You are on page 1of 24

March -2012 James L Bradley Class of 1963

My earliest memory of Wrangell was when one of the local salmon canneries caught fire and burnt to the water level in 1947, it was located where today youll find the Alaska Marine Highway ferry dock. The last time I was in Wrangell I did notice that the canneries old Filipino bunkhouse, with its sagging roof was still standing. My next memories are of the glorious 4th of July parades and celebrations the community held every year, my grandmother Anna Hunter Person, a fullblooded Tlingit women from Angoon would deck out my sister (Gloria) and I in full Tlingit regalia and wed join the other children in various costumes and parade through town, wondering why all the parents where so excited to see their curtain climbers, most of us with our fingers stuck in our mouths are other unmentionable appendages. Of course, we were a little young to realize that the parents were happy with surviving the previous evening, with some a bit hung-over from the 3rd of July celebration at the dance and the crowning of the 4th of July queen for the year. All-in-all Wrangells 4th of July celebrations were the social event of the year, and I doubt even to this year will you find anywhere else on this planet a more exciting place to be to celebrate the birth of the United States of America. When I write, I often assume that my readers are knowledgeable of what I write about, so let me define the region of the world where I reached the legal age of 18 some years ago. As a local, I like others of my ilk often had a hoot responding to the questions we were asked by the tourists that would come ashore off the Alaska Stream and Canadian tourist boats, and wander about our peaceful town. As I scramble through my memories of these wide-eyed visitors I now realize their fascination with their journey through a portion of Sewards Icebox, whereas what little they had learned in their life before they sailed the pristine waters of the Inside Passage was cast aside, their physical being taking in the magnificent landscape unfolding before their eyes, they couldnt help but think they had stepped back in time. Even today once you step outside of the physical presence of a major area and take a stroll on an island beach, or up a wild and wooly mountain side there is a good chance that no one has been there before you you and the past of the 49th State merge as whispering

breezes fill you head with sights and sounds that contain legend after legend of the humans whose footsteps you now follow. At the mouths of small streams you hear the playing children of the families who followed the migrating salmon filling their larders for the up-coming coldwet winters, you can hear the women laughing as they boil huge Russian made pots, or back further cedar crafted water proof baskets being dipped in boiling water in a pit of lined glacier made rocks, heated with stones from a nearby fire pit. Later that evening youd hear the men of the clan discussing the voyage back to their permanent settlement, across sometimes waters that were as unpredictable as a new bride.

Sydney Laurence Going to the Potlatch

John Muir in his book, Travels in Alaska put to the pen the beauty of the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska, we he wrote; Some idea of the wealth of this scenery may be gained from the fact that the coast-line of Alaska is about twenty-six thousand miles long (note it is over 33,000 miles long), more than twice as long as al the rest of the United States. The islands of the Alexander Archipelago, with the straits, channels, canals, sounds, passages and fiords, form an intricate web of land and water embroidery sixty or seventy miles wide, fringing the lofty ice chain of Coast Mountains from Puget Sound to Cook Inlet.

Where God goes for Vacation

This is the land I call home, a place that charms the hearts of visitors (if they come in July or August), and at times the ire of its residents. It a calm and boring sort of life, in that there are no hurricanes, no violent Pacific storms lash its tree lined shoreline, and murders and other sort of mayhem are in short supply. In other words it is small town America with the presence of nature lurking around every corner and but a few steps off the main thoroughfare. If youre of the nature that you demand 24/7 excitement and glitz, dont apply! Just like if you required buckets of vitamin D from our friendly heater in our Solar System it shows it face so seldom that when it does the local natives believe they have done some wrong, how else can I explain the fact that when I was growing up and the sun broke through the low hanging clouds, picnics were packed and children tucked under their arms as the grownups shuttled us out the local cemetery beach. Other than what is listed, Wrangell was a terrific place to sprout your wings, just wish I had realized that when I was making life a bit worrisome for my folks, grandparents include. I was fortunate to be of two families that loved the sea, who thought nothing of chugging off into the sunset, or rousting me out of bed in the wee hours of the morning to go drop a hook someplace chasing the mighty salmon or the bottom hugging halibut. In my usual complaints I often made reference to the fact that the fish never developed and appetite for other

