Effie Kokrine was interviewed on February 10, 1987 by William Schneider, Sue Will and Doris Southall in Fairbanks, Alaska. Effie grew up in Tanana, Alaska when dog teams were the dominant form of transportation. Her father, Johnny Folger, ran a leg of the diphtheria serum run between Minto and Tanana. She helped care for her father's team and soon learned to drive her own team. She and her husband, Andrew Kokrine moved to Fairbanks in 1949, where she got involved in dog racing. She ran in the Women's Division of the Open North American Sled Dog Race from 1949 - 1965, and helped found the Junior Dog Musher's Association. In this interview, she talks about growing up in Tanana and their use of dog teams, dog team mail carriers, positions of dogs in the team, training and disciplining dogs, choosing dogs for a team, feeding and caring for dogs, getting involved in dog racing and specific incidents in races, equipment and gear, junior dog mushing, the trail to Wiseman, breaking trail and use of gee poles, keeping dogs in Fairbanks, her favorite dogs, and the importance of having trust between dog and musher.
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The first dog Effie remembers
Using loose leaders with a dog team
The importance of dogs in a team taking commands, and the role of the swing dog
What to look for in a puppy that tells you it will make a good team dog
Taking care of the dogs' health
Feeding the dogs
Dog team mail carriers
How she got into running the North American Sled Dog Race
A particularly surprising outcome of a race
Training the dogs
Talking about Whitey, one of her good lead dogs
Effie's last sled dog race
Women in the sled dog races
Gear and equipment
Junior dog mushing and benefits of dog mushing for kids
Family history and connections with dog mushing
Dog team mail carrier route to Wiseman
Use of gee poles to help control a heavy sled
Her husband, Andrew Kokrine, working as a dog team mail carrier
Keeping dogs in town and use of boarding kennels
Moving to Fairbanks
Effie's favorite dog
Picking names for dogs
Talking to your dogs when in a passing situation
Passing moose on the trail
The importance of trust between a musher and their dogs
Disciplining and training dogs
Advice for mushers of today
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Today is February 10th. EFFIE KOKRINE: 10th. BILL SCHNEIDER: 1987. And we have the pleasure today of doing an interview with Effie Kokrine. I'm Bill Schneider, and with me today is Doris Southall and Sue Will. And we're going to talk a little about your history and involvement in dog mushing. And so it's a pleasure, and I appreciate you coming out here, even though we made you walk all around the building and all. EFFIE KOKRINE: Took me away from my world. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. But nice to have you here. EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh hum. BILL SCHNEIDER: And just for those people that are listening, this is a -- a follow up on an earlier interview that was done as part of the Chinook series, so we'll be talking about a few other things and also picking up on some of those good stories, too. So thanks for coming. And Sue, why don't you start off. SUE WILL: Well, you said that you were telling Bill the story about the first dog you remember. EFFIE KOKRINE: Well, the first dog that I remember when I was, oh, say, about seven years old was because he was forever giving us a bad time. He was an old dog that my father just kept as a retired pet because he -- he was just a likeable dog. And so as I was telling Bill, he was probably the father of all our strange dogs we had at that time. But he was old and we couldn't afford to keep pets, but he stayed along as -- run along like a loose leader and everything, so... And when he was getting older, my father used to go out and drive dogs or something, go out, haul wood and things, and he would leave him home. So every time he left him home, no matter how good he was tied, he used to get loose. So it was my brother and I forever going out after him and dragging him back. So I remember him the most because many times my mother tell us, now, you go out and look for Tonnish (phonetic). And Tonnish is an Indian name and it's short for Quitonnish (phonetic). And Quitonnish in Indian means he's going to live. And, you know, in Indians, you know, you -- when you talk, a lot of your words is backwards. Like you make a sentence and it will be reversed. And when -- a lot of the dogs's names was named Indian names, same as kids and people. So he -- this is, well, this is dog is going to Quitonnish, that means this dog will live. So his name became Quitonnish, and then he was known like Tonnish to everybody. And he was always Tonnish. But my mother said his real name was Quitonnish. SUE WILL: Did you have -- did many of you guys have loose leaders when you started out? EFFIE KOKRINE: Not in a family life, not in our daily life. But my husband, and not only him, the others that used to carry mail out in the blizzard, out in the cold with no trails, no Sno Go's, over mountains, loose leader was very important because he was the leader and he was understanding of -- of his master, like you could wave and whistle and something, and he'll -- he'll understand. SUE WILL: He's like a lab or a heel trial dog is today in a way. EFFIE KOKRINE: Yeah, but...
SUE WILL: (indiscernible) EFFIE KOKRINE: It was -- he was a dog that's been over the trail before, and once a dog's been over the trail, like from Tanana, when my husband used to drive dogs over towards Wiseman, once a month they'd make that trip where there was no trail from, you know, day to day in the mountains, it's just swept clean. And that dog would follow that same trail, and then he'd go ahead and the dogs would follow him. And if he'd break off the trail, well, he can find his footing and get back on. And then if you want his attention, you'll whistle and you'll go like this, you know, and he'll -- he'll understand you, and the dogs all in the back follow him, and he was very important. But as our daily life, our just like hauling wood or running to town or something, a loose dog was never necessary. SUE WILL: So the loose leader had to know hand signals? EFFIE KOKRINE: Hand signals, uh hum. SUE WILL: And voice signals. EFFIE KOKRINE: And he has to be a dog that's been, like, over the trail before, and they can almost -- SUE WILL: One you can really trust. EFFIE KOKRINE: -- crossing the lake, they can just go right across and find the exact spot on the other side where they're supposed to go in. And they were just -- your dogs was your -- almost your life because you depend on them for so much; that is, if you lived out in the country. SUE WILL: Did you -- did most of the team dogs know commands? Did the leaders in the team know commands? EFFIE KOKRINE: The leaders in the team are the leaders because they take a command, and the swing dogs take just as good command as the leader because when the leader go, like, jump, you know, one way or the other, well, they are right there to -- to bring up the rest of the team, so they are just as important. The swing dogs are just as important to the team as the leader because you have two swing dogs that's not going to obey the leader, what good is the leader because they can just pull him around, jerk him around. But if they just all take commands, so your swing dogs is almost as good as the leader, which a lot of times they are your extra leaders. SUE WILL: Also, I've heard a lot of people say that for, like, when people were freighting or carrying the mail that the wheel dogs were so important because when you went around a sharp corner or a tree, you know, the wheel dog had to be able to -- to not cut a corner like a lot of our racing dogs do today, but to pull ahead and then follow the leaders around. EFFIE KOKRINE: Oh, I don't know about that part, whether they actually pull it around the corner and anything, but then the wheel dog, in pulling the load, does take more of a beating. So we used to -- well, the bumbest dog in the team automatically went in the back because you can control him more. Like, if he wants to be lazy and don't want to pull, then you have a easier time to -- SUE WILL: Tell him he better move it. EFFIE KOKRINE: -- to get the message across that -- and then we used to always take a bigger dog, you know, a big -- a heavier dog, because they do take a lot of abuse of -- they are the ones with the sled behind them. So as for knowing how to go around corners, I don't know, but I know they were always the -- SUE WILL: Heaviest and the orneriest. EFFIE KOKRINE: Or -- and then I think it's a -- it was a hard work because they are the ones with the sled behind them, where the others, the dogs move along with them, you know, with the motion and everything of every little hump or bump or little curve, where the back ones, they got the sled that's coming behind them. SUE WILL: Okay. My next question is what do you look for in pups? How did you decide which ones in a litter to keep or did you just try them all? EFFIE KOKRINE: No. Well, when we were -- in the olden days when we had to ration our dog food and then we controlled our breeding of our dogs, too. We always had -- my father always had one female, or maybe two in reserve so that if this one gets old, well, we have this other one that is special. But as soon as the pups are born we got rid of them, the ones that we don't need. And my father used to always -- I'm going to use my father as an example because that's my earliest recollection. We used to save, like, two every litter like when we had -- then that way the dogs don't get old at one time. And we still have enough, like nine dogs for our freight team -- I mean, our living, like we move from camp to camp, or we go to Tanana and go back to home which is 16 miles away from town where we lived, we trapped and everything there, so our transportation, we always had enough. But you just -- so one dog get old, you always have this other one to take its place so that they don't all get old together and you don't have all young dogs together. You keep them rotating in the right age. And we used to look for the pups, if you wanted to keep only two or four, we always look for pups with the black feet. And the white feet, we say, well, we don't keep them because they say they got tender feet; and for cold weather, or running through different conditions, their feet is not as strong as a dog with black feet. SUE WILL: Uh hum. I've heard that. EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh hum. And then it's not true, but then when the puppy is born, too, you pick them up by the nape of the neck and give them a little shake, and if they squeal, well, that's a sissy, you don't want that, but I don't believe that, you know. So anyway. SUE WILL: So you practiced in a way like selective breeding for the dogs. EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh hum. SUE WILL: Did you do anything special for worming them or anything like that? EFFIE KOKRINE: Long time ago we didn't know anything about worms. We don't have them. SUE WILL: Did you use kerosene or gas -- grass? EFFIE KOKRINE: Well, if they did, I don't -- I just -- it wasn't my thing. And they always said the dogs ate grass if they needed it. SUE WILL: Which seems to be true. EFFIE KOKRINE: And then one thing, too, like eating hair, like moose hair or something, they says it causes worms, so we never did use it. And we always cooked our dog food, we never gave them just raw food. We always had it cooked, our feed. The only time we gave them raw food, like when we were in fish camp sometimes we'd give them raw -- the heads only, but not the meat. SUE WILL: You were talking before about what you had for available dog food, how you limited your dog team to what was available then. Can you talk about -- EFFIE KOKRINE: Well, we had no commercial dog food long time ago. The only thing we had was what we -- what we got off the country because, like, we went fishing all summer long, we weren't limited, we didn't -- they didn't tell us, okay, you fish today, you fish tomorrow. We fish as we needed, and dried all our food, dog fish. And then in the falltime, we froze a lot of food, fresh -- fresh whitefish and stuff, you just put them up to freeze. And even if they soured a little bit, it didn't hurt the dogs because they were dropping, they were sour, but it didn't hurt the dogs. And then we had a lot of dry fish, and then a lot of the dry fish we used to sell to the stores in exchange, like, for food, so someone else that don't have enough dog food will be able to purchase it. And then we used to get rolled oats to put in our dog food because that's -- we had no commercial dog food to put in it, so we did use rolled oats. And some people have used rice, but it's -- most of my memory was rolled oats, a hundred pounds a sack of rolled oats, and then you'd mix that up. And then in the falltime, you'd take -- we used to buy all our gasoline with five gallon cans, but you rinse that out and you put the fish eggs in there. And you just put that away, and even that soured. You take a little of that fish eggs and you cream your dog food with it as you're cooking it. The dry fish is good for the dogs to eat dry when you're travelling or if you can't cook or something, but if you're home, your own home, then you still cook the dog food because they need the juice, then you throw a chunk of this frozen fish eggs in there and it richens and creams the deal. And in the springtime when you're travelling long ways, like we used to go to Stevens Village or someplace, and we were light on dog food, even if you take little fish eggs and mix it with water and water them with that, they still get a lot of food value and energy to -- you know, to go with less food. So when we travelled, we used to go trapping and things, we used to go from Tanana and up to Stevens Village and go up into the Flats to -- to spring camp. Survival. Of course, the dogs eat the muskrat, too, then when you have enough muskrat, or whatever you have. SUE WILL: Did you ever accompany your husband when he went up to Wiseman and any of those? EFFIE KOKRINE: No. That's before I knew him. SUE WILL: Okay. And he was doing the mail carrier? EFFIE KOKRINE: Yeah, he carried mail for his father -- his father had the contract, and he carried the mail for him. But that was, like I say, before my time. But it was still being done my time him and I got married, it was still being done, but it was getting more like the airplanes and things was starting to do the work. SUE WILL: Yeah. Did you know of any women who did any of that? EFFIE KOKRINE: I don't know of anyone that actually took the mail run, but I know of a woman that helped quite a bit. That's Katherine Mayo, you know Freddie Mayo and Clyde Mayo's mother. She wasn't Katherine Mayo then, she was -- they were living down at Kallands. SUE WILL: Oh, I know where that -- EFFIE KOKRINE: And I know she helped. Now, whether -- it wasn't on her contract to do it, but you helped whenever you can. And I know my father said she used to put on snowshoes and go up and break out the mail trail, so that's when the mail team is coming down, they can hit her trail and walk -- you know, come in because we used to have more severe weather those days. And I'm pretty sure my Andrew was telling me one time that she did make a run, but that's the only woman I know. They had roadhouse there where the mail carriers used to stop overnight, and she had to have the wood and -- I mean, the water and everything all ready for the dogs to be watered and everything and then they -- they house the mail carrier for the night. And so she played a very important part in those days because she was living with her mother, which her mother couldn't get around and do things, but Katherine was a young woman and she done all the work. Uh huh. But she's -- she was a tough -- tough one in those days. To snowshoe out a trail in a blizzard and in heavy snow and stuff, just... SUE WILL: I want to switch to something a little different now. EFFIE KOKRINE: Okay. SUE WILL: Unless you have something you can think of asking. On the other tape you talked about running your first race, the Tanana, and then you talked briefly about the North American Race. Why did you -- something I didn't find out was why did you run that North American, that first North American that you ran? Just because you had -- EFFIE KOKRINE: Because my husband told me to. The first North American I ran was the first year after we moved to Fairbanks. And I didn't know no -- the racetrack or didn't know any of the dog mushers or anything. I met Libby Westcott and them, you know, just briefly, but I didn't know my way around or anything in Fairbanks. And all of a sudden he came home one day and he said, "You're going to run the women's race." "Now, where am I going?" SUE WILL: But you liked it because you did it after that. EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh hum. Well, then, he just said, "Follow the trail and let the dogs lead the way." You know. And then when you hit the river, and then such and such a place you turn around." Then we started under the Cushman Bridge and we went up the Noyes Slough, and we went up the bank or something around under the railroad track or something, and you zigzagged around down way, down until you hit the -- go under another bridge or something. SUE WILL: It's pretty much the same. EFFIE KOKRINE: And the only thing I could remember, though, is I was going through the woods, then all of a sudden here comes the river. Okay. When you hit the river, I know you're supposed to go up the river. And in those days, you had no trail. There was a dog trail. You know, someone had run the dogs through there. We had no trail to follow, but there was probably a sign or something. But anyway, when you hit that river is when you go back up the Chena River, which I did. And I don't remember coming in or anything, but I remember making that turn after you once hit the river, and I thought, "Oh, I'm home." SUE WILL: Which was your favorite race? EFFIE KOKRINE: There is no favorite. SUE WILL: There isn't, huh? EFFIE KOKRINE: Huh uh. Because every one is -- was a -- a run in its own. Maybe the most shocking one would probably when I won the three -- the year that I won my third year. That probably would be the most surprising. SUE WILL: Why? EFFIE KOKRINE: Because I didn't think I was going to do it. Because it just came as such a shock, a surprise. Because I was number four starting that day. And that was second day of running or three days of running, I can't remember. Anyway, I was number four, and I had no idea whatsoever. All I wanted was to make sure Whitey -- I had Andrew's little Whitey, which did not like to obey me. He was strictly Andrew's dog, and he'll run for me, he won't get into mischief, but he wouldn't give me his heart. So I was just going along, coming down the hill at the KFAR up there on Farmers Loop Road, just after I head into the brushes, here's a dog team ahead of me. They are having a tangle. I was shocked, so I went around it, and I looked up and here's two more teams ahead of me having the same problem. So Whitey right there, you know, okay, he's trained instinct. He just went right around this first dog team, and their dogs is anxious to go, and they were, you know, well, all just wanting to go, but he wanted to show off then. That's the only time I could say that dog knew what he was doing. He went right around that one; and the next two, he went right around. And Libby Westcott was the third team I passed just, "Come on, Effie! Come out your whip!" You never pull out your whip or anything in the races because that's courtesy to the others. And she goes, "Come on, go!" And I was, like, shocked. I still didn't realize what was going on. And so I just kept pushing, and she was behind me all the way through, she said, "Go ahead, go ahead! Use your whip!" I don't use a whip when I'm driving. I use the