Legacy of the Chief,
Chapter 23, Pt 2: "Cap Tells His Story - 1916"
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“George, I am impressed. I know I really owe you for all this, and
believe me I won’t forget, but can I ask one more small favor?”
“What else can you possibly want, Cap?”
“George, I want to get there on my own. How about loaning me one of
those hand-trams. I don’t want a gas-powered one. I want to power it
myself. I’ll send it back up to you on the next train.”
“Something’s up down there, isn’t it, Cap? No, don’t tell me. Just
take one of the hand-cars from the warehouse down there.”
He pointed to the small building at the south end of the loading
“I know I’ll get it back soon enough. Don’t let any bad news reach
me. We’ve stretched our necks out for you and Johnny. Now you’re on
your way, so get out of here.”
You have to hand it to old George, he could certainly be helpful and
even understanding when it came to us Natives. I guess it helped
that he was married to one of our own women. So now I was on my
way--new name, war paint, rough hide clothes and bandanna and that
dog Yew-nee--and my hunting rifle and knife with my bedroll
consisting of a Hudson Bay potlatch blanket.
George sent me off once the northbound train had come through. I was
headed down forty-two miles of track. Thank the Great Creator that
the railroad was almost completely level in that section of track.
Even better, it had a slight decline heading south. It was a long
way to be pumping a hand car. Needless to say, I made numerous stops
to rest and get water. I must have been quite a sight to the
railroad hands at Chitina when I took the hand truck and loaded the
dog. I was wearing my war paint and special garb. They sure stared.
It felt good. It was almost as if we Natives were taking back the
railroad line. I loved it.
There are several trestles within a few miles south of Chitina. The
first one was O’Brien Creek at CRNW mile 129. It spanned a wide,
relatively deep canyon. I found the ride over the tall trestle
exhilarating. Words you would not expect from an Indian, right?
Largely thanks to my sla’cheen brother Johnny, I have a good
education. Johnny shamed me into it. We have always had a friendly
competition going between us, whether it involved wrestling,
drinking, playing billiards or poker, getting the better girl, or
being able to read and understand some obscure passage in a book at
It was when I found I needed help with my reading and my math in
school that I realized that we made a good team, especially if I let
him do most the talking. I preferred not to stand out too much.
Johnny was better at that. He loved the role. I just had to try to
keep up with Johnny. I learned to appreciate reading, because it
exercises the mind. Neither Johnny nor I was prepared to leave all
the benefits of education to the whites. I will always be indebted
to Johnny for making sure I made it through school successfully.
After O’Brien Creek, the track passed a number of old burial sites.
One of those grave yards near Eskilida camp got the railroad in
trouble with Nicolai. My father, Chief Goodlataw, actually took the
railroad to court over the matter. That’s when we learned about
white-man courts. The court was in Cordova. It was owned by the
Alaska Syndicate. Oh, I know they call themselves Kennecott
Corporation, but they’re still the syndicate. They won the case,
just as everyone expected they would, but Nicolai and the elders got
even with them anyway. That was because of something Nicolai and the
other sleep-doctors did at Taral. No one would talk about Nicolai’s
Curse, but we all knew about it. Aside from the curse, for many
months and even years, relations between the white railroad workers
and the Indians in the village were very bad. None of us have
forgotten the indignity caused by the workers who vandalized and
robbed our graves at Eskilida Creek, but most of us have moved on,
trying to put those evil things in the past. The workers who caused
the damage eventually became victims of the curse in a way that left
no doubt. Several of us Natives witnessed the hex take those men to
their well-earned and long-anticipated rewards.
