Page 2 History and facts about Middleton Island
......It was late in May the following year before anything more was heard of Smith. Then he came sailing into Valdez harbor before a fresh westerly breeze and landed on the beach. It was only May or June that Smith would leave the foxes to fend for themselves. At that time the island was teaming with sea-fowl, and feed was in abundance for the taking. It was also the time that constituted the supplies.
During all other seasons, the foxes were fed prepared foods delivered to heir burrows. He had rigged up a cart which he had loaded the food and pushed it around the island.
On one of his return trips to the island, Smith ran into a storm. It was three days before the sea calmed down enough to permit a landing. Otjherwise the boat and cargo would have suffered severe damage.
At other times he met with adverse winds which forced him to spend long and arduous hours at the oars. These occasions were the most trying of all calling for all his reserve strength and stamina, hour after hour, day or night. The long hours that he spent at the oars wre all that saved him from being swept off course.
Through it all, he prospered with his foxes, and he brought in some of the finest pelts ever seen in Valdez. For 5 years, Thomas Smith kept his lonely vigil on bleak Middleton Island.
Then he decided that with the return of all the foxes on Middleton Island, he would have enough money to leave Alaska. He wanted a place on the Pacific coast , a place where he could live a somewhat less lonely and strenuous life. With that thought in life, Thomas Smith abandoned Middleton Island in 1903. (some 22 years before the Crusoes raised foxes on
The Federal Aviation Agency is located at the north end of the island. It was established in 1941. After the completion of the station, the personnel had to wait about seven months before a plane could land. The road leading to the old dump was originally intended for a landing strip but the idea was dropped soon after the first plane attempted a landing. It was noted at that time, that the strip was heading straight into one of the houses. A B-17 tried to make the first landing but didn't touch down. Food and reading materiel were dropped a week later. Before this drop was made, the personnel were eating beans and sea gull eggs.
The personnel at the FAA site did not have a doctor available for their own use. The medical technician and the A.F. dispensary of the military station on the island is available to them. All emergency cases are either flown to Corvova or Anchorage, Alaska.
The United States Coast Guard operated a station there for several years. The site contained seven buildings. One was a two story structure serving as living quarters and dining hall. Only one of the buildings remain today. It is used as a storage structue by the U.S. Air Force. Editors note; this structure was burned down in 1960.
The ship that lies off shore, is the remains of the SS Colebrook . It was owned and operated by the U.S. Mail Line. The ship was covered with armor plating during the war. In 1944, the ship was enroute to Anchorage with a load of coke. During the trip the ship ran into a storm. The plating and the cargo of coke was well over the maximum load limit causing the seams to burst during the storm. It was then beached intentionally. In 1947. the ship was salvaged by the Morrison Knudsen Company. This is the same company that built the Air Force Station a few years later.
In February 1956, the 720th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron under the command of the United States Air Force, went into operation. This station was the first to go into operation in Sector 1.
Construction was accomplished by the Morrison-Knudsen Company, under the supervision of the Alaska District, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The site consist of a complete Air Force Station, with troop housing, technical facilities, utilities,power plant, P.O.L. system, water reservoir, roads, base transportation, a 5000 foot plus runway and recreational facilities.
Once a year, the site recieves a year supply of dry goods, frozen foods and P.O.L. products. This arrives via a barge named the "Mona Lisa".
Fresh vegetables are flown in once a week, (weather permitting...Editor) linen,parts and other needed items are flown in on C-123's once or twice a week. depending on the weather. Cordova Airlines has the contract to carry the mail and to transport site personnel to and from the island.
Cordova Airlines............photo by Harold Ackeret USAF C-123......................Armand photo
Middleton Island was visited by Robert Rausch and party in June, 1956. Robert Rausch took a biological reconnaisance for the purpose of recording as much of the natural history as possible, before the opportunity was lost. This being due to military activities on the island. During a 15 day period in the field, a total of 45 species of birds were recorded. Of these at least 16 were breeding, 4 possible breeders, and 25 were regarded as transients. The following birds were recorded during the recording period: Plover, Winter Wren, Pintail, Teal, Phalarope, Snipe, Sandpiper, Warbler, Red Poll, Fox Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Kittiwake, Common Murre, Thick Billed Murre and Tufted Puffins. The next 25 birds were counted as transients; Merganser, Falcon, Black Turnstone, Whimbrel, Yellow Legs, Dowitcher, Parasitic Jaeger, Glaucaous Winged Gull, Ancient Murrelet, Short Eared Owl, Horned Lark, Cliff Swallow, Red Eyed Vireo, Townsends Warbler, Wilsons Warbler, Red Throated Loon, Black Brant, Greater Seaup, Harlequin Duck, Surf Scoter, Western Sandpiper, Red Parlarope, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Olive sided Flycatcher and the Robin. In 1957 an invasion of Snowy Owls was made on Middleton Island. It is interesting to note that Snowy Owls were not reported in the Prince William Sound or elsewhere in the timbered regions of southern Alaska during this time. One bird, the Song Sparrow, was unexpectedly absent from Middleton Island during the survey. The Song Sparrow is widely distributed in the Prince William Sound region as this is a favorable habitat for the Sparrow. It would seem that it's habitat requirement are fulfilled on this island and its absence is difficult to explain.
