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William Noah Armstrong (1866-1921)
Sailor and Explorer born in St. Clair, Mich., raised in Bay City.

William N. Armstrong was born at St. Clair, Michigan in 1866, as the first child of Captain Richard and Harriet E. (Scott) Armstrong. His sister, Chilula was born in 1868, and she was followed by two brothers, Paul in 1869 and John S. (aka: Rolf) in 1889. A few years after later the family moved to Bay City, Mich., where William worked for his father who own fleet of passenger steamships and fire tugs. The family made their home the village of Portsmouth, which later merged into Bay City. It was here that married Minnie A. Lahman on January 12, 1888. Their only child, a son named Robert W. was born in 1869 at Saginaw. William and family remained in Bay City area until some time after 1900, when they moved to Seattle, Washington. From there Wiliam did some prospecting for gold in Alaska, and this experience led him getting the opportunity to be a member of Frederick Cook's second expedition to Mt. McKinley in 2006. His son, Robert, in the mean time was attending college to become a lawyer, however, he aborted this plan after he was offered by work in his Uncle Paul's playwright business. Years later ended up in Hollywood where he was a supporting actor, until he land a starring role in the classic “King Kong” film. William didn't live long enough to see his son't success, he died in 1921.

Links to biographies for William and other members of the Armstrong family are listed in the right-hand column.

1880s boat business. - Added July,2001.

1880 (about) - History of the Great Lakes, Vol. 2, 1899

Page 676 (bio. William S. Lennox)

He began his practical work in his chosen occupation as an engineer of the fire ferry tug Handy Boy, owned by William Armstrong, of East Saginaw, whose fleet of five tugs also included the Lee, C. M. Farrar, James Hay and David Sutton. The duties of these five tugs were to patrol the lumber yards, a distance of eight miles, make one trip each two hours, a day until ten P. M.

1906 Cook expedition. - Added July,2001.

To the Top of the Continent: Discover, Exploration and Adventure.
By Frederick A. Cook, M.D. - 1909

Chapter IV – Discoveries about Mr.Dall and the Yenta Headwaters.

Page 128.

My companions in this scouting party were Porter, Browne, Miller and Armstrong, the latter having joined us on the river to prospect the new territory though which we aimed to go. The boat was not heavily loaded but it gave us much trouble in towing, and we soon discovered that for glacial rapids a canvas canoe was a failure.

age 130 (same Chapter)

We were now about eight miles above Parker House, and here the river makes a sharp turn. Leaving Miller and Armstrong here to repair the boat and prospect for gold, Porter and Browne joined me on a venture to seek a pass.

1909 New York Times. - Added July,2001.

The New York Times – Oct. 13, 1909.


(text skipped)

The Explorers' Club committee is seeking a statement from William M. Armstrong, brother of Paul Armstrong, the playwright, who two years ago visited William A. Dickey, owner of a mining camp at Landlock Bay, Alaska, forty miles from Valdez, from which point the Cook party started toward Mount McKinley. Armstrong has declared in a letter to Herbert L. Bridgman, Secretary of the Pearl Arctic Club, that Mr. Dickey made the positive statement to him that it was absolutely impossible for Dr. Cook to have reached the top of Mount McKinley at the time he asserts he did. Mr. Armstrong is now in the far West.

(text skipped)

1909 New York Times - Added July,2001.

New York Times – Oct. 15, 1909.
By William N. Armstrong, Seattle, Wash.



Capt. William N. Armstrong, a brother of Paul Armstrong, the playwright, was a member of the second Cook expedition to Mount McKinley, in which Dr. Cook has asserted that he reached the summit of the great unexplored Alaskan peak. Capt. Armstrong accompanied the expedition as far as the boats carried its members. He is now in Seattle, where, according to a recent letter of Prof. Ralph Stockman Tarr of Cornell, he met Barrill, the guide of the expedition, some time ago and heard Barrill's story of what Cook actually accomplished.

Capt. Armstrong telegraphed last night an account of what he saw of the expedition and his impressions of Cook. Here it is:


By Telegraph to THE NEW YORK TIMES.

SEATTLE, Wash., Oct. 14. – Everyone is taking sides in the Cook-Peary north pole controversy. Peary has lost his temper, and at present this has prejudiced public opinion against him. I believe, however, that Peary reached the north pole.

I was with Dr. Cook in Alaska on his Mount McKinley expedition in 1906. We slept, ate and traveled together for about a month; then I left the party at the head of the river, near the foot of the mountain, and returned to Seward, Alaska, where I had mining property to look after. Our pictures were in The Review of Reviews that year, and he also mentioned my services in his book entitled “The Top of the Continent,” published the following year. In this book he claims to have reached the summit of Mount McKinley.

