04 November 2010

Ch 10, Pt 4: "Abercrombie Rapids Landing"

Chapter 10: 
Abercrombie Rapids Landing, pt 4

The images below can be clicked
for larger photo or drawing

 While waiting for the approaching train, my thoughts turned to our Polish 
 father, known to his fellow workers as Emil. Dad was one of the original 
prospectors from the Valdez-Klutina Glaciers 
trek who developed claims in the Nizina gold district, east of Chitina.

He was not very successful in his prospecting efforts, surviving mainly
 by subsistence. He lived off the land, trapping pelts for 
 hard cash.  And, of course, he hunted for game and netted thloo-ka, much like our 
 elders had done. When the railroad construction began, it  changed everything. 
 Dad had made some money working his claims, but he made far more money selling 
 them to those large gold-field developers  Stephen and Howard Birch 
 than he ever did running his sluice box. Those famous brothers 
 bought up a large number of old claims so they could set up their modern 
hydraulic system, which required plenty of land. The hydraulic giants
washed down the overburden on the hillsides to expose the gold-bearing
 gravels.  In the process of uncovering the payloads the massive washing process 
drastically  transform the country-side.

Water line to
supply hydraulic mine at Dan Creek
  --UAF Archives
The dam on Dan Creek
supplying water for the hydraulic giants downstream  
--UAF Archives

Hydraulic  "giant"  somewhere in the Nizina district  
--Candy Waugaman Collection

 Grandfather Nicolai never approved of them. He took a trip to his old village at 
Dan Creek and was shocked because he could hardly recognize anything
there. The village was gone and so were some of the hills he had played
on as a boy. After that trip he grumbled for weeks. I don’t think
Shee’ya thought too much of Dad after seeing that operation, even though
 Dad only ran sluice boxes, not the hydraulic giants. Shee-ya probably 
thought even less of Stephen Birch--a man he had considered his friend.

Mom did not want to stay out there at Dad’s gold placer camp. She
endured the lifestyle of a poor miner’s wife as long as she could. It
 was not for her. She missed her own people and her freedom to travel 
 whenever she wanted. There were no women out at Dan Creek back 
then to keep her company. When she left Dad in 1906 after several hard
years of trying to be a good wife, she moved Charlie and me back to
Eskilida’s camp across from Taral so we could be cared for by our own
Indian relatives. Dad could not raise us and operate his claims at the
same time, and Mom did not want us raised by Emil anyway. She wanted us
to grow up as Natives.

The primitive
mining camp at Dan Creek.   --UAF Archives

Mom’s wandering soul soon sent her traveling. She felt it was better
that we grow up in our own Native way among our own people near the home
 of Nicolai, who was only too happy to see us come home. 

 Mom occasionally returned to visit us boys. In 1910 she moved in Chittyna 
village in the old cabin that Cap and I rebuilt for Shee-ya. In our
early years we lived mostly with Goodlataw at Eskilida Creek and with
Eskilida at Tebay Camp up the Chitina River until the white men founded

Whenever I could, I visited Schee-ya at Taral. He was a wonderful
grandfather who always made time for his grandchildren. Besides Charles,
I had my sla’cheen -- Michael Goodlataw, who had been with me as a
brother in the same house since 1906. Chittyna was the first location
for a government school in the interior, and Charlie, Michael, and I
were moved there about the time it was developed by a railroad surveyor
named O.A. Nelson. Chittyna village became my permanent home from that
time forward.

Mom had lived with other men before and after her time with Dad. She
always took the time to visit Dad once he gave up his claims at Dan
Creek. Tonight they would be together for the last time. Once he moved
back to Kennecott, she never saw him again.

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