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The Disappearance of William & Ruth Albee in BC, 1930

Arctic & Northern Biographies

    While searching for information about a death in 1930, a headline in the Dawson Daily News sent me down a different trail, about a young couple on the adventure of a lifetime.

    The story begins in the newspapers following a very sad report from Vanderhoof, BC, dated June 20, 1930:

June 20, 1930

Photo of Mr. & Mrs. William H. Albee - The San Francisco Examiner, June 20, 1930


California Couple Believed Dead in Sub-Arctic; Planes Seek Traces of Them

    Vanderhoof, B.C., June 20 (I.N.S.) - Airplanes manned by Northwest Mounted Police veterans of the Arctic soared over the Dawson territory wilderness north of here in search of Mr. and Mrs. William H. Albee, of Carmel, Ca., honeymooners, who were believed to have perished in an isolated area from cold or starvation.
    Ignoring warnings from trappers, the young pair trekked out over an unexplored path northward toward Alaska where they planned to pass the summer, fall and winter before sailing next spring for Siberia.
    Incoming woodsmen said they had not seen the young geologist and his bride, who carried only light packs. Provincial officials said Mr. and Mrs. Albee almost certainly had met death.
    The lost pair left San Francisco in May, went to Vancouver by automobile and and here, where they disregarded warnings of the rigors of the Northern summer.

    Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., June 20 (I.N.S.) - Dispatches received here today from Vanderhoof, B.C., indicated that William H. Albee, 23, and his bride, Ruth, 20, had perished in the sub-Arctic wilds.

June 25, 1930 Photo of Mr. & Mrs. William H. Albee - Gettysburg Times, June 25, 1930

    Hope for the safety of William H. Albee, 23, Carmel geologist, and his 20-year-old wife, who ventured into the north Canadian wilderness several days ago, was virtually abandoned today by the Northwest mounted police, according to dispatches received here from Vancouver, B.C.
    The couple, equipped with only a small rifle, scanty provisions and a motion picture camera, left their automobile at Vancouver, made their way to Fort George, and struck out on foot into the wilds for Fairbanks, Alaska. Sergeant W. J. Service of the Fort George provincial police, declared he told them it was foolhardy and advised them, if they insisted on going, to follow the telegraph trail, which is patroled regularly. This they refused to do, he said.
    Dispatches from Vancouver quoted W. F. Manson of the department of Indian affairs there, as saying that only "extraordinary luck" would prevent them from perishing in the area through which they were traveling. The only means of rescue now, he said, would be an expensive air expedition.
    The Albees left San Francisco last month on am projected 10-year trip around the world intended to take place of a college education. They planned to travel on foot from Vancouver to Fairbanks and spend the winter there while Albee studied minor surgery and Mrs. Albee instructed the natives in hand loom weaving.
    From Alaska they proposed to go to Siberia for a two-year stay and then visit Mongolia, Russia, Scandinavian countries, Europe, Africa and South and Central America.
    Albee and his wife were married in Salinas two years ago. He worked on the construction of several buildings at Carmel while his wife taught weaving.
    Totally unversed in the lief of the North, they are attempting to conquer a land of rushing torrents and mountains and grizzly bear, a country that has cost the live sof many experienced prospectors, trappers and even mounted police.
    Sergeant Service and Sheriff E. S. Peters, of Prince George, could predict nothing but death for the adventurers.

June 26, 1930

Photo of Mr. & Mrs. William H. Albee - Dubuque Telegraph Herald And Times Journal, June 26, 1930, p 4
Dubuque Telegraph Herald And Times Journal, June 26, 1930, p 4

June 27, 1930

Photo of Mr. & Mrs. William H. Albee - Berkeley Daily Gazette, June 27, 1930, p 24
Berkeley Daily Gazette, June 27, 1930, p 24

    On the same day as the above article, though, reports were being published in many newspapers that the couple had been found and were continuing their hike northward. The following one from the Atchison Daily Globe (Atchison, Kansas) of June 27 is typical:

(By The Associated Press)
    Prince George, B.C., June 27 - Unmindful of the pleadings of trappers to forsake their wild adventure into the dangerous northland, William H. Albee and his bride of Carmel, Calif., were tramping onward today about 500 miles north of here, intent upon reaching Dawson, Yukon territory.
    Yesterday, for the first time since early this month, when they left civilization and plunged into the little known reaches of northern British Columbia, word came from the adventurous couple. Trappers arriving here said that they had seen the Albees, and that they had ignored their pleas to turn backward.
    On their projected hike around the world, the Albees were carrying only the barest necessities, including a .22 calibre rifle, with which Albee hoped to meet every demand of their perilous journey.
    The trappers predicted the Albees would perish unless they gave up their mad idea of invading a territory where only the most experienced of hunters and trappers survive.