Cook is a good fellow, a great self-advertiser, but, in my opinion, the worst prevaricator in the world. He possesses great patience and is persevering, but he has not the executive ability of a school boy. He never reached the top of Mount McKinley, and many of us who were with that expedition have always known he did not get half way up the mountain; the one man, Edward Barrill, whom he took with him up the mountain, told us so.

(text skipped)

Cook in the Role of Hero.

No one can travel with a man long in Alaska without knowing his man, and the writer having in arctic ice north of the Arctic Circle, along both the Alaskan and Siberian Coasts, to his sorrow and heart's content, knows Cook would not venture out of sight of land on such ice for all the world, and a few millionaire dollars thrown in.

(text skipped)

Armstrong Issues a Challenge.

However, if the good people some day really get anxious to know the truth and will outfit an expedition to Mount McKinly, Alaska, the writer would willingly take charge of it and guarantee to bring back indisputable witnesses in the shape of photographs that will forever prove or disprove Cook's story that he climbed to the summit of this, the highest mountain on the North American Continent.

It will be recalled that Cook published pictures taken when he was on the summit of Mount McKinley, showing the surrounding small mountain peaks beneath him. One should be there at the same time of the year, ascend the same foot-hill of Mount McKinley from which Cook took his pictures of the same smaller mountains taken from the same angle and on the same side,so there can be no mistake.

But after we return with our almost duplicate pictures, the committee you send with me to see fair play, where we go, and from where the pictures are made, will tell you that we only ascended a smll foothill along side Mount McKinley and not quite one-half as high as the monster mountain this here conquered – on paper.

It was Barnum who once said “the American people love to be humbugged.” Tim alone will prove Cook never reached the pole, but in the meantime nothing can prevent his going down in history as the greatest romancer that ever lived, for he has told a story that fooled all the world and Mr. Stead.


1909 New Times Article. - Added July,2001.

The New York Times – Oct. 16, 1909.

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 15. - The various members of the several Disston families of Philadelphia wish it to be distinctly understood that they had no part in Dr. Frederick A. Cook's expedition to Mount McKinley. Capt. William N. Armstrong declared that “Disston, the Philadelphia millionaire saw manufacturer, financed both of Cook's Mount McKinley expeditions.

1913 book on Cook's expedition. - Added July,2001.

The Conquest of Mount McKinley: The Story of Three Expeditions.
By Belmore Browne - 1913

1906 Expedition:

Page 18. (Conquest of Mount McKinley)

There was quite a party aboard as in addition to Professor Parker, Dr. Cook, and Miller, our expedition has been augmented by two new volunteers, Captain Armstrong, and Russel Ball, who were anxious to prospect on the headwaters of the Yenta.

Page 27. (Journey up the Yentna River.)

After a council we decided to push on immediately. The Doctor, Porter, Captain Armstrong and I started on this trip, leaving Professor Parker and Ball at our base camp. On the first stage of the journey we tracked our supplies in a canvas boat, but one day's work in swift water convinced us that our boat could not stand the hard usage, so we camped and again divided our party. We left Captain Armstrong and Miller in this camp, and Dr. Cook, Porter, and I shouldered our pacts and pushed on into the unknown.

Page 38. (Attempt to Cross the Alaskan Range.)

We lost no time I pushing forward. Captain Armstrong and Ball returned down the Yentna in the canvas boat, and we moved up the valley with our entire outfit.

Additional Notes.

    1870 - Census: St. Clair, St. Clair, Mich.

  • Armstrong, Richard - b. 1840 Canada
  • Harriet, wife - b. 1847 Mich.
  • William M., son - b. 1866 Mich.
  • Chilula, dau. - b. 1868 Mich.
  • Paul, son - b. 1869 Missoui

    1880 - Census: West Bay City, Bay, Mich.

  • Armstrong, Richard - b. 1840 Canada
  • Harriet, wife - b. 1847 Mich.
  • William, son - b. 1866 Mich.
  • Cholula, dau. - b. 1868 Mich.
  • Paul, son - b. 1870 Missouri

    1886 - Directory: Bay City, Mich.

  • Harbor Tugs -- Witch of the West, Avery, Farrar, C C McDonald, George B. Dixon, E. Haight, Harley, Challenge, E.V. Munday, Cheney, Tom Matham, James Hay, Charles Lee, Cora B. Giant, Logy, Moore,Tempest, Daisy Lee, Anna Roy, Edwin Eddy, Sarah Smith, S.S. Rumage; Saginaw River Towing Association. Proprietors - Richard Armstrong Pres., D. C. Brown Collector. Office foot of Center.
  • Armstrong, Richard - tug captain, res 1321 Broadway.
  • Armstrong, Wm. - laborer, bds, 1321 Broadway.

