Frederick Gustavus Schwatka
Library of Alexandria
Along Alaska's Great River by Frederick Gustavus Schwatka Summary
This Alaskan exploring expedition was composed of the following members: Lieut. Schwatka, U.S.A., commanding; Dr. George F. Wilson, U.S.A., Surgeon; Topographical Assistant Charles A. Homan, U.S. Engineers, Topographer and Photographer; Sergeant Charles A. Gloster, U.S.A., Artist; Corporal Shircliff, U.S.A., in charge of stores; Private Roth, assistant, and Citizen J. B. McIntosh, a miner, who had lived in Alaska and was well acquainted with its methods of travel. Indians and others were added and discharged from time to time as hereafter noted. The main object of the expedition was to acquire such information of the country traversed and its wild inhabitants as would be valuable to the military authorities in the future, and as a map would be needful to illustrate such information well, the party's efforts were rewarded with making the expedition successful in a geographical sense. I had hoped to be able, through qualified subordinates, to extend our scientific knowledge of the country explored, especially in regard to its botany, geology, natural history, etc.; and, although these subjects would not in any event have been adequately discussed in a popular treatise like the present, it must be admitted that little was accomplished in these branches. The explanation of this is as follows: When authority was asked from Congress for a sum of money to make such explorations under military supervision and the request was disapproved by the General of the Army and Secretary of War. This disapproval, combined with the active opposition of government departments which were assigned to work of the same general character and coupled with the reluctance of Congress to make any appropriations whatever that year, was sufficient to kill such an undertaking. When the military were withdrawn from Alaska by the President, about the year 1878, a paragraph appeared at the end of the President's order stating that no further control would be exercised by the army in Alaska; and this proviso was variously interpreted by the friends of the army and its enemies, as a humiliation either to the army or to the President, according to the private belief of the commentator. It was therefore seriously debated whether any military expedition or party sent into that country for any purpose whatever would not be a direct violation of the President's proscriptive order, and when it was decided to waive that consideration, and send in a party, it was considered too much of a responsibility to add any specialists in science, with the disapproval of the General and the Secretary hardly dry on the paper. The expedition was therefore, to avoid being recalled, kept as secret as possible, and when, on May 22d, it departed from Portland, Oregon, upon the Victoria, a vessel which had been specially put on the Alaska route, only a two or three line notice had gotten into the Oregon papers announcing the fact; a notice that in spreading was referred to in print by one government official as "a junketing party," by another as a "prospecting" party, while another bitterly acknowledged that had he received another day's intimation he could have had the party recalled by the authorities at Washington. Thus the little expedition which gave the first complete survey to the third river of our country stole away like a thief in the night and with far less money in its hands to conduct it through its long journey than was afterward appropriated by Congress to publish its report.