06 February 2011

Chapter 30: "The Erie Job," Pt 2

Erie View 10
Early 1970s photo
of the abandoned Erie Mine by Stu Rothman
“I’d say that he’s the real voice of the mine, Sla’cheen.  That’s a
dangerous man, there.  Whatever we do, we need to stay clear of him.”
“I think you’re right.  He must be the real power around here.”
“Where’s Bill?  He left already?  I thought he wanted to talk.”
“He talked.  He left.”
“Oh.  Well, here are the old original plans.  As you can see, it was a very
small barracks.  It looks more suitable for a small family operation
than that of  Kennecott. The barrack has been enlarged to more than
triple its original size. It  measures about eighty feet by thirty-two. 
That’s the widest part on the kitchen end. As you can see, this is no
longer a small building.”
“This is more of a job than I had imagined.  It doesn’t seem to be as large as
these plans show it is.”
“It’s a substantial building.  I wanted you to understand just how big and
important your job is here.  Now let me show you from these drawings how
I want you to proceed.”
Eldon carefully laid out his plan for finishing the structure. After he
finished the three men climbed up to the roof.  The view up there was
dramatic. The glacier and ice fall were shockingly close.  The effect is
“I can readily see where some people would become very light-headed from this
vantage point.   Of course, neither Cap nor I have that problem.”
“Well, I do.  You can have this job.  I’m out of here.  See you downstairs.”
The Indians took a moment to appreciate the spectacular view, then we went
about their business.  A sharp gust blew over the roof.  It followed the
sheer wall from the glacier, much like an ocean wave moving along a
shallow sand bar rising out of the water.  It sent both men spinning. 
Cap caught Johnny before he slipped and pulled him down flat. 
“So much for appreciating the sheer beauty of this place, Cap.  This could
easily turn into something more like sheer terror. Look at that enormous
void in front of us.  I don’t feel quite as confident in myself as I did
before.  What about you, Cap?  Cap?”
Cap lay on his side on the roof, facing Johnny in silence, looking toward
the thousand feet of void.
“I thought I’d lost you for a moment, Sla’cheen.  You could have
rolled off the roof onto the rocks.  Not all the way down, I know.  But
it’s still two stories to those rocks.  It could have hurt you badly.”
“I’m fine, Cap. I don’t feel so fine.  But I’m okay. We can’t let one little
gust of wind unnerve us, can we?  What do you think Morris and others
like him would say if we gave up now?  Think they’d ever let any Indians
back in here? We’re stuck, Cap.  We’re really committed now.  You know
that.  Let’s get ourselves together and start the job.”
After taking some time to regain their courage, they began to survey the job. 
There were large canvass sheets to remove.  These were secured by nails
and wood strips. 
“Why do you suppose they didn’t just run the tarpaper while they were up
here, Cap?   It would have been almost as easy.  As it is, there’s a lot
of tarp to remove without letting the large pieces turn into wind sails
which could pull us off the roof and drop us into that chasm.”
“I don’t want to hear any more about that, Sla’cheen.”
“Why are you so unnerved, Cap.  You’re the one who stopped me from
rolling off this roof, remember?  I’m fine.  You take it easy.  We’ll
get past this.
Looks like two or three days, if weather permits,  to run the tar paper rolls
and properly secure this roof.  Then we’re off of it.
“As for the walls,  I’d say less than a week to complete that part,
including disassembling the scaffolding.  Cap, why don’t you go down
and  begin slinging the tar paper, lath sticks and nails so I can begin
hoisting them up.”
The sound of the dinner bell interrupted the work.
“Should we head down now, Sla’cheen?”
“I’ve had enough of this, Cap.  Let’s save it for tomorrow.  We have enough
hoisted up there to give us a good start.”
The two came off the single-story ladder to the center door of the main
floor.  It led directly into the dining area.   The two entered the chow
line. One of the larger men approached Cap and revealed his bias without
leaving any doubt. 
“This is no place for you sissy siwash boys. They call me Sharkey, because I
eat crumbs like you for breakfast.  Why don’t you go back to your igloo
or teepee where you belong?” 
Sharkey knocked Cap off his feet.  Johnny grabbed Cap, before he
landed.  Cap recovered his balance and immediately knocked the much
larger man to his knees.  Johnny looked around quickly to see if he
would have to help Cap fight his way out of this. Everyone else stood
still, completely stunned. The man jumped uncertainly to his feet, only
to find himself once again on the floor.  This time he was down on his
back. Then came the booming words from Eldon.
“Sharkey, you jackass.  Hey, guys,  these Indians are my men.  I
hired them.  You mess with them, you’ll answer to me. Pick yourself up,
Sharkey,  and get off my site.   I won’t put up with this kind of
behavior from anyone.  The rest of you men,  back off.   If any of you
have a problem with these two men, you have a real problem with me. 
Sharkey, you’re fired.  Get out of here.  I’ll call for a wagon to pick
you up. Head down that tram line and start walking back to main camp. 
Anyone else want to challenge me?”
The room was completely silent, as it had been since Cap effortlessly
brought Sharkey down twice.  Johnny relaxed slightly, hoping that this
was going to be the end of it.  The other men returned to the food line.
One of them walked up to Cap.
“Look, I don’t know you or what you’re about.  Most of us are not like
Sharkey.  Don’t think we’re all like that jerk.”
Another man came up and reached out to shake Cap’s hand.
“I don’t know you either, but you sure can take care of yourself.  Let me
shake your hand.  I’m Avery, glad to meet you. You’re that boxer, aren’t
Cap silently nodded, shook Avery’s hand, picked up his tray and joined
Johnny in the food line.
“I wish I had a chance at him.”
“Well, you didn’t Johnny.  That one was mine.  I guess it was just my turn this
time.  Maybe next time it will be yours. ”
Avery sat next to them.  He introduced himself to Johnny.
“So where are you guys from?”
Cap did not want to talk. Johnny answered.
“Cap and I are from Chitina.  We’re closely related and have worked together
a long time. We resent being told where we’re not welcome since we don’t
recall any of our people inviting any of you people up
here.   We will both be happy if none of you show such disrespect for us
“One other thing.  We’re not here to make friends with anyone.  We’re here to
work.  That’s it.  Thank you for telling us that you’re somehow
different from Sharkey, but that is something which remains to be seen. 
Now if you’ll excuse us, we’d like to eat alone.  We always eat alone.”

