He went to West Point in 1867 and later by studying law and medicine received degrees in both law and medicine. He then served in the military in the Dakota Territory.
In 1878-1880 he made a trek to find the lost Franklin Expedition. He said it was “the longest sledge journey ever made both in regard to time and distance” of eleven months and four days and 2,709 miles. It was the first Arctic expedition on which the whites relied entirely on the same diet as the Inuit.
In 1883, he was sent to reconnoiter the Yukon River by the US Army. Going over the Chilkoot Pass, his party built rafts and floated down the Yukon River to its mouth in the Bering Sea, naming many geographic features along the way. At more than 1,300 miles, it was the longest raft journey that had ever been made. In 1885 he wrote the Report of Military Reconnaissance in Alaska of his trek in 1883.
He died in 1892 at the age of 43 from poisoning or overdose in Portland and is buried in Salem.