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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 7

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
From the Mississippi
to the Sea

Admiral Robert E. Coontz

published by
Dorrance & Company

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 9
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

 p117  Chapter VIII

Five Years on the Pinta

Life in the Far Northwest — Witch Doctors Among Indians — Cruises About the Inlets and Bays — A Chinese Funeral and a Dog Fight — A Narrow Escape From Drowning Under the Ice — Saved by an Indian Boy.

Alaska has an area of more than five hundred and ninety thousand square miles — one‑sixth that of the United States.

I found ten officers on board the Pinta, the vessel on which I was to serve for five years. She was a tug of 500 tons burden, and had been converted into a gunboat.​a The government maintained a military force in Sitka following the purchase, but the soldiers were withdrawn after several years and whenever there was the threat of danger from the Indians, such vessels as Wachusett, the Jamestown and the Adams were sent there. The civil government was organized in 1884, but nothing seemed to impress the Indians except the gunboats. At the time I reached Sitka the job of the navy was to back up the civil authorities.

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The officers of the Pinta were John S. Newell, captain; Alexander McCrackin, executive officer (this was my third tour of duty with him); Terrell and Plunkett (now a rear admiral), both of the class of 1884, and I, watch officers; Rush and Fitts, surgeons; Calvert, paymaster; Hoffman, chief engineer, and "Jim" Turner, marine officer. All are now dead except Plunkett, Fitts and myself.

Once when McCrackin and I were shipmates I was made caterer of the A mess. Discovering that my predecessor was a gambler and behind in his accounts I demanded an audit, and the board reported the case to the  p118 captain. The officer admitted his gambling debts and when told that he would be court-martialed went to his room with the intention of killing himself. McCrackin followed him, heard the click of his revolver and seized it just it time to prevent a tragedy. Although not on speaking terms with him McCrackin gave the officer five hundred dollars​b with which to pay his debts. Notwithstanding this generous action the amount was never returned to him.

At my first luncheon on the Pinta Plunkett turned to me and said, "Coontz, are you acquainted with many army officers of high rank?"

I told him that I was not, whereupon he continued, "Well, General Apathy has been on board here lately."

The face of the executive flushed, but he said nothing. Subsequently I learned that the executive had hauled up two watch officers on the quarterdeck and "horsed" them, finally stating that General Apathy was now on board.

Good penman­ship is an accomplishment and it is well to compare the "smooth" log with the "rough" one which the officer of the deck writes. Soon after I joined the Pinta, ––––––––––––– sent for me and called my attention to this statement in the smooth log, "8 A.M. to Meridian Watch. . . . Crew panting and groaning on the main deck. . . ." I calmed him sufficiently to get him to read the rough log which I had written and which read, "painting and graining." After that, however, I was more careful with my handwriting.​c

At first we had mail once every four weeks; later it came once in two weeks. We took the daily New York Herald and the Portland Oregonian, and later the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the San Francisco Chronicle. When the newspapers arrived we arranged them according to the weeks, and sewed each week's edition separately. We would read only one paper a day, so that at the end of the steamer period, we would be ready for the next editions. I confess, however, that I used to read  p119 the latest baseball scores. Then I had to wait for four weeks more.

The principal business of Sitka was transacted with Portland, Seattle not having been developed at that time.

"Southeasters" strike Sitka between September and March. The Pinta had eight anchors to hold her in place. Our crew consisted of about forty-eight men, among whom were some wonderful old‑timers, known to most naval officers of their day — John Moynah, chief quartermaster; John Smith, chief bo's'n's mate; Patrick Walsh, quartermaster; Alexander Anderson (still living), carpenter's mate, and John Blake, mate. Blake died in Washington, in November, 1928. As I shall later tell, he once saved my life on a glacier.