rattler, noisemaker, or a chain in my hand, like a piece of broken chain. And you just hold it in your hand like -- you make a noise with it. But then -- but the best thing I liked was I always carried a little sticks in my hand, in my chain bag. And -- like, I'd take a little stick, a little bit like that, and then I'd hit it on the side of the sled, and just like make rhythm. And I seemed to find that more comforting and I don't have to use my voice or something, and then I sing or you know. So I just, "Come on! Come on! Let's go!" And I just came in. And like I say, Whitey, really, I take my hat off to him that day because the starting of the race, he just -- he was just doing his own thing. He'd look around and just run along, and I'd coax him and talk to him, and he was not giving me anything except staying ahead. So that -- I think that was the most surprised race. SUE WILL: How many dogs did you have in the team? EFFIE KOKRINE: Oh, probably -- I don't take only seven or eight if I can. I avoid nine. Nine is a good number, like two or three day race, because you can always drop one, but I'm more comfortable with eight. SUE WILL: Did you generally have a single leader or a double leader? EFFIE KOKRINE: Mostly a single leader if I can, but double leaders is really good, too. I always feel like they give each other confidence, especially passing a team or something, if one is a little shy or something, that one is, you know, just going. But then the worst situation I got into is single lead, seemed to be what I had at the time, when I did get into where I was a little, you know, what am I going to do? Feeling. So you have a good leader, a single leader is good, but I always feel like a double leader give each other a level path along the way. SUE WILL: Did Andrew pretty much train the dogs or did you share training in the dogs? EFFIE KOKRINE: Before he used to do all the driving, but then when we got to Fairbanks, there's a lot of times while he was working, I used to take the dogs out at the Chena River. SUE WILL: Did you do anything special for training of them? Did you hit specific problem areas, or did you train puppies -- EFFIE KOKRINE: Well, I think -- well, the puppies, that was my -- I used to, you know, play around with the puppies quite a bit, but the main part of training which I did was just hardening them up. Give them the running time, the mileage. And then when it comes to training, then he wasn't working by, like, March and stuff, so he used to take over. That's in Fairbanks, you know. SUE WILL: Did he break the puppies? EFFIE KOKRINE: Well, with puppies, we always played with them and, you know, put them in harness and play around with them, so by the time they know what it's about, they know the feel of the harness. Now, going up the hill, you know -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Are you talking about Whitey? EFFIE KOKRINE: Yeah. Okay. This is off, isn't it? BILL SCHNEIDER: No, it's on now. EFFIE KOKRINE: Oh, right now? Well, do you want me to talk about Whitey some more? BILL SCHNEIDER: Sure. EFFIE KOKRINE: Well, the part that made me feel, oh, my God, can't you do any better than that, was we used to haul the dogs to the starting line with truck. And now -- now -- excuse me. You know, who'd think anything of it. Here I was going up towards the college, and you got up to the -- to the -- up on the hill there. That -- anyway, you know what I mean, that Yankovich Crossing. Anyway. And he was just running along and not paying any attention. And then he was looking around at all these cars parked along the way and he spotted Andrew in the truck way up there on the hill. So he says, well, I don't have to run, so he was just -- oh. He was just -- just trotting along until we made that loop way down and we come back and we were passing right where Andrew's truck was. Of course, you know that, you shouldn't have been there. And then after we passed there, he decided, well, I might as well get home. And then, boy, he took off. Like we learned then for whatever truck Andrew, you know, delivered the dogs to the starting chute, keep away from there. Especially as long as I had Whitey. But before that I had sort of my own leader, too, so. Yeah. He had to. He was -- had a personality that was sort of comical, but he knew what he was doing. SUE WILL: How long did you have him? EFFIE KOKRINE: I -- we didn't have him too long because we bought him from a guy in Stevens Village. And he sent him over in airplane and said, "Well, you know, this white dog is the leader." So when we got him, Andrew wasn't sure which one was which, so he just put old Whitey in the lead. And we lived in Graehl, so he took up, there was no Hamilton Acres, so we used to drive the dogs up that way. And he put Whitey in the lead, and he was an ugly old humpback thing, but he was the biggest and he looked like he was strong. And he went all right. And he worked beautiful with Andrew after that, but right off the bat he was sort of hesitant and wasn't, like, sure of what he was doing. But we didn't know until way afterwards that we had the wrong dog in the lead. But he never did get out of the leader after that. He stayed there until we got rid of all our dogs. And he always had the lead since then, but it was so funny because he wasn't even a leader. But Andrew looked at him and he thought, you look like you have more of the -- you know, the go power than the other one. Because the other white one was sort of slim and smaller. So, well, he went in the back and Whitey went ahead, and no wonder when he started -- always we had to pass the old schoolhouse, Nordale schoolhouse in that area we used to go, and he was just like acting like he wasn't sure of himself. But it's all right. He was all right. SUE WILL: What was the last race you ran? EFFIE KOKRINE: The last race I ran? SUE WILL: Uh hum. EFFIE KOKRINE: Was in 1965 when I tipped over, coming in the chute, day after that big blizzard we had, and the Sno-Go went over the trail, but this one place the Sno-Go had gone off the trail and then got back on. Well, when I hit that spot where the Sno-Go got off because I was coming in first, and I tipped over. And just right after the problem I had, and I -- I didn't have the strength in my hands to get up, so I just -- SUE WILL: That's a pretty long racing career you've had. EFFIE KOKRINE: 15 years -- in 16 years time, I -- I ran 15 times. Even I did not have dogs a lot of times, I just borrowed, pick a team here, pick a team there, or whoever would let me have the dogs for the -- for the day, or you know. I just used to run because I love it. Not to run, not to win, just to be in it, just to participate. I still have that feeling. SUE WILL: I have another question in relation to that. How is -- what kind of competition was there between you women when you were running the Women's North American? Sounds like there was a lot of camaraderie. EFFIE KOKRINE: Well, a long time ago it was -- they had a women's race. Women didn't mix with the men, you know. They had a women's race, and we had some pretty good mushers that was familiar with their dogs and that has done it before me. And so they were -- there were some good women mushers, but we didn't make the time they are making now. Our road conditions were different, and there was a lot of skill and power and handling of your team. Because there is always someone in the team that did not know how to handle their dogs and was not able to handle their dogs. I run into several places during the races that I had to stop and help somebody. And one time I tied myself to the sled with the tree, before we had ice hooks, I tied myself to a tree to help another woman, and I couldn't get out. I came in second to the last that year, but I was stuck. I couldn't untie myself because my arms could not reach the -- where the snap was hooked to the line and holding the sled back. And they want to go, and I was trying to hold back, but I done that to help another woman that was in trouble. Her dogs got tangled, and there's a dog that was just laying there hollering, and if you didn't correct that right away, there could be a dog fight. Because any time a dog is hollering in pain, the towline had gotten around a younger dog and she couldn't control it, she had too many dogs. So I went a little ahead and then I tied -- I passed her. So I tied the dogs up and I ran back and I unsnapped her lines and released this dog that was hollering, because if you want trouble, that's one way to start trouble is having a dog in pain. That's animal in the dogs that just automatically turn on each other. Maybe they are trying to help, but they don't know how to help. SUE WILL: Uhm. You were saying that you didn't have snow hooks then, that you tied your dogs up -- EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh hum. SUE WILL: -- to a tree, available tree. So that means you could only have as many dogs as you could actually -- EFFIE KOKRINE: That you could handle and hold. Uh hum. And on the Yukon River, long time ago when we used to drive dogs, we used to tip our sled over and, like, stick the nose in the side of this road enough so that you can run up there. And after the time I start handling the dogs, I always had one in the team that we raised in the house. And when she was a pup, and she understood me and she was my dog. And she'd lay down when I'd get up and have to do anything because that's another leader of Andrew's that didn't like to obey me; he liked to, you know, play around. She'd just lay down until I get up there and do my thing and get back. And it was -- it was really -- you had to be alert, you had to be fast, and it was just a different thing. We had no snow hook, especially on the river when you have no trees or no nothing, you're just on the river, Yukon River, that's where we used to drive dogs before we came to Fairbanks. SUE WILL: Did you make your harnesses? I know most of your -- I mean the sleds, manmade sleds -- EFFIE KOKRINE: Yeah, we made our own sleds, we made our own harness, and our towlines, and whether your working towline or your working harness. Long time ago we used to have nothing but collar harness for working, and then we'd change the style to more comfort and lighter weight, and the best harness to work in. There is another harness that they used to have before they called Siwash harness, but then that was made where it was cutting under the arm, so they styled the harness to what they have today where it fits the body over the shoulders and snug over the hip without any, like, underarm rub. And then the neck lines and everything had to be for the comfort of the dog, without being a hindrance to step over the neck line. You know, long enough for the comfort of their movements, but not where it hung where the dog would step over it. And -- and for racing, there should always be enough space between the two dogs so that it will be comfortable, not put them too close together where there's -- they are just too clustered up, then they don't have the freedom and the -- to probably see an object or a stick or something, too, because you have to... SUE WILL: Did they put bells or anything, tassels or anything on the harness? EFFIE KOKRINE: We used to have tassels on for harness just for decoration, but for bells, when we were younger, we used to put them on, on holidays. Like Christmastime, you were coming to town for the holidays and things, and coming into town, you'd hear a dog team coming with bells on it, but that's the only time. Uh hum. SUE WILL: Did you use booties? EFFIE KOKRINE: Depends on the weather. That depends on the weather. And we used to use booties in towards spring because we used to run dogs and travel around until the ice is not safe to travel on anymore, and the snow conditions and everything; but in the springtime, when you're travelling in the spring or going anywhere, you'd have this thaw. And on the river there would be sand blowing all the time -- all the time where the sand would be over the -- the snow where it freeze at night, and it's just hard and irritate the dogs. We used to use dog -- dog booties. SUE WILL: Did you ever use dog blankets or anything like that? EFFIE KOKRINE: No. We did used to have -- if we had to travel any length of place, where -- like we were going to Tanana for the holiday or Christmas or something, and you have to have a female with -- with nursing, we used to have a blanket for a breast -- breast blanket. SUE WILL: That just fit under the harness? EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh hum. Just fit under -- it just -- you tie it up like -- you wouldn't fit it to the harness. We -- we just had it so it tied in the back and around the neck and between the legs so that it'd protect their -- the breast. But that was only if you had to travel; otherwise, you left the female home, which hardly too many people raise pups in the winter. The summertime food is more -- you have more to feed the pups, so that wasn't too often that you had a female with breast, unless if you may have happened to just have pups, and -- but then we didn't save the pups either in the summer -- in the wintertime. SUE WILL: The last couple years you've gotten real active in the junior dog mushing. What have you been doing with that? EFFIE KOKRINE: Last couple of years? SUE WILL: Well -- EFFIE KOKRINE: We've been involved in the junior dog mushing, me, my family, my kids, or someone, for 30 years. SUE WILL: I didn't realize that it was that long. EFFIE KOKRINE: Thirty-one -- Well, this year it will be 32 years since the juniors started being active. And that was way back when they first started, like Jackie Landreu was still around, and she had a son, and Despain. So they just got together and they took one of my boys and a couple of their boys and went down to this Rendezvous. There was a place like a bar thing with a big back open, and they used to have their dog mushers's banquet and stuff there, so they all went back there one time and let the kids run. So the next year they started, like, a junior racing. So one of my boys was in one of the first junior activities, and then went through all my kids, and now it's going through all my grandchildren and my great grandchildren. So last year, there was seven of my children or great grandchildren involved in the junior dog races, but this year I think it's going to be less than that now. So... But that was the year that -- and I don't have a good picture of it. BILL SCHNEIDER: So you've been involved in that for 30 years? EFFIE KOKRINE: Well, it's -- if it's not me directly, it's my kids. And my son in law has been advisory, doing their advisor, and then my kids are always in there working with them and they are always in there, and like the timekeepers and all that. And even when I wasn't active, actually, I was active as the road marshal or something. And my one daughter that never raced, she was always out there road marshaling with me. So one way or the other, we're always involved. And Jeff Studdert used to have the honorary chair during the junior dog mushes, and now -- I'm not bragging, but now they give me the honorary chair, so I'm always at the banquets. I mean, I try always. I don't say always. I try always to be at the banquet, but this year I'm going to miss it. And my -- my son in law right now is a senior advisor for the juniors. And my daughter and daughter in law and them are all the timekeepers and everything, so... SUE WILL: So that's why all your children are into dog mushing or have been into dog mushing off and on. EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh hum. Well, I encourage them. That's a very good past time for kids because it teaches them to handle their dog and handle themselves, and it's -- it's a good leg work. Skiing is good, but with the dog and you, you're building your body. And contact with dogs is a comfortable thing. It's they understand you and they like you and they -- it gives you great pleasure to be able to work together. I know our dogs has always enjoyed being handled. SUE WILL: Well, I'm about at a hold point for the moment. BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell us a little about your family's history. EFFIE KOKRINE: In the family history, the dog mushing has not been much because a long time ago they didn't have races like they do. But in springtime, they always had a little get together on the 17th of March, was a big day. And they used to have little races, but most people had just working dogs then. But then in 1925, when the serum run was made to Nome, my father was one of them that ran his section. I think he went up to -- I don't know where he went to, from Tanana up, wherever he was met, like, from Minto or someplace he was met, then he picked up the serum and then he took it to Tanana; and then from Tanana, then they switched drivers so that their dogs wouldn't have -- tire out so everybody just -- you know, just like a relay. So my father was the one that brought it into Tanana. SUE WILL: Effie, what was your maiden name? EFFIE KOKRINE: Folger. My father's name was Johnny Folger, and his -- his father was a prospector that came into the country in 1800. And there is a Folger place named, too, down there where he -- he covered quite a bit of Alaska, I guess, before. SUE WILL: Yeah, I've run across the name. EFFIE KOKRINE: And two kids didn't stop him. But my name is Folger, and my mother's father was Huntington. So I'm related to Jim and Sidney Huntington, too. So -- so we have -- SUE WILL: So you'd go for the dog mushing traditions? EFFIE KOKRINE: Yeah. Well, it was our life. That was your life, same as a car is to you, the dog mushing was just the thing. In summertime, we used to hook up dogs and go up the river. You'd tie the -- hook the dogs up and put a big towline on there and you could -- they used to tow the boats up the river before they had engines, motorboats. And so dogs was a very important part of a person's life. You could tow around a sandbar. Of course, you couldn't do it too good on Tanana River, but on the Yukon River and you get a good sandbar, the dogs just run, in summer and they can tow the boat. SUE WILL: So you pretty much grew up around the Tanana area? EFFIE KOKRINE: I was raised on the Tanana area, but later on I -- we were on the Yukon River. BILL SCHNEIDER: You were mentioning about running the mail up to Wiseman. Could you tell us a little bit more about that? That was your father? EFFIE KOKRINE: No. My husband, when he was -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Your husband. EFFIE KOKRINE: -- when he was 17 years old, he was considered those days a man. And then he started running the dog -- the mail team up there for -- for his dad, he took over. BILL SCHNEIDER: His dad was named? EFFIE KOKRINE: Andrew Kokrine, Senior. And the Kokrine Hills, the Kokrine Mountains is for that Kokrine, yeah. They're all -- my father in law's father had a store there, that's where the Kokrine name came from, he had a little trading post. So my name is connected in a lot of the progress made in Alaska. BILL SCHNEIDER: Have you been on that trail up to Wiseman? EFFIE KOKRINE: Only as far as the 36 mile. That's 36 mile behind Tanana. We went up there one year to trap beaver in the Tozi River, was a relief cabin, the mail cabin there on the river, so we stayed there one winter. And we had to cross some of those mountains. I would say where you need a -- you need a -- a trained loose leader. And boy, it's just -- just mountain with nothing on it except the posts. They have the trail markers. Years ago they put, like, trail markers, they put three sticks together and put a tripod on the old -- on the trail. So that when you're crossing the mountain, you can at least have some landmark of some kind. And so I did cross the 14 mountains -- 14 Mile Mountains, so I know what it's like, only it's such a short way. But when you're running to Wiseman was a very tough trip because the weather was so cold sometimes. And you carried your -- the dog food you're going to use