Frances to All, July 15, 1917
The following was a type written copy of the original letter, that contained a number of typos that have been corrected as well as can be.
St. Stephen's Hospital
Fort Yukon, Alaska
( 2-15-17 was penciled in)
(To make the date fit, it should be: July 15, 1917)
Dear Eleanor: (older sister, Eleanor Wells)
It seems as if I had tried so many times to sit down and write but always when I planned something was waiting that could not be shoved aside, even for a chat with the Germantown people. I have been very busy but that is not the only cause of this seeming negligence as good times have interfered too.
I am on night duty just now as we have a very sick "kiddie" 3 years old so Beatrice and I expect to split nights and in this manner keep one from being on night duty, as is usually understood by the terms and which keeps us in touch with the interest and good times of the day duty. The night work is seldom more that a night or so when we have a very sick patient. Other times we have a competent native who can wait on them at night, calling the nurse sleeping in the first floor nurses room if necessary. So in this way a divided night for a short while gives one plenty of rest without the isolation of all night work. Here I am starting right in on Fort Yukon and St. Stephen's in particular when I ought to go back to our trip up and bring you along our route in order that you reach and get a proper introduction to Fort Yukon!
So while it is still all very vivid to me I must take you back about four weeks and tell you just a tiny scrap of our trip up here ere you all discard me as a fraud for indeed I remember my many promises of a detail letter as a supplement to my postal cards. I think I told you that I've had an unexpected 24 hrs. in Chicago owing to the train being delayed 4 1/2 hrs. east of Chicago and missing our train west by one half hours, on the whole it was a blessing in disguise as never was there a hotter crowd than we when we landed in Chicago! The run from Washington on especially west of Pittsburgh was almost beyond description so far as heat and dust "saturated" by smoke could be and had the scenery been less interesting it would be a blot on what was afterwards a wonderful trip. Fortunately we struck a very satisfactory and convenient hotel - "Fort Dearbourn" and we are in bed and asleep by 9 p.m. and never was a hot bath and cleans sheets more appreciated! In the morning the intense sultriness had cleared away and the day was perfectly clear with glorious breeze from the lake and as we went out with, I must confess, somewhat of the feeling of a disagreeable duty to be done we found the city transformed for a dirty crowded and unspeakably hot place to a clean and very attractive city with a "stiff sea breeze" and bright sunshine. After getting our reservations etc. cancelled on the train and subsequent connections that we missed and managed to wire ahead and obtain new reservations - we set about to explore the city and a very thorough trip we had a happy day ere our train left at 6:30 p.m.
We went through Montgomery Ward's Plant and as they are the Alaskan Firm we ordered complete rubber outfits - fisherman's slickers, etc., of the most attractive dark maroon brown and let me add right here that they have already done duty for when it rains here our umbrella and other articles of civilization are about as much use as tissue paper! And also in the motor boat with a wind it is a choice of all rubber or all bathing suits as the river gets like the ocean in sound and appearance and often one is kept busy pumping the waves out of the boat! But I am ahead of my story.
After we left Chicago we had a most comfortable trip - first of all we very soon were asked with many apologies, etc., by the sleeping car porters whether - "Please mam when you'se tru wid de papa may de porter hab it?" It was a Philadelphia paper we had captured in Chicago and the old porter was a Philadelphian 20 years ago and turned out to be a friend of Troners and later caterer of Germantown and dear me the honor of taking care of two ladies from near his home was greater that a hundred dollar bill and we had the very best of service and no end of little extra attention and that was saying a heap for he had been at his job for 20 years and his car was famous throughout the train and we received the best it could give - so there was nothing for us to do but make the most of a wonderful time. The route of the Soo Line from Chicago into Canada is one straight bee line and one time for a whole hour I watched from the observation car and the tracks didn't swerve from a straight level line for that hour - there were many miles before and after out of that length of time I can sware to! That sounds rather deadly but it wasn't as the town were at almost regular intervals of 7 miles and it was all splendid farm land and under active cultivation in almost all manner of farm methods - part of that day's trip was through the Alkali wastes which were interesting in their own way in their absolute desolation and barrenness.
