News from the Alaska State Legislature, the Office of Senator Bishop
For Immediate Release: June 05, 2020
Alaskans to Celebrate First Walter Harper Day on Sunday, June 7
FAIRBANKS – On Sunday, June 7, Alaska will celebrate the first annual Walter Harper Day in recognition of the Athabascan-Irish man who, on June 7, 1913 became the first person to stand atop Denali – North America’s tallest mountain.
Senate Bill 144, sponsored by Senator Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, established June 7 of each year as Walter Harper Day. Alaska’s Senate and House of Representatives both passed the bill unanimously, and Governor Mike Dunleavy signed the bill into law on April 29.
The act recognizes not only Harper’s critical role in the success of the pioneer summit of Denali, but his “superb subsistence skills, his integrity, his strong sense of identity and purpose, and his ability to navigate comfortably in both the Athabascan culture and other cultures of the United States,” in the words of Sen. Bishop.
“In the church that Darlene and I attend, and were married in, there is a framed copy of the front page of the Fairbanks Daily Times from 1913 reporting the success of this group of amazing people reaching the highest pinnacle of Denali,” said Sen. Bishop in recognition of this special day. “It is a constant reminder to me of this incredible feat that was accomplished over 100 years ago, long before flights to Base Camp, how-to books, high tech gear and the modern technology of today. This young man, Walter Harper, was the first to reach the top of the summit and I think I can safely say that his stamina, his fortitude, his knowledge and his survival skills living in the interior of Alaska, that were passed down from his Koyukon ancestors, greatly contributed to the success of this climb. Walter Harper is not only a role model to the Alaska native youth, but a role model to us all. I am honored to have sponsored this bill and see it to fruition, declaring June 7 of each year as Walter Harper Day.”
Episcopal Archdeacon Hudson Stuck and the rugged outdoorsman Harry Karstens co-led the 1913 Denali expedition. The Koyukon-Athabascan Harper, along with Tennessean Robert Tatum, completed the four-member ascent team. Athabascan youths John Fredson and Esaias George provided vital support, including transporting supplies and equipment to the base camp.
On summit day, Harper, the team member in the best condition, took the lead position and thus reached the peak first. Hudson Stuck later wrote of him: “Twenty-one years old and six feet tall, he took gleefully to high mountaineering, while his kindliness and invincible amiability endeared him to every member of the party.”
For several years, Harper served as Archdeacon Stuck’s trail guide, riverboat pilot, interpreter, and right-hand man, as they traveled among the Episcopal missions, Native communities, and mining camps of Alaska’s northern Interior. Along with providing religious services, Stuck and Harper carried vital news, shared health and sanitation information, transported injured and critically ill people to medical facilities, and facilitated vaccination campaigns, for instance, against smallpox.
Wherever they stopped, Harper’s subsistence skillset, integrity, magnetic personality, and ability to navigate in both his Athabascan culture and in mainstream American society won him admirers. He planned to become a medical missionary to Interior Alaska Natives. Tragically, when he was just 25 years old, he and his wife of seven weeks, Frances Wells Harper, drowned in the 1918 sinking of the Princess Sophia.
To learn more about the fascinating life of Walter Harper, Sen. Bishop recommends reading Walter Harper, Alaska Native Son by Mary Ehrlander.
Alaskans representing the Walter Harper Project have launched a drive that will culminate in a life-size bronze statue of Walter Harper. The statue will be placed in Fairbanks, where the 1913 expedition began, with the specific location to be determined.
More information on the Walter Harper Project and how individuals, organizations, and corporations can contribute to support the effort to honor this great Alaskan will be released this summer.
Members of the media may contact Mike Harper at 907-952-2124 or Mary Ehrlander at 360-463-3445 for more information about the Walter Harper Project.
Hashtags for social media:
For more information, contact Senate Majority Communications Director Daniel McDonald at (907) 465-4066.
News & Videos more >
SOLDOTNA – Senator Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, today thanked Governor Mike Dunleavy for reopening the Silvertip Maintenance Station for the remainder of the 2020/2021 snow season....
ANCHORAGE – Today, Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, an Advanced Nurse Practitioner, applauded Governor Mike Dunleavy’s decision to divide the Alaska Department of...
SOLDOTNA – Senator Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, sent a letter Wednesday urging the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) to reject a rushed proposal lacking due process...
ANCHORAGE – Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, today released the following statement after Governor Mike Dunleavy announced that he is issuing a new 30-day Declaration of...
SOLDOTNA – Members of the Kenai Peninsula Legislative Delegation sent a letter to Governor Mike Dunleavy on Wednesday urging him to declare a state economic disaster for the Upper Cook...
BETHEL – Today, the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Utility Service Program announced they are awarding a $25 million grant to GCI to build fiber optic broadband through...
Giving freely of his time SPC Garcia, organized supplies, volunteers and worked weekends to convert a retaining wall at 10th and Hyder from graffiti into a beautiful community treasure....
After a summer of record-setting rainfall, the Swan Lake Hydroelectric Facility reached full capacity following expansion totaling an additional 15 feet of storage for the first time....
ANCHORAGE – On Friday, August 28, at 3:00 p.m. in the Anchorage Legislative Information Office (LIO), the Senate Resources Committee will hold a hearing to take public testimony on and...
KETCHIKAN – Work will soon begin on a host of projects meant to enhance the movement of people and goods between Ketchikan and Gravina Island.
Find your Senator full map
- Chugiak/Peters Creek
- Eagle River
- Jewel Lake, Kincaid, Turnagain, Lake Hood, Sand Lake, Spenard, Dimond, Campbell Lake
- Midtown, Dimond, Huffman, Klatt, Southport, Bayshore, Oceanview
- Huffman, O'Malley, Abbott, Loop, Independence Park, East Dowling
- Northeast Anchorage, Anchorage Hillside, Indian, Bird, Girdwood and Portage
- Downtown, Airport Heights, Fairview, Government Hill, Mountain View, Russian Jack, South Addition
- Spenard, Midtown, UMed
- Muldoon, JBER, College Gate, Nunaka Valley, Wonder Park
- Palmer, Butte, Eklutna, Fairview, Lazy Mountain Knik, Gateway
- Wasilla, Meadow Lakes, Knik Big Lake, Point MacKenzie, Goose Bay, North Fairview
- Mat-Su, Delta Junction, Valdez, Copper River Valley, Talkeetna, Valdez
- North Pole, Farmers Loop
- UAF & University West, Chena Ridge, Cantwell, Nenana, Tanana, Kenny Lake, Tok, Copper Center & Tanana
- Adak, Bethel, Cold Bay, King Cove, Sand Point & Unalaska
- Barrow, Nome, Kotzebue, Hooper Bay, Northeast + Northwest Alaska