Berry Picking in Southeast Alaska


Image taken by the author.

It’s berry picking season here in Southeast Alaska. Right now, blueberries, salmonberries, wild strawberries, thimbleberries, currants, and huckleberries are in abundance along creeks, roadsides, and mountain shrubs. Articles from historic Alaska newspapers chronicled the status of wild berries. Without the modern convenience of the Internet, or even comprehensive berry guides, people turned to newspapers and relied on the berry picking know-how of their peers in order to harvest their own bounty of berries.

Note the Berry, Gentle Tourist: One of the things that attracted vast attention on the part of the crowd of tourists in the city today and most impossible of belief of all the strange things they saw and were told, was the Alaskan strawberries on display at the stores. Alaskan strawberries as large as English walnuts on display just as a matter of course- they all smiled incredulously. But it is true, gentle tourist. These berries just now to be seen at the stores come from the vicinity of Haines- just fourteen miles down the canal, and as pretty a town and neighborhood as is to be seen out doors. Perhaps you have not seen the currants of which the people of Skagway have been "putting up" bushels and bushels. The currants are wild and grow upon the hill sides everywhere about Skagway so luxuriantly as to make of the gathering a pleasant picnic. Wild raspberries are just now "coming in" and the picking of these picnickers will turn their attention shortly. Oh yes, gentle tourist, you who have been taught that nothing grows up here but the Muir glacier, these things are hard to believe but they are true. No where on earth does the huckle or "blue" berry grow as it does along the coast of Alaska. The salmon berry is a wonder for production and beauty. As for the strawberry, those that you see are cultivated but they grow in abundance at many places wild. These are among the things you should know about Alaska, gentle tourist.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 06 Aug. 1908. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

When going berry picking, it is important to take necessary precautions:

Be mindful of your surroundings. Berries can grow almost everywhere, and many plants can grow several feet tall. These plants can disguise uneven ground, and a false step can send you tumbling down a ravine. A handful of berries is not worth the risk of a serious injury. Encounters with bears or other wild life can occur as well, so it is best to make noise to make others aware of your presence.

Competition in Blueberry Range: A party who is too modest to wish his name in print, was picking blueberries on Salmon creek yesterday and left a half-filled can while he climbed further up the side hill in quest of berries. Hearing a racket behind him, he looked back and beheld a cub bear helping himself to the berries in the can. Nor did he dispute their possession for, standing by and watching her offspring enjoy the feast, was mamma bear, almost as big as a Missouri mule. One glance was sufficient for the berry picker, who lost no time in placing himself in the vicinity of a substantial tree.

Image credit: The Stroller’s weekly and Douglas Island news. (Juneau, Alaska), 13 Aug. 1921. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Bring a plant identification book. Although this point may seem obvious, many berries can appear similar, and what you don’t know can kill you. Bookstores often carry a wide selection of pamphlets and books on berries and berry-like plants that use photos for clear identification. And don’t forget to wash your berries once you get home!

A Few Things Sitka Enjoys: Small fruits of many kinds and flavors growing from the beach to the tops of the mountains. The red and yellow salmon berry the black red and blue huckle berry, the nagoon, black currant thimble-berry, bunch-berry and a great many others.

Image credit: The Thlinget. (Sitka, Alaska), 01 June 1912. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Dress for inclement weather. Even though the hot weather this past month has been a welcome reprieve from the overcast skies and rain, it is important to wear long sleeves and pants to protect your skin from insects and other plants. Because berry plants are often near water, Xtratuf boots or shoes that are waterproof are a must. While Alaska does not have the abundance of poison oak and poison ivy that the Lower 48 has, we have plenty of cow parsnip. Cow parsnip is a ubiquitous plant and skin irritant that can cause rashes when brushed up against exposed skin. Additionally, the sap from cow parsnip can render skin photosensitive and can cause sunburns.

