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Standish O'Sullivan, in search of Arctic gold, 1941

Arctic & Northern Biographies

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (Fairbanks, Alaska) - Saturday, August 2, 1941

O'Sullivan Back from 15 Month Adventure in Arctic Seeking Gold

    Lean, tall, bronzed and hard as nails, with a spring in his step like a youngster, that belies his sixty years, Standish O'Sullivan, indomitable prospector for 45 years in every camp worth while in the North, blew into Fairbanks over the Steese highway yesterday after 15 months of hardship and adventurous quest for gold that took him on a circle of thousands of miles.

    Starting from Anchorage in May of last year, he flew to Ruby, thence to Shagluk Slough, near Holy Cross, where he prospected a while; thence on to Kotzebue and Point Hope, where he caught the mail boat for a trip around the Arctic rim to Point Barrow, where he arrived July 31.

    A few days later a gas boat landed him at Demarkation Point, where with an Eskimo, Harold Koopak, and a small and meager outfit he went up the Tunnel River prospecting, finding nothing worth while and re-outfitting ascended the Firth River, on the Canadian side, where he and the native spent the winter prospecting near where a small amount of gold had been taken out the year before.

Strenuous Winter

    During the winter, from October to the end of April, O'Sullivan and the native, working through the Arctic night, and subsisting on scant supplies, comprising only flour, rice, rolled oats, beans and what they could get. They burned down 18 holes to bedrock, through frozen muck and gravels, each averaging 15 feet, with the shallowest ten feet and the deepest 27 feet, only to be disappointed.

    "We got the outfit," said O'Sullivan, "from Morris, the trader, having posts at Point Halkett and Demarkation. And not a potato, ounce of butter, bacon or meat was in the outfit. I did not taste a potato from October till May. The winter favored us, as it was the mildest I ever saw in the North. At no time did I have to wear a parkey, and there was practically no snow and the temperatures were mild. The most of the days in mid-winter had a twilight stretch of about four hours. The country is barren of growth and unsheltered it was a problem to get enough of the scrub to keep our fires going.

    "Leaving Firth River April 29, I hiked with a native to Aklavik, arriving May 6. Finding no plane there, to my disappointment, I had to remain there about a month, or until ice broke in the slough and proceeded on to Fort MacPherson on the Peel River by gas boat."

Long Trying Trip

    June 24 O'Sullivan and Frank Smith, a husky young man, with his three dogs. all packing their limit in supplies, and blankets, started over the 80-mile portage to the headwaters of the Porcupine, en route to Fort Yukon, 230 miles from Fort MacPherson, on what proved one of the most strenuous trips on record.

    A dim trail through the tundra and heavy rains beset their way. Thirty-five miles out they left a part of their loads, and hiked through to the headwaters of the Porcupine. Standish waited there four days while Smith went back with his dogs and brought up the remainder of the outfit.

Hunger and Reverses

    Building a raft at Chute Creek, head of the Big Bell, they floated down the stream to Pierre House and then into the main Porcupine, and on down the stream. Head winds and still waters delayed them and forced them to paddle many days. Their grub ran low but while still on the Canadian side they got a moose calf and later 2 porcupine, which helped to keep them going. Finally all food was exhausted, and for three days they shoved on without a bite to eat for either man or dogs.

Good Angels

    Forty miles above Old Crow they were overtaken by Dr. and Mrs. Robert Lee of Fort Collins, Colorado, who were coming down the stream in thelr well-outfitted canoe. The Lees had come down the Mackenzie river on the first boat of the year to reach Aklavik after O'Sullivan and Smith had started over the divide.

    "The Lees were a godsend to us," said O'Sullivan. They gave us the finest breakfast I ever ate, even to bacon, coffee and oranges. Boy, was it good. And they gave us enough food to help us on to Old Crow, and then they paddled away ahead of us. At Old Crow they informed the natives, who came up river and picked us up eight miles above the village. They gave us food, and took us in their boat - dogs and all - to Old Crow, and the rest was simple. They are the most generous and kindly natives I ever met, and we will never forget their kindness, and likewise that of the Lees."

    Smith sold his dogs at Old Crow, and came on with O'Sullivan to Fort Yukon. From Fort Yukon O'Sullivan took the mail boat Kusko to Circle, and from there came over the highway to Fairbanks by motorstage. The Lees also arrived in Fairbanks yesterday. After reaching Aklavik, they engaged a plane which few them and their canoe, lashed under the plane, to a lake at the head of the Little Pelly.

    O'Sullivan and Smith were three weeks on their trying trip from MacPherson to Fort Yukon.

    O'Sullivan, true son of Erin, with a rich Celtic accent, has been in the North since 1896, where he first mined in the famous old Klondike creeks, and has stuck his pick in practically every creek in every part of the North, but this was perhaps his longest and most strenuous trip. He was a miner at the Independence mine, near Wasilla, where he started on the venture; and is now going to settle down for a winter to get himself another grubstake, hoping to get on at one of the hardrock mines near Fairbanks. Of recent years he was in the Mayo silver-lead fields. and in the Fortymile, Fairbanks and Willow areas.

Fur Center

    Speaking of Aklavik, O'Sullivan says it is a village of 60 whites, 100 natives living and trapping nearby; five stores, two hotels; four mounted police; two big missions, and ships $500,000 worth of furs, mostly musk-rats, annually, but is anything but a live town, as all fur is sold on barter to the traders, who ship it Outside.

    When he died in 1942, Standish O'Sullivan was buried at the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.