American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The First Ascent of Mount McKinley, 1913

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  • Publication Year: 1969

The First Ascent of Mount McKinley, 1913

A Verbatim Copy of the Diary of Harry P. Karstens

Preface and Footnotes by Bradford Washburn

The original is reproduced here exactly as written, including misspellings and abbreviations. It was written in pencil in a tiny cloth-bound diary trimmed with dark brown leather edges. It measures 2½ by 4 inches. The diary itself is now in the American Alpine Club Library.

this little book is filled with misspellings and abbreviations, some of which are meaningless to a reader not very familiar with the early history and geography of McKinley. This text has been prepared partly to protect the original manuscript and partly to make its contents fully intelligible. The notes may be helpful—as will reading Hudson Stuck’s The Ascent of Denali, Scribner’s, 1914. For other publications of interest related to this story, see: Terris Moore’s, Mt. McKinley, the Pioneer Climb, Univ. of Alaska Press, 1967 and Bradford Washburn, Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range in Literature, Museum of Science, Boston, 1951, particularly items #110, 111, 114, 116, 172, 217, 225-230.

Members of this party were: The Reverend Hudson Stuck (1863- 1920), Episcopal Archdeacon of the Yukon who had his headquarters at the mission in Nenana; Harry P. Karstens (1878-1955), renowned Alaskan pioneer who lived in Fairbanks; in essence, the guide of the expedition and Stuck’s partner in this undertaking; The Reverend Robert G. Tatum (1891-1964), a young minister 21 years of age who was an assistant of Archdeacon Stuck; Walter Harper (1892-1918), also 21, son of famed Tanana pioneer Arthur Harper, powerful halfbreed Alaskan, who was Stuck’s interpreter and assistant; like Karstens, a powerful and competent outdoorsman. He lost his life with his wife on their honeymoon when the “Sophia” sank in Lynn Canal on October 24, 1918; Johnny and Esias, two native boys from the mission school at Nenana, only 14-15 years old, who were invaluable as assistants and dog drivers for this party. Friday, March 14: Deacon Walter & I start (No entries at all from March 14 through March 29).

Sunday, March 30: I Broke trail to lake1 & returning had lunch with Fred Heiselman.2 I

Monday, March 31: Boys Relaying to lake cabin. Stuck and I stayed with McGonigall3 on the hill

Wednesday, April 2: boys relay to lake cabin between Moose & McKinley rivers got Moccisins from Mox

Thursday, April 3: Left Eureka and camped at mouth of clear4 16 mi I went up to Lloyds5 tent to look around got old felts from Caps cabin Friday, April 4: Broke camp at mouth of clear had hard time Breaking trail up clear through the canyon many open places Made camp in last timber 7 miles from Mouth

Saturday, April 5: Boys start for cache at Mouth clear I broke trail over hill to willow camp saw Moose but was to far for shot, hill trail best still camped 7 mi up clear

Sunday, April 6: Weather clear Still at 7 mi up clear Tried new trail by river to willow camp, over hill best way had tea at cache saw first carraboo at forks tried to get at them but couldnt. plenty Moose signs above camp, boys having rest reached camp 8 P.M.

Monday, April 7: boys made 2 round trips to Willow camp over hill trail I stayed in camp to repair extra stove and cut poles Mt cloudy, first thaw of the season. Willow camp 4 mi

Wednesday, April 9: Jonny6 and I started with load for our Base camp 4 mi above Willow camp 4 mi above Willow camp saw Caraboo on hill two mi above willow camp started after them and got one camped in willows other load came up at 6:30 Weather clear

Tuesday, April 8: Boys getting wood I repaired things around camp. Thursday, April 10: Weather fine. Finely reached our Base camp at forks of Cache creek 2½ mi from Muldrow glacier pitched a good camp Boys hailing wood from clear camp Clear Beautiful day More caraboo. No time to Hunt

Friday, April 11: Weather fine. Boys hauling last freight from Willow cache to our Base camp three miles above. Stuck & I climbed to the

Glacier & brought back Lloyds Sleigh which was cached their. Sheep tracks on glacier. Rabbit on glacier

Saturday, April 12: Weather fine. Windy last night Boys & Indians hauling wood I was Repairing things around camp & Making Rook sacks. Sunday, April 13: Hozias7 got 3 carraboo

