Project Canterbury

The Alaskan Missions of the Episcopal Church
A brief sketch, historical and descriptive

by Hudson Stuck, D.D.
Archdeacon of the Yukon

New York: Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, 1920.

Chapter VII. Some Special Fields

ONE of the bright chapters in our work amongst white men in the interior has been the five years' charge (1915-19) of the Rev. H. Hope Lumpkin at Fairbanks; a pastorate filled with service in many varied forms. It is much to be wished that many more clergy would give such a period of their early ministry to the mission field. There is no more valuable apprenticeship for larger charge, and there is no reason why it should interfere in any way with the realization of further ambitions. In faithful pastoral work, in the careful preparation of sermons--often most unwisely neglected by missionaries who do not feel the pressure upon them of a high general level of literary culture--in visits to the creeks of the neighbourhood and the conduct of divine service amongst the scattered miners, in the organizing and training of a most successful Boy Scout troop, in constant and systematic attention to the large distribution of reading matter associated with this mission, in efforts for the education of illiterate immigrants, and, later, Red Cross and war activities, Mr. Lumpkin found his five years slip rapidly away, and left Fairbanks as he would be the first to admit, a broader man, a more capable man, a more widely sympathetic and understanding man, and therefore a more useful man, for the experience, with the affection of all classes in the community.

II. Cordova and the Copper River

Cordova has much of its importance as the terminus of the Copper River Railway; the daring and picturesque road of an hundred and twenty miles or so, constructed by the Guggenheim and Morgan corporation at a cost, it is said, of $20,000,000, to reach the Kennicott copper mine. One year's output of the mine, during the great war, is said to have paid the whole cost of the railway building. This road connects at Chitina with the government highway to Fairbanks, on which a stage service is maintained the year round--by automobile in the summer and by horses and sleighs in the winter--carrying passengers and mails, so that Cordova and Skagway are, today, the chief gateways to interior Alaska. When the government railway now under construction from Seward, on the opposite side of Prince William's Sound, to Fairbanks is complete, Cordova will probably yield to Seward its importance in this respect. Cordova has, however, salmon and clam canneries, and mining of many kinds, in its immediate neighbourhood; one of Alaska's coal fields and its chief known oil field, are not far off, and as a port its tonnage is one of the' largest in the territory. The place came into being when the railway was begun in 1907; was visited from Valdez and the first services held that year, and in 1909 the Rev. Eustace Ziegler began his charge, which happily yet continues.

St. George and the Dragon

The situation of Cordova gives the resident clergyman opportunity for varied and abundant work. The Red Dragon, to which reference was previously made, with its billiard tables and magazines, remains a much appreciated resort for men of all sorts, and is a centre for the distribution of reading matter second only to Fairbanks itself. Men coming and going, men waiting for trains or ships, quartz and oil and coal prospectors, young engineers of mining companies, fishermen, lumbermen--all these find a warm welcome.

No longer is it necessary to clear away the benches and tables when time for divine service arrives, or to draw a curtain screening the altar when service is concluded. A beautiful little church has been built on the adjoining lot, dedicated to St. George, and the immemorial conjunction of saint and dragon is thus preserved, without involving destruction or even conflict; indeed the dragon becomes a most valuable auxiliary in the fight against evil. The church was consecrated Easter, 1919, at the conclusion of ten years' work of Mr. Ziegler.

The church and the clubroom bear many evidences of Mr. Ziegler's artistic skill, for he has enriched the walls of both with paintings of great beauty and deep religious feeling. Nor is Cordova the only place so distinguished. At St. Stephen's Church, Fort Yukon, are two large canvases, a Nativity and a Crucifixion, copies of great masters, by his hands, and he has expressed his willingness, as his leisure shall permit, to paint altar-pieces for every church in Alaska. If someone of artistic sympathies would bear the not inconsiderable charge, nowadays, of pigments and canvas and frames, our churches, and even our Indian missions, might rejoice in such adornment and profit by such graphic representations of the Christian faith. The Indian mind is particularly susceptible to the stimulation of pictures, and repays such stimulation, not only in heightened devotion but in bringing forth its own hidden artistic aptitudes. And there is something admirably appropriate, something that links us with fervent spirits of the past, in an artist-priest devoting his scant leisure to the adornment of God's sanctuaries.

