University of Alaska PRESS

Book Detail

Book Cover

6 x 9, 296 pages, b&w photos

Format: paper

Price: $20.00

1996

Schwatka's Last Search

The New York Ledger Expedition through Unknown Alaska and British America

by Harris, Arland S.



Unique among the documents on Alaska exploration, this volume contains two accounts of the same trek, the last and perhaps most important expedition of Frederick Schwatka in the headwaters of the White River, the Skolai Pass, and the Upper Chitina drainage.

How Schwatka's account, thought lost for nearly a century, was located is nearly as fascinating as the tale of the expedition itself. Editor Arland Harris, a retired forester, intrigued with early exploration in Alaska, wanted to learn more about the 1891 expedition and its participants. Historians agreed that Schwatka had died before his narrative could be published, but Harris, convinced that such a prominent writer would have left a journal or notes, searched diligently until he came across a newspaper article that named a single sponsor of the expedition: The New York Ledger. Further research revealed that Schwatka's narrative had been serialized in the Ledger in 1892. The paper ceased publication shortly thereafter; its demise coupled with Schwatka's death soon meant that his account, along with the Ledger itself, were forgotten.

Harris located copies of the original Ledger articles as well as C.W. Hayes' journal and photographs and brought them together to present for the first time accounts written by two men of very different distinct--and very different--personalities.

Schwatka, a seasoned explorer and army veteran, was ill, overweight, and in need of money when he undertook this journey through unmapped regions of subarctic Alaska and Canada. His diary of the expedition was written for the popular press, and he sought to make it popular indeed, with heightened tales of adventure and exotic Natives to color the account.

If Schwatka's account was drawn in full color, the the journal of Charles Willard Hayes is a portrait in black and white. The young scientist was released from his regular duties at the U.S. Geological Survey to accompany Schwatka, and he saw the expedition as a chance for research into the geology and topography of a virtually unknown area. Where the old soldier comments on ptarmigan and Tlingit, the youthful geologist notes hornblende and gneiss. Seen together, the two accounts provide a remarkable picture of the far northwest as it was just before the great Klondike Gold Rush changed the territory forever.

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