Walter Harper, Alaska Native Son


Walter Harper, Alaska Native Son

Mary F. Ehrlander

222 pages
29 photographs, 2 illustrations, 3 maps, index


October 2023


$24.95 Add to Cart

October 2017


$32.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

October 2017


$24.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

October 2017


$24.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

2018 Alaskana Award from the Alaska Library Association

Born in 1893, Walter Harper was the youngest child of Jenny Albert and the legendary Irish gold prospector Arthur Harper. His parents separated shortly after his birth, and his mother raised Walter in the Athabascan tradition, speaking her Koyukon Athabascan language. When Walter was seventeen years old, Episcopal archdeacon Hudson Stuck hired the skilled and charismatic youth as his riverboat pilot and winter trail guide. As the two traveled among Interior Alaska’s Episcopal missions, they developed a father-son-like bond and together summited Mount Denali in 1913.

Walter remained grounded in his birth culture as his Western education expanded, and he became a leader and a bridge between Alaska Native peoples and Westerners in the Alaska Territory. He planned to become a medical missionary in Interior Alaska, but his life was cut short at the age of twenty-five, in the SS Princess Sophia disaster near Skagway, Alaska, in 1918.

Harper exemplified resilience in an era when rapid socioeconomic and cultural change were wreaking havoc in Alaska Native villages. Walter Harper, Alaska Native Son illuminates the life of the remarkable Irish Athabascan man who was the first person to summit Mount Denali.

Author Bio

Mary F. Ehrlander is a professor emeritus of history and Arctic and Northern studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She won the 2018 Alaska Historical Society James H. Drucker Alaska Historian of the Year Award. Ehrlander is the coauthor of Hospital and Haven: The Life and Work of Grafton and Clara Burke in Northern Alaska (Nebraska, 2023) and author of Equal Educational Opportunity: Brown’s Elusive Mandate.


“[A] wonderfully written testament to a life of adventure. The Walter Harper we come to know is immensely likable, and his escapades irresistible. He was one of the great Alaskans of his time. This book is a fitting tribute.”—David A. James, Anchorage Daily News

“In Ehrlander’s affectionate portrait a century later, Walter Harper reclaims some of his lost potential to serve as a ‘role model for individuals with mixed heritage the world over.’”—Margaret Thomas, Alaska History

“Ehrlander’s portrait is of a remarkable young man who lived life to the fullest. An inspiring example of resilience, character, faith, service, and loving-kindness, Walter Harper’s legacy is a testament to the Native peoples of Alaska, the indomitable human spirit, and the selflessness of those who work as missionaries in the Church in the harshest and remotest of places.”—Jason VanBorrsum, Anglican and Episcopal History

“A fascinating glimpse into a pivotal moment in Alaskan history through the story of the short life of Walter Harper, a protégé of the redoubtable missionary Hudson Stuck. The men and women of Alaska were tough and hearty souls.”—Steve Thomas, author and host of This Old House and Renovation Nation and grandson of the Reverend William A. Thomas, a contemporary of Walter Harper

“Not only a fine work of history but a rousing adventure tale and a love story. This is a great book.”—Terrence M. Cole, professor of history at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

“A concise picture of Walter Harper’s character and personality. This is a historical account of a courageous Athabascan leader whom we all should learn about.”—Walter Carlo, chairman of the board of Doyon Limited, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act corporation for the Athabascans of Alaska’s interior

“A fine biography of a young man of talent and energy who successfully coped with two cultures during a time of rapid change in Alaska. Mary Ehrlander has employed crisp and enlightening prose to illuminate both the era and the history of the Yukon region.”—John Bockstoce, Arctic historian and archaeologist

“Mary Ehrlander’s assiduous scholarship combined with a delightful storytelling style make Walter Harper, Alaska Native Son both easy to read and available for multiple fields of academic interest.”—Phyllis Fast, professor of anthropology emeritus at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and great-niece of Walter Harper

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
List of Maps    
1. Childhood and Adolescence    
2. On the River and on the Trail with Archdeacon Stuck    
3. Ascent of Denali    
4. Mount Hermon School    
5. Return to Alaska    
6. The Winter Circuit    
7. Summer and Fall 1918    
Epilogue: Harper’s Legacy    


2018 Alaskana Award from the Alaska Library Association
2018 Alaska Historical Society James H. Drucker Alaska Historian of the Year Award

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