“See the two-story white house with the wide porch? That’s the Stephen Birch
house. Painted it myself in 1916.”
“Stephen Birch left here just before the power plant went up in smoke.
He was here for three days. Our manager, Bert Needing, uses the house,
but he’s rarely here.”
“We met Birch in McCarthy after you visited us. He said he’d look you up.”
“That’s right. He did. He stopped by the shop. He said you’d be
working at the Green Butte, but he never said anything about you coming
“That must have been Frank’s doing, then.”
“Frank is your friend, Johnny, whether you realize it or not. He was very
concerned about you getting here. Very nice kid, that young engineer.”
“Think he’ll be at the office?”
“Probably. He’s usually upstairs in the map room, though I sometimes
see him over at the construction job.”
“Rumor is that the mines are on their last legs. Hard to believe, isn’t it?”
“What? Your kidding ! This busy place on it’s last legs?”
“Truth is, boys, as you’ve probably been told, so am I. This work is beginning
to become too much for me. I’ll be forced to quit soon. No place to go
to except Chitina. I’ve arranged to buy a cabin there so I can return
in a few months. You two will soon be on your own if you stay on
Like almost every building on the property, the office was a barn-red with
white trim. The front face was unusual because it was of
Inside the office was a payroll office counter with a teller window running to
the ceiling. A young man at the desk greeted the two Natives and handed
them the papers they needed to fill out. While Cap and Johnny were
doing this, Frank walked down the stairs from the map room on the second
level. It had already been a year since Johnny first met the engineer
“So ! The long-awaited Indians finally arrive ! Great to see you again,
Johnny. This must be Michael.”
“Just call me Cap, like everyone else, ” Cap said extending his hand.
“Did you have a good time in McCarthy?”
“You’re the third person to ask that question today.”
“We could have used you earlier, but your timing is still good. That was our
big trainload today. We’ll probably be unloading it half the night.
“How were things at Green Butte? I’m going over there to evaluate the copper
sometime this season.”
“Unless you see something we didn’t, it’s not worth the bother. We
worked and worked at it, but we sure didn’t bag much copper. Nice
place, though. Much more primitive than here, but friendly and
comfortable. Even Cap seemed to like it.”
“It was a good place. The men left us alone. Good cook. Mountains,
rock-glacier, clean room. I like my room clean.” Cap responded.
“We’ll have you a clean room here, too. Excellent food. It really is. The
super prides himself in maintaining high standards for the men. He had
an excellent head chef.”
“Superintendent Bill Douglass. Great man. He tries to keep everyone
happy to be out here.”
“What about the chef? Never heard of a chef out here.”
“Well, actually he’s just a cook, but he could hold his own in any mining camp
in the western United States. Japanese, too. All the cooks here are
Japanese. So are the waiters. It’s the super’s policy. He likes to
keep minorities working together, if he gets the right ones.”
“Is that why he took Cap?”
“Probably. I convinced him that doing so was consistent with his
policy. Then I pointed out your work records. That settled it.”
“That’s thoughtful of him considering you’re mining our hunting lands.”
“Well, Johnny it seems awfully arrogant that it takes the company this long to
consider hiring even two of us when they got this place for nothing.”
“I can’t speak to that, Cap. I have to be careful what I say around here.”
“That’s fine, mister Kennecott engineer. I just wanted you to know that
we’re not here to take crumbs from the table. It’s still our place and
always will be. We appreciate the work, but were not cigar-store
Indians. We’re real. We’re tired of being overlooked in our own land.”
“Cap means we’re not tokens. We’re people. My brother get’s a little upset
about the white superiority attitudes, but we all do. He’s the one who
always speaks out, though. Get’s us into fights once in awhile.”
“You want to be careful about that around here. Douglass won’t like it.”
Johnny decided to change the subject. Better to stay on the good side of his
“This place is huge compared to Green Butte.”
“Yes, we send more ore down our trams in a week than Green Butte processes all
“It shows. This place is unbelievable.”
“It’s great, isn’t it? You two will be working on my project. Actually, it’s
headed by chief engineer, Mr. Richelsen, but I’m on the team. We’re in
quite a hurry to build the permanent power plant so we can resume normal
operations before fall turns into winter.”
“Where will you be placing us, Frank?”
