In June 1913, a group of four men ascended to the peak of Denali, the first humans known to have reached the highest point in North America. In a time before ultra lightweight and high-tech equipment, Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Robert Tatum, and Walter Harper had to haul heavy loads of food and supplies and books up the mountain with them, battling fire and clearing away earthquake debris along the way. After nearly two months of expedition, they finally stood atop the world.
I’m joined in this episode by Patrick Dean, author of A Window to Heaven: The Daring First Ascent of Denali: America's Wildest Peak.
Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. Photo Credit: “Hudson Stuck and Harry Karstens, 1913.” Photo is in the public domain. Book excerpt: “The Ascent of Denali (Mount Mckinley): A Narrative of the First Complete Ascent of the Highest Peak in North America,” by Hudson Stuck. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1918. The book is in the public domain.
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Kelly Therese Pollock 0:00
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too. Today's episode is about the first successful ascent of Denali in Alaska. Denali is the name that the Koyukon Athabaskans have used for centuries to refer to the mountain peak. Based on a Koyukon word for high or tall. When Alaska was a Russian territory, they called the mountain Bolshaya Gora, meaning big mountain. In 1897, a Seattle businessman named William A Dickey, upon returning from an expedition in the interior of Alaska, dubbed the mountain McKinley after the Republican presidential nominee. Later stories reported that Dickey may have named the mountain McKinley to get back at two prospectors who bored him with their support for free silver. So he named the mountain after a champion of the gold standard. We'll come back to the story of the name in a bit, but I'll continue to call it Denali throughout. Denali is the tallest mountain in North America, with a peak of 20,320 feet above sea level. Although not as tall as mountains in Tibet, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, Denali rises higher above the surrounding terrain than peaks like Mount Everest, which, coupled with its extreme weather conditions make it a very challenging climb. The first recorded attempt at scaling Denali was made by an expedition led by district judge and future congressional delegate James Wickersham in 1903. The northern route that his group followed led them to an impassable mountain face, which is still known as Wickersham Wall. On June 20, 1903, Wickersham wrote in his diary, "We have reluctantly concluded that there is no possible chance of further ascent from this side of Denali at this season, or any other season for that matter." He wasn't far off. It wasn't until 1963 that another expedition successfully followed that route. In 1906, American explorer, Dr. Frederick Albert Cook, claimed to have successfully summited Denali. His claim was immediately doubted by other members of his team, who had been left on lower peaks, but he wasn't publicly challenged at the time. However, Cook also claimed to have been the first to reach the North Pole in April, 1908, a year before Robert Peary's claim. A commission at the University of Copenhagen reviewed Cook's records and ruled his claim unproven. Although Peary's claim was widely accepted at the time, later scientific evidence shows that his expedition probably also did not reach the pole. The discrediting of Cook's north pole claim led to a reexamination of his Denali claim. There is no evidence that Cook successfully climbed Denali's peak and available evidence suggests that he turned back at the Gateway, failing to reach the top. In April, 1910, a group of four gold miners: Thomas Lloyd, Peter Anderson, Charlie McGonagall, and Bill Taylor summited the 19,470 foot North Peak of Denali. The expedition, which became known as the Sourdough Expedition, left a 14 foot spruce pole at the peak.
