Billy Mitchell In Alaska


We completed the trip twenty miles down the river that day without further mishap. Here we stayed several days, while I ran the course of the line up and down. Then Dutch and I took our small boat and dropped down to the mouth of the Sakha River, a few miles below. Again I ran the course of the line, meeting my men about twenty miles up the river as they worked chopping out the right of way. Never have I seen greater physical strength or endurance displayed by a group of men. There were twenty in each working party, great bearded fellows in blue denim clothing, high horsehide boots and slouch hats, with remnants of mosquito netting around the edges. Their faces were running sores from the terrible assaults of the mosquitoes and black flies. As they attacked the spruce trees, the forest seemed to fall in front of them. Without such men, the lines in the North could never have been completed.

For a couple of weeks we worked with great speed. Already our parties had gotten in touch with those of Lieutenant Gibbs working up the river. July was approaching, and now I had no doubts that we would finish the telegraph system that summer. At last my wire crossed the Salcha River. Because of lack of transportation, Gibbs had fallen a little behind in his work, and I had to extend on beyond, but at length we reached the end of his wire. I made the last connection of the Alaska system myself.

Then from St. Michael and Nome on the Bering Sea, clear through to New York and Washington, the electric current transmitted our messages with the speed of light. Alaska was at last open to civilization. No longer was it the land of the unknown, sealed tight by the God of Everlasting Snow and Frost. We had forced open the portal with which he shut out the white man from the North.