“Your quarters? Since you’re on the carpenter crew, you’ll be at the west
barracks, just upstairs from Emil. He’s been here many years and has
proved to be an exceptional employee. He’s well respected. He told us
that both of you are top-notch workers.
“Now we’ve handed you guys your chance to prove it. You’ll be on the job
tomorrow. Maybe earlier, if the yard-crew foreman needs more bodies to
unload the train. One final thing. No fighting. And, no alcohol or
women for pleasure are allowed here. That’s what McCarthy’s for. Do
your fighting, drinking and pleasuring down there, if you can ever get
the time off.
“Get a good rest, and eat well. The food is always good and sometimes even
great. We buy only the best products. As I said, our Japanese cooks
come highly recommended. But don’t let that scare you. Our food is as
American as can be. We eat ranch-style here, just as they do over there
at Green Butte.
“Emil, you out there?”
“Just out here waiting, Mr. Buckner.”
Frank walked outside. Emil was sitting on the bench next to the sidewalk.
“Emil, we have the paperwork and Bittner will hand our two new workers a room
assignment in the top floor of the west barrack. You can show them
around. Henry Jackson may need them later to help unload the train.”
Frank turned and disappeared up the narrow stairwell. The two young men
finished the paperwork.
“You guys don’t need any help filling these out?”
“We both can read Mr. . .”
“Bittner. I’m John Bittner.”
“Well I’m John Gadanski. This is Cap Goodlataw.”
“I see it says Michael on the paper.”
“My white man name. Call me Cap.”
“Okay, Cap. You guys have room number 205.”
“Number 205 is on the third floor? Shouldn’t it be three-something?”
“First floor is the mess hall. Second and third are the rooms. Number 205
faces this way. You can see it from here. John Bittner walked around
the desk and stepped outside.”
“See that middle window on the top? That’s it. I know. I take care of all
the housing arrangements here. Be sure to check in with the staff man in
the basement for bedding.”
“You live in one of the barracks?”
“No. I brought up my wife, and I have two young ones living here. My wife
has a cat, too. We’re in one of the bigger north cottages. That’s
across from the power plant. You’re done here. Have a good day.”
Emil was still sitting on the bench out in the sunlight, nearly out of
breath. Johnny was alarmed, but said nothing.
“I’d show you the job site, but the train is in the way. There’s no place to
cross without jumping the couplings. I don’t want to do that. You can
do that later without me along. The far end of the train is in front of
the west barrack. We’ll walk in that direction first.
“We have a room assignment. It’s 205.”
“Let me see. Yes, that’s somewhere on the floor above me. The attic level.
It’s hot up there this time of year.”
“Bittner said we have a view of the mill. It’s one of those middle
“You’ll probably have the room to yourself. There’ve never been any
other Indians here. They like to put the same nationalities together.
Seems to work better.”
Johnny stood facing south.
“What’s that big building in front, Dad?”
“That’s the company store and warehouse. We’ll need to get you set up
with some work clothes there, unless you have everything you need from
Green Butte. Lot’s of railroad activity around that warehouse.
Sometimes makes it noisy at night.”
“It all looks good to me, Dad. The buildings are close together, but it has
a neat appearance.”
“Yes, there seems to be a general agreement on that. After I show you the
room, we’ll walk up the other side of the tracks to my paint shop. We’ll
stop at the store on the way. That’s as good a place to start as any.”
The west barrack was on the track grade. A wide set of stairs led to the
four feet to the vestibule. The entry also served as a landing for the
wide stairs leading into the sleeping rooms and for the narrower stairs
heading down into the locker and lavatory area.
“Your room is two flights up, but the lavatory, showers, and locker room are
one story down. Everything at Kennecott is like that. Up and down, I
mean. The area is so steep and narrow, that the town was built on many
levels. You’ll find yourself constantly climbing from one place to the
next. Wears a man out. That’s just how it is.”
The three men worked their way around the caboose and headed up the stairs.
“We built this one in 1917. It contained many large windows spaced closely
to allow for as much natural lighting as possible.”
The over-all effect was that of a cheerful environment, enhanced by the
light cream color of the wooden walls above the lower dark rich cherry
wood wainscoting which ran up the first four feet on all the levels
except the basement.
“I smell food cooking. Cap, when was the last time either of us ate?”
“Can’t remember, Sla’cheen. Too much party. Liquor. Women. Not much
“Wow, it’s big in here. How many men, Dad?”