The foursome weren't born in Alaska, but they claimed Alaskan status after years in the northern wilds, carrying pouches of sourdough starter around their waists. Thus the sourdough name. In 1912, an expedition led by Herschel Clifford Parker and Belmore Brown nearly reached the South Summit, but they were forced to turn back very near the top due to weather conditions. The day after they descended, an earthquake destroyed the glacier that they had ascended. Finally, on June 7, 1913, the summit was achieved. The team that made the three month journey and successful ascent were co organizers 49 year old Archdeacon of the Yukon and the Arctic Hudson Stuck, and 34 year old Harry Karstens, along with a pair of 21 year olds, Robert Tatum and Alaska Native William Harper, who was Stuck's protege. Two Gwich'in teenagers, Johnny Fredson and Esaias George joined the expedition to help with the sled dogs, but they didn't ascend to the peak. Fredson, who was later the first Alaska Native to graduate from college with Stuck's urging and who became a tribal leader, managed the base camp on his own for 31 days, and hunted to feed the dogs who couldn't make it to the summit. The ascent was slow going, as the team had to methodically move their gear from one camp to the next, while they cut steps and built snow bridges. The earthquake from the year before made the central Northeastern Ridge a treacherous climb. Finally, they caught a break in the weather, and battling altitude sickness and extreme cold, they reached the top. Walter Harper was the first to set foot on the summit. While at the top, they looked across to the North Peak and spotted the flagpole left by the Sourdough Expedition, the only proof of that expedition that's ever been seen. Stuck later recalled, "I remember no day in my life so full of toil, distress and exhaustion, and yet so full of happiness and keen gratification." After they descended the mountain, Stuck sent a messenger to Fairbanks to announce their success, which was reported in the New York Times on June 21, 1913. In 1918, Stuck published a book about their ascent, and in 1919, he was awarded the Back Award of the Royal Geographical Society. In February, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Mount McKinley National Park Act, and despite Hudson Stuck's efforts to keep the name of the mountain Denali, the official name became Mount McKinley. In 1975, the Alaska state legislature asked the United States Board on Geographic Names to change the federal name to Denali, which the Alaska board of Geographic Names had already done earlier that year. The request was blocked by Ohio Congressman Ralph Regula, whose district in Ohio included Canton, William McKinley's longtime hometown and resting place. Incidentally, Ralph Regula was my congressman from the time I was born until I left Ohio for college. On August 28, 2015, the US Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, issued the order to change the name to Denali, effective immediately. Alaskans, including Senator Lisa Murkowski praised the move. But Ohio politicians panned it as a political stunt, with Representative Bob Gibbs calling it "constitutional overreach," and by then- retired Congressman Regula saying that Obama thought he was a dictator. According to the Alaska Dispatch News, the Secretary of the Interior has the authority to change a name when the Board of Geographic Names does not act on a naming request within a reasonable period of time. By that point, they had been sitting on the request for 40 years.
Joining me to help us understand more about the first successful ascent of Denali, and about its co-leader Archdeacon Hudson Stuck, is writer Patrick Dean, author of "A Window to Heaven: the Daring First Ascent of Denali, America's Wildest Peak." First I'd like to read for you an excerpt from the preface of Hudson Stuck's book, "The Ascent of Denali: a Narrative of the First Complete Ascent of the Highest Peak in North America." This book is in the public domain. "Forefront in this book, because forefront in the author's heart and desire, must stand a plea for the restoration to the greatest mountain in North America of its immemorial Native name. If there be any prestige or authority in such matter, from the accomplishments of a first complete ascent, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, the author values it chiefly as it may give weight to this plea. Should the reader ever be privileged, as the author was a few years ago, to stand on the frozen surface of Lake Minchumina and see these mountains revealed as the clouds of a passing snowstorm swept away, he would be overwhelmed by the majesty of the scene, and at the same time deeply moved with the appropriateness of the simple Native name. For simplicity is always a quality of true majesty. It was on that occasion, standing spellbound at the sublimity of the scene, that the author resolved, that if it were in his power, he would restore these ancient mountains to the ancient people, among whom they rear their heads. There is to the author's mind, a certain ruthless arrogance that grows more offensive to him as the years passed by, in the temper that comes to a 'new' land, and contemptuously ignores the native names of conspicuous natural objects, almost always appropriate and significant, and overlays them with names that are commonly neither the one nor the other. The learned societies of the world, the geographical societies, the ethnological societies have set their faces against this practice these many years passed into them, the writer confidently appeals." So hi, Patrick, thank you so much for joining me today.
Patrick Dean 12:12
Thanks so much for having me. I'm excited to talk to you.
Kelly Therese Pollock 12:14
Yeah, this is a mostly fun topic. Not every topic I do is fun. That's always a nice change. So I would love to hear a little bit just how you got interested in Hudson Stuck and in writing this book.
