Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Antarctic Brotherhood

Well, once again it seems that way too much time has passed since my last post! Sorry about that, AB enthusiasts. As you may know from my last post, all the work I put into this project wound up coming to fruition in the form of a book! To those of you who've bought it - Thank you so much! With the book coming out, I started devoting my efforts to a facebook page rather than posting on here; and in the last year or so I haven't done much research on the AB. My interests have now turned southward, and I hope you won't mind if I post some of what I find here.

As I started doing some research on the history of Antarctic exploration, I decided to read primary sources first. As I'm well aware from the conundrums that came up with the primary sources relating to the AB, primary sources aren't the be-all and end-all; they're always biased, often conflicting, and rarely tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Add to that the fact that, as revealed to me in an excellent book called The Invisible Gorilla, our memories actually aren't as reliable as we think they are, and i completely understand that even primary sources have to be taken with a grain of salt.

However, I decided that I want to read about the history of south polar exploration from the point of view of those who were there, before reading the timelines and analysis written by historians. And as I began reading, the parallels between North and South have overwhelmed me.

To dispel a few common misconceptions - polar bears are at the North Pole; penguins are at the South Pole; and never the two shall meet. And before I get into the similarities, here are a few key differences. The Northern land regions, including many of the remote islands, are rife with predators and big, sometimes hostile animals - black bears, brown bears, polar bears (in some places), moose, mountain goats, caribou, and so on. The down side of this was that Northern explorers had predators to worry about; the up side was that the slaughter of one such creature could feed someone for a while (if they did it right, let's not forget McCandless' folly). Southern polar regions don't have such land predators; in fact, the animal life there is exclusively marine and avian. Men who got stranded survived by eating seal and penguin. Also worth mentioning - Alaskan pioneers had vast forests of evergreens to cut down and use to build shelters and fires. Antarctic explorers had to plan ahead in this department. Seal and penguin oil made for decent fuel, but they had to bring all their building materials down with them if they wanted wooden structures.

Another huge difference: Alaska had human natives, and Antarctica did not. This is a huge difference for a number of reasons - and that's for another post.

What the southern regions lacked in predators and territorial natives was made up for in meteorological hostility. The islands and continent of Antarctica are almost exclusively located south of the 60-degree south latitude line. The counterpart of this line in the north is essentially at the most northern part of Southeast Alaska; since the majority of Northern explorers at the time were going through Southeast, what they encountered there wasn't near as isolated and forbidding as what most Southern explorers encountered. Furthermore, the bulk of mainland Antarctica lies south of the Antarctic Circle. The corresponding Arctic Circle was barely crossed by explorers and gold seekers during the same time period. Anyway, in Antarctica, the winds were worse, the temperatures were lower, and the terrain was more difficult. Nearly all of what the southern explorers walked on was sea ice, glaciers, or snow.

Nordenskjold points out in his memoir that, at the time he and his crew were exploring, the southern explorations hadn't claimed nearly as many casualties as had northern ones; unfortunately, this was a premature assessment.

The first noticeable link that I found between northern and southern expeditions was the most obvious - Captain Cook. I recalled from my research on early encounters of Europeans with Natives of Southeast Alaska that Cook's name had come up; I was hardly shocked to learn that his name came up again in reading about early discoveries of south polar lands.

Cook isn't the only character to overlap, nor even the only boat; but there'll be more on all of that at a later post. What I really want to point out here are all the similarities between the types of people involved and the types of activities they participated in.

Bear in mind a few dates, just so you know when all this is happening: The Klondike Gold Rush, which was the second big migration of people up to the northwestern region of North America (second only to the initial migration across the Bering Strait of what would become Natives) took place between 1897-1898. The Arctic Brotherhood formed in 1899. Several more gold rushes in Alaska, Yukon, and BC continued to lure people northward right up til about 1910. The accounts of southern expeditions I've been reading take place in that period between 1900 and 1910; so these histories largely run parallel. At the same time that many men and women were hauling goods up Chilkoot Pass or rafting them down the Yukon River, there were people sledging across the sea ice of Antarctica.

The two books I've been reading so far are accounts of Nordenskjold and his entourage, a Norwegian group who went south between 1901-1903; and Robert Scott's second (and final) expedition seeking the South Pole between 1911-1914, written by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, one of the men on the expedition. Throughout, I've caught snippets about Shackleton, whose memoir will be the next that I read; he was there in between these two expeditions.

The first noticeable similarity is the style in which these memoirs and diaries are written. Writing style at that time seems to be pretty consistent across international borders, and as I read Nordenskjold's account I immediately felt as though I was reading the diary of an Arctic Brother again because of this.

Another obvious similarity, given the time period, involved the type of gear that these guys had. (Yeah - in the Antarctic expeditions at the time it was just men.) As Nordenskjold's and Scott's expedition logs detail the specific amounts of goods that they brought with them in various capacities - whether it was a list of what went on the boat south with them, what came off the boat to build their camp, or what went from the camp to another camp on a sledge-journey - the meticulous attention to detail in listing the quantities and weights reminded me automatically of the "ton of goods" required to enter Canada during the Klondike Gold Rush. ( What a Ton Of Goods meant)

The means used to haul these goods didn't vary much, either. In the Klondike Gold Rush, the White Pass Trail became known as the "Dead Horse Trail" because of the horses who were treated poorly and expected to haul that ton of goods over the pass. Similarly, in Scott's second expedition a group of seventeen ponies was transported south to be used for hauling goods. The stories of how some of these ponies died are both horrifying and mind-blowing. Another common form of transport in both places was dogsled. Both Nordenskjold and Scott brought dogs with them, though it seems Scott's crew had much better foresight in that department.

