How Do You Pronounce Glacier? And Other Alaska Fun Facts

Frank and Nell are steaming up to Juneau. Almost there! During this part of their five month journey it seems like they have an experience worth writing about to their New York cousins every other minute! I definitely am getting a sense that Frank is taking more notes here than he was during the legs in California and Oregon. In this part their fellow passengers get in an amusing argument over how to pronounce “glacier” right. I didn’t realize there even were different ways! This section finishes out with detailed descriptions of hunting, different Alaskan wildlife, and geology/mining in the Treadwell Mines area. Frank has said that Alaska is a great county, and it looks like the natural resources are what impress him the most. He half-joking says he wants to invest in Alaska fish canning and mining operations, I wonder if he would have ever actually considered it if the opportunity was right?

Passing between islands many thousands feet high, with here and there a narrow rivulet trickling down from above, or a large cataract of water falling from such a distance that ’tis lost in a mist before it reaches the bottom, we listen to an argument between an Englishman and a Chicago girl, as to the proper way to pronounce the word “glacier”.

Heretofore this couple have been on the best of terms, but now they are waxing warm, and presently they separate and are not seen together for an hour or more,- when the ice seems to have melted, and the bets are even, as to whether we can make a match of it. After this some of the passengers have the audacity to speak of them as “Mr. & Mrs. Glacier.”

But speaking of these islands, we could see with our field glasses, on several occasions, what appears to be deer, (or elephants, as a little girl called them) standing near the water’s edge, or sometime in the open. Once I saw a deer swimming across from one island to another, not more than 100 feet from our steamer.

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Deer captured by S.S. Dolphin, c. 1896-1913. University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Below the snow line, nearly all of these mountains are covered with forests, and we are told that all through the 20,000 islands of Alaska, bear, deer, and all kinds of game are abundant, and that it is veritably a sportsman’s paradise. Continue reading

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Tales of Gold and Tlingit Totempoles

The Felters have finally made it to Alaska! After many months of travel, Frank and Nell pass Dixon Entrance, the maritime boundary between the U.S. and Canada. In 1903, a treaty between the two countries made the northern line of this strait the official border. While they’re still on their steamer, the couple hear stories about Frank Dinsmore, a famous prospector who made a fortune in gold up around Bonanza Creek in 1896. Dinsmore’s success was described by Jack London and other travel writers and no doubt encouraged others to come north looking for gold. 

They stop briefly in the small town of Ft. Wrangell, where they admire Tlingit locals and their totem poles. I found it interesting that Frank decides not to describe the Native Americans he observes in Alaska in nearly as much detail as the Chinese immigrants he sees in California. “We did not have time to read any of these family histories, and besides we never believed in prying into other people’s affairs.” If they had asked, they would have learned that they had visited the grave of Chief Shakes (Kaawishté), a local leader who lived in Wrangell between 1840 and 1878. Shakes’ heirs still live in the area today. To learn more about Wrangell, visit their historical society!

After our missionary friend has subsided we listen to a young man who has made his pile, and has just deposited it in a Seattle Bank. Among other things he told of a certain Frank Dinsmore who took out $240000.00 of free gold in a single day at Bonanza Creek. He also spoke of several who came to Alaska with a few thousands in cash and dropped it all in worthless claims, returning home sick and tired of the Golden North. Before the British Government levied 10% royalty on all gold taken out of their territory in the Klondyke region the miners were inclined to boast of their big findings, but now, they keep their mouths shut and only pay royalty when they have to.

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Working No. 4 Bonanza, Klondike, sterograph, circa 1900. University of Alaska Anchorage.

In the year 1898 a royalty of $1,200,000.00 was paid to the British Government, and in 1899 over double that amount.

Just before our steamer cuts the Alaskan waters, we have a few ocean swells while passing Dixon’s Entrance, and here we are treated to a sign of 10 or 15 whales swimming among the surface of water, gathering in great mouthfuls of small fish and spouting out the water through the blow holes in the top of their heads. We have noticed a few whales previously, but never so many at one time, as on this occasion.

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Tlingit Killer Whale Figure, 1962. National Museum of the American Indian.

Continue reading

Alaska Really is a Great Country

It’s early fall, 1900, and Frank and Nell have almost made it to Alaska. Voyaging on the steamer Cottage City, the trip along the British Columbia coast is one of the most treacherous in the world. Hundreds of ships sank along the sharp rocks and strong currents on this very route. Though the journey is perilous, the Felters are not alone. Friendly missionaries and successful gold miners from Dawson fill their heads with stories about the land and its riches. Did you know the word “Alaska” is an Aleut word meaning “great county” or “great land?” As Frank mentions here, the 1867 Alaska Purchase was known as Secretary of State William Seward’s “Folly” at the time, but after gold was discovered in the Yukon in 1896 thousands traveled up to strike it rich. The friends that the Felters make on the Cottage City were probably some of the first fortune hunters to make it to Alaska in the 1890s.

