Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Lavell Wilson

Lavell Wilson was interviewed on December 13, 2013 by Leslie McCartney and Barbara Cellarius at his home in Tok, Alaska.  His wife, Catherine Wilson, also was present at the interview.  In this interview, Lavell talks about growing up in Northway, hunting and trapping in the Northway, Nabesna, and Fortymile areas, and changes in the weather he has observed over the years.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-14-05

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Dec 13, 2013
Narrator(s): Lavell Wilson
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney, Barbara Cellarius
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
People Present: Catherine Wilson
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
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Growing up in Northway

Trapping around Northway and in the Fortymile area

Hunting and guiding

Changes in the climate

Changes in trapping and transportation

How his father came to Alaska

History of the community of Tok

Changes in Northway

Changes in animal populations

How he started guiding

History of gold in the area

Flying for hunters and guides

Gardens at Tanacross

Fishing for whitefish

Changes due to snowmachines and four-wheelers

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LESLIE McCARTNEY: So today is Friday the 13th, 2013 (December) and we're in Cathy and Lavell Wilson’s home just outside of Tok. I'm Leslie McCartney and I have Barbara Cellarius with us and I wanted to thank you very much for letting us come and talk to you today.

LAVELL WILSON: No problem. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. So let’s just start off with you were saying a little bit earlier how you came up to Northway in the 1940’s with your family and maybe you can talk about where you were from and why your family moved here.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, I was actually born in Oregon. Started school there in Washington and my dad had came up here. I'm not sure the exact year -- ’39 or ’40, I think.

And he trapped with a Native partner, Oscar Albert out of Northway for years. And then in ’48 he came out to where we were living in Washington, and then shortly after that we moved to Alaska. He brought us up the highway.

There was four of us in the family. I got two brothers and a sister. And we settled at Northway where he'd been trapping with Oscar Albert. And the first year didn’t go to school. My mom taught us at home. And then my dad moved us up on the highway there and built what was called then the Northway Motel on the highway.

And it's no longer exists, but then when we graduated from grade school, of course, there was no -- no high schools around so the option was board with somebody in Fairbanks or Anchorage or something.

And we ended up going to -- which was primarily a Native school, but it was operated by the Presbyterian Church -- Sheldon Jackson Junior College in Sitka, which was a four year high school and two year college then. And we went there four years and graduated and now -- now it's all shut down there. They -- shortly after we left they quit having the high school and just went to college and now that's all shut down.

But it was a good -- got a good education there. And then I went to the University of Alaska for a year -- Catherine and I both and then we went to Brigham Young University in Utah for almost two years. And then we ran out of money and started having kids and never did -- never did finish college, but -- and then I started working construction.

I started out in the Laborer’s Union and then became an operator and basically worked out of the Operating Engineer’s until I retired. I got elected to the legislature in 1972 in the House of Representatives and served a term there.

And after that I started -- I 'd always flown. I had a guide license and used the airplane in connection with that. And so I became pretty familiar with all the area around the Chisana, Nabesna, and Northway areas. And -- and as a kid you hunted all over. My dad was an avid trapper and hunter, so we used to hunt on the Nabesna Road, you know, for instance in the early days and in the -- in the 50’s.

And, of course, all the Fortymile area and so that's how I became real familiar with a lot of the people and a lot of the country. And eventually retired from all that, and now I’m just sitting around here taking it easy.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did you want to show us on the map perhaps where your -- LAVELL WILSON: Sure. LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- father had hunted and trapped? LAVELL WILSON: Sure.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And perhaps -- cause you were saying that you had trapped for quite some time, too? LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: So --

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, I trapped -- oh when I was growing up I trapped around Northway and then even when I moved here I trapped up at -- up the Fortymile area and then up the Tok River and different places and, and then --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: I’ll give you the orange marker here.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: No, that’s not the map we want, I don’t think. I don't think we want this one. I think we want the -- and we don’t want that one. So it's these two that we want.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. And as you can some other people have marked on it where they -- where they used to traditionally hunt and trap, but I’ll give you the orange marker and than if you want to mark out --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So I folded this, so we can stick it on top of the Nabesna map.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: The Tanacross map on top. LAVELL WILSON: Oh, okay.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Cause Northway's right here.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, well, let’s see, where's --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Maybe start off where your dad used to --

LAVELL WILSON: My dad used to trap over here in the Black Hills. Which is this area here. Him and Oscar Albert and they had a -- they used dog teams, of course, then. And they had a trail that went from Northway clear over here. They had a cabin --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: You can draw the trail around. LAVELL WILSON: Huh?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: You could draw the trail.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, I’m not sure where the trail was though. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, okay.

LAVELL WILSON: They had a cabin there or somewhere on one of these lakes. My dad showed me once. It was from the air, but -- But, yeah, they used a dog team and they trapped marten in here and then everything in between.

And then they trapped -- my dad trapped up in the Ladue which is -- where we at?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Here’s the Dennison. LAVELL WILSON: South Fork of Ladue. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Here’s Ladue.

LAVELL WILSON: Ladue River, yeah. Yeah, him and Oscar trapped -- I’m not sure where they went in, but I know they trapped up in the Ladue, in this area.

In fact, I’ve got a picture of them up in there somewhere, but -- Then I trapped, let’s see where's Taylor Highway?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Does that take off from Tok Junction?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. Cement Creek, Dennison, Liberty. Well, I went in --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: I’ve got the next map up.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, anyway, I trapped up Liberty Creek. BARBARA CELLARIUS: There’s Liberty.

LAVELL WILSON: Dewey Creek. I trapped clear up into here. Tom Paine (Creek) -- actually went a little past Tom Paine, but I trapped at Tom Paine, too, and down to the road for a few years.

But primarily I trapped -- see I have a place up here on the Tok River. Here, okay, it don’t show -- it used to show a cabin. I have -- oh, there -- right there. See that cabin.


LAVELL WILSON: That old cabin's collapsed. My place is right about there. Oops. LESLIE McCARTNEY: I’ll pick that up.

LAVELL WILSON: But anyway I trapped all the way up the Dry Tok (Creek) up here -- up White Creek, one time clear up here. Then I have a trail that goes clear into Burnt Lake, which is right --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, there it is. LAVELL WILSON: Right there, yeah.

And then I trapped all the way to the road. Originally from the trail here, I had a trail that goes in, cross the river like that, and trapped that up until a few years ago. And gave that up, but that's where I trapped the last ten, fifteen years or so.

But we used to go hunting up the -- used to go up here caribou hunting a lot when I was younger with my dad. But I've flown all this area lots of times. Flown hunters in all these lakes and so I'm pretty familiar with the area.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So when you were caribou hunting, were you mostly caribou hunting on the west side of the Nabesna River, or did you also caribou hunt --

LAVELL WILSON: Mostly on -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Mostly on that side? LAVELL WILSON: Along the road. BARBARA CELLARIUS: West side, okay.

