In a Far Country: The True Story of a Mission, a Marriage, a Murder, and the Remarkable Reindeer Rescue of 1898

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In the fall of 1897, eight whaling ships became trapped in the ice on Alaska's northern coast. Without relief, two hundred whalers would starve to death by winter's end. Mercifully, an extraordinary missionary, Tom Lopp, and seven Eskimo herders embarked on a harrowing journey to save the whalers, driving four hundred reindeer more than seven hundred untracked miles.

At the heart of the rescue expedition lies another, in some ways more compelling, journey. In a Far Country is ...

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In a Far Country

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In the fall of 1897, eight whaling ships became trapped in the ice on Alaska's northern coast. Without relief, two hundred whalers would starve to death by winter's end. Mercifully, an extraordinary missionary, Tom Lopp, and seven Eskimo herders embarked on a harrowing journey to save the whalers, driving four hundred reindeer more than seven hundred untracked miles.

At the heart of the rescue expedition lies another, in some ways more compelling, journey. In a Far Country is the personal odyssey of Tom and his wife Ellen Lopp— their commitment to the natives and the rugged but happy life they built for themselves amid a treeless tundra at the top of the world. The Lopps pulled through on grit and wits, on humility and humor, on trust and love, and by the grace of God. Their accomplishment would surely have received broader acclaim had it not been eclipsed by two simultaneous events: the Spanish- American War and the Alaska gold rush. The United States and its territories were transformed abruptly and irrevocably by these fits of expansionist fever, and despite the thoughtful, determined guidance of the Lopps, the natives of the North were soon overwhelmed by a force mightier than the fiercest Arctic winter: the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

