SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Doctor Mustard or Major Mustard?

Pioneering doctor was a big name in 1920s Ketchikan


August 18, 2022

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska -  Ketchikan has had many interesting medical professionals in the past century, but one of the most accomplished was Dr. John Mustard. Mustard traveled the world, studying in London and Vienna. He was the mayor of Nome during the Gold Rush. He was also a gentleman fox farmer. But he spent much of his medical career serving the residents of Ketchikan.

This information on Mustard is from the files at the Tongass Historical Museum.

John Howard Mustard was born in Brucefield, Ontario, Canada on July 19, 1869. He was one of 15 children. His parents had emigrated from Scotland.

When he was six, the family moved to Abilene, Kansas. He would attend the University of Kansas and graduate in 1894. He moved to Chicago and graduated with a medical degree from Rush Medical College in 1901. He did his intern studies in Chicago and then went abroad, serving as an assistant surgeon in London. He also traveled throughout England as an emergency surgeon. At one point, he studied at the College of Medicine in Vienna, Austria.


Eventually the peripatetic Mustard ended up in Seattle. He met up with a former classmate from Rush College who introduced him to the Captain of the steamship Ohio. The steamship needed a ship's doctor and Mustard signed on for a trip to Nome. Arriving in the gold rush city in 1904, Mustard decided to stay and opened up a medical practice.

He would spend more than a decade in Nome and was even elected Mayor at one point. In 1913, Alaska Territorial Governor John Strong appointed him to the territorial board of medical examiners.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Mustard was commissioned a Captain in the US Army Medical Corps. He was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco and Camp Fremont in Palo Alto, where he was the commanding officer of the field hospital. He was also an inspector at the base hospital at Camp Lewis in Washington before he was mustered out in August of 1919. He remained an Army reserve medical officer.

Returning to Alaska, Mustard decided to continue his medical career in Ketchikan. He purchased the practice, and the equipment, of Dr. Thatcher Miller, who was leaving the First City.

Besides his medical practice, Mustard took an interest in an industry that was then sweeping the region, Fox Farming. (See "When Fur Farming Was Alaska's Third Largest Industry" SITNEWS, 9-12-21).

In 1922, he joined a group of Ketchikan businessmen to form a corporation that would create one of the largest fur farms in the region, on Hotspur Island.

The group raised $75,000 ($1.3 million in 2022 dollars) and leased Hotspur Island from the federal government.

Mustard also took an active role in establishing the Southeastern Alaska Blue Fox Farmer's Association and the group met in Ketchikan in 1923. The association lobbied the territorial legislature to codify protections for the farms such as fox branding and breed registration. The territorial government devised 178 specially designed branding irons and distributed them to area farms.

Hotspur is located between Annette and Duke islands but, at the time of the lease, it was not unoccupied. A Tlingit man named George James had a homesite on the 1,800-acre island. The new company, Ketchikan Fur Farms, evicted James. He filed a lawsuit in 1929, but - not surprisingly - lost in court to the much more powerful business.

Mustard, and the other members of Ketchikan Fur Farms, eventually built the farm on Hotspur and "seeded" the island with 50 breeding pairs of blue foxes. But history has lost whether it was a successful farm or not. Most likely it closed down in the 1930s when The Depression pretty much wiped out the regional fox farming industry by cutting off the demand.

Meanwhile, Mustard continued his association with the Army reserve and was eventually promoted to Major. He was now often referred to locally as "Major Mustard," according to a story in a 1929 edition of the Ketchikan Chronicle.

In 1930, the Chronicle reported on a trip that Mustard had made to the national convention of the American Medical Association, which was held in Portland, Oregon that year. Mustard returned to the First City talking not of medical advances, but of how the game of miniature golf was sweeping the country. He noted that Ketchikan would be a great location for the miniature golf course "in the proper weather."

In 1933, Territorial Governor John Troy appointed Mustard to a second term on the territorial board of medical examiners.

Three years later, Mustard died at the age of 67 in Ketchikan. At the time he was the president of the territorial board of examiners and the officer in charge of the US Public Health Service in Ketchikan.

His funeral received front page coverage by the Ketchikan Chronicle.

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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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