LAVELL WILSON: Road hunting, you know. When I was guiding, I used to use a lot of this area. It was my guide area. I used a floatplane a lot and a lot of -- hunted on most of these lakes, but never hunted on foot. I used to Pickerel Lake and then I've hunted up in here for sheep.

But mostly moose in all these different lakes. And I had Fern Lake and I had where these cabin -- I had a mining claim in here. Which I relinquished some years ago. It made the reserve people -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: The Refuge (Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge).

LAVELL WILSON: -- happy to get rid of it. But I kept them scared for a few years.

See I hunted all these lakes. Mostly moose, some bear, but --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And the sheep hunting, was that for guiding or --

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. That was strictly guiding, yeah. And I sheep hunted all this area up here. All these --

And my wife got a nice sheep up here one time, but I -- then I hunted all these drainages up here for sheep, bear, moose.

A lot of moose hunting in the Dry Tok. That’s kind of gone down now, but I got 80 acres right here. A couple houses and an airstrip and we spend our summers up there.

We were up there all last summer and it's nice in the summer. Although last spring wasn’t nice, but practically got flooded out.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Lots of snow and then lots of heat.

LAVELL WILSON: Oh, snowed the 14th of May. I forget how many inches, huh, eight, ten inches.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, wasn't it like -- Yeah, I was going to say there -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: And then it warmed up to --

LAVELL WILSON: And then a week later it warmed up in the 70’s and a few days in the 80’s and naturally, we still had three foot of snow on the ground.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. LAVELL WILSON: It was over -- I had a 50 gallon drum sitting -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.

LAVELL WILSON: In the driveway, you couldn’t see them. They were upright, but the snow was over the top. And naturally we had a massive flood, you know.

Fortunately, I have some equipment there and managed to dike up things and keep it from -- it washed out part of my runway which I repaired, but kept it from washing the house away and whatnot, but hopefully, I won’t ever go through that -- I had that place up there since --

Well, I didn’t get title to it until later on -- built the first cabin there in the early 60’s -- ’62 or ’3 right in there and --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Was it some kind of land disposal or --

LAVELL WILSON: Well, it was under the Homestead Act.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Under the Homestead Act, okay. LAVELL WILSON: Before they closed it.

CATHERINE WILSON: It was trade and manufacturing.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, follow the trade and manufacturing. The last one filed in the state. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh.

LAVELL WILSON: Which you filed on 80 acres. Well, then they -- they come along and when I finally got ready to get title, they said well, they went up and surveyed it -- the BLM -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.

LAVELL WILSON: Said well, we’re just going to give you 15 acres. That's all you can show you really use 'em. I said well, that’s fine. Nobody around me anyway, what did I care.

Well, to make a long story short things drug out for a few years and Jimmy Carter signed the Land Claims Settlement Act. Well, there's a clause in there to accept all pends -- all claims pending -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Pending. Uh-huh.

LAVELL WILSON: As filed -- when I filed on 80. So they called me up and said, well, we're going to give you 80 acres. I said, oh that’s fine.

So ended up getting 80 acres there and -- which has turned out really nice. We got two homes there.

The original log home and then I leased a chunk to some people for 10 years and built a -- they built -- I bought the materials. They built the home. Then after 10 years it reverted to me.

Then he got Alzheimer’s real bad and had to move out a couple years ago. And so we have quite a few buildings there and equipment to maintain the runway.

Of course, I used to maintain my trapping trails, but don’t do that no more. But --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Do any of your children trap -- trapline with you?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, yeah. Leif traps. Yeah. And he's got a trapline up the Taylor somewhere. And he was wanting to go up there last year. I don’t know if he will this year or not.

CATHERINE WILSON: 40-Mile Air uses the runway.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. They use my runway for flying in sheep hunters primarily. They fly them in -- they can fly them like three, four hunters with a 206 and then ferry them out -- sheep hunters with the Cub, so they don’t have to go all the way back to Tok every time.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Catherine was saying your son’s a pilot, so he can take them in, is that what you are saying? CATHERINE WILSON: Yeah, he is a -- LAVELL WILSON: Leif, yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Is that what you were saying, Catherine?

CATHERINE WILSON: Yeah, our son is a pilot. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

CATHERINE WILSON: With 40-Mile Air. Our son and son-in-law are with 40-Mile Air. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, okay.

CATHERINE WILSON: And they utilize the runway in the -- in the hunting season.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, he was wanting to do a little trapping up there late, and he didn’t though. And I don’t know what his plan -- This year he's been tied up with a bunch of things, and so I don’t know, but--

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, that's kind of one of the things that we were asking people is -- who've been here a long time is about the climate changing or the changes from, you know, springs and winters changing and this was a perfect example this year of --

have you seen those kind of floods before and the temperature oscillation?

LAVELL WILSON: That's the -- worst one I've ever seen was last year, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

LAVELL WILSON: As far as climate change, generally I can’t prove it, but I will swear on a stack of bibles that winters are not near as severe as they used to be.

When I first moved into Tok in the early 60’s I lived right close to the junction there and I worked there for the Air Force on that site there.

And maintained these towers up and down the road you see, and I remember I had walked to work.

It was only three, four blocks and I didn’t have a garage and boy, I walked to work in the dark and the ice fog 55 below, you know, 60 below.

I mean it would go on for weeks, you know, two, three weeks a lot of times.

Never warm up below 40 below, you know. But it's hard to imagine that now. But I know they were -- they were more severe. It's not as bad.

This winter so far has been really mild, too. I mean we've had maybe one week of kind of cold weather, but other than that.

But the summers, I don’t know last year when we finally did get summer after that spring, gee we got two or three days in the 80’s, you know. Which was a little above normal, too, but not severe.

I remember as a kid in Northway a lot of times it'd be pretty hot in the summer. I remember walking down -- of course, the road was all dirt then, you know, gravel and it'd get real dusty.

I mean the dust would be covering the brush out there, you know. I remember walking down the road when I was a kid barefoot -- walking on the edge and that dust it'd --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: The soft dust. LAVELL WILSON: Like melt right in between your toes and feel real good, you know. It would be 80 above, yeah, but --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: You wouldn’t believe you were in Alaska.

LAVELL WILSON: No. Don’t have the dust no more.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: I had a question about trapping. So you talked about how your dad and Oscar Albert were trapping with dog teams. Did you start out with dog teams or have you always --


LAVELL WILSON: No, first started out when I was younger trapping on snowshoes. I never used dogs. I went with my dad a few times with the dog team, but, you know, three dogs.

When I was oh 10, 11, 12 years old, but no I used just snowshoes for years. And then I think I bought the first snowmachine in Tok.