Alaska: Its Resources and Possibilities: The Alaska strawberry is sui generis: it has a delicacy of flavor which its brother of the south lacks, or has lost. It is large, it is luscious, and it leaves a lingering regret behind- a regret that it is not a perennial. And then there is the wild raspberry, richer in flavor by far than that of southern climes; and nowhere can you find a blueberry that appeals to the palate, as does the blueberry of the Alaska wilds. Then the great red and yellow salmon berries make the woods in late summer a place of beauty, and the fruit a joy that can be 'preserved' for winter. The black currant which also grows in profusion, makes the finest of jellies and that kind of wine that maketh the heart glad, of the sourdough or chechako. Besides all these may be had for the gathering the high and low-bush cranberries, unexpecelled the world over.

Image credit: The Alaska daily empire. (Juneau, Alaska), 01 Jan. 1915. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Be patient- and have a full tank of gas! It can be frustrating to search for berries and come up empty. Once-reliable spots can become picked over, and it can take some driving around to find another berry hot spot. Asking around longtime residents can be useful, but some can be unwilling to divulge prized locations. Checking around online and on social media are good ways to gauge decent areas for berries.

Berries of all kinds are abundant this year and berry parties are just the style nowadays. the red and yellow Salmon berry is just in its prime, while the blue berries of several different kinds are everywhere.
Image credit: The Thlinget. (Sitka, Alaska), 01 Aug. 1911. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

And lastly,

Plan for the worst and hope for the best. Among the useful items to pack are insect repellent, calamine lotion, sunscreen, water, a hat, a rainproof jacket, toilet paper, a bag for trash, granola bars, towels, a guide to wild berries and roadside plants in Alaska, and, of course, a container for holding berries (ideally one with a lid).

Happy picking- and stay safe!

Close-up photo of red and yellow salmonberries in a plastic container.

Image taken by the author.


Shark Week


To celebrate the annual phenomenon known as Shark Week, the following articles and news items come from historic Alaska newspapers, some of which have been newly made available online through Chronicling America.

These shark-related news items point to the utility of sharks as an oceanic commodity. Their skin, several note, can be made into leather, and shark oil, much like whale oil and seal oil, s well as People have hunted sharks in Alaska for hundreds of years, but the First World War marked a turning point in the use of sharkskin and shark oil.

Shark Fishing New Industry: What is considered practically a new industry is the catching of sharks in Alaskan waters. There is a great demand for the oil and skins especially since the European war began. Messrs.J. H. Scott, brother of Gutherie Scott, of Juneau and Jas. Lee, are developing this industry. Their operations are carried on from a large gasoline scow, 78 feet in length, covered with a house, and the necessary equipment for lifting the sharks aboard and extracting the oil. They have been so engaged for some time past and a good sized catch has already been made, the skins of which will be shipped to Seattle on an early steamer and thence transported to England. The skins are generally used for recoil pads in machine guns and the oil for lubricating aeroplane engines. The species of shark is the common mud variety found in the waters of the North Pacific; the skins average in weight about 200 pounds; the sharks when caught weigh from 400 to 1500 pounds; the skins are placed in brine tanks for a number of days and thereafter are dry salted and baled for shipment; the shark liver is thrown in the steam kettle and the oil extracted; livers run about 85 percent oil and produce about 6 gallons of oil each. The outfit has been operating since July 15th, and over one hundred and fifty sharks have been brought in, 90 some have been captured during the past week. A trawl line is used in catching the shark, one similar to a halibut line. The scow is now tied up at Cash Cole's dock and will prove interesting to all who may wish to inspect it. It is a twin screw and is named Elliot. --Dispatch.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 13 Sept. 1916. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The Universal By-Products Co., of Seward, now claim to be on a firm financial footing and their representative says that they will handle sharks and the products thereof, including the hide. The manufacturing plant will be in Seattle, while their fishing headquarters will be at Seward.

