21. Washington DC to Katalla River AK

Finally, some real adventuring with one of the earliest US Geological Survey teams in Southwest Alaska.

(If no map appears in the email, click on the title above to go to the blog page.)

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Here and There Synopsis:

21.1 Passing through Chicago.

June 5, 1903

Six weeks previously Hayes arrived in the US from Liverpool with less than $5 in pocket. Now he’s at a stopover in Chicago with a first class ticket, “on a fast train that will reach Seattle in four days.” George Curtis Martin, (Jean the genealogist says GC is not related to John Martin the author of these synopses) the leader of the Alaska survey, instructed him to find his own Pullman sleeper and dining car, but that was all too rich for Hayes as he still has only about four dollars to make his way to Seattle.

East of Chicago Hayes marvels at the density of the population, “One wonders where all the people come from, how they all live and how so many can find sustenance in one land.”

June 6 1903

West of Chicago he marvels at the desolation and emptiness, “The Bad Lands are very picturesque, earthen hills eroding rapidly, of little use to man.”

21.2 Outfitting in Seattle

June 8,1903

In the five years since Hayes last visited Seattle, the gold boom has settled and the town shows signs of maturing, it “is much larger and is getting paved streets and cement sidewalks instead of the planked streets and wooden footpaths of those days.”

Martin puts Hayes up at the Hotel Seattle in Pioneer Square carelessly instructing him to pay for his own meals “for a couple of days, then he would settle with me later.” Hayes says he can get just enough to eat for 10¢ at a low-ramp Japanese restaurant nearby. In this contradictory moment, Hayes lodges at a fancy hotel, works on outfitting the Alaska expedition on a $6,000 budget, and has only 10¢ a day on which to eat. “Martin is more extravagant than I am, but I am inclined to believe there is a lot of game to be had in the north, and count on that rather than lump round a heavy burden of unneeded grub. Even my hip boots and oil skins are included in the outfit, which is more than one can hope for after these ships of recent years.”

21.3 Running the Seymour Narrows

June 13, 1903

An uncharacteristic joy suffuses Hayes’ description of the Seymour Narrows and his trip up through this watery labyrinth of British Columbia. “There are green islands on every side, large and small. Winding channels that burst suddenly into wide gulfs and into narrower fjords, with snow mountains sometimes near, always in the distance if we are not shut in. Waterfalls leap into the sea, or roaring rapids boil into the bays as if they were anxious to escape the hills.”

The beauty of the natural world sustains Hayes in all his travels. Perhaps a current reader can understand his ceaseless roaming as pursuit of out-of-the-way corners of transcendence like he found at the Seymour Narrows. “They are said to be about 800 yards across, and there is a large rock in the center of the strait. It is a crooked passage; and when the water is high, ships can pass. Deep enough at any time, but the current is tremendous as the water pours through the passage like the creeks pour into the sea all the way. For twenty minutes the water is still. It is then the ships put on all steam ahead and make the short run before the current begins to run in or out of the Gulf of Georgia.”

This far north daylight lingers very late. Hayes will not go below deck as long as light remains to reveal some new beauty round the next bend. “To one who loves nature it is an ideal life.”

21.4 The Beauty of Sitka

June 20, 1903

In a rugged wooden vessel called the Bertha, Hayes and Martin make their way up the southern Alaska coastline through Ketchikan, Petersburg, Juneau, Douglas, and finally to Sitka. Traveling with them are, “scientists, priests, girls seeking moneyed men for husbands or for prey.”

The biggest catch on board would be Colonel William Greene of the Cananea copper mines in Mexico, one of the wealthiest men in the world. Greene travels with a group of mining men from Arizona whose drunken, debauched behavior elicits this comment from Hayes, “If this is all that wealth brings men, I am content to be counted among the humble of earth.”

Colonel William Greene (with hand raised)
addressing striking Cananea copper mine workers
Mexico, 1906

The beauty at Sitka fairly takes Hayes’ breath away: “The gold mines at Juneau and Douglas may be more profitable, but Sitka has the transcendent beauty that one never forgets. It fronts almost on the open sea. Cut off by numberless tiny islets, it wanders about the rugged coast line and back into the forest in bewildering fashion.” Much of the architecture here is Russian and Hayes wonders why they ever gave up this vast territory rich in natural resources.

21.5 Hemmed in at Dundas Bay

June 22, 1903

Poking up the coast to Dundas Bay, the small ship gets hemmed in by thousands of tiny icebergs off Muir Glacier. They’ll have to wait for the winds to scatter them across the bay before leaving the small salmon cannery near which they are blocked.

