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Alfred Hulse Brooks: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

Alfred H. Brooks

EA-Biography
(Philip S. Smith)

ALFRED HULSE BROOKS

Through his personal investigations and his administration of Alaskan
affairs, Alfred H. Brooks (1871-1924) contributed greatly to the knowledge
of and appreciation of Alaska as an integral and important part in the dom–
estic economy of the United States. Born at Ann Arbor, Michigan, July 18,
1871, he died in Washington, November 21, 1924. Of sound American stock, he
early learned much of pioneering through his father, Major Thomas Benton Brooks,
who had made an enviable reputation for himself as a mining engineer, through
his explorations of the iron deposits of the upper peninsula of Michigan. Young
Brooks' formal education was much interrupted by the fact that he was a member
of a family that did not settle long in one place but moved from Michigan to
Germany, then back to New York, then to Georgia, and back again to Germany.
He did, however receive an education in a wide diversity of subjects and a much
broader contact with practical matters than youngsters of more routine training
usually get. In the course of his European travels he availed himself of the
opportunity to take courses of instruction at the Polytechnik at Stuttgart and
at Munich. He was graduated from Harvard University in the class of 1894, in
spite of the fact that his course there had been interrupted by having lost
nearly half a year through illness brought about by his having tried his none
too robust physique too strenuously.
This is not the place to trace in detail the many ramifications of the

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

career of Brooks. Instead, it is proposed here to restrict discussion to
those phases of his life which contributed most directly to his role in mak–
ing Alaska known. We may therefore pass over with bare mention the fact that
he was married, in 1903, to Mabel Baker and that he was the father of a daughter
and a son, and that more or less intermittently he had served in various cap–
acities on the United States Geological Survey since 1888 — in Vermont, in
Michigan, and in the southern Appalachians, becoming a fullfledged member of
that organization in 1894.
In 1897 the perennial scourge of government-operated scientific institu–
tions — curtailment of funds — had served as a cause of Brooks' undertaking
extensive travels in connection with the 7th International Geological Congress,
to which he had been appointed a delegate, in the course of which he visited
notable geologic sites in the Urals, Donets, Baku, and the Crimea, as well as
parts of Turkey and Greece. At the close of these travels he matriculated
at the Sorbonne, in Paris, and devoted his attention to the newly developed
methods that had been devised by LaCroix, Fouque Bertrand, and DeLauney for
solving some of the problems posed by an intensive petrographic examination of
the rocks of the earth's crust.
These scholastic pursuits were suddenly brought to a close, in the spring
of 1898, by the arrival of a cable from the Geological Survey, inquiring whether
Brooks would be interested to return to the Survey and join one of the newly
organized parties that were to undertake work in Alaska. This offer met a
ready response from Brooks, who started immediately to close up his academic
work and return to Washington to prepare for his new duties. By early April
he had completed all these preliminaries and was sailing northward from Seattle
to carry out his first assignment in the exploration of Alaska. On this job

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

Brooks was to serve as geologist in the expedition in charge of W. A. Peters,
a skilled topographer. According to the plans, this party was to travel main–
ly by its own canoes from the head of ocean navigation on Lynn Canal, in east–
ern Alaska, cross the mountain barrier hat formed the divide at the head of
that portion of the Yukon River drainage, descend a northward-flowing tributary
of that great system, and then swing westward, exploring as much of the inter–
vening country as time and conditions of travel permitted, ultimately coming
out of the wilderness on the Tanana River drainage.
These plans were successfully carried out and several thousand square
miles of parts of the unmapped White River basin and of the Tanana were ad–
equately reconnoitered. It was a gruelling trip, involving as it did tracking
the laden canoes up madly roaring glacially fed streams or through devious
channels in swampy lowlands, interspersed with wearisome spells of back-pack–
ing the supplies and equipment across intervening tracts that before the advent
of the party were not known to afford such portages, eagerly questing each moment
that the work was in progress to note and record all observations that might be
useful to later comers in understanding the physical features of the country
they were the first to view with the discriminating trained eye of the scientist.
In the face of the almost insuperable problems of even maintaining themselves,
Peters and Brooks toiled unremittingly to add each day notes to their records
or a few more lines to their maps to indicate the courses of the drainage they
traversed or the prominent landmarks and their elevations, or to collect samples
of the rocks and minerals that would give new insight as to the geological con–
ditions that prevailed.
As one reviews the records of this expedition in the light of the fifty
years of later work that has been done in the same and nearby areas, one cannot

