Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Tod Kozevnikoff
Tod Kozevnikoff was interviewed on June 29, 2006 by William Schneider in Fairbanks, Alaska. In this interview, Tod talks about traveling with his father on the mail route, the trail conditions and roadhouses, the numbers of dogs in the team, the types of sleds and dog harnesses used, other mail carriers and their routes, and the effect of the war and the introduction of airplanes on the dog team mail carriers.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-27

Project: Dog Mushing in Alaska Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Jun 29, 2006
Narrator(s): Tod Kozevnikoff
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider
Transcriber: Carol McCue
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Alaska State Library, Institute of Museum and Library Services
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

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His father and how he came to Tanana

His father becoming a dog team mail carrier for the Northern Commercial Company between Tanana and Nenana

Family history on his father's mother's side

Traveling with his father by dogteam from Tanana to Manley Hot Springs, and staying at the Manley Roadhouse

Number of dogs and types of gear his dad used for the mail carrier team

Trail conditions and breaking trail

His dad getting sick and end of his career as a dog team mail carrier

Introduction of the airplane and the end of dog team mail service

Use of horses on the Manley - Tanana trail

Story about George Edwin racing on foot against dog teams

Conditions at the Manley Roadhouse

Life on the trail with his father

Meeting other dog team mail carriers at the Manley Roadhouse

Tough trail conditions

Mining and miners at Tofty and American Creek

The mail run from Tanana to Bettles, and the Allakaket Trail

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BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. We're off and running. TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Uh hum.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And you're sounding good. Today is -- I think it's the 29th of June. TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah, it is.


BILL SCHNEIDER: I'm Bill Schneider. I have the pleasure tonight of talking with Tod Kozevnikoff. And do you go by Toddy? Or Tod.


And we're here in his home. And I've been kind of disruptive. You guys haven't had dinner yet, so I'll try to be fast on this, and try to -- TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Oh, no, I'm fine.

BILL SCHNEIDER: -- try -- try to work through here. Let's start by having you talk a little bit about your dad and who his parents were and how did he end up in Tanana?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Well, he came from -- he came from -- I think he was born in Hamilton, but he -- he came to Tanana from St. Michael. When he was 18 years old, he got there, but he went there because his sister was married to Edgar Kalen who was from Tanana.

Edgar was one of the serum run relay guys. And Dad's sister, Virginia, was married to Edgar.

So he went to Tanana to cut wood with -- with Edgar. And he cut wood at Kallands, a place that was 30 miles below Tanana that was named after Edgar's father.

I don't remember what Edgar's father's first name was, but I -- I seen it written somewhere. And I've seen pictures of Edgar when he was a young boy going to school in Tanana.

But that's why dad went there. And they cut wood all winter at Kallands the first year he was there.

And the next spring, Edgar, who never drank or anything, would -- he had a weakness for gambling, and he lost all their money in a poker game, so dad didn't even get a pair of pants out of the -- out of the deal there.

And that -- well, I don't know, I don't have to tell that part of the story, I guess, but that's his experience, first experience he had. And then he had another partner who the next year they cut wood and he lost on that -- on that deal, too.

But then he started carrying mail for -- the NC Company had the -- had the contract from the Post Office, so he never did actually earn any government service there, although he did retire from the government.

He did that at the hospital later years. And his dad, his name was Alec Kozevnikoff, he worked for the NC Company in St. Michael, and he ran the NC boat called -- a boat called Mildred -- the Mildred.

And he ran that in the summertime. And then in the winter, they would put him at an NC Store somewhere to manage the store until he had to go back on the boats in the summer.

And so he -- he worked for them pretty steady, and dad was pretty fond of the NC Company, so when they offered him a -- you know, a contract to carry mail with dogs between Tanana and Nenana, he took it.

And he did that for nine winters.

His mother's name was Tatiana Kamkoff (phonetic), and I don't know exactly where she was born, but she was from somewhere around the St. Michael area.

But she was a -- she was a Kamkoff, I think. Of course, there were Kamkoffs and Kameroffs, but I'm sure she was a Kamkoff, though. Or anyhow, a Kamkoff and a Kozevnikoff got together and they had about 11 kids, I guess.

And that's where dad's mother and father came from. And they were part -- both of them were part Russians and part, I guess, Yup'ik, from down in that way, that area would be Yup'ik.

My dad spoke the language real good.

And then he -- well, he met a lot of people. I went with him on one trip from Tanana to Manley.

