Skip to main content
 Previous Next
  • Zoom In (+)
  • Zoom Out (-)
  • Rotate CW (r)
  • Rotate CCW (R)
  • Overview (h)
William Lauriston Howard: Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
Stefansson, Vilhjalmur, 1879-1962

William Lauriston Howard

EA-Biography
(Felizia Seyd)

WILLIAM LAURISTON HOWARD

William Lauriston Howard (1860-1930), United States naval officer, known
for his long and distinguished career which included early service in the
Arctic, was born January 10, 1860, at Plainfield, Connecticut. He attended
high school at Norwich, Connecticut, and subsequently worked in a local bank
until he received his appointment to the Naval Academy, from which he was
graduated in 1882.
Howard's first sea duty was aboard the Yantic , a naval tender, Frank
Wildes commanding, attached to the Proteus , which sailed for Greenland in 1883
as part of the Second Greely Relief Expedition. The Proteus was to search for
Greely along the Smith Sound route, if necessary as far north as Lady Franklin
Bay, Ellesmere Island, where the explorer had established an observation station
in 1881. The Yantic , which was not fitted for ice navigation, was not to pro–
ceed beyond Littleton Island, on the eastern side of Smith Sound, and under no
circumstances was to enter the ice pack. However, her voyage became consider–
ably more adventurous than had been foreseen. On July 23, 1883, the Proteus
was crushed by ice near Cape Sabine, Pim Island, in the western part of Smith
Sound, her officers and men escaping in two whaleboats. The two parties sub–
sequently reached Littleton Island, leaving a report of their disaster in a
cairn for the Yantic to pick up. The message was found by the Yantic on Aug–
ust 3rd, and search for the survivors was immediately begun. A hide-and-seek
game ensued, in the course of which the Yantic cruised lower Smith Sound and

EA-Biography. Seyd: William Lauriston Howard

upper Baffin Bay without contacting the boat parties. Wildes finally took his
vessel to Cape York, thence to Upernivik and Disko Island, where Commander J. C.
Colwell of the Proteus caught up with him, reporting that the rest of the crew,
under Lieutenant E. A. Garlington, had reached Upernivik. The vessel then re–
turned to Upernivik to pick up the men. All left on September 2nd and reached
St. John's, Newfoundland, on September 13th.
During the cruise of the Yantic Howard was but an anonymous member of the
ship's personnel of nearly 150 men, but the adventure gave him his first taste
for the Arctic. Promoted to ensign in July 1884, he volunteered for service in
the Stoney expedition which was to explore northwestern Alaska in 1885.
Lieutenant George Morse Stoney had first seen service in the Arctic in
1881-82, on board the U.S.S. Rodgers , despatched in search of the lost Jeannette
expedition under G. W. DeLong. He had since had to his credit the discovery
of the Kobuk River, which flows into Hotham Inlet, Alaska. The results of his
discoveries had been submitted to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy together with
a request by Stoney that he be sent back to triangulate the Kobuk and other
Alaskan rivers and to explore as much as possible of the interior. The request
was granted and the two-masted schooner Viking , 390 tons, was fitted out to take
the expedition to Hotham Inlet. The personnel included Ensigns J. L. Purcell,
M. L. Reed, and W. L. Howard; Passed Assistant Engineer A. V. Zane; Passed Assist–
ant Surgeon F. S. Nash, and twelve men. Purcell was invalided home on their
arrival at Kotzebue Sound. Two exploration vessels were taken along, the Explorer ,
a large, stern-wheel steamboat, and the cutter Helena .
The Viking sailed from San Francisco on May 3, 1885, and on July 13th was
safely anchored off Pipe Spit on the southern side of outer Hotham Inlet. Supplies
and equipment were discharged and a log house was built on shore to cache pro-

