Martin's brother, spent much of 1908 traveling from
Germany to visit with Martin and his wife, Lucy, in Skagway, Alaska.
The following three letters were written by Henry Itjen to his Aunt and
Uncle who were Hanke Gerdes and Sophie(Itjen) Gerdes, in Sievern,
Germany. These letters were located in Germany and mailed to Bob
Wieking, in Ellensburg, Washington, USA. The letters then had to be
translated into English.
March 15, 1908
Dear Uncle and Aunt,
I received your recent letter with such pleasure, and I am happy to see
that you are all healthy and well, which thank God, we are too.
Actually, I am not really all that well, but I should not complain, and
even though I am not that strong, I can do my work, because I do eat
well, and I live a sedate life. I live quite comfortably. Martin and
his wife are very good to me. They do what they can, and I try to do
the same for them. She is doing the cooking and maintains the
household. She, herself, has several small properties which she leases,
and so their life is quite comfortable; not working too hard, even
making a little money and getting ahead. She pleaded with him(Martin)
to give it up(digging for gold) when he came to visit here during
Christmas. He was with us for about six weeks, but did not want to give
it up. I tried to speak with him about it too, that he should give it
up. But, finally he relented, and promised he would sell it in the
fall. Digging for gold really takes hold of some people. It seems they
are unable to give it up thinking they get richer and richer, because
some days they find $50.00. Many people have found "thousands" and some
have found even millions. We have lost more than we have gained. In a
short time period I, myself, have lost $2,000 plus a lot of time, as
well as two toes. But I thank our Lord that it is finally all over. I
have given all my belongings to Martin without charge. He is living
happy and content with his darling wife, and I hope he keeps his
had a mild winter here, little frost really. I just received a
postcard from "Christine"(Christine is a cousin of Martin and Henry.
She is the grandmother of Bob Wieking). They are all happy. I would
like to thank you for the nice photos that Emma and Bertha have sent
me.(They are cousins of Martin and Henry back in Sievern). I am busy
every day, and I write in the evening and that tires me. I have to
close now and hope this letter finds you I good health. Regards from
Martin and his wife and especially from me, your loving nephew.
Please write again soon.
April 7, 1908
Received your dear letter with great joy. I am here in Skagway now.
It's been a hard journey. It took me 23 days. It was cold and the snow
was deep, too deep for the horses, and so I had to walk and froze my
right foot. I was on the road for an entire month, and the doctor had
to amputate two toes. And even though I am in great pain I thank God
that it was not worse. But it is bad.
So, dear aunt, I have enough of it and shall stay here this summer. I
am in my own home. I can't walk yet. There is a German that lives with
me that does little things for me, such as cook and bring in the
As soon as I am better I can return to my old workplace. I am well
known here and have many friends that are very helpful. Martin and his
wife remained there. They want to try it for another year. Both were
crying when I left them. They don't know yet about my foot.
I have not much news this time. Say hello to your husband, your
children, and our mother.
Your loving nephew
Nov 4, 1908
Dear Uncle and Aunt,
Received your letter with great joy. I have been very busy this past
summer, but right now there is not much to do here. The days are
shorter here than in Germany. Daylight from 9-3, but in summer it's
daylight almost all day long.
Thank God I am able to walk again, but I am still coughing, but I don't
feel bad. I am able to do my work as well as I used to. It is, after
all, not as difficult as reading and arithmetic.
Martin's wife has come out here, and we all love together now. Anyway,
she is tired now of that lonely life and plans to remain in town for a
while. She has a good home here, and even owns a small hotel and many
small properties that she leases, and is thus able to make a good
living here. Both of them send their regards. Martin is really heavily
involved in digging. He takes on more and more, and has a lot of
claims. Dear aunt, you ask if there are no women here? Yes, there are
some, not many , but most of them are married. There are a lot of
unmarred men here.
This location is a small town near the water with many ships landing
here. All around us is nothing but mining industry, and lots of high,
snow-covered mountains covered the whole year. They leave here by train
to the end, and from there by sled over the mountains up to the North
Pole, almost, or at least as far as the good Lord lets them get. Dear
Aunt, it must be sad for you when all of your children leave the moment
they become adults. I hope, at least one or two stay home, but that's
how it goes. Everybody wants to go to America.
It is really not so bad here, but in the big cities you find much
misery and hunger, and also many poor Germans. It is often their own
fault, but not always.
Dear Uncle and Aunt,
God has really blessed you with nine(9) children, beautiful and healthy
children, and all alive. I send a small gift for all of you. Buy
yourself something for Christmas. I thank Emma for the photo she sends
Many loving greetings from your Henry, and a happy New Year and merry
Christmas to you all.
Henry sent this postcard to his
mother in San Francisco in 1912 letting her know he was okay, and
kindly asking for more funds!