Monday, April 14: Boys made trip to summit of pass8 to Glacier,9 returning Hauled in meat

Tuesday, April 15: Hosias left for Nenana Boys Hauled willows Wednesday, April 16: Tatem10 and I broke trail up Muldro to 7000 ft level returned to camp 9 P.M. Boys brought load as far as summit of pass to Glacier & returned to Hunt caraboo got none Thursday, April 17: Boys haulled load to summit & then hauled willows I repaired creepers & made sounding pole if we go any farther up glacier will have to use rope crevases are numerous Friday, April 18: Weather fine. Windy tonight Broke Base camp on cash creek & camped at very near 8000 foot level on Muldrough glacier Boys return to cashe for second load we are now 5 mi up the glacier from where we first struck it. Continuous Ice slides from over Hang glaciers11 Boys return 8 p.m.

Saturday, April 19: 8000 feet. Weather windy. Snow storm after noon. Boys made 2 trips to Glacier pass and brought up last of suplies. Stuck Tatum and I prospected glacier, first use of rope, deacon tried lead & lost sounding pole crevases numerous some very large. Jonnie goes home tomorrow

Monday, April 21: Weather over cast Walter12 made round trip to Base camp for wood. Tatum worked on me for ingrown hair my Face in awful condition had to cut beard no more whiskers for me. I was sick in after noon Eyes hurting & stumich bad Tatum had headache also foot gear a problem

Sunday, April 20: Jonnie & Walter start for base camp. Walter returned with load we prospected glacier got over 9000 feet or about 3 mi’s glacier heavily crevased I broke through snow bridge but was yanked out several unsafe snow bridges I Broke sounding pole

Tuesday, April 22: Snow in morning & part of afternoon at noon we prospected the Glacier, Walters first experiance on rope I started over crevas snow bridge gave way but I was pulld back. Could not see bottom only went mile or so Broke another sounding pole

Wednesday, April 23: Weather cold & overcast The Deacon—Tatum— Walter & I broke trail up the glacier to over 10,000 ft around 6 p.m. Deacon got very cold also mountain cleared but we had to go back we could see ridge13 we are going to climb which takes us over Ice falls next attempt we expect to reach 11,500 ft level and establish our climbing base camp.

Thursday, April 24: Doing nothing but fixing things around camp boys hauling wood from Glacier pass to 8000 ft Camp14 Expect to start for 11500 ft level tomorrow Friday, April 25: Morning fine, afternoon Snow We reached foot of ridge 1150015 ft level no sign of Previous camp or cache, cold wind blowing down glacier I should call foot of ridge head of Muldrough Glacier Saw Ptarmigan flying up glacier a 10000 ft rabbit tracks at 8000 I should call 11500 ft level head of Muldrough Glacier it is a great basin with hanging glaciers all around and the great Ice falls comming from between the North & South Peaks of McKinley our accent was a continual round of sounding for crevasses some being covered by a light coting of snow which falls in as soon as one touches it some you can distingish from surounding snow by darker shadows and others can be told only by feeling for them, they range in with from a foot to 50 feet and Hundreds of feet in dipth the deacon is taking his siwashy16 pictures in important positions which means? I plan everything & will get the bunk

Saturday, April 26: Windy in morn Sunshine afternoon Took dog teams & Wood half way to 11500 ft level hard time getting dogs accross crevasses. Snow ball fell in one but it was shallow. Built snow bridges over a number of crevasses Rabbit track 9000 ft 6 hours round trip Sunday, April 21 : Windy in morning. Afternoon sunshine Trail in good shape snow bridges held fine round trip to cache 4 hrs. lay up afternoon church McKinley peaks absolutely clear

Monday, April 28: Squalley Made two trips to cache Half way to 11500 ft level dogs take well to snow bridges deacon on rope relieved my depression, have plenty provisions to last one month except sugar Tuesday, April 29: Boys made trip to lower base camp for mor dog feed and extras Expect to land everything a 11500 ft Camp in five days then tackle ridge Hunted for Lloyd17 cache with no success.

Wednesday, April 30: Cloudy, five of us with dogs made trip to 11500 with first load, dogs are the only means of transportation I guess Parker18 did not know how to handle dogs We take 250 lbs to three dogs & two men it is hard work but not so hard as packing.