Patrick Dean 12:30
Okay, so way back in my 20s, I had a period of time where I was a little bit obsessed with Alaska and Africa for some reason, and I was living in Mississippi, growing up in Mississippi, I don't know why I chose those places. But I was reading a lot of books about both. And at some point, I picked up a book called "Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled" by this guy named Hudson Stuck. And I still have that exact copy. I reused it to write this book, actually. And so that was the beginning of my exposure to him. And then in 1999, my wife and I moved to Sewanee, Tennessee, on the Cumberland Plateau, the home of the University of the South, and basically sort of realized that Hudson Stuck, the author of that book had been a real presence here. He'd gotten his theological training here, he was a beloved son of the university, there's a plaque in his honor in All Saints Chapel and a statue of him behind the altar. And so I sort of made that connection that that was the same guy whose book I had then, while teaching at a local school here, St. Andrew's-Sewanee School, I earned a master's degree, an MA in theology from the University of South School of Theology, and decided to write my thesis on Stuck. "The Muscular Christianity of Hudson Stuck" was my thesis. So and that sort of led to me learning more about him. And at some point, I was, I was in a writers' group, and it just sort of developed into an idea for a book and it just took it from there.
Kelly Therese Pollock 13:54
Yeah. So I would like to talk some then about muscular Christianity, which I think is, you know, it's something that is certainly still with us, but but people who don't study religious studies or theology might not have a lot of familiarity with that term, and what it means and how it would apply to someone like Hudson Stuck. So could you talk some about that?
Patrick Dean 14:16
Sure. So the term is usually used to talk about this movement in 19th century, Christianity, the Church, the Church of England, specifically, but also churches here in the United States and elsewhere in the in the world. The idea is that sort of, along with the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the British Empire, and all those social forces that were going on, there was a there was a ccurrent that said that, you know, Christianity had become too soft, too meek, too humble, and that you needed, you needed pastors and church members with grit and fortitude and strength and all that sort of thing. And so it led to a lot of the missionary impulses that we've seen in that, that is in that section of time. And it went off into some really unpleasant directions, you know, in terms of colonialism and paternalism and imperialism. But that was the basic impulse behind it that, that, you know, your, your ideal clergyman was to ride a horse and live in the woods and do whatever he or she had to to, he mainly had to do to connect with people and, and spread the gospel. And so that's what the muscular Christianity movement was, was basically all about. And it was sort of tied slightly, not totally, not closely with the social gospel of making people's lives better as part of the mission of the church.
Kelly Therese Pollock 15:46
And do you think that Hudson Stuck, I mean, obviously, he embodies some of this. Do you think that he was sort of influenced by this? Do you think like, that's just who he would have been anyway, in the way he would have practiced Christianity, and he was just sort of lucky to be at a time that that was celebrated, you know, what, what's your sense of what's sort of going on there?
Patrick Dean 16:07
I think, well, he's a very interesting character. He's is the opposite of one dimensional, and so it's hard to tease out exactly how that works. But he was always fascinated with stories of exploration and derring-do. He was a classic Victorian, who loved there were these this series of stories written by a guy named Henty about these plucky young British lads who went off and found fame and fortune fighting in India or wherever, and Stuck loved those. So he probably would have been just like that anyway. But I think it matched up well with his personality and his desire to work through the church on behalf of on behalf of the people that he was serving.
Kelly Therese Pollock 16:44
Yeah, so let's talk a little bit about his time in Texas, before we move to Alaska. So in Texas, he's really this this sort of social justice part that that you mentioned. That's really what is sort of driving him he you know, he's going out and, you know, traveling the country and hiking and stuff, but that that is much less tied to his sort of religious tradition at that point. And what he is instead doing is founding schools and you know, and really sort of working on this social justice piece. Was that a good fit in Texas at that time, you know, how was he sort of received?