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Cottage City, circa 1890-1900. University of Washington Libraries.

The water is perfectly smooth until we cross the straits of Juan De Fuca, to Victoria when the vessel tosses about some, but ’tis near midnight and we are too sleepy to notice the rolling very much and go back to sleep. Next morning the gong wakes us up and we hurry down to breakfast for the cool air coming in the stateroom has given us a good appetite.

As we take our places at the table we all are looking to see who our companions are to be en route. Directly opposite to us is a neat looking young minister from Portland and a middle aged D.D., who is not so neat in appearance, but who bears the title of “Superintendent of the Mission Service, in Alaska.” At the end of the table to the left sits a gentleman with his wife and daughter, one on either side. He wears a watch chain made of Gold nuggets, and with his daughter enjoys the celebrity of having belonged to one of the first parties that passed over the Chilcoot Trail and reached Dawson. The young lady has a rather pretty face and often amuses us with some of her experiences.

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Heart of the Klondike by Scott Marble, c. 1897. Library of Congress.

Conversation is slow at our first breakfast, and as soon as the meal is over everyone goes out on deck to see where we are. Continue reading

“Wild Sublimity and Weird Grandeur:” A Ride Up the Columbia River

Frank and Nell are finally finishing up the Continental US portion of their vacation. In this section, they travel up the Columbia River to Portland, noting the many natural wonders that can be seen along the way. Frank compares the Columbia to the Hudson River, but dares to say that the East Coast river barely compares. I wonder if Frank’s New York cousins thought he was bragging a bit too much in his letter? The Felters mention several other noteworthy items here: the impressive Oregon lumber and produce industries in action, the mighty Cascade Locks, and a funny story about a stubborn pony that just won’t get on their boat. At the turn of the century, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest were still lush and contained many natural resources that would have stood out compared to areas in the East that had been clear cut long ago. We end with the Felters boarding the steamer “Cottage City” finally headed for Alaska!

Now we are passing Multnomah Falls. The stream as it leaves the mountain top above, is Thirty feet wide, yet it seems but a foot or two across, so high is it: the fall being 860 feet perpendicularly.

A little later we are abreast of Cape Horn, which is seemingly a mass of rock and metal fused at some time ages ago, and at a later period the bottom gave way and a portion went down, leaving an almost perpendicular cliff 2500 feet high.

There are numerous points in the upper Columbia that resemble the Hudson River scenery: but in the Columbia’s ocean of waters, its score of cataracts, its rugged crags and towering precipices, its snow capped peaks, its beautiful colorings and changing shadows, its majestic heights and awful depths, and in its wild sublimity and weird grandeur,- the Hudson cannot, -nor can any other river compare favorably with the Columbia.

The Cascade Locks some 40 or 50 miles East of Portland, were built by the U.S. Government at a cost of Twenty Millions, and now the steamers pass through these locks, where formerly a railroad had to be used to transfer passengers and goods around these dangerous rocks to the steamers on the other side.

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Cascade Locks and Mt. Adams, 1920. Library of Congress.

So rapid is the current here, that to make a few hundred feet progress diagonally across and up the river, requires an hour or two of time when the river is high and to go directly up the stream, through the rapids would be impossible.

It is along here that this mighty river has found its way through and across the Cascade range of Mountains. At this point the average yearly rainfall is Eighty (80) inches, while a mile or so further East it is only Eighteen (18) inches, or less than one-fourth the amount.

We reach our destination The Dalles about eight o’clock in the evening, two hours late from the fact that our boat was stopped 121 times, more or less, to take on or put off freight and passengers, during the trip. Once we saw a man on the bank waving his arms wildly about, and the Captain therefore ran the boat over against the sandy shore, and a gang plank was run out. The man ashore tried to lead a horse up the plank, but the horse didn’t want to come abroad. Then two men pulled while two men pushed: but all to no purpose, the little animal jumped off the side of the plank and swam ashore. This occurred several times, and the Captain, very much disgusted, rang the bell to go ahread, and we left out friend and his obstinate little cayuse on the shore. The man was very much crestfallen, but the cayuse shook himself and winked at us, and seemed very happy to still be on dry land. We lost about 20 minutes by this episode, but were well repaid by the diversion it gave us. Continue reading

Carlisle Indian School Disinterment

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Students outside after classes, circa 1895. Image credit: Dickinson College.

Earlier this week U.S. Army personnel began excavating the remains of three Northern Arahapo boys who were students at the Carlisle Indian School in the 1880s. Little Chief, Horse, and Little Plume all arrived at the school on March 11, 1881 from the Dakota Rosebud reservation. Unfortunately, all three died within the next few years and were buried in the school’s cemetery.