Thursday, May 1: Snowing. Snowed all night & day 5 in trail all snowed in we moved camp to 9200 where trying to make 11500 but trail to heavy Willowing19 trail our first trip up saved us a whole lot of work and enabled us to get as far as we did. 4 days & we will have everything in big basin at 11500 ft

Friday, May 2: Made 2 round trips to 11500 ft Basin when we came in sight of cache with 2nd load we see cache was afire left loads & rushed to put it out losses—Fur Parkie20 all our new socks silk tents all sugar tea films clothes Mits underware axe & Grub, but still going on

We will have to make new Mt. tents & Patch our old socks Who would think of a fire on a glacier 11,500 feet in the air think of the months of labour getting those things up their even with the loss we are going on Saturday, May 3: very Hot21 Moved camp to 11500 ft. level built Snow house cache & snow wall around tent, three weeks Provisions & wood sugar nearly all gone others believe in feast or famine

Sunday, May 4: 26 Below last night The others make trip to our cache for last load I stayed home my face in awful condition, days very Hot & nights very cold. Walter & Johnny gone to base camp for extras Monday, May 3: Weather fine. Walter & Johnie got back 8:30 p.m. I stayed in camp fixing creepers22 & sorting over our stock, we have everything here now freighting is over the real climb starts from here Deacon & Tatum where to top of low ridge23

Larg Glacier24 on other side of ice ridge which runs parelell with Muldrow and am sure it connects with Muldrow opposit Glacier Pass25 at the head Muldrow is about 1000 feet26 above the other glacier

Tuesday, May 6: Weather fine. Walter & Johnie make trip to top of little ridge 12000 We all stayed in camp Making Tent Socks & biscuits which where burned in fire hope to tackle ridge day after tomorrow

Thursday, May 8: Walter Johnie & I try ridge we reach top after much step cutting in ice and went quite a way along it, ridge is all broken up from earthquake on July 6/1227 all the snow slopes are broken & the ridge is Honeycomed blocks of Ice with steep slopes on eather side

Wednesday, May 7: Deacon & Tatum try to find way up ridge I stayed home Doctering face & Making Mt. tent 6x7x46 in high

Friday, May 9: Johnie started for base camp with Deacon & Tatum as escort. Walter & I tried ridge again & also took can of oil up, very slow work cutting ice steps at difficult angles last years shake up has certainly ruined this ridge for good climbing.

The ridge from 11500 ft. basin to the call 12 5 0028 ft. is certainly worth mention. There is no doubt in my mind that the shake up of last year has broken up the snow slopes and left the ridge in the condition it is. great blocks of ice stand on top of ridge with shear drop on eather side other places honey comed blocks stand over one another which look as though they would tumble over by wispering at them, the slope of ridge to call is hard to describe in places it looks like hanging glaciers which are liable to break off any time, the shere walls of the north peak are covered with hanging glaciers which discharge great masses of Ice some of the discharges move the whole Muldro glacier the Ice falls between the two peaks is continualy discharging great masses of Ice which send clouds of fine ice Thousands of feet in the air

Sunday, May 11: Deacon Walter Tatum & I try ridge again and also take up pack, heavy fog & slight snow, reached slope on ridge below caul which is all shattered and a bad proposition fog & snow drive us back

Monday, May 12: The four of us start out with packs to continue up the ridge heavy snow drive us back which was a hard job. We have all our Mt. grub cached on ridge with oil for two weeks or more “O” for good weather

Saturday, May 10: Laid up Storm

Tuesday, May 13: Big snow storm No chance to go out wood getting short will not be able to tackle ridge for 2 or 3 days avalanches coming down from all sides about foot snow and still snowing

Wednesday, May 14: Laid up Storm I wonder how Johnny is alone at the base camp Pretty lonesome

Thursday, May 15: Fine day tried ridge again deep snow held us back reached foot of last slope to caul expect to reach caul tomorrow if weather holds out took couple pictures of Walter. Tatum laid up with sore tonsil

Friday, May 16: Tatum stayed home Tonsils bad Fine day sun a little to hot for the snow slopes but we took them anyway we reached a little over 2000 feet up the ridge and difficult climbing she is the caul is about 5 or 600 feet higher high wind drove us back this afternoon Ridge looks easy from distance but “O” my. I took lead in afternoon

Saturday, May 17 : oil stove got out of shape but repaired Walter & I try ridge looked to be fine morning overcast & not to hot, when we reached top of ridge we found heavy storm raging on sothern ridge and gradualy working to us. good thing we returned to camp, afternoon very stormy & fogy

Sunday, May 18: Fogy & windy with little snow falling "O” for one good day & the call will surely be ours wood very near gone, a few spoons full of sugar left

Monday, May 19: Storming this morning looks like no ridge today Tatum better wants to get out & exercise Stormed all day.