Patrick Dean 17:23
Well, yes or no, you know, there were there was he was an interesting person to have at that point in, in Dallas, because in very many ways, like I said, he was a classic Victorian Englishman, born in England before he emigrated to the United States and he had his, he had a stuffy ways he insisted on the women covering their heads at church. And when he was he was, he was dean of the Cathedral of Dallas, St. Matthew's Cathedral. Very prominent position in a very prominent church in a town that was becoming the Dallas that we know of it today. Wealthy. plutocratic, oil wealth was beginning to happen. And so in some ways he was a good fit and and others he was he was a little, a little more friction there because he had no qualms about castigating his his congregation about performing lives of service and not being prisoners of wealth or status. So it was a mixed, it was a mixed bag for sure. But he did, as you said, have an amazing record in terms of social justice and welfare accomplishments. He worked with the wives of many of these social, socially prominent businessmen and with Dallas people to get the first child labor laws passed in the state of Texas. It was women's clubs that were his main allies in this in this battle. So he had this sort of mixed record of being very easily able to deal with different social classes to get done what he wanted to do, while at the same time being is pretty much his own man and being willing to tell them what he thought they would need to hear.
Kelly Therese Pollock 18:58
Yeah. And so then he goes off to Alaska. And you know, so as you mentioned this as someone who grew up in England, and then had spent his entire time in the US, basically, in the south in Tennessee, and in Texas, and he goes off to Alaska, which is a very different kind of place. What sort of drew him to Alaska into wanting to be there and, you know, it seems like it ended up being an extremely good fit for him. You know, so what, what are the things that sort of made that such a good fit for him?
Patrick Dean 19:30
We have this great story that he relates about his an uncle of his who was a merchant marine sailor who was lost at sea and left his family left Stuck's family, his collection of leather bound, books on polar exploration, and we had this great scene of young Hudson Stuck as a child leafing through these beautifully bound volumes and being you know, just enraptured by the pictures of polar bears and penguins and all that kind of thing. And so from an early age, he loved exploration. He had hundreds of books on, on exploration, particularly polar exploration. And so that that part of going to Alaska definitely appealed to him. He also had the sort of muscular Christianity aspect of thinking his job in Texas was too soft. He said that he had not been challenged enough. He hadn't hadn't experienced enough hardships on behalf of his mission as as a priest and a missionary So, and he also quite frankly admitted that the fact that there was an unclimbed mountain like Denali was a factor in his going to Alaska. So personal ambition and, and career ambition factored in, I think, almost equally.
Kelly Therese Pollock 20:41
So I want to get to Denali, we're working our way there. But first, let's just sort of set the stage for Alaska. Alaska is still a really hard place to get around, as anybody who's like a state legislator in Alaska and has to go back and forth to their home territory knows, like this is just a tough place to get around. It's an especially tough place to get around here at the very end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th century. So what does Hudson Stuck need to do just to visit the people in Alaska that he is there on mission to?
Patrick Dean 21:14
Right, well, I mentioned his book "Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled" and it was the first of four books that he wrote. And it was all about beginning the very first winter he was there. He went by dog sled to get a circuit of the mission churches in the interior of Alaska. You know, it could be 50 below zero, white outs, it didn't matter. He still, you know, he still did that trek for almost every year he was alive in Alaska on doing his doing his work. And then, not long after that, he figured out that he wanted to go and see the the establishments and settlements along the rivers. So he had a boat, the Pelican, bought for him. And in summertime, he would travel up and down the Yukon and its tributaries. Because that's where all the people were in, in the warmer weather, which was the second book he wrote. So he was almost always traveling, either by dog sled or by, or by launch, gasoline launch during the time as Archdeacon of Alaska and the Yukon with 250,000 square miles of territory to cover.
Kelly Therese Pollock 22:14
And so this is a tricky thing, right, being a Christian, in this case, Episcopalian missionary to Native people. How was he received by those people that he was there on mission to?
Patrick Dean 22:29
Yeah, it is. And that's, that's probably the most complicated sort of dynamic to think about, as you're writing about this period in history, because you want to do justice to Alaska Native history, and Alaska Native culture. And you also want to explore how it was that this man Hudson Stuck was so beloved by that culture, and still is today. I have stories that I can tell you about how he's still talked about in those circles. And there's a there's an irreconcilable, you know, thing going on here, which is that Stuck was was known then, and still is known for his passionate desire that Alaska Natives, be able to keep their culture, their language, their traditions, their, their dance, their songs, their you know, all of that, except the religion issue. You know, he had this. And he seemed to somehow have this, he never went into this. He never talked about this or wrote about this. But he seemed to have the the idea that you could keep, you could you could convert them to Christianity, but still hang on to everything else. And so that's a that's a fracture point or something, if you want to call it that, that never got fully resolved. But somehow, as Alaska Natives made their way into sort of modernity, he was there to sort of champion them to the extent that he could. And so that's just how it just how it played out.
