Pursuing Alaska

January 14, 2013 11:00 AM

Nick Marinello

Most Americans wouldn’t recognize their names: Charles Hallock, Caroline Willard, Harry de Windt, Mary Hitchock. Yet, their stories are as integral to the larger story of America as anyone’s, says Tulane alumna Jean Morgan Meaux, who has written about these and 23 other “hardy souls” who in the 19th and early 20th century traveled to Alaska to discover and record the last and largest of American frontiers.

Summer on the Thetis,

Four men in fur hats and coats, with guns on a table, c. 1888. One man holds a traditional harpoon; another holds a fish spear. They were traveling aboard the Thetis, a three-masted steamer that was used to explore the Alaskan coastline. (From the Alaska State Library—Historical Collections.)

The book, In Pursuit of Alaska: An Anthology of Travelers’ Tales 1879-1909 (University of Washington Press), is something of a labor of love for Meaux, who began compiling the first-person accounts from the Alaskan wilderness back in the 1980s, when she was herself a resident of the state.

Working as a journalist and freelancing for the Anchorage Daily News, Meaux began to research the little-known narratives of people who traveled to Alaska for a variety of reasons.

As she read their accounts, Meaux realized these intrepid folks fell into three groups: explorers and adventurers, wealthy tourists and fortune hunters who comprised the great Klondike Gold Rush.

Despite the disparity of reasons that drew them north, all shared a commonality of spirit, says Meaux.

“There’s a wonderful buoyancy and determination and resiliency in these people,” says Meaux. “They believed they could do anything they set out to do.”

Meaux, a Tulane law school alumna and now an attorney living in Folsom, La., says she carried a rough draft of the book in a cardboard box for a couple of decades before returning to the project.

“A couple of years ago, I realized the one pursuit I really cared about more than anything in this world is this book, and if I didn’t do it, nobody would.”

Along with excerpts from accounts written by Meaux’s 27 subjects, the book includes introductions and other material by the author. It will be published on May 1, 2013.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 website@tulane.edu