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    Alfred Hulse Brooks

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0151                                                                                                                  

    (Philip S. Smith)


            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

    002      |      Vol_XV-0152                                                                                                                  
    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

    003      |      Vol_XV-0153                                                                                                                  
    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

    004      |      Vol_XV-0154                                                                                                                  
    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,


    005      |      Vol_XV-0155                                                                                                                  
    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

    006      |      Vol_XV-0156                                                                                                                  
    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-

    007      |      Vol_XV-0157                                                                                                                  
    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

    008      |      Vol_XV-0158                                                                                                                  
    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.

    009      |      Vol_XV-0159                                                                                                                  
    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

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    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–


            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

    011      |      Vol_XV-0161                                                                                                                  
    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

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    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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