As junior watch officer I was given the smallest and poorest room on the starboard side. The space between the bunk and the bulkhead was three feet and at the end I had a small bureau. The inside ports were square, about two by two. They were all right in winter, but in the summer when each day we had twenty‑two hours of light, we put up black curtains to darken the rooms in order to sleep better. Shutters were placed outside these ports when we went to sea, for the Pinta was not built for much seagoing, although she made the trip from the east coast through the Straits of Magellan. There was one bath room with a big tub, and I had the exclusive use of it, as all the other officers bathed in tin tubs in their rooms. Snow usually fell every night in Sitka, and it was the job of the bluejackets to clear it off the decks the first thing in the morning watch. Coffee in large quantities was always kept on the galley fires day and night, and it was not unusual to go up every three or four hours and get a pint.

The marines who lived on shore in barracks were kept in readiness for any emergency, and on the cruises we always took a small guard. George Barnett had left Sitka just before my arrival there and James A. Turner was marine officer.

 p120  The Indian River at Sitka is beautiful and celebrated in history and romance. A winter thaw had washed out the bridge shortly before our arrival, and a subscription was taken up to construct a new suspension bridge which was used by natives and tourists for many years. The leading merchants of the city were Brady, Whitford, Mills, de Groff and Vanderbilt. The Indian chiefs of the Cloquantan tribe were Anna-Hootz, Cake-Sati and Kat Lian. The latter was a savage fellow and greatly feared by the whites. He lived until 1924. My wife and daughter happened to be in Sitka at the time of his funeral.

There were about seven hundred Indians, three hundred Russians and one hundred other white persons. Nearly all of the ship officers were married. Sitka was the seat of the government of Alaska and the governor of the territory, the collector of customs, the district attorney, the Federal judge, the United States commissioner, the United States marshal, the clerk of the court, and the public health officer resided there. These, with the merchants, the missionaries and the naval families, made about one hundred in "real society." Being unmarried and generally on board ship at night I read every book in the ship's library, and imbibed knowledge that helped me greatly in later years.

Plunkett had been on board the Pinta for more than a year when I arrived. The story is told of him that once when duck hunting in a canoe he came unexpectedly upon a flock and quickly sprang to his feet and fired. Any duck hunter can imagine the result. Plunkett and the canoe were recovered but his shotgun and other equipment still lie in twelve fathoms of water in Killisnoo harbor.

In May the Thetis bound for Point Barrow and the Arctic came into port from San Francisco. She was one of the Greely relief ships in 1884, and was especially fitted for Arctic work. She had a splendid set of officers — Emory, Schwerin, Lopez, Simpson, Gorgas, Welles,  p121 Lovell, Bertolette and Dunning — and was thoroughly equipped. Being advised of her coming and wishing to save freight charges, our caterer wrote to the caterer of the Thetis and asked him to bring us a supply of groceries from San Francisco. He turned a blank order over to a firm there. To our horror and surprise, when we unpacked the boxes, we found most of them filled with such condiments as catsup, chileº sauce, pickles and so forth, but worst of all we found one hundred and forty-four two‑pound tins of asparagus! Asparagus was new to the United States Navy and as mess caterer I found that not one of the ten members of the mess would eat it. We were poor and had a twenty dollar a month mess bill. We voted to cook one can each day for one hundred and forty-four days. This was done and no one tasted it. When it was carried out what a feast the Indian mess boys had!

Our officers gave a fishing and excursion party to the Thetis officers, taking them to Silver Bay Falls and to Hot Springs. We had just received two side launches to replace the old black one left by the Jamestown in 1881. What stories that old black launch could tell of the early days! The new ones were named Ripple and Wave, but a later captain who had spent the long winter nights reading Washington Irving rechristened them the Alhambra and the Granada. These names lasted, however, only until the captain's steamer, bound south, disappeared below the horizon.

The spring passed quickly and we were getting ready for the cruises. I had a return attack of chagres fever, a heritage from Panama, but after that my health was generally excellent. Ensign Terrell and I attended Sunday school, perhaps because there were young lady teachers.