“We built it to seat 150. It gets crowed in here. No one’s here yet
because the day shift is still working, but sometimes the cooks have
extra food set out.”
“There’s more than one shift?”
“The mill, aerial tram and ammonia leach plant works ‘round the clock. So
does the power plant. Usually there’s a night yard crew, too. We have
very large freight trains unload around here. Then we take the empty
train, especially the flats and gondolas and load ‘em up with bagged or
broken ore. Lately that’s been done at night. Seems like there’s just
not enough hours around here, busy at it is. Those night-shift men eat
here, so this place is almost always open.”
“Doesn’t hardly seem to me like this place is on it’s last legs to me,
“So it would appear, Son. I’ve never seen it as busy as it is right now. At
least, not since they found the Big Stope up in the Jumbo in 1916. We
just keep going and going . . .”
“What’s the Big Stope?”
“They started running the Jumbo aerial tram nine years ago. The next season
they struck the biggest or richest piece of copper ore ever. So I
heard. I guess it was thousands of feet long and hundreds of feet
high. That’s long since cleaned out. Heard the Big Stope alone paid
off the railroad.”
Emil led his two boys to the top attic level. Their assigned room had two
bunks. None of the beds had linen or blankets. The two took the lower
beds,dropping their gear off on the thin mattresses.
“We take them with us everywhere we go, Dad. They’re real lifesavers.”
“You don’t need to use those. We’ll get you some bedding from the basement.
You get two blankets each, a set of sheets and a pillow. They come in
once a week and change the sheets.”
“Sheets? We have sheets here?”
“Not only that, but a maid service. We also have showers and flush-toilets.
Welcome to civilization, boys.”
Cap went over to push open the sliding window.
“We won’t need those blankets tonight. It’s too hot in here.”
He leaned outside. A cool breeze was coming off the glacier. Cap found
himself looking straight down on a cold storage plant. It was
sandwiched in between the tall barrack and the company store. The men
could see over the roof of the company store to the glacier on the left
and staff row to the right.
“It’s also noisy out here. That sound of the cars being shuffled around is
“No different than it was being on the line crew,” Johnny reminded Cap.
“The closeness of these buildings seems to make it noisier. The sounds seem
to echo up here.” Cap replied.
“You’re lucky you got the cool side. The south side is really hot. Let
me show you the shop. It’s next to the company store. We’ll stop there
first to pick you up some work clothes. You’ll need gloves and heavy
coats for night work.”
“No money? We pay with script. You haven’t any yet, because you haven’t
worked here, but you can use some of mine. We’ve got to get you properly
set up. Do you have good gloves and heavy coats?”
After picking up what they needed, the men headed next door to the shop. The
two found a well-maintained shop with several men busy at their work. A
number of them expressed surprise in their eyes upon seeing that the new
men were Native, but the carpenters were too engaged in their work to
show more than a precursory interest.
“Follow me to the stairs.”
A steep, dark, and narrow stairwell led into a large, dimly lit area
“Some of the paint is kept here. The rest is in another storage room. I set
up my work tools on the bench and wall. There’s been precious little
painting this year. I’ve been mostly doing carpentry work. There’ve
been two jobs this year. One is the new barracks at Erie. It’s still
unfinished. Once the power plant burned down, we haven’t been back up
there. I don’t think they’re even running that camp right now.
“The other job was the temporary shed for the generators. Now we’re ready
to build a very large, permanent structure. There’ll be plenty of paint
work, inside and out. Most of the building material we needed arrived
on the last train--your train.”
“If you stick around long enough, they’ll probably want you to help finish
that Erie barracks. Right now there’s plenty to do right here. That
new power plant’s going to be as large inside as a three-ring circus.”
“Never seen one of them, Dad.”
“Oh, sorry. I forgot. It’ll be larger than this building or even the company
“Let’s get back to the mess hall and see what we can do about feeding you
before Friendly Henry comes looking for you.”
“Real nice guy, but demanding. He’s the yard crew boss. No doubt he’ll be
looking for you once supper is over. That’s a big train to unload out
there. I’m supervising the unloading of some of the wood. It has to be
placed in the right order.”
The three emerged from the lower level.