Image credit: Douglas Island news. (Douglas City, Alaska), 16 May 1919. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Other stories recount in thrilling detail the “killer” nature of sharks as a stealth predator. Note the location of these stories: none take place in Alaska, yet the charged rhetoric instills the reader with a sense of fear regarding these “dangerous”, “deadly” fish.

Saved from Hungry Sharks: The quick wit of Harry Renkell, chief officer of the steamship Alleghany of the Hamburg-American line's Atlas service, saved William Thomas, a longshoreman of Aux Cayes, Haiti, from being torn to pieces by a school of man eating sharks when he fell into the waters of the port of Aux Cayes. At the time the Alleghany, on her southern trip, was unloading in the Haitian port. All day the vessel had been surrounded by a school of man eating sharks. Chief Officer Renkell was sitting on deck with a heavy caliber rifle at his side, waiting for a shot at one of them, when Thomas, who was working on one of the lighters tied up to the Alleghany, lost his footing and went overboard. A half dozen of the sharks swimming about the bow of the steamer made a rush at the longshoreman, and Mr. Renkell, realizing that it would be useless to shoot, seized a big square of salt beef, which the cook was preparing for dinner, and hurled it into the water ten feet from the struggling man. Evidently the sharks preferred the salt meat to human flesh, for they halted in their rush to fight for it. Though the struggle lasted but a moment, the diversion gave Thomas time to seize a rope thrown to him and regain the lighter. When safely on board he was so overcome with fright that he was prostrated for hours. The sharks, some of them a dozen feet in length, swam about the lighter, snapping their huge jaws, until Mr. Renkell succeeded in wounding several with his rifle. Later with another piece of the salt beef for bait he succeeded in hooking one which when hauled aboard measured ten feet. The jaws of this shark, which Mr. Renkell took home as a souvenir to decorate his Hoboken home, are two feet in length.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 28 Jan. 1908. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The White Shark: The shark of sharks, the real "man eater" and one of the most dreaded, is the white shark. This variety reaches a length of thirty-five feet and a weight of 2,000 pounds. Its head is long and flat, and the snout far overhangs the mouth. Its six rows of teeth are sharp as lancets and notched like saws. Its mouth is very large, so that one has been known to cut a man's body completely in two at a singe snap of its cruel jaws and another to swallow one at a gulp. Near Calcutta one of these sharks was seen to swallow a bullock's head, horns and all. From the stomach of another a bull's hide was taken entire, and the sailor who made the discovery insisted that the bull had been swallowed whole and all except the hide had been digested. From the stomach of another was taken a lady's workbox filled with the usual contents, scissors and all. It is commonly the white shark which follows the vessel at sea day after day and week after week.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 04 March 1910. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Game Shark Tackles Torpedo: A shark which had appropriated Noyac bay, off Sag Harbor, N.Y., violently attacked a torpedo that invaded those waters. The shark caught sight of the torpedo cruising peacefully along at 30 knots an hour and started to chase it into Peconic bay and thence into the Atlantic. The shark caught up with the torpedo and gave it warning that the waters thereabouts were reserved, but it refused to be scared off and with a petulant whir of its tail continued on. The shark rudely pushed it aside. The torpedo paid no attention to the aggressiveness of the big fish until the shark turned over to sink its teeth in the torpedo's nose. (Witnesses have made affidavits stating that the shark did turn over before it bit in spite of the recent edict to the contrary from Oyster Bay, where nonreversible sharks are said to abound.) As the shark's teeth sank into the torpedo it exploded with rage. The shark was found several hours later and several hundred feet from the scene of battle. The torpedo had been fired from the gun barge E.W. Bliss in the torpedo testing grounds of the Bliss Manufacturing company. It was of the Bliss-Leavitt dirigible type, with a range of 3,500 yards and a speed of 30 knots. This particular torpedo had been fired at the target nets in the bay. A few seconds before it should have reached the nets it was seen to explode, and the shark, which had evidently taken it for a new kind of big fish, was thrown into the air. When it was picked up in the nets it had been almost cut to pieces. The naval officers who were attending the trials will swear to the story. The shark is the first that has been seen in the waters of the bay so far from the ocean. It was not far from bathing houses.