Couldn’t really afford it so went half with another guy, and then we liked it so much bought him out and --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh huh, had to figure out how to make it your own.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. They were just a lot better than -- than walking. You could, you know, it's kind of like this country before airplanes. The airplane come along and look what it did, you know. And look what the snowmachine did. It revolutionized trapping.

I mean and now -- now you got four-wheelers which, you know, I use four-wheeler at my place a lot, too, but boy I see a lot of places they did a lot of damage.

There's too many people that use them that don’t show any respect for the ground they cross, you know.

They come to a big muddy spot instead of going around it they’ll chew right through it and they spin. They like big aggressive tires and they like to throw big piles of mud up behind them and they're just ruining it.

There's going to be more and more areas restricted just because of that -- because they just won’t -- won’t -- I don’t know why.

I get them up there all the time. Last summer because of the high water all summer I hardly had any. But that’s the way --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So they come up --

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, when the water gets low in the fall they come up there and those guys are good. They put them big aggressive tires on there and they'll run right across the water at high speed, you know.

And they'll pick a place where it's deep here, but it's shallow over here and they'll roar across and it'll stay right on top.

Then they'll slow down when they get in the water sort of like this and then come out on the other side.

Yeah, sometime I’m amazed how much they can do with them, but they do tear the country up if you aren’t -- I use -- you probably saw them 6 x 6 trucks sitting out here. That’s what I use to go back and forth.

Like last summer I couldn’t even use them until September. The water was just too high all summer. I mean I could've probably made it, but because they would take a lot of water, you know. They'll go through water like this. You know, without a problem, but --

And then it was just her and I. And she don’t have the muscle I’d like her to have, you know, so when it comes to winching one out or something, well, you know, so I usually end up, at least the first trip getting somebody to go with me.

You know, once we had -- we know we can make it and have a track to follow then it's not -- but last year we flew in and out all year until late in the season there.

And then we, of course, were waiting all summer to get stuff in to have been stockpiling all winter to go in, you know, but anyway that's the normal way we do it is with the 6 x 6 trucks.

And I've been worried that they'll try to shut that down, but I stay on the river gravel, you know. And it -- After high water, you can’t even find the track, you know, so I don’t think it's --

I've hunted a lot of the area though clear over through the pass and over into Chistochina.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. How did your dad manage to come up here and partner up with Oscar Albert? That must be an interesting story.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, well, I'm not sure. My dad wasn’t much to -- what he did he -- I'm not even sure what year he came up. I think ’39 or ’40. He was drafted up here.

He was up here and he -- I don’t know how he run into Oscar Albert. I know the road wasn’t in because I remember reading a deal that they -- Oscar had done an interview with the Fish & Wildlife (Service) and he said he picked up my dad at Northway in ’40 I think it was, or maybe ’41 -- I mean at Delta.


LAVELL WILSON: And brought him up to Northway on the river. And this road wasn’t put through until ’42, basically.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Do you know when the airstrip was built at Northway? LAVELL WILSON: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Could it -- I mean could there have been a connection with the airstrip?

LAVELL WILSON: No. The airstrip was built -- let’s see, they started it right before the war broke out.


LAVELL WILSON: I did an article on -- it's in the Alaska Geographic.


LAVELL WILSON: On the Northway Airport. BARBARA CELLARIUS: We can look that up.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, it's got some pictures and stuff that we -- she put in there and -- but basically what they did -- where we at here?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So your finger's on Northway. LAVELL WILSON: Okay, yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: It's right at --


LAVELL WILSON: Comes in here. Well, they brought their equipment down the river and they cut over through here. You can still see part of the old trail. This trail here.

They came down to Northway, crossed the river and built the runway.

Bob Reeve flew the first plane in there, and he hired a bunch of Natives from Tetlin and brought them over here.

And then later on in Northway, the Indians they cut out the first little runway and then they -- they walked all that equipment in.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So was that from Reeve’s Field?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, from Reeve’s Field.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So they were basing out of Reeve’s Field?

LAVELL WILSON: Uh-huh. And let’s see Reeve’s Field --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: It's more or less at the end of the --

LAVELL WILSON: Reeve’s Field laid right here. I used to -- I went down there a few times hunting with my dad. And then later on I flew this area -- fly hunters in here. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.

LAVELL WILSON: Orange Hill. And there's not -- the last time I landed there it's probably been at least ten years ago and there wasn’t much left of the old runway.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, I don’t think there's much left.

LAVELL WILSON: You had to kind of be careful where you went cause it had --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: The river took it. LAVELL WILSON: -- washouts and stuff, yeah.

But anyway, yeah, they brought the equipment down. And just before the war broke out -- the summer of ’41 is when they started.

I don’t when they actually got their equipment down here, but I had some pictures -- it's in that Geographic.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: We'll look up the article.

LAVELL WILSON: The caterpillars crossing the river here to build the runway. And interesting cause they got a -- the guys were pretty smart -- white guys.

They were smart enough to hire an Indian and he's sitting on the front of the dozer showing them where to go on the river, you know, so you can get across without swamping it.

Because the Natives grew up on the river and they can read the river real good. They can tell where it's shallow and where it isn’t, and the white person is not used to it.

I've traveled the river so much I got where I could pretty much tell, but I get mixed up some times, too, but when I’ve been with the Natives, even to this day some of the older ones on the river with a boat they can tell right where to go and where not to go just by looking at the water.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You said your dad was drafted up here.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, he was up here for a while and he was -- he came out with Oscar and trapping and then he worked for -- when the war broke out, he worked for old man (Herman) Kessler there at Northway. He had a trading post. Right --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: At the junction there?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, no, yeah, right at the junction -- just past the bridge. On the left.

And that's where we spent our first winter there. My dad had a little cabin there.

But anyway old Herman had set up -- well, the army gave him a sawmill and the deal was he had to cut so many board feet of lumber for the military. And oh --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Looks like we have the article. LESLIE McCARTNEY: There's the article. LAVELL WILSON: Oh, yeah.

CATHERINE WILSON: It's from Alaska Geographic.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And what was the date on that?


LAVELL WILSON: Anyway, my dad then worked for him one summer. Run the mill. I have all these. These are all photos that I submitted.

But there's Bob Reeve flying the first load in there, yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, right.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But your dad was drafted up with the army was it?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, and they tried to draft him and my dad said no, I got four kids and a wife and whatnot. And we were Outside in the Lower 48, and my mom was on welfare.

My dad hadn’t been supporting her. And the fact that he was -- he was living with a Native lady there at Northway. And anyway the army started checking with my mom and found out he wasn’t helping out very much, so they drafted him and then gave her an allotment.

And he was highly pissed about that for quite a while.

But anyway, he did come out and then he moved us up in -- in, like I say in the late 40’s.

