Alaska’s Ghost Ship Baychimo
UNKNOWN - Eighty-one years after her crew abandoned the Baychimo her whereabouts today remain a mystery.
The 1,322 ton cargo ship was used by the Hudson Bay Company to trade provisions for valuable pelts in Inuit settlements along the Victoria Island coast of Canada’s Northwest Territories.
The ship was acquired by the Hudson Bay Company in 1921 and was based in Ardrossan, Scotland. It completed nine successful voyages along Canada’s north coast, visiting trading posts and collecting pelts.
At the end of the trading run, and loaded with a cargo of furs, the Baychimo became trapped in an ice pack on October 1, 1931.
The crew abandoned ship and walked over ice nearly a mile to the town of Barrow where they took shelter for two days.
Returning to the site where they’d abandoned the vessel, the crew discovered she’d broken free of the ice.
The Baychimo became mired down again on October 8th, more severely than the first time.
On October 15th, the Hudson Bay Company sent aircraft to retrieve 22 of the crew; 15 others remained with the ship intending to wait it out all winter if necessary.
The crew of 15 constructed a wooden shelter nearby, but on November 24 a blizzard struck and after it had passed the Baychimo was nowhere to be found.
The captain assumed the vessel had broken up in the blizzard and was now on the ocean floor.
A few days later, an Inuit seal hunter informed them he’d spied the Baychimo about 45 miles (72km) from their present position.
The 15 crewmembers packed up and started tracking the ship down for a second time.
The crew did recover the vessel and decided it was unlikely she’d survive the winter.
They began removing only prized furs from the hold to be flown back to the Hudson Bay Company; with what they could carry the crew hiked out and the Baychimo was abandoned.
But the ship survived the winter and over the next several decades numerous sightings of the ghost ship were reported; several times she was even boarded.
But each time those who went onboard found themselves being forced to withdraw, in most cases because they were not equipped to salvage her, or storms moved in and many men are said to have barely escaped with their lives.
The next sighting came months later when the Baychimo was spotted about 300 miles (480km) to the east. Leslie Melvin was the next man to find the ghost ship floating quietly near the shore. He was traveling with his dog sled team to Nome.
The sighting occurred in March 1932. In the spring that year she was sighted by a group of prospectors.
It was March 1933 when a group of Eskimos boarded her, but a freak storm hit leaving the Eskimos trapped onboard for 10 days.
In August 1933, the Hudson Bay Company received a report that the Baychimo had again been spotted afloat, but was too far out at sea to recover.
In July 1934, she was boarded by a party of explorers on a schooner.
September 1935 it was sighted off the Alaskan coast.
On November 1939, Captain Hugh Polson boarder her, intending to salvage the ship, but creeping ice flows forced the captain to abandon her.
After 1939, the Baychimo was spotted several times, but every time she vanished before she could be taken. In fact the ship would not be spotted again for another 23 years.
It was March 1962 when a party of Inuit sighted the ghost ship along the Beaufort Sea coastline.
The last reported sighting of the Baychimo came in 1969 when she was found frozen in an ice pack.
Again she vanished and today her whereabouts remain unknown.
The prized furs were salvaged by the 15 crewmen who abandoned ship in 1931, but the remaining cargo of highly valued furs is still in her hold.
In 2006, the State of Alaska began work on a plan to locate the Baychimo, whether still afloat or on the ocean floor. Known as “the ghost ship of the Arctic,” her exact position still remains a mystery.
The Lost Mine of the
Frenchman of Howkan
ALEXANDER ARCHIPELAGO - This old legend had been passed down perhaps for generations before someone put it to script.
The story goes that, in the early part of the 1880’s, a Frenchman arrived in Howkan to purchase provisions.
No one knew him, but for two reasons he stood out - first he was white, which was enough to excite the island natives, and second he paid for his purchases in pure gold, rarely seen in this remote Haida Indian village once located on Long Island.
Howkan was an important village on Long Island, one of many small islands that make up the west coast of Prince of Wales Island.
The village is believed to have had a population of around 100 and was the site of a Presbyterian mission founded in 1881.
Today Howkan is a ghost town and the 2000 US Census shows a population of zero.
The Frenchman was quickly forgotten after his first visit to Howkan, but over the next several years the Frenchman returned to Howkan to purchase provisions and always paid in gold. This got the attention of several of the locals.
The trading post changed hands and the store’s new owner listened intently to the stories of this mysterious French prospector.
Then one day the Frenchman stopped in for supplies and met the new owner who tried to get him to talk about his good fortune and his gold strike.
The cheerful Frenchman dodged his questions and never revealed a thing.
The owner of the trading post paid some Indians to follow the Frenchman to his gold strike, but the prospector always gave them the slip once he got into the maze of small islands and reefs around Dall Island.
Twice a year a steamer carrying freight, supplies and goods stopped at Howkan.
On one such trip during the fall, the Frenchman appeared in Howkan and said goodbye to acquaintances and boarded the steamer bound for Victoria, British Columbia, and was never seen again.
The legend of the Frenchman’s lost bonanza was born.
Again the trading post’s owner hired Indians to scout around for a campsite or other evidence of where the Frenchman was mining.
One Indian returned one day with an old rocker used in placer mining.
The rocker was found on the north side of the entrance to Datzkoo Harbor on Dall Island.
The storekeeper paid Indians to take him to where the rocker had been found, but when they arrived in the vicinity the Indian could not relocate exactly where he’d found it.
Disappointed, the storekeeper did some placer mining of creeks in the immediate area.
He did find color, but not enough to matter.
A mining boom in the area around 1900 had many men out searching for the Frenchman’s gold, but again no rich strike was found.
It has been documented that the storekeeper believed the Frenchman’s strike was on Dall Island at its southern tip at the Dixon Entrance.
Later, active prospects were worked at Datzkoo Harbor, but no sufficient quantities of gold were ever found. Between 1915 and 1917 the residents at Howkan were relocated to Hydaburg.
Parts of this region remain accessible only by boat or aircraft today, and locals continue to search for the Frenchman’s lost bonanza.
Alaska’s Lost Military Sites
Fort Batzulnetas (Russian) This was a Russian fortified trading post about 10 miles up the Copper River from Slana.
Year established - unknown.
The garrison stationed here was massacred by Indians in 1848.
An American military expedition located the ruins of the fort in 1885.
Fort Hamlin (American) Established in 1899 as an Alaska Commercial Company trading post on the south or east bank of the Yukon River, near the mouth of Hamlin Creek, about 10 miles below the mouth of the Dall River and SSW of Stevens Village.
Fort Adams / Nukluroyit Station (American) Fort Adams and Nukluroyit Station are possibly the same site; both were established in 1868 near Tanana.
Fort Adams was a fortified American trading post said to have been located at the mouth of the Tozi River on the Yukon River.
Nukluroyit Station was an American Trading Post built by the Pioneer Company on the Yukon River 12 miles below the confluence of the Tanana River, possibly on Station Island.
Aldridge, Jim, “Missing Furs,” October 1973, True Treasure magazine p. 66
Wikipedia research: Baychimo
Roppel, Patricia,” Lost Mine in Alaska,” April 1970, True Treasure, p. 33
Wikipedia research on Dall and Long Islands, Alaska
North American Forts, Alaska, http://www.northamericanforts.com/West/ak.html