News from the Alaska State Legislature, the Office of Senator Bishop
For Immediate Release: April 30, 2020

Bill Establishing June 7 as ‘Walter Harper Day’ Becomes Law

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JUNEAU – On Wednesday, a bill establishing Walter Harper Day on June 7 of each year was signed into law by Governor Mike Dunleavy.   

“I am grateful to Governor Dunleavy and every one of my colleagues in the House and Senate for formally recognizing Walter Harper’s extraordinary life,” said Senator Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, sponsor of Senate Bill 144. “Harper left an indelible mark on Alaska history when, at the young age of twenty, he became the first person to stand atop the summit of Denali on June 7, 1913. The sheer stamina and exceptional self-composure he displayed during this expedition were the trademarks of this great Alaskan’s impeccable character.”

Harper was born in Tanana in December of 1892, the youngest child of an Athabascan mother and an Irish father.

“Walter’s thorough integration into his father’s Western culture – without forfeiting an ounce of his mother’s Athabascan heritage – serves as a beacon to Alaska Native and other Indigenous youth the world over,” Sen. Bishop said.

In 1910, Archdeacon Hudson Stuck chose the 17-year-old Harper to be his riverboat pilot, winter trail guide and interpreter as he traveled throughout Alaska’s Interior as a missionary.

For the next three years, Harper excelled under Stuck’s tutelage, culminating with his historic ascent of Denali in the expedition led by Stuck and Harry Karstens in the spring of 1913.

Harper died tragically at the age of 25, along with his new bride of only seven weeks, Frances Wells Harper, aboard the Princess Sophia when the steamer ran aground in the Lynn Canal on October 25th, 1918.

The couple were on their way to the Lower 48 so Harper could attend medical school, after which he planned to return to Alaska and serve his people as a medical missionary.

“Walter’s untimely death denied Alaska the benefit and the legacy of a respected Elder a full life would surely have provided,” Sen. Bishop said. “It’s my hope that Walter Harper Day will inspire youth across Alaska to strive to live as Harper did – with courage, integrity, and a strong sense of purpose.”

For more information, contact Senate Majority Communications Director Daniel McDonald at (907) 465-4066.

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