By David Johnson
Several books have been published highlighting the many Icelanders who served in the two World Wars for Canada and the United States. On Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day we honor all those who gave their lives and those that returned home protecting freedom and liberty for all.
But one Icelander named Micah Northman is still an enigma more than 100 years after his unfortunate death in Ketchikan, Alaska in 1908. Micah may well be the first Icelandic immigrant in North America to enlist in the military of either Canada or the United States. He enlisted at Fort Snelling, Minnesota in October 1878. We estimate that by 1878, little more than 2,000 Icelanders had immigrated to North America, so Micah was one of the earlier immigrants. But what Micah’s Icelandic birth name was, who his ancestors were or even who his relatives living today in Iceland might be, still remains a mystery.
If you are a member of Icelandic Roots, you can view Micah’s profile page on I#642950 – at least some basics we have reconstructed so far. There is a fair amount of information about his long military career from 1878 thru 1889 as he served across vast swaths of the Western United States. You can see some of the locations he served from the
geo-coded map on his page. He’s also perhaps one of the most-widely traveled Icelanders of his day. It’s great to have military records that indicate he was a soldier of fine character.
Newspaper accounts and US Archive records lend additional insights about his life like him receiving a homestead land grant on San Juan Island in Washington State in 1897, purchasing a schooner in Victoria, British Columbia, earning mail delivery contracts from the US Postal Service to deliver mail in the San Juan Islands, and his move north along the Pacific Coast up to Alaska.
Sadly, more is known about his death than about his birth. He had been living at remote Bell Island Hot Springs, Alaska when he met his fate. This location in an Alaskan fjord must have reminded him of the country of his birth in many ways and is today still desolate and accessible only by boat. Tragically, he is said to have fainted and fallen into the scalding hot springs one January day in 1908. Burned severely, he was transported some 90 miles by boat to the nearest hospital in Ketchikan, Alaska where he died soon after his arrival. Here is a photo of Bell Island Hot Springs from back in that approximate time period. Perhaps one of these men is Micah – wouldn’t that be amazing? But we’ll likely never know.
Someday, we hope to solve the mystery of Micah Northman and connect him with his parents and other relatives in the database. Today, we keep his memory alive through Icelandic Roots because he was one us – an Icelandic adventurer in search of things North America could offer. We also keep the candle of his life lit because he most certainly has cousins still alive today who will care about his story. You may hold the key to unlocking this mystery. If you have any information or ideas about this person, please reach out to me, David Johnson, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For now, we recognize Micah and his 10+ years of service in the United States Army and those like him that served with honor.