Pioneer Women: From Skagway to White Mountain for Soprano, Clarinet and Piano
I. Catherine Van Curler
II. Cordelia nobel
III. Margaret Murie
IV. Gertrude Fergus Baker
Pioneer Women is a collection of four portraits of American women who helped to settle the wilds of Alaska. Taken from their diaries, letters, monographs, and journals, the texts chronicle their journeys throughout Alaska, from Skagway, the Southeastern entrance into Alaska, to White Mountain, near Nome, on the western coast of the Bering Sea.
Catherine Van Curler and her husband landed in Skagway August 24, 1898, where they began the difficult journey to Dawson, by land and treacherous water. They took a train over the White Pass to White Horse and arrived in Dawson on September 1eh. Her portrait portrays the struggles of traveling across Alaska.
As a young divorcee, Cordelia Nobel came to Nome in the early 1900s to make a life for herself. By 1913 she was living in Seattle; for reasons unknown, she committed suicide in November. While in Nome, she wrote regular letters to her mother telling of her quest for adventure, even wintering up North for the sake of the experience. She assured her mother that she did not have all sorts of “affairs of the heart.” “There are a great many of the opposite sex (God bless them) that I like very much, but therein lies the great and insuperable trouble-if they could be rolled together and made into one grand Composite Man, then I could fall in love and stay in love for all time, but that is an impossibility and therefore I am heartwhole.” Noble’s portrait is of a self-assured coquette, able to take care of herself and reveling in it.
Margaret Murie was an early environmentalist. She writes: “I think my main thought is this: that perhaps Man is going to be overwhelmed by his own cleverness; and I firmly believe that one of the very few hopes left for Man is the preservation of the wilderness we now have left; and the greatest reservoir of that medicine for mankind lies here in Alaska.” The portrait of Murie captures her anticipation and exhilaration in the rugged environment she explored.
A single woman, Gertrude Fergus Baker spent two years (1926-1928) in Alaska as a nurse. One year was spent at White Mountain, and in 1927 she moved to Tanana. In 1928 she served on a government hospital boat on the Yukon River. She later married, and settled in Clallam Bay, WA. As a nurse in Alaska, she traveled by dogsled to outlying villages to provide health care to the natives. The portrait quotes her poetical words of the magic of nature’s colors and the beauty of its silence.