The Alaskan gold rush (1898-1900) also focused attention on Alaska’s communications needs.

In May 1900, Congress appropriated nearly half a million dollars to establish a communications

system connecting the military posts in Alaska. This system, which came to be known as the

Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS), was constructed by the

Army Signal Corps. Construction of the telegraph cable portion of the system began in the summer

of 1900. In 1903, a 107 mile wireless system crossing Norton Sound on the west coast of Alaska

was added. Also, in 1903, a submarine cable between Sitka, Alaska and Seattle, Washington was

laid, allowing rapid communication between Alaska and the lower ‘continental U.S.’ [Note 18]


By the time WAMCATS was completed, it included 2,079 miles of cable, 1,439 miles of landlines,

and 107 miles of wireless system across Norton Sound, linking Fort St. Michael to Nome, Alaska,

for a total of 3,625 miles [Note 16 pg.108]. Fort Gibbon was centrally located, in the middle of the

Territory, and played a key role in linking Alaska to the U.S., Canada, and the rest of the world.

By 1908, the landlines had been replaced by wireless radio communications [Note 21.b.].


Major Charles S. Farnsworth, an Infantry officer, was post commander at Fort Gibbon, 1910-1912

[Notes 21.c., 31.a.]. “Farnsworth encouraged skiing and hunting parties for recreation and for the

Arctic training value, as well as to obtain fresh meat. Sports and recreation programs and various

forms of entertainment the men devised contributed to their high morale” [see Appendix B, entries

No. 1869 (Nov. 12, 1910) and No. 1913 (Dec. 23, 1910) notes on hunting parties and rifle practice].


A 1916 Signal Corps publication reported this description of the system: “The Signal Corps

has installed 10 radio stations in Alaska, ranging in size from 1 kilowatt at Petersburg, Wrangell,

and Kotlik, to 8 and 10 kilowatts at Fort Gibbon, Fort Egbert, Nulato, and Nome [i.e. two towers].

Stations of 3 to 5 kilowatts have been installed at St. Michael Circle, and Fairbanks.” [Note 19] 


Vern Arrives in Alaska, and up the Yukon River to Fort Gibbon  


On the west coast of Alaska, the mighty Yukon River flows into the Bering Sea on the south shore

of Norton Sound, near Fort St. Michael; for thousands of years, the Yukon River had long been the

water ‘super highway’ into the Alaska interior. The Yukon River is about 2000 miles long, rising

in northern British Columbia, flowing north through Canada’s Yukon Territory, and then crossing

Alaska from east to west, ending in the multi-channel Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, which empties into

the Bering Sea. It was one of the two principal routes during the 1896–1903 ‘Alaska Gold Rush’ 

to the Klondike in Canada, up the Yukon River, or via Skagway and Chilkoot Pass or White Pass).


Although we do not know the name of the ship, nor the exact dates of the northbound passage,

Vern’s 2600-mile ocean voyage would have ended at Army headquarters post at Fort St. Michael, 

where he would have officially joined Signal Corps Company ‘K’, in Alaska. Following a short

transition period at Fort St. Michael, Vern and his unit would gone up the Yukon on a riverboat

(probably on a wood-burning sternwheeler owned and operated by the Army), traveling 10-14 days

up the river (against the current), half-way across  the Alaska Territory, 900 miles to Fort Gibbon,

and landing at Tanana, Alaska,  in July 1910 [Note 25.a., Note 37 a., b.].



McAninch Family History NL v.XX n.3 / July 2012 / Frank McAninch, Editor / page 2012-22


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