Legacy of the Chief, Chapter 22: "Cap Rescues Johnny at McCarthy - 1924" pt 2
click on picture for larger image: some of these images appear in the book for this chapter.
Green Butte had never met the expectations of the investors who had
joined Barrett in developing the prospect. Barrett and his fellow
investors had good reason to anticipate massive copper veins because
the claims lay along a direct line extending from Kennecott’s Erie
Mine through the Jumbo and the Bonanza to Green Butte before ending
at the legendary Nicolai Prospect itself. Over time it had become
clear that if any rich quantity of copper was to be found in the
vicinity, it would most likely be along this line. No copper of
economic value had been found elsewhere. Even the promising
Hubbard-Elliot on the upper reaches of the Kotsina had proved to be
nothing more than an investment scam. The North Midas, up a
tributary of the Kuskulana, had started as a copper mine, but had
instead become a producer of gold and silver.
As for the Green Butte, strong copper showings along the southern
incline were encouraging, but production remained disappointing. On
the other hand, Bill Douglass had asked permission to send two of
his engineers to evaluate the property. This was like a ray of light
in an otherwise gloomy future to Barrett and his fellow investors.
No other outfit in the region could make things work like Kennecott.
It seemed to have a bottomless supply of money. It also had a staff
of top-rated engineers.
“I have a question for you, Mr. Barrett. You’ve been here as long as
anyone. Maybe you have the answer.”
“Sure, Harry. I’m one of the sourdoughs here. Or, so I’m told. Ask
“Why are there two spellings for Kennicott? It’s confusing. When I
write home to the wife, I never know which spelling to use.”
Barrett contemplated the question for a moment.
“You’re not alone. I curse the day someone high up in Kennecott
changed that spelling when they created their corporation. It’s
caused nothing but problems since. There’s one spelling for the
glacier. Another for the company. Sounds the same. Spelled
different. Drives us all nuts. Almost as bad as Shushanna, when
someone decided to change it to Chisana. Same sound. Different
spelling. Seems almost no one knows how to spell either one. We live
next to the railroad junction with the old spelling, but the post
office uses the other for the town. It sure messes up mail delivery.
Did you ever hear about McCarty Crossing way up on the Tanana River?
There were even two of them once, but one of them finally changed
its name to Ruby. McCarty sounds too much like McCarthy. You know
how much of their mail we get at McCarthy?”
“Sorry I got you started on that one, Mr. Barrett. Didn’t know it
was such an irritation. I heard you founded the town. Is that true?”
“Yep, Harry, that’s me. It’s still my town.”
“Why isn’t it named Barrettsville?”
“McCarthy? I named it after the creek. It sounded good to me. One
less name to remember. Besides, I knew Jim, the guy Oscar Rohn named
the creek after.”
“He was one of a number of government geologists who explored the
area about a quarter-century ago, even before I got there. That
wasn’t very long ago. It’s still very new country here.”
John Barrett had good business sense combined with some incredible
luck. He staked 296 acres at the confluence of McCarthy Creek with
the Kennicott River in 1906. That strip of land became the final
railroad terminal. The last five miles of track ending at Kennecott
was more like a very long siding because the original survey showed
no room for a turn-around up there. The railroad company placed the
locomotive turntable and the final large station at Shushanna
The north part of Barrett’s homestead started out as a staging area
for the supplies which small independent contractors hauled up the
river on winter sleds. Then came the 110-foot riverboat the Chittyna.
It brought four loads of construction supplies to Bonanza Landing
where the Kennicott River meets the Nizina. These supplies were
skidded up the Kennicott River. An entire mine system arrived on
those skids. By the time the railroad builders reached Shushanna
Junction in March of 1911, nearby Bonanza lower camp had a
three-mile-long aerial tramway connecting the Bonanza mine to the
tram terminal at National Creek. At the lower camp, CRNW mile 196,
were the beginnings of the mill, the office, a warehouse, a
barracks, the manager’s house and the sawmill with a generator to
furnish power to the camp.
While the Bonanza railroad terminal quickly evolved into Kennecott,
John and Josephine Barrett developed their homestead. John hired a
Kennecott engineer to survey lots for a new town. He sold those lots
off. Now, McCarthy had become as large as it would ever be. It had
become the Nizina gold district supply town with buildings of modern
wood frame construction, including numerous two-story structures.
Even before McCarthy, Blackburn developed. It was on ground north of
present-day McCarthy. Oscar Breedman, owner of the Hotel Chitina,
bought the large, two-story, log roadhouse at Blackburn. The
Fagerburg Roadhouse turned out to be a poor investment. With the
Shushanna gold rush, business migrated south onto Barrett’s
property--a far more convenient location. The 1913 rush saw hordes
of prospectors set up a tent-town north of McCarthy for the run to
Chisana--“Alaska’s last great gold rush.” Blackburn was in the wrong
place due to the location of the CRNW Railway terminal. It faded
away into history, while McCarthy prospered as it fed, housed, and
entertained the hopeful prospectors while supplying the Nizina and
Chisana gold fields with goods brought in on the railroad.