“The carpenter shop is our oldest building. It was the original sawmill and
it housed the first generator here. It started as a simple but large
sawmill on skids, hauled up the river the hard way in 1906. They landed
it in Valdez and brought it over Marshall Pass and down the Tasnuna
River. What a job. Had to have it, though.The original sawmill still
sits in the basement level. We use it for producing timbers.”
“That was before you even worked on the railroad, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. I was still at Dan Creek trying to get rich. Your mother left me that
year. Can’t say I blame her. Didn’t then. Don’t now.
“The sawmill is always the first structure to go up in any Alaskan wilderness
camp, if you don’t count the mess tent. This building doesn’t have as
many windows as the newer ones. It’s very dark inside, even on the main
Cap and Johnny were relieved to be out of the lower level, which smelled of
paint fumes and was entirely too dark to suit them.
The Japanese waiters were on hand to serve dinner to the men on a lunch
line as the workers began to filter in. Emil, Johnny and Cap were
among the first. They found generous portions of baked chicken, rice,
rolls , string beans and an assortment of desserts at the serving
line. Some of the men coming in looked at the Indians with surprise,
and others with curiosity. No one appeared to be hostile.
“It’s obvious that we’re the first of our kind here,” Cap quietly told Johnny.
“I can see that this will take some adjusting, Cap. I just hope we can go
about our jobs in peace.”
“Don’t worry too much about that, ” Emil told the two. “Many of these men are
immigrants, like me. Most aren’t even citizens. Some of them are taking
citizenship classes in the school. They’ve never seen anyone who looks
like you, but they’re all working men. The troublemakers are quickly
kicked out of camp anyway. If anyone starts any trouble, make sure
it’s obvious that it’s them and not you. Don’t you start anything here,
and things should be fine.”
“We got along fine with the others at Green Butte, and almost as well at
McCarthy, if you ignore a bar fight or two.”
“Or more,” Cap added.
“Boys, I didn’t work in all these rough places in this valley acting like a
complete gentleman. I was entirely too hot headed when I was your age,
so I know how that goes. But this is different because you have a
friend who leaned over backwards to get you here. You don’t want to let
Frank down. Besides, you’re hopelessly outnumbered here.
“Most of these men don’t understand you and never will. Many don’t care.
Others may be hostile toward you. So do what you have to, but don’t
call attention to yourselves. I’ll back you up where I can, of course.
Even in my weakened state the men here don’t mess with me. I still
carry my old reputation of being a nasty fighter who doesn’t know when
to give up, just like you two.
“Speak of the devil, there’s Henry coming this way.”
“Guys, I’ve heard about you already. I’m Henry Jackson, one of the yard
bosses. You’ll be the first Indians I’ve ever had the pleasure to work
with. I look forward to it. Glad to meet you both.”
The three shook hands and Henry continued.
“The men here are good workers and hold their own. We quickly weed out the
others. We have no time for nonsense.
“You’ll be on my crew for a few hours after dinner. We have thirty-five
loaded flat cars plus six more box cars full of goods on the tracks
waiting our attention. We need to have the whole works off the train so
the night crew can load up the empty cars with ore. Every available man
will be out there, including you two. The materials site is just north
of the new power plant area. Emil, will you show them to the site? See
you guys at seven.”
Henry excused himself and headed for the serving line.
“You know that guy, Dad?”
“Henry has been here for two seasons. He seems pleasant enough. He always
carries his own weight and then some. He doesn’t care what anyone looks
like or where they come from as long as they work hard. Henry can
outwork just about any man and he expects the same effort from his
crew. But he seems to know how to motivate people. That’s how he got
that foreman job. The yard crew work is tough, but after your mucking
and railroad line work, this should be nothing.”
“It would have been nice to have had a chance to rest on our first day in,
“Well, Cap, you and Johnny can work off your hang-overs just fine tonight.
“I’m done here. Need to catch a nap. I’ll look for you a bit before seven.
Be either in your room or down here. Got to get some rest now. Too
tired and out of breath.”
“Dad’s not in good shape. I’m glad I’m here now, but I think I should have
been here sooner. He forgot to show us the linen room. I’ll have to ask
Henry was eating by himself.
“Henry. How do we get our sheets and blankets.”
“Mmph. Excuse me. You caught me chewing chicken. Have a seat.”
He pointed to the empty space in front of him.
“I’ll be just a few minutes. Then I’ll bring you down there myself. Hang
A few minutes later the three men were standing in a dark hallway downstairs.
