30 October 2010

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

Legacy of the Chief:   Preface part 2

Route of the CRNW Railway --Simpson files
The business car the Kennecott was most likely number 100, which was the CRNW observation and dining car. Number 100 was one of two coaches shipped off to the Alaska Railroad at the end of the project of the eight CRNW passenger cars that once existed. None of these wooden open-ended coaches are known to have survived.
 Here a few of the most significant historic events and names and other notes which are relevant to this historic novel:
 1) Mt. Wrangell is known to have erupted in 1784, 1885 and 1900.

 2) Edward Gates staked the Nicolai (Nikolai) claims in July, 1899. Clarence Warner and Jack Smith staked the Bonanza claims the following year.

 Dan Kain and Clarence Warner staked Dan Creek, birthplace of Chief Nicolai. Dan Creek was named after Dan Kain. It was primarily a gold placer mining operation, though the creek yielded about forty tons of copper nuggets.

 3) Stephen and Mary Birch visited Alaska on their ill-fated honeymoon in 1916. Birch’s last trip to Kennecott was in 1924. 

 4) Kate Kennedy was the madame of McCarthy who stayed there until the very end. 

 5) The Kennecott power plant burned down in August 1924. Thanks to the existence of the Mother Lode power plant in McCarthy, Kennecott was able to resume limited operations almost immediately. The new power plant was built on the foundations of the old one at a cost of about one million dollars. It was in operation by late September.

   6)Descriptions of the main barracks buildings at Erie, Jumbo, Bonanza and Mother Lode are based on the original plans and photos. Only the Erie barrack still stands.

   7)The first Jumbo-Erie cross-cut tunnel was completed in 1924. The second was completed in 1930, extending all the way to the Mother Lode incline. Main access into the stope areas was by means of  four incline tunnels. The Mother Lode incline was the deepest, extending to the 2,800 foot level. The Erie was the shortest, extending from the Erie 100 level to the 1,050 level, where it met the Motherlode 2,600 cross-cut tunnel (the one completed in 1930). The Jumbo was the longest, running from the 180 to the 2,500 level at a thirty-degree angle. Bonanza was the first to open and the last to close. 

 8) Dwyer’s Inn at Strelna burned down in 1925. It was never replaced.

 9) The mill, like all the Kennecott industrial structures, was originally painted red. All red buildings had white trim around the windows, doors, and along the corners. The four staff buildings were painted white with dark-green trim. In 1925, in a most unusual departure, the upper part of the mill was painted light-gray. No other buildings on the site were ever painted gray. By the early 1930s the Kennecott painters restored the mill to the standard barn-red color. 

 10) The drug store block of downtown McCarthy burned down in 1941.

 11) Green Butte was a small copper mine on McCarthy Creek which last produced in 1925. John Barrett, founder of McCarthy, staked the claims in 1909.

 12) Operators of Consolidated-Wrangell, a surface mining company, destroyed the electricians’ warehouse, the staff house, the superintendent’s residence and the Stephen Birch House. They also burned down the Bonanza barracks in 1968. The systematic destruction of Kennecott began well before these operators when a small-time salvager named Ray Trotuchau somehow convinced Kennecott to let him “salvage” (destroy) the mill site as early as 1957.

 13) Photos of Natives have appeared in the building of the railroad, proving that they were involved with the railroad from the very beginning. The company relied on all-Native crews based in Chitina to perform some of the seasonal maintenance along the Chitina Local branch, which is where most of this story takes place.

 14) Haley Creek received its name after the railroad ceased operation. For ease of writing, I have used the name as though it existed from the beginning of construction.

   15)A central part of the book is the destruction of Mother Lode camp. I was the only one to this day  to recognize a photo I found at the McCarthy Museum showing the upper ML tram terminal after it was destroyed in the avalanche. I have included the photo in this book. In the decade that I researched Kennecott, I never found a single written reference to the destruction of the upper camp. The complete absence of information on the fate of the ML camp was puzzling. 

