World War One in Interior Alaska: The Story of Claude Harrison

By Erik Johnson, Denali Historian

Over one hundred years ago, World War One hostilities between Germany and the Allied forces were halted by an armistice.[1] Although the United States did not enter the war until 1917, Alaskans all over were affected by it, and some made extraordinary sacrifices just to answer the call to serve.[2]

Claude Harrison, a man who hunted and trapped in the Lake Minchumina area, became a national sensation when the details of his adventure to report for duty garnered news coverage throughout the country.

Harrison initially mushed 125 miles with his dog team from the Lake Minchumina region to the Kantishna Mining District Commissioner’s Office to report. When he arrived, Harrison learned the official had gone to Nenana. Undeterred, Harrison mushed 100 more miles to Nenana and found the draft official. Overall, the journey to respond to the draft call was nearly 225 miles.

It is not clear what happened to Harrison after he reported for duty but newspapers ran the story in the late summer of 1918 and the armistice was just two months later. Regardless, his story of enduring difficult travel conditions in remote Alaska to make a sacrifice for his country is noteworthy this Veterans Day.

[1] Armistice Day originally acknowledged the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities between Germany and the Allied nations on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The War was officially ended by the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919. President Wilson signed a proclamation acknowledging Armistice Day on November 11th 1919. In 1938, Congress made it an official holiday dedicated to world peace. Beginning in 1954, the United States changed the designation of November 11th from “Armistice Day” to “Veterans Day” to honor veterans of all U.S. wars.
[2] Mount McKinley National Park was established in the middle of World War One and, remarkably, just several weeks before the United States entered the War in 1917. The Park did not have an administrative presence in 1917 and 1918 but Alaskans who hunted, mined, and trapped in the region were affected by the War. Tom Lloyd and Billy Taylor, who were members of the 1910 Sourdough Denali Expedition, mined antimony in Kantishna during the War years. The mineral was used in the manufacture of munitions so it often rose in price during wars.

Part of a series of articles titled Denali History Nuggets.

Last updated: February 13, 2019