But he never talked too much about -- in fact, we didn’t find out a lot of things until after he died.

He pretty much kept his early history to himself, but I wish now I would've really pushed him 'cause I’m not even sure exactly -- I remember he said he stowed away on a boat coming to Alaska out of Seattle. Him and another guy, which I knew this other guy.

He used to be around Delta. One of the Fales, but never really pinned him down to get exact --

Yeah, but anyway the army drafted him and he hated the army, of course, and he said some shaved tail lieutenant trying to show him how to walk on snowshoes and -- Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: When we were talking earlier, you talked about what Tok was like when you first got here?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, when we first moved into Tok, we had the pump station out here. Run by the US Army. And they had quite a few people there.

And then there was a Road Commission here in town that maintained the highways, and then right at the junction there the Alaska Communications System, ACS, we called it, was run by the US Army and later went to the Air Force.

But that was basically it other than the Tok Lodge, later on Parker House, and a few tourist type things, but that was it. There was no -- like today there's quite a few stores and there was one store there and had a post office -- had a little store with it.

It wasn’t much though. And basically if you lived in Tok and worked, you worked for one of them outfits. Otherwise it was just summer employment and like I say, I started working construction. There was a few people that did, but it was summer work.

It wasn’t until the pipeline come along that construction started working in the wintertime. You know, construction companies they know -- it costs three times as much to do work in the winter as it does in the summer, so they didn’t do it.

But now they got a lot of stuff that makes it easier so you do see construction in the winter, but not too much.

You don’t see any road construction in the winter to speak of, but -- but there was, you know, you said 200 people in ’70. Well, that must've been probably within a couple miles.

Because our population now it includes Tanacross. I think it goes about a ten or fifteen mile radius and it's around 1,500 people.

I was Chief of the Fire Department for a while and we got our money based on the head count, you know, and I think when I was in there it was 1,200, but that included Tanacross.

It didn’t include Northway or Tetlin or anything, but it was a pretty good area around Tok. If I remember right ten to fifteen miles.

But now that the pump station is all closed down and the ACS is all gone, all the military, population went down for a while, but then it's become kind of a retirement community, too. Quite a few retired people here because we don’t have a city.

We don’t have a borough. We don’t have sales tax.

So that gets us in trouble with legislators who represent Fairbanks and Anchorage that are paying through the nose and they say why ain’t you guys paying, you know. You're not paying your fair share.

But I'm on the State Boundary Commission. I don’t know if you know what that is. They adjust boundaries for any municipalities, cities, boroughs. Local Boundary Commission it's called. It's a five member board. Five people from each judicial district.

And I'm the only one from an unorganized borough.

So I fight the battle pretty near every meeting. But I've got it pretty well nailed down to where when they say we're not paying our share, the only thing I can really have to agree with is we don’t pay our share for education. But they figured that out, and if they charged each one out here I think it was $460 last time a year we would pay our share 'cause that's about what you pay in Fairbanks.

I forget the guy that did that -- Gary something. He was in the legislature.

But, you know, we do without a lot of services, you know. Well, they say you get your road plowed. Well, we get the main highway plowed basically and where the school bus goes the state plows it, but, you know, like I plow my own driveway, most people do.

And, you know, we can’t -- we don’t have a land office to go to.

We don’t have, you know, a lot of things that you get in town and the people in town they forget what advantages they get from the state that we don’t, you know.

They're trying to build a -- indoor tennis courts in Anchorage now. There's a big movement. And I forget how many million they want for that, you know. They want it from the state, of course, you know.

Well, that’s fine, I guess. I’m not much for -- I think, you know, promoting tennis in Alaska is a losing battle, but -- but anyway they -- so I argue that, but eventually I suppose we'll be -- Hopefully I’ll be dead and gone.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So how big was Northway when -- when you first moved up there in --

LAVELL WILSON: The white population was very small. I remember when we moved there was one other family -- the James family that we were -- were white and were not employed either by the government -- they had an ACS thing there, or the FAA at Northway.

Had probably 30 people working there -- white people. And the school teacher was white. And that was about it.

The population of the village, I would say the Native population was under 200. Not very big. Not as big as Tanacross.

Total I'd say there was only 250 people lived in the whole area here at the most. And it was 90 percent Native. Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: How did your mom like living there?

LAVELL WILSON: My mom liked it, yeah. She liked it. She got along good with some of the Native women.

Ada Albert who -- one of her closest friends. And she took in several of the Native kids and -- When I was going to high school she kept a couple of them around a little time and they stayed with her -- with us.

And still real good friends. But yeah, she -- she liked it. She was pretty adaptable.

CATHERINE WILSON: Remember your dad and mom had that store, too. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, after my dad sold the motel. Which was up here at the junction --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: About when was that? Sorry.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Catherine, do you remember when they sold the hotel at the junction?

CATHERINE WILSON: They sold -- they rented it out for several years. Your uncle ran it for several years. LAVELL WILSON: Yeah.



LAVELL WILSON: Fifty-six, huh, okay. Well, that was the year that I graduated from high school.

But anyway before then after he rented it out we moved over here just before Northway here. Right around -- I don't know where Moose Creek is.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: There's Moose Creek.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, where Moose Creek crosses the road. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.

LAVELL WILSON: We built a store and a house and we lived there for years. And that's where I was living when I went to college at the University (of Alaska).

And Catherine’s folks built a place just right there, too. Later on they built a place over on the highway at Mile 1260, called Lakeview Inn.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And how did they come to be up here?

LAVELL WILSON: Well, her dad came up here in about fifty -- CATHERINE WILSON: Four.


LAVELL WILSON: And spent the summer. He was a union carpenter. And he got a job at Northway, wasn’t it?


LAVELL WILSON: For a while and then in Tok. He worked on the Tok School.

And then when he went back Outside, then the next year he brought his whole family up and she came up then. In ’55. And that's how they ended up there.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So was any of the family involved in mining at all?


LAVELL WILSON: Nope. No mining. Did a lot of flying for miners. You know, over the years in the Fortymile and over on the Chistochina -- different places.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. You said you had a little stake at one place, but you didn’t --

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. I used to do a little panning and stuff there, but that was basically it. Yeah, on the --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Was it this one?


BARBARA CELLARIUS: Or was it that spot?

LAVELL WILSON: Right near where it says cabins. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.

LAVELL WILSON: Just below the -- there I had a claim -- a couple claims there. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah and -- but I never did nothing with it -- just usually fly in here with a floatplane, walk down there, and pan and fiddle around and nothing serious.

There had been some prospecting in there in the early days. But didn’t amount to a whole lot.

There was -- I used to fly guys into where was it? One of the -- oh, maybe it was this one. One of these lakes up in here and they would go in here sheep hunting. Walking.