Henry knocked on the door at the end of the hall. An older Japanese man
opened. Henry said a few words. The Japanese nodded, then entered the
“He’ll pull what you need out of one of the rooms. While he’s doing that, let
me show you the locker room. That’s where we keep our outer work
It wasn’t long before the two had returned to their room.
“I think I’ll stick with my potlatch blanket. These blankets aren’t that
“Have to agree, Cap. Ours are much better and heavier. Not that we need that
this time of year.”
“It gets cold enough at night. Don’t forget that, Sla’cheen.
“McCarthy is a place I could live without, but I liked Green Butte. I
like working where I can see everything from above. It’s so high up
there. This place is only a ridge away, but it has its own spirit.
It’s an old spirit, but seems to be friendly.”
“Never thought I’d hear you say you like a white man place, Cap. Strange. Now
that I think of it, I don’t remember ever hearing any old Indian stories
about this valley. It seems we were everywhere else in the country but
“Sla’cheen, it’s like this place was meant to be what it is now. I don’t understand
it. But this place is different from anything else around it. But there
is also something else out there which is even older and maybe not so
friendly. I think I heard it once. It sounded like a distant, hollow
train whistle. Very ghostly. Strange.”
The real train whistle blew. Johnny felt like a little kid as he got up
from the bunkbed to look out the dormer window. He watched the two
passenger cars being pushed to the front of the train. The engine was
now facing south.
“That sound, but hollow and spirit-like. It might have come from one of these
trains, but it seemed more like a ghostly mock-whistle than the real
thing. An imitator.”
“The engine’s facing the other way, Cap. Where’d they turn that thing
“Must have gone back to McCarthy to use the turntable. What a long round-trip
just to turn it around.”
Just then Emil knocked and entered the room. He led them outside, heading
north toward the power plant. The unloading process had already begun
in front of the temporary plant.
“Time to join Henry out there. You’ve a lot of work ahead of you.”
They followed the line of freight cars, which stretched beyond the ore
loading bin at the base of the mill to the very end of the track. The
temperature had started to cool. The breeze coming from the north that
followed along the top of the glacier had picked up. The sun was
shining brightly on upper parts of craggy Bonanza Ridge as it prepared
to set for the evening.
“Castle Rock,” Emil said.
“Sure looks like the ruins of one. It looks rugged up there.”
“Very rugged, very steep, Cap. That’s sheep country, but the mines are there
as well. Jumbo’s at the base of that rock. See the flat spot? That’s
a rock glacier. The camp’s built on it. We had to cable the buildings
into place so they don’t move too far. “We’re here. This is the job
site. Henry’s over there. I’m going to supervise the unloading of one
of the flat cars. Henry will be your boss here. See you guys at
Henry was large, tall, youthful, and pleasant appearing. He seemed to have a
perpetual smile on his face. He was in his mid-thirties, but appeared
to be ten years younger. Most the newcomers found they liked working
for Henry, even though the work was usually tough and demanding.
“There you are, Johnny and Cap. You Chitina Indians will be
working with me. on the same flatcars. We’ve got the corrugated iron
to unload. Let’s get on with it and show the rest of the men how to
remembered both our names, and called us by name. That’s a good start.
I think I’ll like working with you.
“And, if I forgot to say so earlier, welcome to your first job in the greatest
place in the territory to work.”
We’ll know soon enough. Let’s see how the rest of you treat us. You
let us in the door. Let’s see what happens next.
Chapter 27, "Boxing Match & Layoff"
15 December 2010
“Whatever happened to all those old saddle tanks? We haven’t seen any
of them in years.”
dinkies? Most of those original construction-era saddle tanks were sold
off and shipped out. Of the two still in the country, No. 4 is kept at
the Cordova roundhouse. No. 3 was sold to the Alaska Anthracite Railroad
near Katalla. That operation failed in 1922 and engine no. 3 now sits
abandoned out in the tundra near the Bering River.”
