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Elmer Smith letters

Guide to the Elmer Smith letters

Collection number: HMC-1192.
Creator: Smith, Elmer.
Title: Elmer Smith letters.
Dates: 1898-1899.
Volume of collection: 0.01 cubic feet.
Language of materials: Collection materials are in English.
Collection summary: Letters written by a young man who went to Alaska and Canada in search of gold.

Biographical note:
Elmer Church Smith was born to Samuel and Clara Boone Smith on February 12, 1870. After graduating from Columbus High School in Columbus Nebraska, he studied engineering for a year at the University of Iowa and later worked in surveying. He went back to school for engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, but left for the Alaska Gold Rush during his junior year. He and three other men traveled through Southeast Alaska into British Columbia following the Stikine River and passing through the towns of Wrangell, Glenora, and Telegraph Creek. Though the men spent nearly a year searching in harsh conditions, they never found gold. Smith later returned to school and graduated from the University of Illinois as a civil engineer in 1899. He accepted a position with the Isthmian Canal Commission surveying land in Nicaragua to help determine whether there was a better route for the proposed canal. When work on the Panama Canal began, Smith was given a supervisory position. He developed a new method for forming foundations for walls, dams, and bridges, for which he was granted a patent. Smith died of malaria on July 11, 1906.

Collection description:
The  collection consists of four letters written by Elmer Smith, who went to Alaska and Canada in hopes of finding gold during the Gold Rush. The letters, dated between March and November of 1898, were written primarily from various locations along the Stikine River in British Columbia, Canada. In the letters written from British Columbia, Smith writes primarily about the weather, the traveling conditions the health of the men in the party. The letters also mention the communities of Wrangell, Alaska, and Glenora and Telegraph Creek in British Columbia. The final letter in the collection, written from the Hotel Brunswick in Seattle, discusses Smith’s lack of success in finding gold and his desire to return to school. Also included in the collection is Smith’s 1899 graduation photograph from the University of Illinois.

Arrangement: Collection is arranged chronologically.

Alternative formats: Transcriptions of the letters are included in the collection. Revised and edited transcripts are available online and are linked to in the container list.

Digitized copies: The letters and photograph have been digitized and are available through Alaska’s Digital Archives. For information about obtaining copies please contact Archives and Special Collections.

Rights note: Collection materials are presumed to be in the public domain.

Preferred citation: Elmer Smith letters, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Acquisition note: The collection was presented to the Archives in 2015 by Evelyn Sweetser.

Processing information: This collection was described by Gwen Sieja in 2015.

Container list:

Item Description Date
1 Letter: Elmer Smith (Stikine River, 12 miles above line) to “Brothers, Sisters, Father and Louise”. 4 pages. PDF transcript 1898 March 25
2 Letter: Elmer Smith (1 mile below Glenora) to unidentified family and friends. 3 pages. PDF transcript 1898 April 7
3 Letter: Elmer Smith (Telegraph Creek) to unidentified family and friends. 4 pages. PDF transcript 1898 April 24
4 Letter: Elmer Smith (Hotel Brunswick, Seattle) to Jim and Lillian Reeder (Columbus, Nebraska). 3 pages. PDF transcript 1898 November 18
5 Elmer Smith University of Illinois graduation photograph 1899


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