Day 2—”Ignorant and untried for a situation of this character” — Alaska State Quarter Coin

Today, the Alaska State Quarter Coin remembers June 7, 1912 with the continuation of Captain Perry’s description of the ongoing volcanic eruptions in the Katmai region.

In the Annual Report of the United States Revenue-Cutter Service for fiscal year ending June 30, 1912, one of Captain Perry’s letters detailed the events of the eruption and afterwards.

See yesterday’s blog post for the first portion.


The 7th began with volcanic matter falling, and from 3 a.m. this gradually diminished and ceased at 9.10 a.m., when it was believed that the eruption was over. All of this time no one knew where the eruption had occurred.

Owing to excessive static, no work could be done by the radio operators. All streams and wells had now become choked, about 5 inches of ashes having fallen, and water was furnished the inhabitants by the Manning and the schooner Metha Nelson, lying at the end of the dock.

Started evaporators to provide drinking water and continued this for several days.

At noon ashes had begun to fall again, and at 12.30 were increasing until at 1 p.m. it was impossible to see over 50 feet.

Deep concern was visible on every countenance, and the advisability of the Manning’s getting to sea was discussed.

However, this was out of the question, as few of the inhabitants wished to leave, and the voice of the ship’s company was “take all or none.”

During the afternoon I visited the two saloons in the place and, finding considerable drinking, requested the proprietors to close. This they readily did, agreeing with me that it was a time for every man to keep his mind clear.

At 2 p.m., pitch darkness had shut in; heavy static disturbances were observed, and our radio was dumb.

A few refugees were on board, and the night of the 7th was spent in anxious watching. We got little sleep, and the dawn of the 8th, which we anxiously awaited, failed to appear.

While all ashes of the previous day had been removed, decks, masts, and yards were loaded, as were also the ship’s boats.

The ashes now were fine dust and flakes, and of a yellowish color. Sulphurous fumes came at times in the air, and many thought and spoke of the destruction of Pompeii.

Avalanches of ashes on the neighboring hills could be heard, and these sent forth clouds of suffocating dust and ashes.

All hands were on duty from 7 a.m. Men often collided in working about decks, as the feeble glow of the electric lights and lanterns failed to dispel the awful darkness for any distance.

The crew kept constantly at work with shovels, and four streams of water from the fire mains were playing incessantly in what at times, seemed a vain effort to clear the ship of its horrible burden.

The bells of the Greek church boomed out in the blackness and few, if any, of its followers there were who did not grope their way to the call to prayer.

At about 8.30 a.m., at my request, the storehouse on the wharf was opened, and after a hurried consultation with some of the chief citizens, I sent a message to the priest at the church that all the people could be cared for on the Manning and in the storehouse. Prior to this many had sought refuge on board.

I then called together a committee meeting of the officers of the ship and several citizens, among whom were local pilots, and it was agreed that, as every landmark was obliterated, that it was impossible to see from the bridge, and that as the chances were vastly against a ship making the narrow channel without striking, it was better to stay where we were and take what most of us believed to be only a fighting chance.

I might state at this point that I believe the catastrophe appeared worse at Kodiak village than at the near-by settlements because of the terrible clouds of volcanic debris that swept down from the hills close to the town, adding to the fall from above.

At 10 a.m. the people of the village had collected, 149 in the warehouse on the wharf, and 185 on the Manning. These numbers are to some extent an estimate, and others were added later from vessels, the salmon cannery, and the people of Woody Island.

We had decided to house in the quarter-deck by using boards and canvas, thus making shelter for the exhausted and blinded workers.

During this work our main trysail had to be cut from the roping, ruining the sail, it being impossible to get it clear by other means. A stream of hose injected under the temporary deck house cleaned up the dust and fumes somewhat, and all hands sought this shelter when driven to it. While much confusion existed, it was remarkable how every man worked, and how promptly all my orders were obeyed.

Ignorant and untried for a situation of this character, I found that the people, of one accord, looked to me to lead, doubtless because I happened to be the ranking United States officer, and I certainly felt a great responsibility.