One of my favorite similarities, pointed out by Cherry-Garrard of Scott's crew: "There has been a sort of freemasonry among Polar voyagers to keep up the credit they have acquired..." I nearly jumped for joy when I read this! Of course, there was no Antarctic Brotherhood to correspond to the AB; but the fact that Cherry-Garrard used fraternal language in referring to keeping secrets from outsiders was particularly intriguing to me. Apparently, though, when a ship crossed the equator in those days, there was an initiation of sorts for men who hadn't been on a ship crossing the equator before. The depictions of this ritual made me giggle just like the details of AB initiations have always done.

There are a lot more similarities, big and small. Just like the Chilkoot crossers had carved stairs into the snow at the Pass, members of Scott's crew carved steps into snowdrifts to navigate. The diets of the people involved were limited and unbalanced. But for me, the most important similarity that I intend to study thoroughly, is that spirit of adventure that I so love about the men of the Arctic Brotherhood. As Cherry-Garrard and Nordenskjold write about the character of each of the men with them, the archetype of diligent and determined adventurer really is solidified. These were people who faced deadly peril every single day, and yet death was not something they seemed to fear.

It's a hard concept to grasp, reading about these expeditions on my Kindle Fire in a house with a furnace, a telephone, and the Internet. Cherry-Garrard, one of the youngest in Scott's expedition, points out:

"Generally the risks were taken, for, on the whole, it is better to be a little over-bold than a little over-cautious, while always there was a something inside urging you to do it just because there was a certain risk, and you hardly liked not to do it. It is so easy to be afraid of being afraid!"

As we go through our day-to-day lives here in modern civilizations, the fears we have are so much less than what these men dealt with on a daily basis for years on end; yet we seem to treat such fears as though they are, in themselves, just as serious. I think that if these guys- many of whom were not born wealthy, were slight of build, and didn't have much social support back home - could approach their daily grind of traversing crevasses and navigating thinning sea-ice with this boldness, we can approach our own daily worries with the same. And we should.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why I Wrote a Book

Hello, faithful Arctic Brethren and ...Sisters? what's the old-fashioned way to say "sisters"?

It's been a pretty long time since I contributed to this blog, and I'm going to start posting more frequently for a while. I took all of the research I did on the Arctic Brotherhood and put it into a manuscript. Jeff Brady at Lynn Canal Publishing in Skagway decided to publish it and right this very moment it is in progress of being printed!

The main reason I wanted to write a book was the fact that this story has never been told in its entirety before. I compiled data from over a hundred sources to put this story together and weave it into what it is now - a chronological history of the organization from 1899-1931; a brief introduction to Alaska's history; and, because of my great love of Excel spreadsheets, some statistics and analysis on the Brotherhood itself. When I first became fascinated with the Arctic Brotherhood, a huge part of that fascination had to do with the fact that the club was so shrouded in mystery. No one had ever compiled all the sources to be able to definitively tell the history of the group.

When I started meeting descendants of the AB while I was living in Skagway, I started to realize that this story was more important to them than it was to me. They wanted to know about the AB because it was a part of their own history and a part of their ancestors' legacy. Because at one time I thought that one of my ancestors may have been among the ABs' ranks, I can understand this.

Beyond all of that, people don't know the significance of the Arctic Brotherhood - even people who live right where it started. People in Alaska don't realize that Alaska's petitions for statehood were begun by a member of the Arctic Brotherhood (Big Bad Wickersham); they don't realize that during the Klondike Gold Rush Alaska had no representation to Congress and they don't realize that the Arctic Brotherhood were responsible for giving Alaska that representation. Some of them realize that the Arctic Brotherhood initiated President Warren Harding into its mysteries, but they don't realize that Presidents Taft and TR were also associated with the group, or that Al Capone's chief legal counsel (a dogsled enthusiast but he name of Fink) was a member.

Since my last post (FOREVER ago) on the blog, my disillusionment with the AB has grown considerably - which, ironically, has become the number one reason i have felt impassioned to share the story of the club. I, like all of the documented members of the Arctic Brotherhood, was born into a white culture that is considered civilized and that has often marginalized those not born into such a culture. Times have changed since the AB reigned supreme, of course; back then, inter-racial marriage was illegal in a lot of places, and those who weren't born white were denied basic human rights and legal privileges that they are afforded today.

But some things don't really change all that quickly. Although laws and policies may adjust in attempts to liberate those marginalized populations - such as blacks and natives, in considering the history of the United States - the culture surrounding treatment of those marginalized populations is slower-moving. Mindsets, ideologies, and even religious beliefs about these groups of people, for some, haven't changed since the turn of the twentieth century when the Arctic Brotherhood contributed to their exclusion.