The captain decided that before starting on the cruise the bottom of the ship should be scraped and cleaned, and resolved upon a novel experiment. Tides on the Alaskan coast between high and low show great differences, especially  p122 in January and July, owing to the positions of the sun and the moon at these times. The Pinta drew about eleven and a half feet. In the eastern part of Sitka harbor we found a suitable sandy beach clear of rocks. The ship steamed in at high water and was secured by anchors and by one big rock on a reef to which we attached a hawser. When the tide went out her bottom was bare, and in the course of several days we scraped and painted her hull thoroughly. When the high time came in we backed her into deep water. It greatly improved her cruising speed. Since then I have heard of several instances of similar character. The Pinta usually made three summer cruises between Mount St. Elias and British territory, either coaling from the mail steamer or returning to her base at Sitka.

The white population of Alaska was increasing. It was then ten years before the Yukon gold strike, but miners were steadily pouring into the territory. The Indians had not made much trouble, and it had been six years since an Indian village had been bombarded by the Adams.

We went to sea in May for an inspection of southeastern Alaska, and to show the flag. Twelve days out our surgeon developed a serious and painful illness and we were obliged to return with him to Sitka and take on another doctor. It would not do for the ship to be without one, for on these trips the Indians expected to get free government treatment which was always afforded them.

At Port Snettisham we expected to find the old reliable coast survey vessel Patterson and were not disappointed. She had just arrived for the season's survey work and was commanded by Lieutenant Commander (later Rear Admiral) Charles M. Thomas. Among her officers were J. H. Oliver, John McDonald and Slocum, my classmate. In a blow we dragged an anchor, but brought up with the other one.

We started on our second cruise on July 2, 1888, and made a run through Chatham Straits and the Lynn  p123 Canal for the head of navigation at Dyea. Trouble between the whites and the Indians had developed there and Klanot, a notorious chieftain, had been killed. Most of the Indians still adhered to the old law of "a life for a life," and several white people had been slain without warning in revenge for Indian deaths. They had no chance to save themselves.

Dyea was the landing place of the old‑timers who went into the Yukon, but in my day everyone who possibly could went up to Sheep Camp and took the trail. I saw a part of it with John Blake. Plunkett had already crossed the trail. We found a number of Chilkat Indians awaiting us at Dyea. The Pinta towed two full canoes through the canals to Portage Cove, now Fort Seward, an army post. Skagway did not exist in 1888. When we reached Portage Cove the Indians came on board with their old Chief Donawauk. Here also lived the half-breed, Sara Dickinson, at that time famous for her beauty in the northern country. Old man Dickinson had married an Indian maiden. He was a trader and kept the store at Portage Cove. Some years later his son, "Billy," became a famous guide and also a trader.

Donawauk informed us that a red‑headed Indian witch doctor had accused an Indian girl about fourteen years old of being a witch and had tied her up in an Indian hut where she was starving to death. Our doctor and an officer went ashore to ascertain the facts, and found the poor child in a cabin on her knees suffering intensely. Her hands were lashed and her black hair was tied to her feet. They cut her bonds and the doctor chafed her hands while the officer gave her a small quantity of food. The captain decided to order all Indians on board for a feast and consultation, hoping by this means to get the red‑headed Indian witch doctor. When they came, however, he was missing. It was reported that he had started north into the interior. The captain resolved to pursue him, and being highly indignant at the story, I asked to be allowed to go. With Lieutenant McCrackin in charge  p124 we started up the river in a whale boat. The men rowed fast and from time to time we caught glimpses of the Indian as he bounded over the trail. We went as far up the river as we could by boat, and after landing safely left one man with the boat and continued on foot into the interior. Mosquitoes attacked us in droves.