smaller fish until around ten in the morning, so why the four AM wakeup. It always fell on deaf ears! On one side of the family tree we had age old fishermen, men who fished the surrounding area in all season and all types of weather, while off-season some of them in the dead of winter ran trap lines. The other side of the family tree youd find cannery workers, ministers and shop keepers or like myself still in limbo of what we were going to do when the calling came. Myself I was too excited about learning anything squeezed between four walls, other than participating in an activity such as music or leaning against a wall someplace thinking up a reason for being alive that day. Dont get me wrong, I had some terrific teachers, whereas I wasnt that interested in art our art teacher who filled in as our history teacher had more stories and adventures than Mark Twain, which I believe peeked my interest in history. An interest that today runs amok whenever I travel to a foreign land speaking of such, it is this constant fleetof-foot to travel that has rekindled by memories of Wrangell, that sleepy town that has the historic privilege of being the only town in Alaska to have flown under four flags, the Tlingit, Russian, English and the country from which I have my passport the United States of America.

We all lived and maintained in a small town located on the northern tip of Wrangell Island, one island of many in the Alexander Archipelago in Southeast

Alaska, commonly referred to by other residents of our 49th State as the Banana Belt. The island is some 30-miles long and ranges from 3 to 14 miles wide, making it the 29th largest island in these here United States, an island that is separated from the North American continent by a 12-mile long strip of water marked on the charts as Blake Channel, locals have adopted the name Back Channel. If it is your desire to step off the island you wont find gently rolling hills headed east, whereas almost immediately youll bump into the Coastal Range a line of peaks and ice filled valley that stretch from the tip of the southeast panhandle all the way down to Vancouver British Columbia. I find it interesting that to most outsiders the compliant of the isolation they experience in southeast Alaska, whereas they find that their journey into the region of the persistent clouds brings about a serious depression within their subconscious. Albeit I never personally felt this, I did notice in the people that moved into the Puget Sound area from, lets say California, experienced a similar attitude when in came to the Seattle region. I would believe that most people who have grown up in the Panhandle of Southeast Alaska that their bodies have adjusted to the misty area one benefit being skin cancer is less.

Access to the interior is through the many rivers that have cut through the ranges, rivers such as the Stikine River, a river that has made Wrangell infamous in its history, whereas Wrangell is considered the Gateway to the Stikine.

Wrangell has a long and colorful history, first settled by the Tlingit people far back in history, and is noted as being sighted by James Johnstone, one of George Vancouver officers during his 1791-1795 expeditions, it is also noted he only charted its east coast and did not realize that the Wrangell Island was actually an island. The Russians were the first Europeans to set up camp in Wrangell in their quest to rid the land of its valuable furs, and put a halt to the British fleet sailing in and trading for the furs from the local indigenous peoples. In and around 1834 they established Fort Redoubt and eventually named the location after Baron Ferdinand Friedrich Georg Ludwig von Wrangel, a Baltic German explorer in the service of Tzar and the founder of the Russian Geographical Society on August 6th, 1845 in St Petersburg. As in pre-historic times the location of Wrangell made it an ideal place for traveling into the interior of North America via the Stikine River, which by the time the Europeans moved in was a well worn route used by the coastal Indians. The Stikine (Stickeen) is approximately 390 miles long with its mouth just a short distance northeast of Wrangell, today it is considered as one of the last truly wild major rivers in British Columbia, a river that drains a rugged, largely pristine, area of the Coastal Mountains, cutting a fast-flowing swath through the mountains and rolling hills and valleys that are full of wild game and historical tales of mystery and Indian legends. The Tlingits have a legend of their beginnings in the area, the product of their people floating the mighty