Although I was blessed beyond measure to be brought up by parents who didn't instill in me a hatred of any group of human beings, it hasn't escaped my notice that plenty of people of my generation were not so fortunate. Although I grew up having family members and close friends who were black, Indian, Asian, and Hispanic (it wasn't until much later that I met any Natives) it didn't spare me from being around people who excluded non-whites from what they considered to be equal human beings.

Unfortunately, the Arctic Brotherhood was an organization that was deliberately exclusive to whites. Nothing official states that this was their policy, but it's fairly obvious when analyzing all the sources about the AB. When they did write a letter to congress demanding that ALaska receive representation there, it was explicitly stated that the letter was written on behalf of Alaska's white residents, thus excluding the Natives.

In a time when the face of Alaska was changing from predominantly Native to predominantly White, it wasn't all that different from the process that happened en masse throughout the United States in the centuries prior. Natives' lands were invaded and taken over, there was a period of struggle, there was a period of discrimination under the law, and finally rights were granted to Natives and a degree of harmony was achieved.

And the Arctic Brotherhood did absolutely nothing to move this process forward.

It became very difficult for me to continue glorifying the conquests and joys of the Arctic Brotherhood when I became aware of their discrimination against Natives and (although this has less circumstantial levidence to point to) blacks. To that end, I think it's important to tell the story of the AB so that their story can illuminate the perils of such racism as theirs.

When I first started researching the AB, it was to try and figure out why the organization died out. I believe their racism was the main factor in that breakup. But you'll have to read the book to find out the rest of the details ;)

The book will be available in May through the bookstore in Skagway. If you're outside of Skagway, you can pre-order a copy from that bookstore (Skaguay News Depot), or wait til June when it will be available on Amazon.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The contradictions of the A.B.

Well, I'm back to it. A year and a half has passed since I posted on here, and a lot longer of a time has passed since I was researching the AB. I've been re-doing some of my research and going down some rabbit holes that had been left unexplored previously, and have come to some intriguing conclusions that need even more research to develop.

By the time I had finished giving my 45-minute presentation on the AB for the national park that I worked at, I was already beginning to be disillusioned with them. At this point, that disillusionment has spiraled into a kind of love-hate relationship. While I admire the spirit the club embodied, I am unsure how to approach that admiration when it's coupled with a tacit discrimination and prejudice.

While other organizations of the time were beginning to add women's auxiliaries and branches, the AB never did so. And while white Alaska residents were beginning to accept that native Alaskans were human beings as well, the AB never seems to have acknowledged natives.

It may even be possible that in a pre-MLK time period, the AB never initiated any blacks either. Unfortunately, of the ten thousand members of the AB, I only have a roster of about 1200. It's hard to prove that they were directly racist without having a complete list of members. However, if none of those 1200 are native or black, it's a likely inference that perhaps none of the 10,000 in all were either.

To attempt to see more of this problem, I've started doing some research on the history of Alaska natives during the time period of 1899-1931, the time when the Arctic Brotherhood was active. Correlation does not imply causation, but I'm beginning to wonder if the Arctic Brotherhood's failure to accommodate races other than white had anything to do with its slow, gradual death as a club.

When the Arctic Brotherhood wrote a letter to Congress in 1904 demanding that Alaska be given representation to Congress, they made explicitly sure to mention that they spoke on behalf of Alaska's 60,000 white residents.

More on this later.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Part 2. Here's what REALLY went down...

All right, you asked for it, you got it. Just don't say I didn't warn you. This is an epic tale, as i'm sure I've said many times before, and epic tales have LONG endings. Just ask Aragorn. 412 pages in Return of the King, 263 minutes in the movie version. The story of the Arctic Brotherhood may not entail a long trek to Mount Doom and that ultimate battle of good and evil, but with the amount of times I've tried to condense the story, and with how emotionally vested I am in this story at this point, it might as well. So, here we go. It's kind of ironic that i'm having a hard time figuring out where to begin the story of the end of the story. I'd start at the beginning but that ends up to be about 65.000 words with my last edit, a little too long for a blog post. I guess the best place to start is right in the thick of it: Seattle, 1909.

By this point in time, the Grand Camp of the AB had been created. With 32 camps altogether over the lifespan of the club, and maybe 15-20 active at this point in time (1909), the Grand Camp was the governing body that held everything together. Representatives from different camps were voted in to be the ones who made decisions that affected the entire club.

Because Alaska is so geographically huge (take that, Texas), the logistics involved in having Grand Camp sessions a few times a year were a nightmare, especially in those days when things weren't as developed as they are now. Because of the way everyone was spread out, and because of the fact that so many current AB members had moved south (re-read part 1), locations outside of the north had been chosen as Grand Camp settings.

They held the Grand Camp in Victoria, Vancouver, and Tacoma, to name a few, when previously sessions had been held in Skagway each year. In 1909, the Grand Camp was set to take place in Seattle.

It's a natural choice for a lot of reasons -- Seattle opened up the Alaska trade routes in a big way, and a lot of ex-miners found themselves living there. This year, an extra factor played into it: the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.

That is another can of worms. The Exposition, modeled after the World's Fair and the Lewis And Clark Expositions that preceded it, was ostensibly an advertisement for Pacific trade routes. The men behind this exposition were Arctic Brotherhood officer Godfrey Chealander and Alaska Club officer J.E. Chilberg.