Between two and three o'clock in the morning we reached the village of Tluxpan, surrounded it, fired several shots, herded the Indians and made a thorough search, but missed the witch doctor. There, we discovered that one of our men was missing, but found him upon returning to the boat. When asked the reason for his desertion he explained that he thought two men ought to guard the boat! We got back to the Pinta at daybreak.

Several years elapsed before the Indian witch doctor was captured. After a fair trial he was convicted and sent to the Washington State penitentiary at McNeil's Island where Federal prisoners from Alaska were received. His sentence was for twenty years. When we were about to leave Dyea, Chief Donawauk brought a pretty Indian girl on board and presented her to the captain with his compliments for having rescued the victim of the red‑headed witch doctor. The captain thanked him but declined to accept his gift.

The Alaskan summer was beautiful and we had fine weather for all of our cruises, visiting Juneau, Wrangell, Wards Cove, Howkan and various other ports. At Wrangell, McCrackin who had been detached at Juneau, was relieved as executive by Lieutenant A. C. Hodgson who served with us for the next two years. The cruise was a wonderful experience for a youngster like myself, eager and anxious to learn. I went ashore at every port, and on all the excursions I could, and made a study of all the waters. I remember American Bay, Prince of Wales Island, which we visited because of a misunderstanding between the Indians and the missionaries.

We had some good bear and deer hunters among the  p125 officers. It was very easy to kill bear at some places, because they had never been fired at and were not frightened. They would come to the high land above the beach and look at us until we fired perhaps a fatal shot.

On our return we made the outside passage around Cape Ommaney, and arrived in Sitka about the middle of August. Orders had come from the Navy to build a new wharf at our store house. The captain told me to go next day some miles up the coast to fell trees for piles and to tow them to Sitka. Plunkett was to construct the wharf and to build a pile driver while I was away. I knew nothing of logging and felling trees, and while I was wondering what to do, Moynah, the old quartermaster who had heard of the expedition, came to me in the pilot house and said he had on board three men who had worked in Canadian logging camps. That solved my problem. When the logging party was made up these three men were members of it. They told me what to take in the way of axes, implements and chains. I recall the names of two of them — Quick and Eklundh. We loaded with supplies, steamed to where the trees on the mountain slope looked suitable for our purpose, and in three days the men made the logs into a raft ready to be towed back to Sitka. Felling big trees is an art.

Mosquitoes caused us the greatest trouble we had. The men slept on the beach in small army tents, while I remained on the launch and covered myself with pennyroyal. The Alaskan mosquito, however, not being educated, penetrated the bar, ate the pennyroyal, and then bit me. At last we evolved a scheme of burning green brush on the floor of the tents. The smoke drove the pests away.

After an absence of four days, I returned to Sitka with the tow in good shape, and received commendation for our work. Following a long struggle with his home-made pile driver Plunkett built and refitted the old fish house wharf.

The captain decided upon another cruise before  p126 the close of the year, and we made hurried trips to various ports in southeastern Alaska. On our return we ran into a "southeaster," and went for shelter to Fresh Water Bay, on the west side of Chatham Straits. The bay was narrow and not deep, so that we had to exercise caution in order not to let the ship drag. We kept up steam for any emergency. I was sent ashore and while stumbling along a forgotten trail, on the west side of the bay, I came upon two graves in the underbrush. They were marked with wooden head boards, and I was surprised to find that the men buried there had died aboard the Wachusett, some ten years before. Subsequently I met an officer who remembered being on the vessel at the time.

Plunkett left us in October, and was relieved by Lieutenant James Thorn Smith.

About the middle of September we went into winter quarters, little knowing how severe a season it was to be. The worst blow we had while I was in Alaska was in November, 1888. The storm raged all night, and at daylight I turned out and dressed, feeling that something would happen. Something did happen. We lost the starboard chain which ran to the backed anchor, and thence to a second anchor. We slowly drifted toward the Indian ranch shore, expecting to strike and go to pieces. The chart shows a rock off shore with about nine feet of water over it. Our port chains fouled this rock, and held us afloat until the storm abated. From the beach the captain watched the ship drift, and I could imagine his feelings and his thankfulness when we brought up. The barometer was the lowest I have ever known.

