John C Cantwell.

Report of the operations of the U.S. revenue steamer Nunivak on the Yukon river station, Alaska, 1899-1901 online

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Online LibraryJohn C CantwellReport of the operations of the U.S. revenue steamer Nunivak on the Yukon river station, Alaska, 1899-1901 → online text (page 1 of 34)
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University of California.


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Fir^t Lieut. J". C. C.AJNTT W JhJLL, TJ. C. S.






Treasury Department.

Document No. 2276.

.Division of Revenue-Cutter Service.



Letters of transmittal
Department orders . .




Chapter I. Introduction — Description of the Xunivak — Necessity for a vessel
of the Revenue-Cutter Service on the Yukon River — Arrange-
ments for the voyage of the vessel to her station — Departure
from San Francisco 19

Chapter II. Incidents of the voyage of the Xunivak from San Francisco to

St. Michael 23

Chapter III. Arrival at St. Michael — Preparations for the journey up the
Yukon River — Departure from St. Michael and incidents of
the first season's work on the station — Selection of winter
quarters for the command in Dall River and laying up of the
vessel at the end of the active season 35

Chapter IV. First winter at Fort Shoemaker — Incidents of life in winter
quarters — House building — Work of the command — Sled
trips — Opening of spring — Departure from Fort Shoemaker. . 47

Chapter V. Resumption of duties on the Yukon River — Enforcement of
law and order — Reconnoissance of the Koyukuk River —
Assistance rendered steamer Leah — Return to St. Michael for
supplies — Quarantine duty at St. Michael — Departure from
St. Michael and return to regular duties on the Yukon —
Assistance rendered sick and destitute natives — Return to
Fort Shoemaker and close of the second season of open navi-
gation 59

Chapter VI. Incidents of life at Fort Shoemaker during the second year of
its occupancy as winter quarters — Description of the breaking
up of the ice in the spring 75

Chapter VII. Abandonment of Fort Shoemaker and resumption of active
cruising on the station — Incidents of our third season's duty
on the river — Return to St. Michael and the laying up of the
Xunivak and placing her out of commission — Return of the
party to the States 99



Chapter I. Description of the station Ill

Chapter II. Traffic and transportation 125

Chapter III. Winter travel 155

Chapter IV. Economic conditions 167

Chapter V. Social conditions 175

Chapter VI. Law and order 181

107461 3




Chapter I. Minerals, occurrence, and distribution 191

Chapter II. Methods of locating and working claims 199


Chapter I. Habits and customs of native inhabitants 209

Chapter II. Language 231


Reconnoissance of the Koyukuk River by Second Lieut. B. H. Camden,
R. C. S 239

Reconnoissance of the Dall River, Koyukuk Trail, by Third Lieut. Eugene
Blake, R. C. S 249

Part VI.

Medical report, by Surg. James T. White, R. C. S '. 257


A. Table of distances between settlements on the Yukon River 277

B. Schedule of freight and passenger rates on the Yukon River 278

C. List of vessels engaged in commerce on the Yukon River 280

D. Comparative vocabulary of the Eskimo and Ingalik tribes inhabiting the

region 281

E. Component parts of the ration issued to the crew of the Nunivak while on

the station 285

F. Natural history:

1. List of birds 285

2. List of mammalia 288

3. List of fishes \ 289

4. List of plants ' 290

5. List of fossils 290

G. Meteorological record 291


Treasury Department,

Office of the Secretary,

Washington, August h 1902.
Sir: The operations of the U. S. steamer Nunivak, conducted under
obedience to Department orders bearing date April 24, 1899, having
been completed, I have the honor to submit herewith the report of First
Lieut. John C. Cantwell, R. C. S. , covering the operations of his com-
mand during the years 1899, 1900, and 1901, and request that the same
be printed.


C. F. Shoemaker,
Captain, Revenue- Cutter Service, Chief of Division.
The Secretary of the Treasury.



U. 8. Revenue-Cutter Service,

Appraiser's Building,
San Francisco, Cat. , May 26, 1902.

Sir: In obedience to Department orders of October 2, 1901 (C.F.S.),
I have the honor to transmit herewith a report of the operations of the
U. S. S. Nunivak, while under my command, on the Yukon River
station, Alaska, together with 155 photographs to illustrate the same.