Kelly Therese Pollock 23:59
And so one of the ways he wanted to champion them was by climbing Denali, which is a sort of interesting, I, you know, I'm sure anybody who who does a major expedition, like this has lots of different things that are driving them. And certainly in his case, that's true as well. But one of them is to sort of draw attention to the Alaska Natives. And so can you talk about that, that impulse in what he's doing, how he saw this ascent of Denali as furthering those goals?
Patrick Dean 24:30
Yeah, one of the things I would really like to say about about this expedition is, you know, today we have all of these, it's commonplace now for people to ride a bicycle bicycle across United States to bring awareness of climate change or trek to the South Pole to bring awareness of some major issue. But in the early 1900s, when Stuck and his guys were were heading toward Denali, it was a very different game. It was very much still a nationalistic game. It was very much a chauvinistic game. It was all about, you know, white men planting their nations' flags on places. And so you can almost see this, this 1913 Denali expedition as the first cause expedition, because Stuck did make it very clear that, that he was doing everything he could and making speeches in the lower 48, writing interminable articles about what was going on in Alaska, to bring his the situation up there to a wider audience and to get support for, for what they were doing financial and otherwise. And so he he can see this expedition to Denali as part of that effort. And it was no accident that he recruited Walter Harper, his protege, his half Native protege, to be a crucial member of the team.
Kelly Therese Pollock 25:46
So he decided he was going to climb Denali, which had never been done at that or had never been successfully done at that point. People had certainly tried. This seems like a massive undertaking. So you know, I I've done some backpacking, not recently, but in my youth did did some backpacking and climbing. And nowadays, we have sort of all sorts of advantages to us. So you can get a lot closer to the base of the mountain before you start. And all sorts of like lightweight gear and stoves that are designed for this and like everything. What are the the kinds of challenges that they're facing in doing something like this, climbing this mountain to the top for the very first time? You know, what does this look like for them?
Patrick Dean 26:27
Well, yeah, absolutely. I mean, to start with, they had to dog sled for three weeks from, from the town, they left just to get to the base of Denali. You know, they had to prepare their own food along the way, they had to, had to hunt, to shoot and that sort of thing to, to live on while they were traveling. They prepared a bunch of what they called pemmican. That's a combination of fat and meat that you can preserve and take out to the mountain with you. They had firewood for building fires to keep warm. I mean, they had no no ultralight stoves, for those guys. So you're right. And, and the clothing, I mean, you know, they had six layers of wool socks on and all that sort of thing, and big fur, lynx fur mittens and handmade crampons on the bottoms of the moccasins. You know, it was a very different deal technologically than than now. So, but they didn't know any different. So that was the you know, they didn't miss it. They'd never heard of Gore Tex. So it was, you know, it didn't feel the lack very much. But I think they all thought that their experience in the backcountry of Alaska dealing with the conditions gave them you know what they needed to, to make it at the time.
Kelly Therese Pollock 27:39
So Karstens is this sort of co-leader of the expedition, but he and he and Stuck along the way you start to, when you're stuck in that small a group with someone for weeks and months on end, it's understandable tensions are gonna flare sometimes. But it seems like this was sort of really, maybe not outwardly butting heads very often. But it's sort of inward resentments and things that are building. What is going on with this relationship?