I was pretty small then, but I remember part of the trip. And we stayed at the roadhouse that still stands there today.

And -- and they kept their -- there was an NC Company in Manley Hot Springs at that time, and they had a big barn there, and all the mail carriers kept their dogs in the barn.

They -- they didn't leave their dogs outdoors; they, you know, treated them real good when they got -- got into Manley there, to keep them strong and fed them good.

If they stayed overnight two -- two days, why, those dogs had two days of rest. And -- at that time, Jesse Evans was bringing the mail over from Manley Hot Springs, that was his run.

He lived in -- I mean, he -- from Rampart. He lived in Rampart, and he came -- he came over from Rampart to Manley.

And Charlie Shay (phonetic) came from Nenana to Manley. And I always thought that was the longest run, and I think Charlie was a little bit older than those guys, dad and Jesse, but he must have been pretty tough to make that long run there.

And that was the only time I -- I seen Charlie until I went to Nenana out here to go to school. And Charlie was still pretty active, he was a janitor in the school there, and a pretty active guy around town at that time.

I remember when he died, but I don't even know if it was in Nenana that he passed away. That was after I left there.

And Jesse, he went to work for the railroad in Fairbanks and worked there for a number of years, and I don't know, I think he worked until he couldn't work anymore. And...

BILL SCHNEIDER: So on the route that you -- when you traveled with your dad, how many dogs was he using?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: He used about 11 dogs there. They were big dogs. And they had -- they had the big, old collar, whatever collar.

I mean, it was like a horse collar, only -- only smaller, a padded collar, and then leather traces back to a -- to a piece of wood across the back, they called a single tree.

And then that had an eyebolt in it, and then the rope went from there back to the towline.

And they were pretty heavy harnesses. They must have been pretty valuable, too, because they -- I don't know how expensive they were at that time.

But they were sure a heavy piece of harness compared to what they have nowadays. And he had a big, long -- a long sled there, it was probably, I don't know, maybe 18 -- maybe 18 feet long.

It was a pretty long sled anyhow, and there was no -- no snow machines to break trail.

I guess he'd break his own trail a lot of the times there.

He crossed the lakes, those -- he got a break on the lakes because they were clear of snow, and then the dogs could travel over that easy.

He'd cross one called Long Lake, and that ate up a lot of miles; and another one called Fish Lake, and that ate up a lot of miles, but I think it was 62 miles over there. I don't know.

But in the springtime, he'd have a pretty rough time crossing the creeks and the sloughs coming back. I mean, he actually floated his sleigh across in some places. And he didn't have too much help in keeping those trails open. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: And that was a lot of hard work.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Did anyone break trail for him?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Not that I know of. He might have hired somebody at times, but I -- I don't ever remember him having anybody with him.

He always left alone when he went, so I guess what was left of the trails on the last time helped him out a bit. But he finally built a cabin halfway on Long Lake, and -- and he would stay overnight in that, he'd have his own place to stay in.

Otherwise, he used to stay overnight at American Creek with some miners that were -- American Creek was -- ran into Fish Lake, then there -- the mining cabins are right near there.

So I remember staying overnight at American Creek. And there was another old timer who stayed on Long Lake, his name was -- no, he stayed on Donahoe Lake, his name was Jack Donahoe.

So he stayed on Donahoe Lake. Donahoe Lake is still -- still carries that name today. But it's somewhere there near Long Lake in that string of sloughs there.

And then they hit Hay Slough, that -- which was pretty easy travelling, too. But that stretch from Fish Lake over the hill to Manley was probably the toughest -- toughest part.

They'd go through Tofty, and sometimes there would be a miner's road there where a cat had gone over or something, but that was the only kind of mechanism -- I mean, mechanized vehicle that -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Made a trail.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: -- made -- made any kind of a trail out from Manley to Tofty. He never -- don't seem like he ever went past Tofty, back in there.

But he'd -- he'd bring the mail into the Post Office so Ted -- Ted --

BILL SCHNEIDER: I'm picking up your clicking there.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Oh. Teddy Dietrich was the -- was the postmaster, Ted Dietrich, Sr. And he was a crusty old guy, from what I heard. And he'd give dad a bad time if the mail sacks had any snow on them or were wet or anything.

But he -- I think dad -- dad got real sick after he was alone from maybe the flu or something. He -- he was young, young enough, but he -- he was in that house there, and he couldn't even get out to feed his dogs, he was so sick.

So someone came along, Henry Kokrine, a young -- younger guy went in there and seeing what was wrong with dad, you know, because he didn't see any smoke or anything, and he knew his dogs were there.