Stikine under the Ice from the last Ice Age glacial maximum that covered the coastal regions of North America. Like other towns and cities in the 49th State Wrangell has experienced its boom and bust cycles, the first in recent times being the Cassiar Gold Rush which took place shortly after William Henry Seward convinced Congress, after being re-approached by the Russians, to purchase the territory. The expense of the Crimean War (1853-1856) has seriously depleted the Russian treasury, in addition the Tsar and his boys felt they were going to loose their claim in Alaska due to the growing British and French population in British Columbia supported by a continuing discovery of gold in the British colony in this the Russians figured that with the growing population and the presence of the well backed Hudson Bay Trading Company (mostly owned by the Crown), that defending their position in Alaska would be very difficult if not a loosing battle so they decide to dump it. Based on this premise Tsar Alexander II flipped coin (tongue in cheek) and decided to sell the territory, both the British and the Americans were approached, the British expressed very little interest, when they offered to sell it in 1859, but the Civil War brought the negotiations to it is kneesat the end of the War the Tsar sent word to the Russian foreign minister in Washington DC, Eduard de Stoeckl to re-enter the negotiations with Secretary Seward. In the beginning of March 1867, where it took until March 30th, 1867, which after an allnight session that at 4 AM a treaty was endorsed that set the purchase price at $7.2 million dollars, the extra $200,000 is said to have been to assist Stoeckl in paying off the Senators who had said theyd agree to the purchase they havent change have they?

The Original Check

The community of Wrangell grew during the boom in the early 1870s of the discovery of some pretty extensive placer gold deposits in and around Dease Lake and its two primary tributaries, McDame and Thibert Creek, and yet being what they really were the boom played out by 1880, the Cassiar Gold Rush slowly faded away. The next boom was the discovery of large quantities of the yellow stuff on August 16th, 1896 in the Yukon. Fever once again ran rampant as over 100,000 prospectors headed for the Klondike Gold Strike, once again pushing Wrangell into the limelight as a jumping off place via the Stikine Trail, which was sold as the only practical way to the Klondike, purely an advertising ploy. As many as 10,000 prospectors were in and out of the sleepy little trading post, where some never made it past Cottonwood Island where a ragged crew of at least 1,000 spent a miserable winter in 1897-1898 waiting for the spring breakuptheir encampment was referred to as Stikine City with traces of it wiped out during the following spring. Nevertheless the residents of Wrangell were subjected to steamer after steamer unloading men from the lower-48 with visions of wealth (some pudding) dancing before their eyes only to sit out the winter in abject misery.

The infamous Wyatt Earp and his wife Josie made a stop over in Wrangell for ten-days during the Gold Rush, whereas it is recorded that when the steamer was docking he saw the Marshall standing on the dock he figured he was going to issue one of Wyatts warrants against him, turned out he was an acquaintance and asked Wyatt to be his deputy until the next ship arrived that was heading up the Inside Passage to Skagway. In his notes

later on Wyatt described Wrangell a boom town that was just like Hell-onWheels, a description in those days used to describe the unruly camps as portrayed across the west associated with the Union Pacific rail lines headed west. Notes that Ive been able to gather showed that approximately 5,000 prospectors entered the Klondike

region via the Stikine Trail. The gold rush in Alaska had hardly settled down when the Salmon took the lead as the next money maker for the elites in the Salmon fishing industry, whereas it was Henry Frederick Fortman (out of San Francisco, owner of the Arctic Packing Company) who ran the Alaska Packing Association (1891) later re-incorporated as the Alaska Packers Association in 1893, dear old Henry was the chief cook and bottle washer until 1922 and remained on its board until his demise in 1946.

APA Cannery in Wrangell end of the north end road

Canned salmon morphed into the largest industry in Alaska during the next few decades, as once again Wrangell boomed as it was situated at a then healthy Stikine River with all its salmon rich tributaries. Salmon grew to produce over 80% of the territorys tax revenues, and in providing employment that was the envy of some locations in the lower-48. In this the APA swung a big hammer when it came to political clout both in the territories capital Juneau and in the hall of Congress in Washington DC, especially where the industry was being regulate by the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries which was part of the US Dept of Commerce as today absolute control that they had put a great many viewed their of the local APA as Alaskan being residents up-on-step as they greedy, selfish and ruthless in operationsthis especially true of its operations in Bristol Bay the Klondike of the Alaska Salmon industry. Today we complain about corporations and their tax credits, in 1907 the APA canned over $3 million worth of salmon, but thanks to their tax credits

achieved with their hatchery releases that total over $32,000 their tax bill for that year was $0.32 they paid it with stamps.