Tuesday, May 20: Weather good. Walter & I tackled ridge again 6 Hrs making cache which previous trip took 1½ Hrs made 100 yds farther than old trail. Snowing & Blowing again this evening, may have to pitch little tent on ridge which is dangerous, shoveling out steps is becoming monotonis

Wednesday, May 21: 12,000 ft. Cloudy, wind on ridge Laid up, gathering chips for wood, flock of birds on glacier yesterday one or two today. Rabbits 9000 Ptarmigan 11,000 found moss in water, brought down piece of rock 13,000 ft29 yesterday

Thursday, May 22: Laid up Tatums illness to much confinement needs more exercise

Friday, May 23: The four of us took tent & provisions half way to caul Pitched tent on snow slope 13100 ft everything ready for to move up tomorrow

Saturday, May 24: Moved up to tent on Ridge30 packing balance of outfit 13100 ft. ridge worse than ever ahead, if we can only make the snow slope ahead the caul31 looks easy, but where it breaks of it looks very difficult

Sunday, May 25: Weather good. Walter and I work up ridge over some very bad places chopping steps in Ice on steep slopes is rather trying Very slow work & requires patience, caul a little nearer tonight

Monday, May 26: Weather cloudy. Walter & Tatum tackle ridge and made a little farther hard Ice chopping on bad places. I stayed in camp not feeling well Will make caull sure tomorrow if weather Permits though some of our worst climb before us Thursday, May 27 : Fogy & windy. Walter & I made smooth snow ridge, fine going from where we left off. We have practly conquered ridge to caul though we chopped our way over & around some very dangerous places I have not slept for two nights

Wednesday, May 28: Fog & Wind. Walter & I continued up ridge and got very near the caul, heavy Wind & Fog drove us back we each had a pack & cached it at end of trail Tatum & Deacon packed a load half way to end of our trail

Thursday, May 29: Fogy in morning Fine afternoon. Walter & I reach caul & find Parkers old camp & a shovel which we needed.32 beautiful view over tops of Mts. to N.E. altitude 15,500 to 16,000 feet. Deacon & Tatum Packed a load to foot of break. Fine but steep snow slope for 1500 ft all same stair case

Friday, May 30: Fogy & snow but pushed on anyway. All of us camped at caul and all will advance ahead looks good if breath holds out not forgeting the weather yesterday Walter & I had fine view of south peak it seems to be an easy climb from 17000 ft. level least exertion causes heavy breathing

Saturday, May 31: Reumatics in Tatums Hand Windy & Fogy. Tatum & Walter started for caches below one more load to bring up. Deacon and I broke trail ahead to edge of basin33 will move camp there tomorrow big serack34 ahead which when we scale will put us in 17000 basin.35 and the last climb begins

Sunday, June 1: Evening cold Windy & Fogy Tatum & Walter packed last load from below Deacon & I advanced load 800 feet higher to edge of basin bitter cold wind & drift blowing this afternoon so did not move camp Tatum Walter & I packed second load to upper cache move camp tomorrow Weather permitting Monday, June 2: Weather good. We all moved camp up to edge of basin36 got located at noon in the afternoon Walter & I broke trail up over the 1st Serack between 16 & 17000 ft expect to move camp up tomorrow one more camp & we try for the summit

Tuesday, June 3: Windy & cold. Moved camp very near to top of 1st Serack37 making 2 trips very near 17000 ft. basin where Parker climbed from though something must have been rong to climb from there “Hurrah” everyone sees flag staf on North Peak38 Perfectly clear through glasses

Wednesday, June 4: Fine Clear Sunshinie day to hot to work.39 Walter & I broke trail to 18000 ft. Basin “O” it was torture in sun sat in shade of Ice block to cool off Deacon having hard time breathing but we will get him there somehow Tatum & Deacon took load to top of 1st serrack 17000 ft.

