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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


Original Participants

There are many theories as to why Edward Harriman chose to organize an Alaskan voyage turned expedition. Some claim he planned to build a railway across the territory, or perhaps that he originally just wanted to hunt the great grizzly. During the voyage he clearly showed an interest in Alaska's mineral resources. Others say it was because the scholarly expedition appealed to his philanthropic goals, and desire to be recognized for his good works. Harriman enlisted C. Hart Merriam's help in identifying scholars, and in few short months they were organized for the voyage. He refitted the steamer, the George W. Elder, plotted the itinerary, and arranged for travel to the port city of Seattle. The expedition that carried his name set sail on May 31, 1899.

Expedition Leader

Edward H. Harriman (1848-1909). In 1881, he bought his first rail company outright, thirty-four miles of track in upstate New York, and his name soon became synonymous with "railroad."

The Participants, a Selected List
(Biographies for Devereux, Elliot, Emerson, Gannett, Kearney, Ridgeway, and Saunders are not included in the following list)

Prof. William H. Brewer (1828 -1910). He was a founding member of The Arctic Club. Thus, in 1899, he was the ideal Harriman scientist -- experienced, respected, and enchanted with the Arctic. Brewer was seventy-one, and one of the oldest passengers on the Elder. Even so, he held his own, competing with Muir as a story-teller, tramping about all day on glacier fields.

John Burroughs (1837-1921). He had published hundreds of articles on birds, flowers, and natural wonders of all sorts -- his 27 books had sold over two million copies. He was the most famous nature writer of the day. His fame made him a natural choice for the Harriman trip.

Frederick V. Coville (1867-1937) At 32, he was one of the younger men on board. He took advantage of every opportunity to hike, camp, and explore Alaska's coast. He stayed for three days on Columbia Glacier with Palache and Gilbert. He also spent a good deal of time talking with the more seasoned scientists, particularly Fernow.

William Healey Dall (1845-1927). Aboard the Elder, Dall was officially the "paleontologist, geographer, etc.," and he was certainly the undisputed expert on Alaska. His shipmates were often surprised by his wealth of knowledge, both in biology and in respect to the Native cultures of Alaska.

Bernhard E. Fernow (1851-1923). Fernow was a pioneer in the American forestry movement. In 1882, he organized the American Forestry Congress and called for laws to protect National Forest preserves. By 1899, when Harriman tapped him for the expedition, Fernow was chief of the Division of Forestry at the United States Department of Agriculture, and a founder of the School of Forestry at Cornell.

G. K. Gilbert (1843 - 1918). Gilbert was the top field geologist of his day, and an obvious choice for the scientific team on the Harriman Expedition. Gilbert used his time on the Elder to consider the physics of glacial geology and geomorphology. He camped out with John Muir, took many photographs, and set out to build a reliable set of data about Alaskan glaciers that would be useful in his own time and for years to come.

George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938). Grinnell was editor of Forest and Stream, the leading natural history magazine in North America, the founder of the Audubon Society and the Boone and Crockett Club, and an advisor to Theodore Roosevelt. Glacier National Park came about largely through his efforts.

Charles Augustus Keeler (1871-1937). Keeler was the director of the Natural History Museum at the California Academy of Sciences. On the Harriman Expedition, Keeler served as poet and bird-watcher. He contributed the descriptive essay on birds that was later published. Like Muir, he was disturbed by the killing of animals for specimens.

Trevor Kincaid (1872 - 1970). As an insect specialist, he assumed that the icy Alaskan coast would yield but few discoveries, but he learned that "the presence of a glacier does not necessarily mean the absence of life." One species he collected and described was the "glacier worm," familiar to Alaskan Natives, but largely unknown to the scientific community.

C. Hart Merriam (1855-1942). It was little wonder that, when Edward Harriman needed help with his proposed Alaska Expedition, he turned first to C. Hart Merriam. Merriam was able to bring together an eminent staff of professionals in a very short time, a feat all the more impressive when one remembers that the telephone had yet to be invented.

John Muir (1838-1914). Muir had traveled to Alaska on extended expeditions in 1879-1880, and in 1890. He was a recognized authority on glaciers there; in Glacier Bay, one of the largest glaciers was already named for him. It was this expertise in glaciology, along with his broad background in nature study, that prompted Harriman to invite him to join the expedition.

Charles Palache (1869 - 1954). Working with the other researchers of the Elder, he took many of the camping trips, including a three-day stay at Pacific Glacier with John Muir, and a ten-day stay on Popof Island. He collected specimens and made notes that would eventually be incorporated into the published reports of the trip.

William E. Ritter (1856 - 1944). He studied sea and coastal creatures in California, becoming one of the few experts in this relatively unstudied branch of zoology. It was this expertise that led Merriam to invite Ritter on the Harriman Expedition. Aboard ship, Ritter was known as one of the "worm men," for his dogged method of collecting marine invertebrates.

William Trelease (1857 - 1945). While on the Elder, he worked with the others involved in botany and collecting specimens, but tended to play second fiddle to Muir, Gilbert and the other, more talkative scientists. He was first and foremost a scientist, not a story-teller.

The Artists on the Elder

Edward Curtis (1868 - 1952). Curtis went to Alaska thrilled with the prospect of making pictures in such a grand landscape. On the trip, he captured thousands of images, working with the cumbersome equipment of the day. He went to great lengths to get his pictures; at one time, he nearly capsized in a small boat that floated too near a calving glacier. He took over 5000 photographs on the expedition.

Frederick S. Dellenbaugh (1853 - 1935). Though Dellenbaugh was a seasoned traveler when he joined the Harriman Expedition in 1899, his journals and letters show that he was truly excited to be setting out on this trip. Several of his paintings from the trip were used as illustrations for the first two volumes published after the Harriman Expedition.

Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927). On the expedition, Fuertes went to great lengths to collect as many types of birds as he could. He sketched constantly, chasing through woods and across glaciers to catch sight of rare species. He made quick images of birds on the wing, and retained memories of their calls. He shot and skinned hundreds of birds, and took copious notes on what he was seeing and learning. He simply couldn't get enough of Alaska.

R. Swain Gifford (1840 - 1905). Gifford was a logical choice for Harriman. His paintings had been used in the two-volume Picturesque America, and he had illustrated works about Europe and Northern Africa as well. His style showed nature in an intimate way, the human figures as small details, the colors muted greens and grays. The works from the trip clearly convey the remote beauty of landscape in the high latitudes.




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

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