are hardly a dozen Eskimos. Inland perhaps a couple of dozen families live in tents and follow the caribou from place to place. “Throughout Arctic regions travel in winter is with dog sleds. Locally domesticated reindeer have been tried with success, and horses have been used for heavy freighting in mining camps; but on the north coast of Alaska the Eskimo dog is still indispensable. The pure-blooded dogs are large and strong and can stand the climate, but the race is fast deteriorating through promiscuous breeding with dogs brought in from the outside. Eskimo dogs are very playful and affectionate as a rule. They are as well fed as the family and well treated, but never made to mind. Such a thing as coming when called (unless for food) is unknown. The pups are fitted with a harness and tied to a post or to a small log, and in tugging at their chain strengthen and toughten their shoulders and legs, so that when full grown they are very powerful. As soon as they can follow the sled, they are hitched into line with the older dogs for short trips. This they
Alaskan History regard as great fun, so they put every ouce of strength into the work. They sleep in the house or tent the first winter, but after that are never allowed inside even in the most severe weather, during which they get what protection they can in the lee of the tent or sled. Formerly both natives and white men constructed houses out of snow blocks in which to sleep while traveling in winter-time. Occasionally snow houses are still used, but since it has become possible to secure canvas or boat drill from the traders, a tent is preferred. I have spent months in different kinds of tents and find the one used by Eskimos by far the most comfortable and safe. Willow sticks about ten feet in length are stripped of their bark, bent into a curve and allowed to dry. Fifteen or twenty of these light curved sticks are stuck up in the snow and lashed into a hemispherical form over which two covers of light boat drill are thrown. When snow is shoveled around the margin and well packed down, this low, round tent will stand any wind that blows. The snow floor is covered with caribou skins on top of which the sleeping-bags are placed. There is plenty of driftwood along the coast and willow on most of the rivers, so the traveler need but carry a small sheet-iron stove to cook with and to heat the tent. The air space between the covers makes a great protection against the outside cold, so that while cooking a meal the tent often becomes unbearably hot even with the door open. At night after the fire is out the bodily heat from the people sleeping in such a tent will raise the interior temperature over fifty degrees (F.) above that outside. Hardly any frost forms upon the walls and one is able to sleep comfortably with the head outside the bag. During the worst gales that blow on that coastm one can keep the tent warm and comfortable all day, while residing or smoking at one’s ease, and at night take off all of one’s clothes and sleep with as much comfort and safety as in a steamheated house. Having had this good night’s rest, he can face the next day’s cold with greater cheerfulness. Contrast this tent with those often used by polar explorers, in which they lay awake most of the night, buttoned inside of a wet sleeping-bag listening to the flapping of the tent and wondering how soon everything will blow to pieces. “The permanent houses of the natives are constructed of driftwood heavily sodded over. Formerly they were heated with blubber lamps, but now small stoves have taken the place of the primitive apparatus. They keep the houses too hot for comfort, at least for a white man, but the Eskimos strip to the waist and do not mind it. Many times the temperature was found to be over 90˚ F., and once a clinical thermometer, left in a house where the writer was attending a sick boy, was found to register 108˚ F., the highest temperature it was capable of indicating. In summer these houses become damp, so the people move out of doors into tents. “The natives that have come under the writer’s observation are absolutely honest as far as property is concerned, and will go hungry rather than help themselves to another’s cache. On the other hand, they have no idea of any obligation to live up to an agreement any longer than it pleases them. As long as a white man has plenty, they think themselves justified in taking every advantage of him, but as soon as he is in need of assistance they will do all in their power to help him. This is also true of their relations to each other. “The sportsman need not go to Africa for large game. Whales ten times the weight of elephants go along the Arctic coast in hundreds and are frequently killed by the natives and white men who hunt them in small boats from the shore. The whalebone in the upper jaw weighs
Sept-Oct, 2020 about a ton and sells for over five dollars a pound. The natives are skillful hunters, but as a rule miserable shots, depending upon the repeating powers of the rifle rather than marksmanship, for they will hardly average one caribou for twenty cartridges, and keep shooting long after the game is out of range. “There is scarcely any kind of life that has not hardships peculiar to itself. Those of the Arctic seem worse because they are different from those of civilized life. If a man should come into a house with his face all frozen after having walked twenty-five miles against a bitterly cold wind, most people would think something serious had happened, and would perhaps send for a doctor. In the Arctic, the teapot would be set on the stove and lunch prepared while the man was being questioned about game or trapping. A few days later the skin of his face would peel off where it had been frosted much as in a case of sunburn. “In very few places is our duty toward our neighbor more clearly seen and gladly performed than within the Arctic Circle. Worthy people are allowed to die of cold and hunger amid the plenty of civilization, but in the North no one need starve while there is food in the country. No matter what their personal relations, one man will always shelter another in time of need.” An interesting note is found in a tribute to Leffingwell printed in the Trinity College alumni newsletter, The Trinity Tripod, Dec. 17, 1912: “In the summer of 1908 Leffingwell returned to spend the winter in the States, suffering at times from the cold! With all-fur clothing he was comfortable during the Arctic winter, and the weight of all his fur garments for out-of-door wear was less than we require here in winter.”