In the execution of the Department's orders directing me to lay the
vessel up for the winter of 1901-2 at St. Michael, Alaska, 1 have to
acknowledge the receipt of a great deal of valuable assistance and
many acts of courtesy extended to me through the kindness of Gen.
George M. Randall, U. S. Arnry, commanding the Department of
Alaska, and his staff.

Thanks are also due to the various officers of the Arnry on duty at
the several military posts along the river for their unfailing coopera-
tion with myself and officers in the promotion of the comfort and effi-
ciency of the command, and to the managers of the various trading
companies doing business in the countiy for their universal kindness
and consideration of our wants while in the country.

In the preparation of the report I have to acknowledge, with grat-
itude, the services of Mr. Leverette Mills Loomis, director of the
museum, California Academy of Sciences, of Prof. F. M. Anderson, of
the University of California, and of Miss Alice Eastwood, curator of
botany, California Academy of Sciences, in the work of identification
and classification of the specimens of natural history collected on the

I desire to call the attention of the Department especially to the
careful, painstaking, and eminently satisfactory manner in which the
duty of selecting supplies for the command while on the station was
performed by Lieut. D. P. Foley, R. C. S., purchasing officer of the
Service at San Francisco, and to the several officers of the vessels
of the Service to whom fell the duty of transportation of the supplies
needed from San Francisco to St. Michael. A just idea of the splendid
manner in which this duty was performed can be had when it is stated
that of the thousands of articles thus handled not one was lost or
injured in transit.


To Lieut. D. H. Jarvis, R. C. S. , our thanks are due for the careful
and satisfactory manner in which he attended to the business of pay-
ing off the command while on the station. This task was one which
entailed upon that officer a considerable amount of extra work and
responsibility for the safety of large amounts of money while in his
possession, and it is to the credit of Lieutenant Jarvis that the duty
was performed in the most satisfactory manner.

Finally, I desire to thank each of the officers of the Service who
were attached to the Nunivak while under my command for their
unwavering zeal, courage, and efficiency in the performance of the
many novel duties which fell to them during the progress of the
cruise. I gratefully acknowledge their untiring devotion to duty
under the most trying and arduous conditions, and, while it is difficult
to mention individuals without apparently detracting from the services
of the whole body of officers, I desire to call the attention of the
Department especially to the remarkable journey of over 1,000 miles
across the country, made in the dead of winter by Assistant Engineer
Lewton, R. C. S., in obedience to orders to join the Nunivak, which
orders were sent with the expectation that the vessel would be met at
St. Michael; to the remarkable series of observations of meteorolog-
ical conditions, amounting to nearly 30,000 different observations,
which were made under the personal direction of Lieut. Eugene Blake,
R. C. S., and which entailed an enormous amount of labor and constant
attention, and to the excellent pilot charts of the Yukon and Ko vukuk
rivers made by Lieuts. B. H. Camden, R. C. S., and Eugene Blake,
R. C. S.

In addition to the above, I take this opportunity of expressing my
appreciation of the manner in which Lieutenant Camden performed
the duties of executive officer of the command. Throughout the
entire period of our stay in the North, his attention to duty was
unflagging, and his example of cheerful and implicit obedience to every
order emanating from the commanding officer produced in the rest of
the command a condition of contentment and patience under the most
adverse circumstances, which was of incalculable assistance and which
it is now a pleasure for me to acknowledge.

In conclusion, I have again to thank the Department for the honor
conferred upon me in placing me in command of the Nunivak, and for
the consideration and kindness with which all my subsequent requests
and recommendations have been met.

Respectfully, J. C. Cantwell,

First Lieutenant, Revenue- Cutter Service.

Capt. C F. Shoemaker, R. C. S., 9

Chief Revenue- Cutter Service, Treasury Department,

Washington, D. C.


U. S. Steamer Bear,
San- Francisco, Cal., April 4, 1899.
Sir: In accordance with directions contained in Department tele-
gram of even date, signed O. L. Spaulding, you are hereby detached
from this vessel and directed to report to Capt. C. L. Hooper, R. C. S. ,
superintendent of construction and repair, Pacific coast, for duty as
commanding officer of the U. S. S. Nunivak.