for the month's trip, and you have to carry some and leave one at -- some here at this mail cabin. You can either hang it up inside of the relief cabin or, you know, hang it up some way. And then coming back, then you depend on that dog food being there. And was just a -- it was a real -- it took a man, and you had to be strong and tough, you had to have tough dogs. And your equipment, your harness had to be heavy. Heavy equipment so that they don't way -- wear out or fray because you've got a load, you've got all the -- Then they had to be responsible also for carrying money. (Pause in recording.) BILL SCHNEIDER: You were saying it took a whole month. EFFIE KOKRINE: They used to make a trip one month, every month we made a trip. And that's allowing plenty of time to go over to Wiseman and stop in all the places and come back. Then you rest your dogs a little while or, you know, switch dogs around, take another one that's not tired, and then start again. SUE WILL: Where did they stop on the way up and back? EFFIE KOKRINE: They had relief cabin all along the route. They had the little log cabins, you know, built all along there. I don't remember what the first relief cabin on the Tanana was, but I've been there, too. And it's far enough where you can make, like, 10 miles a day or 12 miles a day because you had a heavy load. You had all your food, your equipment, your clothing, your dog food, and everything, and plus the mail. And then coming back, like, if you brought a bunch of fur, fox skins, and whatever, then you have all that to haul back, too, although it's a light -- a lighter trip coming back if you don't have that much dog food and stuff to carry. And then on the side, they used to take, like, beads; beads, sewing beads and stuff, and sell that along the way, too, if you want to do, but that's -- that's on your own. That's got nothing to do with U.S. mail. That is strictly on your own. So, well, he used to do that, too. I mean my husband did, in his little four years time. And then his brother, Tony Kokrine, which was never, you know, really known, he's -- he's made the trip with his brother, too. And then if two people go, then they can take two sleds, and the lighter sled can break the trail for the main heavy, heavy trail. That was the best way to travel if two people went because the one with the lighter sled and the lighter weight, not the mail, could go ahead and break the trail where the working team can follow and have a trail to follow. Because sometimes, it used to drift so bad and no snow and all, like. The winters were just different. Sometimes the mail carrier had to walk ahead of the dogs with the snowshoes to break the trail out. So you had to have dogs that you could trust behind you and also ahead. SUE WILL: Did they use gee poles? EFFIE KOKRINE: Yes. Towards spring days, they had the gee poles, and that's like when the snow start melting on one side and stuff, and the trail started to get sidings and stuff, that's when the gee pole was handy. Then you could either run ahead of the sled with snowshoes on. Or if it's a better condition, then you can put skis on and guide it. And they had another one that -- oh, they had, like, a surf board. SUE WILL: Ouija board. EFFIE KOKRINE: Ouija board. Yeah. Then you could use that also. Which was heavier to carry, where the skis was the lighter. I tried that one time myself coming down from the Tanana River in springtime, my stepfather told me to get on gee pole when I was a, you know, younger person, and that takes a lot of leg work. Boy, you have to guide the sled, you know, keep from falling off the old sled tracks. Like I said, in those days we didn't have no Sno-Go trails, we had a sled track to follow, and that was our roads, our trails. And to keep the sled on, it's -- you have to be strong to do that. SUE WILL: What did they do with hills? Did they rough block the runners or turn logs -- EFFIE KOKRINE: To -- to going down the hills, rough log them. Uh hum. Because coming down any hills or creeks. But that wasn't used too often. That wasn't practiced too often. SUE WILL: Did they ever let dogs loose coming down hills or were most of the dogs (inaudible)? EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh. Sometimes going downhill, and if you have a big load and you're scared, you could turn some dogs loose, but then -- then you can also just undo their back line. You undo their back line so they are not pulling. And the sled goes on their own. And if you have a long rope, like if you were hauling something heavy and you were going down into a creek, then you have a big snubbing line, then you can, you know, help release it, but that's something that hasn't been practiced too much. It's something that you just -- you don't do every day. It's just, you know, something that depends on where you are. SUE WILL: So your husband ran the mail route for four years. EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh hum. SUE WILL: Between Tanana. EFFIE KOKRINE: From when he was 17 to 21. By that time, they stopped. BILL SCHNEIDER: Is that when airplanes came in? EFFIE KOKRINE: I suppose so. And then -- but from Tanana up through they used to have horses, too, but then the horses quit, dog team came over, and then the airplanes. BILL SCHNEIDER: I wonder what the pay was back in those days for running that mail route? EFFIE KOKRINE: Oh, probably a couple hundred dollars. It wasn't much. It was a lot, you know, to the people then, but it wasn't much. SUE WILL: Did they -- EFFIE KOKRINE: Just make expenses, and all you would do -- concerned about is having something to eat and just, you know. You never had enough money, you just went from day to day. And if you made money there, then you'd have to buy maybe new harness, and you might even have to buy a new sled in one trip or something. So it's just -- just a survival thing. SUE WILL: Did very many of the mail carriers board their dogs at fish camps? EFFIE KOKRINE: I suppose they did, but a lot of people had their own. SUE WILL: So most people you know were at fish camp in the summer with their dogs. EFFIE KOKRINE: Andrew's uncle used to have a bunch of dogs, but I suppose he did board his out because he lived in town as far as I could remember. So some people might have, but most of them had their own because you can put a fish wheel in anyplace and get your own dog food. SUE WILL: When you came to town, you kept your dogs because you were in a place where you could keep your dogs, but I understood that there was several people that had boarding kennels in town in the early days and that a lot of the racing teams were kept in those boarding kennels. Do you know where some of those were? EFFIE KOKRINE: No, I don't think we ever had any problems like boarding kennels. Like you went to town -- if someone came to Tanana, there's always a place someplace where you can put your dogs. But if you wanted someone to watch them, I suppose you could, but I just -- just don't -- my life was not into all that stuff, you know, like wondering what people did because, you know, in that time, too, I was still pretty young. SUE WILL: What about in Fairbanks? EFFIE KOKRINE: When we first came to Fairbanks, that was a hard time because we had no place to put our dogs. We had our dogs, like, for a couple weeks way up down there at the city dump when we first came to Fairbanks because we had no -- we didn't know anybody or anything. And then after that, we moved to Graehl, then we had our dogs up on the bank, which there was nothing, no Hamilton Acres, nothing, just -- Graehl was just -- just really an extension of Fairbanks, you know, thepoorer section. But I loved it. And we had our dogs up on the bank. And then after that, we got rid of our dogs because Graehl was growing, and then we moved out to seven and a half mile there, and then we started up another batch for the kids, so my kids can be -- have junior dogs. And then we moved back to Fairbanks into town again, and we weren't supposed to, but we had about seven or eight dogs, and we kept them right in our yard, where I'm still living now and I still have dogs in my yard. But I -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Let me -- let me ask you a question to back up again. Why did you move to Fairbanks in the first time? Was that '49, you said? EFFIE KOKRINE: 1949 we moved to Fairbanks because we just could not make a living in trapping. The trapping was no good, and the fishing, you just couldn't make it on fishing anymore. And my husband came up two years before that and worked in Fairbanks during the summer, and he joined the Carpenters Union. So Ladd Field was just building up, so there was a living to be made. And then our schooling situation in Tanana was just a small little school, so for the future of our kids, if they wanted to go to high school or anything, then we just moved up to Fairbanks for the -- for the work and the schooling, and I've never left. Oh, I've left just for visit and stuff, but Fairbanks is my home now. And I don't know. And Graehl, Graehl is my home. So my kids all grew up here, and this is their home, and that's the only life they know. They don't know the life of hunting and trapping and stuff that I grew up with, that I accept -- we accept as our everyday life, like we haul water and cut wood. And we used to go out and trap snares -- I mean, set snares and stuff any time. Here in Fairbanks, you don't do that. You live off the store, which spoils the kids. You turn on hot water, you turn on water, well, the kids don't get out and haul water or pack ice. The kids are not working to be important in the home anymore because all they do is touch buttons. BILL SCHNEIDER: Over the years, what's your favorite dog, then? EFFIE KOKRINE: My favorite dog. Well, there's -- in every litter, every year, you have a -- one, you know, I mean, the dogs are important, but one time we were -- my husband was freighting gas -- oil down to Galena during the -- you know, during about 19 -- early '40s, and George Jimmie, he was a known dog musher in those days, they had a dog on a beach with a litter of pups. And my little boy went over there and he was just, "Oh, I want a puppy." You know. And so when we were leaving there, after we lunched at that camp, he said, "Take one of the females." So we picked the little dog named -- I mean, little female. And that's the one that grew up in the house, and she -- she just grew up with the kids. And when I started driving her, she's ended up my leader. And even when she was an adult, she used to come in the house. And when she had pups, I put her in the lead and run her six pups behind her. And so she became, you know, very important to me because she was my leader, and she was the one that, you know, during the race and I had trouble with the other, she would lay down until I say all right. And then after we moved to Fairbanks here, she finally had to be put away. SUE WILL: What was her name? EFFIE KOKRINE: Her name was Jip (phonetic). She had an Indian name. SUE WILL: What does her Indian name mean? EFFIE KOKRINE: Her Indian name meant a girl, Sołt'aanh is a girl. Sołt'aanh is a girl. And so we cut it down to Doldah (phonetic) because my little girl at that time couldn't say Sołt'aanh. She kept calling her Doldah. So they grew up together like, you know, as Doldah. So, she was Doldah. SUE WILL: How do you pick names for your dogs? EFFIE KOKRINE: How do you pick names for the kid? SUE WILL: I don't know. EFFIE KOKRINE: You just look at them -- you look at them and the name just comes to you. I mean, you know, okay, this is spot, he's got a spot. This is gray, he's sort of gray, or red or -- SUE WILL: I always ask that question because everybody does -- a lot of people do it differently. EFFIE KOKRINE: Yeah. And if you have a dozen, I suppose you could say 1, 2, 3, 4, or something like that, you know. A lot of people name dogs after -- you know, somebody else. Like Jean Briar (phonetic), in New Hampshire, she had a dog named Effie. Yeah. And she had a dog named George. SUE WILL: I know a lot of George's. Right now there's a lot of Roxies around, too. EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh hum. And it all depends on the person, you know, what kind of names you like for yours. But I always like to have a simple name. Like right now my son has a dog named Chief. Chief is a very poor name for a leader, a dog, because if you're going around the bend and you're meeting somebody and you say Chief, how do you know you're saying Chief or gee? And the dog can get confused. So you always have to keep that in mind when you're naming the dog that it's not going to be a name that's going to throw the dog. But then, of course -- I didn't tell my son this, though. But then my husband told me that before, he had -- he learned the hard way. He had a dog named Chief in the lead, and one time he hollered Chief, or something, and the dog jumped gee. And maybe he shouldn't have done that, you know. So it's -- and when you're passing a team, I always call my leader. And I talk to the leader, like when you're passing the team or in a bad place, you're talking to your leader. All right, like, Chick. I had a dog named Chicken. Okay, Chicken. Okay, Chicken. Okay, you know. Okay. Chick, Chick, Chick, you know. Then she knows she's building confidence from me, from my voice. She's doing right. SUE WILL: So you're talking them all the way by when you're going past the moose or whatever the situation is? EFFIE KOKRINE: Yeah. Yeah. All right. All right. You know, like you're passing a moose. You know, just, all right all right. And come on, Chick, just go. And that's another dog that I had that I really liked. And that was my own dog that was given to me in Tanana. And she made a lot of chicken tracks for me. SUE WILL: Did you ever have any bad encounters with moose or anything? EFFIE KOKRINE: Not me myself, no. Huh uh. SUE WILL: You lucked out. EFFIE KOKRINE: Yeah. But one of the dogs that we gave away later on did. Got kicked in the stomach with one. But I don't want to, either. I've passed a lot of moose, I've seen a lot of moose on the trails, but I've never been close to one. The only time was when I was junior -- or race -- race marshal for the juniors, I ran into a couple on the road, but I just hollered and clapped my hands and then everything, you know, they say please. But she just walked, two of them, they just walked off the road because the juniors are coming, you know, and I wanted them off the trail. But I've been lucky, very lucky. BILL SCHNEIDER: Doris, what have we forgotten? DORIS SOUTHALL: I think that we've covered everything very well. I've been very interested. I've never heard a dog musher talk before. SUE WILL: Dog mushers can talk nonstop. EFFIE KOKRINE: Oh, there's so much to -- you know, you're using your dogs to -- there's so much you have to understand about them and they have to understand about you. But the best of all, I think, is having your -- your dog trust you. You have to have your dog trust you and not be afraid of you. Because if he's afraid of you, in emergency he might move -- make the wrong move. He's got to depend on you for his -- he's our strength and you're their brains, really, except we're working through them. A companionship. SUE WILL: George Attla has made a comment that the dogs never do wrong, only the musher does wrong. Like you were saying about you're the brains. EFFIE KOKRINE: Uh hum. And they know danger, and they know when they are doing wrong. And you have to correct them like a kid, you know. Then a lot of dogs will try to get away with something. They'll -- they'll try to get away with things that they know they shouldn't, then you have to correct them and let them know that you're the boss then. SUE WILL: So when you discipline your dogs do you use your voice or shake them up or -- EFFIE KOKRINE: Use your voice, and if you have to, you go to slap them. You can slap them, and you can hit them on the rump or anything, you know. And let them know that you mean business. And you could even hit them. Not beat them up, but you can hit them. Let them know that you are the boss. And then if you have one that snaps or, you know, wants to cause trouble, you don't want him. That's a dog that you get rid of. SUE WILL: When you train your leaders, do you put them with older leaders to train them or do you train them separately? EFFIE KOKRINE: Well, if you have an older leader to go ahead, that's when he comes in the swing until you can trust him to go up to double lead. And then after you're running double lead, then you can put the other one back and let them go ahead. Whatever. There's a lot of different ways you can train a leader. And if you just have a couple dogs, you automatically hook them up, and the one that works the best ahead is the one that stays ahead. It's the dogs themselves, they will show you what they could do after you give them an honors in running. You can tell a good dog that's going to be obedient and hard working and not fool around. You can have a dog that want to pee against every little stick. Well, he's not to be up there. Because he's setting example for the ones behind all the time. SUE WILL: With your pups, did you run them loose when they were young when you lived out in the Bush? EFFIE KOKRINE: If you had to. If you had to. Like if you was hauling wood or something and you had pups in the yard, they can run behind you, or like not when you're trapping. Because there's traps all over the roads, you know. And if you're going to -- like I say, you live out of town, you have to go to town for your supplies, you have to go in, then if you have pups, they automatically run loose. And if you want to just drive dogs, you have pups, you can let them run loose, but not in town you can't do that; but living out in the country, you did. And the dogs understand what you're doing. You go out there and start working on the sled and things, and they know it's time to go, and then the other dogs see it. And if you have one dog that's sort of lazy and doesn't want to -- want to be a worker, you leave him home. If you don't want to get rid of him -- of course, he's grown now, you've got two years of food in him, and you want him to -- and he's, you know, a goof and don't want to, you leave him home two or three times and take the other dogs. And then when he gets in the harness he's going to want to go. Because the jealousy of being -- you know, he's being left behind. Okay. He wants to go, he's got to behave himself. I never keep a mean dog in the team. He's not worth it. BILL SCHNEIDER: What would you give as advice for the mushers today based on your experience? EFFIE KOKRINE: Goodness. Everybody has got their own technique. They all know more than I do. But to give advice, there's no way you can give advice unless someone asks you, you know, just what the advice is. Because I don't know, everybody is different, everybody's dogs are different, they act different, they train them different, they handle them different. Just -- I just don't know. I can't say. Uh hum. BILL SCHNEIDER: Sue, do you want to add anything else? SUE WILL: I think that you've given me a lot of good advice that I can use. Just in -- (Indiscernible.) EFFIE KOKRINE: But then, like I say, everybody has their own way, and their dogs are used to the way they are being handled and the way they're disciplined. SUE WILL: I think mush -- a lot of mushers starting out, though, you know, what -- the kinds of things you're talking about and saying in terms of the dog has to have faith in you and that sort of thing, are the types of advice that they don't really know. And you've got years of experience of handling the -- EFFIE KOKRINE: And they know your voice when you're happy and they could tell by your voice when you mean business, you know, and so they understand quite a bit. BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, thanks for taking the time to come out here, and I think it's been a good interview and we've learned quite a bit. EFFIE KOKRINE: My poor brain.
