06 February 2011

Chapter 29: Frank Argues the Point

Frank Buckie

Frank Buckie is patterned after the real-life junior engineer
Frank Buckner, seen in this photo just north of the mill in
1924. --Anchorage Museum of History & Art

Bill Douglass leaned back in his oak chair as he considered the argument
presented by Frank Buckner.  Frank sat on another oak chair across from
the wide desk.  Behind Bill the window looked down on track grade. 
There was a north-facing window which looked up the steep hill upon
which the mill sat. The south-facing window looked toward lower National
Creek.  It was mid-afternoon.  The sun had displaced the early coolness
and the frosty ground had thawed. Bill had earlier returned from a rare
visit to the west barrack where he had evaluated the condition of Emil Gadanski. 
“You’re right, Frank, Emil is very ill. No doubt about that.  We need to send
him home to Chitina.  That’s the home he claims. He says he wants to buy
a cabin there with the bonus I offered him.  He’s just waiting for the
two Indians to return from their short job at Erie.”
“I’d like to see his son Johnny and his friend Cap have a chance to work in
our mines first.  After all, I think that’s why they came here.  They’ve
certainly shown an interest in the work.”
“What? That’s the mines.  It’s the heart of who we are. I never agreed to
anything like that.”
“Those two men have proven themselves in a way I’ve rarely seen, though I have
to admit that I’ve not been an engineer all that long.  You have to
grant, sir, that they showed great initiative by going to work at John
Barrett’s Green Butte mine. They also displayed tenacity in sticking
with it until I sent the letter offering both of them employment here. 
We know that they can do mine work just as we know that they work jobs
few others want because of the raw physical dangers involved--especially
when it comes to heights.  If they were white, you’d want them to stay
on.  It’s not exactly like we have an excess of manpower here.”
“I see your point.  You have to appreciate that the company has always
discouraged the practice of hiring Indians for the mines themselves
because they don’t want these Natives to see just how rich our copper
reserves really are.  After all, we still hear about the bad deal
Nicolai got back in 1899--even after all these years.”
“But not from Nicolai.”
“No, not from Nicolai.  I asked Birch about it.  He seemed to know the chief
well.  He told me Nicolai never brought the matter up.”
“Who has, then?”
“No one directly.  But we have heard rumors that the new chief is not too happy
about the old deal.”
“You mean Goodlataw?”
“That’s him.”
“But, sir, it’s only rumor, right?  No one has contacted the company

"That’s true, but look who we have here now.  Cap is Goodlataw’s son. Both young
men are grandsons of Nicolai.  I don’t like it.”
“Well, Mr. Douglass, neither man has complained to me about our mining
activities here.  I have spoken with both of them on this very matter.  
Johnny told me that as far as Nicolai was concerned, the copper was not
his nor anyone’s to give away. 
“The chief evidently extracted some other concessions from Birch because of
his concern about the railroad.  One of them is some arrangement for
free passage and another involves the hiring of Native work crews, which
I understand they do routinely.  The railroad even hired on a Chitina
Indian as a cook on the “Kennecott” observation car.
“Yes.  That would be Tom Bell. He does credit to himself serving the public
well on our railroad.  He seems to take considerable pride working for

Kennecott ore
“That’s what I’m trying to say.  These men are like Tom.  They’re here because
they take pride in what they do.  My point is that I don’t think the
Indians  see us as robbers of their treasures.  Not these two, anyway.
Neither of them voiced any such sentiment, though they seemed to resent
our pomposity  for presuming that we can tell the Indians  where they
can and  cannot go on their own lands.”
“I have to concede that our official policy toward the Native people is
arrogant, but I’d never tell any of them that, and  you better not,
“It is arrogant, Mr. Douglass.  It’s not just us, either. Johnny was
complaining that the territorial government has tried to regulate their
hunting and fishing activities.  I’m sure that must appear to be the
very height of high-handedness to them all.”
“As for our rich copper, it’s not like they haven’t noticed. The Indians  live
right along the tracks where trainload after trainload of our bagged ore
has passed for the last thirteen years.  How could any of them possibly
miss what we are  doing here?”
“I think that’s what finally got Chief Goodlataw’s attention, Frank.  I’m
quite sure he’s not happy with us.  I’m also convinced that his son Cap
is very much in agreement with his father.”
“Sir, we’ve worked for years with a hostile work force who’d like nothing
better than to unionize.  You’ve been very successful in keeping the
unions out of here.  What’s the difference?  The Indians don’t have to
agree with us to work here.  Many of the others certainly don’t.  The
foremen have shown me several socialist worker posters they’ve
confiscated.  We’ve proved we’re big enough to handle it. We take care
of everyone here, and they keep returning.  Even in our bad labor years
the company seems to make money. I say it’s time to get over this
official paranoia and give these Indians the same footing as all the
others.  We brought all those others in.  The Indians have always
lived here.  It’s only right.”
“Well, Frank, we don’t want to be known as arrogant and presumptuous do we?   I
know I certainly don’t.  This is a big step.  If I wasn’t in such good
standing with the company, I don’t think I’d do this.  But, I’ll take my
chances with the company.  After all, this remote camp of ours has  done
well for the company from the beginning. We’ve made them ungodly amounts
of money.  I’m sure they appreciate our efforts.”
“So you agree with me?”
“I’m starting to agree. Maybe it’s time to drop this archaic frontier
circle-the-wagons  mentality and do the right thing by these people.  If
only in this small way.”
“I’m very pleased to hear those words coming from you, sir.  I don’t believe
you’ll regret it.  Even if you do, it’s still the right thing.”