Respectfully, yours,

F. Tuttle,

Captain, Revenue- Cutter Service, Commanding.

Lieut. J. C. Cantwell, R. C. S.,



Reported for duty April 5, 1902.

C L. Hooper,
Captain, Revenue- Cutter Service.

copy of department orders defining duties to be performed

on the station.

Treasury Department,

Office of the Secretary,
Division of Revenue-Cutter Service,

Washington, D. C, April U, 1899.
Sir: The duties of your command, after arrival upon the Yukon
River, Alaska, are outlined as follows:

1. The primary purpose of a vessel of the Revenue-Cutter Service
upon the Yukon River during the open season of navigation is to
enforce the customs and navigation laws, and in addition thereto all
laws falling under the purview of the Revenue-Cutter Service as set
out in paragraph 98, Regulations Revenue-Cutter Service, 1894, with
special reference to the following subdivisions of the paragraph cited,
to wit, 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, and 15.

2. The cruising grounds of the Nunivah will be, according to cir-
cumstances, from the mouth of the river not to exceed 1,000 miles up

the stream.



3. In order that the best interests of the public service may be sub-
served in the enforcement of the customs laws you will confer with
such United States customs officers as may be found on the river.
Collector Ivy, within whose district the Nunivak will cruise, may be
found at St. Michael or vicinity, and you will extend to him such
courtesies on public service as you can, he to bear his own mess
expenses while on board.

4. You will extend such assistance as you can to destitute miners,
seamen, and others.

5. Should you be called upon to aid the civil or military authorities
in the enforcement of law, you will do so to the full extent of your
power. Should you at any time become cognizant of violations of
law, by evil disposed persons, you will, if possible, arrest the offenders
and turn them over to the nearest civil authorities having jurisdic-
tion. It will be your duty to let it be generally known, in a careful
and judicious manner, among the people on the Yukon River and its
tributaries navigated by the Nunivak .', that your command is a part of
the national armed force of the Government and must be obeyed
accordingly. In view of the isolation of your command, and the
practical impossibility of communication with the Department, con-
tingencies may arise upon which you can have no instruction, and
must be deferred to your judgment and discretion. In sueh cases you
will exercise great care in forming your conclusions and in taking

6. You will, in course of cruising, make such examination of the
main river channels and such hydrographic notes and establish such
astronomical stations as will enable you to prepare a chart of your
cruising on the river and its main or principal tributaries.

7. As opportunity offers, without interfering with your regular
duties, the Department desires that you collect specimens and data
relating to the fauna and flora of Yukon region; also that you collect
reliable statistics relating to traffic and mining operations as far up
the river as the vessel is to go; also data in regard to meteorological
conditions; all to be embodied in a report to the Department.

8. At the close of navigation you will select a safe haven for the
winter and place your command in winter quarters.

As the complement of officers and men of your command will be
compelled to remain at least until the summer of 1900, they should, in
what would otherwise be a season of enforced idleness, be kept busily
employed, not only for the sake of health, but as well for the mainte-
nance of harmony and good discipline; therefore } r ou will organize a
plan of operations covering an exploration of the Yukon country adja-
cent to your winter quarters, collecting information and datu concern-
ing features of the country, habits and customs of the native popula-
tion, their condition as to morality, health, and all features of interest,
the whole to be embodied in the form of a report to the Department.


And in the same connection to relieve and succor any persons in actual
need, and to aid such to reach civilization and help. If it can be done
with reasonable promise of success, such instruction as may be found
practicable should be given to the natives. You are particularly
enjoined to cultivate the most amicable and friendly relations with the
native population with whom } 7 ou may be thrown in contact.

In general terms the plan of operations of your command, submitted
in j T our letter of the 8th instant, is approved, and such support and
encouragement as can be will be given by the Department. Should
you find that an}^ of the enlisted force desire to return at the close of
navigation rather than remain through the winter, you are authorized
to discharge such; but with the distinct understanding that they bear
their own expenses home, and that their pay shall cease upon date of
discharge. You are further authorized to arrest and detain deserters
from your crew until such time as you can replace them with other
men, then to discharge them, with certificates of pay due, to be pre-
sented to the collector of customs at Port Townsend or San Francisco,
to be submitted by such collector to the Department for approval.