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

but be struck with the reliable quality of the early work. True, the 1898
expedition carved out but a small swathe from the terra incognita, but when
account is taken of the conditions under which the work was done the results
s t and out as notable contributions to pioneering. Maps of the area covered
and descriptions of the features observed were published in full in the 20th
Annual Report
of the Director of the U. S. Geological Survey, Part 7, pages
425-494, 1900.
The field work and preparation of a report thereon of his first Alaska
work having been completed, Brooks was again busily engaged in the preparations
for a new assignment to Alaska in the spring of 1899. On this trip, the party
was again to be in charge of W. J. Peters with Brooks as geologist, and there
were to be four additional members to serve as technical assistants and camp
hands. The project contemplated the party traveling by pack train, consist–
ing of 15 animals, starting from Pyramid Harbor, a now long deserted town, near
Skagway. Proceeding from that point, the party moved northward up the Klehini
River, across to the headwaters of the Alsek River to Lake Kluane, and across
the southern part of the basin of the White River and thence down to the Tan–
ana River. The party then built their own means of crossing the wide Tanana,
and traversed the then unknown triangle between that point and Eagle, on the
Yukon River. It was a soul-trying trip, so rigorous that more than half of the
animals constituting the original pack train succumbed before completing the
route. The work gave an insight into many of the complex problems of geology
that were found on every hand and afforded a reconnaissance map of the country
that was of great value to all later comers. The results of the expedition
were promptly published as one of the papers constituting Part 2 of the 21st
Annual Report
of the Director of the U. S. Geological Survey, pages 331-391,
1900.

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

On arriving at the Yukon River, the Peters-Brooks party found that the
best way of returning home was by one of the regular river boats that des–
cended the Yukon to St. Michael, where connection could be made with one of
the ocean steamers that plied between that port and Seattle. On arriving at
St. Michael, however, the contagious excitement that was in the air regarding
the new placer gold finds at Nome, barely 100 miles distant, led Brooks to
join Schrader, another of the Survey geologists, who had just completed offi–
cial explorations in the Koyukuk district, Alaska, and make a hasty examina–
tion of the area adjacent to Nome. It was late in the season before these
geologists reached Nome, but they put in their time effectively in scouting
widely throughout the district and gathered a wealth of information that was
of inestimable value in guiding prospectors, and making plans for more inten–
sive examinations during the next field season. It maybe of interest to point
out that, as a result of these hasty studies, Brooks wrote, "We believe that
the Nome region has a great future," a prediction that has been amply borne out by
the fact that it has been the second most productive placer camp of the entire
Territory. The results of this work were published with remarkable speed by
the Geological Survey as a special paper of 56 pages, early in 1900.
The wild stampede that followed the announcement of the discoveries of
gold near Nome and at other parts of Seward Peninsula induced the Geological
Survey, in 1900, to send out a number of well organized parties to scout out
the entire area more thoroughly than had been possible for Brooks and Schrader
in their first hurried trip of 1899. These parties were strung out all along
the southern coast of Seward Peninsula, from that in charge of Mendenhall, in
the eastern part, to Collier, in the western part. Brooks and his associates
examined mainly the central section, including Nome and Council. The results

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

obtained by all of these parties were combined and published as a special
volume, so that, except for the part contributed by Mendenhall, it is not
now possible to attribute the sections contributed by each individual. How–
ever, from indirect lines of evidence, it is apparent that most of the report
as printed bears the stamp of having been prepared largely by Brooks. Perhaps
the most noteworthy item in this report was that which called attention to the
geologic conditions that had prevailed in the coastal plain area several miles
inland from the present beach, which indicated to the geologist that compar–
able beach placers might be expected to occur there also. This prediction
has been amply justified by the discovery of the old beaches which have yield–
ed far more gold than has been taken from the present beach which was the scene
of the old stampede to Nome. The report covering the results of these examin–
ations was published as a special publication by the Geological Survey in 1901,
under the title "A Reconnaissance of the Cape Nome and Norton Bay Regions,
Alaska, 1900."
On the conclusion of the Nome work and the completion of the report of
his work there, Brooks, in 1901, was shifted from interior Alaska to make geo–
logical investigations in the Ketchikan district of southeastern Alaska. This
was known mineral-bearing area, as some copper deposits had been worked there
for a number of years and some small showings of gold had also been reported.
Brooks, associated with C. C. Brayton, reconnoitered more than 2,000 square
miles of this area, during which the party traveled more than 1,200 miles,
mostly in a small launch or by rowing, and visited the mining operations at
more than 150 small mines and prospects. The physical configuration of the
country is such that travel on land entails fighting one's way through almost
impenetreable underbrush, or climbing precipitous slopes under weather condi-