The town are all very similar: a good station and a long line of huge grain elevators - automobiles and very modern looking people were in evidence but the houses few and far between. The homes were very attractive looking all heavily shaded by perfect trees and surrounded by all manner of farm buildings well taken care of and giving the impression of wealth and comfort in well managed homes. There was little wild life to be seen although we did see come coyotes and wild sheep. The stock ranges were interesting too and we saw them lassoing and rounding up and shipping in cars. The "movies" are pretty nigh accurate in their portrayal of these "thrillers."
On Friday morning we woke up about 5:30 a.m. to see the Rockies in the distance - we were soon up and dressed and that was the beginning of our 13 days of snow-capped mountains! Frankly, I was disappointed in the Rockies!! They are so huge and barren - massive rather than artesian. But we were hardly across the Rockies ere we started the assent of the Selkirks! and these far precede the Rockies in my estimation in beauty and wonderful hand work of God and nature. The Rockies are cold - barren - huge - but the Selkirk's are full of color and warmth and filled with countless torrents and wonderful growth and are said to have all kinds of life in them. The tunnels are tremendous triumphs of engineering and the figure of eight through the "Cathedral" is one not readily forgotten. The Kicking Horse Canyon is wonderful in its colors and crookedness with that wild river of the same name rushing through it - now a 1000 feet below and then almost the next curve it is on the train level - where it breaks forth into the rapids is almost beyond description in the wild scenic effects - rushing torrents down the steep sides of the mountains on both sides joining the mad foaming rush of the river making a roar that is impossible to make oneself heard in speaking, in fact one cannot speak but only look and try to convince oneself that she is not dreaming! From the Selkirk's we went through miles of so called foothills towards Seattle - these foot hills are good big mountain chains and would be beautiful except that the greater number of miles have been fire swept. We saw one fire raging and can realize what those forest fires can mean.
Seattle was reached on Sunday and there we saw Mount Tacoma in all its majesty and no wonder it was called by the Indians "The Mountain that Was God" - it is 70 miles from Seattle and yet it looks as if it were right across the sound! The city is the hilliest place I ever dreamt of! I'm sure it must make Rome look like a plain. In the business section where they are said to have done wonders by Hydraulic Grading there is a rise of four stories in one block as short as Walnut Lane to High St. This is true of many streets and for nearly 8 blocks each.
Horses are an unknown quantity and no wonder they could never make those hills. I thought I was a hill climber but two or three of those blocks made me thankful I was not to live in Seattle. The cable car drives on the streets running up and down hill are equal to Coney Island! What keeps one inside those cars I failed to discover, for gravity is not responsible this time else one would shoot out of the back door for sure!
It is the cleanest City I have ever been in and we saw it all in a "sight seer" and out along the lake side where it is like the upper Wissahickon only on a larger scale. We were entertained by and spoke to the Women's Auxiliary there and on Monday morning we did some shopping and saw to our baggage, etc., transfers and bonding. Tuesday morning saw us ready to sail at 9 a.m. so we did not look up Miss Mitchuer nor Mr. Stubbs' friend for which we were sorry but it was entirely impossible.
Mr. Wood and Mr. Chambers met us there and from then on our party was four. The two men were a great addition. Mr. Chambers is notoriously a "court clown" and Mr. Wood was a close rival. If some of those people who only see his stern severe business manner could know him as we got to know him they would go straight to Norristown as the only proper place for unbalanced minds! for indeed he would turn their minds up side down! And after he struck the Archdeacon those two were the coziest pair that ever happened. Mr. Chambers didn't improve either. They really were ideal traveling companions - both were such perfect specimens of true manhood and were endowed with the appreciation of everything about them and could enter into it all in the right spirit whether it was the crude dancing of the saloon or the wondrous colors and scenes of the outdoors. Save for the first day followed by a most wonderful sunset over the sound it rained almost continuously but it had the peculiarity of this Northern rain of being "dry" - it is a fact there is no moisture in the atmosphere, for instance, after sitting in a steamer chair all day just beyond the rain mark our clothes would be perfectly dry and although at times it was very foggy it never penetrated further in than a foot or two on the deck, sides, floors. Now all this fog, etc., may have spoiled it for some people - but not so us. We could see it all well but not in the warmth of the sun's rays, however, we had such wonderful and unusual cold effects on the mountains that we were glad it was not the ordinary weather. The trip of the ocean was very smooth so no one felt the least discomfort. We reached Skagway in due time after having flying visits of 2 hrs. each at Quno and Ketichan. By the way Quno the capital, I sent you many pictures of as also Ketichan and Skagway so get them from Esther. I think it was to her I wrote the postal card letter.
