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Harriman Expedition Retraced



The 1899 Expedition
The 1899


Original Participants

Brief Chronology

Science Aboard the Elder
Aboard the

History of Exploration
Exploration &

Development Along Alaska's Coast
Growth Along Alaska's Coast

Alaska Native Communities


A Brief Chronology of the Harriman Expedition

Planning the Expedition: March, April and early May, 1899
The plans for the Harriman Expedition began with a doctor's order: Edward Henry Harriman, an exhausted captain of the railroad industry, was told to take a long vacation. He chose Alaska, and decided to turn the family vacation to a full-blown scientific expedition. In two-and-a-half month's time, he and C. Hart Merriam chose the scientists and artists. Harriman himself supervised and paid for the outfitting of the George W. Elder -- new staterooms, salons, livestock stalls, research spaces and a library with over 500 books on Alaska. At the same time, he made arrangements for the invited guests to travel by rail to the departure city of Seattle.

May 23, 1899 - New York City
Harriman arranged for a special train to carry his guests from New York City to Seattle. The Harriman family and many scientists traveled in luxury from Grand Central Station.

Great Divide

"On the Great Divide." The special train from New York stops to let the travelers explore the western prairie.
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May 31, 1899 - Seattle
All passengers had arrived in Seattle, but they spent hours waiting for the ship to be loaded. Cargo included an organ, a piano, canvas tents, hunting gear, traps, art supplies, a lantern slide projector, a graphophone, food and fresh water. The boat left the dock shortly before 6:00PM.

June 2, 1899 - British Columbia
The expedition visited the Victoria Museum on Vancouver Island, then cruised north along the coast of British Columbia. Those aboard took advantage of the cruising time to get to know one another.

June 3, 1899 - British Columbia - Lowe Inlet
Cruising northward, the Elder moved from protected waterways into the Pacific. The first bouts of seasickness were reported by a number of passengers. The boat stopped near Lowe Inlet and a group of scientists went ashore to explore Princess Royal Island.

June 4, 1899 - Metlakatla
The expedition visited Father William Duncan's island missionary settlement, and explored the rich forests of the area. Fuertes discovered an unusual type of large, tamed raven. Fischer became so caught up in his explorations of the island's forests that he missed the boat as it pulled away from the dock. After this, everyone would sign in and out using a peg on a large board painted by Dellenbaugh.

June 5, 1899 - Wrangell
The Elder pulled into Wrangell early in the morning, and, with only a few hours to explore this spot, the group fanned out to explore the town and the surrounding area. Saunders scoured the coast for seaweed specimens, the birders headed into the forests, armed and ready to shoot specimens, and the photographers spent their time taking pictures in Wrangell, a boom-town on the decline. It was the first exploration on Alaskan soil, and everyone seemed determined to make use of their time.

June 6, 1899 - Treadwell Mine and Skagway
The party explored the mining operations near the Skagway, a mining town that was enjoying a boom, partly because of gold, partly because it was the starting point for the White Pass railroad, taking miners into the gold fields. Five scientists -- Palache, Ritter, Saunders, Kearney, and Kincaid -- set out on a small steam launch boat, to explore the area for several days. This was one way the Harriman Alaska Expedition made up for the relatively brief time they spent at any one place.


Skagway, Alaska, photographed in June, 1899 by C. Hart Merriam.
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June 7, 1899 - White Pass Railroad
The party rode the twenty-one miles to the summit of White Pass, traveling through the steep Dead Horse Pass and gateway to the gold rush.

June 8, 1899 - Cruising to Glacier Bay
The Elder returned to Juneau to pick up the five scientists who'd been in the field, then steamed toward Glacier Bay.

June 9 through 14, 1899 - Glacier Bay
The expeditioners spent five days exploring Glacier Bay. One highlight was the overnight hike to "Howling Valley," which, according to Muir, was filled with game. Twelve men -- six crew members, Harriman, Merriam, Captain Kelly, Drs. Morris and Trudeau, and Grinnell -- hiked for almost 24 hours in the hopes of finding bear. The other scientists spent the days exploring the Muir and other glaciers in the bay. Fuertes, Fischer and Ridgeway traveled to Point Gustavus to collect specimens. Muir and others discovered that the Grand Pacific Glacier had split into three lobes, and they proposed the largest be named "Harriman Glacier." The Elder departed Glacier Bay on the morning of the 14th.


The campsite at Reid Inlet

The campsite at Reid Inlet.
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June 15 through 18, 1899 - Sitka
The party explored Sitka, once the capital of Alaska and the headquarters of the Russian-American company. They visited the nearby hot springs, purchased furs from Tlingit trappers, and saw in architecture and custom the Russian influence in Alaska. Harriman made a graphophonic recording of Tlingit songs. They depart Sitka on the morning of the 18th.