And the same thing with Jimmy Brown. Jimmy Brown was a mail carrier in the early days. Used to come over from Suslota and over and this lake was named after him. Yeah, this -- I used to use this trail even it was still cut out.

You could walk over Stone Creek and then we'd come up here sheep hunting, but good pike fishing, too. Here and Pickerel Lake both. Yeah --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: We talked about changes in the weather. Any -- over the years for trapping changes in the animal population?


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Can you alk about that for a little --

LAVELL WILSON: Marten particularly has varied a lot. And lynx, of course, they go in them cycles up and down. And they've been down quite a bit now.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And how's the marten? How's marten changed?

LAVELL WILSON: Well, like some years, I mean, three, four years there'll be a lot of them. And then there'll be years -- I didn’t trap last year, but talking to the trappers there was just hardly any last year. And that's probably one reason you get $140 for them --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Price was so high -- LAVELL WILSON: -- you know.

And I remember my dad talking about he could go -- when he first started trapping, he said he could go way the hell up to where they went in the Black Hills and never see a marten track across there only in the Black Hills would he find marten.

And then years later there would be a fair amount of them, but this was always good lynx country, too. But lynx go up and down, you know, with the rabbits basically.

And if you want to find lynx you go where there's rabbits otherwise you're not going to find many of them.

And the lynx been down, oh I remember when I was trapping around Northway there was times there in the late 50’s, mid-50’s, that they were really thick -- lynx were. I mean you could get a hundred a year, you know, and not no more. And the rabbits have been down for years and years.

They come up a little, but nothing like they used to. They came up it was in the 60’s. I’m thinking the late 60’s or at least the mid-60’s, there were so many rabbits they were chewing the telephone poles down along the road.

Well, it turns out a lot of them telephone poles had been cut along the coast and were in saltwater, and they would chew down to where the pole --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Like a beaver.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, well you can’t see it now maybe 'cause of snow, but you pay attention you will see poles that's got metal around the bottom.

Well, the army was here then, ACS, and they went out and they put metal bands around all the ones that the rabbits were chewing on.

And in the summer they would be so thick on the road you just -- between here and Dot Lake you’d run over a dozen of them, you know.

And I always get a kick out of her brother he -- he always liked to exaggerate, you know. One of his exaggerations was he was driving to Fairbanks and the dead rabbits on the road, he said they were going along with the road grader and windrowing them up on the side.

I said you ain’t going to make me believe that one Bud, but yeah.

They've never gotten that thick again. I don’t know why. They come up a little, but not a whole lot, and so --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Changes in the moose and the caribou and bears or -- ?

LAVELL WILSON: Well, I don’t notice much difference in the bears, but the moose have been up and down, but basically I don’t think there's been a whole lot of change. In the Fortymile, maybe.

'Cause I read stories of some of the early guys -- old Fred Terwilliger used to live just down the street. He's been dead for a long -- he was a early pioneer. He came up on the Stikine River and then moved up here later years. And he trapped around Chicken and Eagle and freighted.

And he told me he could go from Chicken to Eagle and never see a moose track. That was in the late 20’s, early 30’s, and, of course, now there's lots of moose there.

So in that respect -- but now they're just up and down.

I think mainly due to climate and predation. I know this area, in what we call Mosquito Flats.


LAVELL WILSON: Dennison, Mosquito Flats here. This is a big -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.

LAVELL WILSON: -- calving area -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, yes.

LAVELL WILSON: -- for moose. And we did surveys for years with Fish & Game and one year we collared 32 I think it was -- moose calves.

And first we'd fly out and check on them like three times a week. And then later on twice, and then later on once a week.

And if we could we’d take helicopter and they'd land and go check the collar and see what -- try to see what killed it.

And it was hard to tell a lot of times. There might be a bear on it, but it was pretty evident that wolves killed it, you know.

And a couple of them drowned crossing the creek. You would find them washed up in a log jam or whatever.

But anyway to make a long story short, of the 32 -- first of October there was two of them left. And so the moose population went down. And I think it's come back somewhat, but --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And, of course, the wolf population depends on what there is to eat, you know.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. Yeah. Of course, they've been, you know, they've been hunting wolves in this area for a while, which has helped some.

But a lot of areas where they take the wolf or the wolves mainly work was not too much hunting going on. But anymore with the event of off-road vehicles and airplanes pretty near everywhere gets hunted to some extent, you know. If there's anything there.

You know, hunters don’t like to go somewhere and get dropped off and there's nothing there. And so the word gets out pretty fast, but, yeah.

The caribou, of course, you know, most of our caribou are not normally here. They come and go. You know, we get the Nelchina Herd that comes up and a lot of times they'll cross in here.

A couple of years ago a lot of them came right through here -- my place and down this creek and across. Then they cross the road here and over here and they cross and go -- and some of them went and cleare and joined the Fortymile Herd.

You know, on the other hand I shot a caribou over in Chisna Pass, which is up in here.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Up in there, okay.

LAVELL WILSON: I don’t know ten years ago I guess -- more than that uh, Hon?


LAVELL WILSON: When we were caribou hunting and I shot that caribou with the collar on it.

CATHERINE WILSON: Oh, gee, I don’t remember. It's been that long.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, it was quite a while back. And it had been collared up out of Eagle. It was one of the Fortymile Herd caribou, so --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: They move around.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, they do. I didn’t -- I didn't -- they were kind of amazed when I brought that collar in 'cause the biologist here had collared it somewhere up on the Seventymile, I think it was.

But anyway, so we don’t really know too much about the caribou population, except when they come through there's a lot of them. And when they're not, they're not.

But like when I was a kid around Northway we very seldom got caribou. It didn’t seem like -- if we did, it would usually be around Midway Lake.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. It's right here.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, around here. They seemed to cross in here. We’d see them here and I remember my dad talking about getting them up in Ladue.

But there wasn’t many right around Northway. It was mostly moose hunting.

Most of the Natives hunted moose. And in the early days, of course, I know there wasn’t many caribou 'cause I read way too many stories of the Natives from Northway and Tetlin going up in the Fortymile.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. The fences.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. Kechumstuk and that area. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Kechumstuk, yeah that’s a popular place.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, they had big caribou fences built up there even. And, of course, they depended on caribou. I was surprised it was their number one -- animal as far as subsistence, but now I think moose is pretty much their number one.

But now, of course, the Native people have the ability to hunt about anywhere just like anybody else can, you know, so --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, that was one thing we were trying to learn is if people from Northway kind of tended to go -- and Tanacross and Tetlin tended to go this way to hunt as opposed to going down into what is now the Park (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park)?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, I would say generally that's true. Some of them hunt the river. Of course, the Chisana and the -- but --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And that kind of leads me -- LAVELL WILSON: Not like they used to. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh.

LAVELL WILSON: Because now they all got cars, you know, so they go on the road and then back off. And then some of them use four-wheelers.