At Skagway we took the train to White Horse. This is up over that famous White Pass route of the gold rush - it takes all day as the mountains are very steep. They are wonderful too in their way, but not beautiful and very much of the atmosphere of a "has been" place. Half way across we all had dinner at Summit, the boundary line where the Stars & Stripes and the Union Jack fly across the imaginary line from each other.
At White Horse we overtook the Bishop but he knew we were close behind him so he was there to meet us. That was Saturday night. On Sunday he had three services at the Dl of England Chapel where he was as welcome and as much beloved as on this side of the line. In the afternoon we walked five miles up the Yukon to the canyon and it was oh so much worth while even when the day was hot and the mosquitoes plentiful. From there on the Bishop told us of and pointed out places where and when he came up across the White Pass when it was only known as the Pass in '97 and he made the trip in an open boat of his own handwork and thus made his first entrance into Alaska through unknown and treacherous waters. The boat on down the Yukon was held an hour and a half at the Bishop's request so that he might have an evening service for at this point we had our first real introduction to Alaskan life - that of staying up all night and sleeping all day! or at least the day is from 12 to 12 - for the evening service is the service with choir and full congregation while the morning service lacks even the organist and almost the people. The rector in charge filling the bill of priest, organist and congregation.
We left White Horse at 9:30 p.m. and there began our first river navigation and remarkable it is too. The boats are large and comfortable carrying about 75 or 80 first-class passengers - a first deck that carries tons and tons of freight - then it can push four barges lashed very tightly with a tremendous tonnage on each. I am afraid to tell you in figures as you wouldn't believe it either and what is more their power and one source of control is a stern wheel propelled by a wood burning furnace and they handle this tremendous weight in 4 feet of water and in a current running 5 miles an hour in a river that nearly breaks its back trying to get through the mountains. You can judge the current when the schedule time between Dawson and Fort Yukon is 36 hours down stream and 4 days up stream.
The mountains of this trip and on down all the way to where the Flats begin are by far the most wonderfully beautiful we saw at all - the colors are more marked and the face of the rocks rougher and strata more varied. The sun lights as they stroke them on a slant and with the night sky colors make it all so beautiful that I couldn't begin to tell you more than that. If you ever read anything about Alaska no matter what it is nor how much it may appear to exaggerate believe it for it honestly seems to me that no words of our language no matter how fantastically put together could possibly make you get more than a glimpse of Alaska's beauty and vastness - and besides all this you must recall that it is all seen through a crystal clear atmosphere. I traveled through part of the beauties of one of Alaska's rivers for four and a half days averaging 15 miles an hour and there were miles of the river we just touched upon and we are still 1000 miles from its mouth! One little tiny portion of Alaska is covered by and supplies a glacier known more than 5 miles long and has a face of 70 miles wide! There would not be room in Switzerland for this glacier no more than there would be room for the fjords that we saw if they were in Sweden.
We got to Fort Yukon on Friday morning and we hold the record for quick time counting from the time Mr. Wood left New York until we reached here it was two weeks and a little over 10 hours!! And now I can tell you a little of what this place is like and of what we have been doing and hope to do with ourselves in the work with the people here.
Fort Yukon is about 3 1/2 miles above the Circle and the temperature ranges any where from 72 below to 100 above so you see the climate is varied, giving us almost all kinds of "out of doors" so the village is unique in its construction giving it a very interesting appearance. It consists of the one story cabins all log and usually 3 rooms with a front porch differing in size to the owners advanced ideas. There are about 60 belonging to the natives and about 15 belonging to the white people - when they are all at home there are about 400 Indians and the whites vary from 25 to 100.
