In the last half of the nineteenth century the ships of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Revenue-Cutter Service patrolled the waters of the Bering Sea, the coast of Alaska, and the Yukon River. For several of those voyages a bright and engaging young physician, Dr. James Taylor White, served aboard and recorded his adventurous work in personal correspondence and journals. Now a new book, "I Wish You Could Come Too," The Alaska Diaries of Dr. James Taylor White, by Gary Stein, Ph.D. provides a first-hand look at life aboard a revenue cutter during Alaska's early years.
The revenue cutters on which Dr. White served played a crucial role in the history of the north, beginning with the legendary USRC Bear, under the command of Capt. Michael A. "Hell Roaring Mike" Healy. On board the Bear Dr. White took part in patrolling for seal poachers, smugglers, and illegal traders; assisted in the capture and ferrying of Siberian reindeer to Alaska; and witnessed the Bear's duties as a floating hospital, courthouse, and rescuer of shipwrecked sailors. His later tours of duty aboard the USRC Rush and the USRC Nunivak included customs duties and enforcement of revenue and conservation laws, search and rescue missions, and bearing witness to the ravages of the 1900 influenza and measles epidemics in Native villages along the Yukon River.
Dr. White had many interests aside from his medical profession; he was also a naturalist, a photographer, a bit of an artist, an astute observer, and an amateur ethnographer particularly fascinated by Native cultures and traditions. Dr. White served as a contracted physician with the Revenue-Cutter Service during two decades of significant events, people, and trends in Alaska’s history. His diary entries are jumping-off points from which to see how Alaska’s history played out around him, while the author's prologues and epilogues to each diary, along with extensive annotations, add contextual details about Alaskan history.
More than simply a dry text about historic events, Gary Stein's book is the result of four decades of research, during which he developed an affinity for the good doctor, writing, "I met James T. White in 1980 while I was researching in the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections & Archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. We instantly became fast friends. He had been dead for sixty-eight years, but he let me pry into his life through his diaries, correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs, and natural history and ethnological collections located in various archives, museums and cemeteries in Alaska, Washington State, California, and Washington, D.C. We are friends still—I’ve even smoked a pipe with him at his grave—and there is a great deal of his life to share."
Author Gary C. Stein received his Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico in 1975 with fields in Western American History and U.S. History to 1860, specializing in Native American History. He has worked as a research historian for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources in Anchorage, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C. His personal research interests gravitated toward the history of the Revenue Cutter Service in Alaska. He is now retired and lives in St. Ann, Missouri.
"I Wish You Could Come Too," The Alaska Diaries of Dr. James Taylor White, by Gary Stein. Publication is scheduled for late Fall, 2021. Contact the publisher for review copies: Northern Light Media, 1255 So. Ridgecrest Road, Wasilla, Alaska 99623. (907) 521-5245.