SITKA, ALASKA TERRITORY, Saturday, June 13, 1891
MELANCHOLY DISASTER AT ICY BAY. - SIX LIVES LOST.
The coming of the Revenue Cutter Bear from Seattle and Port Townsend on her
annual cruise to Bering Sea had been looked forward to with happy anticipations by many of our
people. It was little imagined when she was sighted in the offing on Tuesday evening how pathetic
and dramatic a story of the sea she was bringing to Sitka, and how precious and sad a burden she
bore into this little haven. The Bear left Port Townsend on May 30th, having on board, in
addition to her regular complement of officers and crew, Rev. Sheldon Jackson, Judge and Mrs.
Louis H. Tarpley, and the exploring party in charge of Prof. I. C. Russell. Capt. Healy had
instructions from the Secretary of the Treasury to land the Russell party at Icy Bay, about 40
miles west from Yakutat. The cutter arrived at Yakutat Bay on Thursday, June 4th, and on the
following day landed part of Prof. Russell's stores to be cached at the head of Disenchantment
Bay in anticipation of his return there in August next. Thence the Bear proceeded to Icy Bay
where she arrived on Saturday morning at 10 o'clock. Preparations were immediately made to land
the explorers and their stores, the surf looking from where the ship rode at anchor as if a
landing could be easily effected. The first boat to leave the vessel was in charge of Lieut. D.
H. Jarvis; it was lightly loaded. This boat took the lead and met with no serious difficulty with
the exception of being swamped near the beach and filling with water. But there appeared to be
no danger and the men and stores were safely landed. The second boat was in command of Lieut. L.
L. Robinson and contained W. C. Moore, of Prof. Russell's party, Boat-Coxswain J. Haasler,
Seaman A. Nelson, T. O. Anderson, and H. Smith. This boat capsized outside the surf line about
50 yards from shore in deep water, too far away to enable the party already landed to render any
assistance to the struggling men, who for some unexplained reason had let go their hold on the
boat and were making vain attempts to swim shoreward. Only one man (J. Wright) was saved, he
coming to the beach clinging to a bag of flour against which the incoming surf beat and drove
before it with the clinging sailor. This man had swallowed a great quantity of salt water and
was brought back to his normal condition with much difficulty. Diligent search was made by
Lieut. Jarvis for such bodies as might drift in, but there were only two recovered; one being
the corpse of the seaman (Anderson) badly mutilated, and the other that of Lieut. Robinson. How
and why this second boat upset is one of those peculiar mysteries of the sea which is
inexplicable. It can only be accounted for by the hypothesis of some counter currents meeting
immediately in the boat's course, or of some wild charge of the ocean's cavalry unlooked for and
impossible to avert. Lieut. Jarvis remained on the beach until the next day when Anderson's body
was buried in the sand, and that of Lieut. Robinson was returned to the cutter. Six additional
landings were safely made subsequent to the disaster, and Prof. Russell, his party, their stores
and instruments, were successfully put on shore. The Professor promised to have the beach in the
vicinity carefully watched, and if other bodies drifted in to see that they were properly
interred. The antecedents of the seamen, with the exception of Coxswain Haasler, are unknown;
they all are believed to have been unmarried. The coxswain had been for many years with Capt.
Healy in the cutters Corwin, Rush, and Bear. He was an excellent man, frugal, of good habits,
and a credit to the Revenue Marine.
The dangers of landing in Icy Bay have been well known for many years to those
familiar with the coast. The water thereabouts is shallow, produced by silt and washings from
the numerous glaciers which make their deposits in the sea at this point and cause considerable
discoloration. The bay opens directly on the boundless expanse of the Pacific whose swell on the
calmest of days breaks in thunderous surges upon this inhospitable coast. The landing was made
at Icy Bay in accord with Prof. Russell's express request because it saved his exploring party
30 miles of difficult travelling over the ice-fields. Capt. Healy, the commander of the Bear, a
sturdy and gallant seaman, whose record on the waters of the Northern Ocean is unexcelled, feels
this loss very keenly, occurring as it did, at almost the outset of his summer cruise, and in
such an untoward and unlooked for manner it is peculiarly hard to bear.