Kathy Lenniger was interviewed on June 8, 2011 by William Schneider and Marla Statscewich at Kathy's home in Fairbanks, Alaska. Kathy owns
Sled Dog Adventures, where she leads guided sled dog trips into Alaska's wilderness. In this interview, Kathy talks about how she got involved with dog mushing, caring for a dog team, operating a sled dog tour business, types of clients on her trips, pros and cons of tourism, preparing clients for trips, and her love of dog mushing and Alaska's wilderness. Image Gallery
Click to section:
Coming to Alaska
Getting involved with dog mushing
Her first wilderness trip with dogs
Gettiing into dog team tourism
Living in a cabin in Nenana and traveling in the Wrangell Mountains
Fixing up the Tolovana Roadhouse to use for dog sled tours
Advertising their new dog sled tour business
The tour operation at Tolovana Roadhouse
Breaking trail for the client trips
A difficult guest
Running a dog sled tour to Lake Minchumina
Hiring other mushers to help with her current sled dog tour operation
Short tour trips near Fairbanks
Challenges clients face
The rewards of working with people
Food on the trips
Difficulties with clients
Equipment provided to clients
Insurance required for a guiding business
Tolovana Trail from Nenana to Old Minto
Status of Tolovana Lodge
Summer work with horses
Future outlook for dog sled tourism
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. Today is June 8th, 2011. I'm Bill Schneider, and Marla Statscewich is here, too, and we have the pleasure of doing an interview today with Kathy Lenniger. And we're at her home out here in the Goldstream Valley. And so I appreciate you taking the time to do this. KATHY LENNIGER: Oh. You're most welcome. BILL SCHNEIDER: And maybe we'll start a little bit by tell me about your background, where you grew up, and who your folks were, and so on. KATHY LENNIGER: Okay. I was born in New York City, and I lived there until I was probably about 8. And the one thing I remember is that I was attracted to -- to, in the summertime, pieces of grass, and you didn't see much of it. And I remember everything was gray, and then there'd be little blocks of grass and maybe a tree, and I just always had to sit there or be a part of that grass. My parents moved to Connecticut and I -- and I loved it. I grew up in a very beautiful place in the hills of Connecticut. I wasn't allowed to have animals because my father's father had raised Cocker Spaniels, and he had to take care of them when he was a kid, and so I was -- he didn't want any dogs in the house. So I finally got one when I was about 12. But I always wanted a horse. I wanted -- I always wanted to be surrounded by lots of animals, and it was not going to happen in suburban Connecticut. So I eventually moved out after going to college in New Jersey. I had majored in psychology, and I had the opportunity to work in a state mental institution for a few months, and that's when I realized I had majored in the wrong subject. So I ended up -- I worked for a year there, and then I had an opportunity to come out West. And I -- actually, I hitchhiked across Canada and spent three months going across into all the national parks, camping out. I had never done that before. So I -- I loved it. I absolutely loved it. And then when I came to the Rocky Mountains, I was in such awe, and I knew I could never go back to the East Coast, ever, and I haven't. So I ended up living in Seattle for a few years and waitressing. I couldn't think of any other way to make a living. And one day somebody came into the restaurant with a backpack and they sat in my section. So I asked where they were from, and they said, "Well, Alaska." And I said, "Well, I've always wanted to go there." But the Alaska in my mind was a place where people wore red flannel shirts and lived in cabins and everybody was healthy because they were splitting wood all day, and they were, you know, singing with the wolves in the evening. I was -- it was very unrealistic. Well, to make a long story short, he ended up offering me his cabin in a place called Nenana for a year. He was going to the East Coast to see his father. And he said, "I'll rent you a little cabin in a place called Nenana" -- this was in 1975 -- "for a year." And he said, "The rent is $35 a month, and there is wood heat, no running water." I mean, I didn't know anything about that kind of a life. So I just thought, now, that's different. That's going to teach me something. But I didn't think I'd last that long because I really didn't like cold weather. So I came up here in March of 1975 and I ended up going to this cabin and I ended up absolutely loving it. For the first time in my life I didn't wonder what life was all about. I knew I had to walk into the woods, cut down trees, drag them home, saw -- you know, saw them up, split them, haul water. I mean, my days were so full. And I lived with a Athabascan family across the way, and I -- they took me in. I learned how to, you know, tan hides. I learned how to -- I learned how to do everything. You know, I didn't -- I had no idea people lived like this. So I absolutely loved it. And it was then that next winter I saw -- I was in my cabin and I saw a dog team go by. I had never seen anything like that. I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. And so it went by my cabin, and pretty soon somebody asked me if I wanted to go for a ride. And I said, "You bet." So I went for a ride, and then they let me stand on the runners. It was a gal named Barbara Carson, and she -- we had an eight dog team. And when I stood on the runners and she sat in the basket, like, my whole life changed. And I thought, this is so exciting. And then pretty soon one of the teachers in town who had a lot of dogs and didn't have time to run them he -- he said, "Hey, would you like to run my dogs?" And I said, "Well, sure, but I really don't know anything." He said, "That's okay, you'll figure it out." So I had a lot of trial and error, and a lot of error, but I absolutely loved it. It was fascinating to me. So anyway, that sort of began everything. And by 1980, I had gotten involved with somebody who had sled dogs, and we headed off into the Wrangell Mountains, and that's where I really learned how to be a dog driver. You know, it was wild, it was crazy, it was -- we didn't -- I remember we didn't have a normal sled, we had to use a snow machine sled, a metal one, and so there was no brake. And this was before anybody had thought of using snow machine tracks, so all I had were my feet. And, you know, up and down mountains. I remember going through creeks with these dogs chasing herds of caribou, you know, and I had no way to stop. And anyway, it was very exciting. You know, I loved it. Absolutely loved it. So myself and this person parted company, and he took the males and I took the females. And so, you know, through that, I had to -- I learned how to fish because that's how I fed them. So then I had to buy a boat and motor, and that's sitting out in my yard right now, my original boat. And so I bought nets and went out into the river, and I -- they taught me how to fish. So -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Was this back in Nenana? KATHY LENNIGER: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I spent 26 years there. I mean, I loved it. I just -- I -- I had a life. So I drove dogs since 1980, all winter, every winter. And then when I met Doug Bowers, he wanted to renovate the -- which we didn't know it was the Tolovana Roadhouse at the time, he wanted to work to start a sled dog tour business. And in 1982 I had gone to Jackson, Wyoming, with my friend to set up a sled dog tour business, and I didn't think I'd like it because I didn't want to be around a lot of people and I just couldn't imagine anything worse than that. But I -- I went along, and I loved it. I met so many neat, wonderful people. And one day somebody said to me, "You are so lucky to get paid to do what you love." And, like, that had really been an unusual thing. I had a painting business, I had -- you know, I did a lot of different things for money, but I drove dogs for fun. So all of a sudden I thought, wow, you know, I think, boy, I'd like to be a guide. And so it was three years later I met Doug. And this sled dog tour business was a -- it was being started by one of the Weyerhaeuser heirs, so there was a lot of money involved. We outfitted the clients, we drove -- I drove a ten dog team with a big basket sled and we took people up -- you know, in -- Jackson, Wyoming, it's a beautiful place. We took them up into the mountains. And we had one guide come along and he had nothing -- he carried the lunch, and he would whip out a linen tablecloth, roast beef, salad, champagne, you know, that's -- that's how we fed them. It was very cool. anyway, I really loved it. And so I didn't know how to do it on my -- I couldn't figure out how to start it on my own. And when I met Doug, it was perfect, because that's what he wanted to do but he had no experience. And I said, "Well, I've got experience," so that's how we started the whole thing with Tolovana. In a nutshell. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. That's good. Maybe a couple details we'll back up on. Whose cabin was that in Nenana where you stayed? KATHY LENNIGER: Whose cabin? BILL SCHNEIDER: When you first went to Nenana, yeah. KATHY LENNIGER: You want his name? BILL SCHNEIDER: If -- if that's okay. KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah. His name is Matt. BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. KATHY LENNIGER: And he still lives there. And it's -- and, you know, he came back and he lives there. He still lives in that same cabin. And it's funny because I -- I very rarely see him, but if I do, I say hello, but I thought, he changed my life. You know how that is, you know, people change the whole course of your life. And it wasn't about them, it was them putting you on another course. So I'm forever grateful that he came into the restaurant that day after getting off the ferry and was heading off to New Hampshire and he sat in my section. Whoever would have thought. BILL SCHNEIDER: That's amazing. And there was an Athabascan family that lived next door? KATHY LENNIGER: Yes. Uh hum. Uh hum. Yeah. Yep. There was a gal who was married to -- well, he became the mayor at one time, and then her mom who has now passed on, she was one of the elders, Ma Diner -- Dinah,and she lived right across the street in a little cabin with one of her kids and several of her grandkids in a little one room cabin. So -- BILL SCHNEIDER: And where in the Wrangells did you go? KATHY LENNIGER: Ptarmigan Lake. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh huh. Wow, that's great.
KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. So we've got you to this discovery of this Tolovana Roadhouse. KATHY LENNIGER: Right. Doug was the one -- I had -- actually, I went -- in 1976, I canoed from Nenana to Manley with somebody I met, and we stopped there. And, you know, I don't -- I'll never forget stopping there because it was such a huge place, and we camped right there. And I walked all around and I thought, what is the story of this place? Three, four years -- three years later, I had a friend visit me. And we canoed down the river and we stopped there. Same scenario, you know, we were going to Manley. And she said, "You know, this would make a really cool lodge." You know, I'll never forget that. And I remember thinking, yeah, I guess it would. Well, whoever would have thought that 5 years later I would be involved, that would be the course of my life for the next 12 years was renovating Tolovana. So... BILL SCHNEIDER: And that was a big job. KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah. Yeah. It was very big because then Doug and I, we had children at the time, and then that -- so I -- I couldn't really help with the physical part of it. You know, I would -- I would decorate and things like that, but Doug had to do all the heavy work because I had a baby. And then I had another one six years later. So, you know, he was gone a lot working on it. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. And did you have clients at that point? KATHY LENNIGER: We started in 1985 with dog mushing clients. We did. He had -- there was a roof over part -- well, he had -- the first thing he did was put a roof on it, so it was structurally okay to take guests. So we -- that's when we started. And at that time, you know, I don't think -- was there an Internet at that time? I don't think so. So we did -- we had ads in, I remember, Outside Magazine. You know, it was very expensive, so we could only afford to have an ad here and there, but we got some guests. Then they told their friends, and then pretty soon -- we got our most business from an article, I have it in my books over there, Alaska Airlines Magazine, we'd taken out a travel writer, and we had a big write up in September, and we were totally booked by the end of September. So that was well worth while taking out. His name was Mike Steer. And it was -- I have the years over there, but he wrote a big article about Tolovana. And then we also were in the News Miner. There was a writer from New York City, I forget her name, but she went out on a trip. And -- and then we've had a German writer, too, he wrote about us, so you know, through the years. BILL SCHNEIDER: Who was your first guest? KATHY LENNIGER: It was this couple, I can't remember their names, but they were -- they were great. And I made parkas, you know, we bought sleeping bags, we -- you know, we did -- you know, I mean, I made bread, I did every -- all the food had to be just perfect, you know, so nothing -- I made everything. So -- but they were a wonderful couple, and I think they were from Iowa. BILL SCHNEIDER: Explain to us how all that worked. You were out there at Tolovana Roadhouse without, really, communication, right? KATHY LENNIGER: Well, you know, we have the house in Nenana. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, so you were --
KATHY LENNIGER: So -- right on the trail system. So everything revolved around the house in Nenana, my cabin, when I -- before I met Doug. And then Tolovana was 55 miles down the trail. And so, no, we didn't have communication because that was before cell phones. We did decide to have homing pigeons, and that was -- because then Doug could take homing pigeons out there because they were -- they -- they home back to where they're born. So they were born in Nenana. So he could take a homing -- homing pigeons, and he had to take at least two because a hawk could pick them off. In fact, the hawks ended up picking off all but one through the years, so -- but -- and we tried that for communication; but other than that, you know, you didn't have any communication. BILL SCHNEIDER: But how did it work if someone would write to you and say they wanted to come? KATHY LENNIGER: Oh, because we -- letters and the telephone because everything centered around Nenana. BILL SCHNEIDER: And they would arrive in Nenana? KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah. They'd arrive in Fairbanks, we'd go pick them up. I'd pick them up. We'd do a training run, and then off they would go. And by then I had a baby. By 1986 my son was born, so I was not going anywhere. I did day rides in Nenana, and then Doug would take people off on five day trips to -- two days to get to the roadhouse, two days there, and then one day coming back. BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow. KATHY LENNIGER: 55 miles. BILL SCHNEIDER: And so where would they camp? Halfway? KATHY LENNIGER: We put a camp in right around Old Minto. A wall tent camp with a wood stove. BILL SCHNEIDER: And then he would have all the food out there that you had prepared? KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah, I would. He would take it all out with him. BILL SCHNEIDER: And how many dogs would these clients run? KATHY LENNIGER: They ran anywhere from five to six. Sometimes if we had a very small, small person, they might take out four. But our sleds were loaded. You know, we didn't use snow machine support, it was a regular expedition, so they had to have a loaded sled. So they needed at least four dogs, but normally six dogs. Yeah. And occasionally eight. If it was longer trips, then it would be an eight dog team. BILL SCHNEIDER: What about breaking trail? KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah, Doug did -- Doug did a lot of work breaking trail. Remember in '90 and '91 when we had, like, 16 feet of snow? That was hard. And I know, you know, it was so deep that the snow machine would get stuck. You know, I'd feel bad for him. I mean, it was hard, hard work. Really hard work. BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow. KATHY LENNIGER: And 55 miles is a long way. And then if the wind blew, you know, through those open areas, if the wind blew, then you had two or three feet of snow, then you easily could have -- you know, but we had good leaders. And those leaders, you know, they knew, getting to Tolovana, they were -- they had a place to sleep and they were fed, and then coming back home, they'd go through anything, you know. They'd break trail. I've -- I've had some incredible leaders through the years that have broken trail where I couldn't see it at all. I didn't know where it was, but they knew exactly where it was because they -- you know, they wanted to get home. BILL SCHNEIDER: And you mentioned that they would come back in the 55 miles in a day? KATHY LENNIGER: Yep. You know, the dogs can do that in about -- you know, on a good day they can do that in four to five hours, easy. You know, they're -- they're -- you know, they move. And we'd stop around Old Minto, you know, with them. So -- and as the kids got older, as Lucas got older, then I -- I could go on some of the trips, too, when he got to be, like, five years old and then when he was six. And then Maya was born and then I was back at home. BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, what happened after that? You stayed in the touring business -- KATHY LENNIGER: I did. BILL SCHNEIDER: -- after Tolovana. KATHY LENNIGER: Doug got -- you know, it was, I think, a little bit overwhelming to him. And all of our -- most of our guests have been absolutely wonderful, except he had one woman who, unbeknownst to us, thought that she was going to be losing weight on this trip, so she didn't want to eat, and the temperature dropped to 45 below. And she didn't want to eat. And they were -- they were going on a two week trip to Tanana and back. And it was more than -- he tried to talk her out of it, but she was persistent and she insisted that's what she wanted to do. She was in her mid fifties. And he told me that the first night on the trail, you know, they were camping before they got to Tolovana, and you know, 45 below is cold. And she pulled out a bag of makeup, like nail polish and lipstick and stuff, and she was rather upset that it was frozen. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, jeez. KATHY LENNIGER: And he was a little surprised that she had it on this trip. So that -- yeah, after that, he just said, "I just can't do this anymore." But that was only one out of many, many, many great people, but I think it was all the trail, putting in all that trail. That is a lot of work. A lot of work. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, absolutely. KATHY LENNIGER: Especially between Old Minto and Tolovana. You know, there -- he was the only one putting it in; nobody else was putting it in. BILL SCHNEIDER: And as you say, lots of open spots. KATHY LENNIGER: Yes. Yeah, yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: So you continued, though, with -- KATHY LENNIGER: Uh hum. Uh hum. BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell us about that. KATHY LENNIGER: Well, in 1997, my daughter was five, and we had guests coming from Holland, and they wanted to go out to Lake Minchumina. And we had never been out there by dogs, and so by then, I had been home for a long time, for, like, 12 years. I did day rides at the house, but I hadn't done any overnight trips, and so I said I wanted to do this trip to Lake Minchumina. I don't know what I was thinking because I took three men, 24 dogs, and no guide, nobody to help me. And I lost 15 pounds in five days from working. I mean, I couldn't even eat. I worked -- this is -- I worked so hard that I wasn't hungry. And so I really got an idea of when -- you know, when dogs really work hard, sometimes they won't eat. I totally understand that now. And it was fine. You know, it's not like I was going to fade away or anything, but I really worked hard. And then we had hired somebody to put a trail in, because there was no trail. Only in parts of it. And he had put the trail in two days before, but I had to make sure I found that trail. If it snowed or the wind blew, the dogs didn't know the trail. I might not find the trail, and of course, I couldn't let them know that. But -- so it was a -- it was huge, you know, that -- but it turned out, everything went okay. And I know somebody said, "Well, you know, just look for Denali." You know, I go, "Well, if it's overcast and snowing, I'm not going to know where Denali is." And this is before GPS's or anything like that. So anyway, I made it and we had a great time, and that's when I thought, well, I want to continue doing this. So Doug and I parted company that year, and I kept the dogs because, you know, they're -- they're my canine family. We raised all of them. So -- and that's what I did. I just continued doing it. And I hired other people to help me, and I still do today. I -- I only have 18 dogs now, 18 sled dogs, that's plenty. So I have a lot of friends that are awesome dog mushers, and I hire them to help me and I pay them well. So it works out well for both of us. BILL SCHNEIDER: How does that -- how does that work? Yeah. Give us an example of how that might work. KATHY LENNIGER: You mean on a trip?