102 stood contentedly puffing steam, ready on a siding to the north to
attach itself to the rear of this large consist once the train was
fully positioned to begin its final push up the hill. The engineer sent
out a loud series of blasts.
for you guys to board.”
extended his hand to the two men.
been great meeting you. I learned something new. Good luck at
long consist was still on level ground, but as the two engines began
working the train north, the lead engine entered the first steep
incline, and the train began the slow run for the remaining four and a
passengers had a good view of the deserted town of Blackburn, a small
grouping of log structures including one large, abandoned, two-story log
hotel. In the background, the rock covered glacier rose well above the
abandoned structures. The train climbed another 600 feet. Those last
four miles represented a greater rise in elevation than in the first 131
miles from Cordova to Chitina. This lofty view allowed a brief but
magnificent panoramic glimpse of Kennicott Glacier from above. As the
track approached Kennecott, however, the elevation of the glacier began
to exceed that of the railbed. By the time the train reached Kennecott,
the glacier towered over the train.
train passed a quarantine area used to isolate passengers during the
Spanish Flu epidemic. That practice was finally abandoned by the early
1920s. Just beyond, the dairy barn marked the beginning of Kennecott.
Just beyond, the rails passed the five-plex apartments and a number of
cottages--all built along a steep hillside across from the glacier.
were more cottages along the glacial moraine on the right, centering on
the recreation hall. Beyond those cottages was a series of freight
yards for coal, wood and oil drums. At the end of the large storage
area was the three-story west barrack, which towered over a small
schoolhouse and an adjacent ball field. The barrack was large, but it
was nearly overwhelmed by the daunting presence of the glacier which
appeared to be a massive series of rounded, rock-covered hills
interspersed with walls of ice.
look like huge, sleeping ancient monsters waiting for the right moment
to return to life and overtake everything the white man has built here.
do you think, Cap? You’re looking awfully hard at something.”
just noticing how even these large buildings seem so small compared to
the mountain glacier. It just sits there like a silent menace.”
“Interesting place. I think I like it. Awfully busy up here,
train stopped at a small telegraph station on the south side of National
Creek. All the passengers were checked there and directed to their
destinations. Johnny followed Cap as they stepped off the train onto
the ground. There was no large platform like the ones at Chitina and
an overpowering presence !”
was remarking about the appearance of the fourteen-story mill building
which towered above all else. The bright midday summer sun accentuated
the peeling and fading paint on the upper reaches of the tall wooden
structure. It was clearly in need of a new paint job. Below the were a
series of stately buildings following a long walkway up a hill toward
what appeared to be a log dam about a quarter-mile away.
diminutive telegraph station, a very gaunt, older man stood looking up
“Father, it’s only been about a month, but it seems like it’s been
shocked at how thin and old-looking his dad had become. It was
certainly good to see a friendly, familiar face. The two embraced. Emil
had known Cap since the boys were both very young. The two also hugged
each other. This was unusual for the stand-offish Cap.
it is so good to see you both. I’m so pleased you’ll both be working
here. You’re working under me, you know. Your sponsor, Frank Buckner,
arranged everything. He even let me know you’d be coming on this
could he possibly know which train we would be coming on?”
stationmaster at the junction telegraphed this station when you two
checked in. The station notified the office. Frank came down the hill
to let me know. So here I am. And here you are. You two both look
great. I guess there’s a lot to be said for hard work. Looks like
Green Butte did well for you. I am so thrilled to see you both.”
it just worked out well. We both decided we wanted to be here. Green
Butte turned out to be the key. We made a little money and learned
something about hard-rock mining .”
“McCarthy take all your money?”
how’d you know?”
figured it out. Frank kept track of the telegrams every day. When you
said you were coming and you failed to show, he became alarmed and told
me. I thought about it for awhile. Then I realized what I would’ve
done when I was your age.”
sure is good to see you again, Dad. It’s really been too long.”
took time to visit you at McCarthy last month, remember?”
speeder visit? That was a quick trip.”
“Couldn’t have done it without the railroad. Anyway, you’ll be helping
the carpenters build the new powerhouse. When it’s up, you’ll be on my
paint crew. That’s the big job. We just got done last year painting the
must have been frustrating.”
was. The engineers made the mistake of allowing a composite roof. It
ignited a few months after we finished building it. At least, that’s
what they think happened. Just to be on the safe side, we won’t be
repeating that expensive mistake. There’s large load of corrugated
steel roofing on board this train, I believe. It surely won’t burn.”
you’re involved in the big rebuilding job?”
not just the head painter, but I’m the assistance carpenter foreman. We
have a very nice young man in charge named Christopher Jensen. He’s
quite the carpenter. Chris requested you for this crew. We need to go
to the office first, then I’ll get you checked into a room.”