So he -- he hooked up about four of dad's big old dogs and took him to the hospital, and he got well there. But it was around that time that he quit running mail.

And I think most of his dogs went over to Eightmile Island over where my mother's father had a homestead, Charles Erhart, and they used the dogs there for hauling wood to the -- to the riverbank.

They were cutting wood for the steamers, 4 foot length wood, and they'd haul the whole 200 cords that they cut by dog team all the way out to the riverbank and stacked it there. BILL SCHNEIDER: What year was that that your dad got sick?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: I think it was about 1942, in there somewhere. Right after the war started.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And when did the -- when did the airplanes come in and take over the mail?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: It was a -- in that area. I would say it was around 1941 or '42 because they were -- they were flying the boys out that were going into the Army.

And at my grandfather's homestead there, George Black who was froze in there with a cargo of beer, they had to get it unloaded, so my grandfather stored it in this mine shaft he had, and some at the house.

They brought some of the boys from Tanana to help unload the barge, and they were picked up right from Eightmile Island and taken to Ladd Field for induction into the Army.

I mean, I guess Warren Thompson, who was the commissioner, knew where they were and knew that they were drafted, and told the airplane pilot, which is Lon Brennan, or Brennan's Air Service, and they landed right at Eightmile Island and picked up those guys and they went straight to the Army from Eightmile Island.

So when the war broke out, they were -- they were starting to fly pretty good though.

But I don't think they completely had all of them, the whole mail contract, because after dad -- dad quit hauling mail, Lee Edwin hauled it for maybe three or four years because I remember going back to see Lee when he came in from Manley Hot Springs,

and he'd tell me that, well, I -- he said, "I'll bring your package the next time." I was expecting some Christmas clothes from Sears Roebuck or somewhere, and I don't know if he ever seen them, actually seen the package there or anything.

He said, "I had to leave it behind but I'll bring it next time." But I think I eventually got my clothes.

But yeah, Lee Edwin carried it after dad. And he must have carried it until maybe around 1944.

After that, I -- I don't think anybody carried it between Tanana and Manley.

I know they were -- they were still carrying it maybe in the early '50s from -- they were going from Tanana to Kalens.

I don't know how many people were in Kalens, but I know Walter Woods was carrying mail from Tanana to -- to Kalens.

Walter, his father had carried mail before Jesse Evans did in Rampart.

I wasn't around that time, but I knew the Woods, and the Woods boys had the contract, or the father had the contract and Walter was one of them who carried it over the hill.

That -- that was before Jesse's time. And then he was quite a bit older when he carried it to Kalens.

But that was the last of it that I know of that anybody carried mail with a dog team.

Of course, he had a pretty good trail down there then, to Kalens, there was a lot of people trapping down that way, and they got several of them pretty good, a lot of places to stay.

He didn't have much of a -- much of a load, there wasn't too many people there. And they finally cut that out. Because there was a Post Office there, they closed it for -- you know.

But there was a -- there was a -- an FA -- a CAA station down at Birch's. Now, he might have been going that far, carrying the mail down to them, too.

There might have been justification for him to carry that. But dad was through about somewhere around 1942, I think in there.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Did your dad ever use horses?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: No. No. He used dogs all the time. My grandfather Erhart, Charles Erhart used horses, he had horses at Eightmile Island, but -- BILL SCHNEIDER: No, I meant for carrying the mail.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: No, huh uh. He used it for hauling wood and stuff. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Where he came from, he was in Montana and Wyoming, he was -- he knew how to handle horses, so he was -- he was partial to horses. BILL SCHNEIDER: I know that they used horses on some of that trail

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah, they did. BILL SCHNEIDER: -- from Manley, but I don't -- I haven't been able to figure out when they used horses and when they used dogs.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: I haven't either. I -- I remember George Edwin telling me a story one time where this marshal hired him to break trail to -- to Manley Hot Springs from Tanana because he was bringing this -- this prisoner.

He was taking him out, maybe McNeils Island or somewhere. So he had to have somebody break trail.

And I always got -- I got the impression that it was a dog team because I don't think they were using horses for that.

I mean, one pair of snowshoes there would be pretty hard making a trail for a team of horses. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, right.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: And I always remembered the story George told me because when he got to Manley the next day after he was going to go back, he was supposed to walk back,

he asked the marshal -- you know, the marshal paid him for staying over in the roadhouse, and -- and then finally getting to Tanana.

