William Thomas Lopp papers , 1893-1939

Overview of the Collection

Lopp, William Thomas, 1864-1939
William Thomas Lopp papers
1893-1939 (inclusive)
3 linear feet, (6 containers)
Collection Number
Ax 058
William Thomas Lopp (1864-1939) dedicated himself to improving the lives of Alaskan natives by establishing a Reindeer Station in Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska, and by holding various government posts in education. During his career he established sixty-six schools, five hospitals and sanitation systems, and increased prosperity in the coastal villages of northern Alaska. The collection includes journals, correspondence, and writings related to his work.
University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives
UO Libraries--SCUA
1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR
Telephone: 5413463068
Access Restrictions

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

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Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Historical NoteReturn to Top

William Thomas Lopp was born June 21, 1864 to Jacob C. and Lucinda Trotter Lopp in Harrison County, Indiana. He worked for six years as a teacher and principal in various Indiana schools, and was a superintendent and elder in the Presbyterian Church. He earned a B.A. at Indiana's Hanover College in 1888.

In July 1890 Lopp arrived at Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska to teach at a mission school. Here he met Ellen Louise Kittredge, another trained teacher, and they married in 1892. Both dedicated themselves to learning the Eskimo languages and to understanding Eskimo lifeways. Seeing that Eskimo food sources were endangered by the encroachments of the burgeoning American and Canadian fishing industry, Lopp promoted reindeer herding among the native Alaskans as an alternative means of subsistence. In 1892 reindeer were brought over from Siberia and a Reindeer Station was established, of which Lopp was superintendent. He became known to the native whalers and fishermen of Alaska as the "Reindeer Man" and "Tomgorah," meaning "Tom-the-good-man."

In 1902 the Lopp family relocated to Seattle, although Lopp traveled between Seattle, Alaska and Washington D.C., working to improve the lives of Alaskan natives. He became superintendent of government schools (Native) and reindeer, northern district, of Alaska in 1904, and left that post in 1909. In 1910 he became chief of the Alaska division of the U.S. Bureau of Education, a post he held until 1923, after which he was superintendent of education of Natives of Alaska for two years. In 1925 he became a reindeer expert for Hudson's Bay Company. In 1936, Lopp conducted a survey of the native Alaskan reindeer industry for the Indian Rights Association.

Throughout his years working with native Alaskans Lopp encouraged them to follow and care for the growing reindeer herds, assuring them and their children adequate food, clothing, and income. He developed the "endless chain" system of apprenticing young Eskimos to older reindeer herders and then giving the younger men a percentage of the increased herd. During his career Lopp established sixty-six schools, five hospitals and sanitation systems, and increased prosperity in the coastal villages of northern Alaska. William Thomas Lopp died on April 10, 1939, survived by his wife Ellen and eight children.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection contains materials relating to William Thomas Lopp's experiences on the Alaskan frontier. The collection is divided into six series: Journals (1893-1936), Correspondence (1893-1939), Manuscripts, Subject Files, Printed Material, and Photographs.

Journals comprises notes from overland journeys and explorations.

Correspondence is divided into three subseries: General; Personal; and Eskimo letters. General correspondence is arranged chronologically, as is the series of personal correspondence.

Manuscripts contains Lopp's notes for and drafts of various articles and publications. Of note within this section is the Log of the Overland Relief Expedition upon which Lopp's book, The Great Reindeer Drive, was based.

Subject Files contains correspondence and notes relating to the Indian Rights Association and the Hudson's Bay Reindeer Investigation. There is also documentation, in the form of correspondence, documents and newspaper clippings, of the Lomen Controversy. (The Lomens were a powerful family who cheated the Indians of Alaska out of their land and reindeer herd rights.) This section also contains a folder of notes and memoranda on reindeer and another with notes on Eskimo language.

Printed Material includes newspaper clippings, newsletters, publications of the Commissioner of Education (Alaska office), reports of the governor of Alaska, a National Geographic article ("Reindeer in Alaska"), and various government documents. Reindeer herding figures can be found in the publications from the Alaska Office of the Commissioner of Education and reports from the Governor of Alaska.

The Photographs contains Lopp's collection of photographs of predominately Eskimo scenes, portraits and Alaskan landscapes also depicts Alaskan coastal life.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Alaska--Photographs
  • Educators--Alaska
  • Eskimos--Alaska--Social life and customs
  • Missionaries--Prince of Wales, Cape (Alaska)--Prince of Wales, Cape
  • Reindeer herding--Alaska
  • Reindeer industry--Alaska

Personal Names

  • Lopp, William Thomas, 1864-1939

Geographical Names

  • Alaska--Discovery and Exploration

Form or Genre Terms

  • Correspondence