tracks headed in a nearly straight line to the north, passing through a
two-story covered loading dock at the base of the mill. As the three of
them finished the conversation, Sal Reed began pulling the consist
through the loading dock.
noise of the huge engine masked the roar of the creek rushing
through a flume
of heavy wood timbers. The flume directed the roaring water under the
trestle toward a wood crib dam. The water spilled over the dam,
disappearing under Kennicott Glacier about 300 feet away from the
three men stepped off track grade, following a road which paralleled
the trestle on the upstream side. The path crossed the creek at a
wagon bridge, then continued toward a wooden stairway which climbed
toward the office near the lower end of the 150-foot tall mill.
George Herben photo of abandoned Kennecott in the early 1960s
Junction received its name because it was the jumping-off point for the
Shushanna gold rush of 1913. Shushanna became Chisana, but Shushanna
Junction remained the spelling for the terminal at CRNW mile 189. The
last great Alaskan gold rush went nowhere, but the huge influx of
prospectors resulted in a depletion of the game to such an extent that
the Ahtnas abandoned the area for the duration of the operation of the
Ahtnas became a vanishing minority in their own land, displaced by a
host of prospectors, speculators, homesteaders, and con-artists, as
well as large and small mining concerns and other business interests.
All of these were by their nature hostile to the old Ahtna way of life
and, in varying degrees, even to the Ahtna people themselves.
1924, Alaska’s Last Great Gold Rush had been over eight years. The
game had slowly filtered back in. But the Indians who had lived and
hunted in the upper Wrangells stayed out. Indians no longer walked the
old trails of the Nizina valley and the upper reaches of the Chitina in
search of game. That area was totally dominated by white miners,
prospectors, and trappers. Even the old Nicolai camp at Dan Creek had
disappeared under mine tailings--a victim of a large hydraulic placer
operation begun by Stephen and Howard Birch. In an ironic and mocking
twist, someone re-named the operation Nicolai Camp.
two grandsons of the great deceased chief watched from the station
platform as the ultimate symbol of change pulled in. The huge Mikado
steam engine chugged its way into Shushanna Junction towing forty-three
cars loaded with mine workers and enough material to build a completely
new power plant at Kennecott.
they come with another large piece of the mine. Out they will go with
another load of our copper.”
as they’ve been doing for thirteen years, Cap. Now we’re a part of it.
We’ll be in one of those cars going to work with all those other men.”
stationmaster stepped outside through the baggage double-doors to talk
with the two Indians.
guys have a good time in town?”
was good while the money lasted. You ever go to the Row?”
young, red-haired stationmaster smiled at the question.
I can’t afford it on my meager railroad salary. You must be miners. I
came here to work the line and now I’ve got one of these depot jobs.
Not bad, but it’s expensive to live here. What about you guys? I’ve
never seen Indians heading up the tracks to work at Kennecott before.
You’re probably the first ever. I hope it works out for you.”
“Thanks. It wasn’t easy getting a job there, but the power plant fire
seems to have caused a need for extra men.”
say. All those men on board are mainly extra carpenters and others
needed to re-build it. You’ve probably figured out where all the
material is going.”
they been out of power all this time?”
no. The Kennecott mechanics came down two days after the fire and took
out the two generators and turbines in the old Mother Lode plant. That
was handy for them. A real stroke of luck, actually that Kennecott
happened to own the old power plant. They’d have been down for weeks
without that equipment. The generators are temporary, though. Too
small. The new ones haven’t arrived yet, but they’ll be coming along.
Meanwhile, the camp seems to be back to normal. I hear they’re having
power supply problems, however.”
“Better than no power at all, I suppose.”
mines superintendent couldn’t be more pleased. He has a production
schedule to meet. He intends to keep it. He’s the real boss around
here, you know.”
the way, who are you?”
Mike Sherman. And you?”
name’s Johnny Gadanski. My silent partner here is Cap Goodlataw.”
to meet you two. I’m from Seattle. We have Indians down there, but
you’re the first I’ve met face-to-face in this territory.”
Mike, we’re not much different from you.”
“Except we live in the home of our ancestors. This is our country.”
of us younger guys understand that. Like I said, I hope it works out
for you up there. How on earth did you do it?”
dad works there and I know one of the engineers.”
mean the name on the telegraph--Frank . . .”
