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Henry M. Sarvant Photographs of Washington State and the Yukon

Man, boy, and dog outside the Slayden cabin, Adams Hill, 1899
Slayden cabin, Adams Hill, 1899

Series of photographs taken by Henry Mason Sarvant, a pioneer Tacoma civil engineer before the turn of the century and later mayor of Steilacoom. A portion of the collection depicts Mt. Tacoma (Mount Rainier) climbing expeditions and scenes of the vicinity, undertaken by Sarvant and his companions from 1892-1912. During this period he made extensive surveys of this region and also one of the first maps of Mount Rainier. An additional group of images document his adventures in the Klondike Gold Rush from August 1897 to November 1901. They chronicle Sarvant's trip up through Dyea and over the Chilkoot Pass to Dawson and also mining operations and life amidst the gold fields of Bonanza, Eldorado, Hunker, and Adam's Creeks, Yukon Territory.

Surveyor and photographer Henry Mason Sarvant was born on April 22, 1860 in New York Sate. He was raised by his mother's sister, Mrs. Mason Weld, in Cloister New Jersey. Immigrating to Tacoma in 1889, he had a long and varied life, working as a pioneer Tacoma civil engineer as well as serving for several terms as mayor of the town of Steilacoom. He made many trips to Mt. Rainier and made the first extensive surveys of the region. According to records kept by Mr. Longmire, on an expedition made in August 1892 with Mr. J. K. Samble, Sarvant was one of the first 11 people to reach the summit of Mt. Rainier. He led P. B. Trump's party on several of the early climbs to the summit. He also worked for the Washington Geological Survey party of Mt. Rainier, and he named many of the lakes, glaciers, and peaks in the park. Later on, a series of glaciers on the northeast slope was named after him.

Mount Rainier is the highest volcano in the Cascade Range (at 14,411 feet, 4,392 m). The mountain was named Rainier by Captain George Vancouver, the British explorer. He was the first European to view the mountain during a mapping expedition of the Puget Sound in 1792. The first well-documented climb of Rainier was made in 1857. The group was led by Army lieutenant August Valentine Kautz who was stationed in nearby Fort Steilacoom. After climbing for 8 days with many of the group suffering from snow blindness and other maladies, Kautz turned back when he was just 400 feet from the summit. Two years later a settler from Indiana named James Longmire founded a trade route named the Packwood Trail, which extended from the coast to the slopes of Mount Rainier. In 1870 Longmire lead a group of four men, including a Yakima Indian guide named Sluiskin, on the first recorded successful climb to Mount Rainier summit. In 1883 Longmire, now at the age of 63, discovered several soda and iron springs while camping at the southern foothills of Rainier. He established Mount Rainier's first hotel at this campground, and advertised the medicinal value of the spring water and mineral water baths. The success of this hotel raised the popularity of Rainier as a destination for mountain climbers and tourists. In 1888 John Muir and photographer Arthur C. Warner traveled to Rainier. Their writings and pictures further spread Mount Rainier's fame. Fay Fuller, a schoolteacher, became the first woman to climb the mountain in 1890. Mount Rainier National Park was established on 02 March 1899 by act of President McKinley, making it the fifth oldest national park in the United States. There was much debate over what to call the mountain. Many favored Mount Tacoma based upon the Native American name of Takhoma. The park encompasses 378 square miles. Today, annual visitation exceeds 2 million visitors, with the majority of visitors coming to the park during the months of May through October.

H. M. Sarvant with climbing equipment on the South Mowich Glacier, northwwest slope of Mt. Rainier, August 21, 1896
H. M. Sarvant, South Mowich Glacier, 1896

Sarvant's photographs of Mt. Rainier appear to have been taken between 1892 to August 1913. They chronicle several trips to Mount Rainier and show scenes of the north, northwest, northeast, west, and southwest slopes of the mountain, Paradise Park and the Nisqually River, and early settlements in the park, including Longmire Springs, the Kernahan's cabins, and Haines Mill. Several additional trips are documented. These include a trip Sarvant and Betts took in August of 1903 to Eatonville, Coeur D'Alene, Clear Lake, and Mount St. Helens and three automobile trips to Mt. Rainier made by Sarvant and family friends in the summers of 1908, 1909, and 1910. These trips were made after the building of a gravel road and a series of bridges increased transportation accessibility of the park.

On July 17, 1897, the steamship Portland arrived in Seattle from Alaska carrying over $700,000 in gold bullion. News of this treasure--and gold rush fever--spread quickly, and the "Rush" was on. Seeing the Klondike as a golden opportunity in what had been a bleak decade (Panic of 1893), over 100,000 "stampeders" set out to the gold fields of the Yukon River and its tributaries in Canada and Alaska. In 1897 Sarvant traveled to the Klondike region, where he worked as a surveyor and located a successful mine, earning enough gold to fund his later business and farming ventures. He followed one of the more popular routes through Dyea and over the Chilkoot Pass. It was not easy-during the winter months heavy snow and ice made the trip dangerous and difficult, and in the fall and spring travelers had to contend with thick, unending mud. The Canadian North West Mounted Police were stationed at the summit of the pass, collecting duty on incoming goods and ensuring that each person was adequately outfitted to survive one year in the Klondike (one ton of food and equipment per person). Avalanches, drownings, typhoid, spinal meningitis, and scurvy claimed many lives. Of the tens of thousands who actually made it to Bonanza, only a few found fortunes. Although the Klondike Gold Rush lasted only a few years, it had an immediate and lasting effect on Western Canada and the United States. New towns sprang up along the trails to the gold fields, and the populations of existing towns and cities rose dramatically. The economic strength of these cities increased, as well, as prospectors spent money on supplies, lodging, meals, gambling, prostitution, and other forms of entertainment.

Sarvant's Klondike photographs were taken between August 1897 and November 1901. They chronicle his trip up to the Klondike at the beginning of the Gold Rush through Dyea and over the Chilkoot Pass to Dawson. They also document his movements through the gold fields of Bonanza, Eldorado, Hunker, and Adam's Creeks, providing pictorial evidence of mining practices and equipment, towns, camps, cabins, natural terrain, portraits of miners, and in some cases, their families and pets. Additional photographs seem to have been taken on Sarvant's return trip from the gold fields and show natural scenery, Native American dwellings, totem poles, and carvings, the disabled ship Farralon, and the towns of Sitka, Ketchikan, and Wrangle, Alaska.

Sarvant returned to Tacoma in 1900, served as mayor of Steilacoom before moving to Yakima in 1912. He was treasurer of the Northwestern Woodenware Company of Tacoma for many years, where he met J. W. Slayden and J. W. Brocaw. In 1908 he married Carolyn Cobbler, a sister of Mrs. James W. Slayden. While living in Yakima he was involved in the fruit industry and conducted experiments in horticulture, developing new strains of flowers and plants. He continued to work in his orchard until his death, in Yakima on March 9, 1940.

About the Database

The information for the Henry Mason Sarvant Collection was researched and prepared by the UW Libraries Special Collections Division and Cataloging staff in 2002. Most of the photographs from this collection were included in this database. The images were scanned from b/w photographic prints and cyanotypes (blue toned images) in grayscale and color using a Microtek Scanmaker 9600L and saved in .jpg format. Some manipulation of the images was done to present the clearest possible digital image. The scanned images were then linked with descriptive data using the Contentdm software suite. The original collection resides in the UW Libraries Special Collections Division as the Henry Mason Sarvant Collection no. 35.

Creation of this collection was partially funded by The Mountaineers, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation, exploration, and enjoyment of outdoors and wilderness areas.

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