NOAA History Banner
gold bar divider
home - takes you to index page
about the site
noaa - takes you to the noaa home page
search this site
white divider

arrow Stories and Tales of the Coast & Geodetic Survey
arrow Alaska Tales

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

Page: left arrow 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 click for next page


The boundary line separating Alaska from Canada runs very close to Cape Muzon. This area at that time was quite important. It was uncertain whether the boundary touched the Cape. British, Canadian and U. S. parties made investigations there. It was reported that a Canadian party was buried under tons of earth, in a landslide which covered their camp, which was nearer the Cape than the site chosen by the "Gedney" party. In addition to extensive triangulation, certain topographic surveys were required.

An important point in this survey was Mt. Muzon, the summit of the ridge running from Cape Muzon, the south end of Dall Island and the northwest point of Dixon Entrance. The Cape forms the western shore of a small open bay known as McLeod's Bay, at the head of which lived Mr. McLeod and his family. We camped on the western shore of this bay, near the beach. The mountain was heavily timbered with large hemlock, spruce, and red and yellow cedar. The triangulation station was on the summit, to which a trail was blazed. The ascent was comparatively easy, our usual rate being about 1000 feet per hour. We started at 7 a.m. each day. The cook remained in camp, the same cook we had at Lazaroo. He wasn't quite good enough yet for the Exec to haul him back for duty aboard ship. Mr. McLeod generally accompanied us to the summit. Our observing was over long distances, that to the Canadian side being forty or more miles in length. Frequent banks of fog swept in from the Pacific, obscuring distant stations, and twenty-eight ascents were made before the work was completed. We generally left the summit about 6 p.m. McLeod would leave an hour earlier and when we reached camp, we would find that he had prepared a nice tasty deer mulligan or a roast or perhaps halibut or salmon. From nearby Daykoo Inlet, a well protected anchorage for small craft, but with limited swinging room, we obtained succulent Dungeness crabs and a nearby sandy beach furnished excellent razor clams. Under McLeod's tutelage our Japanese boy developed into a good cook.

McLeod was well versed in Indian legends and lore. He did considerable prospecting, traveling in a manner which would open the eyes of the amateur prospector or hunter. His tent, when traveling, consisted of two sheets of heavy muslin, stretched in the form of a lean-to and separated by about two inches. His equipment consisted of a gun, ammunition, compass, matches, a small sack of flour, a side of bacon, some coffee, sugar and canned milk, a little salt and pepper, some cooking utensils, and a few minor items. All could be back packed without much inconvenience. However, a canoe was generally his means of transportation. During the fall and winter the sun was obscured most of the time so directions could not be determined from that body. While he carried a pocket compass, he said he generally could get the direction from moss on the trees, that it grew heavier on the southeast side, as the rain and warm winds came from that direction. I was never able to confirm this.

  In the evening all was quiet at the camp in the shadows of the tall cedars and hemlocks. Driftwood was plentiful and we sat around the beach fire. As twilight fell, two loons usually flew overhead homeward bound, giving as they passed that eerie cry so different from other calls. There was little conversation. The failing twilight, the distant mountains, the deep purple shadows, the white foam on the distant rocks, were conducive to silence, to create a feeling of smallness in one of nature's grand settings. Later in the evening McLeod would give a wolf call which shortly after would have faint answers from the distant hills. Later calls would have more distinct responses. About 10 p.m. McLeod would leave for his home about one-half mile away. Often in the morning we would find wolf prints in the vicinity of the camp. However, the animals never touched anything.

We mentioned to Mr. McLeod that occasionally when we slept on the ground small field mice of an inquisitive nature would crawl over us. He said that an ideal bed could be made from cedar branches, laid flat; that several layers make a nice smelling, dry, springy bed, around which should be placed a ring or enclosure of short spruce branches; that the field mice did not like the spruce leaves, about one inch long, which project like stickers. These they do not like to cross.

We knew that deer were excellent swimmers as we frequently saw them swimming from one island to another. McLeod claimed that the wolf could not swim or if he could, did not like it, as he never saw one in the water. He stated that a pack of wolves would spread across an island or neck of land, commence howling and start a drive to the water. The deer running ahead, finally would be forced to take to the water. If there was another island nearby, the deer, of course, would be safe, but generally they were driven to a point where conditions were not so good. The wolves would wait on shore, back away until the exhausted animal was forced to return. Then the wolves would grab and kill it.

Howkan was an Indian village about eight miles up Kaigani Straits. McLeod informed me that one of the Chiefs from this village, while paddling in his canoe close to shore, saw a wolf bring down a deer. The wolf trotted off, calling the pack. The Indian paddled quietly to the point, pulled the carcass into his canoe, and then withdrew close inshore under overhanging shrubbery, where he could observe without being seen. The wolf returned, followed by the pack. He went to the spot where the carcass had been, smelled the blood and then ran around sniffing in a worried manner. The others came up, smelled the spot, sniffed the blood on the single wolf and immediately proceeded to attack him. Apparently they suspected a double cross.

McLeod informed me that he had a good sized dog, a cross between a beagle and bull dog. He was a courageous fighter with the pluck of the bull dog and the cunning of the hound. Returning from a prospecting trip he found the ground near the house torn up and saw some scattered hair and what looked like blood splashes. He heard a whining from the hollow in a tree where he saw his dog. Wolves had attacked the dog, who got into the hollow where he could be attacked head-on by only one wolf at a time. He held his own, but apparently thought that enough was enough, as he kept pretty close to home whenever he heard a wolf howl.

McLeod had a number of mining claims in the hills back from the shore. Two tunnels, each about six by eight feet and 200 feet deep, entered these claims. The tunnels were in heavily wooded country and were not visible from the shore. He wanted to know if I could locate the tunnels. This was not much of a job. A lantern was hung at each entrance and from distant triangulation stations observations were made at night. The distances, latitudes, longitudes and elevations were got in a very short time. The elevations were 97 and 405 feet and the average slope of the hill there was twenty-seven degrees. He wanted to know the cost. I told him that it would be figured out during the winter in Seattle. He had other ideas. He wanted to know if a regular land surveyor would have to come from Ketchikan, calling for launch hire, launch crew, surveying crew, clearing a line through timber and underbrush, running a traverse and levels. I helped him figure the cost. He didn't want any cheap job. Well, his mulligan stews and roasts in camp were "tops," so reciprocity was in order. After completing our work in that section I never saw McLeod again. He was a friendly and lovable character, the type of pioneer who was and never will be again.

Years later I mentioned the incident to a party in Ketchikan. He smiled and said, "The Canny Scot thought it might be counted as part of his assessment work and he didn't want any cheap job." If so, it was all perfectly legal as I did the work at night on my own time. I was informed that his claims were quite extensive and that he had been offered a good price for his interests which he did not accept as adequate. The price of copper then was high and labor costs relatively low. Prospectors frequently locate property and in trying to evaluate a sale price fail to take into consideration development and transportation costs and the speculative risks inherent in estimating the extent and quality of the mineral content.

The season was drawing to a close and after making several small detached surveys, the party headed for Seattle. Dr. Mahone had been doing rough work, back packing and mountain climbing often under wet and disagreeable conditions. After a particularly nasty trip he remarked, "The Coast Survey doesn't need a doctor; a mule is what is wanted." A Swede sailor boy standing by said, "Doctor, jackass much better." I snickered. Doc said, "Tom, I think that might be a dirty dig." Doc left at the end of the season to enter private practice. He had very little medical work during the season, having only two surgical operations, cleaning a mallard duck and dissecting the Canadian goose he shot on Duke Island.

- Top of Page -

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

Privacy Policy | Disclaimer