Patrick Dean 28:09
Yeah, that the Karstens/Stuck dynamic was one of the more interesting things to to figure out how to write about for this book, because, as you said, their were personality conflicts. But to bring it forward a little bit, you know, 2013, was the 100th anniversary of this climb. And in that in the course of celebrating that there was a lot of sort of revisionism in terms of you know, it was almost like the Karstens partisans had the floor.It looked like Stuck didn't do anything, and Karstens did everything and dragged stuff bodily up the mountain and all this kind of stuff. And I was determined, while being fair to Karstens to the extent I could, I was going to just sort of examine that and try to try to see how I can portray that. And so I was very, very proud to be able to communicate with Karsten's grandson and great-grandson on the phone and via email and go through a lot of this with them. And I think we came to a place of mutual respect on the history and about stalking about Karstens and they read my Karstens chapter, and they, they gave it their blessing and that sort of thing. But yeah, for whatever reason, Karstens and Stuck on the mountain did not get along at all. It was mainly in the direction of Karstens to Stuck, because Stuck was unaware of it as far as you know, he he thought, when Karstens blew up about things as he did, Stuck just thought it was a matter of, you know, the weather, the exposure, the tedium of being on the mountain and that sort of thing. Whereas for Karstens, who was it was a deep seated distaste for Stuck and the way he did things. And it played out after the expedition with with Karstens accusing Stuck of undermining Karstens and taking all the glory himself and not giving him his due and they never reconciled. So it was a tricky and interesting thing to write about for sure.
Kelly Therese Pollock 29:55
So you just mentioned the tedium of being in the mountains. Let's talk about that piece. Doing something like Denali even now, but certainly back then isn't just like you hike up a mountain and back down. This is a really, really long process, especially for them. So what does the sort of overall expedition look like? Like, what are they actually doing in any given day, that ends up taking months to get to the top of the mountain?
Patrick Dean 30:24
Right? Well, you know, today there's a, there's a, there's a type of alpinism that's fast and light, where you take as little equipment as possible, and try to get up as fast as possible and down as fast as possible. But then, in those days, they really didn't have that, that luxury. Again, going back to the technology, and so it was very much what you call siege style, climbing where you have to take supplies up and then come back down and bring, you know, more supplies up. And, you know, so they spent most of the time doing that, when they weren't absolutely stuck in a tent because of the horrendous weather. And Denali has really, really horrendous weather. Most of the time, when people are not successful in climbing, it's because of the the white outs, the wind, vicious winds, and the cold are the are the biggest factors for that. And this party certainly had to deal with all of that. And they spent days and days and days at a time when they never left the tent. You couldn't leave the tent. So but they they stuck it out.
Kelly Therese Pollock 31:24
It also gives you a little bit of a maybe window into why Karstens is getting more and more resentful, the longer you have to spend with someone.
Patrick Dean 31:31
Exactly, exactly. There's lots of examples of very, very good friends who go on expeditions who can't stand each other by the time they get out.
Kelly Therese Pollock 31:39
Yeah, totally understandable. One of the things they bring with them in this not traveling light is books, which seems kind of crazy in the current day. But you know, obviously if they're stuck for days and days at a time that they can't even leave the tent, they need something to do. So can you talk some about that about sort of bringing books, the kinds of lessons that they're doing while they're up there and what that piece of it looks like?
Patrick Dean 32:06
One of the things that that that really seems to be what what stuck in Karstens craw is the fact that so as I mentioned, Walter Harper, who was 21 was was Stuck's protege and they had been on the trail for years together. And they had this the system worked out where, you know, they would they would get somewhere they would make camp, and Harper would do most of the work in terms of setting up camp and fires and food and all that kind of stuff. And Stuck would tutor Harper, so they'd spend the night you know, reading Shakespeare or reading one of those Henty books I was talking about or memorizing the US presidents or something, kings and queens of England, I mean, it was or math or whatever. And so they had this routine down and also, and Stuck was also writing "Ten Thousand Miles with a Dog Sled" while they were on Denali, so to Karstens you know, when they get to camp and especially lying around as Karstens sees it, you're writing books or you know that sort of thing. It's just rubs in the wrong way. And he just he was not prepared for that at all. I guess you know, weight isn't really that big a consideration when you're on, when you dog sled certainly. And they did a lot of hauling with with with sleds and everything. So there was a sense in which, you know, everything weighs so much anyway, and books aren't even that much of a an added imposition.