The large numbers of prospectors of the Chisana boom seriously
depleted the local game. Nicolai and his people abandoned the area
they had hunted for centuries because the game was so scarce. The
sight of Indians at McCarthy became a rarity. Children grew up in
the town without ever encountering a Native. The Ahtna Indians of
the railroad belt lived only at Chitina and Strelna.
John Barrett began reflecting on Johnny Gakona and Cap Goodlataw.
The truck passed the tributary leading to the old Nicolai Prospect.
The roar of the smaller creek entering the McCarthy Creek was hard
to miss. The road followed the old power line. It had been abandoned
several years, but remained intact. The top of the poles where the
cross-members held the copper wires on glass insulators could barely
be seen through the fog. The effect was ghostly.
The rest of the trip went in silence. The truck crossed several more
bridges and passed through one narrow tunnel. The creek waters
remained high. Erosion was eating at sections of the road and at
some of the bridge abutments. The trail headed west. Soon the small
town would be in sight. The fog was beginning to lift, but it
remained chilly and damp. Barrett dropped off the men at the Golden,
then headed for the Row.
Outside one of the cabins was the Siberian mutt. He was huge. He was
also loose. Barrett cautiously walked toward the cabin. The dog took
note of him, but did not move. He let Barrett pass. Just as Barrett
hoped, he found the Indians in Rose’s cabin. Cap seemed anxious to
go, but Johnny was still intoxicated. Actually, he was passed out.
“You still need us? When?” Cap asked.
“Do I ever. Two more men just quit on me today. Meet me at the
Golden tomorrow by 9 a.m. I’ll fill up the truck at the gas pump
there and head on back to the mine. Will you be here?”
“No. Look up there.”
Cap pointed to the top of the bluff south of the creek.
“We have a camp there. We won’t be here. See you tomorrow.”
Cap closed the cabin door and turned to face Johnny, who had passed
out, slumped on the large chair in the center of the small,
cluttered room. The party had gone on all night. There were empty
bottles lying everywhere. Stale food sat on the kitchen table. Cap
was drinking coffee. He needed sleep. But not here.
Cap shook Johnny and then pulled him up into a standing position.
“Johnny, time to sober up. We have to go!”
Johnny’s eyes opened. It took a few moment to focus.
“Don’t want to leave Rose. Never had woman like her before,” he
Rose and Bubbles were already gone. Partying with the two Indians
was interfering with business. They had other customers. The Madame
was not pleased with them.
“Rose likes you. I see that. But she isn’t in love with you. Come
on, Johnny. We have to make some money. I stuck with you all this
time because you asked me to. Time to go. The boss said be ready
tomorrow. Don’t let that white man fire us before we at least we
give him a better reason than not showing up. I’d rather knock the
guy down. At least he’d have a good reason to fire me.”
Johnny’s eyes rolled. He flopped back into the chair. This wasn’t
going to be easy. Cap grabbed a galvanized bucket sitting below the
wash stand. He attached a short rope to it, then walked outside
toward the creek. The cold air sharpened his nerves. He approached
the creek’s edge. The recent flooding had cut a sharp bank in front
of the cabins.
Cap leaned over the embankment. Icy-cold water spray hit his face.
It felt good. He had to get down on his knees. He started to lower
the bucket the five feet toward the roaring water. Johnny’s dog,
Kay-yew-nee, quietly slipped behind him and nosed Cap’s rear,
knocking the off-balance Indian head-long into the creek. The water
was just deep enough to prevent him from being hurt. Still holding
onto the rope attached to the bucket, Cap grabbed for some brush
along the bank. He pulled himself out. Now he was soaked. But he was
also wide awake. It was Johnny’s turn. He would deal with the dog
He retrieved some of the frigid glacial water, then pulled himself
up, turned and headed back inside. Johnny was passed out again. Cap
dumped the full bucket of cold water all over Johnny.
That did it. Johnny was instantly awake. He jumped up and swung. He
was furious. The fight was on. But Johnny was in no shape to throw
his normally deadly left hook. Cap was prepared. He knocked Johnny
to the floor and waited for him to get back up.
Johnny sprang back up and found himself knocked down on the floor
“Give up, Johnny. You’re no match for me. Not like you are now. We
have to go.”
It finally occurred to Johnny that Cap acted exactly what he would
have if he had to awaken Cap under these circumstances. It was time
“What happened to you, Sla’cheen? You’re as soaked as I am.”
“Your stupid dog nosed me in the butt and knocked me into the
Johnny could not contain his laughter. Cap struck him. The fight was
on once again. It ended quickly. The two were just not up to it.
“Rose, I’ll miss you,” he said to no one in particular, as he hung
onto Cap’s shoulder. It was late morning as two very wet, messed-up
Indians helped each other stagger away from the Row. The mist was
just lifting from the surrounding hills. The sun broke through,
throwing rays down Shushanna Avenue. They headed for the Alaskan
Billiards Parlor for some coffee. They had survived in McCarthy due
to their ability to play billiards in this hall.