Shortly before 11 a. m. Lieut. W. K. Thompson of the Manning informed me that several men were cut off in the cannery, about one half of a mile distant below our dock. He stated that he had a party willing to try a rescue, and asked for orders. I replied that I would not give him orders, for it might be sending men to death, but that he and his party might have my permission to make the attempt.

This party departed at 11 o’clock, and returned successful at 1.30 p. m. A report of their work, written by Lieut. Thompson, is appended, and my endorsement appears thereon. I simply state here that it was a heroic act, deserving of highest commendation.

Many of the native men were turned to on deck to aid the crew. The surgeon of the Manning, Dr. N. D. Brecht, United States Public Health Service, worked day and night, almost to exhaustion, and frequently assisted the commanding officer by giving advice as to sanitary work necessary owing to the crowded condition of the ship. The village doctor, Joseph A. Silverman, rendered valuable aid throughout.

Several ladies quartered in the cabin, and wardroom, wives and daughters of citizens and teachers in the schools, acted as nurses and assisted in serving food and coffee. When men working on deck became blinded by the dust and ashes they went below, and these women washed their eyes and bathed them in a medicinal preparation prepared by the doctors, enabling them to return to work.

Many times were men so overcome by breathing ashes and sulphurous fumes, even though protected by veils and sponges over eyes and nostrils, that they would have become completely disabled but for the ministrations of the doctors and nurses.

Officers and men from other vessels, and four men from the naval radio station at Woody Island, took refuge on board and took their part of the work.

Rations were served to all, and in this the firm of Erskine & Fletcher assisted, providing some food, and cooking on board of their schooner, Metha Nelson, lying at the dock.

At 2.30 p.m. of the 8th the fall of ashes decreased, the skies assumed a reddish color, and finally objects became dimly visible. All clothed and festooned in ashes, nothing looked familiar.

As similar phenomena had occurred the previous day, and frequent seismic disturbances were still felt, much fear existed that worse was still to come. I hastily summoned a committee of citizens and, after hearing various opinions, decided that to stay might mean death, and there would be a chance of life if the ship could get to sea.

Consequently all hands were taken on board except United States Deputy Marshal Armstrong (who decided that duty required him to remain) and three other men. While Marshal Armstrong remained ashore, he sent his wife on board. This action furnishes its own comment. Only brave men offer such a sacrifice.

At 5.30 p.m. the ship cast off and, with two leads going, and Capt. Brown, an old and skillful Kodiak pilot, conned her through the narrow channel.

At 5:55 p.m. we anchored in the outer harbor, having secured a bearing on Woody Island that practically assured a safe passage to sea, even though darkness again shut in.

As soon as the ship anchored, the motor boat Norman stood in to Woody Island and brought off all the inhabitants, 103 in number, many of whom were nearly famished for food and water while others demanded the attention of doctors and nurses.

This day food and water were furnished to 486 people, outside our own crew, quarters to 414, and 72 were quartered on board the tug Printer, which came out of harbor with the Manning and moored alongside.

The night of the 8th was spent in suspense, but as the morning of the 9th dawned, all precipitation of ashes having ceased, it was felt that the eruption was over.

All hands were turned to early in the morning, including native men, clearing off volcanic deposit and cleaning quarters. The temporary deckhouse was removed and two tents were erected for quarters on the hurricane deck and quarter-deck. The surgeon and shore physician were constantly employed in caring for the sick and initiating sanitary arrangements.

At about 10 o’clock a. m., I appointed a committee of officers from the Manning and citizens to go to Kodiak, examine into the situation, and make report to me. Also I sent others to Woody Island for a similar purpose.

At 12.20 p.m. the committee made report upon subjects as follows:

Quantity and condition of water.
Pay roll and sustenance of natives.
Condition of houses.
General results of eruption, habitability of the town, and measures for immediate relief.

The report was partly verbal and partly by notes taken, and served me as a valuable guide in future actions. During the afternoon I sent Third Lieut. Dench and Second Lieut. of Engineers Hahn in the surfboat to rescue workmen on a ranch 4 miles below Kodiak, and they later returned with five people.

