While transcribing Alaska Territory records for the National Archives, I noticed two interesting men who were working with the native tribes. A little research revealed they were both from New York State. Here are their stories.
Ferdinand was born in 1876 in Albany, New York, son of Ferdinand Schmitter and Mary Stewart. His father, Ferdinand Sr., was born in 1842 in Sonthofen, Bavaria, Germany and died in 1892 in Albany. Ferdinand Jr. graduated from Union College in 1893, then Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1903.
In 1905 he became a surgeon for the U.S. Army in Alaska. As noted by George Boulter, Assistant Superintendent of [Native] Schools in Alaska Territory – Schmitter took a great interest in the Indigenous people and visited their village at Eagle, Alaska once a week, and occasionally several times a day. While there, he wrote Upper Yukon Native Customs and Folk-Lore which was published by Smithsonian in 1910.
Schmitter completed his service in Alaska in 1908 and returned to New York. Before he left, Camp Eagle held a gathering honoring their friend and brother, at Camp Eagle No. 13, Arctic Brotherhood.
The 1910 census listed him in New Rochelle, Westchester County, age 34, surgeon in the U.S. Army. Although he had married in 1909, he was already divorced by 1910. An article in the St. Louis Dispatch that November stated he was suing her for divorce. Then in April 1911 he married in New York, Mrs. Winifred Branstetter Stottler of Idaho. The wedding announcement appeared in the Idaho Statesman and mentioned that Dr. Schmitter is a Captain in the Army and has spent the past year studying in Germany. Previously, he was stationed at Nome, Alaska.
Later census records show that he continued to work as a physician in New York City. In May 1935 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle announced that he spoke at the Flatbush Republican Club about his experiences as an army medical officer in the Yukon. Ferdinand died June 28, 1950.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle printed his obituary on June 30th, stating that he had died at the Army Hospital, Fort Jay, Governor’s Island, NY. He and Winifred, who died in 1955, are both buried at Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, NY. Further family information and photos can be found in the Hacker Papers at Albany Institute of History and Art.
Rev. Charles E. Betticher – Episcopal Missionary at Tanana, Alaska [Territory]
Tanana, located in the Yukon area of interior Alaska, was a trading post long before European contact. It is home to the Athabascan peoples. Rev. Charles Betticher Jr. was one of many missionaries who worked with them there over the years.
Charles E. Betticher Jr. was born in 1880 at Lackawanna, PA to Rev. Charles E. Betticher and Lydia Struthers. Charles Sr.’s roots go back several generations in Montgomery and Herkimer County, New York. He too was an Episcopal minister, having attended Whitestown Seminary near Utica. He was then a pastor in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, before dying in 1916.
Charles Betticher Jr. graduated from Philadelphia Divinity School, and then felt the call to Alaska in 1905 where he built St. Timothy’s Mission at Tanana Crossing. There were five missions and schools, and in winter he had to walk long stretches over the snow.
In 1911 he took a furlough and went on a speaking tour throughout the United States about his work in Alaska. Dozens of newspaper articles announced his lectures. The Hornell Evening Tribune Times in January stated that “under Mr. Bettichers labors his native work has grown…so upon his return he will have entire care of the chain known as the Tanana Valley Missions.”
In February he spoke at St. Paul’s Episcopal in Brooklyn and according to the Standard Union “This lecture has been in great demand and the illustrations are unusually fine.” He also lectured in New Jersey in 1911 – the Plainfield Courier News mentioned his delight in working with the children at the mission and he showed many stereopticon views.
The Yonkers Statesman ran the following headline in November 1914: “The Little Minister of Alaska: Rev. Charles E. Betticher Jr. [comes] East on Missionary Lecture Tour.” He was known as “the little minister” because he was only 5’5” tall and slightly built. This lecture tour was under the direction of the Board of Missions, Episcopal Church.
Before he completed his work in 1915, the Fairbanks Alaska Citizen published an article in 1914 summarizing his work there. This article also ran in newspapers throughout the country – Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, Connecticut, New York, and North Carolina to name only a few.
In 1918 Rev. Betticher married Margaret Copeland Graves of Baltimore who was also doing missionary work in Alaska, and the Philippines. They settled in New York City where he became the associate editor of the Spirit of Missions of the Episcopal Church. He continued to travel and lecture – but sadly, he died only a few years later in 1922, at the young age of forty.
His obituary appeared in the New York Times on March 17, and was copied by many other papers, including Alaska. He left wife Margaret and a daughter Ann (1920-1934) who also died young. Margaret died in 1959 in Baltimore, Maryland.
Tragically, Charles’ brother, Julius Clarence (1883-1904) drowned in December 1904 while crossing an icy river in Wisconsin. He had been a Seminary student and lay reader at the Nashotah Mission there. As noted in The Living Church, he “would have been a most desirable addition to the ranks of the priesthood.” Perhaps this sad incident motivated Charles Jr. to choose missionary work in Alaska Territory.
Sources: George Boulter’s writings about Ferdinand Schmitter are part of National Archives Records, Bureau of Indian Affairs; Schmitter divorce – St. Louis Dispatch, November 2, 1910; Schmitter wedding – Idaho Statesman, April 23, 1911; Schmitter lecture – Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 28, 1935; Schmitter obituary – Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 30, 1950.
Betticher lecture – Hornell Evening Tribune Times, January 3, 1911; Betticher lecture – Brooklyn Standard Union, February 15, 1911; Betticher lecture – Plainfield Courier News [NJ], April 5, 1911; Little Minister-Yonkers Statesman, November 17, 1914; Fairbanks Alaska Citizen, June 15, 1914; Obituary- New York Times, March 17, 1922.