Thursday, June 5: Fine morning Fog & snow in afternoon. Moved camp half way up Serrack34 above 17000 ft. basin where Parker camped & moved half our outfit to 18000 ft. level will reach our last camp tomorrow if weather permits then final climb the day after, seen Parkers steps on N.E. Ridge assending from 17000 ft basin40

Can see Parker Brownie41 route up ridge very plain following their description the Granit slabs along ridge & last rock where they left thermometer Their last camp may look good to them but the next basin above looks better to me42 1000 ft. less climb at the final accent means a great deal in this changable climate if they where camped where we will make our climb from they would have made it. Good luck to us in our final attempt

Friday, June 6: Weather fine. Moved all our camp to over 18000 ft.43 level the highest camp in America a weeks grub & good bedding will try Mt. tomorrow, around 2500 feet to climb

Saturday, June 7: Cold & Clear. “Hurrah” The south summit of Mt. McKinley has been conquered. Everyone out of condition on last night & no one slept we tried from 7 to 10 but not go so we all sat arround primus stove with quilts on our backs waiting for 4 Oclock. My stumach was bad and I had one of the most severe Headaches

if it where not the final climb I should have stayed in camp but being the final climb & such a promising day I managed to pull through I put Walter in lead an kept him there all day with never a change. I took 2nd place on rope so I could direct Walter and he worked all day without a murmur

Sunday, June 8: Fine Sunnie day Packed up .& got started down a 9:30 A.M. reached 11000 tent at 9:00 p.m. pretty hard going down ridge steps blown full I led all the way Made tea & left thermometer at caull camp44

Monday, June 9: Fine day. Reached Base camp & found Johny in good shape dogs fat John killed 4 sheep & 1 carabou saved sugar butter & milk & Coffee for us. hard trip coming down deep snow 11000, crusted snow 9000 to 7000 and slush on lower glacier. Mosquitoes met us at pass lower crevases in bad shape

Tuesday, June 10: Dull but fine day laid up and washed clothes & made dog packs everything fine

Wednesday, June 11: Rainy. Reached Tent on McKinley river with everything soking wet will have to take turns keeping fire all night to dry out

Thursday, June 12: Rain in morning, started 11 A.M. reached Eureka 9 P.M. Tatum got ducked in McKinley river Hamilton fed us at Eureka like a prince

Friday, June 13: Fine day. Started at Noon reached Quigleys 5 P.M. Joe & Fanny45 got home at 9 p.m. big feed

Saturday, June 14: Fine day. Reached Glacier city 6:30 P.M. and just finished big feed lots of ice on glacier creek especially in canyons FOOD & EQUIPMENT

Listed inside the front cover of Harry Karstens’

7 c. oil

2 c. alki

100 Pemican Balls

18 pkgs. Gybeck

7 boiled ham

10 lbs. rice

4½ tea

5 lbs. candy

15 lbs. chocolate

2 B. Matches

2 Tents

30 Erbswerst

3 c. Butter

3 lbs. saucage

6 lbs. biscuits

5 pkgs. raisins





B. Powder

1 can milk


Stoves (Primus #1 )


Sewing kit


1 can alki

1 can coal oil


Geo. Hammer

1 s. Bacon

McKinley Diary 1913

7 lbs. figs

1 btl. sauce

2 c. Cocoa

6 c. Tobacco

1 fur Parkie

1 rope

5 Extract of Meat

1 Soap



M. Berometer


Fisks Discovery of America

Prescots Conquest of Mexico and Peru

1.The “lake” was later named Wonder Lake.

2. “Heiselman” was Fred Hausman, one of the Kantishna miners, working on Little Moose Creek at that time.

3. Charles McGonagall, one of the Kantishna miners after whom McGonagall Pass was named and who accompanied Anderson and Taylor almost all the way to the top of McKinley’s North Peak during the spring of 1910. He and Karstens had been early partners on the Valdez - Fairbanks mail-run by dog team.

4. The Clearwater (creek) of which Cache Creek is a fork.

5. Thomas Lloyd, the organizer of the Sourdough Party of 1910 which made the first ascent of the North Peak. Lloyd himself only reached the 11,000-foct level at the head of Muldrow Glacier. This Lloyd Base Camp tent in the lowlands near the McKinley River was also later visited by the Parker-Browne party in the spring of 1912.