Erie View 12
Erie Mine upper
tram and adit   --NPS files
After dinner, the two found themselves assigned to their own room.
“These men are not with us, Sla’cheen.
“I know. I suspect that many of these men are only dimly aware that they’ve
trampled all over Indian ground. Yet they would continue to treat us
like we don’t belong here.”
“You’re right, Johnny.  We’re not here to make friends.”
“You made the point for both of us, Cap.”
“No Sla’cheen, you just did.”
“I didn’t want to listen to that guy Avery, or answer his stupid
“What do you think now about working in the mines after our job is finished
here, Cap.”
“None of this changes how I see things.  If you want to stay, I’ll back you
up.  If you want to go, then it’s time to go. You know that.  I’d like
to get back to Chitina,  but even more than that, I want to let those
white men know they can’t run us off. I want them to understand we’re as
good or better than any of them.  That’s why we’re here, Sla’cheen
How many times have we gone over this?”
“We need to go over this every time, just to be sure of ourselves, Cap.  I
don’t want it to look like we’re backing down, either.  If you’re
willing to stay on, I’d like to give it a try. 
“One thing Eldon proved is that he will back us up.  That is, as long as that
guy Jim Morris doesn’t find out. Since we’re this far along, I’d like to
stay longer.  We’ll never have this chance again.  There’s still time to
think about it. It looks like it’ll take about a week or more to finish
laying that heavy tarpaper.”
“Don’t trust Eldon, or Frank, or anyone else.  You should know better by now,
Sla’cheen. It’s a good thing no one wanted to back Sharkey.  We
were badly outnumbered, by about two-dozen to two, I’d say.”
“I was about ready to wade into it with you, regardless.  I think we could have
given them a good run for their money.”
“I know that.  But this is getting a little old.  I feel like I’m always at
war out here, even when everyone seems to be friendly.  I just can’t
quite trust them.  They don’t understand us or even care.  Maybe  that’s
the worst part.  Sometimes it’s like we’re not even there.”
“We’re the first and only ones here, Cap They don’t know how to take us.  We
knew that when we left the railroad for the mines.”
Johnny slept only with great difficulty that night.  He was finding the
situation greatly disturbing.  It would be only too easy to call it
quits.  In the bunk across the small room he could hear Cap sleeping as
though nothing upsetting had happened. 

Cap’s ability to handle almost anything always amazes me. I am blessed.
Here I am with the one person who is always there with his quiet
friendship.   We don’t say much between us, but we know how to talk to
each other silently.  Cap keeps me sane in this strange world.  But now
I have to wonder why I’m here, always putting my sla’cheen at risk for
me.  I must be out of my mind.
wonder if Rose will be there for me like Cap has always been.  I’ll find
out soon enough. No matter what happens, our time up here is definitely
limited.  I know Cap is just about fed up with it. I don’t want to push
him too far.
want to see Rose and stay with her and make her part of my life.  But
when I really think about it, I don’t know one thing she had said or did
which tells me she really feels the same way about me.  Maybe I’m just
chasing rainbows.

Then Johnny began reflecting on an earlier part of his life. He thought of
Maggie, a stunning girl from the village of Eyak. She had tried for so
long to live with him in Chittyna, even though he had  acted much too
brash, fooling  around while pretending that their relationship was
exclusive.  He had a daughter by her who carried the same name as her
mother, but Maggie tired of living among his people.  
The Chittyna village Natives never really accepted Maggie.  She finally had
enough of Johnny’s wandering ways as well as the hostility of his
people.  She gave up and moved back to her mother’s home in Eyak, taking
Johnny’s daughter with her.

Grandfather told me that I would lose Maggie and my daughter if I did’nt
take care of them properly.  I guess I got what I deserved.
this thinking is getting me nowhere and keeping me awake.  Maybe that’s
why I’m really here in this remote place away from home.   Could it be 
I’m not here so much to prove a point as to run from myself?  Am I
really running from my own foolishness?   Now I have Cap involved.  He
trusts me completely.  I don’t deserve that kind of loyalty.  I don’t
want to hurt him as well.   I know he has stuck with me when he’d rather
just pack up and leave.   Maybe it really is time to leave.

Cap startled Johnny  by suddenly sitting up in his bed.  Johnny thought he
was sleeping.  It was too dark in the room to see anything but the dark
form of Cap as he spoke.  His black outline and even his strong, low
voice eerily reminded Johnny of Schee-ya Nicolai.
Sla’cheen, I can hear you thinking too loudly. Stop it. Don’t worry. Go to sleep.
Everything will be all right.  I’m still here.  Nicolai told us as long
as we’re together, we’ll be strong and safe. They can’t beat us as long
as they’re we are one.  Just like they can’t beat our people as long as
they are one. I’m your sla’cheen. I won’t let you down.”

Erie View 8
A black bear
peaks into the Erie dining hall.   --McCarthy-Kennicott

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