Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Pioneer Museum at Pioneer Park
|Hudson Stuck and Walter Harper in Allakaket,
March 1917 (UAF 1991-46-531)
Walter Harper was the son of the legendary gold rush prospector and trader Arthur Harper and the Athabaskan Jennie Albert Harper. Born in 1892 and raised according to his mother’s traditions, the young Harper developed a broad set of subsistence skills in his youth that, along with his pleasing disposition, led the Episcopal Archdeacon Hudson Stuck to select him as his trail assistant and interpreter.
Harper also became adept at piloting the missionary’s launch, the Pelican, and as a member of the 1913 Stuck-Karstens team that climbed to the top of Denali, he was the first person to stand atop the mountain. Stuck became Harper’s tutor, mentor, and surrogate father. Their dream was that Harper would become a missionary doctor and serve his mother’s people from St. Stephen’s Hospital at Fort Yukon.
The dream was shattered when Harper and his bride of seven weeks, Frances Wells, perished in the sinking of the Princess Sophia in Lynn Canal in October 1918. Using a variety of archival sources and the few published accounts of Harper’s adventures, this paper will reconstruct the life of this truly remarkable Alaskan.