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.