Because at that time the AB refused to address the notion that a chapter of its club be stationed in Seattle, the Alaska Club had been created a few years prior to fill the void.

The Alaska Club and the AB collaborated in creating the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (that's a tedious phrase to type -- henceforth "AYPE"). It was a great idea and it was wildly successful. But the AB's involvement in it proved not to be without alterior motives as they tried to pull a fast one on the members who still lived in the north.

Add to the excitement one very important visitor -- President Taft made an appearance at the AYPE and was received by the AB. That was a huge deal for the club. They'd met with Teddy Roosevelt years earlier, but Taft spent more time with them and became an honorary member. Therein begins to lie the problem.

There's going to be some speculation happening now, only because I feel like I know these guys well enough to have it figured out what they were up to.

A few factors are incredibly important that contributed to the breakup of the AB precipitated by the events of 1909.
First, The Arctic Brotherhood was officially in favor of Alaska becoming a territory. In 1909 Alaska was a district.
Second, President Taft was in favor of Alaska NOT becoming a territory but remaining under federal control ala the colonial style he'd dealt with in the Philippines.
Third, Taft was not the only member to be made on that day in 1909. One Hundred other men were initiated in Seattle who had never been north of Seattle.
Fourth, Many of the representatives present at the Grand Camp sessions were no longer residents of Alaska, the Yukon, or northern British Columbia.
FIFTH, and most importantly, the thousands of men of the AB who still did reside in the northland had no idea what was going on.

But it went down anyway. Taft was initiated into the AB. He gave a speech after his initiation which initially praised Alaska and Alaskans and then cut to the core of them by talking about his great plans for colonizing the area. According to the papers of the time, the crowd was nothappy with him and shouted their disapproval. After they did, Taft declared simply "I've expressed my views. If you don't like it, you can take back your honors."

The response from Alaska's camps was staggering. Representatives from almost every active camp in the north protested -- in a big way. They publicly decried the actions of the Grand Camp by way of newspapers. A few camps sent notes to the Seattle papers to be published; a few published them in their local papers. Skagway's paper received several anonymous letters to the editor about the entire thing. It was a fiasco.

The general consensus by most camps of the AB at the time was that, to save face, the AB should keep its honorary titles bestowed upon the President but revoke the hundred additional memberships that were given to men in Seattle. Those hundred memberships absolutely degraded the memberships of the men who actually lived in the north.

It's fairly obvious to me what was going on. The guys in the Grand Camp wanted to make a camp in Seattle so the club could expand. With the population of the north declining, how else could their membership go up? It is a perfectly logical step, one could argue; however, it did not seem that they had the approval o f the entire body of the club to go ahead with that move.

After all, if the club ceased to be exclusive to the north, the actual constitution of the organization would have to be changed, as well as the spirit of it and its very reason for existing.

But the Grand Camp didn't see it that way. In the weeks following the debacle at the AYPE, the camp voted to uphold their illegal decisions to initiate Taft and the hundred others. And then it all started to fall apart.

There just isn't a whole lot written about the AB after November of 1909. It was a peak year for them, for sure -- lots of mention in newspapers, consistently; they published a book on their own history; they were mentioned in two Robert Service poems; one AB member even published a tune called "The Arctic Brotherhood Two-Step." (You can listen to it at the site for Alaska Klondike Music.) After what went down at the AYPE, and the Grand Camp's decision to uphold their decisions, the AB began to fall off the map.

A few things happened afterward, but not much. The enthusiasm once held by the men who had come north to change their lives and experience the world was waning. It's sad, really. The Arctic Brotherhood was such an important part of our history, and because after 1909 it fell apart, so many of their contributions go completely unacknowledged. It was thanks to the AB that Alaska got representation to Congress, by the way-- and one of its most active and controversial members was responsible for getting Alaska territorial status in 1912. That same member, none other than James Wickersham, wrote the first bill for statehood, decades before it came to fruition. He went up against the likes of President Taft himself in getting Alaska to become a territory -- and won.

I guess in victories like that the AB still prevailed over all its adversity. It's just sad to think that, today, the main two reasons anyone knows what the AB is is because of its building in downtown Skagway and the mountain that still bears its name. And, because there's a woman who lives in Skagway who has their logo tattooed on her arm and it looks weird so people ask her what it is sometimes.

And that's that. Kind of an anticlimactic end, in some ways. The last battle didn't involve Legolas skipping up onto an elephant. The Mount Doom of the Arctic Brotherhood was the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle. Sadly, in this case, the ring that got cast into the fire was the organization itself. So ends the tale of the Arctic Brotherhood. I hope that you'll still stop back to find out what happened in their heyday and the few things that came about after their demise in 1909. More than that, I hope that in some way you will appreciate the significance of this once-great organization that did so much to bring all of us to where we are today.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Well, hello again, men and women of the Arctic Brotherhood tribute band. It seems that it's been a really long time (once again) since I've updated this. At times i've had big plans to post weekly entries, and then life gets in the way sometimes.

But, as always, the men of the Arctic Brotherhood rarely leave my mind for more than a few hours. They walked these streets, they climbed these mountains, they made these buildings, and they designed the logo on my arm. It's hard to not be immersed in them, really, in a place where history is so alive.