The Carlisle Indian School was founded as a government-run boarding school in 1879 with the goal of assimilating thousands of Native American children into mainstream “American” culture. Students came from reservations and tribes all across North America. According to the Carlisle Indian School Digital Resource Center : “the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (CIS) served as the model for off-reservation boarding schools across the U.S. and Canada. Operating from 1879-1918, CIS enrolled over 10,000 students from across the United States. Rather than continue the costly “Indian wars,” the founder of Carlisle, Capt. Henry Richard Pratt convinced Congress that schools such as Carlisle should be established to assimilate and “civilize” Indian children.”

Check out their website to view thousands of digitized photos and documents, as well as links to teaching resources and other publications about the school and its impact on Native Americans and the United States as a whole. There is a lot of really interesting and important material here.

To make sure that no remains or artifacts are accidentally destroyed or lost in the disinterment process this week, the graves are being dug up by hand and the soil sifted through screens. Delicate but important work for sure. After the remains are disinterred, they will be buried at the Winder River Reservation in Wyoming where the tribe currently lives.

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Rose White Thunder attended the school in the 1880s.Image credit: Dickinson College.

When I worked at the National Anthropological Archives in Washington D.C., we occasionally had different tribal groups travel to the museum to repatriate (is that the right term?) the remains of their ancestors that had been collected by Smithsonian scientists in the 19th and early 20th century for research purposes. If you want to learn more about the repatriation process see this link.

The best resource for learning more about the school is Dickinson College’s Digital Resource Center (linked above). The PA State Archives also has a small collection of photos and publications, as well as a microfilm collection of school records that are also useful for learning more.

 

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This photograph of the entire student body was taken in 1884. Image credit: Dickinson College.

Are You a Cowboy or a Colonel?

“’Jim,’ said he, ‘here are two gentlemen going to Deadwood, Dakota. What is it that has occurred at Deadwood lately? Haven’t the Indians scalped the whole population?”
“’No,’ said Jim, throwing himself back in his chair and lifting his eyes to the ceiling with an air of deep meditation. ‘It is in Colorado where that took place, it was not in Dakota.’”
“’Then the cow-boys have taken possession of the city, and burnt the whole of some quarter.’’”
“’No; that was in Montana.’”
“’Ah yes, you are right. It is a flood: I remember now. The river overflowed and carried away all the city. It was last month.’”
“’Ah! After all, it is some weeks since that. The post-office must be restored and reopened.’” (2)

For such a cool book that was really popular in its day, you have to do some searching to find out more about Edmond Mandat-de Grancey and his book, Cow-boys and Colonels. Originally written as a series of newspaper articles about the French baron’s travels in the Dakota Territory, it was popular enough to have been published as a book in 1887, translated into English, and made de Grancey a successful travel writer for the rest of his life (he later wrote travel stories from trips to the Eastern U.S., Ireland, and a couple of other locations too). 75 years later, it was republished by Yale University as part of their Western Americana series but has since been out of print and isn’t easy to find.

I came across this book purely by chance, one of those happy accidents that you read about in book introductions or articles about discoveries in dark and dusty libraries. Well, McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland is a little dark and dusty, and it is where this story began for me. A few years ago, I was there on the sixth or seventh floor to get some books for a paper I was writing.

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My adventure began in a row just like this. Photo Credit: UMD Libraries

If I remember right, I was walking down a row of books looking for the right call number, and I happened to notice the faded title on a book: Cow-boys and Colonels. That was enough to get me to take the book off the shelf.

It was a rebound copy, pretty worn and unremarkable looking, but for some reason I decided to open it up and read the first few pages. Well, that was enough to get me hooked. I sat down on the floor and  ended up reading the first chapter right there in the stacks before I decided to check the book out and be on my way. I wish I had more lucky library stories like this one! I think its always worth it to wander and browse around your library, there’s always something you’ll never, ever find on the internet or in a catalog, you just have to look at the shelf.

In the busy-ness of graduate school, Cow-boys and Colonels sat on my bookshelf for two years before I picked it up again. I kept on renewing it hoping that I’d have to time to read it but never did. But before I knew it, I had graduated and had to return all my books back to the library. As I packed the book into my backpack to take back to UMD, I remembered how cool it was and that I never had a chance to read it. So, I wrote down the title and added it to my list of books to read for fun now that I wasn’t in school anymore. Half a year after that, I finally got my own copy of the book, a Christmas present from my father-in-law. He has his own farm in Missouri and I don’t think he’d mind having a ranch in the Dakotas, so I think the book title stuck out to him too. I’m finally finished reading now, three and a half years after I discovered it. Well, it was definitely worth the wait! Continue reading