Lieut. Robinson's body was embalmed, and coffined, and brought on the cutter
to Sitka for burial. He was from Kansas; about 30 years old; had been in the service for five
years. He arrived on this coast last year assigned to the cutter Corwin and was with that vessel
when she took Prof. Russell's party back to civilization in the fall. During the past winter he
served on board the Wolcott stationed on Puget Sound. He had been married for five years and
leaves a widow who bade him good-bye at Port Townsend when the Bear started north.
The funeral took place here on Wednesday last. The body of the Lieutenant was
brought from the cutter to the government wharf by one of the ship's boats. It was attended by
Commander Healy, his officers and so many of the crew as could be spared from their duties on
board; and was met at the float by the Mission Band, a detachment of the Marine Guard and
several of the civil officials. These acted as an escort to the Executive offices where simple
but impressive funeral ceremonies were held, Rev. Sheldon Jackson and Rev. Alonzo E. Austin of
the Presbyterian Missions officiating. The spacious apartments were quite filled with the civil
officials, their families, and many of our citizens. The coffin was draped with the national
ensign and covered with wreaths of evergreens and bouquets of flowers. These tributes were
silent but eloquent witnesses attesting that even at the ends of the earth -
"The wide world is knit with ties
The quartet composed of Mesdames Robert C. Rogers, E. P. Stone, Capt. F. H. Harrington, and Dr.
S. J. Call of the Bear, rendered exquisitely those familiar hymns "Nearer my God to Thee," and
"Jesus, Lover of my Soul." The pathos, the intensity, the beauty, of the words and melody were
very truly interpreted. Mrs. Rogers sang in solo a portion of the oratorio from Mendelssohn's
"Elijah," and as her charming voice rang sweet and clear, awakening responsive echoes in
sympathetic hearts, let us hope that the pulseless sleeper heard in the rainbow-spanned realms,
whither he had gone, with spiritual ears already atuned to the divine melodies of "the choir
invisible," this tender tribute, this silver-toned coronach, sung for him by a stranger in a
strange and distant country. If aught can assuage the grief of the living it is the blessed
assurance that their beloved dead are kindly cared for in this far off land. No love one's
gentle farewell kiss may fall in gentle benediction upon cheek or brow; no plaint of personal
loss sounds its sad wail, nor adds the quivering cadence of dear home voices to the
sorrow-laden air, but always will the dying and the dead find here the gentle ministry of
woman's hands and an earnest expression of manly sympathy; music and flowers and softly
murmured words of prayer for those who are at rest, and faith and hope and the benison of memory
for the living. Who can say that the music is not heard in Paradise and that the flowers,
although neither beautiful nor fragrant, do not blossom anew with an added glory in the gardens
of God? Not, indeed, that our people give very much, but because it is the very best they have,
and that through all their ministrations runs a vein of gold unalloyed by aught of worldly dross.
Sincerely, heartily, ungrudgingly, they perform the last rites above those mortal relics of
humanity which the great sea brings to the thresholds of their homes.
Of common brotherhood in pain."
"We have no high cathedral for their rest
Dim with proud banners and the dust of years; -
All we can give them is Alaska's breast
To lay their heads on, and their country's tears."
And so the mortal part of Lieut. Robinson was carried out in the June sunshine,
and placed under the sod in our little military and naval cemetery with all the observances
due to those who die serving their country on land or sea. We cannot hope to comfort those to
whom he was bound by ties of love and kinship, but we feel that it would be some compensation
for them to know that his grave will not be neglected or forgotten, and that as the seasons
pass, if his rest here be undisturbed, gentle hands will place upon the mound beneath which he
sleeps votive offerings of spring and summer greenery in the name of those whose arms and hearts
perchance are empty because he returns no more.
The Alaskan, published weekly at this time (1891), was owned by Maurice E. Kenealy.
Will Craddick Moore, drowned in this accident, was honored by Professor Russell, who named a nunatak in the Agassiz Glacier after him.
Israel C. Russell in Alaska