Scant leisure, indeed, the priest-in-charge of this work has. Periodic visits to the Kennicott mine, where large numbers of men are employed; visits up and down the coast to other scenes of activity, vary the local labours of Cordova itself. Chitina, Strelna, and MacCarthy's are settlements along the line of the Copper River Railway to which periodic visits are made.

III. Anchorage

The origin of the new town of Anchorage, its situation and its probable future, cannot be understood without consulting the map and grasping the scope of the government railway from salt water to the interior.

Anchorage is at the head of Cook's Inlet. The railway, starting at its designated ocean terminus at Seward on Resurrection Bay of Prince William's Sound, passes up the whole length of the Kenai peninsula and touches salt water again near the mouth of the Knik Arm of Cook's Inlet, before plunging into the wilderness of the interior. At this place, where the railway touches salt water again, the town of Anchorage has sprung up. There was no name of a place to which tickets could be sold when the rush to start the new town took place, so tickets were sold to the "ship's anchorage"--and a simple and beautiful town name thus arose. Sitting upon tidal water, why should not Anchorage become the real as distinguished from the nominal terminus of the railway from which so much is expected? There were considerations that presented obstacles--but were they insuperable? The tides in Cook's Inlet are of very great height and sweep with tremendous force from its broad mouth to its narrow head, culminating in a "bore" or wall of water. At the reflux great flats of mud and sand are left bare. But the chief obstacle is that the head of Cook's Inlet is not ice-free all the year round as Resurrection Bay is; not every year, at any rate. For much the most of the year, for all of some years, ships can go right up to Anchorage for the embarkation and discharge of cargo, and the long railway haul up the Kenai peninsula would be avoided.

At any rate, railway construction began at Anchorage as a base; large numbers of workmen employed upon the road had their homes there; a fine new town was laid out by the government surveyors and lots were sold by auction in the summer of 1916. We have built a church, All Saints, have bought a rectory, have had a resident clergyman, the Rev. E. W. Hughes, since 1916, and an active work is carried on from this point along the railway that creeps gradually into the interior.

This situation on the coast is curiously paralleled by the situation at the other end of the line in the interior. The designated terminus of the railway is Fairbanks. But the railway, pursuing the route that seemed to present the least difficulty to the engineers, will reach navigable water first at Nenana, seventy-five miles below Fairbanks on the Tanana River, right up against the site of our mission, building being carried on from both ends of the line simultaneously. Nenana became the chief interior construction camp. A new town was laid out by government surveyors, lots were sold by auction, and an important city--for interior Alaska--has already risen there, believing that it may count on being the real, as distinguished from the nominal, interior terminus of the line.

Whether Anchorage or Seward will ultimately reap the chief trade of the road at its ocean end, it is very hard to say; but it seems probable that Nenana will be the chief point of distribution for goods shipped to the interior--other than those designed for the immediate vicinity of Fairbanks.

The prospect just now for any great increase of commerce following upon the construction of the railroad is not very bright, but it will doubtless facilitate such development as the interior resources of the country are capable of, and afford a much readier means of entrance and exit than has hitherto been available.

Meawhile the little settlements that spring up in the wake of the railroad give good opportunity for the pioneer religious work from Anchorage as a base, carried on (1920) by Mr. Hughes.

IV. Juneau and the South-Eastern Coast

A few years ago Holy Trinity Church, Juneau, was raised to the status of the pro-cathedral of the Missionary District of Alaska, and the Rev. Guy Christian became its first dean. The beautiful little residence and church at Sitka had shared the bad fortune of that place. When it ceased to be the capital and all the courts and officers were removed, it ceased to be an eligible place of residence for the Bishop, having infrequent mails and uncertain and incommodious communication with the mainland. Mr. Christian had spent five years in charge of the church at Nome before coming hither in 1915. Juneau was at that time the most populous and most important place in Alaska, and probably retains those characters today, though much reduced. A great wave of quartz mining activity had swept upon it. In addition to the famous Treadwell mine on Douglas Island, just across from Juneau, mines of great extent had been developed in the basin behind the mountains that rise up so steeply from the mainland shore of the Gastineau Channel, and tunnels had been driven through this mountain face so that the ore was transported by gravity to immense stamp mills clinging to the mountain side, from which the "concentrates" descended by gravity to ships riding at the base. Many millions had been spent in this development and operations on a grand scale were going on.