The question everyone always seems to ask me, besides "What is the Arctic brotherhood?" is "What happened to the Arctic Brotherhood?" Whenever someone asks me that, if any of my friends who know me very well are around, they smile, shake their heads, and hopefully LEAVE as soon as they can to avoid hearing that long, long story all over again.

That question is, really, what drove me to the AB in the first place. That question, and a man named Henry Bowman (sadly, no relation). I ended up finding a lot of answers by November of last year on that, but in a lot of ways it's still something that never really got resolved in my mind.

Why did the Arctic Brotherhood fail? OK. There are several factors involved. First, easy ones.

Number 1. When the AB first started in 1899, the white population of Alaska, the Yukon, and northern British Columbia was mainly made up of men (like that alliteration?) who were miners and merchants (BAM, take that Dr. Seuss). As everything became a little more settled over the years and decades, women joined the ranks. And, in this last frontier, traditional gender roles simply did not apply on either side. When the Alaska Native Brotherhood formed in 1912, the Alaska Native Sisterhood followed shortly. All kinds of other fraternal organizations began allowing women to join, even in the form of women's auxiliaries.

But did the Arctic Brotherhood? Never!

This is important to think about considering that when Alaska became a territory in 1912 (thank you AB Past Arctic Chief James Wickersham of Nome and Fairbanks), women were never denied the right to vote as they had been in other states, districts and territories. Women were, under the law, equal to men. An organization specific to the north that did not allow them to be equal to men would maybe have naturally faded out.

Number 2. The population of Alaska dwindled post-Klondike. The gold rushes to Nome and Fairbanks, among others, kept bringing people in for a few years, but a good deal of men and women came to the north looking for gold and never found it. Sure, lots of them stayed. But lots of them didn't. Where did they all go when they left? Vancouver or Seattle.

When they all found themselves in those western ports of call and realized they were among fellow Arctic Brethren, they wanted to meet with each other the way they had done up here. But could they? Of course not!

Why? Because one of the tenets of the fabric holding the Arctic Brotherhood together was its geographic exclusivity. Its innate northern-ness is what made it so unique. In order to be a member, on top of being male, over 18, and probably white, a man had to live north of the 54'40" line. (Not 54 feet and 40 inches. 54 degrees and 40 minutes. In case you were confused.) "BUT!" you might say, if you knew that honorary members like Senators and Presidents were initiated into the AB (which i'm sure you don't), "how come visiting dignitaries got to be members then?"

Well, they were just special. That's all. Even Governor General Earl Grey (not the tea guy) was given ceremonial honors by the AB when he visited Dawson, Camp #4. But these men were honorary members, not full members with all the privileges.

This became an interesting conflict within the AB. Just think about it, even in terms of the people who inhabit the great white north today. So... you come up north and live that incredibly difficult lifestyle inherent to the area, powering through it all because you love living here, and you're a part of an organization that celebrates that lifestyle... then your buddy gets tired of the 60-degrees-below-zero winters and the isolation, moves away, and still wants to be a part of that organization? I can tell you with absolute certainty that it would piss people off.

There's this thing about Alaska that you may not realize if you've never visited or lived here. People are really proud to be Alaskan. Not in the same way people are proud to be New Yorkers or Bostonians. The length of time you've lived in Alaska, the number of winters you've put in, is absolutely a status symbol. Not everyone's vocal about it but there is a certain hauteur and condescension put on by people who have been here a while. And i don't think it's a new phenomenon.

Robert Service observed it best in one of his poems: "I'm one of the Arctic Brotherhood, i'm an old-time pioneer. I came with the first, oh GOD! how i've cursed this Yukon-- but i'm still here."

Number 3. This is a little more abstract, so if you've been drinking while reading this you may want to come back another time.

When the AB started in 1899, like i said, Alaska was the last frontier. It was undeveloped, rugged, unimproved, remote. A good deal of towns, cities and villages were completely inaccessible in the winter time except by dog sled, if you were lucky. (Remember this last winter how Nome had to get fuel from a Russian tanker? It was even worse back then.) Even during the summer months, the main connections between points on the map were waterways. The mighty Yukon connected a good deal of former AB camps to each other, along with water routes in the Inside Passage and the Gulf of Alaska.

There weren't a lot of roads. Apart from the 100-mile stretch from Skagway to Whitehorse at the turn of the century, there weren't railroads in those early years of the AB. And a good deal of communities were hundreds of miles away from the next town over. Things were isolated.

So it's only natural that fraternal orders were such a big deal in those days. The Masons, Elks, Eagles, Knights of Pythias, Moose, Sons of the North, Maccabbees, to name a few, all flourished in this corner of the world in the early days of white people invading.

It makes sense. These communities were isolated, remote, and quite often, entirely miserable to live in. Groups like the AB did things to make people feel more at home -- had social gatherings - to help people support each other - medical care and rescue missions - and to give people something to do in the long winter months - built libraries and pool halls. People relied on these organizations to take care of each other.

Then industrialization happened. (Yeah, we have running water now. it's cool.) Planes started coming in to bring the mail. The Alaska Railroad was completed in the early 20s (the reason for President Harding's visit to Alaska, during which he chilled with the AB men here at Camp #1). The Richardson Highway was in progress (thank you AB member Captain Richardson). Technology made new Alaskans and Yukoners a lot more mobile. And suddenly, or gradually, they realized they didn't need the clubs so much.