Salmon was King

APA was not without its good points, where their cannery hospitals provided medical care for its workers and among the local Native population, one particular instance being during the worldwide Spanish flu pandemic that ravaged western Alaska in the spring of 1919, where they provided assistance in treating the sick, and in burying the ones who didnt make, and caring for the orphaned children this after the Federal government had turned its back on the pleas for help. One Navy Lieutenant on inspecting the situation in Bristol Bay reported that the conditions were satisfactory, prompting the cannery superintendent JC Bell to remark, We have not been able to fathom whether the conditions are satisfactory for them or the Natives who are dead and buriedand as usual the job is up to the Alaska Packers Association. The APA is best remember as using the last fleet of tall ships, albeit the romance of the visions of sailing across the bounding main had faded, APA working in an environment dictated by seasons realized that using sail rather than steam was a great way to economize their operations. In this they began to replace their wooden ships with iron-hulled sailing vessels, where the first purchased was the Star of Russia, liking the handle so much they named the

rest of their purchases likewise, the Star of Alaska, Star of Finland and the ill fated Star of Bengal. Growing up in the region, one realizes once youre out of the protection of the numerous island the weather is unpredictable and that the closer you get to the Gulf of Alaska it can turn pretty violenton September 20th, 1908 the Star of Bengal with a full end-of-theseason cannery crew and over 52,000 cases of 1-pound cans of salmon on board was towed out of Wrangell, when they reached the limit of the islands and their protection a gale blew up the Star of Bengal dropped its hook as the tugboats cut their lines, unfortunately the anchor dragged and the ship broke up on the rocks of Coronation Island, 111 people lost their lives that day, mostly Chinese and Japanese cannery workers.

Star of Bengal

Wrangell-1908

By 1900, 30 canneries were operating in Southeast Alaska, all owned and operated by corporations outside of Alaska, mainly in Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, whereas the firm in San Francisco controlled six of them statewide. The 1900 salmon shipped out of Alaska amounted to 21,918,672 one pound cans, in addition 27 salmon salt operations put up 21,121 barrels of Oncorhynchus tshawytscha (Chinook) and sockeye, each barrel containing 200 pound of fish. Growing up in a family of commercial fisher man I sat through many family dinners listing to the experiences and exploits of the men in the family, and that of some of my Aunts. It most always would come down to the methods used by the canneries, methods that they said would eventually deplete the fishing industry they were correct in their complaints. Salmon were harvested through a wide array of methods by the canneries, and the local independent fishermen, who sold to the canneries. Gillnets and seines were used, along with a few traditional ways of spearing and fish wheels in the streams, yet eventually the canneries took over the traditional streams that had been in Tlingit families for many, many years and since the Tlingit had never filed a proper piece of legal document stating their claim the organizations from the lwr-49 barricaded the stream and put in large fish traps, patrolling them with their own salmon police supported by the Federal and Territorial government. It wasnt too long that some of the smaller streams were completely decimated by the methods of the canneries. Albeit as far back as 1884, when the Organic Act was passed especially for Alaskan Natives that stated, Indianshall not be disturbed in the possession of any lands actually in their use for occupation or now claimed by them, there was NO Federal action to enforce that intent. By 1907, 22 canneries were operating in Southeast, using the traditional methods as previously mentioned, but to include 40 very large salmon traps. A year before a new federal law was passed that gave the Secretary of Commerce only minimal authority to regulate Alaska salmon harvest; any reforms brought before the Congress or other agencies of the government were slammed to the ground by the powerful salmon lobby.

By 1924, there were 65 canneries operating in Southeast, and increase of 195%, and there were 351 very large salmon traps, and increase of 777% over 1907. Between 1906 and 1923, 42 separate pieces of Federal Legislation addressing the Alaska salmon fisheries were introduced in Congress, and over a dozen in-depth hearing were held on the subject, but in spite of the mounting evidence of the need for stronger conservation measure, not a SINGLE piece of legislation passed making it obvious the canned salmon industry was just to strong.