EA-Biogeaphy. Seyd: William Lauriston Howard

visions. Natives were hired to help with the work, and additional supplies
were purchased. Howard, appointed trader of the expedition, bartered needles,
flour, and a few small lead bars for deerskins and seal oil for the dogs, and is
said to have driven some hard bargains in true Yankee fashion.
The expedition eventually established winter quarters on the Kobuk River,
about 150 miles from the mouth, where a large log house was built and an observa–
tion station established. Stoney named the camp Fort Cosmos, after the Cosmos
Club of San Francisco. During the winter and the following spring vast areas
of northwestern Alaska were triangulated, including the drainage areas of the
Kobuk, Noatak, and Selawik rivers, the valley of the upper Colville River, and
parts of the upper Alatna. (For details see under Stoney.) Howard participated
in two major scouting trips to the Colville and Noatak rivers, both undertaken
in the middle of winter, and personally conducted two smaller expeditions to
the mountains east of Fort Cosmos and the Noatak River.
The first of the two latter trips a rose largely from the necessity to supply
food for the 36 dogs of the Stoney expedition. No pemmican was available and a
large amount of salmon was needed to keep the dogs through the winter. Howard
was therefore ordered to Kallamute, about 20 miles distant from Fort Cosmos,
where fish were being caught in great numbers in the early fall. Accompanied
by Zane, the machinist Price, and a small party of native men and women, Howard
left camp on September 9th, tracking up-river with dogs in one of the skin boats
of the expedition. Some 2,000 salmon were secured at Kallamute. While the women
attended to drying the fish, Howard set off to explore the neighboring mountains,
climbing Mount Howard to the northward to an altitude of 2,500 feet. (The moun–
tain is named thus on Stoney's map, but Mount Howard in present-day Alaska is
in the Alexander Archipelago and was so christened in Howard's honor by the late

EA-Biography. Seyd: William Lauriston Howard

Admiral Helm who explored southeastern Alaska in 1886.) The next day, Howard
crossed the Kobuk to explore a small range to the southward and ascended two–
thirds of Mount Ounalima, which permitted a view over the Kobuk River valley
and its many ponds and lakes, and gave him a chance to determine the course of
the Pick River, a small left affluent of the Kobuk, running almost parallel to
the main river for a distance of some 10 miles.
The trip to the Noatak River was made early in April 1886, and led Howard
over territory already explored in Stoney's company in December. The rouse
took him down-river to the confluence of the Ambler, a large right tributary,
and thence up the Ambler to the Red Stone River, a right affluent of the Ambler,
which was followed to its source. The main purpose of the expedition was to
establish food caches along the road, preparatory to a journey to Point Barrow,
which, upon Stoney's orders, Howard was to make in the late spring.
Howard's journey to Point Barrow more or less marked the end of the work
of the Stoney expedition. The trip occupied 96 days, from April 12th to June
16th, mostly through unknown and uncharted territory; in general, it set a mile–
stone in the history of Alaska's exploration.
The expedition was well prepared, starting with two sleds and 15 dogs and
an outfit weighing nearly 1,000 pounds. The party consisted of Howard, the
machinist Price, and three natives, among them Riley, the expedition's interpreter.
Engineer Zane with one sled and seven dogs accompanied Howard as far as the
Noatak River.
As on previous occasions, Howard ascended the Ambler and Red Stone rivers,
thence cutting northward across the mountains to the Noatak, where he arrived
on April 16th and camped at the village of Aneyuk, highest point on the river
which the natives could reach with their boats. The route to the Noatak had
been hazardous and hard, leading across thinly frozen rapids, half-thawed lakes