Kelly Therese Pollock 33:26
Books and notebooks. And so that's sort of the the really fascinating thing you mentioned, talking to some of the descendants, but also we have, from all four of the members of this expedition, journals that they kept while they were on the mountain. And so you are able to do this thing in your book piecing together like, on this day, you can look at all four of their entries, you know, then the next day, what happens. Can you talk a little bit about that, that process and having that sort of incredible insight into what was happening each day?
Patrick Dean 33:58
We're very lucky to live in a time where we do where all of these resources are available online. I can, I can, you know, see the actual photographs of the actual pages that that have been written by by Stuck and the others. And you're right, it's fascinating to compare the same account of of the same day. And one person just barely mentioned that the other one goes off for two three paragraphs about how much it irritates them that something has happened. But it was an invaluable resource. And it really brought that expedition alive. And I was really, really lucky to be able to, you know, read those narratives while they're on the mountain.
Kelly Therese Pollock 34:34
Yeah.So as people read your book, which they should, they'll be able to see this sort of progression and and really, you get this sense I don't mean that the book is tedious, but you get this sense of the tedium of like, oh my gosh, they're stuck again. They're just gonna stay there for another day. And like I get imagine what what this feels like for them.
Patrick Dean 34:52
Right. I think I would have might have might have been like, Tatum, the fourth member of the expedition who gave gave vent to his feelings about wanting to be home a lot more than the other three did while he was on the mountain. I'm thinking about Knoxville and I'm thinking about my girlfriend. That might have been me following that case for sure.
Kelly Therese Pollock 35:13
Yeah. So at the end, they, they're able to ascend. They get to the top of, of Denali. And of course, we in this conversation are calling it Denali, which is what it is called now. But at the time, Americans were calling it Mount McKinley. And so that's part of the story as well. And they, it seems like, you know, I suspect this is true of a lot of sort of mountain climbs is that the it's almost, it's like, you get to the top and then you're like, "Okay, well, we're here," you know, and you know, you're there for a little while, but then you got to leave again. You can't sleep at the top of the mountain. So I guess what, what sort of what do they do when they get to the top? And, you know, and then it seems like the the downhill is is much easier, and they're sort of just like, this is all behind them at this point?
Patrick Dean 36:01
Oh, yeah, definitely. Well, you know, this Stuck especially, was still in that sort of Victorian mode where you were not you were exploring for a purpose, not just for, you know, glory. And so they had the scientific instruments, they had the barometer and the thermometer, so he insisted that they do it through all these, you know, scientific things on the top of the mountain, and then they, and then they, they erected a cross and, and sang hymns and played games, as, as a good Episcopalian and, and they flew, Tatum had made a flag, hand sewn a flag out of the spare laying around in the tent during some of those tedious days. And so they flew the flag and took some really bad double exposed photographs. And then they came down, like you said, and, you know, they were took them three days. I mean, there were weeks and weeks on the mountain and three days to get back down. And then it came back down. And in June, it was turned spring. So there's like wildflowers and everything going on. So to go from the cold frozen mountains down to the spring flowers. And that's, that was an amazing feeling, obviously for them.
Kelly Therese Pollock 37:06
Yeah. So do you think that that Stuck, accomplished, obviously, he accomplished the goal of getting to the top of the mountain, but do you think that he was able to accomplish the kinds of goals he was trying to with this sort of this cause, this bringing awareness to Native Alaskans? He's sort of forthright about saying he wants the mountain to be called Denali, which obviously doesn't happen immediately. But, you know, do you think that he considered this as success?
Patrick Dean 37:36
That's a good question. I think that I think he would have been pleased that he was able to write a book and sell fairly well about Denali, that he was able to travel around the country speaking about it. I think he was, he'd be delighted that June, the seventh is Walter Harper Day in Alaska today. You know, I think, for me that reasons he would feel good, but I think he would also see the legacy of, of Native and whites in relations in Alaska from, from not quite so pleasant, satisfied point of view, I think he would still be very concerned with with that dynamic, as well as issues like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I think he would be very much in favor of keeping that keeping that pristine. So I think it would be a mixed record. I think he would be proud in some ways of what he had done, but he was still see a lot that needed to be done.
