About the original Harriman Expedition

Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2001

"In the afternoon, we anchored off a deserted Indian village north of Cape Fox. There was a row of a dozen houses on the beach of a little bay, with 19 totem poles standing along their fronts. These totem poles were the attraction. There was a rumor that the Indians had nearly all died of smallpox a few years before and that the few survivors had left under a superstitious fear, never to return. It was evident that the village had not been occupied in seven or eight years. Why not, therefore, secure some of these totem poles for the museums of the various colleges represented by members of the expedition?"

- John Burroughs, Harriman Alaska Series, Vol. 1

For Union Pacific Railroad magnate Edward Harriman of New York, the 1899 expedition to Alaska was prompted by his doctor's orders to take a vacation and an interest in scientific research. The trip also was about hunting. Harriman shot a bear on Kodiak Island just before the Fourth of July.

The two-month trip included 14 members of the Harriman family and their servants, along with scientists, artists, photographers, a surgeon, a chaplain, hunting guides, a milk cow and a 65-person crew. Scientist C. Hart Merriam, naturalist John Muir, photographer Edward Curtis, poet Charles Keeler and writer John Burroughs were among the participants.

The expedition returned with trunks of animal and plant specimens and 5,000 photographs and colored illustrations that serve as a baseline for research today, according to the new Harriman Expedition Revisited's Web site.

In the Juneau area, the expedition visited the Treadwell mine on Douglas Island where Burroughs described Niagara Falls as a soft hum beside the roar of the stamp mills. At Taku Harbor, south of Juneau, Merriam surveyed small mammals and the group found human remains at an uninhabited Native village.

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