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Reminiscences of Alaska by Capt. Thomas J. Maher, C&GS

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GOODNEWS BAY - Spring of 1911


My first assignment upon arriving in Alaska was with a detail of five men, a whaleboat and a load of lumber, to erect a tide gauge. There the tides have a range of over ten feet and in properly placing the staff we were up to our waists in water most of the time. Upon returning to the ship, I reported to Mr. Coleman, the Executive Officer, that the job was completed. The ship's doctor was standing by. He was a fine young man, very conscientious, and very sympathetic. He later became very successful in Washington medical circles. He took his position as caretaker of the health and welfare of these hard-boiled, tough old seamen too seriously. Not yet familiar with the seafaring fraternity, he insisted that the party go below, change clothes and then report at the medical locker. Coleman said, "What is this?" Medico replied, "Why, each man is going to get a shot of whiskey. Do you wan them laid up with pneumonia?" Coleman puffed up like a pouter pigeon, got red in the face, was unable to talk, just sputtered. Finally he blurted out, "Doctor, cut out that nonsense. You will have all my men falling overboard while any whiskey remains in the locker." Medico insisted. Coleman said, "Well, go ahead. Maher, you help him." The medical locker was int eh midship section of the deck house, starboard side, with a half door opening outward. The men lined up. Medico filled the jiggers which I passed out. One quart bottle was emptied and a good start was made on a second one. After passing out about fifteen drinks, the Medico said, "Coleman, how many men were in that party?" Coleman said, "Five." Looking out, Medico saw eight men still lined up. The bar then closed. Medico was learning the hard way. As each man got his drink he went around the deck house, joining the tail end, passing word to his shipmates below to come on deck and join the party. Coleman chuckled as he walked away.

Our next stop was at Killisnoo, once an active whaling station. there was considerable fog in Chatham Straits, but in the vicinity of the station the winds blew across the channel, and even in the thickest weather a master could never mistake his general location. Whaling stations develop a pronounced and distinctive odor. As soon as the hook was dropped, numerous canoes filled with natives tied up astern. The natives wanted medical attention, mostly dental, for the children. To our older officers this was routine stuff but to the young and green officers it was new, surprising and interesting. As the natives piled aboard, Coleman said to the Medico, "This is your job. Maher, you help him." Our dental equipment was not the best for its purpose and, looking back, I think some of it must have come from the engine room. It certainly was too massive and heavy to have been of use in the carpenter shop. I substituted for the anesthetic by holding heads while the Medico yanked and the children screamed. This occurred on a Sunday afternoon and naturally the dental practitioners were anxious to get ashore for a while, but the natives came in a never-ending system. Coleman softened up a little toward the Medico and suggested that to slow up traffic he charge each patient twenty-five cents. One Indian came with a child who had a double set of teeth and badly lacerated gums. With much holding, yelling, screaming, and yanking, the situation was cleared up. The Indian produced a pair of hair seal slippers and said, "Seventy-five cents; you take him and give me fifty cents." During the heated discussion I disappeared and never made inquiry concerning the result. In a trade we found these native did not suffer any intellectual inferiority. Natives in dealing with the white man learn in a hard school, but in their graduate work often surprise their teachers. As a junior member of the dental department any criticism of sanitary conditions or of modus operandi can only be viewed as a personal insult. Our patients certainly were always conscious of what we were doing and of the kind of service we were rendering. The dental profession may well look with pride upon our work rendered for equitable charges, as our cash account for twenty operations showed a total income of twenty-five cents.

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