Kelly Therese Pollock 38:27
So there's all sorts of other things that happen on the mountain that people need to just go read your book to learn more about. So tell people how they can get your book.
Patrick Dean 38:35
Oh, anywhere books are sold, "A Window to Heaven." I'd love for you to check it out. And please enjoy it and let me know what you think.
Kelly Therese Pollock 38:43
And you're writing another book now?
Patrick Dean 38:45
I am it's another biography. It's it's an 18th century naturalist named Mark Catesby, who the elevator pitch is he did Audubon a century before Audubon did. And he came to North America in 1722, and traveled all over South Carolina, a little bit of Florida and the Bahamas, went back to England and published the very first illustrated guide to the plants and animals of, of this country. And so it was a quite a landmark, quite an achievement. And so that's who I'm writing about this time. Due out in 2023.
Kelly Therese Pollock 39:16
Excellent. Is there anything else that you would like to make sure we talked about?
Patrick Dean 39:22
Well, two things. First of all, I think it's really neat that it wasn't planned this way, but as it happened, Walter Harper was the first to set foot on Denali on June 7, 1913. And I think, Stuck, was obviously delighted about that. And so did was very forceful in saying that Denali should be the name of the mountain and not McKinley. I was giving a reading a year ago, and someone asked me, "You're talking about Denali being the highest mountain in North America, but I thought Mount McKinley was the highest mountain." So we still haven't quite gotten to everybody with that that renaming yet. Stuck's tale is also the story of an enduring, enduring legacy. I got to meet a former rector, retired rector of St. Matthew's, Fairbanks, which was Stuck's church. I got to know Scott really well. And he's old enough to have known people who knew Stuck, so he's an amazing resource for me and has become a close friend. And he was telling me a story that happened just recently. First of all, you have to know that there's this apocryphal maybe story about Hudson Stuck the kind you would expect to be told about him where his boat was lodged in a riverbank and couldn't get out. And a steamboat pilot comes by and says, "Who are you?" And Archdeacon says, "I'm Stuck." And of course, you get this whole Abbott and Costello thing where it goes, "I can see you're stuck, but what's your name?" you know, that kind of thing. So, that story's been around forever. And so, Scott Fischer, my friend, was spending time with some elders, some Native elders, and they were just sort of hanging out like they do and talking about everything as they do. And one of those elders from nowhere, brought up the story about Hudson Stuck being stuck on the riverbank, and we're talking about 2021, over 100 years after he died. So he was called his his Gwich'in name which translated to big preacher, even though he wasn't a very big man physically. And so it's a fascinating story about how someone like him, could have such a huge impact for quite a long time, because of who he was and what he did.
Kelly Therese Pollock 41:29
Yeah, I love the story that when the royal is at the Royal geological group, I forget the name of the group, but he that he'd been trying to join for years, and they give him an award after he ascends the mountain. And he's like, "Great, but you called it Mount McKinley. Call it Denali."
Patrick Dean 41:48
That's right. That was that was that was classic Stuck to lecture people about how they should do things. He was very good at doing that. So yeah, very proud to be a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society, for sure. It meant a lot to him.
Kelly Therese Pollock 42:00
Well, Patrick, thank you so much for speaking with me. This is great story and everyone should check out your book. It's really fantastic.
Patrick Dean 42:07
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me. I've really enjoyed it.
Thanks for listening to Unsung History. You can find the sources used for this episode @UnsungHistorypodcast.com. To the best of our knowledge, all audio and images used by Unsung History are in the public domain or are used with permission. You can find us on Twitter, or Instagram @unsung__history, or on Facebook @UnsungHistorypodcast. To contact us with questions or episode suggestions, please email Kelly@UnsungHistory podcast.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review and tell your friends.
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Patrick Dean lives, works, and plays in and around Monteagle, Tennessee. He has written speeches for Congressional candidates, taught inner-city high-school English, and earned a master’s degree in theology.
Since 2012, Patrick has been a free-lance writer, social-media content creator, and website designer. He is also the executive director of the Mountain Goat Trail Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a walking and cycling trail on a former railroad bed.
Patrick is a content ambassador for Territory Run Co.
Contact Patrick at email@example.com