About October 1st the Thetis returned to Sitka and made anchorage. She was fresh from some wonderful experiences in the far North, the most notable of which was the rescue of the steamer  p127 Jane Gray, near Point Barrow. I was sent to pay the boarding call. Captain "Bill" Emory was busy with civilian callers and I had to await his leisure. The weather was bitterly cold and I went down to the ward-room, where the paymaster, Lovell, had brewed a fine punch. I took a drink, and, as time passed, I took another. The temperature in the room was about eighty degrees, and suddenly I had a feeling as of paralysis in my legs. I needed fresh air. With some difficulty I managed to reach the deck and the main rail and held on till I regained the use of my limbs. I was able to walk when Captain Emory sent for me, but I have never since taken two drinks of hot punch, and I never shall!

A grand ball to be held in Baranof Castle, on October 15th, was arranged in honor of the officers and men of the Thetis, and throughout the evening visiting parties went from ship to ship. In one of the visiting parties from the Pinta there were several Chinese, including a ward-room steward and a cabin cook, named Chin Young.º My attention had been brought to Chin shortly after my arrival in Alaska, when I saw a cabin steward, armed with a butcher knife, chase him to the spar deck. Suddenly he stopped circling the engine room hatch, quickly drew a chicken from beneath his coat, and with a sharp knife cut off his head. According to a Chinese superstition, an action of this kind stops a killing.

On the night of the ball Chin Yungº and the ward-room steward, with others, were in a boat that left the Thetis and started for the shore. The night was stormy and the wind heavy, and all of the Chinese had been imbibing too freely of liquor. The boat was upset near the beach southeast of the castle. As officer of the deck I heard the shouting and cries for help. By permission of the captain I took a skiff  p128 that belonged to Ensign Terrell and me, and went out to rescue them. I managed to save Chin, who was about to drown in four feet of water. At any time he could have saved himself by standing up. I had two bluejackets, Clark and Allen, with me, and we carried the poor fellow to an unoccupied house near the beach, where he died before morning. The night was cold, and exhausted by our efforts we decided to leave him there until the next day. We placed his corpse on a sofa, with one arm extended at right angles to his body.

We learned that four of the Chinese were drowned, two from our boat and two from the Thetis. The bodies of the latter were carried out by the tide.

I was instructed to bury Chin Yung in the government cemetery in Sitka, and to see that he had a proper funeral. Under the regulations a naval funeral is a somewhat formal affair. We decided to hold the services in the old warehouse adjoining the Governor's home. It had been built during the time of the Russian occupation.

The following morning, upon going back to Chin Yung, we were horrified to find that the extended arm had frozen stiff during the night. I had heard the expression "stiff" used with reference to a dead person, but never before realized what it meant. I reported the condition to the captain and asked permission to break the man's arm, in order to get the body into a coffin, but he suggested that instead I get a larger coffin, which I did.

Chief Master of Arms, John Blake, informed me that while his men were digging Chin's grave and were down about six feet they encountered two coffins. I reported the fact to the captain, and he asked that if anyone else knew of it. When I assured him that no one had been told of the incident, he ordered me to go ahead with the burial anyway, saying that when Gabriel should finally blow his  p129 trumpet the two who were buried beneath Chin could rise up after him.

There were many Chinese working in the canneries in and around Sitka, and we decided to give their countryman a big funeral. I induced some of the American ladies to sing a few hymns and the Thetis produced a band. I then borrowed old Nicholas Haley's two mules and converted a water wagon into a caisson. The other unfortunate Chinese whose body had been recovered had been laid out by Doctor Fitts and required only an ordinary coffin, while Chin's was a square pine box, made necessary because of his extended frozen arm.