As usual with big industry, it wasnt until after the 1st World War had ended and the canned salmon prices took a nose dive, whereas the supply outpaced the demand that the canned salmon industry became receptive to regulations that might limit the salmon harvest as long as the overall interests of the cannery owners and operators was protected. It was in 1921 when a Wrangell man whose family had a long history in the region, William Paul a long-time member of the Alaska Native Brotherhood, and the lawyer that fought the case for Chief Shakes (Charlie Jones) for his right to vote (and won) testified in Congress on the negative impacts of fish traps and the absentee owners of the salmon industry, he not only fought for the Native fisherman but spoke in favor off all independent fisher in Southeast. He explained that the canneryowned fish traps had displaced the livelihoods of both the Native and the non-Native population, creating terrific hardships on their families and that the traps were one of the primary reasons that the runs were fading away. At the end of his testimony he stressed that the conservation of the salmon in addition to the social and economic needs of the Alaska residents. A building strong anti-trap sentiment was ramping up in Southeast, whereas 95% if not 100% of the local population understood their impact on the salmon fisheries, sooner than expected the fish traps became the symbol representing the Outside domination of the

Territory to the detriment of Alaskans. In reality the traps were looked upon by most Alaskans as the dipper with which the large absentee owners appeared to skim with hardly any effort at all the cream of one of the regions most valuable natural resource a resource that not only provide a direct source of a dinner staple, but money to advance their position in the cash-based society, in addition the spent salmon after laying its eggs died and their rotting corpses fed the animals and the habitat along the streams truly the salmon was a huge contributor to the Southeast Alaska environment. As time went by, the failure of the Federal Government reinforced a strong anti-federal spirit, whereas the fisheries domination buy outside interests became a rally cry for statehood advocates. In closing the salmons controversial role in Wrangell history, we find that as usual the distant governing of the resource, based on inadequate research and lack of local management the resource faded from the high economic value it once enjoyed. Albeit salmon prices rebounded after the Great Depression, where the high prices coupled with an increased canned production, resulted in a year-by-year taking of the salmon especially sales to the US military for inclusion in their field rations. The salmon pack peaked in 1947 at 4.3 million cases and then began its decline however the market is said to have been established. Prices remained strong and rose due to the increased demand and the reduction of supply, which only worked to increase the taking of the resource. In 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower declared the Alaska salmon fishery a Federal Disaster and called for a major rebuilding effort, to no avail the pack continued to decline, reaching an all-time low in 1959 the year Alaska joined old Glory as one of the stars in its field of blue.

The decline of this industry was the era in which I grew my wings, and having one

side of the family heavily engaged in the salmon industry, while the other was associated with its canneries, on top of having a grandmother who would regularly voice her opinion I, from the perspective of a young person watched the death of a great Tlingit tradition salmon.

Wrangells lumber industry holds the Alaskan record for the most years of continuous operation at 122-years, a record that began in 1889 when Captain Thomas A Wilson and Rufus Sylvester built a mill in the center of town. Although its first year production was behind the mill in Juneau and Father Duncans mill in Metlakatla, the 1,000,000 board feet grew over the years to give Wrangell the distinction of being the largest producing mill along the Pacific north coast. The owners were paying around $3 to $5 per log, as found or towed from the beach where the loggers had placed them. During the next 11-years, in 1900, the Wrangell mill was out producing 13 other mills in Alaska, with its annual output for the year at 3.23 million board feet, 39.7% of the total output in Southeast Alaska, a percentage they maintained for the following years.

