In a rugged frontier where the ocean was king, most
laws came from those who ruled the sea—and few
ships policed the western Arctic like the Revenue
Cutter Bear. Commissioned into the organization
that would eventually become the U.S. Coast Guard,
the Bear patrolled and charted the waters of Alaska
and Siberia, bringing medical care, saving lives, and
dealing out justice when needed. The ship’s crew and
famous captain, the fiery Michael Healy, looked out for
Natives and Americans alike in a time when Alaska
was adjusting to its new status as a U.S. territory.
Steaming to the North follows the Bear from May
to October 1886 as it takes its first summer cruise
from San Francisco up to Point Barrow and back
again. This is the first book to exhibit the photographs
taken by 3rd Lt. Charles Kennedy of New Bedford,
introducing rarely seen photos of the last sail-and-steam
whaling ships, capturing early interactions
of Natives with white whalemen and explorers, and
showing lives otherwise lost to time. Essays follow the
logbook of the cruise and allow readers to vividly ride
alongside the crew in a history-making voyage.
The authors recount scenes of Native life and trading fairs, commercial whaling under sail and steam, traditional dress and hunting tools in the years just before the Nome gold rush changed life on Alaska’s north and west coasts forever. Profiles of the testy captain, Michael Healy, and his chief officers are included along with many full-page photos taken during the trip. These photos, beautifully restored where necessary and captioned as well as possible, are a real highlight.
Katherine C. Donahue is professor of anthropology
at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire.
David C. Switzer (1934–2012) was emeritus
professor of history at Plymouth State University and
coauthor of Underwater Dig: The Excavation of a
Revolutionary War Privateer and Snow Squall: The
Last American Clipper Ship.