Should officers become insubordinate, you will prefer charges
against such, detach, and order them to report in person at the

9. In the matter of pilotage on the Yukon, you are authorized to
employ, at the lowest cost obtainable, occasional pilots. It is expected
that yourself and officers will be able, b}^ ordinary and well-known
methods, to conduct the Nunivak over the most of her cruising ground,
but you will on no account jeopardize the safety of the vessel for the
lack of a pilot; in other words, you are authorized to employ a pilot
when the safety of your command demands it.

10. The commanding officer of one of the vessels of the service will
be instructed to turn over to you a steam launch for use of your com-
mand during the open season of navigation.

11. The person in charge of the United States reindeer station at
St. Michael will be instructed to turn over to you the 12 reindeer
asked for. You will arrange for the care of these animals as best you
can. It is expected that you will do this with the force of your com-
mand and at the least possible expense.

12. The fur clothing to be supplied to your ship's company will be
arranged for through the commanding officers of the Bear and Thetis,
the same to be delivered to you at St. Michael, and, in view of the
extraordinary services required of the vessel, the cost of said clothing
will not be charged against the officers and men this year.

13. You are informed that Surgeon Call, of the Bear, will join you
at St. Michael on the return of that vessel from the Arctic. Should
you have another surgeon on the Nunivak at that time }~ou will direct
him to report to the commanding officer of the Bear, relieving Dr.


14. Should officers of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, Fish Com-
mission, Steamboat-Inspection Service, or other accredited Govern-
ment officials apply to you for passage on the river or accommodations
on board while you are in winter quarters you will extend the same
to such, but with the distinct understanding that neither yourself nor
the officers of your command are to be put to any personal expense
by reason of their presence on board.

15. The importance of making ample provision for food supply for
your command to last until at least September, 1900, or until fresh
supplies can be sent you, should engage your serious consideration,
and to this end you will consider the kind, quality, quantity, and cost
of the food you desire, whether in canned goods or barreled. It is
suggested that an ample supply of canned vegetables, sauerkraut in
barrels, if obtainable, to serve as antiscorbutics, are essential.

You are directed, upon your arrival at Seattle, to immediately
ascertain and wire the Department the quantities of food supply you
will require, not only for yourself, officers, and crew, but for the
relief of emergent cases that may arise, stating the lowest cost, first
obtaining proposals, which you will forward to the Department by
mail, after the authority to purchase shall have been given.

In submitting to the Department vouchers for the supplies which
you may be hereafter authorized to purchase, you will see that the
same bear date of July 1 next, as the articles are intended for use in
the next fiscal year. You will be careful to see that all vouchers are
properly prepared, certified, and forwarded prior to the departure of
the Nunivak from Puget Sound.

Respectfully, yours, O. L. Spaulding,

Assistant Secretary.

Lieut. J. C. Cantwell, R. C. S.,

Commanding U. S. S. Nunivak, San Francisco, Col.

copy of orders of detachment from command of u. s. s. nunivak.

Treasury Department, Office of the Secretary,

Division of Revenue- Cutter Service,

Washi7igton, May 3, 1902.
Sir: Referring to letters, addressed to you under this date, relative
to the sale of the Nunivak^ or otherwise laying the vessel up at the
close of the season, you will, in either case, consider yourself detached
and proceed with the least delay and by the most direct route, or by
the one entailing the least necessary expense, to your home in San
Francisco, Cal., announcing } T our arrival there by wire to the Depart-
ment. You will forward your extra baggage by some one 6f the ves-
sels of the service; otherwise by freight. Before leaving the Xmiivak,


if the vessel is not sold, you will arrange with the officer left in charge
to have such work done during the winter months as can be done by
the force on board. You will also provide yourself with a complete
memorandum of the needs and requirements of the vessel if retained
to put her in efficient state for service in the waters about St. Michael
next summer, taking all necessary dimensions and making description
for fitments of both hull and machinery. Herewith are transmitted
orders for Lieutenants Camden, Blake, and Wheeler. Assistant
Engineer Lewton, and Dr. White, which you will deliver to those
affected when it shall be determined who is to remain in charge.