Captain Emory, who attended the funeral, took his dog with him. It happened that Captain Newell owned a fine dog, and he also was present at the ceremonies. Perhaps what occurred was due to the fact that there was no dog kennel in Sitka.

After the minister, the Rev. Alonzo E. Austin, had concluded the service, the Chinese came forward to conduct their own ceremonies, and placed lighted candles on the two coffins which rested upon four saw‑horses. While watching the proceedings both Captain Emory and Captain Newell had apparently forgotten about their dogs and held them by only slight check on their leashes. They were sitting on opposite sides of the coffins when suddenly one dog broke loose and made a dash for the other canine. They met alongside one of the saw‑horses and a first-class dog fight ensued. The coffins were knocked to the floor and the candles went out. With some difficulty each officer rescued his pet, the candles were relighted, and the ceremony was brought to a close amid not a little confusion.

To add to our discomfiture, the rain was falling in torrents and it seemed a long march out to the cemetery, a mile away. While we gave attention  p130 to all the frills that accompany such a funeral, by the time we reached the grave we attempted to hasten matters, and the coffins were lowered immediately after the chaplain's final prayer. As this was being done the Chinese started an outcry, and finally, through an interpreter, I learned that Chin Yung's body was being buried with his feet pointing in the wrong direction! The straps, in the meantime, had been released from the coffin, and it was with great difficulty that we were able to raise it and turn it around to the satisfaction of the Orientals.

In those days the Navy was most economical: appropriations were meager. We used to send our steam launches three miles to Jamestown Bay to water up, using probably one‑third of the supply going and coming. Only six trips from the ship to the shore were made daily, the last one coming back at seven in the evening. It was niggardly, but could not be helped. Ensign Terrell and I purchased a flat-bottom skiff which would carry seven passengers. It was hoisted on board when we cruised and frequently used by the ship's crew.

Terrell and I were unmarried, and we arranged for the use of Baranof Castle, turning the upper floor into a skating rink. Roller skating was then popular and we were able to obtain enough skates for the use of ourselves and the young ladies whom we invited. I may say, in passing, that each of us married one of the skaters. The Castle, of course, had a ghost, as all castles do, but I shall not tell the well-known legend of the Russian Princess. When darkness fell in the early afternoon, however, while we were skating and the wind sloughed through the building, we could sometimes imagine that we heard the returning footsteps of its once fair and proud tenant.

We had a close election in Sitka in 1888; Cleveland  p131 and Thurman carried the town by three votes.

Ice formed on the lakes about Sitka early in December, and on every third day Terrell and I would go skating together. I had skated all my early life on the Mississippi and thought that I possessed some skill. A young Russian priest, Yarasavitch, challenged me to race him from one end of Swan Lake to the other and return. Terrell and I called upon some young ladies one afternoon and invited them to go skating with us, but their mothers, having better judgment than we had, refused to allow them to go, as there had been a thaw the night before. Notwithstanding, Terrell and I went to the lake and after skating for a half hour he left me. Soon afterwards the priest came up and again challenged me. It was bitter cold and in accepting the challenge I insisted that he wear his heavy sweater and I my navy overcoat. We swung down the course and I kept steadily on his quarter. When we reached the further end of the lake he was leading me by only a few yards, and I felt confident that I could pass him on the return leg, as I did not feel that I had overtaxed my strength.

