Alaska Historical Library, Juneau, has kindly allowed
us to disseminate this document from their archives. It is found in the
Wickersham Historic Collection
from Dr. Grafton Burke of Fort Yukon, Alaska, to John Wilson Wood, Executive
Secretary of the Department of Missions, the Protestant Episcopal Church.
is a sad privilege to share this letter from Dr. Grafton Burke with the friends
of Archdeacon Stuck who desire to know the details of those last days at Fort
Yukon. Dr. Burke's letter is dated
October 27, 1920 and left Fort Yukn on November 2nd with the first winter mail.
weeks have passed in silent stupifying sorrow in this household since our
Archdeacon was called, and it seems only now possible to enter his room, sit at
his desk, look at his books, write on his stationery, and remain strong --
strong enough to keep back the tears and pursue the work and discharge the
duties on behalf of missionary medicine for which Archdeacon Stuck exhibited
such energy and wielded such influence.
had been two weeks up the Yukon, some hundred odd miles, for our winter's meat,
at the Archdeacon's persistent instructions, as health in Fort Yukn was better
than it had ever been and only four convalescing children needing a nurses' care
remained in the hospital, when a telegram from Mrs. Burke to Circle, and thence
by launch, brought me home in a hurry. It
seems that shortly after my departure the Archdeacon caught a cold while
conducting service in a chilly church, and that bronchitis developed, followed
by excruciating pain in the right shoulder which had hitherto given no trouble.
Then Mrs. White (formerly Miss Woods) suddenly succumbed to pneumonia,
and a native had died, and the hospital had filled to capacity with women and
I walked to the Archdeacon's bedside after my short absence, I was shocked by
the pale and drawn face, with expressionless eyes, so unnatural that they
suggested only a hazy intellect. He spoke to me as if he were dreaming, Well, Hap, thought you
were not coming back. Then, putting
my hand on the affected arm which was above his head on the pillow, I leaned
over and kissed him on the f orehead, expressing my surprise and anxiety at
finding him in this condition. He
talked then but not naturally, saying he had suffered dreadfully. He seemed greatly depressed on informing me that he was no
longer able to read. Then he spoke
of Mrs. White's death in rather a morose style, so foreign to his nature.
He asked that we have prayers, and as he lay he said a prayer followed by
responses, afrter which I led in the Lord's Prayer.
found poor Clara (Mrs. Burke) had been up nights with him and that she had been
nobly assisted by the school teachers Miss Dalziel and Miss Callahan in never
leaving the Archdeacon along. He
would get out of bed to walk whenever the arm pained, and he walked as one with
locomotor ataxia. He had broken the
glass of two bookcases against which he leaned, and he had to be supported every
time he moved. Miss Gunz had also
been great in her attention to the Archdeacon, coming daily from the many
irksome duties of the hospital, to bathe him and make him generally comfortable,
and the Archdeacon praised her without restrictions.
next morning while the Archdeacon was resting quietly and was rational and I was
by his side, he said, Hap, I want you to help me make plans.
It is not right that I be sick around you and Clara and be a burden, and
again he lamented the fact that he could no longer read.
had better take the last boat out, he said, and don't you think the hospital
cannont get on without me. Of
course I replied that he was in too much pain to think of travelling, and that
as we treated the shoulder and relieved the pain we could see about taking the
boat after it came in sight, for it was not due for a week.
Then in a reconciled tone he said, Well, Hap, I am glad then, if I am
going to be sick, that I am to be sick around you and Clara.
And the slush ice then running in the Yukon grew thicker hourly, and the
ice along the water's edge broadened , and the Yukon groaned night and day until
all navigation was at an end and there were no more boats.
the conversation, I remarked what a joy it was for me to stay with him
constantly and do all of his reading for him if necessary, or anything else, and
be his eyes, and that if he were to be old and blind I could make him very happy
with my service wherever he went. When
I suggested reading to him he said, Get Wrangell's Siberia and Polar Sea.
I picked up the narrative where he left off within a few pages of the
end, where Wrangell in 1820 with M. Von Matiuschkin and eighty dogs were on the
Siberian Arctic coast not far westward of the Lena River.
Perhaps for twenty minutes I read with him quite attentive, when he asked
me to get the map and find the Bartanoff rocks, which he saw with difficulty.
He lay back and I continued the text, referring to Matiuschkin's
disappointment and his retracing his trail, but I had not read far when the
Archdeacon startled me by his remark, Yes, I met him. Whom did you meet? I
inquired. Matiuschkin, he
responded, Ò right there I met him on the trail.
So it was until the semi-comatose condition followed in a few days, when
frantically I wired you.
next day, in the evening, he had a rational period, when the kindly and
thoughtful Indians, Jonas the second chief and David Wallis, called.
The Archdeacon asked us to have prayers with him. He prayed, though it
was only a few words we could understand, not that his voice was weak but that
the words were indistinct as if uttered with a paralyzed tongue.
His cough hadf now become very harassing and weakening, and the mucous he
was utterly unable to raise, so ropy and agglutinous that medicated vapours were
used to assist in clearing the bronchi. On
one occasion a coughing spell was so prolonged and violent that he became blue
in the face and we rolled him on the side and lowered his head from the bed and
with a gauzed finger I brought from his throat plugs of stringy mucous in
quantity. With the bronchial
complication his respiration became more and more troublesome, and it seemed
several times he would die any moment of asphyxiation.
