30 October 2010

Part 1 of 2 to " Preface" to "Legacy of the Chief"

Preface to   "Legacy of the Chief"
Mother Lode lower and upper camps --Cap Hubrick photo

This is a Native story of Chief Nicolai of Taral and the people of the ‘Atn’atuuTs’itu at the time of the prospecting, development and operation of the historic Kennecott Copper Company and its Copper River and Northwestern Railway of Alaska in the years 1885 until 1938.

 The Native family names I have used are well known in the Copper River valley and are held high esteem to this day. They are the families of Nicolai, Eskilida, Goodlataw and Billum.
  Some historic disagreement exists over the exact age and year of death of Chief Nicolai. In this story Nicolai was born in 1867, which was also the year
the United States purchased the Russian interest in Alaska. He appears to have died in 1918, most likely a victim of the Spanish flu. 

Nicolai was born at a Native encampment somewhere near the confluence of Dan Creek and the Chitistone and Nizina Rivers to the southeast of the Nicolai Prospect.  There can be little doubt as the the enormous impact Nicolai had on history.
Chief Nicolai, tyone of Taral, 1867-1918. Anchorage Museum of History & Art (AMHA), 380.98.52

Some historians disagree with these dates, suggesting he was born in the 1840s and died about 1900. Descendants of Nicolai tend to support my dates, especially that of his death.  Look at the drawing of him with his family  done by Lt. Allen in 1885. He is obviously a young man in that sketch.

 Nicolai was born at a Native encampment somewhere near the confluence of Dan Creek and the Chitistone River to the southeast of the Nicolai Prospect. There can be little doubt as to the enormous impact which Nicolai had on the history starting with Lt. Henry Allen’s entry into the country in 1885.

 Cap Goodlataw was one of a very few Natives who actually worked in the Kennecott mines. He once considered entering the Golden Gloves boxing circuit because his fighting skills were phenomenal. Cap disappeared from Chitina on May 23, 1932. Suspicious circumstances pointed to a man named R.L. Read who allegedly shot Cap at Read’s home site four miles north of Chitina and then buried the body in a turnip patch on the property. The Valdez all-white jury found Read innocent of first degree murder in November 1932. Cap was among a handful of rare leaders whose loss to the Native community was immense.

 Johnny Gakona Nicolai Gadanski is a composite fictional character who could have been any of a number of half-breed people both living and deceased. 

Doc Billum's ferry site at the confluence of the Tonsina and Copper Rivers --Simpson files

Doc Billum, Chief Eskilida, Chief Goodlataw, Hanagita and Tom Bell were real players whose roles were much as described in this book.

 Stephen Birch is often considered the founder of the modern Kennecott Corporation. It was his hard work, political skills and incredibly good luck combined with a determination and vision far ahead of his peers which made the mine and railroad system a reality.

In short order, first the railroad rolling stock, then the steel rail, the power lines, the machinery and the buildings and their furnishings began to disappear. In time, the trestles began to collapse and the Copper River began washing out sections of the rail bed. The stretch of railroad south of Chitina and north of the old Million Dollar Bridge became inaccessible when the willows and alders took over the remaining railway line, strangling the rail bed under growth as thick as any tropical jungle. Remote buildings and other structures collapsed under the weight of successive winters of heavy snow until little remained of what had once been a magnificent railroad system.
Bremner Station, CRNW Mile 78.  --UAF, Julie Sweeney Collection, 97-139-690

Earl Tappan Stannard was a protege of Birch who developed the ammonia leaching process and managed Kennecott during World War I. Daniel Jackling was one of the genius engineers who held a prominent seat on the Kennecott board of directors. Charles Earl and C.T. Ulrich were on the board of directors of the Mother Lode Coalition Mines Company. John N. Steele was the general counsel for Kennecott. F.A. Hanson was the superintendent of the CRNW Railway. Wesley Earl Dunkle and Alan Bateman were prominent consulting engineers for Kennecott. Bert Nieding was the manager when William C. Douglass became superintendent in 1920. Douglass arrived in Kennecott in 1916 and left late in 1929. W.C. Douglass was the most popular and influential of all the personalities at the site. W.A. Richelson was chief engineer and the last superintendent of Kennecott. Chris Jensen was the much-respected Norwegian master carpenter for most of the Kennecott years.
 Frank Buckner is a composite character based on Frank Buckie, the junior engineer who worked at Kennecott until the Mother Lode avalanche disaster.

 The last load of ore came off the Bonanza aerial tram on October 21 following the completion of mining operations at both the Jumbo and Bonanza mines on October 16, 1938. The mill shut down October 31. The last train pulled out of Kennecott on November 10, 1938.

 Descriptions of the railroad, the mines, the mill town, Chitina, McCarthy and Taral are as accurate as the historic record allows. Likewise, the description of the demise of these historic places is very close to what actually occurred. Engine number 74 was the one which crashed through the trestle crossing at Chitina in 1918. It had the distinction of being the Last Train Out and the was also last known engine from the CRNW Railway line to be scrapped.

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