When you can get from one town to another pretty quickly, it's not that important to have such a close-knit support network in your neighborhood, I guess.

At the same time, although the AB died out, maybe due in part to each of those three reasons, other similar organizations are still alive and well. The Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood are still going strong, as are the Pioneers of Alaska and Yukon Order of Pioneers (YOOP - love that acronym). As any Skagwegian will tell you, the Elks and Eagles survived long past the gold rush in our little town and still are very important to the community in ways beyond the fact that they're the only 2 bars open through the entire winter.

So... if other organizations didn't fall to the same wayside, why did the AB? That, my children, is another story for another day, even though that's the story I set out to tell in this post. Evereything I've put out here has just been theories. There was a very concrete event in 1909 which spurred the upset within the AB that doomed them forever. That story and its resulting story arcs are outside the realm of hypothesis -- it was very well-documented by Dr. Moore and our faithful anonymous journalists of the era.

But more on that later. Brace yourselves, AB fan club, for the next chapter in this epic tale.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Spotlight on Camp #4, Dawson

It's ironic to think that I've been living in Skagway, the gateway to the Klondike, for four and a half years and i've never been to Dawson City. For the last two and a half of those years I've been completely immersed in the history of the Klondike Gold Rush and Dawson is the city that was built up around the gold fields of the Klondike itself. As plans begin to fall into place and I may be working on my first trip to the place that brought hundreds of thousands of people northward, many of them through Skagway, I thought it would be pertinent to post an entry spotlighting Dawson's camp of the Arctic Brotherhood.

Over the years, the four major consistent camps of the AB became Skagway #1, Dawson #4, Nome #9, and Fairbanks #16. That's mainly due to the fact that many of the cities that the AB made its home were transient, temporary mining camps that rose and fell fairly quickly. In 1899, when the Arctic Brotherhood was founded, Dawson's population had fallen from 40,000 to 4,000. It's a significant drop, but the city was still surviving. Being on the Yukon River made it an important stop for those headed westward into Alaska's interior.

The Klondike Nugget was one of Dawson's main sources of news. Its publisher was a man by the name of Arnold F. George. While in Skagway, George was initiated into Skagway's Arctic Brotherhood, which at that time only had two other subordinate camps in Atlin and Bennett. George was initiated during the first meeting of Skagway's club in their new hall. During the meeting, George and another new initiate, E. J. Fitzpatrick, discussed the fact that Dawson could use its own chapter of the AB.

After the meeting, George boldly asked the officers of Camp #1 if he could be granted authority to be a deputy organizer. That would give him the power to organize camps without receiving prior permission each time. In the days when, if possible, mail moved slower than it does today, it was important to be able to get these things done without having to rely on the postal service.

Arnold George was a brand-new member to the club so it might seem like he was overstepping his bounds in making such a request so early. The rest of the men already present knew him to be a reputable man, and his business was well-respected in Skagway and elsewhere. And so Arnold George was given the authority to organize camps.

On November 24th, 1899 (just nine months after the AB was initially created), Dawson became home to Camp #4 of the AB. The first few meetings only had a few men present, but the camp grew fairly quickly. The first officers of the camp were George himself, Fitzpatrick, Stroller White, Rudy Kalenborn (whose descendent I was lucky enough to meet in summer 2010), Max Kollm (who allegedly discovered AB Mountain), Dr. Everett, Fred Atwood, Henry Fulda, and L. Orville Wilcoxen.

In October of 1901, Dawson's club began working on having its own building. In four days, the group collected enough money to begin construction. It cost over $16,000 in total but was known as the first building of its kind in the north, the finest hall north of Victoria. (Today, that building is Diamond Tooth Gertie's, one of very few AB halls to still stand.)

In December, the club had a formal dedication of the building. It entailed a ceremonial dedication, dinner and dancing. The club had put together an orchestra. One journalist claimed that initially dancing was hardly possible due to the fact that the building was so crowded; it ended up lasting from 10 PM to 4 in the morning. When the orchestra stopped playing, it was only because they were so exhausted that they physicaly could no longer play.

The dedication ceremony was the first of many events to be put on at Dawson's AB Hall. Over the years Dawson's club would prove to be the most creative of all 32 camps. They had their own orchestra and often housed theatrical productions. The club wrote, produced, and starred in an opera entitled "The Island of Kokomolo." In the ragtime era, Dawson #4 even put on minstrel shows in blackface.

One of the most prominent events to happen to the Dawson Arctic Brotherhood occurred when they met with Canada's Governor General, Earl Grey. (Incidentally, this Earl Grey is not the same Earl Grey after whom the tea was named, which made research a little confusing.) It seems as though the Eagles club of Dawson had received Grey at their building. As he left the Eagles to head to the dock, the AB had their own reception for him. That meant they whisked him away and led him in a parade down to the wharf. Later, when Grey sent a letter to the city of Dawson thanking them for their hospitality, he said that the AB's parade was one of the highlights.

Another event that Camp Dawson put on was a masquerade ball for New Year's of 1901. The writer covering the event for the newspaper said that the occasion was well attended by Dawson's high society. He also noted that often, in these types of events, after masks were removed women might find that they had less dancing partners when their faces were revealed. Apparently sometimes it happens that a mask is prettier than a face. The writer made sure to point out that that was not the case at this event, as everyone there had plenty of dancing partners both before and after their true appearances wer revealed.

