Mar 232013

(Click on this to access an enlargement that is easier to read.)

This month is the 100th anniversary of the first crossing of the Bering Strait by dogsled by a Caucasian. Max Gottschalk lost one of Ira Rank’s vessels to the ice pack off the coast of Inchon in the Chukchi Sea after pulling the Norwegian naturalist Johann Koern out of the ice after Koern had lost his ship’s rudder. Both men were to lose their vessels, crushed by the sea ice. 
Both men crossed the Bering Strait by dog sled, eventually making it to Nome: Koern chasing Max across the strait under the mistaken assumption that he had made off with his furs. Johann Koern, traveling with another man, ended up losing both of his hands after they were badly frozen during his chase. A three-year court battle ensued over the ownersip of the furs, Max prevailing. Max and Koern later crossed paths for the last time in Vladivostok in 1919. Koern was dying at the Red Cross hospital, and my grandfather sailing for Nome with the governor’s vessel, with a load of Red Cross supplies he bought on the Red market from a Chinese gentleman.

  9 Responses to “Max Gottschalk’s Dogsled Trek Across Bering Straits”

  1. Good to find this.
    Hello to all.

  2. Thanks, Clayton.

  3. correspondence I just read is pretty exciting and encouraging to some of us who would like charges dismissed. such good luck almost covers up how different the time was-between then and now.

  4. Archie – don’t know if you have the book Arctic Trader by Charles Madsen with John Scott Douglas (1957) – but it has a very entertaining description of some of your Grandfather’s activities in chapter 5 “Freebooters of Nome.”
    Mel Jr.

    • Yes, Mel,

      I have read Charles Madsen’s Arctic Trader. I have the book. As you will recall, Ira Rank of the U. S. Merchantile Company in Nome financed the design and construction of the schooner Sea Wolf for Charlie Madsen who became master of the Sea Wolf on March, 1909, when it was first launched at Seattle and who remained master of the vessel until the spring of 1913 when Max assumed command of the Sea Wolf following his winter crossing of the Bering Strait.

      In the fall of 1912, Max encountered Johann Koern in the Chukchi Sea while trading with one of Ira
      Rank’s schooners: Koern had become trapped in the pack ice after his vessel the Kittiwake lost its
      rudder. Max towed him out of immediate danger; both men, however, became trapped together in the ice–both vessels being crushed.

      Max dog-sledded from East Cape to Nome to secure a vessel to return to Siberia and retrieve his crew; the vessel he obtained was the Sea Wolf–Madsen’s pride and joy. In his book, Madsen stated that he sold the Sea Wolf in the winter of 1913, but he didn’t say to whom; Max, just as interestingly, in the his own account, as noted in Robin Hood of the Bering Strait: the Adventureous Life of Max Gottschalk, a book in German written by Wolfgang Wegner and Evamaria Steinke which was based on transcripts of Maxi’s tape recordings from around 1969–also on the English transcripts of those tapes–omitted to say how he came to be master of the Sea Wolf. Master he was, though, of the Sea Wolf from early 1913 until the time in 1916 when he was apprehended for the shooting of a Cossack officer off the coast of the village at East Cape.

      Madsen has the shooting of the Cossack occurring aboard the schooner Louella. The Louella, however, as recorded in federal records, was crushed in the the ice at “North Head, Siberia, Saint Lawrence Bay” on September 2, 1910. The records indicate that Ira Rank was her ower, and that Max was master of the schooner when she was crushed. This period of time was before the outbreak of the First World War, and definitely before the Russian Revolution. Madsen’s recollection was a bit foggy about the event that happened 47 years earlier before he wrote the Arctic Trader–an event that occured aborad the very vessel that he himself named after his friend Captain Alec McLean–Jack London’s Sea Wolf.

      It was in 1916 while Max was master of the Sea Wolf trading off the coast of East Cape that he
      encountered complications with Russian Cossacks over goods that he was trading–a Cossack being shot aboard the vessel during a “dispute.” Max made good an escape with the Sea Wolf, but was eventually apprehended and “administratively” shuffled around between East Cape, Anadyr, and Petropavlovsk by the Czarist Russians who were preparing to try him for his infractions.

      A planned trial aboard a Russian gunboat at East Cape collapsed after the village “chief”–the only eye-witness to the shooting–drown during an accident when he was being transported aboard an umiak to the Russian vessel for the on-board trial. The chief’s umiak capsized, and all that were aboard were dumped into the sea; everybody that was aboard the umiak, however, was rescued, but the “chief,” who hit the water, sank below the surface, never to bob or come back up again–gone!. The villagers became spooked, and the planned trial was postponed.

      Subsequently, Max was taken back to Petropavlosk and held there for some time, and then he was later transferred to Vladivostok. It was from here, during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution, that he acquired the governor’s vessel the Fridolf Gek and, having secured his freedom through the revolutionary council, sailed for Nome, making intermediate stops along the way to trade Red Cross goods that he had purchased in Vladivostok from a Chinese businessman. (In his book Madsen has him taking the governor’s yacht and the Red Cross
      supplies from Petropavlovsk.) Maxi was later sued in Nome for the theft of the Vladivostok Red Cross supplies, but the case against him was dismissed.

      All of this, Mel, to say that I’ve read the Arctic Trader, along with a number of books by Rex Beach. It is interesting to note the differing perspectives between Madsen and Wegner: one portraying Max as a “freebooter” of Nome, and the other as Robin Hood of the Bering Strait.

      Give your father my regards,
      Archie Gottschalk

      • For the integrity of this site and for Anton Littau….

        Shortly after making this post in reply to Mel Monsen I realized that I made an error. Sometime between the time that Max had his “encounter” with the Czarist officer aboard the Sea Wolf and the time that he was detained in Chukotka for his infractions he took command of the twin-engine Diamond L–another vessel owned by Ira Rank. It was while he was trading off Siberia with the Diamond L that he got caught in the sea ice and eventually captured at a Chukchi village along the Chukchi Sea in the fall of 1915. The rest of the story follows as related above.

        My apology for having erred,
        A. N. Gottschalk

        • Thanks Archie

        • The beginning of the first sentence of the fifth paragraph of the above 26 March 2013 entry should have read as follows:\

          “It was in 1914 while Max was master of the Sea Wolf trading off the coast of East Cape….”

          I caught the error recently.

          My apology,
          Archie Gottschalk

      • In the introductory paragraph I was in error where I indicated that Johan Koren lost his hands after his chase of Max during the winter of 1913. Koern lost his hands during a return trip that he made to the Siberian Arctic following his winter crossing of the Bering Strait. My apology for the error.

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