Image credit: The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 10 Oct. 1907. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

Due to stories like these, and overfishing throughout the years, sharks now face endangerment. The following photos from the Alaska State Library Historical Collections and Archives point to the widespread sport hunting that worked to decreased the shark population in Alaska.

Sleeper Shark

Image credit: Alaska State Library, Historical Collections, from the Trevor M. Davis Photograph Collection. Identifier: ASL-P97-1226

Shark fishing

Image credit: Alaska State Archives, from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Title: Shark fishing at Cross Sound, Southeast Alaska, Sept. 1963. Identifier: ASA_A11_RG11_SR603_PF1_Shark3

Here in Alaska, the Salmon Shark is the only species of shark to frequent the North Pacific waters.

Unlike its Atlantic counterparts, the salmon shark poses no real threat to humans, but is allowed as bycatch. The stigma surrounding sharks impacts the salmon shark, as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game note:

“Overfishing is a main concern due to shark’s negative image as an abundant and low-value pest that avidly eats or damages valuable salmon and wrecks gear, which encourages fishers to kill it and add to mortality from finning and capture trauma.”

Events like Shark Week help raise awareness about these majestic, misunderstood creatures. Sharks deserve our respect- and distance.

Update: 4 New Alaska Newspapers Available to View on Chronicling America!

digitized newspapers

Greetings all,

Exciting news! As of this week, Chronicling America has made available 4 new Alaska newspapers, available here:

These include:

The Cordova daily times: October 1, 1920 – April 14, 1923

The Alaska citizen: April 9, 1910 – October 1, 1917

The Weekly Alaska citizen: October 8, 1917 – December 31, 1917

The Daily Alaska citizen:  October 31, 1918 – January 30, 1920

Within the coming months, we are expecting additional new titles and more pages added to Chronicling America. And as always, we will provide any updates as they come in.

Happy searching!


“Eight Stars of Gold on a Field of Blue”: Alaska Flag Day


Image credit: Benny Benson’s winning flag design entry, Alaska State Museum, from the Alaska Territorial Flag Competition, American Legion collection. Identifier: ASM-III-O-410

July 9th marked the 91st anniversary of the adoption of the Alaska flag. Featuring Ursa Major, or the big dipper, and Polaris, or the North Star, it stands apart as an iconic, minimalist symbol of the state as a whole. In its beautiful simplicity, it represents Alaska in a visual way that has been embraced by many.

What many people don’t know is the story of the state flag.

In 1927, the American Legion held a contest for school children to design a flag for the Alaska Territory. Up until that point, the only representative flag was that of the Russian federation. The Alaska State Library has in its collection 37 of the 145 entries digitized and available online. Some feature symbols of the mining industry, many feature polar bears. But one flag stands out in its universal representation of the state as a whole: Benny Benson’s winning design.


Image credit: From the Alaska State Library Portrait File, Alaska State Library Historical Collections. Identifier: ASL-Benson-Benny-1

Museum flag

The original Territory Flag on display at the Alaska State Library.

Benny Benson’s own heartrending story makes his entry all the more powerful. An Alaska Native orphan living at the Jessie Lee Mission Home in Seward, Benson was inspired by the sight of the North Star outside his window each night. In his own words on his design submission, Benson wrote that “the blue field is for the Alaska sky and the forget-me-not, an Alaska flower. The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The dipper is for the Great Bear – symbolizing strength”.

On May 2nd, 1927, the Legislature of the Territory of Alaska adopted Benson’s winning design as the official flag of Alaska. Benson also received an engraved pocket watch with the flag design, and a $1,000 scholarship.

Pocket watch on display at the Alaska State Library donated by Benson himself. Watch engraved with the flag design and text that reads "Awarded 1927 Grand Prize Official Flag".