Of course, in the winter they use snowmachines, but -- but when I was guiding this area I hardly ever run into any Native people hunting in there.

There just was no access, except the river. You know, none of them flew. I flew a few of them in over the years where they get moose, but --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Um. So that leads me to the question of when the Park was actually established, did that effect how people could hunt and trap or use the land or did it really not have much of an effect at all?

LAVELL WILSON: As far as the Northway people, I don’t think it had any effect. To speak of.

As far as the white people that used this area, yeah it effected it, but I forget one side of the road you could hunt and one you couldn’t. I guess it's still that way isn’t it?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Well, folks -- LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, preserve and park.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. Folks who live in Tok and Slana and that kind of thing, and more recently people who live in the villages, they can hunt on either side of the road. It doesn’t matter whether it's park or preserve.

It's people from outside the area that can only hunt in the Preserve.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: So the local communities can hunt in the Park.

LAVELL WILSON: Huh. But generally I’d say the only people effected the most was sheep hunters. You know, because a lot of this park is in prime sheep country, but -- Used to fly a lot of sheep hunters in here. And Mesa.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And do they still allow that then?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: You can -- you can fly into the Preserve.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Into the Preserve. BARBARA CELLARIUS: You can’t fly into the Park.


BARBARA CELLARIUS: So that might be part of what you were thinking about.

LAVELL WILSON: But, of course, the guides that hunt in this area got effected probably more than anybody, but --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And has guiding gone up or gone down?


LESLIE McCARTNEY: And is that for a lot of different reasons?

LAVELL WILSON: Well, the restrictions. Among things. And costs, you know.

Gee, when I started guiding I could take a moose hunter for a thousand dollars, you know and a sheep hunter maybe for fifteen hundred.

Now you're talking twelve, fifteen thousand, you know. Of course, they're given -- if you go with a real quality guide, you know.

I did mostly moose and sheep in the Tok River area. But the moose went way down in there once access got more liberalized. And then we made it into a drawing area for sheep.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: The Tok Management Area?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, Tok Management Area which they came down here and had several meetings. There're three of us around that guided in there and we all supported it 'cause we could see what was happening. It was getting over harvested.

And, of course, they -- kind of like the Park Service they pulled a sneaky on us, you know. They said, oh we’ll give you the guides ten percent. We will have 120 permits and the guides will get ten of them.

Well, then when they did it first year nobody got nothing. What the hell? Well, we went to them and they said well, what we mean is put in 120 people, we draw 120, well, if ten of them are going with guides you'll get ten of them, but if none of them are signed up to go with the guides you don’t get any.

So I think over the years after that I got two or three, that’s about it. As we thought it would be like they did with the brown bear on the -- on the Peninsula in Kodiak, because traditionally most of the bear hunting there had been guides, you know.

Residents don’t hunt bears much. So when they made that rule down there, they automatically gave the guides so many permits.

You know, we thought that -- that’s the impression they give us we were getting. But I don’t really hate the Park Service. Well, I do in a way, but --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So I wondered how you got into guiding? How did you get started with guiding?

LAVELL WILSON: Well, I don’t know. I got up in the Tok River there and filed on that property. We kind of used it for -- well, see how did that get started really?

I don’t know I was hunting up in there and had chances to take people and didn’t have a guide license so just went in and didn’t have to be assistant guide back then.

You had to pass a written and oral test and sit before the -- it wasn’t the Board then, it was people from Fish & Game. State Fish & Game.

They’d have a sheep expert and a moose expert and they'd ask you questions on different things and that’s -- so two of us took it at the same time and that's how I got into it. And then I ended up getting that property there.

And one thing and another. I never was much of a full-time guide, just strictly part time.

I did take a few bear hunts, but bear hunting in the spring is pretty tough. You get them late springs and you still got a lot of snow and ice on the -- creeks and them -- them bears when they first come out of hibernation they travel a lot and boy -- But it was fun.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And was that before or after you'd been flying? You were flying -- did you -- were you --

LAVELL WILSON: I was flying a little bit before, but then I started flying a lot more afterwards.

And then I went to work for 40-Mile Air in the 80’s. And flew for them up until basically retired. And did a lot of flying for them.

Became chief pilot and then my -- I always liked aviation -- flying, so I got -- Of course, I got my mechanic’s license and then I got a flight instructor license and then FAA made me a flight examiner where I could give you a check rider for your private license.

And so I did that for years and -- but the regulations -- FAA has just got tougher and tougher and tougher over the years. And you know how old people are, we don’t adjust too well.

I finally said to heck with it, and then when I started having heart problems and had to have a stent put in then they really come down on me. So I retired.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: For your guiding license Lavell, did you have to have it updated every now and then, or once you got it, you got it and you weren’t --

LAVELL WILSON: No, once you got it, you got it. I forget now we’d have guide meetings for -- Well, that didn’t come about until they started assigning you specific areas.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, did they?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, and that went on for a few years and then they -- the courts finally threw that out I guess. But I had a guide area in here. Assigned by the board and one up on the -- on the -- just off the Sheenjek River in the -- in the --


LAVELL WILSON: Arctic Wildlife Range.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And what was the purpose of that? So that too many people wouldn’t be guiding in the same area?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, it was so it wouldn’t get overhunted, it wouldn’t get too many -- of course, there was a lot of fighting over the areas because if a bunch of guys had been there and you had to get rid of say six of them and then you had to rid of three.

Basically the ones that had been there the longest won out. But we had a guide over here that joined up with Ellis’ guide area which his area came right up here into Antler Creek.

I know he used to say he'd shoot me if he saw me in Antler Creek. I was basically hunting over here.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Was that Bill (Ellis)?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, Bill. As he set his beer can down. Yeah, he was quite the character.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: I never met Bill. I know the kids.

LAVELL WILSON: I don’t know the boys real well, but my son knows the boys and they get along good.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. Actually, one of them is working for us.

LAVELL WILSON: Is he? Which one? Kirk?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: No, it's not Kirk. It's not Cole. It's Lynn. Lynn is working for us.

LAVELL WILSON: Lynn, the oldest one.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. Lynn’s working for us and we’re, you know, it's nice to --

LAVELL WILSON: Lynn did a lot of flying.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Fly with somebody who grew up here.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. Yeah. And my dad used to send in some of the Natives and him, too, they used to come up into Stover Creek with the boat in the early days. Moose hunting. Yeah.

I was up there once with my dad, probably in the early 50’s. But the creek got pretty small when we was there.

He said some of these years you could go quite a ways up it, but -- but --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So a lot of use of boats for access? LAVELL WILSON: Yeah.


LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, and yeah, the early -- Well, the steamers used to come up, you know, when the water was high.