I can't be sure when Dawson's camp went under, but it was one of the longest-lasting chapters of the club. They contributed a lot of creativity and enthusiasm to the club, and their events were covered in a lot of detail by Dawson's newspapers. If you find yourself in Dawson, visit Diamond Tooth Gertie's and take a moment, look around, and imagine the building packed to the max with people attempting to dance at the first event ever to be held there.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Welcome back to winter,.

As I look out the window and see the sun shining at me from the south, it's starting to feel like winter is here again. That means a lot of things (as opposed to "that can only mean one thing..."), but for this blog it means more posts. For the men of the Arctic Brotherhood over a century ago, winter would have meant hunkering down and, in a lot of cases, being cut off from ingoing and outgoing transportation. They were quite a bit more rugged than we are today in the north, but their legacy still lives on in a big way.

This summer I put the Arctic Brotherhood on hold, just as the men of the Arctic Brotherhood may have put things on hold during the months of working their butts off. Just before the season started, i did a little bit of research in old newspapers and found over forty new pieces of information I'd never seen before. Some of them were small and only added to things I'd already uncovered, but a good deal of them related to things I had been struggling to piece together. And then there were some articles which brought up new things altogether.

For instance, the Arctic Brotherhood and YMCA of Nome, traveling under the name Arctic Brotherhood, toured extensively the lower states, territories, and Canada in winter of 1907. Why? They were a basketball team playing against local clubs in just about every corner of the country. Whether or not the team performed well is yet to be seen, but at least two newspapers reported on the upcoming events.

Newspapers reporting on the Arctic Brotherhood weren't limited to the north. Sure, most of the coverage comes from papers in Skagway, Dawson, Nome, and other locales that had active camps; but the AB name was dropped in papers all over. There is a good representation of the club in Washington and British Columbia. As the Grand Camp of the AB met in Seattle, Tacoma, Victoria, and Vancouver, it wasn't surprising that "Arctic Brotherhood" was a common enough term to show up in papers. Also, with the proximity to Alaska, the cities of Washington and southern BC were natural meeting places of those giong to and from the North. A good deal of men and women who had headed north during the gold rushes found themselves leaving after not striking it rich and ending up in Seattle or Victoria.

Even so, the Arctic Brotherhood was somehow important enough to be mentioned in farther away places. The Bisbee Daily Review from Arizona reported on them several times, as did the Minneapolis Journal. Even papers in Missouri and Louisiana mentioned the AB in one regard or another.

Finding all of these newspaper articles accomplished a main goal of mine in diong this research, which was to find out what became of the Arctic Brotherhood after 1909 (stay tuned on that one). Beyond that, it emphasized beyond any shadow of a doubt that, without newspapers and magazines, the story of the Arctic Brotherhood would now hardly exist. One of the most important sources for telling the story is a serial article by Dr. Moore of Skagway in an Alaska magazine. Coverage of AB events, from presidential receptions to building dedication ceremonies and galas, would not exist without newspapers. And, most importantly, the cliffhanger of the Arctic Brotherhood story which occurred in 1909 would have gone unresolved in my mind without newspaper articles covering the aftermath.

The story of Alaska itself, the development of the north, the gold rushes, is all well documented. Journals, diaries, and letters all have survived the decades to provide insight into the events that shaped our northern corner of the continent. Yet the secret society of the Arctic Brotherhood is, in so many cases, left out of these first-person accounts. A majority of the sources that I've found in this year-and-a-half-long quest to write the story of the organization have been from newspapers and magazines.

So, as you go through your day-to-day life from this point onward, I hope that at some steps along the way you take time to acknowledge that the writers of newspapers, magazines, internet news sites, even blogs (current-events blogs, not historical blogs) are documenting the contexts of our lives so that future generations will be able to experience them first hand.

Monday, June 13, 2011


Sadly, there are factors now limiting my availability to blog although I've been uncovering some ground-breaking stuff about the Arctic Brotherhood. As it is summer, and summer people have infiltrated my fair city, my wifi connection is now inundated with summer people's laptops accessing the connection and is no longer available to me. I have internet on my phone for the moment but I can't get on and do much with it since it's not a smartphone (and smartphones are the devil). Also, 4 jobs in the summer prevent me from having much time to update the blog.

Regardless... I've found some really cool stuff about what happened to the AB after the 1909 schism. When I get another minute, I'll bring you all in on what's new with that. Until then... Email me if you want to know anything about the AB!


Saturday, May 14, 2011


For a while I felt like I had exhausted every shred of information that the interweb had to offer about the Arctic Brotherhood; for a while it felt like the details out there could be too vast to even comprehend; and now, with the onset of another summer, I'm somewhere in the middle.

The first draft of the book being done, I've realized that my power point presentation has been grossly inadequate in giving a condensed, 45-minute history of the Arctic Brotherhood and why it's so important to acknowledge their existence. Consequently, over the last few weeks of being back at work i have completely re-done it, this time as a chronological train of thought with a clear beginning, middle, end, cast of characters...