The coal barge St. James, lying at the wharf at Kodiak, and partly unloaded, was towed into the outer harbor, cleared of over 200 tons of deposit, with the help of a large crew of natives that I sent on board, and held for refugees if necessary. This, however, was not found necessary, and some days later, as soon as the consignees were ready to resume business, was towed back to her wharf.

Having found that the people of Woody Island could with safety return to their homes, at 3.15 p.m. I sent all of them ashore except widows, children, and the sick, who were unprovided for or needed medical aid.

Sometime during the eruption the radio station at Woody Island was destroyed by fire, doubtless caused by lightning. Our efforts to reach the outside world by radio were futile, and at 4.20 p.m. I drafted the tug Printer into service, placed First Lieut. H. R. Searles of the Manning in charge, and sent her to Seward with dispatches and instructions to ask for orders and confirmation of my actions by the department. Later we reached Cordova wireless station, and I was gratified to receive the confirmation requested.

At 8.05 p.m. of this, the 9th, Mrs. Anne Olsen, a refugee on board, died, her death being due to tuberculosis and nephritis, and the end doubtless was hastened by the terrible experience through which the poor woman had passed. The flag was half-masted, and the following morning the body was placed in a coffin, and sent on shore in charge of Father Kashervaroff, the priest of the Greek Church.

As the engine and all machinery were impregnated with ashes, I did not deem it wise to get underway unless absolutely necessary, and on the 10th instant the passengers were gradually landed and sent to their homes.

At the end of the day there remained on board only 8 white people and 24 natives, the latter being the sick and indigent, who consequently were better off on board.

While I believed at this time that Kodiak had been in the worst position in the line of disaster, it seemed to us all that other settlements must be suffering, so at noon of the 10th, being unable to locate any Government craft, I requested the use of the tug Redondo from Supt. Blodgett of the St. Paul, Kodiak, cannery.

My request was promptly granted, and the Redondo was at once supplied with 2,000 gallons of fresh water and 200 rations, and at 1.35 p.m., with Second Lieut. W. K. Thompson of the Manning in charge, she left the Manning on a cruise to Afognak and other points.

The report of Lieut. Thompson is hereto attached, and the prompt and efficient service performed in the case doubtless saved lives and great suffering.

June 11 I went on shore at St. Paul, with First Lieut. of Engineers T. G. Lewton and Asst. Surg. N. D. Brecht, of the Manning, and inspected dwellings, water supply, and other matters.

Finding some drunkenness, I ordered the only saloon open to be closed. Other than this I found it unnecessary to exercise authority because everyone appeared more than willing to accede to any request.

While on shore I requested United States Marshal Armstrong, Dr. Joseph A. Silverman, and Father Kashervaroff, priest of the Greek Church, to act as a relief committee to inform me as to any person needing food, and those gentlemen have been of great aid to me in receiving and carefully distributing food.

While on shore we arranged to have all the sick cared for, and they were landed this day, the 11th, leaving only four white persons on board. Of these, one was an indigent mariner, crippled by rheumatism, and he was given asylum for several days, when opportunity came to send him home.

The other three were Mrs. W. J. Erskine and child and Mrs. C. A. Fletcher. I desire to state that both Mr. Erskine and Mr. Fletcher had sacrificed both time and means throughout the disaster, and were still doing so at this time.

They were using every effort to provide work for the needy and distressed men on shore, and I permitted their families to remain on board for this reason. Also especially as Mrs. Erskine’s little child was delicate and ill, and to remove it to shore might endanger its life.

June 12 a message reached me from Lieut. Thompson, in charge of the Redondo expedition, that he had gone to the vicinity of the volcano, which we had learned was Mount Katmai, and would need fuel at Afognak.

As no fuel (Redondo, an oil burner) could be obtained, I dispatched the motor boat Norman (a cannery boat), in charge of Second Lieut. W. J. Keester of the Manning, with orders for the Redondo, and 100 rations for refugees.

This date, upon recommendation of my shore relief committee, I permitted the shore saloons to reopen, under promise of good conduct and under strict surveillance by Marshal Armstrong. Up to the date of this report I have heard no complaint, though I trust that I may be pardoned if I here make a comment that the saloon does not appear to be a good influence upon on either the morals or fortunes of Alaskan natives.

