Baseball in the Arctic 1894

Alaskans play baseball in all seasons, as seen by this photograph taken in the 1960s during winter. Snowshoes pose an extra challenge.
Alaskans play baseball in all seasons, as seen by this photograph taken in the 1960s during winter. Snowshoes pose an extra challenge.

As the days get longer and winter begins to wane, the boys of summer are gearing up for another awesome season of baseball – a mainstay in Alaska for generations. Before Anchorage had plotted out its main street on Fourth Avenue in 1915, baseball teams faced off near the mud flats to put bats to balls that Fourth of July.

Following statehood in 1959, Alaska attracted a multitude of collegiate players who played for teams like the Anchorage Bucs, Alaska Glacier Pilots, Peninsula Oilers and the Mat-Su Miners. Many went on to play for the majors, including homerun king Mark McGwire, fantastic pitcher Randy Johnson and Hall of Famer Tom Seaver.

But the earliest reference to a baseball game in the north comes from the arctic region in March 1894, according to research by Alaska historian Stephen Haycox.

Funston first came into Alaska via the Chilkoot Pass, later made famous by the Klondikers, in April 1893. He then wind-sailed across the upper Yukon lakes of Lindeman, Bennett, Marsh and LeBarge and then shot Miles Canyon and Whitehorse Rapids, according to Haycox.

He spent the summer of 1893 working for the Department of Agriculture, collecting botanical specimens in the Canadian Yukon and near Fort Yukon in Alaska. Funston did not want to hang around the trading post when winter set in, so he joined some Canadian Indians and traveled up the Porcupine River to Rampart House and then over the Canadian divide to Fort McPherson, a Hudson’s Bay Company post on the Peel River.

“Although the trip over the Chilkoot Pass had been strenuous, Funston’s trek over the Richardson Mountains to the Peel River was a veritable arctic survival test,” Haycox wrote in an article titled, “Baseball on arctic ice,” which appeared in The Anchorage Times on July 29, 1984.

When Funston learned that ice floes had crushed seven ships of the Pacific Steam Whaling Company’s arctic fleet, he set out on another trek 175 miles north from Rampart House to see if he could help out. He found the reports exaggerated, however, as he found the ships were frozen in but had not been destroyed. What Funston did find on that chilly March day in 1894, though, were two teams from the stranded ships playing a heated game of baseball.

Finding that his services were not needed, Funston returned to Fort Yukon. He then traveled on to St. Michael, where he hopped on a steamer bound for San Francisco to report to his superiors.

They were pleased with his report about resources in Alaska, and stunned at the extent of his travels in the arctic. But they had one criticism of his northern adventure.

He had forgotten to record the score of the baseball game!

2 comments on “Baseball in the Arctic 1894

  1. wow! we live in the Liberty Center Ohio. There is 5 different towns all within a 20 mile or less ride. My granddaughters moved here from Georgia. They wanted to join the baseball team for the town they live in (Weston) they did not get to not enough players had signed up. their mother tried to get them on one of the other town teams only to hear the same thing. they were crushed. Nobody out of thousands wanted to play. ages 13 11 and 8. I shared this story with them along with other stories out of your books. They now want to move to Alaska. told them maybe the next time their dad has to transfer they could put in For Alaska and I would visit often. if not move their with them. With so many people in this 5 town area WE just can not believe there is no ball teams for their age group in these areas. now the 11 year old is reading your books also. sorry about the rant of the ball teams in this area. I think some parents should get them kids out doing something instead of playing on laptops.

  2. That is so sad, Beth! I am amazed that there aren’t many children interested in playing baseball – we always could round up a group of kids that wanted to play when we were young and when our children were kids, as well. So sorry to hear that. I am glad that your 11-year-old is reading my books, however!

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