The decline in gold mining, due to the lessened purchasing power of gold, has affected these enterprises seriously. Many people think of a gold mine as a sort of Tom Tiddler's ground where wealth is literally "picked up". But gold mining is just like any other mining; there is a certain cost of production, there is a certain value of the product; and the difference between the two is profit, if the latter exceed the former. Where low grade ores are concerned--as they are in this Gastineau region--and the margin of profit is small per ton, any great increase in the cost of mining will wipe out the profit entirely, for gold mining is just like any other mining except in one respect--the value of the product is fixed by law. Gold is the one thing in the world that, under the present system, cannot rise or fall in price, though we have all seen how tremendously it can change in purchasing power. Mines and stamp mills are frequently kept going, at their minimum capacity, after they fall below the point of profitable operation, for the depreciation of the valuable and extensive machinery is very rapid when disused. When there is hope of a profitable future resumption and the loss of operation is less than the loss of depreciation through disuse, the mining will be continued--and this is the present (1920) situation very generally throughout Alaska and indeed throughout the world.

Anyone can see, however, that the operation of plants in this minimum way is a very different thing from the busy populous stir of extensive mining pushed to its utmost capacity and reaping handsome returns.

Juneau and the whole region involved have suffered from the depression. Moreover the great Treadwell mine on Douglas Island--one of the show places for a generation on this coast--pushing its operations too far or too incautiously under the water of the Gastineau Channel, was inundated and destroyed past redemption in 1916, and the thousands of men it employed went elsewhere.

The throng of mining engineers and superintendents, clerks and accountants, their wives and families, that swelled the communicant list of the pro-cathedral in 1915-16 have left again for the most part, and Juneau is marking time, attending to present business and waiting for the return of gold-mining prosperity which will surely come by and by.

It will be seen that this condition, disappointing as it is, is quite another thing from the exhaustion of placer mines and the decay and death of placer-mining towns in the interior. With them the gold is gone and there is nothing left. Quartz mining, though subject to fluctuations, is much more stable and permanent. It is said that there is ore in sight for an hundred years' work in the Gastineau region, whenever it shall prove profitable to mine it.

The church at Douglas Island--it was our first church on the coast--still serves workmen of other mining enterprises, although the great Treadwell mine with its famous "Glory Hole" is gone, and is one of the many outlying stations under Dean Christian's care. Thane and Perseverance are others, and places along the coast as far as Skagway are visited by steamboat. There was for a while, and there should be yet, a second clergyman associated with Dean Christian, for there are many little places of varied interest, fishing and lumbering and quarrying as well as mining, sprung up all along this coast, and the development is permanent and sure to go on.

Juneau is the capital of Alaska. The territorial legislature meets there every two years; the governor's mansion is there, and the offices and residences of the chief territorial officials. Its assured importance would warrant more extensive work than the church has been able to undertake.

V. The Tanana River

The charge of the native mission stations all along the Tanana River has been upon the shoulders of the Rev. Frederick Blount Drane for the last five years. Making his headquarters at Nenana, where he has superintendence of the native boarding school and the onerous responsibility of its financial affairs, his duties call him to travel a distance of nearly five hundred miles upon this river, from the native camps at the Hot Springs, forty-five miles above the mouth, to the Tanana Crossing, near the headwaters. In the summer it is his custom to go up to the native village of Chena (twelve miles below Fairbanks) on a steamboat; taking his Peterborough canoe with him and launching it at that place, he visits every fish camp along the river to the lowest point that his work carries him, and then he puts himself and his canoe aboard a steamboat again and returns to Nenana; so that during the dispersion of the summer fishing season the spiritual welfare of the Indians is not neglected. In like manner he goes by steamboat (when such conveyance may be had, which is not every season) three hundred miles above Fairbanks to the Tenana Crossing, and descends the difficult and dangerous stretches of this upper river in an open boat, visiting all the camps. A youthful familiarity with boats and the water at his home on Albemarle Sound, North Carolina, has stood him in good stead in Alaska.