Aerial view of Leffingwell camp from the Duchess of Bedford mast behind Leffingwell’s house, and the wreck of the Duchess of Bedford in the background, looking south, by Ejnar Mikkelsen, 1907. [NPS photograph]
Sources & Resources The links and references below reflect the specific sources used in researching the articles which appear in this issue, and include reference books, videos, websites and other media. Lengthy URLs have been shortened. WELLS FARGO IN ALASKA • Wells Fargo Messenger, May, 1913 https://tinyurl.com/y9lvm67w • History of Wells Fargo https://tinyurl.com/y5lq44wk • Wells Fargo history at Wikipedia https://tinyurl.com/y3nnwae7 • Wells Fargo History Museum in Anchorage https://tinyurl.com/y2mbznpb MCGREELEY’S EXPRESS • Mekeels & Stamps article, Joseph A. Cavagnol https://tinyurl.com/ybcl7szv • The Canadian Aerophilatelist http://www.aerophilately.ca/ca-199103-v007n01-w012.pdf • The Penny Post McGreely’s Express history https://tinyurl.com/yc5fo62x • Letters of Steve Sims https://tinyurl.com/y73eg58b ROADHOUSES OF ALASKA • Alaskan Roadhouses, by Helen Hegener https://tinyurl.com/y35wnnj7 • Alaskan Roadhouses website https://alaskanroadhouses.wordpress.com • Roadhouses at ExploreNorth http://www.explorenorth.com/library/history/roadhouses.html • Library of Congress roadhouse photographs https://tinyurl.com/y6jttrcm THE ALASKA CLUB • The Alaska Club at HistoryLink https://www.historylink.org/File/8707 • Alaska Club 1905 Almanac https://tinyurl.com/y2mg4s44 • Private Clubs of Seattle https://tinyurl.com/y6jx8jws • The Arctic Building https://tinyurl.com/y34qzr7r RAY MALA • Wikipedia entry https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Mala • APRN Interview with author Lael Morgan https://tinyurl.com/y2cfpf56 • Time: Alaska Top Ten https://tinyurl.com/yyw9wlsl • KTUU news video: Reburial https://tinyurl.com/y3et7wgb JAMES WICKERSHAM’S BIBLIOGRAPHY • Bibliography of Alaskan Literature https://tinyurl.com/y3zoqjwm • Review in WA History Quarterly https://tinyurl.com/y5hnf8ln • Old Yukon: Tales Trails Trials https://tinyurl.com/y3v8x3fk • Wickersham State Historic Site http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aspunits/southeast/wickshp.htm ERNEST DE KOVEN LEFFINGWELL • Article about Leffingwell https://tinyurl.com/y5dw926d • Collier’s magazine article, March, 1909 https://tinyurl.com/y2lhw6u4 • National Park Service gallery of photos https://tinyurl.com/y63b8qpy • Trinity College newsletter, Dec. 1912 https://tinyurl.com/y4rtgzrn GENERAL RESOURCES • Alaska & Polar Regions Collections & Archives http://library.uaf.edu/apr • Alaska’s Digital Archives https://vilda.alaska.edu • Statewide Library Electronic Doorway [SLED]: https://lam.alaska.gov/sled/history • Google Books https://books.google.com • Gutenberg.org https://books.gutenberg.org • Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov • Chronicling America https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov