Monday, October 11, 2010

Amanuensis Monday: The Diary of FRANK RICARD BROWN 1887-1889 Unga Island Alaska

 About eight years ago, I received the diary of my great grandfather, FRANK RICARD BROWN from the estate of my mother's first cousin, Winifred Stetson.

When Winifred visited in 1989, and brought me the letter of MARY ETTA KENNEDY BROWN (which I wrote about in last Monday's post), she also brought FRANK's diary.  It was written in longhand in what must have been a discarded business ledger.  

In 1989 I was only able to transcribe a few pages before Winifred left for home.  But after her death, the diary was sent to me.  I transcribed it completely--the largest transcription that I have ever attempted.  

Then,  fearing that the diary might not survive well in our damp climate (it had remained in dry southern California for over 115 years), I decided to send it to the Alaska State Historical Museum in Juneau, AK on permanent loan, where it could be properly archived.  It now resides in the "Winifred Stetson collection", which I established, and is available for researchers to peruse. I scanned one page in order to have a sample of my great grandfather's handwriting.

The diary was written March 1887-May 1889, and details FRANK's journey from San Francisco California to Unga Island Alaska, where he built and managed the Apollo silver and gold mine, owned by the Alaska Commercial Company,  from 1887 until 1904.  According to the diary, his wife MARY ETTA and eldest daughter EMMA did not arrive until  Sept 1888--a year and a half after he left California. My grandmother RUBY and her sisters GLADYS and GENEVIEVE were raised on Unga Island, with frequent trips back to California via schooner, but only GENEVIEVE was born on Unga Island. EMMA died in 1895. 

The BROWN family moved back to San Francisco in 1904, but after his wife's death, FRANK continued to live at Unga,  mostly in the summers, until his own death in the 1930s.  

Most of the diary is very terse & businesslike, noting in each entry only the weather, how the mine and support buildings were progressing, and occasionally events that occurred in the village, or in the lives of his mining crew.  The most  descriptive prose in the diary is contained in the drafts of letters that he wrote when no other paper was at hand:

May 1887 to Oscar J. Shalman, Sacramento

Well old pard, after many years of silence by pen I am again opening a correspondence that I hope will not drop off as of days gone by.  When I left Sacramento I thought we were going near Sitka.  We are almost as near San Francisco as Sitka.  I sailed on the 26th of March and went directly to sea, never sighting land until the day before our arrival here.

Unga is a small place built by the Alaska Fur Company for the natives that hunt sea otter. A few white otter hunters make this their home.  

On my first day ashore I caught cold and have not-- have been more or less under the weather ever since.  Was compelled to stay in bed six days. The (lumber for the) mill is piled up on the beach and they will not build it this year in consequence.

I am mining.  We are mining a cross cut to tap the ledge about 40 feet deep and expect to strike it any day now.  The rock is very hard and it takes much hard work drilling. 

The weather at first was rather cold and snowed most every day for two weeks.  Then the wind changed to the southwest and it has rained more or less up to the last Friday when the sun shone for the first time in weeks.  The last three days were fine.  Sunday being God’s day was the most beautiful.  You cannot imagine what an appetite it gives us for more of the same thing.

The rainy season commences now, I am told, and continues all summer.  This would make a great stock country if there was a railroad.  The hills and valleys are covered with lovely bunch grass which is just beginning to show up.

All fresh water streams abound with trout of which we have our fill.  Grouse and ducks in the fall are plentiful.  Bear and deer are plentiful on the mainland.

If we don’t strike something in this cross cut I will be coming back soon.  But if we cut anything worthwhile I may stay up here a year or two under a good salary.  Well, Oscar, I hope this will find yourself and family enjoying health and prosperity.  Extend my kind regards to Hamill and Charlie O’ Dell.  Also to your wife.  

From your old friend Frank.

All photos & jpg files are copies of originals from my collection.

Have a great day!


© Betty Tartas  2010

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