I am convinced that something happened up there which the high management of Kennecott chose to cover up. In the last few years, the best way to describe my experience with the Mother Lode and the Marvelous operation is that it haunted me, to the point of nearly relentlessly pursuing me. The Mother Lode event, above all else, was the prime motivation for the writing of this book. I cannot explain how I pieced it together, but I am satisfied that I treated the Mother Lode properly. How I accomplished that will probably remain a mystery to the reader much as the destruction of the ML upper camp itself was a mystery to me.
 The cultural shock which hit the Ahtna Natives with the advent of the white prospectors from the Valdez-Klutina Glacier trek in 1898-99, with the coming of the railroad in 1909-11, and with the Chisana gold rush of 1913, is well documented.

The clash of the two cultures reverberates to this day, largely at the expense of the rural Natives. The Ahtna Indians remain rooted to the land, still observing many of the old traditions, especially that of the the potlatch, as well as a more modern form of subsistence which relies heavily on the use of the Columbia River fish wheel. A larger version of this fish wheel can still be seen along the Yukon and lower Tanana Rivers.
  White families come and go. There are few in the Copper River valley who can trace their roots as far back as World War II, though there are a handful who are descendants from the Valdez-Klutina Glacier trek-survivors of 1898. Native families, on the other hand, remain firmly rooted to the land. This is the only land they have ever known. Individual Natives occasionally move to Anchorage or Fairbanks, or even to the continental United States, but  most ultimately return to the valley of the ‘Atna’tuuTs’itu’. Just as Nicolai was so fond of reminding everyone, the Ahtna people were here in the beginning and the Ahnas will still be here until the very end of humanity itself.

This is the future which the white men will leave you--useless, empty buildings--some of them gone completely.  No railroad. No mine at Kennecott--just scars on the land.  Don't listen to these white people.  They are not here to stay.  They're here to take and to spoil, and then to leave.  --Chief Nicolai appearing to Cap Goodlataw in his vision at McCarthy, 1925.
Close-up of the ruins of Jumbo barracks nos. 3 and 4, located on the Bonanza Ridge above Kennecott, circa 1965 --Simpson files.

The original book started as a history Kennecott. It began with a description of the geological processes which formed the rich copper in the Wrangell Range. This description is given to us in this novel by Wesley Dunkle--one of Alaska’s great mining engineers. The account closely follows a published work actually written by Dunkle, except I have updated and simplified the geological explanation. A mountain of rich copper that extended deep within the Bonanza Ridge started it all. It was only the depletion of the high-grade copper ore within the ridge which brought this part of Alaskan history to an end.

 If you pay close attention to Nicolai’s Raven Story of Creation after reading Wes Dunkle’s explanation of the mountain-bulding process, you will realize that Nicolai’s traditional raven story suggested an explanation of how the Wrangells were formed which largely parallels the scientific explanation provided by the mining engineer.

 As the book advanced, it was the railroad which became central to the story. Everything rode on the rails of the CRNW Railway. The story depends on the railroad, just as the people who once lived at Chitina did. What has been largely forgotten is that the railroad quickly became an integral part of the life of the lower Copper River Ahtna people.

  In the end, the people of the Saghani Ggaay hijacked this story, transforming it from merely an interesting piece of Alaskan Americana into an engaging tale of how the Ahtnas became closely linked to the CRNW Railway. The Ahtnas became a part of the railroad while at the same time staying apart from it. 

It was through the lower Ahtna people, as expressed in the words and deeds of the complex man who was Chief Nicolai and his dedicated follower Cap Goodlataw, that this fascinating history became for me a truly spiritual quest. 

We've been forced into a world we never chose.  We're no different from anyone else except that we know where we're from.  We're tied to the land.  The white man is lost. He has no roots and no feel for the land.  He would rather exploit it than try to live with it.  We can live with the white man, but not his foolishness . . . We're all that stands between the white  man and a world that would destroy him if he continues as he has.  --Johnny Gakona in an interview with John deHaviland at Chitina, 1923
Doc Billum and Old Glory at the Copper River near Lower Tonsina, circa 1909. --AMHA, B94.22.254

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