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Rare Separately Published Map of Kotzebue Sound, The Brooks Range, Northern Yukon and Kobuk River Regions of Alaska -- Including Contemporary Manuscript Annotations

Rare map of the interior of Alaska during the gold rush, printed by Britton & Rey in San Francisco and published by A.L. McDonald of San Francisco.

The present map is the primary surviving artifact of the George M. Stoney expedition, as augmented with additional maps and information compiled by A.L. McDonald. As Stoney's expedition report was never published, this map provides the best contemporary insights into the expedition (see below).

Includes three insets:

  • Map of the Hotham Inlet and the delta of the Putnam River showing channels and soundings"
  • "Map showing the route from Aneyuk to Point Barrow explored by Ensign W.L. Howard, U.S.N., 1886"
  • "Map of northwestern Alaska showing routes explored by Lieut. Stoney's party."

This copy of the map with interesting ink notes in the upper margin, and markings on the map, evidently by someone who was there at the time. On the back of the map, in apparently the same hand, is written "Steamer John Reilly, L.A. Higgins, Master, 98 & 99."

The Steamer John Reily was built on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska in 1898. The annotations show the daily progress of the newly constructed John Reilly up the Putnam or Ku-buck River, with occasional notes, such as "Ice Bluffs" (near Leader Hunt Lake). The annotations show distances to Mission House and the various camps along the river, including:

  1. Buck Eye
  2. Gould and Sullivans
  3. Orphans Home
  4. Schrout Camp
  5. Steamer John Reilly
  6. Falkenburg
  7. Kotzebue
  8. Indians
  9. Jessie Lou
  10. Sunny Side
  11. Stanson
  12. Penelope
  13. Guardian
  14. Ambler
  15. Hanson
  16. Mulkey's Landing
  17. Camp Rielly
  18. Kotebue #2
  19. Judden

The Brooks Range

The first explorers to find their way to Alaska's Interior - Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka and Lieutenant Henry Allen, both of the U.S. Army - mapped major waterways in Interior Alaska but did not reach far enough north to encounter the Brooks Range. Lt. Schwatka charted much of the Yukon River, and although Lt. Allen did not cross what is today the boundary of Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, at the end of his 1,500 mile journey he did manage to map the upper course and tributaries of the Koyukuk River based on information from a Koyukon Indian elder. These early attempts soon inspired others to investigate Alaska's last terra incognita.

Between 1883 and 1886, officers of the U.S. Navy and the Revenue Marine Service (now the Coast Guard) began investigating the rivers emptying into the ocean at Kotzebue Sound in northwestern Alaska. Although cooperation between the military branches was the norm, a rivalry developed between Naval Lieutenant George Stoney and Captain Michael Healy of the Revenue Marine after both men gathered geographical information from coastal Natives about the extent of the Noatak and Kobuk Rivers.

In 1884, Stoney and Healy (with Third Lt. J.C. Cantwell as his proxy) each launched their own expeditions up the Kobuk River, gathering mineral samples and describing Native peoples as they traveled. For the next two years, each of the expeditionary parties tried repeatedly to outdo the other by advancing further upstream and claiming the right of first discovery. In addition to gathering basic geographic and ethnographic data, both Stoney and Healy hoped to find a route north across the Brooks Range to allow rescue expeditions to help ice-bound whaling crews on the Arctic coast.

Lt. George M. Stoney

Lt. George M. Stoney first traveled to arctic Alaska in 1883 in connection with the attempt of the USS Rodgers to locate the missing Jeanette Expedition. Instead of becoming rescuers, the crew of the Rodgers themselves became stranded, surviving only with the assistance of the local Inuit community. To thank the "natives," the Navy assigned Stoney to deliver presents along the Alaskan coast.

Stoney turned the trip to further geographic knowledge of a still little-explored region. Hearing rumors of a large river emptying into Hotham Inlet on Kotzebue Sound, he set out on an arduous trip to find it, eventually naming it the Putnam (now Kobuk) River in honor of one of the crew members of the Rodgers. Once back in the states, he obtained permission from the Navy to explore further, and in March 1884, he returned to Kotzebue.

The Stoney expedition (1884-86) followed a familiar script for arctic exploration. Establishing a base camp at Fort Cosmos along banks of the Kobuk, the expedition members investigated the terrain into the western and central Brooks Range up to the headwaters of the Noatak and Alatna Rivers and as far away as the Koyokuk River and St. Michael. Unsatisfied with only being able to travel in summer, Stoney equipped his crew with provisions for a twenty-month overwintering expedition. From this base near the modern village of Shungnak, Stoney sent men in all directions with orders to map and gather intelligence.

One of Stoney's men, Ensign W.L. Howard, managed to lead a team of two military men and two Natives northward to the Noatak River and beyond to the Arctic Ocean near Point Barrow. Along the way, Howard and his white crewmates had to learn to live off the land and to follow the lead of the Natives in the region, who included the men in their seasonal rounds to trade furs on the Arctic coast for seal oil, rifles, and flour. Howard learned to snowshoe and drive a dog team, to hunt caribou and build a snow shelter.

When the expedition ended in 1886, it could claim the distinction of having gathered scientific and geographic data from an area many hundreds of miles in extent. Stoney's account of the expedition, published by the Proceedings of the US Naval Institute is a seldom-read classic of arctic literature, from its description of a deadly fight with a pack of rampaging walruses to its accounts of Inuits and the rugged and still remote landscape.

The accounts written by Stoney and Healy (and some of their subordinates) provide a glimpse of interior Eskimo life at a critical juncture between traditional ways and the new ways brought by traders and whalers. By 1886, most of the Eskimo groups had been severely affected by the combination of caribou decline and the diseases and trade goods of the whites - particularly the introduction of the rifle, which altered traditional hunting patterns. Starvation, death from disease, and a desperate kind of mobility as people fought for survival and access to addictive trade goods had already disrupted normal seasonal rounds and wreaked havoc on Eskimo lifeways.

A.L. McDonald, Publisher

A.L. McDonald & Co. were publishers in San Francisco. This was not their only Alaska Gold Rush map. In fact, in 1903, McDonald sued the Heart Company for copying a McDonald Map of the Klondyke District, which had been published in the San Francisco Examiner.


OCLC/WorldCat lists only two copies, at Yale and the University of Alaska.

Provenance: Warren Heckrotte Collection, PBA Galleries March 2016; Ken Harrison May, 1993.

Condition Description
Includes extensive annotations
Falk, Maps of Alaska, 1898-29.