AHS Blog

Valuable Port of Anchorage Historical Documents to be Digitized

Date Posted: December 25, 2015       Categories: 49 History

by J. Pennelope Goforth


History is sometimes found in the most mundane of places, from old business ledgers stuffed in a Nordstrom shopping bag to a pictorial scrapbook tucked into a nautical chart cabinet.


A few years ago, while researching in the Port of Anchorage Marine Library, I discovered two oversized folios with clippings and photographs of the early history of the port. When I looked at them I experienced the historian’s frisson of thrill! A treasure trove of documents.


Deteriorating pages of the folio showing the history of the Port of Anchorage. (Photo by J P Goforth)

Deteriorating pages of the folio showing the history of the Port of Anchorage. (Photo by J P Goforth)

This November I was awarded a contract with the Port of Anchorage to digitize the books and make them available to the public. This contract is the result of several years of effort on the part of Port of Anchorage and the Port Commission’s History Committee and myself to organize, catalogue, and preserve the port’s historical documents.


The project covers two folios, oversized hardbound ‘scrapbooks’ of 256 pages each, that represent a treasure trove of factual information about the creation, construction, and business of the port dating back to the late 1950s. This is the only such compilation of the port’s history. Photographs, newspaper articles, advertisements, and other materials were pasted into the folios over many years. The articles range from photographs and descriptions of visiting vessels like the WICKERSHAM to articles about the 1964 earthquake damage and the crowning of Miss Port of Anchorage. Fifty-five years later the newsprint is yellowing, browned from glue, and flaking apart. The deterioration puts the content at risk of being lost.


Former Port Commissioner John Stallone initiated the discussion on digitizing the material in 2011. “We should be able to have the public see this stuff. There is so much in there about the people who worked at the port. We need to make this widely available,” he said. Over the next few years, I worked with Port Director Richard Wilson and current Port Director Stephen Ribuffo on crafting a plan to preserve the material. With approval from the Municipality of Anchorage, this important project is now underway. The work is expected to take approximately four months.


The 20 inch by 26 inch folio pages were disassembled and individually hand fed into a ColorTrac II scanner. Dave Dubois gently handles the pages going in and coming out. (Photograph by J P Goforth)

The 20 inch by 26 inch folio pages were disassembled and individually hand fed into a ColorTrac II scanner. Dave Dubois gently handles the pages going in and coming out. (Photograph by J P Goforth)

Digital Blueprint, an Alaska reprographics firm, will scan each of the 512 pages through a single feed optical scanner. I will process them through the Adobe Acrobat Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program. This text recognition will apply to captions, the text body of articles and even headlines and advertisements. The resulting key word searchable files will be in PDF format. Meta data, identifying each page will be appended. The finished project will reside on the Municipality of Anchorage server. The public will be able to access the files on the on the Port of Alaska history web pages in the spring of 2016.


The thrill of discovering these records and making them publicly available is reminiscent of my earlier experience with nineteenth-century business ledgers of the Alaska Commercial Company (ACC).


Three years ago I discovered a set of lost ACC business ledgers written in the 1870s. There were in a basement in Snohomish, Washington, quietly waiting in a shiny silver Nordstrom bag. As soon as I saw them I knew they were some of the rarest business documents from the ACC Unalaska District. The Cash Sales and logbooks of daily events at the company trading posts are invaluable time capsules of the culture of the Unanagan during the transition from Russian domination to American territory. The historical record is thin during the years right after the Treaty of Cession in 1867.


The tattered correspondence copy book of the Alaska Commercial Company. (Photo by J P Goforth)

The tattered correspondence copy book of the Alaska Commercial Company. (Photo by J P Goforth)

I presented a proposal to the Alaska Humanities Forum to transcribe and digitize all six ledgers. The AHF, ACC, and Aleutian Pribilof Islands Community Development Association matched funds, and the fascinating details of Aleutian life emerged. The most satisfying part has been helping modern day Aleuts find their ancestors through the listings of hunters in the Winter Hunting Party of 1886. You can easily see from the accounts for each sea otter hunter who were the ‘highliners’ of the day. The transcripts of the ledgers are available in a series of DVDs containing the original scans from the ledger pages. I am now writing a book about the project, The Voyages of the Lost Aleutian Ledgers.


Having had the previous experience of working on the ACC ledgers, I can use the same technical expertise to make the Port of Anchorage records just as accessible. The history of the Port of Anchorage is a vital component of the city’s history. Some say without the railroad there would be no Anchorage. I say without the port, with its tenuous toehold in the silt of Ship Creek, there would be no Anchorage.


J. Pennelope Goforth is an active member of many maritime history organizations. Her work appears in the AHS blog, the Puget Sound Maritime journal Sea Chest, Alaska Business Monthly, Alaska Dispatch and other Alaska publications. Her efforts on the Alaska Commercial Company project earned her an award from the Alaska State Historical Records Advisory Board (ASHRAB) and the Pathfinder Award from the Alaska State Historical Society in 2012.