Kennecott engineers

The Kennecott engineers in the late 1930s.    
--Walter Richelesen photo
“Frank, I have to admit, that you standing in front of me with this compelling
argument of yours makes me almost feel ashamed of myself because you are
undeniably right.  I can’t presume to change our company.  But out here,
I am the company, especially now that manager Neiding no longer
lives here. I have to give you the credit for never backing down on what
you believe is right.” 
“Actually, sir, I’d rather you did not give me any credit.  I’d just as
soon let it appear to those two that they’re working in the mines for
the right reason, because they’re reliable and good at what they do. 
Cap does’t want to be what he calls a ‘cigar store Indian.’ I think he
means he’s no token.”
“You’re right, Frank. It’s probably better that neither of our names come up. 
We particularly don’t want the others to think we’re treating them in
any special way.”
Actually, sir,  we’re not.  We’re finally treating them in the same way
as any man would expect is his due.  I recommend we act as though that
company policy of no-Indian hire never existed.”
“Very smart of you, Frank. Less to explain that way.  Very well. I’ll phone
Eldon at Erie camp and give him the go-ahead to hire the two Indians as
miners.  I know he needs the help, anyway.  We’re still short-handed. 
I’ve already offered jobs to all the temporary workers.”
“I didn’t know that.  You didn’t extend the offer to the Indians,
“I did not.  Most of those temporaries turned down the mine work, anyway.”
Bill rang the combination of bells which signaled Erie. 
“I’m trying his office at the Erie first, Frank. He’s either there or
somewhere in the new tunnel, I’d think.
“Eldon !  Glad I caught you.  Yes this is Bill.  Listen.  I have two young men
I’m sending up your way to finish the work on the barrack.  They’re the
Natives we had on the job at the power plant.  Yes, the Natives, that’s
“The fight?  Don’t know about any fight. You know about any fight, Frank? 
No, we don’t know about any fight down here, Eldon.”
“They did good work for us. Very good work.  That’s why I’m sending them on
“Foreman?  Don’t need one to finish that job. You oversee the roof work
directly.  Those two don’t seem to need much direction. Show them what
you need done, and let them have at it.  Johnny usually takes charge. 
Yes, they seem to run themselves quite well.
“But that’s not why I called, Eldon. I want you to go one step further and
offer them work in the mines when they’re done with the barrack job.
“Yes, they both worked at Green Butte just before coming here.  I checked with
Barrett.  He spoke well of them.  Said he’d take them back anytime. 
They only quit that job when we offered them work here on the big power
plant project.  
“One thing.  Don’t tell them about this call.  Make it your idea. You just
tell them we’re short on miners.  They may not take the job because they
have other commitments, but I want you to offer it to them anyway.
“No, actually, it was Frank Buckner’s idea.  He talked me into it.  And he is
right.  I wish I could take the credit.  No.  Don’t mention either one
of us.  Keep us out of it.  Make it your idea.”
“Okay, Eldon, you’re doing fine work up there.  Keep it up.  We’ve got a busy
schedule to meet.  This will probably help.  Thanks a lot, Eldon.  See
you at Jumbo later this week.”
“No, Eldon, I’m not hanging you out to dry.  I’ll back you up.  You know
that.  Any union activity going on I should know about? None?  Good.
Yes, I’ll be up at the usual time.  See you over there, Eldon. Bye.”
The superintendent put down the phone.
“Well, you heard it.  They’re on.  We’re committed.  If there’s a screw-up, it
becomes Eldon’s fault, not ours.”
“You’d let Eldon take the blame if something went wrong?”
“Why not?  I’d keep him on, anyway.  That’s my call. He’s covered.  We’re
covered.  It works for me.  And it was your idea, Frank. Don’t you
forget that.  Consider your good judgment on the line.”
“I’m willing to accept that.  Leaving you out of it, I mean, if it came down
to that, sir.  Even if they didn’t work out, we did the  right thing.
“Did Birch ever suggest we consider hiring them?”
“No.  Never.  He never brought it up.  E.T. would never approve in any case. 
You should know that.  This is just us out here.”
“If Birch was really Nicolai’s friend, he would approve of this, sir.”
“Young man, you need to understand how big business works.  Considerations such
as friendships and other personal feelings should never get in the way
of business.  Not at the level of a world-wide corporation like ours. 
That’s reality. Get used to it.  Don’t ever assume what Birch would
approve of, either.  He’s always been a businessman ahead of everything
else. He believes in alliances, not friendships.  Don’t get soft on us
“You’re saying I’m too idealistic, sir?”
“I didn’t say that, son, but don’t let your professional judgment become
clouded by your youthful idealism.  I’m not even sure I’m following my
own advice to you by doing what I just did, but I’m giving you this one
“There remains one other problem, Frank”
“What are we to do about Emil?”

The office & staff house in front of the abandoned Kennecott
mill, as they appeared in the early 1950s   --Charlie
Ricci photo

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