HUDSON STUCK'S DEATH

The Alaska Historical Library, Juneau, has kindly allowed  us to disseminate this document from their archives. It is found in the Wickersham Historic Collection

(Ms. 107)

Box 73

Flder 3

 

Letter from Dr. Grafton Burke of Fort Yukon, Alaska, to John Wilson Wood, Executive Secretary of the Department of Missions, the Protestant Episcopal Church.

Dr Wood wrote:

            It 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.

                                                                                    John W. Wood

           

            Two 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.

 

            I 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 children.

           

            When 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.

            I 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.

            The 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.

 

            I 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.

 

            Continuing 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, 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.

 

            The 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.

 

            I 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, I 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.

 

            The 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 church.

            He 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 following.

            The 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 natural.

                                                                        -------------

            Our 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.

            How 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

                                                Archdeacon Stuck

                                      Euge serve bene and fidelis

                                                   10,000 miles

            On 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.

            In 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 him?

            The 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.  

            Even the smallest child here speaks of him almost daily. One little fellow said yesterday when he refused to come in the house, I 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.

            On 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.

            On 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 heart.

 

Note: I have kept the exact spelling and punctuation of the original typed letter.

Dee

           HOME