Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Alaska and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service 1867-1915

Academic journal article Naval War College Review

Alaska and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service 1867-1915

Article excerpt

Strobridge, Truman R., and Dennis L. Noble. Alaska and the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service 1867-1915. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1999. 223pp. $34.95

Heretofore, little has been written about the activity of the United States in governing the new Alaska territory soon after its acquisition. Furthermore, there is scant material on the governmental thread that kept this vast territory bound together and intact through the second half of the eighteen hundreds. Archives hold much of this history, and that is where the two authors of this book went to compile their intriguing tale of a little-known service executing an enormous responsibility, most of ten as the sole representative of any branch of the U.S. government.

The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service (USRCS) arrived in the Bering Sea soon after the purchase of Alaska in 1867. For the next forty-eight years, until the service was incorporated into the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915, this small group of men in wooden ships (sail and steam powered) became the foundation for the Alaskan government. This unique maritime agency established the sovereignty that ultimately produced the state that exists today.

The cuttermen explored vast unknown areas in their multimission role. They provided humanitarian relief following natural disasters, brought medical care to isolated areas, fed starving North American natives, rescued shipwrecked sailors, protected wildlife, charted territories that led to discovering isolated tribes in the wilderness, and brought law to hostile surroundings. By their presence these small crews created a veneer of civilization in the rough frontier and the isolated settlements. So sensible were some of their actions that many of their solutions to problems became the laws of the new state a hundred years later.

Maritime historians Truman Strobridge and Dennis Noble chronicle events from widely scattered records in the service's colorful history. Their story, filled with episodes of high drama as well as events of historical significance, includes a number of notable figures. One is Captain Michael A. "Hell-Roaring Mike" Healy, a black revenue-cutter captain who became a legend of the Alaskan frontier, memorialized in James Michener's novel Alaska. …

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