On the day previous the Indians, to get fresh water, had cut a hole in the ice near the center of the lake, and only a thin skim of ice had frozen over the place during the night. I knew nothing of this. As we skated back at our best speed, the priest passed clear of the ice film, while I hit it plumb center. The opening was about eight feet in diameter, and when I fell through I went so far that in coming to the surface my head hit on the solid ice above me. One's mind works quickly in such a situation, and I recall thinking what a hard fate it was at the age of twenty-four, with life opening up before me, to drown like a rat under the ice. Many thoughts raced through my brain, and one was that I was glad I belonged to the Navy Mutual Aid  p132 Association, and that my mother would get money from it, as well as my life insurance, which, at that time, the family needed. I determined, however, to make a struggle for life. Opening my eyes in the water I could see a light spot which I judged to be the hole where I had fallen through, and laboriously made my way toward it. Within a few seconds I was able to thrust my head out of the water and relieve my bursting lungs by inhaling a full breath of air. I then began to think I was safe, and that the Russian would be there to help me. He was not in sight. While in the water beneath the ice I had attempted to loosen my overcoat, but had not unfastened the top button. Suddenly I found that my left hand failed me, and I had to use the right one to hold on to the edge of the ice. I was unable to pull myself back on to the solid ice, and every now and then I would slip down into the water. My situation was become desperate. I could see the school teacher, Miss Rogers, with several mission children at the edge of the lake preparing to skate. When she saw me she could only hold up her hands and scream. Both my left leg and my left arm were frozen, and I was about to abandon all hope when I saw an Indian boy on skates coming over from the far end of the lake. He was pulling a sled and skating toward me as fast as he could. He would not come near the thin ice, but I managed to tell him what to do. He shoved the sled to where I could reach it, and with my right hand and my teeth I held to it until he pulled me to the solid ice.

I instructed him to lash me to the sled and get to town before I should freeze to death. He did so quickly, and by a wonderful mercy en route we met the only two doctors within two hundred miles of that part of the world. They hurried me to the dispensary on shore, gave me hot drinks of liquor and  p133 rubbed me with oil. I had eleven wounds on my left leg made by my skate in my efforts to get out of the water, and these they dressed. Then I lost consciousness. The whiskey and the rub, however, saved me, and I was able to return to the ship the next day.

The news of the accident spread rapidly, and it was asked what became of the Russian priest. He remained hidden in his quarters for several days. When found he declared that as I went under the solid ice he became frightened, skated to the shore and hastened home. Each afternoon he had watched for my funeral to pass his house, and after several days he concluded that my body had not been recovered. The bluejackets of the Pinta and the marines wanted to take the priest and hang him, but better counsel prevailed.

As I was the subject of much comment I decided to go ashore but once more before leaving the country, and then to thank the Indian boy who had saved my life. I found him at the Presbyterian Mission and thanked him. Poor as an ensign is, I settled a small life pension on the boy, which I left in the hands of the Rev. Alonzo Austin.

At night, for months and even for years after this incident, in fancy I would imagine myself under the solid ice of that lake, and live over again my struggle to get back to the light that came through that hole.

Shortly before we left Alaska, in April, a small rowboat entered Sitka harbor and came alongside the Pinta. It brought a message from Captain Bowes, of the schooner Jane A. Falkenberg, saying that he was outside and had been attempting for fourteen days to enter Redoubt Bay, south of Sitka. Failing, he was now asking for help. His cargo was an entire salmon-canning outfit, valued at a million dollars.

I was sent out in the steam launch to meet the  p134 schooner which lay north of Biorka Island. We arranged that I should take charge and get the ship into the bay, as I knew the various channels through the numerous reefs. Fortunately there was a light breeze from the north which allowed the schooner to carry a little sail, and after some hours of anxious work I placed her where she could secure temporarily to the land in Redoubt harbor, and float down on the next high tide. It was a most interesting experience. For my assistance the captain offered me fifty dollars, which he said was all the money he had. I told him that in such cases neither naval officers nor crews accepted any compensation for their services.

Later I was to meet Captain Bowes again.

Thayer's Notes:

a A summary technical description of the Pinta is given by R. E. Johnson, Thence Round Cape Horn, Appendix IV.

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b According to Morgan Friedman's Inflation Calculator, $500 in 1888 was the equivalent of about $13,300 in 2015.

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c As it happens, I find a sample of Adm. Coontz's handwriting in my copy of his book from which I transcribed this text; I've reproduced it on the homepage.

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Page updated: 31 Dec 16