Frances to Daddy, May 27, 1918


Fort Yukon, Alaska
May 27, 1918

Dear Daddy:

            This being started on the boat about 30 miles from Fort Yukon, just when we will get there remains to be seen.  There is an ice jam in both channels ahead of us and when they condescend to move we will also.  I am on my way home from Circle, my trip and the cause thereof I have already written you.  The trip that was so full of new experience has kept up the same record and I shall begin to tell you some and chat a bit until we start and then I shall be too restless to sit still as Fort Yukon will soon be in sight!  And oh my but I will be glad to get there not that I have had a disagreeable time in Circle far from it but  “oh you Fort Yukon” as the boys put it.

My patient got on famously and she was ready for me to leave her to her own care when the first boat came along which this one did at 3:30 a.m. with no warning whatsoever except its three whistles in front of the town – I was up out of sound sleep – dressed and packed and at the wharf 20 minutes after those whistles and we got along beautifully until we struck these jams – in spite of the fact that the boat nearly has to break itself in two to dodge these icebergs - many of them are estimated to weigh 1200 tons – I know you won’t believe it or any other of the manly things I could tell you of the last week.  I would not blame you for I cannot believe them myself and I have seen and lived them for a whole week.  However, we took some pictures and if they turn out at all you can get tiny glimpses of a break up in the interior of Alaska in one of the record breaking years for unequaled phenomena.  This river is a mass of hundreds and hundreds of tons of ice – I can only leave it to your imagination to try to picture a country filled with this tremendous river and its hundreds of sloughs all equal to the main channels divulging its 9 to 15 feet of bed or anchor ice in combination with its 3 to 10 feet surface ice and it all coming at once like a huge butter churn and then being rushed by and piled up by the tremendous current of the high water of the spring.  Can you picture Circle and the entire river banks with the many sand bars banked with ice fully 50 ft. high and the average sized piece as big as the yard at “155” and at least 8 ft. thick, solid hunks piled upon top of each other making a wall about 50 ft. high and nearly as wide in the majority of places.  Then can you realize what it is to navigate this river?  All of this ice, etc., and almost in stone’s throw Spring and summer in full blast!

Then try to think of Circle during the break of which began at 2:30 a.m. of the 13th, when the huge mass of ice started to heave and break and move, which it did moving at the rate of about 10 miles an hour for about five hours and then stopped.  The force of the ice coming back and the quantity of water making the momentum caused the ice to climb the break as well as the water and then the fun began – we had an ice flood as well as a water flood and as to the latter we had over four feet of water in all the house and the streets were torrents.  The ice was terrifying to say the least – remember the sizes I gave you when I speak of ice and imagine how you would feel to have these young mountains whack and bang the house you were in and at the same time see others caving in like so much tissue paper.  For instance there was a huge pole about 3 feet in diameter some 500 feet from the shore that looks like a gigantic razor had sliced it off just above the ground, and another very strongly built log house has a piece of ice in the front of it as thick as the first story and the second story only stays off the ground as long as that ice remains solid – when it becomes water it is good bye and that ice slid in about 30 feet as if that strongly built log house was so much dough.

Then the water picked up 210 cords of wood, 11 – 1000 pound iron tanks full of gasoline and floated them back a half mile from their moorings.  At the radio station and the station is not on the waterfront by any means, I could go on almost indefinitely but what is the use you cannot believe it because I cannot and I saw it.  This performance kept on for about six hours and then the water dropped to rise two days later.  We got the houses fairly well scraped of the sticky mud, and then the river started to rise again and all that mass of ice was still there piled upon the bank and solid clear across the channel.  This was Wednesday night and it was due to strike us in a few hours.  Circle didn’t look good to anyone and everyone whites, and the ever-undaunted natives alike ran for the hills five miles distant.  We and some others were fortunate to get the eight huge gray horses and wagons and we camped in the hills three days until the water fell again.  It was really lots of fun to be camping in real back woods fashion except for the first day when it snowed continuously but it was so much better than being in Circle that no one grumbled even at rolling up in fur robes and sleeping on pine boughs.  We got back to the town and still found something there but it is distressing and most discouraging mess for those that have to live there.  The ice jam broke two days ago and we are supposed to be through the break up.  I don’t know whether it was a break up or a smash up – nor do I know yet what may be ahead of us these last thirty miles ere I reach Fort Yukon.  After these jams break that are now delaying us I expect all will be well as Fort Yukon got off quite well according to the reports that have reached us although they have not been altogether reliable as the wireless station has been out of business since the flood.

I had to climb over a huge wall of ice to get to this boat and I may have to repeat the performance ere I get to dry land at Fort Yukon but get there some how I will as I am mighty anxious to see the folks there.  Not quite so anxious had I not had a visit from Walter, he came “to call” the week after he got back from the Arctic – some trip!  192 miles of the hardest and most dangerous trail to have an afternoon and evening with me – he came up with nine dogs and the easiest running sled obtainable but nevertheless they were “all in” from cold and exposure and he got back safely again to Fort Yukon insisting upon it that “it was worth it” and I don’t know but I seconded the motion.  He will be just a little surprised as well as the others when I get there, as they don’t expect me for another week.  Maybe they will be right – although I hope not as I would rather kill time in Circle than be stranded in all ice packed desert.  However, Julius Stankus is on board with his launch and I may get away that way should it open up enough for his boat to get through before the steamer can.

In the meantime I am enjoying outside food.  Fresh fruit, lettuce, roast beef, lamb and “such like” that are strangers to me, this past year.  Thank Uncle Will for his telegram and letter enclosing statement I asked for.  I will answer it in the near future.  Will you share this letter with him and Aunts, John, Joe, Esther and George and I also thank them all for the letters that came in the last mail.  As soon as I can get my bearings I’ll write to them.  Aunt Jeanne speaks of some packages, I expect they will arrive in due time now that the boats are starting and then I’ll know better what she means.  And now I shall close with a heap of love to you all.


            P.S.  Please let cousin Maidie see this and also if you still have it, the one telling about my trip to Circle.  I owe her a letter and really do not see myself clear to writing another lengthy epistle in the immediate future.


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