In the spring
of 1909 I was transferred to the Steamer "McArthur," Captain
Rhodes commanding. The party was ordered to Cook Inlet to carry
on triangulation, plane table surveys, tide observations - in
general, what were known as combined operations.
summer there was much fog at the entrance but in the upper reaches
the weather was exceptionally fine, and Mt. McKinley, Mr. Foraker,
and other peaks, distant 100 to 125 miles, showed up each day,
clearly defined. Mt. Spur and the range across the inlet from
our camp seemed only a few miles away. Moose were quite common
on the east side of the inlet. While making observations at
Moose Point, a small cliff a couple of hundred feet high, Lieutenant
Sobieralski and I watched for an hour or more two moose on the
flat below. They were distant less than 200 yards and were undisturbed
until Soby remarked, "Shall I go down and get them with my little
hatchet?" Hearing us, they looked up and then ambled off in
leisurely fashion. Captain Rhodes, Commanding Officer, forbade
shooting moose. We bought the meat from the Indians, about 500
pounds at a time. Not having refrigerators or similar storage
facilities, a 1200-pound carcass would rot before it could be
consumed. At that time of the year, the moose's horns were in
velvet and the animals often had no horns or only one, and then
the heads were valueless for mounting, though a German ship,
a freighter of about 3000 tons, had parties ashore shooting
the animals. It was said to be headquarters for a wealthy German
baron who was on a hunting trip. These remarks are based on
comments made in one of the villages. We never contacted the
party, though the ship was anchored less than five miles away.
There didn't seem to be much sportsmanship in shooting relatively
harmless animals, then fairly easy to approach, which afforded
targets as large as Army mules. However, for sportsmen afflicted
with gout, arthritis, double cataracts, imagination might create
sporting hazards for those who like to pose in the limelight
as mighty nimrods.
tidal bore in Turnagain Inlet.
Cook Inlet, Alaska
were quite common. These inoffensive animals were never wantonly
killed by the sourdough or Old Timer, as they were considered
the last resort of the trapper, prospector, or hunter, in distress
or short of food during severe weather. Curling up, when approached
they were easy to kill. Dogs apparently like porcupine flesh.
Dogs from the Indian camps hunted porcupine and the fact that
their mouths became infested with quills was no deterrent. At
intervals the Indians would conduct what might be called a "dequilling"
party, which was always accompanied by terrific howling. In
a few days the dogs would start hunting again.
several trappers' shacks inshore, a short distance from the
beach. Provisions, sugar, coffee, etc., were on the shelves.
Cut wood was neatly piled outside. The doors were never locked.
Anyone in distress or in need of shelter was welcome to enter
and use a minimum of such fuel and supplies as he needed. Upon
departing the visitor was expected to cut wood to replace that
used and, if possible, leave an equivalent amount of provisions
or some money equal to the approximate value of the food consumed.
Such was the custom; such was the Code of the North, but I understand
this hospitality has been abused by the scum which frequently
follows the pioneer.
work was carried along the west side of the inlet by Lieutenant
Ela. A small craft operated along the shore carrying freight
and passengers. At low water the flats bared for six to eight
miles, being cut by numerous sloughs. Ela stated that the Skipper
of the craft was married to an Indian. One day at low water
he put his wife ashore, intending to pick her up within a short
time. Proceeding up the inlet he was held up for some hours.
Later he remarked, excitedly, "Oh! My wife on the flats." Then
he started to chuckle, saying, "She have to run like hell! She
too fat." I never did learn from Ela if the Skipper marked her
off as expended.
in Cook Inlet often reaches a velocity of six knots. The "McArthur"
had a single cylinder engine and when anchored at night, with
big runouts the current was sufficiently strong to turn the
propeller, producing a swishing sound through the relief valve
on the engine which was opened.
In the vicinity
of Fire Island the tides have a range of forty feet. We were
dumped ashore with camp equipment and with directions to make
a plane table survey. The ship, as usual, departed immediately.
The island appeared flat and at meal time the Japanese boy reported,
"No can find water to make coffee; no can cook." We couldn't
find any water either, and after cussing the skipper, we decided
there was nothing to do but "Root, hog or die," so we bored
holes in the side and bottom of a barrel and sunk it in the
ground a considerable distance back from the water line. In
half an hour we had some of the finest coffee-colored water.
It had a rooty taste but with the addition of some coffee, a
little milk and sugar, the concoction was not bad. It produced
no ill effects, but in that healthy climate few things do. Later
we found a small fresh-water lake in the interior. The island
was covered with an almost impenetrable mat of wild roses, the
thorniest I have ever seen.
Arm branches off in an easterly direction from Fire Island,
while Knick Arm heads in a northeast direction. Navigation in
Turnagain Arm is dangerous for inexperienced persons. A tidal
bore often reaches a height of four feet. Some years ago there
was a gold rush in that section and a number of prospectors
lost boats. They got caught by the onrushing bore of the incoming
tide. A small bore, about six inches in height, was observed
in Knick Arm. The town of Anchorage was nonexistent when this
work was under way. Mail and supplies were received at Seldovia,
a small town near the entrance to the inlet. In those days there
were no radios or movies. The arrival of a ship was always the
occasion for a dance arranged by the dozen or so families living
there. An accordion, played by one of the young ladies, furnished
the music. There was no relief musician and this young lady
was really quite skillful in playing while dancing with her
except the Commanding Officer and one other were generally in
camp. There were times, however, when all were aboard, then
before dinner all gathered around the wardroom sideboard for
cocktails. The dice were rolled and the loser signed up for
the drinks, settling at the end of the month with the wine mess
caterer. It was customary for an officer when he joined the
ship to cut his initials in a well-worn leather dice box. The
outside, the bottom and inside were pretty well covered with
the initials of Navy Officers, many of whom later became prominent.
Years later, when the ship was laid up, Tam McArthur, grandson
of the man after whom the ship was named, wrote to Colonel Jones,
head of the Coast Survey, that he was anxious to get hold of
that box. However, it disappeared. Tam was persistent and kept
after the Colonel, who finally wrote to Tam that he was sending
a fine souvenir, one that he would not lose. What did he get?
Why, the ship's capstan, weighing at least half a ton! It arrived
C.O.D. Tam got a kick out of that and told the story to me at
least a dozen times.
season closes early in that section and the little "McArthur"
headed across the Gulf of Alaska for Cross Sound, thence to
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