Kittiwakes on Middleton Island....photo by Verena Gill
As was stated earlier in the article, fur farming was undertaken in about 1895 with the introduction od artic foxes. These foxes were brought originally from the Pribilof Island. According to Mr. Martin Caping, now employed by the Artic Health and Research Center , who spent the winter of 1920 on the island, the were two to three hundred foxes on the island during the 1920's. Although supplemented feed was provided, particularly during winter months, the foxes subsisted to a large extent on birds and other natural foods during the Spring and Summer. Eventually, when fur prices dropped, fox farming was discontinued. As far as can be determined , there has been no foxes on Middleton Island for the last 15 or 20 years. The extent to which the foxes affected the life of mammals on the island cannot be assessed. In 1956, the survey conducted on the island produced no evidence of any "indiginous terrestrial mammals". Detailed examination of the most favorable habitat disclosed no old runways, fecal pellets, nests or other signs of small mammals. Extensive trapping in the selected habitat likewise gave negative results. According to Heller, (1910), It would be impossible to determine what species of mammals occured on the islands that had been used as fox farms for any considerable time. He obtained evidence both rodents and shrews had been eliminated from certain islands by foxes. It is possible that the same thing may have happened on Middleton Island.
In the fall of 1952, domesticated rabbits were introduced by communication personnel stationed on the island. The animals were fed during the first winter, but they soon became well established and self sufficient . In the Spring of 1956 they were estimated to be 200 in number. At that time, they were found mainly around the north end of the island, but now, being more widely distributed they can be found anywhere on the island. There was, during the 1956 survey, local damage to vegetation noted. It was noted by Dr. Robert F. Scott, tha if the Snowy Owls, which invaded the island in 1957, were not destroyed the rabbit population would suffer a severe setback. It as then noted that the owls were feeding exclusively upon the rabbits. Contrary to his belief, the rabbits continued to multiply and it is now estimated that the rabbit population exceeds 600.
It is also ducumented that during the period that there was an interest in furs, rabbits were planted on several islands. In 1930 rabbits were introduced on Umnak Island, in 1940 they were introduced to Rabbit Island and in 1954, 3 females and 1 male rabbit was introduced to Middleton Island. By 1961, it was estimated that there were 7000 rabbits on Middleton Island...Armand....Editor
The vegetation is generally low and composed of herbaceous plants. Shrubby willows occur over much of the marshy area along the west side of the island, and a few scattered stands are found in the wet area of the higher elevations. A narrow zone, made up mostly of large willows, borders the steep bluff adjacent to the marshi are on the west side of the island. Spruce trees have become established but they are widely scattered. The beach ridge is grown to plants characteristic of this habitat,
The Middleton Island 'Forest'.......photo by and of, SSgt Lee
Over the remainder of the island, the vegetation is relatively uniform except where variations occur as a result of the effect of moisture and other factors.
The island has six ecological formations. All but one of these formations are characterized by their vegetation. The six formations are; Upper beach and beach ridge, Lowland marsh, High shrub zone, Upland meadow, Cliff edge and Rocky Cliff.
Journal of Geology
"Late Cenozoic Marine Glacial Sediments and Marine Terraces of Middleton Island" p 17 to 40, Vol 61, No.1 , Jan. 1953, Miller, D.J.
" Blue Gold on Middleton Island," p. 6-9, Vol 16 No, 4, Apr. 1950, Johnson, A.
Journal of Geology
"An air reconnaisance of Middleton Island" p.728 - 736 Vol.1, Oct-Nov. 1933, Cappe, Stephen
" The occurrence and distribution of birds on Middleton Island, Alaska" p. 247-242, Vol. 60, No. 4, July=August 1958, Robert Rausch
Geologic Dictionary of Alaska
US Geologial Survey bulletin No. 299, p. 435
State of Alaska
p.329, 504, Gruening, Ernest
p. 136, Thompkins
History of Alaska
p 268, 1730-1885 Bancroft, Hubert H.
A Guide to Alaska
p. 223, Merle Colby
United States Coast Pilot 9
p. 96-97, (8551) sixth edition, 1954
The "Mona Lisa supply ship , Lt , Nash, Lt. Goldstien and Capt Pope photo from Lt. Nash
The S.S. Colebrook, now high and dry. The Alaska earthquake of March 27, 1964
raised the island and the Colebrook 10 feet..... Ahlstedt photo.......