“Buckner. I don’t know him that well, but he offered to help get us in,
and it looks like he’s keeping his word. He’s about the same age as
both twenty-five. We’re cousins. Call each other sla’cheen.
There’s no word for that in English.”
father works at Kennecott?”
Gadanski is my white father. He’s the head-painter.”
you’re a half-breed?”
“That’s me. My mother is a sister to Cap’s father, Chief Goodlataw.”
there’s Indians, there’s chiefs, Mike. You should have figured that one
two cousins must have worked together a long time. You two seem to fit
well together somehow. Were you railroad workers?”
were. We still are. We’ve worked off and on as a team since 1916 when
we started out at Cascade Station. We’ve worked on the Indian crews out
of Chitina and Strelna.”
yes. The indispensable Native crews.”
stationmasters have to keep track of the line crews as well as all the
trains. It’s common knowledge that it would be impossible to keep our
tight railroad schedule without the Indian crews, but I doubt if anyone
ever told you that.”
We suspected as much, though. It’s good to know we’re so important.”
let anyone ever tell you otherwise. The railroad could never muster
enough manpower every season if not for you Indians at Chitina.”
train will be ready soon, but in the meantime, I have some coffee on the
stove. Care for some?”
“You’re a good man, Mike . . .”
“Sherman. It’s Mike Sherman. I’ll be right back. Two cups?”
nodded. Mike Sherman was back outside in a few minutes.
still good. A little strong maybe. I just made it before the train
sat down on the platform next to Johnny. The feet of the three men
dangled toward the ground.
pleased to talk with young people like me who have lived here all their
lives. This must be a big change from when you grew up.”
mean this railroad? We were both nine when the ket-chee-ten-eh
just gave me my first Native word.”
can call us Natives or Indians, but we’re Ahtnas. Whatever you do,
don’t call us Eskimos. Ahtnas are Athabascan Indians. We Athabascans
share some of the same words as the Apache and the Navaho.”
eyes widened. He sipped a cup of coffee and looked around. Then he
focused on Cap.
“Really? You’re not just an isolated group of Indians then?”
at all,” Johnny answered. Cap nodded in agreement.
just part of a much greater people. Our elders tell us we came here
from somewhere way south. Something bad happened over a thousand years
ago. We don’t know when. It could have been much farther back then
that. But whatever it was that happened way down there, it drove our
ancestors into the land of the ice and the snow.”
thought that your ancestors crossed over here from Siberia?”
Not us. That was the Eskimos. The Yupiks and the Inupiat crossed.
We’re Indian hillbillies.”
do you mean by that?”
“Grandfather told us that in times long forgotten we were part of a
great civilization in the south. When things went very bad and our
ancestors fled north, we lost our old refined ways because the land here
is so primitive and cold. Long ago this land was a frontier for us,
just like it was for the prospectors who came here a few years ago. We
may be cruder than our southern cousins, but we survived here a long
time. We made it. No one else can make that claim. Only the toughest
and the smartest of us survived. That’s Cap and me. We’re the smart
and the tough ones. There are others just like us. You couldn’t ever
drive us out of here. You’d have to kill every one of us. Every one.”
us. We know we have to live with you guys. I just never gave much
thought to any of you Indians before.”
“Happens all the time. We’re here, but we’re invisible to you whites.”
“Sorry. You’re right.”
it very wild where you grew up before the railroad, the
“That’s good, Mike. Ket-chee-ten-eh means train.
And yes, it was wild. But I can always remember white men there at
They’ve been there at least since I was born.”
“That’s what they called it until someone changed it so it sounded more
white. I still prefer the old -sounding name.”
grew up in the old Indian way?”
and Cap both nodded.
single blast from the train whistle interrupted the conversation. The
young stationmaster pointed south toward the main part of town and
“Ordinarily the engineer would back this train down this siding toward
town. Not this time. Sal Reed will be pulling the consist north in a
few minutes. That was the first warning signal. Sal’s almost ready.
Everything and everyone on board is going to Kennecott.”
need to load up now?”
yet. I’ll let you know. I’ll be giving the conductor the all-clear
soon. Then they’ll pull forward to that siding past the repair barn.
Then the crew will hook up our pusher.”
CRNW conductor --Cordova Museum