It seems that fire is no stranger to Wrangell, whereas a blaze in 1906 ran willy-nilly through the business district, missing the mill, where it was reported that early the next Monday it began sawing lumber that would be used to reconstruct the town. In 1918 the mill itself was a victim of a fire that destroyed the planning mill and the box factory, where it was noted that for almost 30years the mill had been Wrangells steadfast revenue provider for the town, whereas the absence of the monthly payroll would be greatly missed. The mill was rebuilt and up and running in less than one year! The Tongass spruce is of a closer grain, consequently stronger than any other member of the Spruce family on the American continent, which made it a high-demand product in the early days of aviation. Buyers from airplane manufactures in England and America picked it as the primary wood in airplane construction, except for the production of propellers. The mill also became a major supplier of box lumber, or shooks, for the use of shipping canned salmon to the outside, which continued right up until cardboard boxes pushed them out of the marketplace after WWII. In 1926 the mill, enjoying the title of being the largest business in town, changed becoming involved with supplying power to the town subsequently its name changed to the Wrangell Lumber and Power Company, after it had the franchise for the City of Wrangell. It was also reported that the oldest sawmill in Alaska was in the process of building a new deep-water-dock some 60 by 600, making it possible to load ocean going vessels. It was back in 1905 that Agriculture Secretary James Wilson created the Forest Service, along with three principals 1) Sustained yield, 2) Multiple use, and 3) Protection of local communities. It was six years later in 1911 that the Forest Service adopted the practice of clear cutting as the best and most consistent silvicultural system, in other words as pointed out in a 1972 brochure that by removing all of the timber in an area allows sunlight to reach the forest floor. Whereby the added heat and light enhances the growth of

both trees and permits the deer population easy access for food. To support their belief they told us that partial removal left shade that retards the growth of trees and the access by the wild life, and since Hemlock is more shade tolerant than Spruce, the new growth would be mostly Hemlock. They further postulated that leaving mature and over-mature timber standing will increase the risk of insect and disease problems in the young-growth. It was their intent in this pragmatic attitude, to create a fully integrated timber manufacturing industry in their work-up to offering long-term timber contracts that included a requirement to construct a pulp mill. Which they had offered in years prior to the issuance of the 1972 brochure. It was in 1913 that they offered a 300 million board foot timber sale on the Stikine River along with a billion board foot sale in the Behm Canal region, no bids were received. After WWII, the mill operated intermittently along with changing hands several times, no more fish box manufacture, the military contracts had dried up, and aluminum had replaced spruce for aircraft construction. Hey, remember Howard Hughes Spruce Goose, to all this add the Puget Sound region shipping via an improved transportation, wood products competing in a market place in Southeast that had been dominated by local sawmills. It was in 1947 when President Harry give em hell Truman signed the Tongass Timber Act, which contained the authorization of the USFS to enter into 50-year timber sales contracts, these longer term contract permitted investors the ability to amortize the large cost of building a Pulp Mill. It was the Pacific Northern Timber Company that contracted for a 28-year supply of timber from around Wrangell whereas their contract required the construction of a pulp mill or chipping mill. In addition, Japan was rebuilding after WWII, where it had lost access to the heavily forested islands to Russia and their forests had been attacked with vigor in their effort to support their construction during the war of infrastructure destroyed by US bombing. The era that most of you reading this from Wrangell began when regulations were relaxed that allowed the shipment of raw logs to Japan, and the transfer of ownership from CT Takahashi, a Seattle businessman who had purchased the mill at a barebones price in a bankruptcy action in 1949. In 1953, under

the command of Tadao Sasayama (who worked or General McArthurs staff in Tokyo) Alaska Lumber and Pulp was actively preparing to construct a pulp mill in Stika thereby it leased and later purchased the Wrangell sawmill in 1954 it wasnt until 1955 after being modified that the mill began sawing lumber. The operation was renamed to Wrangell Lumber Company, and it was on January 28th that the town heard for the first time the end of work steam whistle at 5 PMthe population ceased whatever they were doing, after-all it was the first time that they had heard the whistle in great number of years Wrangell was back! The 60s saw a new market for the mill in Wrangell, where an upward spiraling economy in Japan increased their reliance on Alaska timber, used in home construction and industrial development like other operations in the Southeast, the majority of the products shipped overseas were in the form of raw logs are rough sawed cants or dissolving pulp. In 1970 the sawn wood exports to Japan had increased from 67 billion board feet (MMB) in 1965 to 315 MMBF in 1970 a huge amount being shipped out of Wrangell.

