A bill establishing June 7 every year as Walter Harper Day, honoring a celebrated Athabascan adventurer, has passed the Alaska Senate and is on the way to the House for consideration.
“Walter Harper left an indelible mark on Alaska history when, at the young age of 20, became the first person to stand atop the summit of Denali on June 7, 1913,” said Sen. 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.”
Senate Bill 144, with 11 co-sponsors, passed the Senate by a vote of 16-0.
Harper was born in Tanana in December 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,” Bishop said.
In 1910, Archdeacon Hudson stuck chose Harper, 17, to be his riverboat pilot winter trail guide and interpreter as he traveled through the Interior as a missionary.
Harper excelled under Stuck’s tutelage over the next three years, 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 25 along with his bride of seven weeks, Frances Wells Harper when the steamer Princess Sophia ran aground in Lynn Canal on Oct. 25, 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 as a medical missionary for his people.
“Walter’s untimely death denied Alaska the benefit and the legacy of a respected elder a full life would surely have provided,” Bishop said.