To that end, I did some sleuthing on some details that I was missing for the powerpoint. mainly that boils down to a lot of photos... as I'm trying to present, it seems that when, for instance, Wickersham keeps coming up it might behoove me to show people what he looked like each time in case they don't remember his name, or in case they want to be able to get a better mental image of what's going on.

Here's some of the cool stuff I've found.

When Theodore Roosevelt visited Seattle in 1903, he was received by the Arctic Brotherhood at the opera house (perceivably in Pioneer Square?) It was the first MAJOR big fish for the AB to reel in after initiating a party of senators who'd been vacationing up North in Dawson, Rampart, and Nome. Reportedly the AB's met up with some members of the Alaska Club (later to fuse together to form the Arctic Club) to host the chief executive. They were said to have built up quite the rapport, and TR was very receptive to the ideals of home rule and a territorial government.

Seattle decorated for the visit

TR in Seattle

Hotel Washington in Seattle decorated for the visit

Another photo I found which just gives me and those watching my power point a better visual was this guy:

Earl Grey

Governor General Earl Grey of Canada was initiated into the Arctic Brotherhood in Dawson. I always wondered what that dude looked like.

There've been a few more new developments in the story, but that's it for now... the Power Point is finished so for a few days I'm taking a break from the AB to focus on more important things. Like sunshine.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A history lesson with AB bullet points

In all the research I've been doing lately on Alaska history as a way to embellish the tales of the Arctic Brothehrood, I thought I'd share some of what I found.

As you may or may not know, three Alaska governors were members of the Arctic Brotherhood. Four Alaska delegates to Congress were members as well. IN fact, it was largely throught the efforts of the Arctic Brotherhood that Alaska was given representation to Congress in 1906. Prior to the decision, Alaska as a district--not yet a territory-- was dealing with the same issues that brought about the independence of the United States: Taxation without representation.

In fact, one of Skagway's premier AB members, John Garland Price, wrote an editorial to one of the Skagway papers petitioning citizens to support home rule and oppose taxation without representation. By "home rule," Price means that those who are already in Alaska should be those to govern the distric tinstead of the feds appointing people to run them. Ironically, of course, those who were petitioning for said "home rule" were newcomers to the area and completely ignored the rights of those who were there first.

The first step the Arctic Brotherhood accomplished in getting rights for Alaska was writing a letter to Congress and the President. In this letter, they demand that Alaska receive a delegate to Congress claiming that the club has an intimate knowledge of Alaska's white population, nearly sixty thousand in number. At the next meeting of Congress, it was decided that Alaska receive a delegate.

The first delegate, frank Waskey, was a member of camp Nome #9. He was in that position from 1906, when he got elected by the Alaskan people, to 1907. Thomas Cale, a member of Fairbanks #16, succeeded him from 1907-1909. The next delegate was a doozy. James Wickersham served as Alaska's delegate to Congress from 1909-1917. The only reason he ran for this office was because he had resigned his post as federal district judge. This was likely due to criticism he had received from Alaska's governor, another AB member, Wilfred Hoggatt. Hoggatt had criticized Wickersham in a letter to President Theodore Roosevelt (who had been the guest of honor at an Arctic Brotherhood reception); shortly after, Wickersham resigned.

Wickersham's term as delegate to Congress lasted 8 years. The following year, AB member Charles A. Sulzer of camp Juneau #32 was elected. The election was contested, and the following year Wickersham was back. Sulzer was elected again in 1919, but he died before his term began. When another delegate was appointed in his place, Wickersham contested it; subsequently, he was delegate again in 1921,and again in 1931. His political career did not end until he was seventy-five years old.

In spite of the fact that Wickersham was kind of a [insert derogatory term here] according to the literature, he did a lot for Alaska and so in many ways does the AB proud. It was Wickersham who championed the cause of a territorial government for Alaska, whcih came to fruition in 1912. And, decades before the end result would be seen, Wickersham was the first to propose a bill for statehood for Alaska.

In other interesting news...

In 1923 as many Skagwegians know, President Warren Harding became the first President to visit Alaska and the only President to visit Skagway (comments about 2012 presidential candidates having livesi n skagway will not be well received). Harding was received by the Arctic Brotherhood in Skagway and was the second president to be initiated into the order.

That same year, Southeast Alaska attempted to secede from the rest of the territory. By that time, a good deal of Alaska's reidents had jumped on the statehood bandwagon. Southeast Alaska, however, felt it had little in common with the rural, largely undeveloped and spread-out interior.

Southeast had developed as part of Russian America and later as part of the United States' holdings much earlier th an the interior. Sitka had been the first capital of Alaska when it was still in Russian hands; Juneau had become the new capital shortly after the purchase by the United States. Both capitals were in southeast. The first mass movement of non-natives to the northwest section of north America brought them through southeast Alaska, since most of them couldn't afford to travel through the Yukon River of the interior.

So, Southeast Alaska decided that they would have an easier time becoming a state if they split from the rest of the territory. The vote passed in southeast by nearly 1200 for secession and not even 90 against. Sadly for southeast, the decision was ultimately in the hands of a federal committee. The committee arrived in Southeast to hear the concerns and logic of its residents. The committee did not approve Southeast Alaska's desire to secede. Sometimes I really wish they had... because there's more to Alaska than Anchorage!!!