The Fact of the Matter Is. . .
From the Files of Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiquities (GHAA)
Q It was difficult enough if an early settler was in need of emergency help in Gustavus. But what of the lone prospector, trapper, fox farmer, etc. in the remote areas of Glacier Bay?
A The answer has to be something like—it would have been the loneliest place on earth if that someone needing help were you! GHAA has numerous accounts of accidents, shipwrecks, men-gone-missing, even desperado crimes that took place in and around Icy Straits and Glacier Bay. Here is the true story of Stanley Harbeson, known in these parts to run winter trap-lines and as a summertime prospector in Dundas Bay.
In early October 1933 Stanley and his dog left Dundas Bay for Juneau in a light crafted skiff. Before they got half way across the bay, a “devil of a storm” blew up and commandeered the boat smashing it on the rocks and nearly tearing the bottom off. They were wet, cold, battered and bruised but put safe on a shore where they quickly exhausted the 3-4 days worth of provisions they managed to save (the meager supply they had calculated to cover the row to Juneau).
Suffering from severe exposure and desperate for help, Mr. Harbeson scouted about—almost miraculously discovering two things: 1) several Indians deep in the woods who declined to be helpful but did trade a few potatoes for work chopping wood, and 2) an abandoned tumble-down cabin for a bit of shelter. But with winter coming on, prospects looked bleak. And to make matters worse, his beloved dog near starvation and full of porcupine quills had to be put out of his misery.
Mr. Harbeson concocted a plan—repair his badly damaged boat well enough to get back to the Dundas Bay Cannery, AND do it in time for the arrival of the mail/freight boat the “Estabeth”. He knew the boat called regularly on a local route (including Strawberry Point) with a Dundas Bay stop the first of every month.
Towards this goal he began a long, feverish beach-combing search for tin cans and “junk” and contrived repairs that when woven together would questionably hold the weight of a man, let alone barricade water. With the “Estabeth” approaching in the distance, he launched his badly leaking craft, 3 weeks after being shipwrecked and given up for lost. Weak, frozen, starved and half delirious, he labored 4 ½ hours of alternate rowing and bailing expecting any minute to be consumed by the sea. Ralph Robertson, superintendent of the cannery saw him coming “haggard and worn” and provided blankets, a warm fire and food.
Stanley Harbeson made the trip to Juneau on Nov. 6, 1933 in style and without any funds for a fare “courtesy” the “Estabeth”. Snug, warm and with a prospectors optimism he announced his intention to return to Dundas Bay in early spring to resume his search for gold.
GHAA Note: GHAA has a photo of the twisted wrecked remains of the “Estabeth” who eventually met her own fate washed up on a beach in Swanson Harbor taken in the spring 1948.