The total number of Indians we take care of nears 1000 and there are estimated nearly 300 white people, but the populace here and in all camps is continually shifting in number and character. For instance, there are about as many Fort Yukon Indians here as those that have come in from up the Old Crow and Porcupine and towards Circle and even now there cannot be more than 100 Indians in the village - the houses are all boarded up and the tents and camps of the visitors make the place look quite different from when we first landed. Then there were no closed houses and many more tents but as soon as the Salmon began to run they all cleared out to their camps which are located in all directions for a radius of 25 miles along the Yukon and its many tributaries at this point. So our work takes up and down the river visiting them, much as the country doctor in his buggy but we go via water in the "Dorothy" the mission's launch by courtesy and the Doctor's by possession - she is a little peach, fully equipped and able to carry 8 adults with comfort or fewer with a stretcher on board. She has a 12 horse power engine and we can make good speed even against a 6 mile current coming down stream we hardly hit the water as we came last night 15 miles in 3/4 of an hour counting land and unloading straight into a wondrous sunset and the water a smooth vast sheet like a mirror reflecting the indescribable sky. But sunset, get back to the people and the life here! We did not get to know many of them very well before they left but those that we did gave us a vivid picture to think over and plan work about. - the Indian before and after - All of them of the village and near by camps attend service on Sundays. The Chapel is filled twice and the service so familiar to us sounds so strange, yet it is possible to follow the drift of the prayers, etc., by their rhythm. Even in the Indian tongue the sentences appear the same length and of course the hymns have the same tunes as the English ones, so you see by this they are virtually all Christians and ardent church goers. (There is also always one and sometimes 2 services for the white people.) Even now the church is packed on Sundays, the people coming from 5 to 10 miles and it takes one who has seen the labor of poling a boat against a current like the Yukon's to appreciate what this means for a man to bring his family to church. So you see here is our starting point and through the channels of the various guilds and auxiliaries and also the out patient department of the hospital from these we must go into the homes and try to teach the people to live not only in the care of their cabins in cleanliness and ventilation but also that fish heads and any old thing is not a diet for a 6 months old infant and that the tuberculosis so prevalent but under control cannot be stamped out unless the ordinary sanitary precautions are taken. The families and cabins of those who have caught the ideals we are trying to spread are a joy and they are very promising in the degree of mentality for further development in fact the council that is their Government on the reservation really demands and controls things to a wonderful extent - these men have done wonders with the Archdeacon as their head but they are still children in the making and their women folk are sometimes beyond words in their inability to comprehend what is trying to be done for them!!
And just here is our work - to teach them to use their God given brains and think, instead of having an idea pounded into them by the men, to leak out as soon as they are expected to do something else. Now this is not true of all of them and there are many families that are of the type of the Gonas camp we visited and took supper at the other night 12 miles up stream. Laura Gonas is a good housewife and takes beautiful care of her children - their cabin is immaculate when they are here and we found the camp the same. Gonas caught, killed and cooked a monstrous big salmon in almost less time than it takes to tell it and before long we were seated to one of the best meals I've ever had - baked or rather I should say roasted king salmon, fried onions, canned corn bread cakes, tea and preserves all beautifully cooked and eaten on a box covered with clean cloth, and spruce boughs for chairs. This camp of Gonas and his brother-in-law Jonie Druck and their two families consist of 3 tents carpeted with spruce boughs changed every other day, two dog teams and their sledges, 3 fish caches, and general camp paraphernalia. These people had caught, killed, and smoked nearly 200 king salmon the day before and had done it all there right where we were and the place was spotless and odorless. I wonder whether you can appreciate what that meant. This is what can be done and this is what will be done for all the Yukon people who have their headquarters here if it is at all possible and I see no reason why it is not. We shall begin as soon as the fish season is over, as they stay in the village the rest of the year. Only men and larger boys go out along the trap lines. This is what is to be my main work this work among the homes. Now for the hospital proper, which of course I am keenly interested in too, and very much tied to in my work, as that is primarily what I came up for - the work as done through an institution of this kind. We have it on a good working basis now with such equipment as we have on hand, and we have it running as best we can. What we have is good, and there is a splendid foundation such as we need to have in a hospital of this kind, it being the only one in the interior of Alaska except its twin at Tanana nearly 400 miles below which is closed. I wish I could send some pictures but my camera is in my trunk which is still on the way!
