United States Coast Guard - 200th Anniversary


The cutter Bear loads the first reindeer introduced into Alaska to provide added sustenance to the diets of native Americans.

When Alaska was acquired by the United States in 1867, many called the purchase a "folly" and the new territory an "icebox". For many years after the purchase, Alaska remained remote and isolated. For this reason, during the first fifty years of the territory's existence the role of the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service was extremely important. Enforcement of most of the regulations and laws was done by the service due to the absence of other federal agencies. Revenue cutters visited the inhabitants of the most remote regions, acting as a liaison between the territory and the federal government, and in many cases were their only outside contact.

Over the years, the service adopted a paternalistic relationship with the native Americans. The commanding officer of the cutter Bear, Captain Michael A. Healy, became concerned that the animals that provided food for the native Americans were becoming extinct due to over-trapping for fur. Although there were only about 25,000 natives in Alaska, he felt that if nothing was done, they might face starvation.

The Superintendent of Education, Dr. Sheldon Jackson, and Captain Healy wanted to introduce domesticated reindeer as an alternate food source. Both men felt that the native Americans, many of whom were nomadic hunters, could be taught herding techniques if the animals were brought to this region. In Siberia, only a short distance away, the Chukchi herded reindeer using their fur for clothing and their meat and milk for food. Jackson traveled to Washington to lobby for funds while Healy used his influence to persuade the Chukchi to sell the animals.

During the summer of 1890, Bear anchored near a Siberian village and landed an officer and an interpreter to bargain with the village chief. A deal was concluded and seventeen reindeer were herded toward crewmen who examined them before transporting them to Bear. The animals were taken to the cutter in small boats and hoisted on board with a sling. The reindeer were taken to stations in Alaska where native Americans were taught to become herdsmen. This project, which also included other vessels, lasted until 1906 when the Russian government withdrew its support. Fifty years after Bear's first trip, the reindeer population had grown to over one-half million animals.

The U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, a predecessor of the Coast Guard, continued to play an extremely important role for the government by performing multi-missioned tasks. Humanitarian actions, such as this, have historically been an important duty of the service and have been an enduring tradition of the modern Coast Guard.

The USCGC Healy (Captain Michael A. Healy) to be christened..

Artist: Shannon Stirnweis

Shannon Stirnweis graduated from the Art Center College of Design with distinction before entering the Army to serve as an illustrator. After the Army he became a free-lance illustrator. His work was included in the 200 Years of American Illustration Show at the New York Historical Society and for nine consecutive years in the highly competitive annual Exhibition of American illustration.

He served as President of the Society of Illustrators for two years and was a trustee of the Graphic Artist Guild. He has written three books on painting. illustrated more than two dozen books and a number of movie posters. He has worked for such notable publications as: Readers Digest, Mechanic's Illustrated, Popular Mechanics and Field and Stream.

The (WAGB-20)USCGC Healy christened..