In 1907 Clara Heintz accompanied the Archdeaconess to Alaska. She intended to stay one year in mission work. Then she met Grafton Burke, a young doctor. This is the tale of their experiences together for the next thirty years. The building of the hospital at Fort Yukon, and their subsequent acceptance, consumed all their attention and energies.
In 1916 Doctor Hap, while on furlough to the East coast to rest, raise funds and recruit help, convinced Frances Wells to make her way to Alaska and the rest we know from her letters back home.
Following are several excerpts, but to appreciate the full story I strongly urge you to find a copy of this out-of-print book and curl up with it for a few days. I found a copy not 40 miles from my home through interlibrary loan.
"The United States had entered the war in April and two of our four nurses left by the first boat to join the service…we watched our staff dwindle from day to day with sinking hearts. As though this were not enough, a budding romance between Frances Wells, one of our last and best nurses, and Walter Harper, the Archdeacon’s trail boy and river pilot, threatened to give the death blow to our chances of keeping the hospital open. Frances and Walter wanted to marry and leave for the States to enter the service. ‘What we didn’t need at a time like this was a romance,’ said Hap grimly, brushing a damp lock from his forehead as he boiled his own instruments while I rolled bandages, copied records and typed labels for medicine bottles, going from one chore to another as the need arose. Frances Wells had just left the office in tears over a letter from home withholding permission for her marriage to Walter, and suggesting that she return to Philadelphia. This resistance by Miss Wells’s family made her postpone her marriage temporarily, and while the delay seemed fortunate at the time, we later regretted the sweet reasonableness which kept Walter and Frances in Alaska until the following year…
"Walter Harper and Frances Wells were married by the Archdeacon on September 4, 1918. After a Yukon honeymoon they left for the States in mid-October by the last boat. The Archdeacon’s sadness at parting from his devoted trail boy and river pilot was somewhat assuaged by our move to the new house…Two days after the move into our new home we received the terrible news that the S.S. Princess Sophia had gone down in the Lynn Canal with 343 passengers and crew on board and not a single survivor. Among the passengers were Walter and Frances Harper, our own honeymooners…This blow left us numb with grief. Walter had accompanied the Archdeacon on his winter trails and summer cruises for seven years. Both he and Frances were as close to us as our own kin."
Life in service to the Eskimos and Indians was extremely difficult and at the same time equally rewarding. When you have finished this book, you will have a much better understanding of the people who make the 49th state unique.
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