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Andrew Morrison Taylor, 1875-1945

ANDREW MORRISON TAYLOR

17 October 1875 — 13 May 1945

“Well-known Alaskan ‘sourdough,’ big game hunter, guide and mountaineer.”

His parents were born in Scotland (1839), and came to Canada about the time of the War between the States. He was the seventh of nine children, six boys and three girls. His family was socially prominent and financially well off. His father owned a fine residence, a farm, a business and a yacht, and was the Grand Master of the Free Masons of Canada.

Andy, as a youth, was a restless soul and left Ottawa for the West in his early teens. He inherited his father’s fondness for the outdoors, particularly shooting, but because he did not wish to finish his schooling properly he drew his father’s disapproval. He went to work for an Ottawa firm on the Columbia River, and became an expert river man. He could paddle and pole a canoe as well as any New Brunswick guide. For a while in the early ’90’s he was on the upper Columbia and was “Captain” of the S. S. Pert, a small naphtha launch, by the time he was 20 years old.

By 1897 he was pilot and engineer of the principal Stikine River steamer. About this time he was one of the crew hired to take a flat-bottomed, stern-paddle-wheeled steamer to Skagway. Caught in a storm, they were wrecked on “Bushy Island.” He and the rest of the survivors had a difficult time, for they lost a lot of their supplies. However, they managed to haul the boat out, whip-sawed planks, patched her up and made their way back to Wrangell. While they did this they lived mainly on young geese. At Wrangell they re-outfitted, as far as the goods they needed were obtainable, and went on to Skagway. For a while he engaged in packing outfits over the White Pass with horses.

He arrived in Dawson in 1898, and this became more or less his headquarters until 1913, when he moved to McCarthy, Alaska.

In 1898-99 he went down to Fort Yukon and from there to Point Barrow with supplies. He told me that it was on this trip that he learned from the Esquimaux about the handling of dog teams. What route he took, I do not know, but he told me once that he had crossed the Endicott Mountains in winter, and it may have been on this trip.

A year or two later he started from Dawson in the early fall with a partner and the usual homemade barge loaded with grub, dogs, etc. They travelled up the Pelly River and probably the Macmillan River, following some branch of it to its head, and crossed the divide, going down the Twitya River and Keele River to the Mackenzie River. This would be about 460 miles from Dawson as the crow flies, and about 100 miles S. of the present Norman Wells. They spent the summer prospecting to the S. of the Keele and W. of the Mackenzie, and in late summer they moved back up the Keele taking a S. fork, crossed the divide S. of their former route, and kept going S. to the Pelly, which they descended to Dawson. Andy said he had not heard of this being done before nor since.

Another fall and winter he travelled up the Big Salmon River and down the Nisutlin River to Teslin Lake, and thus back to Dawson via the Teslin River.

But he soon discovered his favorite ground, the White River, and came to know it and its watershed thoroughly. Thus he became valuable to the survey parties of the International Boundary Commission with which he spent several seasons as heliographer. He also handled their pack trains and supplied them with meat.

In the White River region he had several claims, and two cabins on White River, one on Rabbitt Creek and another at Canyon City, where he worked the ground from time to time. He first went to Canyon City about 1900.

In June 1913 Andy was on Bonanza Creek, a tributary of White River in what is known as the “Shushanna” country (spelled on the USGS maps “Chisana”). That year he was associated with William James, “North Pole” Nelson and a Mrs. Wales, who had come in the year before and built a cabin. Together they discovered important placer deposits and staked out claims. As they needed equipment, Andy and Nelson went out to Dawson during the summer, and word got out of this strike. A stampede ensued called the “Shushanna Rush.” It lasted until the summer of 1914, and several thousand went into that area.

Andy returned from Dawson and worked his claim. As the gold field was developed, McCarthy in Alaska became the main base for supplies, so at that time Andy moved his residence to that town. Most of the supplies were freighted from McCarthy by way of Skolai Pass. During this period Andy undoubtedly made many trips over this route. An account of this mining activity in which Andy’s name is mentioned is in USGS Bulletin 630, by S. R. Capps, pp. 89-92.

Andy is said to have made and thrown away three “fortunes.” He once came back to Dawson with a suit case full of gold dust and nuggets (about $150,000.00). The first thing he did was to visit the bar of the man who had grubstaked him. Paid his debts, bought more supplies, then celebrated for a couple of days and gave away, threw away and spent his share of the gold.

For a while he was known humorously as “The Mayor of Canyon City,” but as far as I can make out this was after it had become a deserted mining camp. But he still kept a well stocked cabin there and brewed and bottled “very good beer.” On occasion he visited the place with a hunting party which he had led, and coming in from the back country would treat the party to his own brew which he dug from a hidden cache, much to their delight after days of pent-up thirst in the wilderness.

