Junction received its name because it was the jumping-off point for the
Shushanna gold rush of 1913. Shushanna became Chisana, but Shushanna
Junction remained the spelling for the terminal at CRNW mile 189. The
last great Alaskan gold rush went nowhere, but the huge influx of
prospectors resulted in a depletion of the game to such an extent that
the Ahtnas abandoned the area for the duration of the operation of the
Ahtnas became a vanishing minority in their own land, displaced by a
host of prospectors, speculators, homesteaders, and con-artists, as
well as large and small mining concerns and other business interests.
All of these were by their nature hostile to the old Ahtna way of life
and, in varying degrees, even to the Ahtna people themselves.
1924, Alaska’s Last Great Gold Rush had been over eight years. The
game had slowly filtered back in. But the Indians who had lived and
hunted in the upper Wrangells stayed out. Indians no longer walked the
old trails of the Nizina valley and the upper reaches of the Chitina in
search of game. That area was totally dominated by white miners,
prospectors, and trappers. Even the old Nicolai camp at Dan Creek had
disappeared under mine tailings--a victim of a large hydraulic placer
operation begun by Stephen and Howard Birch. In an ironic and mocking
twist, someone re-named the operation Nicolai Camp.
two grandsons of the great deceased chief watched from the station
platform as the ultimate symbol of change pulled in. The huge Mikado
steam engine chugged its way into Shushanna Junction towing forty-three
cars loaded with mine workers and enough material to build a completely
new power plant at Kennecott.
they come with another large piece of the mine. Out they will go with
another load of our copper.”
as they’ve been doing for thirteen years, Cap. Now we’re a part of it.
We’ll be in one of those cars going to work with all those other men.”
stationmaster stepped outside through the baggage double-doors to talk
with the two Indians.
guys have a good time in town?”
was good while the money lasted. You ever go to the Row?”
young, red-haired stationmaster smiled at the question.
I can’t afford it on my meager railroad salary. You must be miners. I
came here to work the line and now I’ve got one of these depot jobs.
Not bad, but it’s expensive to live here. What about you guys? I’ve
never seen Indians heading up the tracks to work at Kennecott before.
You’re probably the first ever. I hope it works out for you.”
“Thanks. It wasn’t easy getting a job there, but the power plant fire
seems to have caused a need for extra men.”
say. All those men on board are mainly extra carpenters and others
needed to re-build it. You’ve probably figured out where all the
material is going.”
they been out of power all this time?”
no. The Kennecott mechanics came down two days after the fire and took
out the two generators and turbines in the old Mother Lode plant. That
was handy for them. A real stroke of luck, actually that Kennecott
happened to own the old power plant. They’d have been down for weeks
without that equipment. The generators are temporary, though. Too
small. The new ones haven’t arrived yet, but they’ll be coming along.
Meanwhile, the camp seems to be back to normal. I hear they’re having
power supply problems, however.”
“Better than no power at all, I suppose.”
mines superintendent couldn’t be more pleased. He has a production
schedule to meet. He intends to keep it. He’s the real boss around
here, you know.”
the way, who are you?”
Mike Sherman. And you?”
name’s Johnny Gadanski. My silent partner here is Cap Goodlataw.”
to meet you two. I’m from Seattle. We have Indians down there, but
you’re the first I’ve met face-to-face in this territory.”
Mike, we’re not much different from you.”
“Except we live in the home of our ancestors. This is our country.”
of us younger guys understand that. Like I said, I hope it works out
for you up there. How on earth did you do it?”
dad works there and I know one of the engineers.”
mean the name on the telegraph--Frank . . .”
“Buckner. I don’t know him that well, but he offered to help get us in,
and it looks like he’s keeping his word. He’s about the same age as
both twenty-five. We’re cousins. Call each other sla’cheen.
There’s no word for that in English.”
father works at Kennecott?”
Gadanski is my white father. He’s the head-painter.”
you’re a half-breed?”
