Feb. 7th, 2020: The Alaska Senate today unanimously passed a bill establishing Walter Harper Day on June 7 of each year.
“Walter Harper left an indelible mark on Alaska history when, at the young age of twenty, became the first person to stand atop the summit of Denali on June 7, 1913,” said Senator Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, the bill’s sponsor. “The sheer stamina and exceptional self-composure he displayed during this expedition were the trademarks of this great Alaskan’s impeccable character.”
Harper was born in Tanana in December of 1892, the youngest child of an Athabascan mother and an Irish father.
“Walter’s thorough integration into his father’s Western culture without forfeiting an ounce of his mother’s Athabascan heritage serves as a beacon to Alaska Native and other Indigenous youth the world over,” Sen. Bishop said.
In 1910, Archdeacon Hudson Stuck chose the 17-year-old Harper to be his riverboat pilot, winter trail guide and interpreter as he traveled throughout Alaska’s Interior as a missionary.
For the next three years, Harper excelled under Stuck’s tutelage, culminating with his historic ascent of Denali in the expedition led by Stuck and Harry Karstens in the spring of 1913.
Harper died tragically at the age of 25, along with his new bride of only seven weeks, Frances Wells Harper, aboard the Princess Sophia when the steamer ran aground in the Lynn Canal on October 25th, 1918.
The couple were on their way to the Lower 48 so Harper could attend medical school, after which he planned to return to Alaska and serve his people as a medical missionary.
“Walter’s untimely death denied Alaska the benefit and the legacy of a respected Elder a full life would surely have provided,” Sen. Bishop added.
With 11 co-sponsors, Senate Bill 144 passed the Senate by a vote of 16-0. The bill is now on its way to the Alaska House of Representatives for consideration.
For more information, contact Senate Majority Communications Director Daniel McDonald at (907) 465-4066.