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. KATHY LENNIGER: I have one gal that's been working for me for 10 years, her name is Dee Dee, and she fishes in the summer out of Valdez. So she comes up here in sometimes December with all of her dogs, she has about 18 dogs, and you know, whenever I get rides, she comes along and helps me. We do multi day trips together. We just went into the Wrangells this early April for, like, the first time we went into -- off the Nabesna Road to a place called Copper Lake. We started out from the Sportsman's Paradise Lodge. Unbelievably beautiful country. And we had two guys, one from South Africa and one from Australia, they had grown up together. And we had the best time. It was so beautiful. And we got out to Copper Lake and we had a cabin there, which was very exciting. And we did a day trip that following day, and then we came back in on the third day. So it was so much fun. And, you know, I totally trust Dee Dee, she's very competent. And I pay her very well because she trains her dogs, she feeds them, she provides, you know, equipment if I -- if I need it, you know. And so it's a great working relationship. And I have other people that I work with, as well. Sometimes I'll get a group of six or eight, and I have a three hour tour that I really love doing, and I go out to the Flats, and so I need other people to help me. I'll take two people, but I like to drive 10 to 12 dogs and take a second sled behind me, and then we just go way out there. BILL SCHNEIDER: Where do you go out on the Flats? KATHY LENNIGER: I don't know the name of it. I just go off of Chena Pump Campground, across the river, and there's a trail. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh. KATHY LENNIGER: And you just go way out there. There's one big lake that I go to, and we do about 25, almost 30 miles on those three hour tours. You know, we can cover a lot of -- a lot of country. And, you know, there's always wolf tracks, you know, moose tracks, sometimes lynx. You know, it's so close to Fairbanks but it's wild. You know, I love it. In fact, last winter there was an unfortunate moose accident that must have happened maybe in November. A moose went through the ice. And, you know, the lake is -- it's shallow in -- in a lot of parts of it. He couldn't get out. And so he died in that lake, and just the top of his head was visible. And, you know, the predators would come and had eaten away parts of him, but there was just this head. So it was kind of right in the trail, and we would drive the dog team over it, and it's not things that people see every day. BILL SCHNEIDER: How about other trails you take? KATHY LENNIGER: I go into the White Mountains a lot. I go to my old trails outside of Nenana, the Old Mail Trail. But my favorite is off of Chena Pump Campground, I do a lot of rides off of that because I love being out on that river. And there's a lot of diversity there and you can go to so many different places. So I do half hour rides, one hour rides there, and then a mushing school, and then two and three hour rides, as well. And more. You know, I'm willing to do different things if people want. BILL SCHNEIDER: Let's stop for a second. (Recording paused.) BILL SCHNEIDER: So tell us about some of the -- your favorite clients. KATHY LENNIGER: Gosh, you know, there've been so many through the years. One of the early clients that I remember, who I really liked, was a fellow from England, and he used to shoe the Queen's horses. And at that time, I had a horse that had a foot problem, and he showed me exactly how to -- how to fix it, and he was great. He came back for two trips. And just -- just lots of fun. You know, tourism is wonderful because people are on vacation and they're in a good mood. And so, you know, you just want to keep all that going, you know. And with dog mushing and when they come for multi day trips, you know, it's challenging for a lot of people. They -- it's not like going off somewhere horseback riding where even if you've never done it, you have an idea of what it's all about. People have no idea what this is about, for the most part. I think a lot of people think -- they're surprised the dogs are so small. They think the dogs are going to be gigantic, like a hundred pounds, and just waddle down the trail. And they're shocked to see how fast they are and how powerful they are. So that's always an eye opener for a lot of people. And having to have quick reflexes, too. You know, because they can -- you know, they won't stop and wait for you. You know, they'll run off if they can, just because they -- they want to run, they're trained to run. You know, we don't really train them -- they can't back up, that's for sure. So the people are -- people who are athletic have an easier time, because they have a body language, and so riding the sled is a lot, lot easier for them. And people that have maybe sat in an office most of their life and not really done anything physical, it's harder for them, for sure. But in all the years I've done this, I have -- I've had -- everybody says it's like the best thing that they've ever done in their life, which really makes me want to cry that I've been able to provide that for people. It's really beautiful. I love sharing what these dogs can do, and then up -- you know, up in Alaska, how beautiful the country is. But they have a -- a new respect for what it takes to drive a team of dogs. It's one thing if you're on a straightaway, but then when you start making corners, you're going up and down hills, and then it's totally different. So, you know, there's -- I remember one gal who came and did a five day trip from Lake Minchumina. And in fact, she had a very hard time physically, and she actually had to ride in the basket with my guide. And I hooked up her team to my sled and drove 11 dogs back from -- on a five day trip to Nenana from Lake Minchumina. And I thought she'd be upset, and that, you know, she was going to have, you know, a really bad time. And anyway, when she got back to where she was from, she wrote to me and said that it had changed her life. And that in her little hometown she was considered like a hero for going on a five day trip across Alaska. And she wanted to come back and try it again, but this time she was determined to stay on the runners. And she did. She came back a few years later, we went into the White Mountains for three days, we made a camp, and she drove a five dog team up and down those hills, and I was really proud of her. So that, you know, makes me feel great that she was able to -- to -- to see life differently, or to see herself differently by coming up here and doing that. So... BILL SCHNEIDER: So it was kind of that sense of achievement KATHY LENNIGER: Right. BILL SCHNEIDER: -- that she felt. KATHY LENNIGER: Trying something brand new. You know. And I've been doing this for so long. I remember going sea kayaking with my daughter a couple years ago, and I was a little nervous. I thought, I've never been sea kayaking, what if this happens and that happens, and actually, I did just fine; but I could appreciate doing something totally different and, you know, wondering how you're going to do. BILL SCHNEIDER: Any other memorable positive experiences? KATHY LENNIGER: Lots of -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Those are great ones you mentioned. KATHY LENNIGER: They are. You know, I have people that, you know, we're lifelong friends, so we e-mail each other, we're on Facebook together, people that have been back several times. I had one guy from California, he did three trips with me, we just had -- we had a blast. You know, and they were -- by the third time they know what they're doing, and so I can take them different places and, you know, we just have an enjoyable time. You know, like my job is to make sure people have a good time, so you know, I can do that. BILL SCHNEIDER: What do you feed them? KATHY LENNIGER: The dogs? On a trip? BILL SCHNEIDER: No, the people. KATHY LENNIGER: Oh, the people. I -- I spend a lot of time making really good food because that's -- you know, when you're outside. I will accommodate any diet, vegan, vegetarian, I serve a lot of seafood. I'll make Thai food, I -- you know, whatever. I like to vary it so my guide doesn't get bored with my cooking, but, you know, we have really good food. BILL SCHNEIDER: And you do all the cooking? KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell us a little bit about the worst client. We heard about Doug's worst client. KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah, Doug's worst client. You know -- you know, the only time I -- I can think of somebody, and I really loved her, she was great, but we were -- we were out in -- we were heading to Chena -- Tolovana Hot Springs, and we went off the -- up from the Murphy Dome, and it was deep snow. And I remember we made camp and we had just gotten into our sleeping bags, and she said to me -- I was so tired, you know, and she said to me, "I just had a case of diarrhea." And all I could think of, was -- I didn't know what to do. You know, it's like, "Well, you know, there's some paper towels over there." I mean, I didn't know what to do, so she had to deal with that. BILL SCHNEIDER: And when you got her cleaned up and -- KATHY LENNIGER: Well, she did it. Yeah. Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: But if it was cold, that could be a problem -- KATHY LENNIGER: It was.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- sleeping in a sleeping bag. KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah, I know. She -- it was okay. She managed with a bunch of paper towels, but that was -- and then I had a family out. They were great, but their 18 year old son did not -- when you do multi day trips, and a lot of people have never used the Great Outdoors as a bathroom, you know, there's no Porta Potties out there. And so that's surprising to some people, they have a hard time with that, but you know, I -- I don't know what to say except that you just have to learn how to do it. BILL SCHNEIDER: How do you prepare people for trips? Like someone writes to you and says, I want to do this trip, how much preparation do you give them for what they'll be facing? KATHY LENNIGER: Quite a bit. I send them a book on dog mushing. I send them written instructions on how to drive dogs. I, you know, prepare them as to what they might see. You know, because I do -- I also work with kids, I do a lot of substitute teaching, I'm familiar with different learning styles, you know, auditory, kinesthetic, visual. So I try to prepare people in every aspect, and then when they come here, they have a two hour mushing school, and that's when we go over everything. Physically, they come out with me and they're sitting in the basket; and then coming back, I sit in the basket and they're driving the dogs, and that way they are attached to -- you know, we're attached and I can explain to them, you know, like you want to brake here, or move your weight over to the side here, or brake when you go down a hill. Things like that. Because I'm real particular about the dogs, too. I don't want anybody hurting them, I don't want their shoulders being jerked on, or anything like that, so it's important that everybody knows, you know, how to do it for their sake and for the dogs's sake. BILL SCHNEIDER: And what about preparing them for, say, a camping trip? Do you tell them what they maybe need in the way of -- KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah, they get a gear list, and I go over everything before we go out, and make sure they have everything, and then I have everything myself. I like people to participate in the trips. You know, we have to go out, we have to saw wood for a campfire, make a -- you know, we have to make beds for the dogs. You know, depending on where we're going, if there's a lot of snow, we've got to be -- you know, we have to tromp around in the snow and flatten things out. I bring snowshoes. Occasionally people might want to go snowshoeing, you know, after dinner or something like that. So... BILL SCHNEIDER: What do you generally find in terms of their participation in those activities? KATHY LENNIGER: Oh, most people are pretty happy to do it. BILL SCHNEIDER: Really? KATHY LENNIGER: Oh, yeah. Yeah. You know, they -- most people come up here to do something that is total -- is totally different, they've never done before, so they want to be a part of everything. You know, and they usually, they love dogs; otherwise, they'd be going on snow machine trips. So they want to know -- they want -- you know, they have their own team, they want -- they want to feed their dogs, they -- you know, they hook them up. I -- I take photos of them on the way -- all along the way, and then I make a certificate of them. A certificate of accomplishment that they get. And I write down their dogs's names so they can remember their dogs because, you know, they're -- they're pretty amazing, these animals, so that's why we're out there. BILL SCHNEIDER: Just a little bit about the kennel here. What does it take to run your kennel and to do a tour business? KATHY LENNIGER: Well, I have a lot of stuff. I have a lot of sleds. I don't know how many I have, maybe six. I have a lot of gear. I have probably 60 harnesses, I have ice hooks and every kind of camping thing, stakeout chains, you know, dog dishes. I make coats for them in case it's cold out on the trail, so they can sleep in coats. I just have a lot of -- I have a lot of stuff that I've been collecting through the years. I provide all out -- arctic outerwear for my guests, so I made the parkas years ago. So I made all those. And I -- I make neck gators. I have fur hats that I make, beaver mitts. I don't -- I buy the boots. BILL SCHNEIDER: Wow. KATHY LENNIGER: So, you know, and in the summertime, I'll go around to garage sales, see people that are leaving, and I can pick up sometimes a -- You know, because I have to have a wide variety. You know, there's some big people out there and -- and some small ones. I -- and there's some big feet, too. I mean, I had one guy that had size 15 feet, but fortunately, he brought his own boots because I -- you know, I don't have anything that big. BILL SCHNEIDER: What about insurance? KATHY LENNIGER: I have insurance. In the beginning, when we started at Tolovana, we couldn't find insurance. There were very few people doing that. So we ran without insurance, we just had people sign a waiver. And then for some reason, insurance became affordable, so we could cover the whole lodge with us -- we -- boat activities in the summer for a very reasonable price. I think in the beginning we were told that only Lloyds of London would insure us for, like, $5,000, this was back in the mid '80s, and you know, we decided that -- I felt comfortable enough doing what I did, I didn't think I was -- anybody was going to be injured. Although it's funny, the insurance companies, the only thing they're worried about are people freezing to death and dog bites. You know, I've never had a dog bite. They are -- you know, they're not -- there's no reason for them to ever get a dog bite, the dogs don't bite. And nobody's going to freeze to death. You know, I mean, I'd certainly -- it's not like we're out there at a hundred below. I mean, I'm prepared for 60 below, but those are the -- we've even -- we even offered to take insurance agents out on a trip so they could see that what we do is really just fine, and they didn't want to do it. BILL SCHNEIDER: That's curious. KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah. So now I'm just -- we're all thrown into the guide business, so... I have insurance, yeah. Except for people freezing to death. They omit that. BILL SCHNEIDER: But you're able to take care of that one. KATHY LENNIGER: Yeah, I'm -- I'm pretty comfortable they won't freeze to death. I'm not going to leave them anywhere. BILL SCHNEIDER: That's great. Marla, do you have any questions? MARLA STATSCEWICH: I have a question about the Tolovana. When you were going from Nenana to Tolovana, on that trail, was that a trail that you guys -- was that an established trail at some point in time? KATHY LENNIGER: Right. It was the Old Mail Trail that went from Nenana to Old Minto. And then it had continued on, but the trail to Tolovana had -- was not well used. In fact, a lot of it had been overgrown, because people just had not gone out there because nobody was out there. MARLA STATSCEWICH: Right. KATHY LENNIGER: So Doug did a lot of brush cutting and, you know, got the trail in pretty good working order. But it followed the old telegraph line. So we did see -- you know, there were places where you could still see old telegraph line and those little glass insulators. In fact, I remember one time he found a dead bull moose that had gotten caught in the telegraph line. Whenever I could, I -- on the trail, I would, you know, cut it and get it out of the way. It's a hazard. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And then what happened to the Tolovana Lodge? KATHY LENNIGER: Well, Doug sold it. A couple of years ago there was an ice jam, and he had been living out there with his wife Becky. And it was in the springtime, and he wasn't there, he was working in Nenana, and the ice came up, like, four feet, and it -- they just lost so much of what they -- like their garden. The lodge is still there, but they had -- they just couldn't go back, so they sold it. MARLA STATSCEWICH: Okay. KATHY LENNIGER: So. Yeah. And so now it's being -- it's being used, it'll be used for dog sled trips and snow machines, as well. MARLA STATSCEWICH: And then what do you do now in the summer? KATHY LENNIGER: I work with horses. I do horseback trips, I do trail rides, and occasional pack trips. I work for the Heavy Horse Farm. MARLA STATSCEWICH: What's that? KATHY LENNIGER: Pardon?
MARLA STATSCEWICH: What's that? KATHY LENNIGER: It's a farm here in town. A friend of mine owns it, and I work with his horses. Yes, we have seven Draft Crosses. In fact, I have an all day ride on Friday. We're going to go up through the burn, the mountain -- the Moose Mountain burn, right through the middle of it. So it'll be -- that's my main trail for all day rides, so that'll be interesting. I haven't been up there. It'ill be a different landscape because it burned on both sides of that trail. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, I wonder if there's still -- we're -- what we're talking about is a forest fire that we had here, what, a week ago? KATHY LENNIGER: It was a couple weeks ago.
BILL SCHNEIDER: A couple weeks ago, and it endangered Fairbanks. KATHY LENNIGER: And here. I was ready to evacuate. I had my dog boxes put back on my truck, ready to load the dogs. My truck hooked up to my horse trailer, and -- and all my photos in the back seat of my big truck. It was that close. It was unbelievable. It was only, like, a half mile from Mary's house. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Well, maybe one more question before we -- KATHY LENNIGER: Sure.
BILL SCHNEIDER: -- we look at some pictures and all. What does the future look like for tourism and the tourist business as far as dog mushing goes? KATHY LENNIGER: You know, I think it looks -- I think it looks very good. It's not something where I don't have thousands of people come, and so I just have a few people. I only -- I only go on a couple of trips every year, so I just need a few people. And I do a lot of rides, and multi hour trips where -- and I have mushing schools where people learn to drive their own dog team. It's -- you know, every year it's been a little bit different, but there's always -- there'll always be people with money and enough people to be able to do it because it is -- it's very costly for -- for me to keep these dogs. I might charge a lot, but the price of dog food goes up every year, and I actually basically break even. That's why I do a lot of other things to make money. But I love doing it, and you know, it's a good thing to do, so that's why I continue doing it. But I also think as the world becomes more urbanized, more and more people are really seeking a connection with the earth and with animals, and working with animals that they just don't get anymore. And I think that -- so I have people from around the world that say this has been a lifelong dream, and they -- they wanted to do it. You know, the bucket list. I have a lot of people that say this is on their bucket list. And so, you know, that's the way I feel about riding elephants in Africa, that's what I want -- that's what I'd like to do some day. So, yeah, you know, I -- I keep things very small, and so my expenses are down, and so I -- every year there seems to be -- there's plenty of guests to support me and the dog mushers I hire, and you know, the few other people that do this, as well. BILL SCHNEIDER: Thanks. That's a -- that's a great spot to stop.
George O'Leary and Frank Warren - Tape #Oral History 2008-01
George O'Leary and Frank Warren were interviewed on January 11, 2008 by William Schneider at Frank and Mary Warren's home in Fairbanks, Alaska. George and Frank are brothers-in-law. George's father, Maurice O'Leary, hauled mail and freight by dog team in the winter and with horses in the summer over the Circle-Fairbanks trail. In this interview, George and Frank talk about trail routes, using dog teams and horses to freight supplies, and making the trip between Circle and Fairbanks. They also comment on a collection of family photographs related to dog mushing and the old winter trail. This recording has been edited from the original in order to facilitate the flow of the interview and conversation. George passed away a few months after this recoring in March 2008. Frank passed away in March 2012.
Click to section:
Spring mushing trip with George's father
Negotiating summits and steep slopes
Food for the dogs
Traveling with a heavy sled
Graded steep trails
Mail carrying payment
Dog teams vs. airplane mail delivery
Items the mail carriers hauled
Other mail carriers
Road from Circle to Fairbanks closed in the winter
Picture on the saddle
12 Mile Roadhouse
Maurice and Mary Alice at Eagle Summit
Yukon, Maurice's leader
Dog houses at 100 mile Fish Creek
Maurice O'Leary in warm weather
Cabin at Sourdogh Creek
Hay barn in Circle
Dog team on a frozen river - possibly McManus Creek
Heavy mail sled tipped over on it's side
Picture of Jack Bolton in front of his Do Drop Inn
Walter Roman, Maurice and Bill O'Leary and Jack Bolton
Maurice O'Leary at Fish Creek
Steep terrain for dog travel
Going up Eagle Summit on the Circle side 1939
Mary Alice on the mail run with Maurice.