The cold water makes the teeming fish life here tastier than in warmer climates but the cannery wants only salmon. There are so many, Hayes wonders where they all come from. Any fish not a salmon is discarded for the gulls. “This when Europe is full of starving people who never knew a square meal, yet so vivid in my mind.”

21.6 Yakatut Bay: Real Alaska

June 24, 1903

At Yakutat Bay: “This is real Alaska, with Indian women selling furs, mukluks, beaded moccasins, ditty bags, everything possible they know to make.” The world’s largest glaciers are on every side. Forty miles distant, though seeming only ten in the crystalline air, “is the famed peak discovered by Vitus Behring (sic) in 1741, I think it was.”

Vitus Bering,
Danish Navigator in service to the Russian Navy

One more short hop across the ocean and the expedition will have arrived at their base and begin some inland explorations.

21.7 Wingham Island

June 27,1903

When Hayes and Martin land on Wingham Island, place names mentioned in the Diary become confusing. Hayes refers to places with names used by the locals, while Martin continually renames them. So when Hayes says a scow immediately towed them from Wingham Island across to the mouth of the Chilkat River, a current map shows this as the Bering River – Martin’s names stuck.

On the scow, Hayes picked up another interesting name: “an ex-prize fighter, one Ed Smith, who was famed for defeating Joe Goddard, the Australian Barrier Champion, was working long-shore at the beach.”

”Denver Ed Smith”

Above the high tide line, the men set up a tent to hold back the voracious mosquitoes, “that are the curse of the north.” Hayes and Martin brought a small skiff from Seattle; the plan is to wander up and down the costal inlets, rivers and lakes of this roadless area looking for resources. Already Hayes can see coal-bearing rocks around what is now Bering Lake.

As Hayes frequently notes throughout his travels to the frontiers of European and American expansion, cultural contact usually is not genteel: “The white man has in Alaska crowded the natives out of all best places, has brought to them social diseases, liquor, and dishonesty.”

21.8 Exploring far Inland.

July 10, 1903

Traveling in the skiff and by hiking along bear paths pushed through “the jungle of devil’s club, tag alder and in the spruce forest”, Hayes and Martin explore where, “No maps have ever been made …. We are the first government party.” Hayes marvels at the volume of water cascading from the enormous glaciers: “there are eighty rivers in the thirty miles falling from the ice field between [the mouth of the Bering River] and Yakataga.”

By law no company can take more than sixteen land claims in this territory. But Hayes knows of one company with more than 1,500 claims taken by two men. “Talking to them, they told me they had difficulty in studying up names to put on claims.” If some mineral resource proves good on a claim, the company places a real homesteader there; if not, the claim lapses in a year. “There are four companies grabbing all prospects of coal, oil or anything else that may give evidence of remuneration in this district.”

During their explorations over the moss covered ground, at the edge of glaciers, and across torrential streams (Martin nearly drowned in one) Hayes feeds himself and Martin on ducks, geese, ptarmigan, and the salmon everywhere. Eagles and gulls gorge on the abundance of salmon and other small fish. “There are numerous bears, and the old Scotch foreman at the coal mines has killed eighteen of these splendid animals for so-called sport.”

21.9 Two Men alone in the Bush and Not Companionable

July 15, 1903

Down from the backcountry, Martin and Hayes push west to Catella River which Martin promptly renames the Katalla. The two aren’t getting along well. For Martin, “Everything must be done according to the book, and this goes ill when one must use his head as emergencies arise in the bush. He has almost caused us to lose our lives several times already.”

Part of the trouble stems from Martin’s inability to see Hayes’ expertise. At Katalla a number of frontiersmen gather as in a gold rush looking to get rich quick on coal or oil claims. As these men watch Hayes pilot the small skiff in off the ocean through the breakers at the mouth of the river, all marvel at his skill with a boat – but not the boss of their little two-man expedition: “Martin never realizes any danger, being inexperienced and foolhardy.”

Nevertheless, the money is good and Alaska endlessly fascinating so Hayes will stick it. At Katalla the mineral wealth astounds him: He describes many coal seams six to eight feet in diameter, and one reaching 27 feet. Not to be outdone, Martin reports one 63 feet in diameter near the glacier line. In addition to coal, oil seeps from the ground in a pool covering several acres. Hayes dips up a gallon to be sent to Johns Hopkins for analysis.

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