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

tions that are extremely trying. Brooks and Brayton surmounted these obstacles
as part of the day's work, and came back with a wealth of new material about
the country and its resources. The results of this work were published as
Professional Paper No. 1 of the Geological Survey, 120 pages, 1902.
One of the most noteworthy of Brooks' Alaskan explorations was made in
1902, with L. M. Prindle as geologic assistant and D. I. Raeburn as topographer.
These men, with four camp helpers and a pack train of twenty horses, started
near Tyonek at the head of Cook Inlet, traveled along the southern face of the
Alaska Range in the vicinity of the Skwentna River, found a pass across the
range at the head of the river, overshadowed much of the way by the overpower–
ing massif of Mount McKinley, struck northward on reaching the watershed of the
Nenana River, and crossed the great lowland between the Alaska Range and the
Tanana River to the north. Then, as though undaunted by the feats they had
already accomplished, they pushed on northward across the intervening country
and reached Rampart, on the Yukon River, where they brought their season's
operations to a close. Some idea of the strenuous character of this trip may
be gained from the fact that of the twenty horses that started only eleven
completed the trip. As a result of this expedition maps and information as to
10,000 square miles of hitherto unsurveyed country were obtained, which still
afford practically the only first-hand information about considerable tracts
of central Alaska. The official report of this report was published as Pro–
fessional Paper No. 70 of the U. S. Geooigical Survey, 234 pages, 1911.
In the early years of the Survey's explorations in Alaska the over-all
planning and responsibility for concerted action had been handled in more or
less of a catch-as-catch-can manner and the remarkable success that had been
obtained was due more to the fine performance of the individual party leaders

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

than to skilled overhead direction. This weakness had long been realized and
various palliative measures had from time to time been tried. Finally, Dr.
C. W. Hayes, the Chief Geologist of the Survey, recommended to the Director
that a separate unit be set up as a Division of the Geologic Branch to handle
Alaskan affairs. This proposal was adopted and Brooks was placed in charge.
For a time there was heartburning among some of the others who had done yeo–
man service in the Alaska work, and most of the older geologists were trans–
ferred to other fields of activity.
This then marked the close of Brooks' personal participation in the ex–
tended explorations in Alaska and enabled him to devote himself to the broader
phases of the problems the development of the country presented. This does
not at all mean that he ceased his activities in the field, because throughout
his remaining service he made a point each year of visiting as many parties in
the field as was possible so that he might acquaint himself at first hand with
the critical matters to which attention should be directed, and aid the field
workers by his personal attention to their problems and bring the wealth of his
vast accumulation of Alaska lore to their assistance. By giving up his long
arduous field trips he was enabled to spend more time serving as consultant on
Alaska subjects to other officers of the Government, from the President down,
and his counsel was widely sought. It also enabled him to prepare for publica–
tion a host of articles regarding Alaska development. Perhaps the most out–
standing of these Alaska compendia was his classic volume on the Geology and
Geography of Alaska
, a book of over 300 pages, that though published more than
thirty years ago, in 1906, still is the most comprehensive general statement
on these subjects, though it has been considerably modified in detail as a re–
sult of later intensive and extensive studies.

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

Another of the widely consulted yearly publications prepared by Brooks
personally was his annual review of the Mining Industry of Alaska , in which
he set down not only the current statistics regarding the mineral production
of the Territory, but gave extensive notes as to each of the new developments
that had taken place or were in prospect. Nearly twenty such volumes have been
issued under his authorship, and they form a most valuable source by which one
can follow the successive stages in the early development of the Territory's
mineral resources.
Brooks' wide personal knowledge of Alaska and the fact that he had a staff
at his disposal who perhaps had more extensive personal familiarity with the
Territory than any other group of skilled scientists led to his being selected
to advise on many Alaskan matters somewhat outside the natural limits of his
restricted field as a geologist. Thus, he was eaely active in trying to formu–
late a wise policy for the utilization of Alaska coal, a subject that took him
into a study of the markets for coal in the entire littoral of the Pacific and
brought him, to his great regret, into the controversy that developed between
Pinchot and Secretary Ballinger.
Again, in 1913, when the subject of the Government constructing a rail–
road from the coast to [: ] interior Alaska came into the national limelight,
Brooks was chosen by President Taft as one of the commissioners to study the
question and make recommendations as to what should be done. With Major J. J.
Morrow of the Corps of Engineers, L. M. Cox, civil engineer, U. S. Navy, and
C. M. Ingersoll, a consulting engineer of New York City, Brooks, as vice-chair–
man of the committee, joined in making intensive studies of the situation in
the field and prepared a carefully analyzed report that received the approval
of the President. Although subsequently modified by Congress, this report