And he asked the marshal if it was all right if he made it to Tanana in one day and didn't stay in the roadhouse. And the marshal laughed at him and said, "Sure, it's all right," you know, and thinking that he wouldn't make it.

But George was quite a runner. So he started running, and he made it to Tanana, and just before eight o'clock that night.

That's 62 miles he -- he covered there. And -- but he was -- they used to race George against dog teams and on foot, you know, a man on foot BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: -- race against these dog teams for an 8 mile race. And he beat -- I think he beat every one of them except two or something like that.

That was a political thing, the big -- big shots in town pitted him against his dogs, he didn't want to do it, you know, because he felt like he would be showing off or something,

but they finally talked him into it and he raced against the team -- those teams. Embarrassed a lot of them.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay. We should be back on now.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Uh hum. You were going to ask about something.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. One of the things I was curious about was the -- what -- what it was like for your dad when he got to Manley Hot Springs. I think you said he stayed at the roadhouse?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah. Yeah. The same roadhouse still stands today. And they -- you know, they -- they treated him pretty well.

I remember sitting at the big, long table with -- with all the other people that were there, the other guests that were there, the mail carriers, and I think it was sort of a boarding house style where we ate.

And his dogs were -- like I said, they were put up in this big dog barn that NC Company owned.

And the dog barn was actually as big as a horse barn, it would have been, it was a regular building with high walls and everything and stalls in there, and -- and a bunch of hay stashed in there to bed the dogs down on.

But they stayed up quite late there, as I remember. He played poker and all the people, the dog -- the mail carriers and the dog -- I mean, the other people, the miners that were staying spending the winter in Manley.

And I remember Gus Benson, who was -- was a commissioner and postmaster, had his coat hung on -- on the end of a banister on the stairs, and I was sliding down that banister and I knocked his coat off, and he told me he was going to get even with me.

And he had to go home and fix his fire. Of course, I didn't know that, but he went home and he got this pair of false teeth that stuck out like big fangs there, and scared the holy hell out of me and had me running all over that damn place there.

But I got -- they let me play the slots machines there. That was another thing that fascinated me.

I could never figure out what -- why they never let me keep the money whenever I won anything, but they give me the money to put in there.

But I think Toots and Dines Windish were the people who were running the -- the hotel there, the lodge, the roadhouse. Yeah, it's a well known roadhouse.

BILL SCHNEIDER: So the men were playing poker?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah. They played poker all -- all evening there, and I guess that was a nightly thing there. But they stayed probably until midnight.

And then we had rooms upstairs, and dad and I had a room up there. I think I had my own bed, if I remember.

And I remember his -- I got to drink coffee. That was one of the first times I can remember drinking coffee because he had his Thermos bottle in a big sheep lined case, and that Thermos bottle must have been a 2 quart Thermos bottle but it was in that sheep lined case, and it was just hotter than heck in there.

I remember he stopped at one of those lakes as you were going home, and he poured me out some coffee and I drank that. I felt like a big -- big shot then.

BILL SCHNEIDER: How old were you that time, do you suppose?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: I was -- I don't know, I must have been 5 or 6 or some --

BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, you were that young?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah. I don't remember a lot of it.

BILL SCHNEIDER: I'll be darned.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: He told me later that -- that I fell off of the sleigh, and he left me behind a little ways, and I had to learn to catch him up.

And I didn't remember that part when he said that. I told him I was going to tell my mother about that, leaving me behind. And I -- he never left me too far behind. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: But -- and that was interesting. We -- we stopped in another cabin there that belonged to somebody else, this was before he built his, I think, and made fire in there and made some tea and stuff and kept on going.

And I don't remember coming back to Tanana. We had to cross the river above the mission at Tanana, and I don't remember crossing that either way, going up or coming back.

I -- how young I was there, that trip was pretty vague, you know -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: -- and a lot of that, but the roadhouse stuck out. Boy, that was a real highlight.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Were there other dog team mail carriers there at the roadhouse?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah. They were all there. Charlie Shay and Jesse were there, and they all had kind of timed it there to be there at the same time.

That's -- that's how I remember Charlie. I didn't meet Jesse until years later. But he was a --

BILL SCHNEIDER: Was Jesse there that night that you were --

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah. Yeah, I remember. He was a nice looking man, pretty -- carried himself well, I remember. Quiet. And athletic looking fellow.

