07 February 2011

Chapter 34: "Strelna Work Crew Sets Up," Pt 3

Strelna group

"You take our land
and hunt it until nothing remains, and then expect us to be grateful that
you bring us white man food that you sell at a high price.  You take
our language and give us yours, and tell us we must be like you, then you
give us only work the white man won't take, and tell us we can't go here
and we can't go there.  You expect us to want to save places like
this after all that disrespect?"  --
Cap Goodlataw in an
exchange with conductor Matt Stevenson at Strelna on the matter of saving
the burning Dwyer's Inn
A group of mostly Natives
at Strelna in 1915  --UAF, B. Bragaw Collection, 85-108-16

"I know, climb the pole and splice in so you can have a

"You’ve got it, Cap. We’ll need every man we’ve got to pull that
engine back into line. It went off right where we lost our first Pullman years
ago. They made the curve too steep. This time the ground must have sunk just
enough to let the leading wheels drop over the edge. We’re stuck good until we
pull that thing back into place."

"Can we get it back on track, Matt?"

"I think so, but I’m sending for the engine at McCarthy and more crew
men just in case. It can pick up the others at Strelna."

"How long ?"

"Oh, probably all day."

Engine No. 102 pulled in with the regular McCarthy crew and the Strelna
Native crew four hours later. It pulled a flat car with extra rails and a frog
and switch, plus three box cars carrying most of the remaining railroad
workforce on the line between Chitina and McCarthy. It took three more hours to
pull engine no. 22 back into place.

"Obviously, the rest of the line must be good, so we’ll follow No. 102
into Strelna. It can turn around at the gravel pit wye there and return

"That’s good, Matt. So we’re finally on the way to Strelna?"
"Just don’t forget that the next several weeks could be like this,
Johnny. If the line keeps sinking, which it probably will, we may be facing even
more derailments."

"Great life, isn’t it," Charles responded.

"How’s your head, kid?"

"I’ll survive. We’re all hard-heads around here, anyway."

Cap was among the first to spot the smoke somewhere in the distance. He
watched for the flames through the trees. It was not long before the top of the
raging fire could be seen. It was a large one. As the train hit the straight
stretch that passed by Strelna , the form of Dwyer’s Inn came into view,
heavily involved in flames. There was a small gathering of people trying to save
the structure with a hose from the nearby water tower, but the effort was
clearly futile. The crews from the three work trains jumped out to help, but
there was little to be done. The large two-story log building would burn to the
ground. A historic piece of old Alaska was going up in flames.

"If we had only been here last night, maybe we could have saved it,

"Maybe Mr. Stevenson. Or maybe it was meant to happen this way. Once
that train derailed, we took all the extra men up the line with us, including
the ones they could have used to fight this fire. Now it’s too late."

We’ve arrived just in time to witness the white man’s lodge disappear
before us."

"White man’s lodge, Cap?"


Dwyer's Inn at
Strelna  --photo courtesy of Candy Waugaman
"This was for the trophy hunters. It was not for us. This was the symbol
of the men whose money built your railroad and that mine, Mr. Stevenson. Now it’s
going up in smoke. It will be only the first of many."

Cap’s prediction froze the conductor in his steps.

The Indians here really do resent us. My God, we give them work and
they spit on us. We give them a better life and they laugh at us. Even
this man Cap, whom I’ve worked with for years sounds like an enemy. Or
maybe I’m the one looking at it all wrong.

As if to answer his thoughts, Cap continued.

"You take our land and hunt it until nothing remains and then expect us
to be grateful that you bring us white man food. You take our language and give
us yours and tell us we must be like you, then you give us only work the white
men won’t take and tell us we can’t go here and we can’t go there. You
expect us to want to save places like this after all that disrespect?"
He walked away from the conductor, joining the other Natives closer to the
wall of fire.

"It’s too hot to get anywhere near it, Cap. Look at the shape of
the building dissolve before us."

"This doesn’t look good for our fall guiding business, Cap. That
rich-man’s place was where our sheep-hunting customers gathered."
"Nicolai wouldn’t have minded, Sla’cheen. You know what he
thought of those big game trophy hunters. Maybe this was Kay-yee-gay ‘s

"The spirit of Nicolai ? That wouldn’t surprise me, Cap. He resented
anyone hunting our land except us. He always said they were rich, so they could
bring in their own meat. Uncle Tanas stepped up behind them to add to the

"I know you boys made money off of them. That was good. Billum would
have done the same. But always remember that our great tyone hated trophy
hunters. Many times he said that hunting for just the horns is what killed off
our Indian brothers’ way of life. He feared the hunters almost as much as the
railroad which brought them in."

"But Uncle, you’ve worked for the railroad company for years. You’re
a regular , just like Tom or Uncle Andrew. The railroad’s your life."

"I know. I’m proud of my work, but it still bothers me sometimes. Yet
even your own grandfather told us we can’t turn back."
"He said that we must make the railroad our own, uncle. It’s the only

"We have to stop talking and start fighting this losing battle. Let’s
look like we mean to save what we all know is lost."

"Okay, we can look like we want to save it, " replied Cap.

Tanas tried to gather his scattered crew, most of whom stood by watching the
blaze in complete fascination. They seemed to enjoy the spectacle.

"Let’s grab a hose and help bring that fire down," Tanas yelled

"In the end this could work out well for those of us who are still here,
Cap. Maybe not us, but Uncle Eskilida’s people. They live right here. If
enough white men leave, our people can come back and hunt as before."
Cap grabbed Johnny’s shoulder and pointed upward. In the distance were the Saghani-Ggaay--four
large black ravens circling high overhead.

"They’re here. Why always four, Cap ?"

"They appeared only after Nicolai’s curse. When the end comes, there
will be a multitude of them. Until then, there will always be two pairs. It is
the way of the Kay-yee-gay who resides with us in this valley."

Gilahina crew

CRNW work crew on
the Gilahina trestle, west end.   --Laurie Nyman

Continue with Chapter 35, "Returning Crew Meets Tom"

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