18 November 2010

Ch 23, Pt 1: "Cap Tells His Story"

Legacy of the Chief,
Chapter 23: "Cap Tells His Story - 1916"

click on picture for
larger image: some of these images appear in the book for
this chapter.

Copper River scene

CRNW Railway scene somewhere south of Chitina  
--Candy Waugaman Collection
The white men called him the Gakona Kid, or Johnny Gakona. His
real name was Johnny Nicolai Gadanski. The railroad changed that,
just like it changed my name to Cap. I was seventeen and already a
sizable and well-built Indian--full blooded and, from what I could
tell, of a fearsome appearance in the eyes of many of the whites and
many of the Natives as well. It helped that I had developed quite a
reputation because of my skill in boxing. When I arrived at Cascade
Station at CRNW mile 89, which was south of Tiekel, I came to help
my sla’cheen survive those Irishmen. The Irish crew at Cascade did
not like anyone but themselves. They were underhanded and devious in
a way I have seen few others.

I only found out about Johnny’s predicament because his nilth’
skell’eh brother Charles took advantage of the free passage
available to the Indians along the railroad. Charlie hopped a coach
ride south to visit Johnny at the Cascade station house. He camped
in the area for two days and watched the Irishmen from afar when he
was not visiting Johnny. When Johnny was not on the job, the
brothers sat together where they could not be seen and watched the

“Goodlataw sii’ae, he said, those men treat Soon-ga really badly. I
watched them for two days. They are evil people. They have even
turned him mean. He should leave, but he’s too stubborn. I can’t
help him, but you can. You’re his sla’cheen. You have to help. He
didn’t ask, but I know he needs your help.”

There were two things I could do. I could either go down there and
just duke it out with all of them and help Johnny put an end to it,
or I could try to make an arrangement through the stationmaster
which would place me at Cascade so I could back up my sla’cheen.


Chitina Heights, Chitina RR yard, and downtown Chitina. --Julie
Sweeney Collection, 97-139-176, UAF AK & Polar Regions Photo Archives

I decided to convince George Brown that the railroad needed me as
part of an Indian team with Johnny. After all, every Native railroad
worker except for Tom Bell was hired as part of an Indian team. Even
Tom himself was sometimes backed up by his brother Andrew. There
remained a single unfilled job opening at Cascade. The stationmaster
George Brown assured me that he would go ahead and try to get me the
job, even though it usually did not get filled until winter. How he
accomplished that as just a stationmaster I don’t know. But he did.
Stationmaster George and Superintendent Hansen always seemed to get
along well. I’m sure that helped.

George told me that none of the men on the line go by their payroll
names, but by nicknames, like “Montana, “ or “Snake.” I knew that
Johnny already was known as the Gakona kid, or just Gakona. His name
must have had something to do with his ability to run fast. He was
not only quick with his left-hook, but he ran faster than anyone I
ever knew. Gak means rabbit. He was not from Gakona, nor was his

But Gakona was the name most knew.

I needed a name that stood out. It was George who gave me that name.

“You know, if you weren’t an Indian, you’d probably be a captain or
a boss somewhere, being as you are big and imposing looking. Not
only that, you can read well. That’s unusual around here. Yes, you
were white, you’d be a captain.” George said.

That was it. Captain. No, Cap sounded better. I thought the name Cap
fit me very well. It had the image I knew I would need to present in
front of those rough Irishmen. I knew the crew-boss O’Malley well
enough to realize that I would have the fight of my life if I failed
to pull this off right. It didn’t matter. I was ready.

“All right if I take along my dog?”

“Dog? You have a dog? Just don’t let it get in the way of your work
or living arrangements with those other men.”

I didn’t actually have a dog, but I had one in mind that would fit
my requirements for this job. Johnny’s saw’da --that was his older
sister Violet--was raising dogs for sale to dog team mushers. She
had a number of large Siberian mutts. One of them was particularly
big. No one wanted him because he was not much of a team animal. He
was too independent. She was probably looking for a new home for

I would have my dog. Now I needed an imposing name for him.
Something that would get those white men’s attention. Something of
an Indian spiritual nature. Ghost Spirit--that would be Kay-yew-nee.
Now I just need some war paint and rough-looking clothes to really
look the part when I arrived with that large dog.

Violet was only too pleased to part with the dog.

“Kay-yew-nee? You’re calling that big, clumsy mutt Kay-yew-nee?”

She burst out laughing. I began to wonder what kind of choice in
dogs I’d just made for myself.

“I’ve never been able to get him to do anything but eat. He’s not
even a very good breeder, or I’d probably keep him. You may end up
shooting him after you realize what you have, but he’s all yours

Violet was still laughing as she walked back into her small cabin up
on Indian Hill. I looked at the big animal, who returned the stare.
It occurred to me that I did not know how to tell the dog what I

“Kay-yew-nee. You Kay-yew-nee. Come!”

I turned and walked away from the fenced yard. The dog got up and
followed me. I turned around. He stopped. I pointed to the ground.
He sat. I lifted my hand. He rose.

“Vi! Violet! Come out here. Look!”

She emerged from her small crude log cabin.

“This dog is trained. Watch!”

I repeated the signals. The dog followed my silent commands.

“Where did you get this animal, Violet?”

She stood wide-eyed and silent. Finally she found the words.

“He just wandered in one day, Michael.”


Young Cap Goodlataw in a camp just upriver from
 --USGS photo

“Cap. I’m Cap now!”

“Cap? Like Captain?”

She started laughing again. She was really enjoying this.

“Well, Mike, I mean Cap, the name fits you. You’re the captain of
that mutt.”

She turned around and headed back toward her door, still laughing. I
felt deflated as I walked away from Violet’s cabin. She grew up with
me and knew me only too well. Nothing about me ever impressed her.
She told me several times I’d have to find some other girl to
impress. She might as well have been my real older sister. I made it
back to the cabin Johnny and I had built for Nicolai. He was away as
usual. It was only when I got there that I thought about the dog. I
turned around. There he was. He had quietly followed me from
Violet’s yard.

I pointed to a place near the door. Kay-yew-nee sat down and simply
looked at me. This was one good dog.

Charles came running up the hill early the next day.

“Michael, George Brown wants to see you.”

“Cap. I’m Cap now. Call me Cap.”

“Cap? If you say so, Michael. Isn’t that Vi’s dog?”

“Yes, Charlie, it was Vi’s dog. Now it’s mine--and your brother’s.”

“I don’t like Charlie. It sounds like a kid’s name. Call me

“Call me Cap. And remember it.”

“Okay, Michael.”

Charles ran off.

“See you later, Charlie,” I shouted.

I started down the hill. Kay-yew-nee followed.

“So that’s your dog, Michael?”

“That’s Kay-yew-nee, George. Call me Cap. I got the name from you,

“Yes, Cap it is. You wanted to see me? Oh yes. Come on in, Captain.
I have something for you.”

Speeder at abandoned Bremner
Station, early 1950s, CRNW MP 79
   --Bob Leitzel

I followed George through the waiting room, past the ticket counter
that was bounded by the bay-window, and into the baggage area. Back
there was the mail room and telegraph office. George pulled a
telegraph off the machine.

“Here it is. It came right from F.A. himself.”



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