LAVELL WILSON: This bend right here. It's called Steamboat Bend. And I remember there used to be part of a steamboat, the boiler, in the river. I remember my dad talking about it and I found it once and then I didn’t see it for years.

Now a guy that was canoeing up there from Tok years later told me he saw it, but I've never been able to see it since.

It apparently has washed away. But that steamboat got hung up there and ended up -- ended up there.

And I heard later a lot of the back bar and a lot of stuff out of the saloon or bar or whatever they called it ended up clear up here at Chisana or Orange Hill or somewhere there in Nabesna, I mean.

But mostly, they didn’t get up past Northway, but -- And most of that was attempting to get up when the -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: The gold.

LAVELL WILSON: The gold rush for Chisana in 1912. And some of them come up this way and then walked over. Through Cooper Pass, but I guess a few of the steamboats made it up here a ways.

But only shallow draft ones in the high water, but yeah, it's amazing what a guy'll do for gold.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, I've heard about people going over Cooper Pass, but I've also heard about people coming over on the winter trail. To get from Nabesna to Chisana.

LAVELL WILSON: Well, there used to be a Native village right down here . A small one. Rght in this area. I forget what they called it now.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Just put an X there.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: I think that might have been Cooper Creek.

LAVELL WILSON: Probably it was called that. Right in this area. In McKennan’s -- do you know McKennan’s book?

He stayed there with them for a while. They had a village there and another one over here.


LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, Cross Creek. Maybe this -- where this cabin is. I don’t know, somewhere in here.

But they were real nomadic and just two or three families.

And they eventually I think all ended up at Northway or Tetlin. But they crossed this a lot.

And then these guides that worked over here for years would bring the horses in and cross the river and come up through Cooper Pass to get over to Chisana.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: With the horses?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. But then later on they started bringing them up from Canada through Beaver Creek.

They come over right here -- come up through Baultoff Creek up here and over.

I guess it was better for horses. Yeah, Beaver, yeah, come through here, yeah.

There're still several guides working over here at Horsfeld. I've made a lot of trips in right there.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Flying folks in?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. Flying hunters in for them guides. And then I used to hunt these lakes here to and we used to -- there's an old mining strip right in here. Used to fly a lot of hunters in there. There's another strip here at Big Braye.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, I’ve landed at Baultoff.

LAVELL WILSON: Have you, Baultoff, yeah. Yeah, there's a -- I used to drop sheep hunters in there. Yeah. It's kind of a cool spot. I don’t know if the runway is still usable or -- it's been years since I was there.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Somebody from 40-Mile Air landed us there.

LAVELL WILSON: Well, it must still be there, yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And these hunters are from all over the world -- LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- aren’t they, Lavell?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, yeah. The majority are residents. Because, especially sheep hunters. We get quite a few -- 40-Mile gets quite a few non-resident caribou hunters, because they don’t have to have a guide.

And some moose hunters, but very few non-resident sheep hunters. And ones that do are tied in with some guide, you know.

But 40-Mile, my son and son-in-law with the Super Cubs, you know they don’t -- they kind of shy away from runways. These runways you can get a 206 in.

Yeah, you charter in, but they land all over, you know, up on the sides of the mountain with them cubs. It'd scare me to look at the place, but they do it and successfully.

I think the management areas, from what I can tell, has really helped to stabilize the -- like the sheep. I know this area has got pretty overhunted and it'is not as great near -- nothing like it used to be.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: That’s down where -- down --

LAVELL WILSON: Oh, I'd say around Chisana, just outside the Park and that -- Used to be a lot of hunters up here. There was a guide guided in here, too, but he's not there no more.

And up in here. See, what the heck's the name of that? Bonanza Creek, yeah. There's a little strip up here.

What was the name of that strip you flew into and walked back to Chishana, Hon?


LAVELL WILSON: Chicken Creek, yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: It's easier to say than Ptarmigan. LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. CATHERINE WILSON: Right.

LAVELL WILSON: And the guys used to walk in there. This -- but this all got pretty much hunted out and just too many people.

And them guides from over here hunted in Klein Creek and Carl Creek, and then, of course, people went into Baultoff. And there was a guide worked this for years, Snag Creek. I think he still is, but -- huh, yeah.

But it's not like it used to be, because too many people got access now so they don’t require -- and the flying's got expensive, you know.

Av (aviation) gas went from fifty cents to six dollars, you know. So that's limited it.

Overall, I’d say the game populations haven’t changed a whole lot other than the ones that vary, like I say, due to environmental or in some places overharvesting, you know.

Some of the guys I know that trap, they like to trap an area, especially for marten, for a couple years and then let it go. But then we had trouble with as soon as they let go some other guy moves in --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Somebody else --

LAVELL WILSON: And then they got a feud going and, you know. That's one thing Canada has that I always thought was a good idea that we don’t, is they have registered traplines. And then you can regulate if you're a conscientious trapper, you can regulate your area, you know.

Instead of just -- this guy at Chisana, Overly, I don’t know if you know him or not. I think he's -- I 've known Terry since he was a kid, but I think he's done a disservice to the area. He's overhunted it. Real bad.

He took in a lot of hunters years back. It was terrible amounts of hunters and now he's paying for it.

And, of course, I don’t know -- he's got other problems among that, but --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. Getting back to all the communities like Northland -- Northway, do you know much about Tetlin and Tanacross?

We were out there this week and people have been talking about the huge gardens that they always used to have. Do you remember any --

LAVELL WILSON: I know they used -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Gardens? LAVELL WILSON: To have big gardens at Tet -- at Tanacross.

And I think it was mostly spurred on by white ministers that came there., you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

LAVELL WILSON: And showed them how to do different things.

In Northway, I don’t remember them having much for gardens. They had some, but not like Tanacross did.

CATHERINE WILSON: Yeah, but remember, oh what’s her name? Dolly’s mother.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, Rose. CATHERINE WILSON: Rose, she had a tremendous garden. LAVELL WILSON: Yeah.

CATHERINE WILSON: And so does Crystal’s dad. He raises just about everything they eat up there.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And that's where, Catherine?


CATHERINE WILSON: On the junct (junction) before you turn off down the road to go down to -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

CATHERINE WILSON: Northway. I don’t know that they've had much in the village. Mom used to raise a real good garden, too, remember? It was good soil there up on the --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, I wonder -- I wonder if down where the village is there's not a good spot to have a garden.

LAVELL WILSON: I think that's basically true. Yeah, it's pretty swampy, you know, that whole -- whole area.

CATHERINE WILSON: Remembe we had pictures, Lavell, of the gardens they had at Tanacross.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, I know. I’ve seen a lot of that. CATHERINE WILSON: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh.

CATHERINE WILSON: They were big, nice gardens. Yeah.

LAVELL WILSON: Howard Fix, he's got a big garden, but he lives right in this area.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. So more up along on the road.