During the 9th, 10th, and 11th the appearance of the skies seemed to indicate that some substance was held in suspension, and at times most unpleasant and strangling gases were observable. Some of these were of such a character as to turn our white paintwork a dirty gray color.

While I mentioned somewhat in detail the work at Kodiak, I desire to state that similar work was carried on at Woody Island as to the destitute, and our surgeon waited upon the sick at both places. I was ably assisted in the Woody Island work by Mr. George A. Learn, superintendent of the Baptist orphanage there, especially in distribution to the poor. I also purchased some provisions from Mr. Learn from his orphanage supply, there being no store on the island.

June 13 the Redondo and Norman expeditions returned at 7.55 a. m. This morning the air was pure and no trace of volcanic matter observable in suspension. Lieut. Thompson reported that there were possibly a few natives left on the mainland, and it was decided best to send the Redondo on another trip.

This I did, with Lieut. Keester in command, and Third Lieut. of Engineers J. F. Hahn assisting. Mr. Keester’s report of this trip is attached hereto, and the results show how well the work had been previously done.

On this trip of the Redondo, the 13th, I detailed Lieut. C. H. Dench, of the Manning, to proceed to Afognak, taking supplies for the needy. Lieut. Dench returned to the Manning on the 20th having been relieved by Second Lieut. W. F. Towle, United States Revenue-Cutter Service. I do not submit the report of Mr. Dench at this time, as he desires to make it in conjunction with that of Mr. Towle, which appears to be the best method.

The population at Afognak consists of 318 regular inhabitants and 115 refugees. These latter, I am informed, and their future are to be reported upon by Senior Capt. W. E. Reynolds, United States Revenue-Cutter Service.

June 14, the tug Printer, sent to Seward under First Lieut. Searles returned with dispatches and information that Mr. Searles had remained at Seward by order of the department. The Printer was released from duty this date.

My report closes with June 14. Subsequent reports will follow, and the transcript of the ship’s log notes many items herein omitted. I desire to state that I have incurred considerable Government expense, but have tried to keep it as low as conditions permitted.

Most of my expenditures have been outside the prescribed methods, and I am deeply grateful to the department for the confirmation of my actions. I hope that the summing up will demonstrate that my judgment has not caused any unnecessary expense.

The outlook for the future of this vicinity is at present a problem. While the fish are now very scarce, it is generally believed that they will return. Many gardens have been uncovered, but I doubt if they produce much this season, and their product will be greatly missed by the natives.

Cattle are finding a little feed on hillsides, where the deposits have slid down, but all of the feed is impregnated with sand and ashes. I have purchased some grain, enough to give the few cattle in St. Paul one feed, per day.

The Government station has feed. Cattle belonging to the orphanage at Woody Island are suffering from the lack of it, and some in fit condition were butchered soon after the eruption ceased.

Senior Capt. W. E. Reynolds, United States Revenue-Cutter Service, commanding the Bering Sea Patrol Fleet, has recently arrived at Kodiak and will, I understand, make recommendations as to the several matters requiring Government action.

I desire to commend and thank the officers and crew of the Manning for their gallant and unflinching service through an ordeal that was arduous and terrorizing beyond description. Several of the best men from shore expressed themselves to me to the effect that the fight was almost hopeless, but I saw no case of neglect or flinching in the performance of duty.

Many of the men and women of Kodiak are deserving of the highest, tribute that can be paid. Some of the names I cannot recall and so I refrain here from mentioning any.

It should be a matter of great pride to every American citizen that even in such remote settlement, men, and women are found who, forgetful of themselves in times of peril, can face danger and threatened death with such coolness as we of the Manning observed, and all working on in behalf of the weak and suffering.

Respectfully, K. W. Perry,
Captain, U. S. Revenue-Cutter Service, Commanding.


The Alaska State Quarter Coin shows with homes almost buried in volcanic ash from the Katmai eruption in June 1912.

Alaska State Quarter Coin