6. Johnny was one of the two native boys from the school at Nenana who were invaluable assistants to this party.

7. Esias ( sp! ) was the other of the two native boys mentioned above.

8. McGonagall Pass (5,720 feet).

9. Muldrow Glacier.

10. Robert G. Tatum.

11. This refers to the great ice-slopes on Mount Carpé.

12. Walter Harper.

13.Karstens Ridge.

14.Probably on the level glacier just below the Great Icefall.

15.The level area at the head of Muldrow Glacier adjacent to the foot of Karstens Ridge. Altitude is actually 10,800 feet.


17.It was naturally futile to look for remains of a camp abandoned three years before in a spot like this where snow must fall at a rate of well over 50 feet per year.

18. Herschel C. Parker, co-leader with Belmore Browne of the 1912 attempt, which so nearly reached McKinley's summit.

19. Sticking a willow shoot about 30 inches long into the snow beside the trail to make it easier to find in time of fog or storm … or when buried in fresh snow. An old trick of the Alaskan sourdoughs, now standard practice by mountaineers and Arctic explorers the world over. Even when larger bamboo sticks and poles are used for this purpose today, they are still frequently called “willow wands”.

20. In the old days a parka was frequently called a “parkie”.

21. It is frequently incredibly hot on a windless day in the Muldrow valley even in the early spring.

22. Homemade forerunner of crampons, often baseball cleats riveted on a leather sole, strapped around the ankle and across the toes.

23. Karstens Notch (10,930 feet) at the lowest point between Mount McKinley and Mount Koven, an easy scramble up a snowbank from the level snowfields at the head of Muldrow.

24. Traleika Glacier.

25 McGonagall Pass. He was right. It does.

26. Here he was wrong. At this point the Traleika is 3,000 feet belcw the head of Muldrow. They are separated here by a very steep slope of rock and ice.

27. The great earthquake of July 6, 1912 which occurred only hours after the Parker-Browne party had left the mountain.

28. This was the broad level area on the ridge at 12,100 feet where many camps have been made since. Karstens frequently refers to a col as a “call” or “caul”. But neither this spot nor Browne Tower is a col (see note 32).

29. The first rock encountered on the ridge at the lower end of the “Coxcomb”, at 13,530 feet.

30. At 12,100 feet.

31. Browne Tower and the Coxcomb below it.

32. The Browne Tower campsite at 14,600 feet was occupied by most of the early expeditions: 1912, 1913, 1932 and 1947. It is a miserably exposed and windy spot, to be avoided if possible (it was in 1942), but it is also the only decent campsite between 12,150 and 15,000 feet. It was here that Stuck’s minimum-recording thermometer was left in a crack in a big granite boulder and recovered by the 1932 party.

33 The almost-level 15,000-foot plateau of Harper Glacier, above Browne Tower and below the first icefall.

34. The expeditions of 1912 and 1913 referred to icefalls as séracs (here misspelled). A sérac is actually a single pinnacle of ice.

35. The basin between Harper Glacier’s icefalls actually averages about 16,500 feet. It was from this level that the Parker-Browne party made its.two attempts in 1912.

36 15,000 feet.

37. Probably about 16,400 feet, at the foot of the great granite crags of the North Peak.

38. Placed there in 1910 by Anderson and Taylor.

39. It can be inconceivably hot even as high on McKinley as this. The editor has had this same experience several times himself.

40. This has been disputed but is entirely possible. Steps cut in bare windswept ice (like these) on exposed slopes can last a long time on McKinley. In 1951 the editor’s party found cram- pon-pricks and a number of willow wands from the 1947 expedition on the ridge above Denali Pass at between 18,500 and 19,500 feet!

41. Parker-Browne route.

42 Karstens was right!

43. Probably around 17,500 feet.

44. In rocks at Browne Tower (see note 32).

45.Joe and Fannie Quigley were famous residents of the Kantishna region for many years. Joe came to the North Country in 1893 via the Chilkoot Pass. He was among the earliest of the Kantishna miners (1905) and met and married Fannie there in 1906. They lived and mined there, off and on, together for many years until they separated in 1938. Fannie died in Kantishna in 1944. Joe died in Seattle in 1958

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