After moving to McCarthy he alternated between working at the Kennecott Mines, prospecting on his own, and taking out hunting trips on which in the ’20’s he usually was in partnership with Bob Boyden, who handled the horses and packs. Thus he came to know the Chitina and its drainage basin. His familiarity with this country made him the logical man to pilot the Mount Logan expedition on its approach to that mountain. For a number of winters he took the mail into Shushanna (Chisana) country by dog team.

During his outfitting and hunting days he guided many men and women from “the outside” on successful trips after big game. Among them were lawyers, bankers, business men, doctors, biologists, scientists, engineers and mining men of note. That firm friendships with many of these were established, and lasted for years, is attested by his correspondence, and by the fact that after he left Alaska and came to live in Putnam County, N. Y., many came to visit him or invited him to their homes. Not less significant is the fact that his correspondence with his friends in Alaska was even more intimate and lasting.

Mr. John Burnham, of New York, who himself had known the Yukon and the Klondike in the early days, and had had many exciting adventures along that river, did not meet Andy until 1919 in the White River Country. As he states in his The Rim of Mystery (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1929), “The high opinion I then formed of his personal qualities and qualifications has been in no way diminished by after events. He is an expert hunter, horseman, dogman, and boatman, resourceful in wilderness emergencies, and withal a gentleman.”

Because of this estimate of the man, he chose Taylor above all others for his companion on his expedition to the Chukotsk Peninsula of Siberia to try to find and identify the Big-horn of that region. The area was then under Bolshevist rule, and the trip was not without risk and great adventure. In his preface Burnham says, “Taylor was at any time ready to stake his life on a sporting proposition. All he required was that it appealed to his sense of good sportsmanship. Where a friend and comrade was involved the answer was easy. His was the fine honor that is the flower of manhood.”

Later he and Taylor thoroughly covered the Mount McKinley Park region and to the E. beyond. During the years of residence in Putnam County he was always included in the select group of Burnham’s friends who made their annual trek to his home camp near Westport, N. Y., for a week’s camaraderie. In the Explorers Club, and then with the members of the Camp Fire Club of America, he was at home and among friends.

In 1927 and 1928 he went out with Mr. F. H. Moffitt of the USGS, making geological investigations for the Government. The first year they travelled from McCarthy up the Chitistone River into the Skolai Basin and back down the Nizina Glacier; the second year, from McCarthy to Strelna over the old Nizina Trail. They were camped at the mouth of the W. fork of the Nizina when Skolai Lake broke out under the Nizina Glacier and flooded them out.

Taylor’s first mountaineering experience at high altitude was with the Mount Logan Expedition. The use of the ice-axe and the rope was entirely new to him, but he was one of the best judges of snow and ice conditions I have ever met. He instinctively knew good and bad terrain, scenting it as an experienced wild horse senses the hidden, treacherous ground that will bog him down.

On that mountain trip he formed a deep friendship with Allen Carpe, and it was through the latter that I came to know Andy when Carpe asked him to join us on our first Fairweather trip.

Andy liked climbing, particularly snow and ice work, but he did not like rock work as the mountaineer knows it. In spite of many rough rocky scrambles in search of big game, he did not feel sure of himself on sheer rock. I have often found this the case with hunting guides.

Following the first Fairweather trip, in 1926, Taylor participated in the first ascent of Mount Bona, 1930; Mount Fairweather, 1931; the search for Carpe’s and Koven’s bodies on Mount McKinley, 1932; Bradford Washburn’s crossing of the St. Elias Range, 1935; and Oscar Houston’s attempt on Mount Hayes, 1937.

Just prior to these last adventures, he accompanied a group of mining engineers in the exploration of copper mining possibilities in the region of Illiamna Lake and the Chigmit Mountains. He accompanied Sherman Pratt and W. B. O. Field, Jr., in their glacier studies of Prince William Sound, and the latter in glacier studies of Glacier Bay.

In 1929 Andy accompanied Dr. E. A. Park and myself on a prolonged pleasure cruise of the inland waters of the Panhandle of Alaska, Glacier Bay, Lituya Bay, Yakutat and Disenchantment Bays. It was on this trip that Andy became “a member of the family.” He took entire charge of two boys and two girls in their early teens, instructing them in hunting, canoe work, and the ways and means of living in the outdoors. No finer or more beloved companion could be found for either children or adults.

As one looks back upon almost 20 years of association with Andy, there are many remarkable qualities that stand forth.

He loved children and was beloved by them. They instinctively came to him, turned to him and trusted him. This was true of children everywhere—those in Alaska and in the States. He never let them down, and his influence with them was thoroughly fine.

The same fine sense of integrity made him a loyal friend to people in all walks of life. Whether a man had money or influence meant nothing to him. He accepted the person as he was, and his judgment of him was based on the man himself, not his appurtenances.