“That’s me. My mother is a sister to Cap’s father, Chief Goodlataw.”
there’s Indians, there’s chiefs, Mike. You should have figured that one
two cousins must have worked together a long time. You two seem to fit
well together somehow. Were you railroad workers?”
were. We still are. We’ve worked off and on as a team since 1916 when
we started out at Cascade Station. We’ve worked on the Indian crews out
of Chitina and Strelna.”
yes. The indispensable Native crews.”
stationmasters have to keep track of the line crews as well as all the
trains. It’s common knowledge that it would be impossible to keep our
tight railroad schedule without the Indian crews, but I doubt if anyone
ever told you that.”
We suspected as much, though. It’s good to know we’re so important.”
let anyone ever tell you otherwise. The railroad could never muster
enough manpower every season if not for you Indians at Chitina.”
train will be ready soon, but in the meantime, I have some coffee on the
stove. Care for some?”
“You’re a good man, Mike . . .”
“Sherman. It’s Mike Sherman. I’ll be right back. Two cups?”
nodded. Mike Sherman was back outside in a few minutes.
still good. A little strong maybe. I just made it before the train
sat down on the platform next to Johnny. The feet of the three men
dangled toward the ground.
pleased to talk with young people like me who have lived here all their
lives. This must be a big change from when you grew up.”
mean this railroad? We were both nine when the ket-chee-ten-eh
just gave me my first Native word.”
can call us Natives or Indians, but we’re Ahtnas. Whatever you do,
don’t call us Eskimos. Ahtnas are Athabascan Indians. We Athabascans
share some of the same words as the Apache and the Navaho.”
eyes widened. He sipped a cup of coffee and looked around. Then he
focused on Cap.
“Really? You’re not just an isolated group of Indians then?”
at all,” Johnny answered. Cap nodded in agreement.
just part of a much greater people. Our elders tell us we came here
from somewhere way south. Something bad happened over a thousand years
ago. We don’t know when. It could have been much farther back then
that. But whatever it was that happened way down there, it drove our
ancestors into the land of the ice and the snow.”
thought that your ancestors crossed over here from Siberia?”
Not us. That was the Eskimos. The Yupiks and the Inupiat crossed.
We’re Indian hillbillies.”
do you mean by that?”
“Grandfather told us that in times long forgotten we were part of a
great civilization in the south. When things went very bad and our
ancestors fled north, we lost our old refined ways because the land here
is so primitive and cold. Long ago this land was a frontier for us,
just like it was for the prospectors who came here a few years ago. We
may be cruder than our southern cousins, but we survived here a long
time. We made it. No one else can make that claim. Only the toughest
and the smartest of us survived. That’s Cap and me. We’re the smart
and the tough ones. There are others just like us. You couldn’t ever
drive us out of here. You’d have to kill every one of us. Every one.”
us. We know we have to live with you guys. I just never gave much
thought to any of you Indians before.”
“Happens all the time. We’re here, but we’re invisible to you whites.”
“Sorry. You’re right.”
it very wild where you grew up before the railroad, the
“That’s good, Mike. Ket-chee-ten-eh means train.
And yes, it was wild. But I can always remember white men there at
They’ve been there at least since I was born.”
“That’s what they called it until someone changed it so it sounded more
white. I still prefer the old -sounding name.”
grew up in the old Indian way?”
and Cap both nodded.
single blast from the train whistle interrupted the conversation. The
young stationmaster pointed south toward the main part of town and
“Ordinarily the engineer would back this train down this siding toward
town. Not this time. Sal Reed will be pulling the consist north in a
few minutes. That was the first warning signal. Sal’s almost ready.
Everything and everyone on board is going to Kennecott.”
need to load up now?”
yet. I’ll let you know. I’ll be giving the conductor the all-clear
soon. Then they’ll pull forward to that siding past the repair barn.
Then the crew will hook up our pusher.”
CRNW conductor --Cordova Museum