EA-Biography. Seyd: William Lauriston Howard

and streams, and over mountain passes over 3,000 feet high. Howard, never–
theless, pressed on, and the very next day was at the village of Shotkoaluk,
about 20 miles to the northeastward, whence the trail led northeastward to
the Etivluk, affluent of the Colville River. Delayed by the mountainous ter–
rain and heavy drifts of snow, Howard was slow in reaching the Etivluk, where
he arrived on the 21st; the next day he set up camp at Tooloouk (Tulugak ?),
a village of about 10 houses and 70 natives, lying in a deep valley off the left
bank of the river.
Deciding on a week's rest, Howard had a special hut built for himself and
his party — a tentlike construction, consisting of four poles stuck in the
snow, their upper ends bowed and lashed together and the whole frame covered
with deerskins. Arrangements were made with a group of local natives to ac–
campany the expedition for at least part of the way. Two of the natives brought
from Fort Cosmos were discharged and sent back with a written report of the trip
up to that date. Howard, accompanied by Price and the interpreter Riley and a
large party of natives left Tooloouk on May 1st. In addition to Howard's sledge,
there were 19 sledges, each averaging four natives and four dogs. Eight more
sledges joined them the following day. Some of the natives were bound for the
Colville River, others for the Ikpikpuk River, subsequently named Chipp River
by Stoney.
Progress was slow along the winding Etivluk, all hands traveling on snow–
shoes, as the sleds were too heavily loaded for any to ride. A number of deer
were secured on the way. Some 30 or 40 miles below Tooloouk, Howard observed
outcroppings of coal on the slopes of a low hill. Scattered about in all shapes,
sizes, and quantities were pieces of a substance called wood by the natives.
Howard states: "It was hard, brittle, light brown in color, very light in weight

EA-Biography. Seyd: William Lauriston Howard

and burned readily, giving out quantities of gas."
On May 7th, camps was made at Etivoli-par, a village at the confluence
of the Etivluk and Colville rivers. A great number of the natives remained
here waiting for the Colville to break up. Howard stayed until May 12th, as
the weather was too poor to proceed, snow alternating with rain. The natives
brought him a small mammoth tusk, but his guide advised against taking it, as
their sledges were heavily loaded, and more and larger tusks would probably
be available on the Ikpikpuk. Between May 13th and 20th, the expedition con–
tinued down the Colville, followed by eight native sledges. Food cached by
the natives in the previous fall was picked up and some 10 to 15 deer were
shot. On May 20th, Howard changed his course to the northeastward, leaving
the Colville to strike across the mountains in the direction of the Ikpikpuk.
On May 24th, camp was set up at Kigalik, a village of about 30 tents and 150
natives, on the upper Ikpikpuk River.
Preparations were made here for a descent of the Ikpikpuk by boat, but
the ice on the river had not yet broken and the party was forced to remain
until June 8th. Howard meanwhile made a sledging trip to the headwaters of the
Ikpikpuk, climbing a low hill which permitted a good view of the tortuous upper
reaches. By the time he returned, the ice had broken and the river had started
to rise. Geese, ducks, and ptarmigans made their appearance; flies were becom–
ing plentiful. As a parting gift Howard was offered two mammoth tusks, weigh–
ing about 150 pounds each, one foot in circumference, and ten feet in length.
He was told of another tusk too large to be lifted. Fearful that misfortune
would befall them all, his native guide again advised against taking the tusks
along, but was ultimately overruled. However, at night they were carefully
stored outside the camp, and Howard himself was not allowed to touch them until
he arrived at Point Barrow.

EA-Biography. Seyd: William Lauriston Howard

On June 8th, all boats for the descent of the Ikpikpuk were ready and
all food and gear not needed on the journey had been cached by the natives.
Howard, accompanied by his men and a large number of villagers, embarked in
five umiaks. The boats were heavily loaded and several of them had kayaks
lashed to each side to insure stability. Progress was fast at first then was
slowed by bad weather. Food was becoming scarce as the deer kept to the neigh–
boring lakes rather than the river. Some of the dogs had to be killed to serve
as food for the rest. Many of the women and children suffered from severe colds
and had to be doctored by Howard, who states proudly: "I gave them medicine and
as they all recovered I was always consulted."
Finally, on May 23rd, camp was made at the point where the Chipp River
branches, one branch going to Dease Bay in the direction of Point Barrow, the
other northeastward in the direction of Smith Bay. Howard followed the westerly
fork. The surrounding country had long since changed to a "level waste of tundra,"
dotted here and there by sandhills up to 100 feet high, but the banks were now
so low that during freshets the river overflowed the banks. Practically no game
was sighted, but fish were increasingly caught. A network of ponds and lakes
extended on both sides of the river. While crossing one of the lakes, Howard's
party encountered several Point Barrow natives then on their way along the coast
to the Mackenzie River mouth. They brought whale and walrus blubber and gave
Howard 50 pounds of flour.
The coast was reached on June 25th but the ice had not yet broken along
the shores and navigation to Point Barrow was impossible. Howard remained in
camp here more than two weeks greatly troubled by native parties from the Point
who came to trade but indulged in considerable stealing and drinking on the side.
Ten of their umiaks finally started for Point Barrow on July 12th and Howard's