On the first floor there are two wards. One containing 6 beds and the other 10 beds. Then there is the children's room which furniture is on the way. We had nearly $300 to spend on beds, and cribs so you see we could get a good start. Two private rooms, linen room, bath room, dining room, kitchen, patient's dining room, dispensary, laboratory and drug room, where we make all our prescriptions, etc. Upstairs there are store closets and five good sized rooms for nurses and maids (that's a very elegant word). Just at present the latter live in tents, as Dr. and Mrs. Burke and family are installed in the hospital as are the Archdeacon and Walter Harper. That takes one of our wards, as we turned one into a living room until the Burke's get their new house built next summer. You will remember their house was torn down as the river cut the foundation from under it. The chimney of the furnace and range, also the open fire place and it's chimney are still standing. They are built of solid concrete and there is nothing strong enough to handle them in the place, so they are standing like two sentinels until they are blasted down. On this same property there is the ware house where we sorted and put away 6 tons of our supplies for the year. The rest is due today. We boast of a green house and good vegetable garden, chicken house, and so we have real eggs. Laundry house and other smaller buildings used to store ice, gasoline, and building materials. The back grounds is lined on two sides with the tents of the Tubercular patients. We have had few patients, not more than 8 or 9 at any one time, as they have left the village as I told you a little while ago. We have had good opportunity to straighten things out and get them going in our own way. Also I have gone back to the days of my childhood when I used to build bunks in the back yard and have done a lot of carpentering work. I am now know as the "boss carpenter". It all has not been work since we came here we have been busy and have accomplished a very satisfying amount. There have been pleasure rides in the launch, and picnics around a camp fire, and the other day there wasn't anything pressing to keep us here & Mrs. Burke kept house while we went up and met a huge raft of logs that a gang of men was bringing down for some work that is being done on some deflectors along the bank above and in front of the mission. We met the raft 10 miles up stream, and it was a great experience to come down on a 100 ft. raft two logs deep in a current running 5 miles an hour. It was terrific work for the men and a mighty interesting time for us.
I must tell you a tiny bit about our day light and sunshine nights. Even yet one can see to read all night. The sun sets in a wonderful glow of all the colors you ever saw, and then some extra that are peculiar to this place alone, I believe. I never saw them elsewhere. But during the mid-night sun season, the sun never got below the tree tops. It just sunk into the wonderfully colored clouds which formed more of a frame than a covering. When it got as low as it went, it just traveled northward along the tree tops until it began to rise again in an equally glowing sunrise. The only difference between night and day is that the "night time" is about 20 degrees cooler and the sun's rays when it is going down are not nearly so powerful as the same height coming up.
And now I must stop for this time. Love to you all. I'll write a personal letter in the near future. I did not intend this to be a "Round Robin" but make it so and each person please pass it on to the next.
After the family The Aunts Uncle Will's
1. Mrs. S.G. Wills 6364 Germantown, Phila 2. Mrs. F.A. Jackson, Gulp Road, Bryn Mawr, Pa. 3. Mrs. O.P. Willets, 31 W. Walnut Lane, Germantown, Pa. 4. Miss C.F. Wagner, 128 W. Tulpehocken St. " 5. Miss G.R. Lear, School Lane Apts., " 6. Miss H.N. Pugh, 60 E. Penn St. " 7. Mrs. R.L. Itis, 35 Hardenbrook Ave., Janaica, N.Y. 8. Mrs. R.S. Schoenmaker, Reservoir St., Mansfield, Mass.
Esther dear, you are last but not least. It is your location on the map, not in my heart! But you may have the extreme pleasure of forwarding it to Miss Frances Wells, St. Stephens Hospital, Fort Yukon, Alaska, that she may know it has done it's duty and earned a well deserved rest in a nice warm stove. Then I'll start another one! Yours in dear love, Tad.
Dear Esther: Please do not send this to Frances, but send it to Mrs. John Newsome, % Mr. G.W. Crist, Woodburn, Iowa. R.F.D. Route #2, Box 23 Frances is certainly some letter writer. Lovingly, Eleanor 2-25-17 (again, I believe this date should be 7-27-17)
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