O. L. Spaulding,
Assistant Secretary.
First Lieut. J. C. Cantwell, R. C. 8. ,

Commanding U. S. S. Nunivak, St. Michael, Alaska.

copy of orders directing that a report of the operations of
the u. s. s. nunivak, on the yukon river station. be made.

Treasury Department. Office of the Secretary,

Washington, October 2, 1901.
Sir: Referring to your telegram reporting your arrival at San
Francisco, you are directed to prepare, as soon as practicable, a full
report of the operations of the Nuniwik while under your command,
and transmit the same to the Department.

While in the performance of this duty you will be allowed commu-
tation for quarters.

You will acknowledge the receipt hereof and advise the Department
of your address.

Respectfully. O. L. Spaulding.

Acting Secretary.
Lieut. J. C. Cantwell, R. C. S.,

Care of Appraisers' Building, San Francisco, Col,


First Lieut. J. C. Cantwell, R. C. S., commanding.

Second Lieut. B. H. Camden, R. C. S., executive officer

Third Lieut. W. J. Wheeler, R. C. S.

Third Lieut. Eugene Blake, jr., R. C. S.

Assistant Engineer H. N. Wood, R. C. S.

Assistant Engineer T. G. Lewton, R. C. S.

Surg. J. T. White, R. C. S.





1 899-1901


First Lieut. J. C. CAXTWELL, R. C. S.


5661—03 2 15


Reading from the right are First Lieut. J. C. Cantwell, Second Lieut. B. H. Camden, Asst. Engineer
T. G. Lewton, Third Lieut. W. J. Wheeler, Third Lieut. Eugene Blake, and Surgeon J. T. White.







Prior to the discovery of the rich deposits of gold along the Klondike
River, Alaska, the entire business traffic of the vast valley of the Yukon
River was conducted by two competing trading companies having sta-
tions situated at convenient places on the river, and the supplies neces-
sary for their maintenance were annuallv delivered by means of small
steamers which ascended the Yukon from St. Michael, on the coast,
at which place both companies maintained depots for the distribution
of goods received from the outside in ocean-going vessels. The white
population of the Yukon was composed only of the agents and traders
of the companies and a few scattering prospectors who, as a rule,
made their way into the country over the Chilkat or Chilkoot passes
to the headwaters of the Yukon, remained during the short summer
season searching for gold, and then drifted down the river to take
passage on some ocean-going vessel bound for the States. A few more
hardy or persistent gold hunters would remain in the country during
the long winter, if they could secure employment, or their stock of
supplies warranted such a step, but by far the greater number were
content to enter and leave the country during the summer season.

Although gold had been discovered in Alaska previously to the
Klondike discovery in 1897, notably so in the vicinity of Circle City
and Fortymile River, it was not until that year that the prospects of
rich diggings were sufficiently good to encourage any but the most
sanguine to undertake the journey into this land of terrible cold and
unknown difficulties and to endure the hardships inseparable from a
life in this region in the search for the yellow metal. But the discov-
ery of the marvelously rich deposits of gold in the gravel beds of the
Klondike and its tributary' streams set the world aflame with excite-
ment. For upward of twenty years the reports of the presence of
gold in this region had somewhat prepared the public for the news of
George Carmack's rich strike on the Klondike; but it is probable that
no one foresaw the extent of the migration of gold seekers into the
territory which followed.

So great was the rush of people to the newly discovered gold fields
that the trading companies found themselves utterly unable at first to
move the immense amount of freight and passengers which accumu-
lated as if by magic at every point on the river and its tributaries



accessible from the outside. The excitement was so great and the
desire on the part of adventurous people to reach the new Eldorado
was so intense that fabulous sums were paid for passage on the few
steamers at that time available. To meet the demands of this sudden
and overwhelming increase of business the managers of the Alaska

Online LibraryJohn C CantwellReport of the operations of the U.S. revenue steamer Nunivak on the Yukon river station, Alaska, 1899-1901 → online text (page 1 of 34)