Happy Birthday, Senator

Date Posted: November 13, 2015       Categories: 49 History

Ted Stevens was born on November 18, 1923, in Indianapolis. In honor of his birthday week, we’re sharing this photo from June 1958, when the young Stevens met with Vice President Richard Nixon on the Alaska statehood vote taking place that month in Congress. Stevens was then working as a special assistant to Interior Secretary Fred Seaton.

(photo credit: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Collection, Box 1, Alaska and Polar Regions, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

(photo credit: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Collection, Box 1, Alaska and Polar Regions, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

Graphing the Sea Otter Hunt

Date Posted: November 6, 2015       Categories: 49 History

by Richard Ravalli, William Jessup University


The recent monograph by historian Ryan Jones entitled Empire of Extinction: Russians and the North Pacific’s Strange Beasts of the Sea, 1741-1867 is a valuable study of the Russian sea otter trade of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.[1] Not the least of the book’s contributions to fur trade scholarship is its appendix. Jones provides a list of hunting expeditions in the North Pacific, from Vitus Bering’s fateful mission in 1741 to 1800. As he explains, such lists (based on scattered and incomplete shipping records) have appeared in previous works on Russian America. Yet according to Jones, greater use of the data will allow scholars to more accurately reflect the environmental dynamics of sea otter hunting in Alaska and the North Pacific.


Calling into question the assertion that the Aleutian Islands were not overhunted by the Russians during their tenure there, Jones’s list demonstrates a steady and increasing slaughter of sea otters over the course of the 1700s, as Russian promyshlenniki ventured east, encountered new island groups, and pressured indigenous people to kill the animals. I decided to graph his data on sea otter catches in a manner similar to how I and others have graphed records relating to the California otter trade.[2] A comparison of the Russian hunt with the California data illuminates a number of important realities. The high point in the California sea otter trade was reached in its second “full decade” (1801-1809) when 22,578 otters skins were transported from Spanish shores, or 45.18% of the total exported skins. After that period, the numbers dropped off steadily and never recovered. This peak was due in large part to Russian and American contract ventures that brought skilled Aleut hunters south to poach sea otters in Spanish California, the same native peoples employed by Russian masters to decimate the creatures along shores farther north. By the 1810s these contract voyages ceased, yet the environmental damage left in their wake was striking, especially when one considers that sea otters were historically more abundant in Alaska and the North Pacific than in California. With fewer otters to start with, California quickly ran low on the species.

Click on the graphs below to enlarge.

ryan's data

ogden graph

The graph of Jones’s data not only confirms the Alaskan sea otter’s abundance, but is further evidence that Aleuts and Russians were a deadly combination for Enhydra lutris. Hunters reached “California peak” levels above 20,000 sea otter skins and never dipped below that threshold for the remainder of the 18th century. The lowest decade after mid-century, 1760-1769, produced 20,099 skins. A substantial spike in the 1790s is the result of a decade-long take by the Shelikov-Golikov Company that resulted in 64,000 skins, according to Jones’s chart. Such a slaughter punctuated a dramatic 50-year decline of the sea otter that Russian authorities only began to take seriously by the end of the 18th century. In the early 1800s, conservation measures meant to undo some of this environmental damage in the North Pacific were put in place. (I hope to compare the Russian efforts with those undertaken by officials in Mexican California to regulate the sea otter hunt in a future blog.) Prior to then, the Siberian proverb that “God is high above, and the tsar is far away” appears to have been the prevailing attitude—at least that’s what the numbers say.


[1] Ryan Tucker Jones, Empire of Extinction: Russians and the North Pacific’s Strange Beasts of the Sea, 1741-1867 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).


[2] Richard Ravalli, Kirsten Livingston and Hannah Zimmerman, “A Revised List of Vessels Engaged in the California Sea Otter Trade, 1786-1847,” International Journal of Maritime History XXIV:2 (December 2012): 225-238. Also see Terry L. Jones et al., “Toward a Prehistory of the Southern Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris nereis),” in Todd J. Braje and Torben C. Rick (eds.,), Human Impacts on Seals, Sea Lions, and Sea Otters: Integrating Archaeology and Ecology in the Northeast Pacific (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011).

Happy Halloween from AHS!

Date Posted: October 31, 2015       Categories: 49 History


Halloween revelers on St. George Island in 1924 (Credit: Richard G. and Mary S. Culbertson Photograph Collection, ASL-P390-030, Alaska State Library)

Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation to Induct Three Mining Pioneers

Date Posted: October 22, 2015       Categories: News

The Alaska Mining Hall of Fame Foundation (AMHF) will be inducting three new mining pioneers into their organization on November 4, 2015, at 7:00 p.m. in the Kenai-Denali Room of the Marriott Hotel in downtown Anchorage. Coffee and tea will be served during the AMHF induction and the public, including those interested in Alaska history, are urged to attend. The event is free.


For more information contact Tom Bundtzen, Alaska Mining Hall of Fame at: bundtzen@mosquitonet.com; phone: 907-458-8951


The inductees are:

Robert (Bob) Baker (1921-1968)

Irv Tailleur (1924-2004)

Don S. Rae (1864-1924)


Baker and Tailleur are being honored for their role for the discovery of the Red Dog zinc-lead-silver deposit in Northwest Alaska, which, since 1989, has been one of the world’s largest producers of zinc metal and an important economic anchor for the NANA Region. Rae is a pioneer of the Hatcher Pass district of southcentral Alaska and many western states.