Dad was in pretty good shape back in those days, too. Charlie was a little bit more stockier than everybody.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Boy, they had quite a run, though. Boy.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah. Yeah. It wasn't --

BILL SCHNEIDER: It wasn't easy.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: -- it wasn't easy because later on I trapped with my uncle, we were just kids, I was, what, 17, and somewhere in that area, and he was three years older than me, and we ran through some rough --

well, we came halfway one time to where we had a tent from half of 60 miles that we were -- from where we were trapping, and we left our sleeping bags behind because, you know, we figured we were going to make it to town that night.

Well, we went a couple miles and it had snowed from that part on, and it was just nothing but tough going.

We didn't have no -- no food and no sleeping bags or anything, so we just barely made it into Tanana there just because we were foolhardy and left our grub and our sleeping bags behind.

But that -- that -- you know, breaking trail, I -- I broke trail most of the way with snowshoes, and Lester strung my team out with his single file, he had a long --

a long string of dogs all stretched out there, but that was the only way we would keep them in my track, you know.

And that was pretty tough going. So I imagine those mail carriers with a big load, they always had a big load, had it pretty darn rough.

I mean, they had to help their dogs up banks and everything.

And I see one place where old Manley there, I think dad pointed it out to me, it's where they went up -- damn near straight up a hill from the river.

Sometimes they took the river route for some reason. I don't know why, but they -- maybe it was easier or something that year, or maybe there was no snow on the river.

It seemed like it always came around the back by Fish Lake, American Creek, Tofty, and then into Manley. And around the back, they came around through the hills to Manley. But...

BILL SCHNEIDER: I wonder if that was because of the mining in Tofty. Was he dropping off mail there?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah, it could have been. Yeah. Yeah. All their -- well, there was people living in Tofty at that time. Yeah. You know, they wintered out there, they -- they didn't all go back to the states and everything during that time.

I remember some of those miners at the -- at American Creek had a little toy penguin that they wound up, and that thing walked across -- walked across the floor or wherever they put it, and I thought that was pretty -- pretty cool.

But when we stopped at Jack Donahoe's place, he had a bunch of toys that he had rebuilt, and I think he gave me a truck or something, some kind of a toy.

But that -- that stuck out. I remember that, you know, of course.

BILL SCHNEIDER: And you said you overnighted at American Creek that time?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah. Going up -- well, going up we overnighted there, I remember. BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh hum. And coming back, do you remember?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: No, I don't know what we did there, whether we overnighted farther down toward Tanana, but I -- I don't think we made it in one day.

Yeah, because it took us a couple days to get up there. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: But I -- I was pretty damn small. I must have slept quite a bit of the way there.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Who ran the -- the mail from Tanana up to Bettles?

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: That, I'm -- I'm not too sure. They -- they would have had to use the Allakaket Trail. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: And I don't remember anybody leaving from Tanana to do that.

They -- maybe in the earlier years, I remember -- I don't remember ever anybody leaving from, but they -- they -- they did go out.

They called it the Koyukuk Trail was what they called it. But it was going through Allakaket, I guess.

I know Chris Grant at one time told me that they -- they went up there, five teams went up to -- they were in Wiseman, I know they went that far,

but I think they were on a fur buying trip for Andy Vashon, and that's -- that's why they went up there. And I guess they traveled quite -- that trail quite a bit.

That lady who just died not too long ago, she was -- BILL SCHNEIDER: Effie. Yeah.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: -- she was an anthropologist, or her husband was. Or what the heck was his name? She just died. She was a hundred years old, and --


TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: No. I know -- I know who -- Franc -- Frances De Laguna, I know who she is, but it wasn't her, it was -- she was married to a Murie? Is it Murie?

BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, I know who you mean. Olaus Murie. Mardy Murie. Yeah.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah. Her. She said in her book that they came in that Allakaket Trail. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: When they -- they got married in Anvik, and then they came up to the mouth of Koyukuk and went up the Koyukuk on a boat, and then they got a team, I think, in Bettles.

And traveled up to Wiseman and into the Brooks, and then back down and out to the Allakaket Trail and came out in Tanana.

BILL SCHNEIDER: I know Hudson Stuck describes that trail, too.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah. Uh hum. Him and Walter Harper. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah, I think Walter, there's a picture of him on this book. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: Yeah.

BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, this has -- this has been good. Let me close this down, and if you have a minute or two, we'll look at a map, and then --

TOD KOZEVNIKOFF: That's all right.

BILL SCHNEIDER: -- we'll let you eat your dinner. This is going good. Thanks.