Model A on the Eagle Summit
Accident at Long Creek
Bill and Maurice on the Steese Highway
Mary Alice, Maurice and William O'Leary at Faith Creek
Head of Birch or Fish Creek
Walter and Edie Roman
Map of Circle to Fairbanks trail
Birch Creek and Ferry
12 Mile House across Birch Creek Flats
Heading into Central on the trail
Central to Miller House
Miller House to Chatanika
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Ok, I wanted to have you talk a little about that trip you took with your dad [Maurice O'Leary]. GEORGE O'LEARY: It was kind of a spring time trip. Good weather end of March or April. Beautiful weather all the way. We went over the hills, stayed there at 101 mile or 100 mile that night and then back over to Miller House and -- I couldn't remember. No, we didn't have a truck that was the springtime -- and then back to Central. And I forget how we got back to Circle. I think -- yeah, my dad probably took the dogs in to Circle. When I came out to go on that trip, I rode out Walter Jewell, and his wife Ida. And it was another beautiful spring day and took us probably, what 32 miles, in about five, six hours. And it was an easy trip. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Easy going?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Tell us how you negotiated the summits and steep slopes. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, it's like they do today with the -- with the Quest. You're climbing out of the other, the north side coming up, you have to stop and hold the brake and hold the dogs so everything don't slide back. And give them a break, you know, maybe four or five times to get over the hill. And then the rough locks on and go down the other side. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And how many dogs would you be running? GEORGE O'LEARY: I think they had up to eight or nine or ten -- big dogs. Not these little poodles they run in the Quest, now. See they're 40, 45 pound dogs and they had dogs, I think, were over a hundred pounds and big -- lots of fur. You could tie them outdoors 50, 60 below weather and they'd survive, see. And feed them half of a salmon every day. But when they were back in camp, like at Central and Circle, they always cooked for the dogs. The cornmeal and rice and certain -- whatever meat they had, a lot of fish and they fed them pretty good, you know, once or twice a week. So, but when they went over to like Fish Creek or maybe even in Central, they'd just feed them half a salmon maybe -- maybe a big salmon, you know. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, that's amazing that they could digest that and be perfectly fine with just that. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, and one fish is a lot of nutrient, you know, the bears live on it look what it does for them. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So, how did you travel that time were you on a Ouija board or on a -- GEORGE O'LEARY: No, no, they did have Ouija boards but they never used them. Unless they -- a lot of the guys used them, but where you would on a trapline trail -- what do they call them? You'd sit up in the front of the sled and you'd have a couple of handlebars and you'd have a couple of short skis. And the idea of being - FRANK WARREN: Gee pole.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Gee pole. GEORGE O'LEARY: Gee pole. And you could maneuver the front of the sled that way through the rough roads or bad trails. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: I don't know what they did when they ever got caught underneath the sled, but I suppose you could get the team stopped, but my dad and Walter never used them. They had better -- better trails than that. FRANK WARREN: How old were you then George? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Come a little closer to the mic. That's alright. FRANK WARREN: I just thought that I'd bring that up, how old he was when he made that trip? GEORGE O'LEARY: Seven or eight years old. It had to be about 1938, '39 and it might have even been the last year that they ever hauled mail. I'm not sure. [Break in recording] FRANK WARREN: You know what I'm talking about? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Where the road would have gone? FRANK WARREN: No, where the trail went, but they made the old timers pick and shovel. It was so steep there they cut a grade for about a quarter of a mile. GEORGE O'LEARY: So it wouldn't be sideling. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, I see what you're saying. FRANK WARREN: It wouldn't be so straight down. So they cut a grade around -- GEORGE O'LEARY: They could've, they could've. FRANK WARREN: I've seen it from the air many times. It is as plain as can be, but -- GEORGE O'LEARY: I've never heard anybody talk about it. Of course, these guys nowadays, the Yukon Quest, they wouldn't even know what it is, see. FRANK WARREN: Well, they might use it. GEORGE O'LEARY: They might use it. Well, they probably do use it, yeah. FRANK WARREN: It's the only place on the trail where there is a grade cut like that by -- it had to be pick and shovel. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. Well, the federal government might even have done that. FRANK WARREN: Might have. GEORGE O'LEARY: See, like they did up the Yukon, above the mouth of Kandik, under Castle Bluff. They put a cut grade all the way around the bottom there. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: About that wide. You could almost drive your Jeep through it. FRANK WARREN: Probably, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So did you say you were on the Gee pole that time? GEORGE O'LEARY: No, no, no, Gee poles. They never used them. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So where were you riding, on the sled itself? GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, probably either they made me walk or run, so, but when the going was good I was probably in the sled. So, you know. I don't know what they had for a payload, maybe four, five hundred pounds at the most, you know. And there wasn't that much mail going back and forth and then a little bit of freight once in a while. FRANK WARREN: Well, they had in their contract that said that there was a maximum they would haul. GEORGE O'LEARY: They probably got paid a minimum. FRANK WARREN: And it had to be by a certain date. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, they got fined otherwise. FRANK WARREN: If they were late, they didn't get paid. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, that's something I'd like to pick up on. You say, if they were late, they didn't get paid? FRANK WARREN: They were supposed to be in Circle with the mail at a certain date and time, like noon on Saturday or Sunday. If they were late, they didn't get paid. That was in the contract, according to what his dad said. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, I've read that other places, too, and even up and down the Tanana and the Yukon. FRANK WARREN: So they encouraged them to go in bad weather and stuff like that, you know. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, it is interesting because when the airplanes came in, sometimes there were complaints that the airplanes would get weathered out. GEORGE O'LEARY: Which was half the time. FRANK WARREN: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: You know, and -- GEORGE O'LEARY: That was a big -- the story I remember then that the dog team were more reliable. FRANK WARREN: We were in Circle -- we had a stretch of 30 days one time, that we never had an airplane. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yep. FRANK WARREN: It was below 50 below for 30 days and we never had an airplane. GEORGE O'LEARY: Even today, in like Central and Circle, I seen it this year, you get that fog that lays in there. And it's the fog off the Yukon River. It would be two weeks sometimes before it clears up. You don't get no airplane. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, it is interesting those -- because there was a whole chain and of course, if the mail didn't get to Circle, it didn't get down river or up river. And so, you know, and Dan did an interesting thing, O'Neill. He sent a postcard from Dawson to himself in Eagle and checked how long it would take and found, of course, that it took something like 10 days. You know, where in the old days by dog team it would have been about four days or something from Dawson to -- FRANK WARREN: To Eagle, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: But the lynchpin, it seems to me, must have been Circle, getting from Chatanika to Circle, you know. I mean getting over those passes -- FRANK WARREN: Everything else was pretty level. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Once you got over the Steese. GEORGE O'LEARY: No, I think that even in bad weather they made it with dogs. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, but with airplanes -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, like right now last -- just within the last fall, they had that fog over there and they didn't have a plane in Central for two weeks. I used to -- I'd go up and check the mail once in a while, so. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, now there was one old timer that you know, Frank, I'm sure. Helge Boquist? FRANK WARREN: Helge Boquist. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Helge. And he said that there was a petition when the airplanes first came in, a petition when they couldn't get the mail, the people would sign up to haul it themselves with dogs. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Did you ever hear about? FRANK WARREN: I never heard about that.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: I got no record of it.
GEORGE O'LEARY: No. FRANK WARREN: Helge told that to somebody? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, we have it.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. I never heard that.
GEORGE O'LEARY: I never heard that. FRANK WARREN: But maybe in some instances maybe that was true, you know. Especially in the case like we didn't get it for 30 days one time, but then it was so cold, the dog mushers at that time 50 below, they don't want to be on the trail either. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: No. FRANK WARREN: But, of course, there was any dog mushers left.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Wasn't any -- there wasn't hardly any good dogs left. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: One of the questions that comes up is what were the mail carriers carrying? Were they carrying just letters or other stuff? GEORGE O'LEARY: I think -- I think they could carry other stuff, freight, salt, pepper, flour, people. Something the people thought they needed, see. FRANK WARREN: Whatever they had room for. GEORGE O'LEARY: Whatever they had room for. Mail came first. FRANK WARREN: Mail came first. Mail had priority, but that was parcel post, too. It wasn't just letters, you know. It was parcel post, too, so could have been a lot of anything. But they had a maximum they had to haul. They couldn't throw him a thousand pounds and say 'here take it'. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. FRANK WARREN: But I don't know what the maximum was. I wouldn't think it would be -- what do you think it would be? GEORGE O'LEARY: I would say four, five, six hundred pounds. FRANK WARREN: Do you think that much? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. Five hundred pound wouldn't be too much, you know. FRANK WARREN: Going up those summits --
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. FRANK WARREN: Pretty tough. Well, they had rough locks to chain them up to down the other side so -- GEORGE O'LEARY: We got pictures somewhere, Mary's probably got them. FRANK WARREN: I think I got them somewhere. GEORGE O'LEARY: Showing them climbing from the north side up and the dog teams are like this and they're standing like this and it shows how steep it is, see. FRANK WARREN: That picture of Walter by the tripod? GEORGE O'LEARY: I think that's Walter, yeah. Uh-huh. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. She pulled out some pictures. I want to take a look at those in a minute. But would you talk about some of the other mushers that carried the mail. We had mentioned earlier, Curly Wells. GEORGE O'LEARY: Now, Curly Wells I never seen him and never knew him, but I knew some of his kids like Jimmy and his wife Elizabeth and I think a couple of the daughters that lived there. They rented from my dad and Walter right over here in Ghrael, in Fairbanks, for many years. And I think there is one daughter living yet Outside, the youngest daughter and then, of course, Jimmy is in Fort Yukon yet. Okay. FRANK WARREN: Well, you know Horace Biederman? GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, yeah, well --
FRANK WARREN: Going the other way.
GEORGE O'LEARY: I met the old man once at -- FRANK WARREN: Horace carried it, too? GEORGE O'LEARY: The Kandik at Biederman's camp.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: And then Charlie, of course, I knew Charlie. He had carried the mail for a while, see. And I remember him being in Circle after his dad froze his feet, see. And he was only about 17, 18 years old. FRANK WARREN: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And, of course, Horace but I -- Horace, I don't know whether Horace carried the mail or not. FRANK WARREN: Supposedly. GEORGE O'LEARY: He might have helped out, yeah. Horace had a store in Eagle for many years. FRANK WARREN: Well, he run the NC Store. GEORGE O'LEARY: And he run the NC Store before that. In fact, he bought -- FRANK WARREN: He bought the NC Store. GEORGE O'LEARY: I think he bought the NC out, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah, Biedermans are sure associated with that stretch. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. FRANK WARREN: Well, they had a fish camp. Their main camp was at the mouth of the Kandik River, which is roughly half way between Eagle and Circle. And they put up a tremendous amount of fish every year. They had fish racks there that were, god, fifty feet long, you know. They had fishwheels there. GEORGE O'LEARY: Two fishwheels. FRANK WARREN: Two fishwheels, yeah. And that was for their dog teams and they sold a lot, too. GEORGE O'LEARY: Sold a lot. Well, when you catch 500 salmon in a fishwheel and you can't keep up with the cleaning you got to -- fed them down, that's how many fish there were, see. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: That's amazing. And a way up above I guess it was Percy DeWolfe was the guy that -- GEORGE O'LEARY: From Eagle.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Dawson. GEORGE O'LEARY: And he had done that for how many years? Thirty years. A long time, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: A long time, yeah. Are there others that we -- that I've missed? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, there are some in there. In the Circle area there's -- I think there was guys come and go like, the guy out at Chatanika and they wrote a book about him -- FRANK WARREN: Bob GEORGE O'LEARY: Not Hanson -- just -- that book just come out. FRANK WARREN: Got the book right there, somewhere. GEORGE O'LEARY: But he carried the mail for a couple years in there and used horses. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Horace?
FRANK WARREN: His dad.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, no, the book was written about the dad.
FRANK WARREN: That's what I mean, yeah. The guy who wrote the book, it was his dad. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, the kid never wrote the book. The guy who wrote the book was a -- he's wrote other stuff, too. FRANK WARREN: Mary has moved it somewhere. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, she is moving stuff all the time I can't nothing. FRANK WARREN: You got to live with her, you -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, we'll think of it. We'll think of his name. FRANK WARREN: I can't see it. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Any others that come to mind? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, way back before that, I think they had different guys that worked at it, but they never stayed, you know, for any length of time. FRANK WARREN: Did Burton (phonetic) ever have anything to do with carrying mail?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Burton? FRANK WARREN: Burton, I guess not, huh? The one that Walter's mentioned. GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, no, Bob didn't, no. They weren't carrying the mail by dogs then. FRANK WARREN: Oh, Okay. GEORGE O'LEARY: He worked up there for Walter Jewell and the mines and that cutting wood. He's got to be a geologist, now, he is eighty some years old down there in Texas, so, I just, we got a letter -- Frank and Mary just got a letter from him. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: I'll be darned. Yeah. And then when they got to Chatanika, they -- the mail would go on, on the, on the railroad, right? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, if that railroad was still running and they might have trucked it in to Fairbanks. I don't know. I know that road used to close in the wintertime because I remember -- I can remember when we used to have to go out and open the road to Chatanika. But I think there was probably enough travel, it was kept open pretty much most of the year, you know. But the Alaska Road Commission didn't -- I don't think they plowed it in the wintertime. All the roads were shut down, you know. They didn't have no snowplows like they do now or anything. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, let's look at some pictures. Tell us about this picture here. FRANK WARREN: It's on the saddle.
GEORGE O'LEARY: I don't know which way he is going, but --
FRANK WARREN: It's on the saddle.
GEORGE O'LEARY: On the saddle, yeah. FRANK WARREN: Probably going -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Look at the size of the tripod.
FRANK WARREN: Probably going north, yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: I don't remember some of them being that big, but they probably were. FRANK WARREN: You can see the rough lock chain hanging there -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh good,
FRANK WARREN: -- on that side there, see it?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Looks like it is almost a basket sled. GEORGE O'LEARY: They are basket sleds.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: They were basket sleds.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, yeah, no toboggans.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: No toboggans. GEORGE O'LEARY: No. They had toboggans, but I mean for hauling heavy loads you had to use a basket sled. And Walter Jewell built those sleds. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, tell us about that. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, he -- he was a master carpenter and he could build -- he could build a boat, he could build a house, anything. FRANK WARREN: Well, he built two houses there in...
GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, he built more than. He built two houses --
FRANK WARREN: Trucks, vans, and all that stuff. GEORGE O'LEARY: Ok, this -- I guess this is Ruth Olson. FRANK WARREN: 12 Mile Roadhouse.
GEORGE O'LEARY: 12 Mile Roadhouse. It is all boarded up. And then there is a cabin behind here on the left that people used to use but the roadhouse was closed down at this time. That little guy, his name is VanGundy and I think that -- it says Ruth Olson, but that could have been -- FRANK WARREN: Looks like your aunt not Mary Alice but Josephine. GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, Josephine, FRANK WARREN: Looks like Josephine.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Okay, Josephine, all right.
FRANK WARREN: Doesn't it?
GEORGE O'LEARY: It does, yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Josephine. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, that would be Mary Alice's sister. FRANK WARREN: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Then this is 12 Mile Roadhouse? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. It burnt and interesting thing in the recent year or so, the log book showed up out of that roadhouse. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, really!
GEORGE O'LEARY: And I got to look through it. You looked through it.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: And it opened back in the late -- well, after the road opened and then it was open for four, five, six years in there. And then anyway, it was closed at this time. There was no travel in the winter anyway to speak of. And sometime in the beginning of -- just about the beginning of World War II, this place burnt and another one burnt on top of Cleary Summit, which was a roadhouse -- I mean a night club. And I'm sure they burnt both the same night, probably the same person, see. And there is no electricity there, nothing to catch fire, but how that log book -- log book survived I don't know. It was found in Circle and a lot of old names in it from that period. FRANK WARREN: But this was built in the creek and when they built the road it was half a mile from it, so that kind of died after the road opened. GEORGE O'LEARY: Reed Creek was named after Art Reed, the guy that built this building, and he was also a miner and he mined the head ground up on Porcupine Creek and other places. But he is the guy that got credit for building this, so. But he ran other roadhouses like down at Bell Creek. He ran that one there. FRANK WARREN: At what creek?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Bell Creek. Well, this definitely shows a team coming up there -- does that look like dad or maybe Alice? FRANK WARREN: Yeah, that's your dad with Mary Alice, I guess, yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: That probably shows them climbing up out of Eagle Creek or on Eagle Summit somewhere. FRANK WARREN: Probably Eagle Summit. From the south -- going south.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, that's Yukon, my dad's leader. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, ok. Tell us about Yukon. GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, probably the best leader he ever had. He could turn them loose, loose leader. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
GEORGE O'LEARY: He'd stay in front of the dogs. He wouldn't chase caribou or anything. FRANK WARREN: He was big -- big dog. GEORGE O'LEARY: Probably 94 pounds. This could be Fish Creek. They did have some dog houses there and big man tripod, I don't know what them were for. It kind of looks like right at Fish Creek looking south. FRANK WARREN: Looks like the chain is tied up to the tripod. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, that's probably -- FRANK WARREN: See the chain over there.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Probably from the top if they jerked on it would just pull down see.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So, this is at -- this might be at Fish Creek? GEORGE O'LEARY: Might be 100 Mile Fish Creek. Yeah, that's my dad there. That's warm weather, you can see by the hat he is wearing. FRANK WARREN: This is his sister, but that has got to be on the trail some where. GEORGE O'LEARY: That's on the -- you know where that could be? Up Sourdough Creek at Hilty's cabin.