No one but the owner was in the long, narrow room. They both plopped
down on the leather couch and began the slow painful process of
coming out of a long drunk. Archie Poulin grabbed the coffee pot and
“Look at you two. What a mess you are. Dripping wet!”
Archie poured two large tin cups full of his strong brew.
“You’ll need this. No more moonshine. You need to go somewhere and
get out of those wet clothes before you catch your death of
pneumonia. Did you get work at Green Butte yet?”
Cap nodded. Johnny looked almost dead. He slumped deeply into the
heavy leather cushions.
“You two look like drowned rats. Fall into the creek?”
“I did. Johnny’s dog knocked me in. Too much party. Had to wake
Johnny with creek water.”
“You could have hurt yourself in that creek. Stay away from the Row.
It’s not doing you two any favors. Coffee’s on me. You were good for
business this week. Lots of men tried to beat you two at pool.”
Archie set the coffee back on his pot-bellied stove and returned
to his counter.
“Sla’cheen, let’s get out of here. We both need to get out of this
wet clothing before we freeze. I’m not drying out in here like I
thought. Camp is ready. While you were partying with Rose yesterday,
I set up the firepit and raised a tent. We need to stay away from
He pulled Johnny up from the deep couch. Johnny needed to walk. The
two headed out Archie’s door and turned south toward the creek,
leaving behind the unfinished coffee. Tonight the two Indians would
be staying out in the open air south of town. Cap did not want to
take any chances that Johnny might get back together with Rose. If
he did, there would be no Green Butte. No work. Nothing but one
final drunken party. They would have to return to Chitina. He was
not yet ready for that. He needed to bring back cash. He promised
his father that he would.
When the men first arrived at the Shushanna Junction station, they
spotted the site from the railroad depot. Cap had a preference for
camping along high bluffs. This one was conveniently close. They had
brought a large amount of gear, which they stashed up there on the
bluff. The two of them hauled in enough canvas to set up cover
against the rain and the wind. They dropped off their cooking
utensils, tea, rice, and their potlatch blankets, rifles and knives.
No one had found the camp. Everything was exactly as they had left
it, except that Cap had set up the canvas shelter, hauled in some
dry fire wood, and built a firepit surrounded by heavy stones the
day before. Cap and Johnny both carried a supply of dried, smoked
salmon with them. They could not leave the salmon strips at camp, as
the salmon would attract the bears.
It was only a brief walk across the bridge and up the hill to the
top of the bluff. The view of the town and the glaciers with the
mountains was excellent, but the camp was concealed from town
because it was in the midst of fireweed, wild roses and other
Cap ignited the fire. He could build a fire out of almost anything.
Fire was the key to survival. This one was ready. All it took was a
match. He struck a wooden Diamond-brand match stick and watched the
flames creep quickly through the shavings and spruce boughs. In
minutes the fire was blazing. Johnny helped by piling the wood Cap
had earlier retrieved on the fire. Johnny then pulled off his cold,
soaked clothing, hanging them on branches near the fire. Johnny’s
boots were not wet from the river. But they still needed to be
dried. He pulled them off and set them next to the fire on one of
the large rocks Cap had moved into place the day before. He opened
his heavy Hudson Bay blanket from his gear to wrap around himself.
Cap also hung up his own wet clothes on branches near the fire,
leaving his saturated boots on one of the large rocks which made up
the fire pit. He had his own potlatch sde’. The heavy wool blankets
had been gifts from one of the potlatches when they were still
teenagers. They had come from Doc Billum, whose family was of a
different clan. The young men had used the same sde’ on their work
trips for the last eight years. Sometimes the blankets were all they
had. The sde’ served as bedrolls and provided warmth when their
clothes had to be dried. Wet clothes were always a hazard in the
wilderness. Accidental immersion in ice-covered lakes and rivers or
streams were common occurrences. The water in this country was never
more than a degree or two above freezing. A person would turn blue
almost instantly. Then he would begin shivering. Death could quickly
follow. It was important to get out of wet clothing immediately. It
was safer to be naked in front of a fire than wrapped in
water-saturated woolens. Wet clothing next to the skin would
guarantee hypothermia and death.
If this had been winter, there would have been little time to build
a fire and strip off the wet wool. Both Cap and Johnny had been
through this problem before in the winter while running separate
trap lines. Their elders taught them that their ability to build a
fire quickly was a matter of survival. This time, it was midsummer,
but the clothing had become quite cold due to the breezes coming
over the bluff from the glacier.
The dog watched from a distance. Johnny had said very little. Now he
was passed out, wrapped only in his sde’. But he was under cover of
the canvas. Cap was still away from the open tent, sitting on a
large log and drinking his tea. He stared at Kay-yew-nee, who was a
safe distance away. The dog looked back. Cap scowled. The dog wagged
his tail, then rested his head on his paws.
with "Cap Rescues Johnny," pt 3, conclusion