He was one of the best read men I have met, and his books and “library” in Alaska circulated freely among his friends. He was well informed in history and literature. On occasion I have sat with Andy, listening to discussion on other subjects than the outdoors between eminent educators, lawyers, or others, when a point in question of fact would arise and be referred to Andy. He nearly always knew the correct answer. For years he received the best novels and historical biographies regularly from commercial sources in the States and from friends. These he read, and he remembered their contents. He wrote a fine hand, and I do not remember a misspelled word. His composition was excellent. I begged Andy to sit down and write of his experiences. But only a few scanty notes on the back of an envelope or sheet of scrap paper remain. He was always going to write, but never did. I believe he thought that what he had to contribute was of no interest or value. He was full of interesting and humorous anecdotes, and despite his hesitancy of speech, at times was a most amusing raconteur.

He was quick at repartee. Once at a fish and game club meeting at which I was present, he was introduced with a flowery speech and the statement that he had saved the doctor’s life in the Alaska wilds. One of the audience called out, “Andy, did you save Doc’s life?” “Sure I did,” replied Andy, “I made him pancakes every morning and kept him from starving to death.”

I believe he packed a couple of old Saturday Evening Posts, a few “funnies” and a biography or historical novel up every mountain and on every hunt he took. Mr. Moffitt recalls that once when he sent Andy out for supplies he brought back some supplies and a load of books, and forgot the mail! On the Fairweather trip I remember he alternated between the funnies and Shakespeare (in one volume). The Iliad, the Odyssey and the Bible were favorites which he read over and over. He was not religious or superstitious. His favorite card games were cribbage and poker. He excelled at these but rarely played for money, and despite his keenness for prospecting, playing for stakes added little or nothing to his zest for the game.

Andy was generosity itself. He gave away nearly every cent he ever earned to those of his friends who were in straitened circumstances from time to time. I never knew him to borrow or run up debts. His personal possessions were almost nil except for a good knife, rifle, camera, and outdoor clothing and a great many shirts. When a shirt became soiled it would go into his “sack,” and he would buy a new one. When he was moved to send them to the laundry he would usually get back twenty. His personal habits were very clean. He shaved every day, no matter what the temperature, weather conditions or altitude, and usually without a mirror, and did a good job of it. He was a very good barber.

Never have I met a more even-tempered man. He had great patience, and I never saw him flustered by sudden or unexpected events. He made decisions quickly, and his judgment was nearly always vindicated by the turn of following events. The outdoors, the wilderness if you will, was his home and he had the “knowhow” to live there and in relative comfort. He was a good cook. He could get a large loaf of bread to rise and bake it to perfection over a campfire in the most perverse weather conditions. He had a remarkable sense of direction and could keep his course true through the deep forest for miles with no landmark visible, and not get turned around no matter what deviations immediate obstacles might force upon him.

On coming to Putnam County, Andy was somewhat at a loss at first in the life on the farm. He always hankered after Alaska. I remember the first year he was there: when it came time to gather sap for making maple syrup, he chose to do it with a horse and pack saddle equipped with the usual alforcas made of kerosene tin cases—two tins to a side—and to bring the sap in that way.

While with us he made several trips back to Alaska; and once he took one of my boys to Maine, where they took a canoe trip into the back country.

Andy died as he had lived, without fear, cheery and uncomplaining and planning what next we would do together, always thinking of others. In his last illness many of his old friends—a Senator from Washington, a doctor from Johns Hopkins, and others—came from afar to see him. Loyalty begets loyalty.

Taylor’s ashes are laid in the cemetery at Cold Spring-on- Hudson, and from the place one can look out across to Storm King Mountain and Bull Hill. He didn’t care much where he was to be buried, but he thought that a pretty good association. A boulder from the glacial drift of the region marks the spot. It was placed there by some of his mountaineering friends and bears a bronze plaque which reads: “To a Mountaineer, Friend, and Comrade in the Wilderness.”

W. S. L.

It is said that a trail or a camp is the best place for testing the endurance of congenial disposition and friendly companionship, and especially is this true when the test comes under trying, disagreeable conditions.

Of all my companions on the trail in the mountains, no one withstood that test better than my loyal friend Andrew M. Taylor, with whom I spent a total of six months in our campaign and conquest of Mount Logan in the Yukon during 1924 and 1925.

Although inexperienced in some of the technique of climbing and the use of the ice-axe and rope, Andy’s years of experience as a hunting guide in the Alaskan country made him an apt pupil; and, when he was once convinced of the wisdom of a method for doing things, in his quiet unassuming way, he soon qualified as a teacher and frequently was able to improve the methods.

On many occasions during these three trips in from McCarthy to Mount Logan, it was his quiet example or suggestions that brought our parties safely through delicate situations and solved many a difficult problem, for he was a veritable “wheel horse” of the party during our reconnaissance in 1924; then again during the winter freighting trip, with temperatures down to 55° below zero; and finally on the assault, the climbing, and the return journey off the mountain and back to civilization.

Every member of our party was indebted to him for the reassuring effect of his quiet, friendly manner as he went about his job and helped others with theirs.

I feel sure I speak for all members of the Mount Logan party when I again say that to Andy, more than to anyone else, belongs the credit for the successful conquest of Mount Logan.

A. H. MacC.