Wrangells lumber exports continued to increase throughout the 60s, peak in 1973, and went into a minor decline until 1985, where the exports dropped as

a result of the sharp decline in the number of Japanese housing starts, this coupled with the change in Japanese building practices that showed a remarkable decrease in wood-based housesit is also noted that the lumber producers in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia were exporting their lumber to Japan. Over-all Alaskas exports between 1973 and 1985 fell by some 78%, compared to the Japanese use falling some 22%, the large decrease evidence of the competition from the lwr-48 and British Columbia. There are a number of reasons, besides the reduced demand in Japan that affected the Wrangell mills demise, not of which was the new rules and regulations of the USFS, and the signing of Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1981 by President Jimmy Peanut Farmer Carter. The act established additional Wilderness and National Monuments in Southeast that effectively reduced the area of the Tongass that could be logged. Although the act was originally sold as a salvation to the Tongass, and to insure that it did not harm the existing timber industry, it mandated that the Forest Service be allowed to offer 450 million board feet of saw log timber annually.

All the new Federal regulations, along with the 1971 award by the government that created the Native Corporations and the extensive logging of their newly acquired lands were but a temporary reprieve to the Wrangell Mill, which finally shut it operation down. It had gone from its first shipment of 3.2 million board feet on the Kosho Mauru in July of 1955 to when it was closed in

1984, with its operations transferred to the new mill in Shoemaker Bay. Which had the largest output capacity of any mill in Alaska, whereas the production of 400,000 board feet in one day was achieved on a frequent basis, producing a full shipload every two weeks. The closure of the town mill ended 93-years of lumber production at the site, a huge piece of Wrangells history was another legend for the campfires.

Shoemaker Bay Mill

The tourist industry in Wrangell was a large part of my growing up, when the liners of Alaska Steam and the Canadian Pacific Railroad would send a burst of

steam to their whistles, my grandmother and I were already walking down the seawall with me pulling her red wagon stacked full of handmade moccasins, setting up our stand in front of Benjamins store front. Id pickup my box of carefully wrapped flowers and my small selection of garnets and we sit quietly by as the tourists strolled by, some stopping to pick through the moccasins, with the usual questions running from where can I find these someplace in the lwr-49 or British Columbia, to where do you get these pretty black rocks. During the off-season my grandmother, Anna Person, took a week to make a pair, sowing all by hand including the moccasin tops, at a push with my grandfather, Olaf Person, and I giving what assistance we were capable of, shed manage two a week. She sold each pair at a price ranging from $7.50 to $10.00, which when you think about was close to slave labor. Later as part of the Wrangell Pep Band wed greet each and every ship, rain or shine sometimes I was caught unloading shrimp and would plop myself down next to Jack and Don smelling like a box of shrimp which was fine the shuffle to get down wind gave me plenty of room to stomp my feet and strain my lungs. What a lively bunch we were, John on the baritone, Terry on the Sousa, Trudy on the Clarinet, Patsy on her Sax along with Elaine. And Alta and Leon slipping the slides of their trombones back and forth as we punched out one of Dixieland numbers my favorite, and still is, When the Saints Go Marching In, funny with the exception of a few there not too many saints in our group. names, Chicky, I know I left out a few Tito, Sam, Dorothy, Jamiel, but Im getting on and Ill stick by that. It is safe to say we had more fun than the crowd that always gathered to greet the shipeven though from time-to-time they exclaimed we were the best, why not we were locals. .

One time one of the ships had David Niven and Johnny Mercer on board, and it was through their efforts that Manhattan Beach H/S near LA sent us boxes of band uniforms, plums and all one fall it was Christmas in the Band Room.

At the time, the scariest time in my life was when my mother saw me off during the 2nd week in August 1963 headed outside to school, I looked out of the windows of the goose as I flew south to a world Id had only read about or seen in a news reel. I was leaving a place that had sheltered me from the rest of the planet, cloud covered though it may have been a great deal of time, it was a quiet region of the world that throughout my life would remain as my pillar, grounding me whenever it seemed that things were going sideways. When I finally deplaned in Los Angeles my immediate thought was to turn around and head back to that life of shrimp and crab, and the solitude one felt walking home in the evening as the drizzle found its way down the back of your neck.

Albeit this part of my life was over, the memories would remain forever home was Wrangell a far distant outpost of humanity where everyone knew your name.

Related Interests