Story last updated at 10/24/2012 - 5:55 pm
The lonely, not well known, Cape Muzon was the initial point used in the survey in Dixon Entrance to establish the international boundary between Canada and Alaska. This is the southern extremity of Dall Island off the western coast of Prince of Wales Island. The cape is approximately 54 degrees 40 North Latitude marking the southern end of Russian America. How many of us remember our history lessons: the "54-40 or Fight" slogan of the 1844 presidential campaign?
The first geographic interest in Cape Muzon came in 1908, with the U.S. Coast Survey steamer "Gedney," when surveyors came to examine the area. From that expedition the first topographic map was made that gave the contours of adjacent mountains and the shoreline. A suggestion was made for a marker location when the U.S.-Canada boundary was officially surveyed. I'm unsure when the surrounding waters were first charted for rocks and depths.
The U.S. Boundary team did not arrive until five years later. The demarcation of the International Boundary from Mt. St. Elias to the entrance of Portland Canal was virtually complete by the end of the 1912 field season. What was needed was a system of triangulation from Cape Muzon to the entrance of Tongass Passage at the more protected east entrance from Alaska into Dixon Entrance. This distance is approximately 80 miles over often stormy seas.
Cape Muzon became the "starting point" when Monument 1 and 2 of the entire boundary survey were placed, however not at the points suggested by the 1908 team. Unlike many other boundary survey crews who climbed tall mountains and scrambled across glaciers, only two men were stationed at Cape Muzon. They provided light for surveying during the summer of 1913. They undoubtedly were the men who built the concrete monuments. Both monuments provided triangulation points for British Columbia's North Island across Dixon Entrance on Graham Island's northwest corner. The triangle was completed by connection with Cape Chacon (southeast end of Prince of Wales Island). Thus, the exact longitude and latitude of this portion of the boundary could be determined.
The 1913 work party assembled at a cannery on Wales Island, part of Alaska, but determined to be in Canada after this survey. Here they chartered a sea-going vessel and proceeded toward Cape Muzon. Light keepers to operate heliotropes were landed at Cape Chacon, on North Island and Tow Hill also in British Columbia on Graham Island. These instruments reflected the sun's rays from one station to another so that directions were accurately determined. Two light keepers with camp supplies were landed at Cape Muzon.
The two permanent markers were erected at Cape Muzon. Monument 1 was at the extreme end of Dall Island on the rocky point south of the Cape, about 170 feet above the tide line and 700 feet northwest of three rocky islands. Monument 2 was on the most southerly end of these islands about 500 feet southeast from the Cape between the most westerly and southerly points of that island. Each of these pyramidal monuments was a concrete pier, 28-inches square at the base and 3-feet tall and 8-inches square on the top. Can we presume these were so firmly attached to the rocks that they are there today despite the storms that pound the Cape?
All summer, the weather was unfavorable for line-of-sight work, because cloudy and foggy weather prevailed. The entire season from May to September only two stations were completed, Cape Muzon and British Columbia's North Island.
One of two fatal accidents of the entire Alaskan boundary survey project took place at Cape Muzon. The two light keepers, part of the Canadian team, lost their lives. A heavy storm and rainfall pounded the Cape for several days. On the night of Sept. 6-7, 1913 immense landslides buried the camp where C. H. Bode and G. R. Roberts were sleeping in their tent. The light keepers often visited nearby settlers every couple days, undoubtedly William McLeod, and when the Canadians did not appear, the settlers became uneasy. The settlers hiked the trail leading to the camp. They had great difficulty crossing 10 or 12 landslides with timber and earth piled up in some places 20-feet high.
When the men reached the camp, the only things visible among the mud and shattered trees were a sack of flour, a few tins of canned goods, and a plate. The settlers alerted a fishing boat, and the captain notified the Sulzer copper mine officials of the accident. They passed the message onto Ketchikan and Prince Rupert.
The Canadian lighthouse tender "Quadra" was intercepted at sea by wireless from Price Rupert and asked to go to the scene and render assistance. A launch from Ketchikan and the launch with the triangulation party from Cape Chacon hurried to Cape Muzon. The "Quadra" was first on the scene but soon reported by wireless that the camp was covered by 20 feet of mud, and there was no hope for the two men. The two launches reached Cape Muzon soon after the Canadian vessel departed. More men searched in the mud and trees, but were unable to find any traces of the bodies.
The position of the camp was determined as closely as possible by the experienced surveyors, and a large wooden cross was erected on which was carved: "Killed here September 6, 1913, G. R. Roberts and C. H. Bode, International Boundary Surveys." Wooden structures don't last long in Southeast's wet and violent weather, and it is doubtful the cross still exists a hundred years later.
Light keepers did not return to Cape Muzon in 1914, but they completed the Cape Chacon and Tow Hill triangulations. I found a brief note in USC&GS records that after the outbreak of war in August, German cruisers were reported to be operating off the North Pacific Coast. The members of the surveying parties were stationed on look-out duty on the mountains around Dixon Entrance to keep the Prince Rupert military authorities informed. The mountains are not named so I don't know whether this included Mt. Muzon above Cape Muzon.
My guess is that few, if any, people today go ashore on the surf-breaking rocks of Cape Muzon. Sports fishermen on calm days troll along the Cape, undoubtedly unaware of its significance in United States and Canada politics.
Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.