In the winter all these places are visited with a dog-sled; or sometimes, between seasons, on foot with a pack on his back and an Indian companion. The winter dispersion to the hunting camps in the foothills of the great mountain range which makes the western watershed of this river, is thus also attended with spiritual oversight. None but a young and active man of a frame inured to great fatigue, as much at home on the water as on the land, and of an entirely devoted spirit, could carry on this gallant and godly work.

Beginning at the uppermost point, the following stations are under Mr. Drane's charge: St. Timothy's, Tanana Crossing; St. Luke's, Salchaket; St. Barnabas's; Chena; St. Mark's, Nenana, and the villages at Hot Springs, Tolovana and the Coschaket.

Baptizing the babies, marrying contracted couples, burying the dead, visiting and tending and doctoring the sick (we all have to practice medicine more or less in Alaska), preaching and teaching continually, taking up cases where the Indians have been imposed upon, settling disputes and grievances against one another, the work is filled with varied interest and usefulness and the visits of the missionary are eagerly looked for and welcomed.

VI. Our Indian Hospitals

The white men come and go--but the natives remain. And the natives, with needs more urgent and appealing, are quite without resource for their own relief. The diseases which affect them are largely the importation of the white man. Whether or not tuberculosis, the chief scourge of the arctic peoples, be indigenous or exotic in origin is disputed, but the epidemic diseases that from time to time have taken sad toll of Indian life, are undoubtedly of white introduction--measles, smallpox, diphtheria, etc. The native people, though individuals wander widely within definite limits, is fixed and settled in its centres and established villages, and thus is more amenable to hospital treatment than the white. There is no danger that a native hospital, once properly placed, will find itself left high and dry without people to minister to.

It is not more than ten years ago that we began a systematic gathering and tabulating of vital statistics from our scattered missions, and so soon as it was begun the resulting figures were disturbing, for they indicated a small but general preponderance of deaths over births, due chiefly to the ravages of epidemics and to tuberculosis.

Our missionary nurses have done valiant service for the Indians. Many a babe has been saved alive that would have died but for their interposition; many a slight ailment has been prevented from becoming serious by prompt remedies; many an injury has been speedily healed. And the general village hygiene, the painstaking and patient supervision and improvement of domestic conditions--all this has been of immense value and permanent import. But in the face of serious injury, in the face, especially, of epidemic disease, a nurse with her little pharmacy, her few drugs and bandages, is a poor resort.

The general health of the native people had long been pressing upon those engaged in work for them, and it began to be felt that a much more serious effort to cope with the situation must be made. An ambitious plan was drawn up for the establishment of three hospitals on the Yukon River: one at Fort Yukon, one at Tanana, one at Anvik. During the winter of 1913-14 the funds were raised, chiefly by the Bishop and the archdeacon, for the building of the first two of them, and in the summer of 1914 they were constructed.

Dr. Grafton Burke has been at Fort Yukon since 1908. In 1910 he married Miss Clara Heinz, who, it will be remembered, accompanied Deaconess Carter to the Allakaket in 1907. A missionary's wife is not technically a missionary, yet few women who have served as missionaries in Alaska have been of more abundant and gracious usefulness than this self-sacrificing, capable lady. But Dr. Burke at Fort Yukon had been sadly handicapped by the lack of any place for the proper treatment of the sick. More than half of any medical treatment is regimen, and regimen can only be satisfactorily applied in an hospital; especially is this true of Indian people who frequently do not understand, and more frequently will not carry out, the most explicit directions. I doubt if primitive people anywhere can be relied on to follow faithfully a physician's instructions. If this be true of ailments in general, it is true in an especial degree of tuberculosis, and so common is this disease, in its various manifestations, that any Indian hospital is primarily a tuberculosis hospital. Moreover, in many cases, segregation of patients is imperative.