His temperature was high, ranging between 103 and 105, and on the day of
his death it was 107 lacking a fifth.
forgot to tell you of something else the Archdeacon said when Jonas and I were
by him. I think Clara also was in
the room. It was just after a prayer and my mouth was very close to the
Archdeacon's ear, and I was stroking his forehead, when I said, Archdeacon, do
you know Hap loves you and loves you, and for the first time I could feel tears
in my eyes. Without moving or
opening his eyes he said, ÒI am glad, glad, Hap, you love me - I am poor on
love. Then I asked, Archdeacon,
have you any pain in your brain or spinal cord? He responded, It is very
serious, Hap. After a short interval he resumed, If it is God's will that I go,
then I am ready to go; I think my usefulness is served - my work is done.
Archdeacon had discussed all matters in case of death, more perhaps in detail
with Clara than with me. He knew
how depressing to me was the thought of his death.
He expressed the desire to be buried in tghe native graveyard back of the
died at four in the afternoon on the 11th October, one month before his
fifty-eighth birthday. Mr. White
made a nice coffin and lined it with silk.
He was buried in his vestments. On
the following day with every native and white here in our little church the bell
was tolled at four o'clock. The sky
was dark with snow clouds, athe atmosphere hazy; there was light fall of snow
and the Yukon was groaning and grinding the slush ice.
I conducted the burial service. My
tears were beyond control. But my
voice kept up, except for intervals when my throat became tight.
One English hymn was sung, then one in the native. At the proper time I
announced that the Native Council would bear on their shoulders the body to the
last resting place, and I preceded in my vestments, the entire congregation
natives had swept clean a ten-foot trail through the snow from the church across
the woods to the grave. The ladies made two beautiful spruce wreathes, and Clara
made a pretty cross of red geranium blossoms which happened this summer to grow
in profusion in the house. Yesterday,
when I was at the grave, these flowers, though frozen stiff, were bright and
home is full of memories of him; he has filled it with pictures and paintings
and what adornment the church has is the result of his effort.
He brought the hospital this last time on returning from the outside,
three beautiful pictures; two Del Sarto's Madonna and Child and Two Angels, the
Raphael's Madonna of the Trees.
strange it seems to be in his room alone. Here
comes the old cat rubbing himself against the Morris chair in which the
Archdeacon sat while writing his five books, looking for the petting and
attention he has received at the Archdeacon's hands for so many years; there on
the desk is the file of hundreds of his interesting films, next to it a
statuettte of a biship in robes and mitre;
over the back of the chair in which I sit is a beaded hindsack with the
word Haero (I stick) which he has carried thousands of miles on his sled
containing dry footwear and a thermometer.
On yon bookcase is an old dog collar conspicuous for its adornment of
brass with the following inscription:
1904 LINGO 1910
The property of
Euge serve bene and fidelis
the wall above is a fine picture of King Charles the First, of whom I never
remember him being without a picture; in the corner is a great accumulation of
mountain-climbing equipment, ice axes, barometers, a boiling-point thermometer,
etc. and two handsome cases of instruments, a sextant awarded him by the Royal
Geographical Society. The walls are
so lined with books that in fact the pictures want space.
this isolated life of the north, the loss of one with whom you have been in
almost constant companionship for over twenty-six years, is profoundly
sorrowful. He was such a champion
for this work - for the mission of the North - for righteousness.
My medical work is due entirely to him; he was the very stimulus in every
one of my cases. He visited systematically and regularly the sick in the
hospital and the village, and the children swarmed around him for play and the
sugared almonds he carried with him. I often find myself expecting to see him
any moment; I hear him talking. He
presented me for confirmation; he educated me and married me to my wife, who
loves him as I. What can I do for
day after the funeral the natives held a meeting at which they selected one of
their number to read the native service which the Archdeacon did so well, and to
assist me in carrying on the work he had planned to do here.
This spirit appreciative of his great labors deeply touched me.
At the same meeting the men made plans for a memorial, and the women
decided to make as theirs a set of green beaded altar hangings.
the smallest child here speaks of him almost daily. One little fellow said
yesterday when he refused to come in the house, ÒI lost my partner - I don't
have anybody tell me open my mouth for piece of candy and play with me,
- I don't like mission now
because no more Archdeacon! He will
be mourned by the natives all over Alaska, for they loved him dearly, and they
were always looking forward to his visits.
November 12th, Dr. Burke telegraphed that on November 11th, being Archdeacon
Stuck's birthday, the white residents of Fort Yukon, eighteen or twenty in
number, had met and subscribed $1,600 towards a memorial fund.
Bishop Rowe and other friends have also urged that the Archdeacond's life
and work should be worthily commemorated.
December 14th the Department of Missions voted unanimously in favor of a plan to
establish The Hudson Stuck Memorial Fund of not less than $25,000.
The income of the Fund will be used for the support of the St. Stephen's
Hospital, Fort Yukon. Every friend
of the Archdeacon knows that no other work in Alaska was qauite so near his
I have kept the exact spelling and punctuation of the original typed letter.