By Peter Trimble Rowe
From The Living Church, October 31, 1936, pp. 501-02.
Author Peter Trimble Rowe (1856-1942) was a Canadian Anglican priest who served as Bishop of Alaska from 1895 to 1942. On January 3, 1959, Alaska was admitted as a state of the union.
We set out from Fairbanks for the Arctic section, via Nome. Flying over Tofty, we dropped several quarters of beef for the men mining in that camp. We flew over Tanana and landed at Ruby to refuel. We landed in Nome in five and a half hours of flying time. It was comfortable to sit and look down on that vast terrain over which in past years I had mushed on snow shoes with my team of seven dogs.
Leaving Nome, we flew north over the Sawtooth mountains, over Death’s Valley, and made a landing at Kotzebue. All the inhabitants, white and Eskimo, were at the landing field to greet us. Father Menanjer, S.J., took us to his rectory for refreshments. The day before, an aviator had lost his life nearby, in Kotzebue Sound, owing to the fog. It was in this section of their trip to Asia that Charles and Anne Lindbergh experienced so much anxiety, trouble, and danger. Here in Kotzebue Confirmation held. The school teacher was Kivalina, and his wife and son were waiting for me. The son was to leave for the outside to go to school and the parents wished him to be confirmed before he left. This family had belonged to the “Friends.” At the same time an Eskimo nurse was confirmed. Taking the father, D.A. Wagner, in the plane, we hopped off for Kivalina. Crossing the Noatak mountains, we followed the Arctic coast until we made Kivalina. Here we dropped Mr. Wagner, who would gather the Eskimos and have them ready for their Confirmation on my way back from Point Barrow. We flew on, following the edge of the ocean around Cape Thompson, and landed at Tigara or Point Hope. Archdeacon Goodman, hearing the plane, knew what it meant and was on hand to welcome us. Soon, too, all the people gathered about us.
The following day, taking Archdeacon Goodman with us, we flew north to make Point Lay. The visibility was good. We passed over Cape Lisburne. I should have liked to land here but landing was impossible. It is here that the Rev. John Driggs, M.D., our first missionary at Point Hope, lies buried. We crossed Icy Cape. There was no landing there. We made Point Lay and made a landing on a sand strip between the Arctic Ocean and lagoons.
The Eskimos were on their way to hunt walrus when, hearing and seeing the plane, they turned back. They understood what it meant. Soon the whole community gathered in and about the school building. The teacher of the school is Tony Joule, one of our Point Hope boys whom I sent out to North-field for more education. With Archdeacon Goodman’s help, he had prepared the people for Confirmation. Here we held the services of Baptism, Marriage, Confirmation, and the Holy Communion. It was inspiring to see the heartiness of the people in worship, to hear their singing. Then I visited the sick and decrepit in their well-kept igloos. The Amalik invited us to eat with him in his igloo, which we did.
We intended to go on to Point Barrow, but heavy fog banks to the north looked perilous and there was no compelling reason why I should go there. I knew that this was the worst place in the world for flying. It was only a little north of here that Will Rogers and Wiley Post met their tragic death four weeks later. Close by Point Lay stretched the great ice field of the Arctic. Leaving Point Lay we headed south, intending to make Kivalina. Deep, black fog was rolling in from the ocean. We tried to dodge it. Then we looked for some river bar on which to land, but in vain. It began to look serious. We turned back and picked up the shore line and followed it, flying low, and finally just made Point Hope again. What a relief!
For two days we were held up by the fog at Point Hope. It was all right because it gave me time to visit the people, have services, confirm the 32 candidates prepared by Archdeacon Goodman, and visit the cemetery and the grave of the Rev. Augustus Reginald Hoare, who was shot here in 1920 by a young assistant who had become insane.
If Church people knew this mission, its fine and well-kept buildings, the blessed work it is doing, they would be inspired and proud of it. All the people are Christians, seriously and joyfully. Though they number but 450, they give $200 a year for missions. I don’t know how they do it. And Archdeacon Goodman is devotion itself to this work. He is alone, and should not be alone. As he loves these dear people, so is he loved by them. And just think of one lone priest trying to minister to people along a coast of 1,000 miles! And all the Eskimos show their intelligence by loving and desiring our ways of worship beyond any others they have seen.
Though fog banks hung about, we took the chance of making Kivalina, and started. Around Cape Thompson so many birds were flying that we feared hitting them. We flew low—about 20 feet from the water. We saw some Eskimo women ducking for their tents, the men lying flat on the ground—and I don’t wonder. An airplane flying at 100 miles an hour, only 20 feet, up, must seem a monster. We made Kivalina. All the people were there. All arrangements had been made. Great was our welcome. The services were most lovely.
Some 37 were confirmed there. We are happy now in having Mr. Wagner, the teacher, and his wife, confirmed members of the Church. Then several Eskimos care for a Sunday school and hold regular services. They have asked for a priest and should have one. I had to send Archdeacon Goodman back to Point Hope in the plane, but I remained and had a great visit with the people.
When the plane returned from Point Hope we got off for Kotzebue, but the fog was an impenetrable barrier and we returned to Kivalina. Next afternoon we got away, made Kotzebue, fuelled, and then headed east across the country drained by the Kubuk river, over Kiana, Shungnak, and other places. We were heading for our mission, St. John’s-in-the-Wilderness, Allakaket.
What an unpopulated region! And yet in sections, gold is being found. Much of the region is a wilderness, treeless, a waste, and yet there is a magnificence in its mountains and general aspect. The only way to see it is by airplane. We combated fog along the coast; now we had to combat smoke. But we made Allakaket, surprised Miss Amelia Hill and Miss Bessie Kay, who, of course, had no idea of any such visit. We had a nice visit with them.
From Allakaket we flew on to Coldfoot and Wiseman. These are small mining camps on the upper reaches of the Koyukuk river. They have depended upon such ministrations as we have been able to give from our mission at Allakaket. We have given the people the ministry of a nurse, medicines, reading matter. From Wiseman we flew over the bold Koyukuk mountains and the Yukon river back to Fairbanks.
Richard Mammana is archivist of the Living Church Foundation, clerk of the vestry at Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven, Connecticut, and a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.