San Antonio Express News
... A great adventure story that just happens to give the reader great and entertaining lessons in the history of Alaska
Anchorage Press
... Wonderful ... Lopp, a minor historical figure, becomes a fully realized man, modest, daring, articulate, self-aware, loving and complex.
Seattle Times
"Wisely, the author focuses on Tom and Ellen Lopp, and through their eyes we catch glimpses of the Alaskan frontier."
1/2 Boston Globe
"John Taliaferro provides a bracing account of the expedition and in [Thomas] Lopp."
Pahrump (NV) Valley Times
"This exciting adventure will keep you reading far into the long, dark night."
Publishers Weekly
When eight whaling ships became icebound at Point Barrow, the northernmost tip of Alaska, in January 1898, a rescue mission blessed by President McKinley was launched to bring the 275 stranded men reindeer meat to fend off starvation and scurvy. The Overland Relief Expedition drafted Tom Lopp, a missionary and advocate of turning native hunters into self-sufficient reindeer herders, who left his wife, Ellen, and children in Cape Prince of Wales, 55 miles across the Bering Strait from Siberia, and drove his 300-head herd 700 miles across ice and frozen tundra. The three-month trek by Lopp and several native herders was monumental, although the saga becomes anticlimactic when it turns out that the whalers' situation was less dire than reported. Along the way, Taliaferro (Tarzan Forever) describes how the Lopps had adapted brilliantly to the Alaskan wilderness, respecting the indigenous people in marked contrast to fellow missionary Harrison Thornton, an imperious Southerner who was murdered by native peoples. Although a lucid and diligent storyteller who makes good use of period correspondence, Taliaferro isn't in a class with adventure standouts like Jon Krakauer or Sebastian Junger, and will be best appreciated by readers with a specific interest in Alaskan or missionary history. 8 pages of b&w photos; 2 maps. (Nov. 20) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1898, Alaskan missionary Tom Lopp and seven Eskimo herders set out on a risky rescue expedition across the frozen tundra, driving a herd of 400 reindeer in front of them. Their goal was to bring desperately needed food to 200 stranded whalers whose eight ships had become trapped in the previous autumn's ice on Alaska's northern coast. Taliaferro (former senior ed., Newsweek; Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs) presents an exhaustive historical and biographical examination of this little-known expedition and the fascinating lives of the intrepid Tom Lopp and his wife, Ellen. His well-written account focuses on the trials and triumphs of the Lopps, their family life, and their American Missionary Association work in frontier Alaska prior to and immediately after the rescue expedition. He succeeds in creating a vivid, thoughtful, and often heartbreaking portrait of a brutal yet fragile wilderness, threatened by the destabilizing encroachment of modernity into native communities. With parallels to other Alaskan nonfiction, such as Gay and Laney Salisbury's The Cruelest Miles and Margaret E. Murie and Terry Tempest Williams's Two in the Far North, this lengthy work is best suited to serious and patient readers and is recommended for larger public and academic libraries. Ingrid Levin, Florida Atlantic Univ. Libs., Jupiter, FL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
As the subtitle suggests, there are multiple threads to this well-documented account of courage and chicanery in the Arctic. Taliaferro (Tarzan Forever, 1999, etc.), a former senior editor at Newsweek, has packed his story with a host of vivid characters: dedicated and not-so-dedicated missionaries, wheelers and dealers, sea captains, politicos, stranded whalers, Lapp reindeer herders, goldminers and beleaguered Alaskan natives. Central to all this are the amazingly sturdy and resourceful Lopps, Tom and Ellen. Unfazed by the murder of another missionary, they try to bring both Christianity and a better life to the Alaskan natives around Cape Prince of Wales. Sheldon Jackson, the general agent for education in Alaska, had proposed importing trainable reindeer, along with Lapp reindeer herders, from Europe, at first to improve the lot of the caribou-hunting Alaskan natives, but later as part of a grand plan to provide mail service and transportation for white settlers. This plan was well under way when, in 1897, a group of whaling ships became ice-bound in the Arctic Ocean. With their crews believed to be on the brink of starvation, San Francisco newspapers demanded that the federal government act, and subsequently Treasury Secretary Gage authorized the captain of a Revenue Cutter Service ship to contact Lopp and persuade him to drive his large herd of reindeer several hundred miles north in the dead of winter to come to the aid of the whalers. Taliaferro weaves into one highly readable story the travails of this Overland Relief Expedition, the life of plucky Ellen Lopp and her ever-growing brood of little Lopps, the tale of the stranded but definitely not starving whalers and theconcurrent gold rush that was to change Alaska forever. The grand but failed scheme to make reindeer the camels of the north is in itself a story that deserves to be better known, and Taliaferro does it justice. Agent: Esther Newberg/International Creative Management (ICM)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586485085
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 11/12/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 805,138
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John Taliaferro is a former senior editor at Newsweek and the author of three acclaimed books, Great White Fathers: The Story of the Obsessive Quest to Create Mount Rushmore, Charles M. Russell: The Life and Legend of America's Cowboy Artist, and Tarzan Forever: The Life of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He lives in Pray, Montana, and Austin, Texas.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2014

    The cat

    She runs here andlooks around for a way across. Then she finds an opening in a tree and goes in it, to a secret tunnel...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2008

    must read

    I think that this is a great book. It has great descriptions of the characters. verry good book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2007

    Great slant on Alaskan history

    Two endearing characters give the reader a realistic picture of 1890's Alaska through the eyes of non-natives. A not so rosy picture of the whaling and mining industries and its impact on the natives in Alaska at that time. The Lopps, stationed in a town along the frigid waters of the Bering Strait, are culturally-sensitive missionaries who set out to bring Christianity to the natives of Alaska but end up learning more from the natives over their 12 or so years while stationed there. In spite of the frigid conditions, lack of even the basics,lack of communication with their lower 48 relatives, the Lopps revel in their life in Alaska, the life they make for themselves, their children and the natives. Well-researched story of the Overland Relief Expedition (which I knew nothing about) to bring supplies to whalers who got themselves iced in for the winter during 1898. Great history of reindeer/caribou populations. This book gives the reader a great sense of the geography of Alaska I flipped back and forth between the map and the story. So now I know where the Chuckchi Sea is! Don't forget to read the sheds a lot of light on the Lopps' years after leaving Alaska for Seattle. The Bibliography is well-worth perusing as well.

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