Dr. Burke returned from his furlough in 1916 to find a modern, well equipped, ample hospital at his disposal. It has become a house of relief for the inhabitants of many thousand square miles of surrounding territory. Fort Yukon and Tanana are places where other important streams are confluent with the Yukon, and this was one of the determining factors in selecting these sites. Fort Yukon, in particular, is a sort of native metropolis for all the people of the Yukon Flats, and, indeed, patients are constantly brought to the hospital, by dog-sled in the winter and by boat in the summer, from points far beyond this region. One white man, a well-known explorer, was brought nearly four hundred miles from the north coast of Alaska, and there is a room always maintained for white patients.

But, of course, the hospital is primarily a native hospital, and it has been a blessing to the whole native population of the upper river. It is no longer true, in that region, that the deaths exceed the births; for some years the reverse has been the case. And the indefatigable and loving labours of Dr. Burke have extended themselves far beyond the precincts of the hospital itself, not only, or even chiefly, in making visits to the sick and the injured at considerable distances, often with much difficulty and hardship, but in the constant, detailed reiterated instruction which he gives to the people who come from villages within a radius of an hundred miles, and make Fort Yukon their base of trading and Church allegiance, as well as to those who live at Fort Yukon itself. Many an instance of the value of this influence might be given, at points remote from Fort Yukon, did not the nature of this book exclude anecdote.

The hospital at Fort Yukon, situated just north of the arctic circle, has the present distinction of being the only hospital within the arctic regions of North America. The building of an hospital at the Presbyterian mission at Point Barrow, the most northerly point of Alaska, intended this summer (1920), will happily deny such description in future.

This institution, as it has greatly increased the usefulness of our work, so it has greatly increased its expense. Conducting an hospital in the climate of the interior of Alaska is a difficult and expensive business. The twenty beds are often fully occupied, and it is rarely that there are not at least half a dozen patients within its walls. The two large furnaces relied upon for heating burn up more than a thousand dollars' worth of wood each year. The problem of supplying water to the hospital is not yet solved, although efforts have been made at no small cost to solve it; all water at present used is brought from the river by a tank set on a dog-sled. A shaft was sunk, a tunnel was driven, that the bottom of the river might be tapped and a well provided in the basement, but it froze up. Without a boiler and means of running live steam through, it is doubtful if the tunnel can ever be kept open--and the boiler and live steam are merely matters of additional expense that the state of the funds has not permitted us to incur. [See pamphlet The Arctic Hospital to be obtained from the Literature Department, Church Missions House, 281 Fourth Avenue, New York, N. Y.]

During the summer of 1920 it is hoped to erect a "solarium" for the better treatment of tuberculosis, part of the funds for the construction of it being given as a memorial to a nurse of this hospital who was drowned when the Princess Sophia foundered in the Lynn Canal in 1918. It will be called the Frances Wells Harper Solarium. Fortified by this means of exposing patients, and especially children, almost naked to the direct rays of the sun, without exposing them to the stings of venomous insects so abundant in the Alaskan summers,

Dr. Burke believes that his fight against tuberculosis will be still more successful.

Two years after it was built this hospital was in imminent danger of being destroyed. The current of the Yukon changed its course and threw its whole force upon the river bank. During the months of August and September, 1916, no less than an hundred and thirty feet of bank was cut away. The mission house had to be torn down and rebuilt far back. The building of log piers to deflect the current doubtless served during the next summer, to protect the bank, and the next season the current changed again and the cutting ceased. But the hospital stands no more than an hundred and fifty feet from the bank today, although when built it stood three hundred feet back. For the present the danger seems past, but no one can tell when it may resume; nor is there any spot in all the wide region of the Yukon Flats safe from similar invasion and erosion.

The hospital at Tanana has not yet been as useful as that at Fort Yukon, because it has never had a resident physician. One who was under appointment just before this country went into the war, threw it up when that took place, and died afterwards, fighting an epidemic of influenza. No successor has yet been found. The presence of the army post with its surgeon, three miles away, has enabled the natives to receive medical assistance, for which the mission is much beholden, but the native hospital will never do its work until it has a resident physician. Indians are not admitted to the army hospital.

At Anvik Dr. Chapman has built a convenient and useful infirmary, impelled thereto in part by some sort of promise that a government physician would be stationed there; but this has not been done. It is not easy to secure competent physicians of character for the interior of Alaska, either by the government or the Church.

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