Pocket watch on display at the Alaska State Library donated by Benson himself.


Image credit: Alaska State Archives, Office of the District and Territorial Governor. Identifier: ASA_A100_RG101_SR726_VS291

The flag flew for the first time on July 9th, 1927, as the Seward Gateway reports:

Alaska Flag Unfurled for First Time at Dedication of "Balto" Building Jesse Lee Home Paid for by Children of States: Bennie Benson, Designer of Flag, Under Direction Captain Ralph R. Guthrie, Attaches Territorial Emblem to Halyards- Impressive Ceremonies at Dedication Services: At the hour of 4 o'clock p.m., Saturday the official flag of Alaska was flung to the breezes for the first time on the flagpole at the Jesse Lee Home, one and a half miles north of the City of Seward. Those officiating at the ceremony were Captain Ralph R. Guthrie of the United States Signal Corps and Privates Edwin S. Diehl and Charles Harris. Bennie Benson, 13-year-old student at the Jesse Lee Home, designer of the flag, attached it to the halyards just below the national emblem and stood at attention while the multicolored folds of Old Glory and the deep violet blue of Alaska's official emblem, studded with the golden stars of the Big Dipper pointing to the North star, fluttered about him.

Image credit: July 11, 1927 issue of the Seward Gateway.

In 1935, the flag design inspired Marie Drake to pen what later became Alaska’s Flag, adopted as the official state song in 1959, and singers often perform it alongside the Star Spangled Banner at events throughout Alaska. Efforts to include an official second verse, with lyrics written by Carol Beery Davis in 1987 about Alaska Native people- and Benson himself- have as of yet not been adopted by the state legislature, yet the second verse is often sung to accompany the first.

Flag song

Image credit: From Captain Lloyd H. (Kinky) Bayers Collection, 1898-1967. Alaska State Library- Historical Collections. Identifier: ASL-MS10-4-19-120

Although Benson shied away from the press in the years since winning the flag design contest, he appeared in a series of photo opportunities once Alaska became a state in 1959- and on the official state flag was his design. By this time, Benson worked as an airplane mechanic and was largely out of the public eye. He died in 1972 at age 58, but is still remembered for his flag design: a large memorial and plaque stands today in Seward, where the flag first flew.


Image credit: Madeline McGraw, Seward Library & Museum.

For further reading, please see the exhibit catalog and website that accompanied “Eight Stars of Gold”, the 2001 exhibit at the Alaska State Museum.

#MuseumFireworksShow: Happy Independence Day!



Fireworks flags

Ad for Harrison’s, from The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 30 June 1904. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Happy Independence Day! We’re participating in #MuseumFireworksShow with fireworks photos from Alaska’s digital archives, and a handful of historical news items.

While the famous “Midnight Sun” might not be everywhere in Alaska, the prolonged daylight makes fireworks difficult to display. As a result, many cities and towns are set off their fireworks shows at midnight on July 3rd. The sky does not completely darken, as you can see here in Anchorage:

1984 Independence

Fourth of July fireworks, 1984.

From the Henry S. Kaiser Jr. papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage. Identifier: uaa-hmc-1148-b1-f49-13

And here in Juneau:

Juneau fireworks

Fourth of July fireworks in honor of statehood, 1959. Image credit: Alaska State Library, identifier: ASL-P450-1-0045

In spite of the not-so-night skies, historical newspapers from Alaska demonstrate that fireworks were (and continue to be) an essential part of the holiday, just like nearly every city and town in the Lower 48.

The following mentions of fireworks pepper this one issue of the July 4, 1904 issue of the daily morning Alaskan:

Fireworks 1

The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 04 July 1904. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Fireworks 2

The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 04 July 1904. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Fireworks 3

The daily Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 04 July 1904. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>


Stay safe, and enjoy the holiday!


Ad for Kaufman Bros. from The daily morning Alaskan. (Skagway, Alaska), 04 July 1902. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>