1866 __ Western Union Telegraph Expedition's Scientific Corps
‣ Comment : A proposed telegraph line brought about further contact between Eskimos and Americans. A party of the Western Union Telegraph Expedition's Scientific Corps established a base camp, called Libbysville, at Port Clarence on the Seward Peninsula in 1866 . The community, although short-lived, is noted for having published Alaska's first newspaper, “The Esguimaux”, a handwritten sheet circulated in a few copies. Libbysville is also remembered for being the site where Americans, although prematurely, first raised their country's flag in Alaska. — In September 1865, as the San Francisco “Evening Bulletin” reported, Colonel Bulkley and the “Wright” had “steamed into Port Clarence, where the Colonel took soundings” to determine if the depth might be right for the proposed telegraph line across the Bering Strait to Siberia. [...] Eventually, Port Clarence would be deemed a suitable location to commence a section of the telegraph line that would continue for several hundered miles inland, across the unexplored wilderness that is today known as the Seward Peninsula. In mid-September 1866, thirty-nine men went ashore at Port Clarence under the command of Daniel B. Libby. He was a young Civial War veteran from Maine who named the settlement Libbysville. The supply ships departed. While finishing the initial part of the telegraph line to the head of Grantley Harbor, “we experienced terrible cold and stormy weather”, Libby recorded, “and the thermometer fell to fifty-five degrees below zero. Great ws my anxiety for my men camping in common tents as some of them are, but fortunately, none were frozen”. To amuse themseolves the men of Libbysville published a monthly handwritten newspaper they dubbed the “Esquimaux”. By April they’d run out of food. All work stopped. Libby dispatched his men to live with the local Eskimos and learn to hunt and fish for themselves. One elder, Darby Gougan, probably saved their lives with his “exertions to supply [them] with food”. Seal and walrus became part of the expedition team’s regular repast. By the following summer, having laid twenty-three miles of telegraph poles through the bone-chilling winter, they would learn that the success of an Atlantic cable had made their labors moot. They sailed away from Libbysville on July 2, 1867, leaving behind lumber and other supplies for the Eskimos who’d helped them. (Dick Russell)
‣ Source : Russell, Dick (2004), “Eye of the Whale : Epic passage from Baja to Siberia”, Island Press, p. 390.
‣ Urls : http://www.akhistorycourse.org/articles/article.php?artID=64 (last visited )
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