• Back to Encyclopedia Arctica homepage

    William Lauriston Howard

    Encyclopedia Arctica 15: Biographies

    001      |      Vol_XV-0409                                                                                                                  

    (Felizia Seyd)


            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

    002      |      Vol_XV-0410                                                                                                                  
    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-

    003      |      Vol_XV-0411                                                                                                                  
    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

    004      |      Vol_XV-0412                                                                                                                  
    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

    005      |      Vol_XV-0413                                                                                                                  
    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

    006      |      Vol_XV-0414                                                                                                                  
    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.

    007      |      Vol_XV-0415                                                                                                                  
    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

    008      |      Vol_XV-0416                                                                                                                  
    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

    009      |      Vol_XV-0417                                                                                                                  
    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.


    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

    Back to top