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Blazing Alaska's Trails

Blazing Alaska’s Trails, by Alfred H. Brooks, with foreward by John C. Reed. XXI, 528 pages, 113 photographs, 3 diagrams, folding table, and 4 sketch maps. University of Alaska and The Arctic Institute of North America, 1953. Price, $4.50.

An important contribution to Alaskan literature has appeared in the book Blazing Alaska’s Trails by Alfred Hulse Brooks, published jointly by the University of Alaska and the Arctic Institute of North America. It consists of 27 chapters written between 1914 and 1922, which cover a variety of subjects of geographical, historical, and economic interest. Collectively they portray, as John C. Reed in his Foreword aptly puts it, “an interpretation of major importance and lasting value of the Alaska of 1920 and … a prerequisite to an understanding of the Alaska of today and in anticipation of the Alaska of tomorrow.”

Dr. Brooks knew Alaska as few men could. He was widely acquainted and numbered among his associates many “old timers.” He began his work there in 1898 for the U.S. Geological Survey and until his death in 1924 made 24 visits, an average of nearly one per year, and this was before the day when Alaska was only a few hours’ flight from continental United States. Beginning in 1903 he was in charge of all Geological Survey work in the Territory. His great trip of 1902, which he describes as “an exploration of the largest unexplored area in southern Alaska and the running of a traverse to the Yukon,” extended from Cook Inlet across and along the Alaska Range on the northern side of Mt. McKinley. It established the position and altitude of that highest of North American peaks and resulted in much of the nomenclature of that portion of the Alaska Range. Brooks loved the mountains and glaciers. Readers will recall his splendid publication, “The Mountains of Alaska,” issued by The American Alpine Club in 1915 as the third in the series entitled Alpina Americana.

The search for and evaluation of mineral resources was, however, his primary concern through these years, and it is therefore the chapters dealing with American exploration, the gold rush, and the mining industry which the reviewer found to be the most interesting and unique, because the author played a major part in those phases and witnessed many of the major events which he records.

His picture is that of an Alaska far removed from its present position of strategic importance in the affairs of the North Pacific and the Arctic Regions. It was the period when travel in most of the interior was limited to dog teams in winter and water transport or pack train in summer. He witnessed the building of the Alaska Railroad, a single slender line of communication to the interior, but still to come were the present great highway system, the bush pilot, and the network of airways. It was an Alaska that some of us glimpsed in the 1920’s, which should be understood in order to comprehend the changes brought about in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the struggle for statehood, and the tremendous power and industrial developments which are envisioned.

William O. Field