LAVELL WILSON: He's a white man, you know, married to a Native girl from North (Northway) --. The Rose she's talking about she's actually -- she was from I think born and raised in McGrath.

When she came to Northway, she was married to one of the FAA maintenance people.

And they raised their family there and we know a lot of them. In fact, her brother is married to -- to one of the girls. And she was real industrious. She always had a big garden and she was -- ended up --

CATHERINE WILSON: She moved up on the highway there.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, somewhere right in here. She had a place.

CATHERINE WILSON: A plot of land up there. LAVELL WILSON: Yeah.

CATHERINE WILSON: And she used to fish. Remember she put a fishwheel in the river there by the bridge.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, down there in the river.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did -- I was curious whether people ever were catching salmon or were they catching like whitefish and other things?

LAVELL WILSON: Mostly whitefish, a few pike, a few ling cod.

CATHERINE WILSON: Didn’t she catch --

LAVELL WILSON: But she did catch occasional salmon.

CATHERINE WILSON: Yeah. Not too often.

LAVELL WILSON: Wayward salmon I would guess, you know. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.

LAVELL WILSON: But we never had any salmon runs up here. Now in Delta they do. They get a salmon run there at the bridge, I know. But there --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, I’ve heard people go -- about people going to look for them.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. We used to buy -- they would catch them there. They were spawned out. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Sure.

LAVELL WILSON: And half dead, but people used to go there and get them for dog feed, you know. But then I read some reports they weren’t even really very nutritious for dogs, you know.

Get them by, but, yeah, we don’t -- but yeah Rose did catch a couple of salmon. But the Natives almost always use nets. They had -- they had weirs.

You know and then they'd put a net and dipnet.


LAVELL WILSON: And a lot of the area that they used to do that in the river cut over -- the Chisana River. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh. Uh-huh.

LAVELL WILSON: And flooded through here. Let’s see where we at here? I’m lost again. Okay, here we are. LESLIE McCARTNEY: The map's not joined up.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. Fish Lake, Charlieskin, yeah, the river -- this river cut over through here through Charlieskin Village. They used to have several big weirs in here. And now that's all muddy water, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

LAVELL WILSON: So I don’t know. I know it used to be really good duck hunting and the river has kind of taken a lot of that out so -- But they use nets in Moose Creek, Fish Creek of course, and some of the lakes. And then, like I say, they had them weirs. They had a big weir built in Tetlin, too, for years.

CATHERINE WILSON: Didn’t they catch a lot of whitefish at Fish Camp?

LAVELL WILSON: Most -- yeah, right in here.

CATHERINE WILSON: Yeah. A whole lot of whitefish there.

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, and mostly whitefish. But they get some suckers and --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. The other fish that are --

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah. Occasionally a grayling or two, but --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did your family fish?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, oh yeah. We mainly fished for pike. We like pike. It was a good eating fish and --


LAVELL WILSON: Lingcod, yeah, yeah. Lingcod's excellent.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, I keep -- one of my friends, I keep trying to get him to get me a lingcod to try. I haven’t tried one.

LAVELL WILSON: We used to fish in the Nabesna River just by the bridge there.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. Oh, right.

LAVELL WILSON: Not Nabesna, Chishana I’m thinking. For lingcod.

Just, oh, October, first of November. Mainly just before the river'd freeze solid and it'd build out a little bit. And we’d just use a halibut hook.

With a piece of whitefish on it or something where we get lingcod. Big ones, you know, twenty some pounders.

But you don’t see much any more today. I guess it takes them a long time to grow.

And we used to let them freeze. Stack them up and chop them up and put them in big kettles.

Got from the army days and with cornmeal add and mix up for the dogs. My dad had a dog team.

And we was feeding them -- every time I think of that feeding them lingcod to the dogs, uh -- Didn’t realize how good they were, you know.

CATHERINE WILSON: How much longer are you going to be?

LAVELL WILSON: I don’t know, why?

CATHERINE WILSON: Did you want to go to lunch?

LAVELL WILSON: Yeah, I suppose we should, huh?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: We can -- we can sort of maybe talk a few more minutes and then wrap up.

LAVELL WILSON: Okay. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Pickerel Lake, is that because there's tons of pickerel in there? BARBARA CELLARIUS: It's here.

LAVELL WILSON: Pickerel, yeah, yeah, it's got good pike fishing in it. Never caught any real big ones, but you know, two to six, eight pounds.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. And pickerel, too, or do you call it walleye here?

LAVELL WILSON: Pickerel Lake.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Pickerel was pike.

LAVELL WILSON: Jimmy Brown was full of smaller ones. CATHERINE WILSON: Small ones.

LAVELL WILSON: This lake's got lake trout in it. Gotterman’s -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.


LAVELL WILSON: We built a cabin, 40-Mile did, here in junction -- conjunction with the Fish & Wildlife (Service) and we used to fly trout fishermen in there. Lake trout fishermen.

Sometimes it's good, sometimes not, but most of these other lakes pike is about it. And like I say whitefish run --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. Well, just in closing, Lavell, and thank you for all your time.

Any other just reflections on major changes you've seen in the entire area or communities over your life? We've talked about a few of them already, but --

LAVELL WILSON: Well, major changes I think is pretty much due to snowmachines and four-wheelers, you know. And, of course, more and more people. You know, which --

CATHERINE WILSON: More four-wheelers than snowmachines. It used to be snowmachines and now there's hardly any snowmachines here.

LAVELL WILSON: I always say sometimes if I had been governor I’d block the road at the junct -- at the border and wouldn’t let nobody else in, but -- You know, I guess you can’t stop it, but I think most older people feel that way. They --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Catherine was saying that there's fewer snowmachines. It's mostly four-wheelers now in all seasons?

LAVELL WILSON: They've become awful popular, yeah. Snowmachines --

CATHERINE WILSON: When they first came out, gosh, did we have a lot of snowmachines around here, but you don’t see that many more, but you see a whole lot of four-wheelers.

LAVELL WILSON: No. Snowmachines now are mostly used for trapping. But, you know, still -- there's still a good population of people that use them for recreation, but more so in the cities.

You know, they go out on the weekend and recreate with them where people here they can drive out of their yard and go recreate with it -- four-wheeler, snowmachine, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

CATHERINE WILSON: More utilitarian in some ways. LAVELL WILSON: Yeah.

CATHERINE WILSON: With the snowmachines here.

LAVELL WILSON: But especially when you’re younger and you're tough and you can go leaping over banks and stuff and it don’t bother you, but you get a little older and sensible.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, I want to thank you. I know you’re anxious to get going here. And so thank you so much for all your time and it's been a pleasure. I've learned a lot.

LAVELL WILSON: Well, don’t know as I told you much you didn’t already know, but --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, everyone has a story and it's all valuable, so thank you very much.