FRANK WARREN: Oh. GEORGE O'LEARY: They stayed up there and they took some pictures up there. The cabin is still standing. FRANK WARREN: Is it? GEORGE O'LEARY: Somebody put a roof on it in recent years, you know, just a board roof and then other people have come along, repaired it, but God that cabin goes back before almost 1900 I'll bet. Well, that's probably where Walter used to stay when -- if he got down there. Maybe he never stayed at Bolton's, he went down to Al Hilty. FRANK WARREN: Oh, yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: We're thinking this could have been up on Sourdough Creek which is not far off from Steese Highway and it was a guy named Al Hilty or Dave Hilty. There were two brothers but one of them at that time was passed away, but I think Walter would always go up there to stay, you see. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So that would have been on his way in and out of --. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Chatanika.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Uh-huh. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So then we think is Sourdough Creek. We don't know who this person is, huh? GEORGE O'LEARY: It was probably Mary Alice.
FRANK WARREN: Or Josephine.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Or Jose - yeah, Josephine, yeah.
FRANK WARREN: One of the two, yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Josephine?
FRANK WARREN: Sister of Maurice. GEORGE O'LEARY: This has got to the hay barn in Circle and the horses inside there with the hay. That old gray horse, that's probably the Gray Kid. FRANK WARREN: Let me see that hay barn -- that's the old --
GEORGE O'LEARY: Hay shed. FRANK WARREN: No, no, that's the barn right -- that Wilbur made into a tractor shed with the stalls in it, isn't it? You know the first one behind the store. It's got the stalls in it with the manger and -- GEORGE O'LEARY: They had stalls in that, but yeah, it could have been the -- FRANK WARREN: Didn't have any stalls in the hay shed.
GEORGE O'LEARY: There was stalls in that building next to the store, yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah, it's a log -
GEORGE O'LEARY: They had individual stalls for the horses.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah, that's what that little --
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Horse barn they called it. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. That has got to be somewhere down like on the Chatanika or McManus Creek. FRANK WARREN: Glacier -- on the glacier.
GEORGE O'LEARY: With all that ice.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: The creek is not that big, but it builds up with that glacier. FRANK WARREN: It's probably -- it could be between the summits even too, you know.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Even between summits, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So, you think that is on McManus Creek? GEORGE O'LEARY: It could be down on the McManus, yeah. Right about --
FRANK WARREN: Where it glaciers up.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Eighty -- 80 Mile Camp and then about 78, 79 it glaciers up in there real bad. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: This is a McManus Creek photo? GEORGE O'LEARY: We think.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: We think. GEORGE O'LEARY: This is a picture of my dad. I suppose he took the picture, so. FRANK WARREN: What's the writing on the back?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, that's a good one of the outfit, though, huh. And you said Walter Jewell made the sleds? GEORGE O'LEARY: He made the sleds yeah. Toboggan sleds. He could make all that stuff. And here is an interesting one. It is the only one I know of Jack Bolton. FRANK WARREN: Oh.
GEORGE O'LEARY: At Faith Creek.
FRANK WARREN: At Faith Creek, yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, so this is the roadhouse where they'd stop -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, he called it Jack's Do Drop Inn.
FRANK WARREN: Couple --
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Do Drop Inn.
FRANK WARREN: Do Drop Inn. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And is this Jack Bolton standing in front -- GEORGE O'LEARY: That old guy, yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Yep. A little -- WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Pouring himself a little whiskey. GEORGE O'LEARY: Oh, yeah, he always did. Is that what he is doing?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
FRANK WARREN: Didn't even notice that. That's a pretty good picture for back then. That's 50 years old. GEORGE O'LEARY: It was a pretty good cabin. I slept in there a couple of times.
FRANK WARREN: Yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: This picture there is the same cabin. Walter Roman on the left, my dad is on the next one, and then Bill O'Leary, his brother, and then Jack Bolton - FRANK WARREN: Maurice's brother.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Maurice's brother.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So, we are going from left to right? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, this is summertime. It don't look like winter. It's either that or springtime. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And that is at Jack Bolton's place? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. There is another cabin off the left there. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Fish Creek? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, it says -- my dad and Mary Alice's sister in the cabin at Fish Creek.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, good. So this is the cabin at Fish Creek? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, I didn't know there was a picture of it. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, that's a great picture. Look at the size of those dogs. GEORGE O'LEARY: That's the one I was talking about where the dogs -- you can see how steep it is. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Wow! That's pretty dramatic. FRANK WARREN: That could have been -- that could have been either side. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, it could have been either side, yeah.
FRANK WARREN: North or south. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: This is the Eagle Summit -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Going up Eagle Summit on the Circle side 1939.
FRANK WARREN: Oh, on Circle side. GEORGE O'LEARY: Because '39 they were still carrying the mail in. FRANK WARREN: Yeah, is that the same picture?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Looks like almost the same picture.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Oh, that's -- FRANK WARREN: Yeah, the background is different so it's, yeah. You said that was on the back '39? GEORGE O'LEARY: '39, yeah. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. It must have been close to the end of -- GEORGE O'LEARY: That might have been the last year. FRANK WARREN: And who's in that picture? GEORGE O'LEARY: I think it is supposed to be my dad and -- FRANK WARREN: Hard to tell, it's so far away. There's a double sled there. Two sleds, real long one and a short one. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, maybe some of the dog team is partly hidden there, the second team. FRANK WARREN: Oh, yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. '39 might have been the trip I made, too. That would have been the last trip. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Do you think yours was the last trip?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Maybe one of the last trips. Ok, this is Mary Alice, mail run. FRANK WARREN: Oh, yeah, I seen it, yeah. GEORGE O'LEARY: Mary Alice lived out in Seattle and she lived up here when she was young, see and then she wanted to come back and make -- maybe that was the last year they were going to haul the mail and she come up and made that trip in the springtime, so. FRANK WARREN: Come from California to make that trip? GEORGE O'LEARY: No, Seattle.
FRANK WARREN: Oh, she was --
GEORGE O'LEARY: She was married to a guy named Bob --
FRANK WARREN: Oh, yeah, that's right.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Bob something. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Mary Alice is in the sled. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And your dad is on the handlebars.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. That might have been taken even on Eagle Summit before they widened it on the old road. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: The model T or an old truck. FRANK WARREN: What is that a T or A? Yeah, that's an A. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: It is a Model A? FRANK WARREN: Yeah. Look at the chain on the front in case you needed to get pulled. GEORGE O'LEARY: Everybody had chains on the front. This one here my dad had an accident out by Long Creek one time when they were over load, remember the spring broke? FRANK WARREN: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And he went down over the bank. He had two people in the cab. One of them was the old schoolteacher and Mrs. Call and she had two girls -- two girls and Lee Alder, who was still alive, and my brother Eddie were on the back and it rolled over on them. And I think the only one that got hurt was Eddie -- either broke or dislocated his shoulder. FRANK WARREN: Well, you said Lee's still alive, your brother Eddie's still alive, too. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
FRANK WARREN: He's younger than you. GEORGE O'LEARY: A little bit. But anyway, that's a picture of the truck, they think, after they got it up on the road and had a dent in the fender. That was one of Johnnie Palm's trucks. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: A Dodge?
FRANK WARREN: Is that a --
GEORGE O'LEARY: An old Dodge. FRANK WARREN: That's a Chevrolet there. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. It just says Steese Highway, it don't say -- my dad and uncle -- his brother Bill, so I don't know where that was taken so.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Looks like the dogs are ready to help out. FRANK WARREN: Here's Faith Creek again. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: This is Faith Creek?
GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, Jack Bolton's cabin. FRANK WARREN: Almost the same picture, isn't it? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, a little different. He has still got the bottle. Mary Alice has probably got the parka on, then my dad, then William with the rifle there. Let's see, just looking at the terrain I'd say it is up around the head of Birch Creek, maybe -- maybe Fish Creek. This might be right outside the cabin at Fish Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So this is the one where they are in the deep snow? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, snow don't look that deep. Of course, if it is out in the yard it is packed down anyway, but just looking downstream from there that looks like upper Birch Creek. FRANK WARREN: Yeah, I don't think it is on the north side. GEORGE O'LEARY: No.
FRANK WARREN: So, so it's probably --
GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, these --
FRANK WARREN: Probably the south side of --
GEORGE O'LEARY: Fish Creek.
FRANK WARREN: 12 Mile, Fish Creek, in that area. Looks like Walter Roman -- GEORGE O'LEARY: That's Walter Roland and --
FRANK WARREN: And his wife Josie or Edie, I mean.
GEORGE O'LEARY: Edie. Walter and Edie Rasmussen at Clum's Fork. Up Birch Creek. Okay. FRANK WARREN: Edie was his mother's sister. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
GEORGE O'LEARY: It showed the cabin down there, too. FRANK WARREN: Yeah. There's another picture of them by the cabin. GEORGE O'LEARY: By the cabin.
FRANK WARREN: I got it somewhere in there -- computer. GEORGE O'LEARY: They trap -- he trapped down there two winters. Edie was down there with him one winter. And that Clum's Fork is down below 94 Mile on the Steese about 10, 12, 15 miles, then it comes into Birch Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Well, that's been -- this really has been helpful. This has been great. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Point with your finger as you -- as you -- as the trail went out of Circle and so we get this down once more. GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, let's see where's Circle? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: There's Circle there. GEORGE O'LEARY: Ok. If you follow the road out even now today, it goes out to the hills and follow the hills but the old trail had to go across the flats about two and a half miles and then it hit the foothills and then followed the foothills all the way over to Birch Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Ok. Here's Birch Creek and that's Ferry. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, that -- and down below Ferry was 12 Mile and 12 Mile they call it 12 Mile House and there was a roadhouse there, too. Nobody knows who started it in the beginning, but when they put the road in, they moved the roadhouse up to where the bridge is now, but they didn't have the bridge right away and they used the ferry there for crossing. And after they left Birch, the ferry, they had to go out kind of across the Yuk -- Birch Creek flats and until they hit the hills and then in the summer they followed the hills with pack horses all the way to Central. But in the winter they can go right down on the frozen Birch Creek, you know, on the - WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh.
GEORGE O'LEARY: On the flats there.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Ok. GEORGE O'LEARY: And there's a-- there's a -- they tell me that when you get to Albert Creek, which is about three miles this side of Central, there's another road that takes off and went to the Circle Hot Springs. When they -- when they built the Circle Hot Springs, they hauled a lot of stuff down from that Army fort at Eagle and took it over there and built -- Frank Leach built the hot springs there. Well, from 12 Mile House, the old 12 Mile, you can go right across Birch Creek Flats and get up on the hills and follow the foothills. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: They could get up far enough up on the foothills, not very high, just to make a trail around there like with pack horses. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And you'd still be south of the existing road here? GEORGE O'LEARY: You would be north.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: North, ok. Uh-huh. And that would take you into Central? GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah. It would take you to Central, probably the hills would dissipate out about two, three miles from Central and you'd have to go down into the flats again and cross -- you'd be on part of Birch Creek drainage then and then into Central. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. And then from Central? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, from Central, I think on the old trail they just went right up Crooked Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And up there at Sawpit where Regan's mined, there was an old roadhouse there and that is where people used to cut -- as whipsaw lumber for sluice boxes because there was big timber in there. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: It says Sawpit here. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah, Sawpit Creek -- still there. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. And then it continued down? GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, they'd go -- they'd go right up Crooked and when they got to the mouth of Porcupine, they'd turn left on Mammoth Creek and go up Mammoth Creek to Miller House. And then of course, there were a lot of people up there mining, cabins. In fact, what they call Miller House today, there's not really anything there, but there was almost like a little town there. But in later years when Berry [Berry Mining Company] bought up all that ground and dredged it, all those buildings come down, except Miller House. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And they -- they -- the Miller House bought that one acre there for the building to sit on and it was bought for insurance back in the 60's and burnt. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: So then from Miller House -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Miller House you went up a little ways and you turned -- well, Miller Creek was right there. Then you went up Miller Creek and then over Eagle Summit where the dog teams went and where the Yukon Quest goes now, so.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And then down this side you came down another fork. I think they call it -- they call it Miller Fork and then you're in the head of Eagle Creek and you go down Eagle Creek to where you hit Ptarmigan Creek and that's the headwaters of Birch Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: That might be Eagle Creek there. GEORGE O'LEARY: Yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: And then you hit the headwaters of -- GEORGE O'LEARY: Well, you go down the -- that's Birch Creek. You go down Birch Creek until you come to the mouth of 12 Mile Creek. You go up 12 Mile Creek and then over 12 Mile Summit and you come down this side of 12 Mile Summit and you're in McManus Creek. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. GEORGE O'LEARY: And then when you get to Faith Creek, you're in the headwaters of the Chatanika then. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. And then it's a straight shot and you go down.
GEORGE O'LEARY: That's all the way down to Chatanika, yeah.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER: Okay. Good. Good. Thank you. That's perfect.
Warren Neakok - ORAL HISTORY 88-08-06 & ORAL HISTORY 88-08-07
Warren Neakok was interviewed on July 26, 1984 by Dave Libbey and Ed Hall at Warren's home in Point Lay, Alaska. A total of eight interviews were done with Warren for the North Slope Borough's Point Lay cultural resource site survey, whose results are reported in: To Keep The Past Alive: The Point Lay Cultural Resource Site Survey by Warren Neakok, Dorcas Neakok, Waldo Bodfish, David Libbey, Edwin S. Hall, Jr., and the Point Lay Elders (Barrow, AK: North Slope Borough, 1985). Inupiat elders, Warren and Dorcas Neakok, were life-long residents of the Point Lay area and helped keep the community alive when others moved away and the village nearly disappeared. In this interview, Warren talks about a dog sled trip he took from Point Lay to Point Hope, Alaska and uses a map to mark the route. He mentions specific places along the route and provides Inupiaq place names. This recording has been edited from the original in order to facilitate the flow of the interview and conversation. Image GalleryView Warren Neakok's Trip in Google Earth
Click to section:
Introduction to discussion about dog sled trip from Point Lay to Point Hope and marking the route on a map
Departing from Point Lay
Following the spit and making first camp at Qasigialik
Second camp at Qagiaqtaaq
Third camp at Ayugatak
Staying at the cabin at Ayugatak and getting help with the load from another team from Point Hope
Arriving in Point Hope in late March
The reason for going to Point Hope
Whaling in Point Hope
Leaving Point Hope near the end of April
Stopping at Akololik
Traveling in stormy weather and following a creek where there were good trail conditions
Finding his way on the creek back out to the ocean
Camping at Pikmigiaq
Camping at Cape Beaufort
Getting to and camping at Kuutchiaq
Hunting caribou near Kuutchiaq
Hauling caribou meat back to Point Lay
Whaling at Point Hope
People and number of dog teams on the trip
Date of this trip
The whale caught at Point Hope
Hunting along the trail
Number of dogs in the teams
Types of sleds used
Making the trip from Point Lay to Point Hope for the first time with Samuel Dives, the route taken, and the equipment used
Getting back to Point Lay on that first trip
Making this same dog team trip multiple times, but never by snowmachine
DAVE LIBBEY: It's July 26, 1984, and we're talking with Warren Neakok at his house about a dog sled trip from Point Lay to Point Hope, right?
ED HALL: Yup DAVE LIBBEY: Okay. We were going to try to mark that trip that you make when you go by dog sled from Point Lay to Point Hope. Try to mark the route on the map. WARREN NEAKOK: Point Hope directions. DAVE LIBBEY: Yeah, going this way and you would start from. Okay, here's Point Lay up here. WARREN NEAKOK: From Point Lay, we left around just before noon, my family, my wife, with one team, and we travel right across here. And then from there go right across there where we go to the better trail. The snow was pretty soft and deeper up where we go across there and then we go down to the spit-side. DAVE LIBBEY: Okay, snows deep up this way at Siksrikpak. WARREN NEAKOK: No, I was wrong, I'm sorry. That's, that's where we left from.
ED HALL: From the old Point Lay DAVE LIBBEY: Oh, the old Point Lay, okay. WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, from there we went this way and then turn down spit-side.
DAVE LIBBEY: Okay. WARREN NEAKOK: So we have to follow the spit all the way, better trail, all the way. Then from there, we - where did we camped out? Right in, right in a little the other side of Qasigialik somewhere, right there somewhere. Yeah. DAVE LIBBEY: First camp, huh? WARREN NEAKOK: And we just stayed overnight and the next morning we started out earlier and then followed the coast line all the way and we camped to Qagiaqtaaq. That's where the first - the first team stopped, there, two teams. There, right there. Stayed for one day…
DAVE LIBBEY: Okay, that's at Cape Beaufort WARREN NEAKOK: …did some little caribou hunting get our fresh meat, and then we just hunt right beyond there because they were pretty close, lot of caribou there. That was around the last part of March, just before April. And then from there go down to that, oh, that Ayugatak. ED HALL: Um, this side of - WARREN NEAKOK: Where's that coal mine? ED HALL: Oh, that coal mine? It's further…so you kept going all the way to it? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, all the way.