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

served as the basis on which the present government-operated railroad from
Seward to Fairbanks was constructed.
Time and again Brooks was assigned to accompany various prominent govern–
ment officials in their visits to the Territory. Thus, in 1911, he was a mem–
ber of the party of Secretary of Interior Walter L. Fisher with the breadth and
accuracy of his information. Again, in 1919, he accompanied the assistant to
the Secretary of the Interior, John Hallowell, to study some of the broad prob–
lems that required full examination and thoughtful consideration, if blunders
in their handling were to be avoided. Among the last of the trips of this sort
on which Brooks was engaged was that of Assistant Secretary of Commerce C. A.
Houston, who with several specialists both from his own and other departments
made an extensive trip through Alaska and Japan, during the summer of 1922. Al–
though part of the time that Brooks was on this trip he was seriously incapaci–
tated by illness, he proved to be a constant treasure-house of information that
was avidly tapped by his confreres whenever an Alaskan subject was under dis–
cussion.
Inasmuch as the present article is concerned primarily with subjects dealing
with the northern regions, the other aspects of Brooks' career have been passed
over with bare mention. It does seem desirable, however, to depart from that
restriction in reviewing the period of his life between 1917 and 1919, when he
served as Chief Geologist of the American Expeditionary Forces in France, dur–
ing the First World War. This exception seems justified because during that
period he put into practice many new concepts that he was able to adopt in his
future administration of the Alaskan work. He served with distinction in various
grades up to Lieutenant Colonel on General Pershing's staff, and earned the fol–
lowing commendation from the general: "Your work was of a constructive character

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

in a new field to military service and the results of your efforts were be–
coming manifest to all."
After the close of hostilities and following several months' service as
consultant to the American delegation to negotiate peace, Brooks returned to
his former post with the Geological Survey and resumed his interrupted duties
in directing the efforts of that organization in its Alaskan work. In these
duties he wielded an ever-increasing influence on those who had the development
of Alaska at heart, and was called on increasingly to make available from his
vast store of knowledge of the Territory the advice that would help in formu–
lating wise plans for the welfare of the country he loved so dearly. During
the period while he directed the Survey's activities in Alaska, he was the
motivating force that was largely responsible for the mapping, both geologic
and topographic, of more than 200,000 square miles of that country, and his
hand can be detected in the nearly 400 reports and maps that were issued by
the Survey regarding our nort h ern possession.
The foregoing recital of the principal incidents in Brooks' contributions
to the exploration of Alaska necessarily has failed to disclose many of the
personal qualities of the man. It may be of interest, therefore, to point out
that, in spite of his accomplishments in the rugged field of pioneering, he was
almost the antithesis of what one ordinarily pictures as a frontiersman. He was
not a robust, hearty Goliath, clever in the use of his hands and of great physi–
cal stamina. Instead, he was somewhat less than average size, unskilled in
athletic stunts and inept in the doing of even the simpler mechanical jobs a–
round camp, and with a heart that was sufficiently weakened so that his admis–
sion to the Army was held up several times before he was admitted for even limited
service. He was, however, a veritable dynamo of energy, driving himself far

EA-Biography. Smith: Alfred Hulse Brooks

beyond the limits most other men impose upon themselves. He was an omnivorous
reader, and where others dissipated some of their energy in less profitable
pursuits, he took keenest pleasure in conversation and discussion, by which he
was constantly adding to his store of knowledge. He had the ability to meet
all comers on a common ground and, whether hobnobbing with the least literate
prospector or with highest authorities, he retained his simple, friendly bear–
ing that gave and took the best that could be offered. He had a direct and
kindly humor that allowed him to avoid self-glorification or enabled him to
see through sophistry of others without unduly causing irritation. He had to
work hard for what he got, so that he had little patience with those who attempt–
ed to gain their ends solely by "inspirational" means without getting down to
rock-bottom facts. That his methods were successful is amply demonstrated by
the enduring niche that has been carved by him in the development of our great
northern empire.
A complete list of Brooks' published reports is included as part of the
memorial to him which forms pages 15-48, Vol. 37 of the Bulletin of the Geo–
logical Society of America, 1926.
Philip S. Smith
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