Mending a canoe in Sitka, 1899. Photographed by Edward Curtis.
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June 19, 1899 - Yakutat and Malaspina Glacier
The group explored the mission settlement in Yakutat, and several hunting parties set out for bear and other game. Harriman was impressed with a man called "Indian Jim," who knew much about the local coastline. He was hired as a guide for the duration of the voyage.

June 20 through 23, 1899 - Malaspina Glacier and Disenchantment Bay
Explorers mapped the huge glacier, which Dall had named on an earlier trip. Others observed the Natives at work in their annual seal hunt. Harriman purchased a sea otter pelt, a rare specimen since the otter had been hunted to virtual extinction. The Elder left Disenchantment Bay on the morning of the 23rd.

June 24, 1899 - Orca and Prince William Sound
The expedition visited the Pacific Steam Whaling Company's salmon cannery at Orca. The visitors found several opportunities to speak with gold miners heading back to the United States.

June 25 through 29, 1899 - Prince William Sound
The party explored Prince William Sound, including, on June 26, the narrow inlet at Barry Glacier that opened up to reveal an unexplored fiord, now known as "Harriman Fiord." Several scientists put ashore in the fiord for a camping-exploration trip, while others stayed on the Elder, steaming back to Orca to fix a broken propellor blade.

June 30, 1899 - Kulak Bay
The original destination for the day was Cook Inlet, but Harriman, upon hearing that bear would be more easily found elsewhere, changed course for Kodiak Island in the Aleutians.

Man and bear, Kodiak

Bear hunter in Alaska poses with his trophy. This is a photograph from a Bering Sea Commission trip, about 1898, not from the Harriman Expedition.
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July 1 though July 4, 1899 - Kodiak Island
The hunting party was successful: Harriman, with the help of several packers and guides, shot his Kodiak bear. Dellenbaugh, in a conversation with a traveler from another ship, learned about a remote and apparently abandoned Tlingit village near Saxman, on the south coast of Alaska. The party celebrated the 4th of July in town of Kodiak with speeches, music and boat races. The Elder left Kodiak on the morning of the 5th.


Drawing of Fourth of July Flag

A commenmorative drawing from the 4th of July festivities in Kodiak, 1899.
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July 5 and 6, 1899 - Shumagin Islands and Bering Sea
The Elder steamed along the Alaskan Peninsula, now entering territory that few pleasure vessels had ever entered. Seas grew rougher and the weather colder as they neared the Bering Sea.

July 7, 1899 - Shumagin Islands
Ritter, Saunders, Palache, Kincaid and Kelly set up a camp on Popof Island in the Shumagins, and remained there to collect specimens for ten days. The boat steamed north through the Bering Sea.

July 8, 1899 - Bering Sea, Unalaska and Bogoslof
John Burroughs made arrangements to stay behind in Dutch Harbor, Unalaska. He'd had enough of the rough, cold Bering Sea, but John Muir and Charles Keeler discovered his plan and coaxed him back on the ship. Later that day, a party took a launch to Bogoslof and were charged by sea lion bulls on the beach. Harriman, true to form, charged back.

July 9, 1899 - St. Paul, the Pribilofs
As the Elder reached the Pribilof Islands, Merriam noted with alarm the steep decline in the number of fur seals since his trip there in 1891. The party visited St. Paul in the Pribilofs only briefly, then the boat steamed toward Siberia. Shortly after leaving, the Elder became hung up on a rock, but the boat was not damaged.


Fur seals on St. Paul Island, 1899, photographed by C. Hart Merriam.
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July 10, 1899 - Bering Sea
From the Pribilofs, the ship steamed toward Siberia, because Mrs. Harriman had a desire to put her foot on Siberian soil and see the polar regions. The boat continued northward, much to Burroughs's disappointment.

July 11, 1899 - Plover Bay, Siberia
The party comes ashore at Plover Bay in Siberia, and visits a small Eskimo settlement. The Eskimoes were clearly impoverished and in very poor health.

July 12, 1899 - Port Clarence
After leaving Siberia, the boat headed for Port Clarence. Here they were able to visit with Eskimos, gold miners and whalers.

July 13, 1899 - St. Lawrence Island
Harriman still hoped to bag another bear, this time a polar bear. Merriam, out exploring with two of the Harriman daughters, saw what he thought were two polar bears in the distance. They followed behind the white animals for two miles, and finally realized they were chasing arctic swans.