ED HALL: All the way down this trail. WARREN NEAKOK: Along this snowmachine trail. ED HALL: Okay, here's that creek where you told me… WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, that's where we camped in that, in that old cabin. Made a pretty good trip that time.
ED HALL: All the way. WARREN NEAKOK: The wind was calm and the sunshine clear. The trail was good out through the ocean ice, right close to the bank, pretty smooth all the way, snow kind of half melted. ED HALL: That was the fourth night, eh? The fourth night.
WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah.
ED HALL: Right. WARREN NEAKOK: Let's see, one, two, must be, third night.
DAVE LIBBEY: Third night, right. WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, we remained at one day at… ED HALL: Yeah, you stayed two days, two nights at Cape Beaufort. WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, from here two days and then that's the third time we made… ED HALL: Third time you made a trip, yeah. WARREN NEAKOK: The trail was good, actually just a little off on the backside. The ocean ice was pretty smooth all the way. So we got - got here a little later, right around 10 or 11, the winds started picking up, snowing and everything. So that's where we camped out. ED HALL: Did you stay in that shelter cabin there? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, yeah that's where we stayed while it's in pretty good shape (at Ayugatak). And from there, we stayed for the day. And one team came from Point Hope. I don't know how they notified the person down at Point Hope and he come up to help the other team up with their load, that's where he came in the next day. We stayed there for two days I believe because they got to wait on him. And then the next day, he came in and for the next day, another day he went up to look for caribou but he didn't get any, so the next day, again we left for Point Hope, all the way to Point Hope. ED HALL: And all the way around the.... WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, all the way around Cape Lisburne. All the way to Point Hope.
ED HALL: Okay, I'm just going to do this… WARREN NEAKOK: And it calmed down again that next day. This morning was -- wasn't too good but that second day was real clear again, like we travel here same day, nice weather, good trail, make it all the way to Point Hope. We got there earlier, early afternoon around three or four. ED HALL: And this was in late March? In late March. WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah. That becomes around late March, around the last week of March. ED HALL: And what were you going down to Point Hope for? WARREN NEAKOK: Oh, we were planned to stay down there for the summer but I changed my mind and I want to head back. I got a little homesick and then after we got a whale… the crew I was out with, got a whale April 9th. And they, they said that this whale catch break the record, they used to the early man was a little later than April. And this man he break the record, he get the one whale early…earlier than everybody. DAVE LIBBEY: Whose was that? Whose crew was that? WARREN NEAKOK: Lenny Lane, the old man. He died a long time ago. But his sons are down there, his two sons, the other sons there, Amos Lane, Jacob Lane. They're all at Point Hope. And then, we stayed there a little more than a month, anyway and then I changed my mind, want to head for home before these rivers break up and start flowing. And then we left, it be now, about the last week of April. Just before the end of April. Somewhere around mid, mid-week of the last week of April. And then we left again, to home. We left around afternoon from Point Hope. And then where's that Akololik, it'd be right there. where's that little… ED HALL: They call this one Akololik, right here, that's the name on it, anyway, Akololik. WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah that's it, we didn't go too far from there. We camped out a little further in some -- somewhere right there. Yeah and next day, next morning the wind started blowing from the south. Get a little stormy and could hardly see further away. That is a part of the back up there, little mounts there. And then we took off… followed that creek all the way and we stop in to the old -- old cabin somewhere back there. ED HALL: You go all the way to the headwaters of the creek? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, we had to follow that little creek all the way. That's the only good trail. Instead of climbing the mountains. ED HALL: Okay, it goes right up here and then down to this other… WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, that cabin. And we had a lunch there in the old cabin and then took off again. Go right over that mountain. We go right, follow that little creek because this here where we used to go right over, kind of a little too high, we got a heavy load. And then we have to follow this little creek all the way out. And then from there, right -- that coal mine, the one I was talking about? We camped out about half way, somewhere on that, I couldn't tell whereabouts we are. Straight into that…I could see that when we go over this mountains. I could see that. Somebody told me there's a better trail. Straight, short cut, not like this follow the beach side. And from there, all the way down to that coalmine. We camped out about half way. The weather it get good again. I can't even tell where -- where that place was. Where we camped out. ED HALL: Was it in a creek, in a creek valley?
WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, somewhere… ED HALL: Cause there's a nice stream valley that goes clear up to here.
WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah ED HALL: Yeah, somewhere, that's why I put a dotted line WARREN NEAKOK: After we go out that somewhere. Camped out. And then from there, we go out to the ocean through that little coal mine, Ayugatak. ED HALL: Right at the, right where you showed us that coal mine?
WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah
ED HALL: Oh, okay. WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, that's where, there was this little creek behind it and we hit -- the water was running and we can't go across and then, I get kind a little lost. I thought we was way up off from the ocean side. And that was late -- late afternoon. And then I told my kids, make some hot water and feed our kids, I told Dorcas. Put a little tent in. But it was pretty good and but it just cooled off late -- late evening. And then I start walking to that little bank side, it wasn't too far away, about as far as the old roadside. There's a mount there -- real flat top. So I start walking and then I go right on top. Yeah, I could see the ocean ice right down below me. I was happy then. So I walked back and tell them we were almost out to the ocean if we go to this direction. Some part of the snow was pretty well melted, too. And then we took off after lunch. We tried to follow that little creek along the edge of it through the bank side but it was pretty soft and kind of a little slanted too, behind that little creek. So we go down to that -- follow that little creek down right along side of it, so we get down to the ocean. I wanted to camp out as soon as we get down there. It was pretty calm, nice weather and Dorcas didn't want to camp out. She wanted to just keep going. And put up the smaller kids to the sled and cover them up with the sled cover, put them in the part of them in the blankets or sleeping bags, to keep them warm. They were kind of sleepy, too. So we took off travel, late evening. And so we get up to Pikmigiaq, yeah. That's where we -- go as far as there. And we camped out right in that sand bar right below the cabin, put up tent. Next morning was beautiful, calm, sunshine, clear. And then next day, we took off again. And we camped out a little south side of Cape Beaufort, the winds start picking up again. ED HALL: Didn't go very far then? WARREN NEAKOK: No didn't go very far. Somewhere. That little -- got a little creek, I think that's what it is there. The last little creek like that, other side of Cape Beaufort.
ED HALL: That's what it is. WARREN NEAKOK: Somewhere, somewhere right there. And then from there -- from there we travel all the way to Kuutchiaq. The wind was pretty well blowing. And the water was running and flowing right in that Kuutchiaq Creek and the water goes out to the ocean. I thought we would never make it but right where it's draining, it was -- it was about this wide.
ED HALL: Three feet. WARREN NEAKOK: Enough to go across the slit, just make a big, heavy stream there. Come down. Oh, we can make it right -- right through that little creek. So we made it. Water all over down below that Amaaqtusuq, that's where it runs out both ways. And then from there.
DAVE LIBBEY: Fourth camp…is that right? WARREN NEAKOK: …we camped out at Kuutchiaq.
ED HALL: Oh you did camp there.
WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah.
ED HALL: Oh, okay. WARREN NEAKOK: Right below that little bank. Just snow blocks around it and put up a tent on it. Just before we reached that Kuutchiaq old cabin, saw caribou for the first time and my son-in-law, we get about six -- six caribou. We were hungry for it, too. The kids were sure glad and everybody, all of us. And then right after we put up our little tent, my son-in-law and I start hauling the -- the two boys start hauling the caribou, what we get, they haul them there in our little camp and start skinning them. And next day, start taking -- taking some meat up to Point Lay, after they froze. It was kind of cold up there, lot different -- we don't see no running water up there from Cape Beaufort up here. It was pretty good, snow all over everywhere. Took a sled load of caribou and put them in the school storage, that's for the summer meat. And there was a tent there, at Kuuchauraq, yeah, that old man -- that old man and his wife and their adopt -- two adopted kids. Oh, they did some hunting down there, caribou hunting. They were camping right on the beach side. I stopped there, have some little coffee, something to eat. Took off for Point Lay. ED HALL: So you came in like this, to Kuuchauraq on the way back and then did you go back along the spit? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, I follow the beach all the way up the spit. And next morning after I do some little shopping, some little groceries, head back in early after¬noon. I had to go back through the mainland side all the way. ED HALL: So you took some meat up for the cold storage and brought some supplies back down. WARREN NEAKOK: And we stayed there for a while, about three or four days, till the wind calmed down. As soon as the wind calmed down another team go down, came down from Point Lay; that was Willie's older -- oldest brother, he go down to pick us up. DAVE LIBBEY: Willie Tukrook? His older brother? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, so we came up and started living there at Point Lay again. That's the end of my trail. DAVE LIBBEY: Yeah, but did you -- you went down to Point Hope to get maqtaq? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, that's why we had a heavy load, maqtaq and meat. ED HALL: But you went out whaling while you were there -- on Lenny Lane's crew? WARREN NEAKOK: As soon as I got there they tried to hire me. This one old lady, she's got more power, she really want me. Old man, I think so. ED HALL: That wasn't the first time you'd been whaling, though? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah -- no, but when they used to do whaling there, I used to be out, but I was pretty young. But I'd never been there when they -- when they shot a whale, or kill a whale or something. Just go out there once in a while when I get big enough to haul some groceries, what they want and take them out, just travel back and forth once in a while. ED HALL: From -- from here?
WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah ED HALL: So there was two teams that went all the way down and two that came all the way back? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, these -- these two teams came from Point Hope to pick up Tuckfields, Charlie Tuckfields parents. That was my bro -- Dorcas' younger brother and her brother-in-law, they came up by dog team to pick up Tuckfields from Point Hope to Point Lay and we go same time with them. That is, they were moving to Point Hope for good after they lived here for years. DAVE LIBBEY: Who were they? Who were the Tuckfields? WARREN NEAKOK: Tuckfields, old man Tuckfields and his wife and his family. They came up by -- by boat in summertime, that was around early years '40's, maybe '39 somewhere. They came up by boat in summertime. And they remained there for how many years, for quite a while. ED HALL: Well, you made this trip in the 40's, right? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, I think we got in '46. No I was wrong. Early year '50. Yeah that's the time. ED HALL: 19 -- 1950. DAVE LIBBEY: Must be just about the time you were working for -- just about the time you were working on that coast survey? Warren Neakok: Yeah, that's the time, '48. Same year, soon as I get back. As soon as I get back start working there, for Geodetic Survey. Year '48
ED HALL: '48.
Warren Neakok: Yeah. ED HALL: Was that a big whale? Warren Neakok: Oh yeah, sounds like. Oh, about 50 -- 50 feet or so. ED HALL: Must have been exciting. Warren Neakok: Yeah, I think after we got home, get about three more or five more, some other crews. We get some ptarmigans once in a while, the kids keep hunting ptarmigans. ED HALL: Oh when you were traveling? Warren Neakok: Yeah, when we travel on the way back, one wolverine, one brown bear, a little one. That was used for dog food.
DAVE LIBBEY: Oh, you got a wolverine, huh? One wolverine? Warren Neakok: A wolverine, but it was kind of reddish color. I thought it was a bear, right between the ice piles, we were traveling out side of a big pile, ice pile, right close to the beach. While we were traveling, saw some kind of a head looking at us, right between the big iceberg. I thought it was a bear so, we stopped, grabbed my rifle and shot at it. It took off. I ran up there, go up on top the ice pile. Look at it, see that wolverine just roll down the side. A big sized one, too. DAVE LIBBEY: Where abouts was that? Where abouts was that along the trail? Warren Neakok: That was a little -- little on this side of Cape Beaufort. ED HALL: How many dogs did you have, Warren?
Warren Neakok: Oh about eight, eight dogs. ED HALL: On your team and was there eight on the other one, too?
Warren Neakok: Yeah ED HALL: So you had lots of hungry dogs. Warren Neakok: My uncle down at Point Hope, he gave us that little short sled, that little basket sled. So that give us more room, three kids drive it with three dogs and we use five dogs because the snow get kind of melt a little bit, you know, the sled just go real easy. ED HALL: Even with a heavy load. Warren Neakok: Yeah, even with a heavy load. DAVE LIBBEY: So, coming back you had two sleds?
ED HALL: Three sleds. DAVE LIBBEY: Yeah, of your own, though. Warren Neakok: On the way down, we didn't have much load, just enough our groceries and enough for the dogs. See how many, how long -- stay overnight or so. ED HALL: You remember at that coal mine you said one time you stayed in that shelter cabin, maybe that we found at the coal mine? When was that? Remember you said -- you said you went up this creek and around? Warren Neakok: Oh when I first come by? ED HALL: Yeah, no I don't know when it -- yeah. WARREN NEAKOK: Let's see what year? '47. Early year '47. ED HALL: Where were you going then? WARREN NEAKOK: Point Hope. That guy wanted to take me along. [Samuel Dives] He traveled by himself from Barrow, all the way. And then he wanted to take me along. Go along with him. He said that he gets tired of traveling all by himself in the big storm, too. So I did. So we followed that and after we took off from that old shelter cabin, travel right around. About a mile off, about a half a mile or a mile off from the beach side, because we can't travel through there, pretty rough and then we get down to the spit right ahead of the lagoon. And just travel there. ED HALL: So that was an earlier trip that you made to Point Hope? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, that-- that was my first trip.
DAVE LIBBEY: That was just the year before?
WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, my first trip. ED HALL: Did you just go right down and come right back? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, no, for the other year. No, I just go down and come back up. We camped out at Cape Lisburne, that's from Pikmigiaq, all the way. And then we holed up there for two days, the wind was blowing pretty good, east wind. And then late evening, we took off, we go right over there somewhere, go down -- down to Akalolik, just a little this side of that campsite where Cape Lisburne is. He knows the trail, go right over the mountains. ED HALL: Yeah, I guess it looks like you could come down through here. WARREN NEAKOK: Get down to that Akalolik. That was the only place where they could go down to Akalolik Creek, is pretty steep. Finally, we hit that same spot where he used to go down. Because these mountains are pretty -- pretty high. And then when we come up, we followed that little creek a little ways in and there's a little kind of lower spot but it's pretty high and pretty rocky, too. We got enough dogs, we got about 17 dogs. Yeah, we had a tough time, some rocks all over, no snow and it was pretty steep, too. And we got stuck once in a while, and my partner there, he had to walk up way ahead of his dogs. I was behind the sled handle. So he start to whistle at them and all the dogs starting crawling up so we go right up, stop once in a while, finally we get to the top. Soon as we get up to the top the wind was pretty well blowing. Boy, we had a hard time once in a while to trying to handle our sled, the dogs kept going like everything, 17 dogs. ED HALL: One sled? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, one little basket sled. It wasn't too big, maybe about this long… ED HALL: 10 feet long WARREN NEAKOK: About this wide and kind of narrow too. Got a big load, too. ED HALL: What was he traveling for? Warren Neakok: Oh he took somebody, the white guy up from Pt. Hope or Kotzebue all the way to Barrow. I don't know what he was. ED HALL: And then he was just coming back?
WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah. ED HALL: Who was that? Who was that guy you were traveling with? Warren Neakok: Oh, Samuel Dives. ED HALL: And then how did you get back to Point Lay? WARREN NEAKOK: After three or four days, when the wind died down, but it was still blowing pretty good but it was better. And he hired, the other guy wants to take me home, as far as Pikmigiaq. Because I don't know the trail, over these mountains. I didn't really know which way I'm going, because we'd been traveling in dark -- dark weather, too. That was in November, just before Thanksgiving. And he took me up and camped out right in the mountains somewhere. I don't even see what, we followed the Kukpak for the way in.
ED HALL: Kukpak WARREN NEAKOK: Kukpak, we go further up, and then just before dark we camped out. And then from there, we camped out again somewhere. And then from there, go down to Pikmigiaq. And next day, early in the morning, he took off, and I took off. Took off around seven o'clock in the morning, before daylight. From there, from Pikmigiaq, I camped out at Kuutchiaq. Hit a big storm again, north wind. Stayed overnight and then left in the morning, all the way to Point Lay. ED HALL: Did you ever make that trip again by dog team? WARREN NEAKOK: Oh yeah, after I know which way to go, right over these mountains, I think I made a couple of trips after that, springtime, the first part of April. One year and the other war, that is when they get a whale at Point Hope. But with the other guy with me, I had no problems on the trail. ED HALL: Have you made the same trip with a snow mobile? WARREN NEAKOK: I haven't -- I haven't traveled with a snow mobile. Maybe I'll get lost if I use a snow mobile. Not using my lead dog, too fast. ED HALL: You would go that same way with a snow mobile, though? Even that steep way… WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, they follow that same trail by snowmachine. They come up once in a while by snowmachine…
ED HALL: Point Hopers? WARREN NEAKOK: Yeah, they travel. But it only takes them about a couple of days.
ED HALL: Yeah, little different.