    1887 - Directory: Bay City, Mich.

  • Armstrong, Richard - propr fire tugs, foot of 5th, res 1321 Broadway.
  • Armstrong, William N. Supt R. Armstrong, bds 1321 Broadway.

    1888 - Michigan Marriages: Portsmouth, Bay, Mich.

  • Date Jan. 12, 1888.
  • Groom: William N. Armstrong, b. 1866, St. Clair, Mich., son of Richard J. Armstrong and Harriet E. Scott.
  • Bride: Minnie A. Lahman, b. 1868, Rochester, NY, daughter of Charles Lahman and Mary Hayes.
  • Official: Roland Woodham, minister.
  • Witnesses: Richard and Harriet Armstrong.

    1889 - Directory: Saginaw, Mich.

  • Boy Line and Fire Boat Co., (Richard Armstrong, W. H. Armstrong, John Dawson), office foot of Genesee Ave.
  • Vessel Owners and Agents: Armstrong, Wm. N., foot of Genesee ave.

    1890 - Michigan Births: Saginaw, Saginaw, Mich.

  • Robert Armstrong, son of William and Minnie Armstrong, was born Nov. 20, 1890.

    1890/91 - Directory: Saginaw, Mich.

  • Boy Line & Fire Boat Co. - (Richard and W. N. Armstrong, F. A. Scott, John Dawson, Bay City, Mich.), foot of Genesee Ave.

    1897 - Directory: Bay City, Mich.

  • Armstrong, Paul - removed to Chicago, Ill.
  • Armstrong, Richard - (Dawson & Armstrong), genl mgr Saginaw, Bay City and Alpena Steamers, res 1321 Broadway.
  • Armstrong, Wm. N. - vessel capt., res. 901 Center.

    1900 - Census: Bay City, Mich.

  • Armstrong, William - b. May 1866, Mich. (son of Richard & Harriet)
  • Minnie A., Wife - b. Feb. 1868 New York
  • Robert W., son - b. Nov. 1891 Mich.
  • Lahaman, Charles, father-in-law - b. Jul. 1830 Germany.

    1910 - Census: Seattle, King, Wash.

  • Armstrong, Wm. Noah - age 43, b. Mich. (son of Richard & Harriet)
  • Minnie L., wife - age 42, b. New York
  • Robert W., son - agte 19, b. Mich.
  • Henry, Maude M., neice, age 23, b. Mich.

    1921 - Washington Deaths: Seattle, King, Washington.

  • William N. Armstrong, son of Richard Armstrong and Harriet E. Scott, died Jan. 20, 1921.
Relate Pages/Notes

William N. Armstrong
Buried at Elmwood Cemetery
Detroit, Mich.
Source: [Find A Grave]

Fire Tug Geyser

Built by
Davidson Shipbuilding

Willing R. Burt

Pasenger Steamship

Related Pages:
Armstrong, Richard father
Armstrong, Robert W son
Armstrong, Paul brother
Armstrong, Rolf brother
Article: Armstrong Family
Armstrong's 5th ave dock
Bay Co. Civil War History
People Referenced
Armstrong, Chulula (sis)
Armstrong, Paul (bro)
Armstrong, Richard (father)
Armstrong, Paul (bro)
Armstrong, John S. (bro)
- aka: Rolf
Armstrong, Robert W. (g-son)
Armstrong, William N.(subject)
Ball, Russel
Barrill, Edward
Bridgman, Herbert L.
Brown, D.C.
Browne, Belmore
Cook, Frederick A.
Dall, Mr.
Dawson, John
Dickey, Wm. A.
Disston family
Hayes, Mary (m-inlaw)
Henry, Maude M (cousin)
Lahman, Charles (f-inlaw)
Lahman, Minnie A (wife)
Lennox, William S.
Miller, Mr.
Porter, Mr.
Schott, F.A.
Stead, Mr.
Tarr, Ralph S.
Woodland, Roland
Subjects Referenced
Bay City, MI
Boy Line & Fire Boat Co.
Chicago, IL
Cornell Univ.
King County, WA
Landlock Bay, AK
Mt. McKinley, AK
New York Times
Pearl Artic Club, AK
Philadelphia, PA
Portsmouth, MI
Rochester, NY
St Clair, MI
ST Clair County, MI
Saginaw, MI
Seattle, WA
Seaward, AK
WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.