Top: Violet-green cormorant, Phalacrocorax pelagius robustus, Point Gustavus, Glacier Bay, June 11, 1899. Bottom: White-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax dilophus cincinatus, Kukak Bay, Alaska Penninsula, July 1899.
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July 14, 1899 - Hall Island
Fuertes found this island rich in seabird life, and easily shot and collected a large number of the island's sea birds.

July 15, 1899 - St. Matthew Island
Some in the party continued to hunt polar bear, unsuccessfully. Fuertes and Fischer captured two blue foxes. This marked the end of the Elder's outward journey and the ship charts a homeward course.

July 16 through 19, 1899 - Steaming Southward
The research party left behind on the Shumagins is retrieved.

July 20, 1899 - Return to Kodiak
The return trip to Kodiak included a birthday party celebration for Cornelia Harriman.

July 21 through 25 - Steaming Southward
Except for a brief stop in Juneau, the Elder continued the homeward trip.

capefox group shot

A group photograph of the Harriman Alaska Expedition taken on the beach at Cape Fox, July 26, 1899 by Edward Curtis.
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July 26 and 27, 1899 - Cape Fox
The Elder anchored off of Cape Fox village, the uninhabited Tlingit village that Dellenbaugh had been told about earlier in the trip. The crew collected many artifacts, and took them aboard the Elder.

July 28 through 30, 1899 - Steaming to Seattle
The Harriman Alaska Expedition ended as the Elder steamed into Seattle on July 30, 1899.



The Elder 
The Elder

The Elder steams past Wellesley Glacier, 1899. Photographed by C. Hart Merriam.
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"I start tomorrow on a two month trip with Harriman's Alaska expedition. John Burroughs and Professor Brewer and a whole lot of good naturalists are going. But I would not have gone, however tempting, were it not to visit the only part of the coast I have not seen ...This has been a barren year and I am less the willing to go ... I lost half the winter in a confounded fight with sheep and cattlemen and politicians on behalf of the forests. During the other half I was benumbed and interrupted by sickness in the family."

John Muir, in a letter dated May 24, 1899, writing about his imminent departure for Alaska.

"It was as appalling to look up as to look down; chaos and death below us, impending avalanches of hanging rocks above us. How elemental and cataclysmal it all looked! I felt as if I were seeing for the first time the real granite ribs of the earth; they had been cut into and slivered and they were real and solid. All I had seen before were but scales and warts on the surface by comparison; here were the primal rocks, sweeping up into the clouds and plunging down into the abyss, that held the planet together."

John Burroughs, writing about the his trip up the White Pass Railroad, in The Harriman Alaska Expedition, Volume I.

"Sitka is said to be one of the rainiest spots on the coast, but the four days we passed there were not so bad: sun and cloud and spurts of rain each day but no considerable downpour. We came into the island-studded and mountain-locked harbor from the north and saw the town with its quaint old government buildings and its line of Indian houses close to the beach, outlined against a near-by background of steep high spruce -covered snow-capped mountains, with the white volcanic cone of Edgecomb 3,000 feet high towards the open ocean.

John Burroughs, "Sitka Ravens," Harriman Alaska Series, Vol. I.

"Someone told Harriman that I knew the Indians, as he called them, better than anyone else, and I could get him the best man to sing for him. ...We went on with the songs after lunch, and at the end of the day Harriman asked me what he should give the Natives. I told him what the usual wages were and suggested that sum. He seemed very much peeved ... He said, he couldn't bother and he told his secretary to give them twenty dollars, and he hurried off. I didn't think so much of Mr. Harriman."

Bertram Wilbur of Sitka writes about the Harriman stop in Sitka in an unpublished memoir from the Sitka Historical Society.

"When we reached Iliuliuk on the island of Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands we had some hours ashore before continuing our voyage into the Bering Sea. Mr. Muir and I had been strolling about on shore and were just returning to the steamer when we saw John Burroughs walking down the gang plank with a grip in his hand.

"Where are you going with that grip, Johnny?" demanded Muir suspiciously.

Burroughs tried to give an evasive answer. But on seeing he was caught he confessed. He had found a nice old lady ashore who had fresh eggs for breakfast and was going to board there and wait for us while we went up to the Bering Sea. He didn't like going into those tempestuous waters.

Charles Keeler, writing in Friends Bearing Torches about John Burroughs's attempt to jump ship in Dutch Harbor. Muir and Keeler escorted back to the ship.

"The group of people after dinner became quite riotous and danced and sang and yelled very merrily. We had drunk water at dinner and a steward he had never known this to have such an effect before. On the other hand, Muir attributes the merriment to the proximity of the glaciers."

George Bird Grinnell, from his diary.


For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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