August 15, 1930

October 2, 1930

(By The Associated Press)

    Glendale, Cal., Oct. 2 - A three months silence since a daring couple plunged into the trackless wilderness of northern British Columbia, bound for Alaska on foot, was broken today by word from William Albee to his parents here, telling of the successful adventure of the young man and his wife.
    A short letter scribbled on a sheet of ledger paper and borne in a brown, weather-beaten envelope, was delivered to the home of Mr. and Mrs. E. P. Albee, and recounted a valiant struggle against a series of hardships. The letter was mailed September 17 from Telegraph Creek, British Columbia.
    The missive brought joy to the parents, whose anxiety had been aroused with the passing of weeks without receipt of word and the prediction of veteran foresters, the adventurers had played a lone gamble with death.
Defy Warning
    Leaving Fort George, British Columbia, in the middle of June, Albee, 24 years old, and his wife, 22, cut a path toward Liard Post, far to the north. Trappers had warned them they faced great danger in attempting to cross one of the least known sections of North America with virtually no trails through the dense forests and rugged mountains.
    Albee carried an 82-pound pack, and his wife a 52-pound pack and a dog was strapped with 30 pounds. They hoped to make Liard Pst in four weeks. "Instead," Albee wrote, "it took none weeks." Five weeks out of Fort George, their provisions gave out. "We lived the remainder of the journey on moose meat - three times a day," he added.
    Albee said what maps they had apparently were in error for they never found any landmarks. At one point they spent a week building a raft to float down a river. They finally reached Telegraph Creek.
    Albee wrote the most dangerous part of their journey was over and on September 18 they began a 250-mile hike to Atlin lake from where they would strike out for Dawson. There they will spend the winter.
    The young man's parents said the couple probably will cross Alaska next summer and they might plan to continue their adventure across the Bering starit to Siberia and around the world.

    In 1937, Ruth and Bill Albee, with assistance from Lyman Anson, wrote a book about their adventures in the North. "Alaska Challenge" They finally found a publisher, Dodd, Mead & Company of New York, and the 366-page book was released in March 1940, at a cost of $3.00. By July 1944, the book was up to its 6th printing. The following review from The Cincinnati Enquirer of May 11, 1940, is typical of the many that were written. The book can be read online (but not downloaded) here, and several copies are available at ABEBooks.

    Here is an account of a trip through trailless British Columbia, from Seattle to Alaska. Like many another young couple, Bill and Ruth Albee found making a livelihood most difficult during the depression. But they were stirred by a love of adventure and they shared two theories: One that men everywhere, primitive as well as civilized, were friendly - just folks; and second, that wild animals, unless attacked, were not dangerous. So, in 1930, after two years of marriage, they pooled their slender resources, took a belated honeymoon, and despite opposition of relatives, friends, and British Columbia officials, started out on a walking trip through the mapless, trackless, uninhabited Canadian Northwest.
    The story of those 10 weeks - the first 10 weeks - is epic. How they battled through the wilderness, how they ate all their supplies before they attempted to live off the game abounding around them, how they lived entirely on moose meat for five weeks, and at last won through to Dawson City is a record of courage and fortitude. In Dawson they passed a winter earning enough money to go on to Nome, where they settled to await the birth of their first child.
    The second half of their story is not so stark, for it tells of their year in the Eskimo settlement of Wales on the Bering Straits. Here they were school teachers, postmaster, doctor, and general guide to the childlike natives. Their problems and difficulties were both serious and amusing. Here without benefit of physician or hospital, with just a visiting white nurse and a skillful Indian midwife, their second child was born.
    Throughout the whole narrative, the narrator's personalities are shyly revealed. They are much more interested in trappers and hunters, in Indians and Eskimos that they are in themselves. The rapid pace at which they write carried e along on a mounting curve of interest and excitement. Those who read and enjoyed Mrs. Pinkerton's "Wilderness Wife" will find that this one equals it, and sometimes tops it - M. H. M.

    In 1940, the National Geographic Society sponsored the Albee family for a return trip to the north. The story of that trek was published in the May 1942 issue of National Geographic.

    On February 17, 1940, the Minneapolis Morning Tribune published a full-page article about the Albees, written by Ira Wolfert. The article can be read here.

    On June 16, 1940, the Oakland Tribune also published a full-page article about them, written by Carol Bird. That article can be read here.

    For a few years starting 1941, Ruth Albee travelled across North America with a colour film about the 1940 trek, entitled "Family Afoot in the Yukon Wilds." I've come across dozens of promotional pieces about upcoming lectures, from Berkeley, California, to Rochester, New York.

    On March 18, 2011, the Yukon News even published a piece about the Albees, because of their meeting with Liard Tom and his family near Lower Post. It provides an interesting contrast to Ruth Albee's assertion in "Alaska Challenge" that the B.C. Provincial Police Sergeant in Prince George had warned them about the dangers of wolves, grizzlies, and "those murderous Indians in the Liard district".

Here are the basics that I have found about William and Ruth on Ancestry.

  • William Hamilton Albee
    Born June 4, 1906, in Peoria, Illinois.
    Died December 28, 2009, in Walnut Creek, Contra Costa, California.

  • Ruth Estelle Albee
    Born Ruth Estelle Sutton on June 26, 1909, in Farmington, Fulton, Illinois.
    Died January 4, 2005, in Copperopolis, Calaveras, California.

  • In 1928, Ruth and William were married in Salinas, California.
    A son, William "Bill" (or "Skooker") Hamilton Albee, was born on May 1, 1932, in Fairbanks, Alaska.
    A daughter, Jo-Evelyn, was born in Wales, Alaska, in the spring of 1935.

  • William and Ruth divorced at some point. On May 12, 1962, William married Bernice Curtis in Contra Costa, California. Bernice died on August 2, 1984, in Sonoma, California.

  • On August 30, 1991, William married Frances Angeline Doan in Douglas, Nevada. Frances Angeline Doan died on June 12, 2006, in Walnut Creek, Contra Costa, California.

  • William and Ruth's son William "Bill" Hamilton Albee died on June 16, 2009, in Copperopolis, Calaveras, California.

    I have not yet found burial locations for either William or Ruth Albee.