Robert (Bob) Baker

Born (in 1921) and raised in the wheat farming center of Windsor, Colorado, Bob Baker came north in 1946 after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during WWII, with whom he received a Purple Heart for his service in the South Pacific. He worked as a U.S Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement agent in Fairbanks and Kotzebue during the late 1940s; at the former site, he took courses at the University of Alaska School of Mines and became interested in prospecting. His love of flying led him to fly commercially with Wien Airlines during the 1950s and eventually to establish his own air taxi–quite prophetically—the Red Dog Mine Flying Service (later Baker Aviation in 1967). The flying service was named after his beloved companion O’Malley, a reddish Terrier. When not flying around customers, Baker would take O’Malley with him on various prospecting trips.


In the early 1960s, Bob became acquainted with U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) geologist Irv Tailleur who was engaged in regional geologic mapping throughout the central and western Brooks Range. While flying logistical support for several USGS programs, Baker strongly encouraged Tailleur to sample obvious red-stained color anomalies in the Ikalukrok Creek basin in the DeLong Mountains, which he had observed over his many years of flying in the area. Tailluer did sample the exposures in 1968 and published his results in a 1970 USGS Open File report. The color anomalies were the surface exposures of the giant Red Dog zinc-lead-silver deposit.


Bob Baker was killed flying a mercy mission to Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island in March, 1968, without any knowledge of the significance of his ‘Red Dog’ find. His wife, Marjorie, was left to raise their seven children. She ran Baker Aviation, the first woman to own and operate an airline in Alaska. A model business woman, Marge ran the air taxi with her heart and cared for each and every customer she served in Arctic Alaska. She served on the Board of Directors of NANA Corporation and Kotzebue Electric Association and was for years the station manager of Alaska Airlines in Kotzebue. Marjorie Baker died in 2011. Baker’s daughter Lori Henry is currently the COO of NANA Corporation, the owner of the Red Dog mine. His son Mike Baker is the General Manager of Tuug Drilling LLC, the prime drill contractor for Teck Resources, which operates the Red Dog mine. Son Andy Baker remains involved with aviation in the Kotzebue Area, including Baker Aviation. Son John Baker is a professional sled dog musher who won the 2011 Iditarod Sled Dog race. For many years, John has been a motivational speaker for the youth of the NANA Region.


Irv Tailleur

To any Alaskan geologist (such as the writer), Irv Tailleur was an outstanding regional geologist who did much to unravel the geologic framework of Northern Alaska. Growing up in Yakima, Washington, he studied earth science at Harvard, Cornell and Stanford before accepting a position with the USGS as an assistant geologist studying the Naval Petroleum Reserve #4—now the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. His focus was to map the northern foothills of the Brooks Range flanking the Arctic coastal plain. Eventually Tailleur’s work area was expanded to include most of the Brooks Range, where he spent more than 35 years studying the complex geologic area.


It was inevitable that Irv Tailleur and Bob Baker’s paths would cross. Irv needed fixed wing support for his studies throughout the Brooks Range. Bob could provide that for all of the western part of his study area. Tailluer landed a helicopter in 1968 at a ‘gossan’ (reddish stained area) pointed out by Baker in the Delong Mountains. Although Tailluer’s training in ore deposits was limited, he immediately recognized that ore minerals of barium, lead and zinc were present in great abundance. He published his findings in a 1970 USGS open-file report. Eventually several government agencies would visit the site and confirm the find. NANA Corporation, one of the twelve landed regional corporations created under ANCSA, selected the site as part of their land entitlement. Drilling in 1982 by Cominco for NANA confirmed the enormous size and richness of the find. Nine years later, ‘Red Dog’, named after Baker’s dog O’Malley, was placed into production as one of the world’s largest zinc mines.


Don S. Rae

Scottish-born Don Rae was a miner, prospector, assayer and mine promoter who worked throughout the West, including Arizona, Oregon, Montana, Nevada and ultimately Alaska. He was short on greatness but big on being a classical, successful, western mining man during the early 20th Century period. He would spend nearly half of his career in the Hatcher Pass district north of Palmer, Alaska. Rae was highly successful mining gold and bismuth in Montana and gold and silver in Oregon and Nevada. Wherever he went, he generally succeeded in the mining business. During 1900-1902, Rae was an assayer at the Buckhorn mine in Nevada—now one of America’s larger gold mines.


His Alaskan career began in 1903 as he left Dawson in Yukon to attend to mine developments in the Juneau and Porcupine districts of southeast Alaska. In 1908, he initiated a long term relationship with several mine owners in the Hatcher Pass district, Alaska, which only ended at his death, when he succumbed to ‘miners consumption’—otherwise known as silicosis of the lungs.


For more information contact Tom Bundtzen, Alaska Mining Hall of Fame at: bundtzen@mosquitonet.com; phone: 907-458-8951