EA-Biography. Seyd: William Lauriston Howard

party followed, "the edge of the ice being out of sight of land about an hour."
Hampered by ice and fog, Howard continued to push westward and on July 15th,
at 9:30 P.M., made Point Barrow, thence proceeding at once overland to the old
headquarters of the U.S. Signal Station about 6 miles to the south. He reached
the house at 2:00 A.M., July 16th, where he was heartily welcomed by the men in
charge. Five years earlier, Captain Patrick Henry Ray had established an observa–
tion station here which was discontinued in 1883. Four white traders, employees
of the Pacific steam Whaling Company, were stationed here at present with Ray's
former assistant, Captain E. P. Herendeen, still in charge.
Howard remained at the Point until April 13th, when the U.S. Revenue cutter
Bear took him and Price aboard for transportation to Hotham Inlet. On August
23rd,the Bear anchored off Cape Blossom in Kotzebue Sound, where Stoney and
his men had been waiting for some time. All hands and stores were aboard by
August 26th, and the ship then took course for Bering Strait. On September 14th
the Bear anchored in Unalaska Harbor, thence leaving on October 10th, and reach–
ing San Francisco on October 21st.
A year after his return, Howard married Louise G. Alden (November 23, 1886).
They had one daughter, Helen.
Through the years to come Howard was promoted through the grades and re–
tired with the rank of rear admiral in December 1919. His service record was
distinguished. He served on the Boston in the Spanish-American War and partici–
pated in the battle of Manila under Dewey. He served as naval attache in Rome
and Vienna between 1904 and 1906 and in Berlin between 1906 and 1908. From 1908
to 1909 he was executive officer on the Mississippi and in 1909 commanding officer
on board the Birmingham . He served as equipment officer of the Navy Yard, Phila–
delphia, 1909-11; as commander of the Idaho , 1911-13; as captain of the yard, Navy

EA-Biography. Seyd: William Lauriston Howard

Yard, New York City, 1913-14. He was on duty at the Naval War College, 1914–
15; in command of the Naval Station, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 1915-17; and
appointed commander of the Pennsylvania September 15, 1917. From 1918 through
1919 he was in command of the 16th Naval District, Davito, P. I.
Howard's life was filled with colorful incidents. He went fishing with
the German Emperor, whom he addressed as Bill; he took part in the re-interment
of the Empress of Korea, which involved fantastic funeral ceremonies. He also
did survey work through the site of the Panama Canal. But, according to his
friends, he liked best to talk about his early arctic experiences.
His home in later years was at Newport, Rhode Island, where he died on
February 3, 1930.
References:
Baker, Marcus Geographic Dictionary of Alaska . 2nd ed. Government Printing
Office, Washington, 1906. Guyol, Louise Hubert Little Straight Man . Mss. 1939. Nourse, J.S. American Explorations in the Ice Zones . B. B. Russell, Boston,
1884. Schley, W. S. and Soley, J. R. The Rescue of Greely . Scribner's, New York, 1889. Stoney, G. M. Naval Explorations in Alaska . U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis,
Md., 1900. Who's Who In America , Vol. 12. Marquis, Chicago, 1922-23.
Felizia Seyd
HomeWilliam Lauriston Howard : Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies
 Text Only
 Text & Inline Image
 Text & Image Viewer
 Image Viewer Only