Beyond O’Brien Creek, my hand-powered car crossed trestles at Fox
Creek, Eskilida Creek and Haley Creek. The trestles spanned
steeply-cut ravines containing icy-cold rushing creeks consisting
mostly of snow-melt. Beyond those trestles were a series of three
tunnels leading up to Uranatina. There was another tunnel on each
side of Tiekel. The last one was the 300-foot-long tunnel closest to
Between Uranatina and Tiekel, the railbed followed along many miles
of a steep embankment right along the river. The rotary snowplow
routinely returned to Cordova after turning around at Tiekel--thirty
miles south of Chitina. Along the entire railroad line, there were
only four turn-around loops ever built. Besides the one at Tiekel,
there was our large one around Town Lake in Chitina. There was one
at Childs Glacier that was later replaced by a wye, and another
large one existed in front of Railroad Row in the yard by the
roundhouse in Cordova. The dog and I passed several line shacks and
two section-houses on the way south. All of them appeared
unoccupied, as if the line was deserted. It was strange. Eerie,
almost. I almost felt as though I had wasted a lot of effort with my
war-paint. There was no one to see it. Even at Tiekel Station, no
one was in sight. I traveled the entire distance without seeing
anyone along the line after leaving Chitina.
I was determined that I would give as war-like an appearance as
possible so that it would appear to the Irishmen better to back down
than challenge both me and my sla’cheen brother Johnny. Johnny could
not defend himself well, but the odds were too heavily stacked
against him. He had a legendary left hook going back to the school
days when he was constantly involved in fights. He rarely lost.
Whenever I fought beside him, we never lost a round to anyone, no
matter of there were half a dozen of them. We always won. He was not
treated well by the other Natives because he was a half-breed. I
grew up with him in my father’s home. He was my brother. I would
help him anyway I could. Besides, I always enjoyed a good scrap.
I was prepared for a tough fight as my hand-car approached Cascade.
My adrenaline began to build. I was really looking forward to a
fight, but I knew it would mean the end of the job for both of us.
The hand-car slid into Cascade station with me wearing my dark-brown
and bright-red war-paint. I also wore a leather headband. My
clothing was a crude, tanned-hide of the old style from the days
before the white man. The large dog Kay-yew-nee was a very good
choice for a companion. He was a willing accomplice, wild and
vicious-appearing, and ready to do battle with me. During the entire
trip, the large dog sat in front of the hand-car like a furry,
wooden ship’s head. He seemed to sense his mission, as if he were
reading my mind. He looked great up there, remaining almost
motionless as long as I kept the tram moving. When I slid the car to
a stop at Cascade, Kay-yew-nee immediately jumped off and looked
menacingly toward the section house door.
The first one to spot us was one of O’Malley’s men. It was getting
late. The men were all inside. All the Irishmen rushed out, ready to
do battle. Johnny emerged from behind. He sized up the situation
immediately, joining my side as I stepped off the hand-car. He
looked enormously relieved to see me, though I believe he wanted to
burst out laughing at my appearance.
“I was ready to give it up, Michael. Not now. My sla’cheen is here.
I nodded and winked.
“It’s Cap, now. Call me Cap. I work for the company, now, just like
One of the larger Irishmen started to move toward me. Yew-nee
growled a deep, unmistakable warning. The three of us--two Chitina
Indians and a large Siberian--were facing down the four of them.
O’Malley held up his hand to keep the others at bay. He walked up to
me. I handed O’Malley the paper signed by George Brown. He scowled,
quietly nodded and signaled to the others to back off. He did not
want to fight this one out. There would be no more Irishmen in his
crew. Now O’Malley was stuck with two Chitina Indians. I took the
bunk just above Johnny’s. The dog settled at the foot of the bed.
That was that. We were in. There was no arguing. We were both
officially a part of the railroad now. Life for both of us had just
taken a big turn. We had taken the first step toward making the
railroad our own. I never wore the war-paint again.
Grandfather told us long ago that we would have to become a part of
the railroad. Better to take it as our own than let it run us over.
Grandfather was really telling us that we must adapt, while at the
same time remaining true to our own ways. He already knew we were
there at Cascade--We, Saghani Utsuuy--the Raven Clan. We had taken
the first step toward reclaiming what was ours. And we had won. He
would be proud.