Ruth Blankenship-Sandvik was interviewed on February 28, 2002 by Bill Schneider and Eileen Devinney in Kiana, Alaska. In this interview, Ruth talks about the history of Kiana, her family running the village's store, the use of dog teams, and the yearly subsistence cycle. She also discusses the Friends Church and the development of the nearby village of Noorvik, and things she thinks are important for young people to know. She also identifies people in historic photographs.
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Introduction, history of Kiana as heard from old-timers
Moving from Selawik to Kiana, school, and stores
Father hired as a cook in Noorvik and mother worked in Noorvik hospital
Noorvik (new place), the Friends Church, and the establishing of Noorvik
Parents moving to Kiana and buying items for the store
Education and running a store
The village store and how it has changed from the old days
Yearly subsistence cycle
Dog team, mail carriers, and mail orders
The difference between down and upriver fish early in the season
Louis Giddings and the archaeology in the area
Photo of Tommie Douglas and Harold Gooden Sr. making a mudshark trap
Photo of Stonewall Jackson
Photo of Rob Blankenship and Harold Gooden
Photo of Levey's store in Kotzebue
Photo of Nellie Coffin
Photo of Martha Wells and Lucy Jackson (Thomas L. Jackson's mother)
Photo of Johnson Black
Ordering goods for the store including hardwood
Things you would want the younger people to know
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Bill Schneider: Today is February 28th, 2002, and we have the pleasure today of talking with Ruth Blankenship Sandvik, here in Kiana. And I'm with Eileen Devinney. And I'm Bill Schneider. And we're -- Eileen Devinney: We really only had one. Okay. Bill Schneider: Okay. So I guess we're off and rolling now. And everything is recording. So would you talk for a few minutes about the history of -- of this place, Kiana (map), as you've heard it from some of the old-timers. Ruth Sandvik: Well, I wondered how the Eskimos established little houses on the bench on -- below the graveyard, in what we call the old village, and, Percy, earlier this month said a man named Aakauqsruaraq, who was my grandmother's older brother, when this area was haunted from Okok Point (map) all the way -- all the way up to the mouth of the Squirrel River, decided, he appeared to have some kind of power. So he challenged -- challenged the land, I guess, and spent a year on prominent knolls between Okok Point until he reached the bench over in the old village. And he built a house there. And that -- his camp, his camping at these various places seemed to get rid of whatever -- whatever they -- was making the people nervous, and they began moving in around him over on the bench in the old village. That was so -- that was always the Eskimos' preferred place. Then when the miners came up in 1898 to '99, they had camps all over from the mouth of the river clear up to the Pah River (map) (phonetic). And they established a camp over on this side in our area down by the beach. And then later when they found gold --when gold was found in Klery Creek, it was the area where they -- where they established a -- a trading post, a place for -- to store their freight, to freight up to -- to the Klery Creek (map) area. And it wasn't -- so I am told, and I never saw them, and I never saw too much evidence of it -- I was told and as others were told that there were -- there were established -- bar -- there were bars here, there were road houses. And perhaps a thousand Caucasians who lived in this little area. But if they did, I never saw -- I never saw evidence of that many houses when I came.
Ruth Sandvik: When we moved over here from Selawik (map) in 1935, a territorial -- there as a small log house, which is the -- which is the school. So they had a school here and Alex McIntosh was the teacher. And I don't know anything about him, other than he taught and he seemed to teach very well because the people -- the few people who attended religiously came out with good penmanship, they seemed to know math very well. And then they built another school, I think, well, a bigger school as more Eskimos gathered here, and there became more -- more people. Bill Schneider: I think we've seen a picture of the early school and with you in the picture. Ruth Sandvik: No, I didn't go to that little log house. Bill Schneider: You didn't go to that one? Ruth Sandvik: And I've seen -- I've seen a picture of that log house. I don't know that it's here. But then the school that's there now, the white building, I -- I think that was built in 1936. But across from it was another building that came just before that, between the McIntosh era and -- and that one. I think one of the first teachers at that other school before the white -- before the white building down there was a University of Alaska graduate, Jim Pendleton was a teacher. And -- and he's mentioned in Bill Cashen's book. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. So continuing on with the history, then, Traders established -- Ruth Sandvik: Yeah, then Traders. There was a store down at Okok Point (map) because at that time, the Eskimos trapped and hunted and so they needed -- they needed stores nearer -- near where they traveled. There was also -- there were a couple of other stores here when - even before I was -- before I was born. Now, the store that was at Okok Point was moved up to -- up to where our building is now. And when we tore it down, it was quite interestingly built. The two-by-fours were sometimes 16 inches apart, sometimes 32 inches apart. And there was no insulation. I -- we came across some sawdust, but that was all they had. And I'm told where the store is was where there was a dance hall, but again, I mean, I never have seen any evidence of that, so I don't know how much is myth or whether it was exaggerated. There was a building that was pretty old, say, in 1938, '39, behind the Blankenship store building, and now Percy -- I think it was Percy who said that was a horse barn, but when I appeared and it looked -- it looked like there was some -- there was living quarters there because I found a little -- a little purse, a purse, a beaded purse that one would use to go to a fancy party. But I don't know what it was doing up here on the Kobuk.
Bill Schneider: So on the establishment of -- of your father's store here, you moved from Selawik? Ruth Sandvik: We moved from Selawik (map), yes. My father came up in the Army into Tanana and guided the -- the first geologists to explore the country from Nenana clear up to Point Barrow -- Phillip Smith and that group. And then on his -- on one of the trips where he was -- where he was returning, they used -- they walked and had pack dogs. And on the -- on one of their last trips back from the Barrow area, they went by way of Noorvik (map) and there was a hospital there. And they needed a cook, and I don't know that my dad was particularly a cook, but they hired him. And my mother was working there in the -- in the hospital. At that time you probably know that the Friends Church established a -- established a hospital there, and they have -- and they staffed it with doctors and nurses. They were oft -- they were oft -- always short of nurses, so they -- my mother was one of the ones that they trained right there in the hospital. So when she left there and wherever she moved, and especially over here, she was on call night and day for anything, any mishaps in the village. She delivered, I would say, 90 percent of the -- of the births around -- around here. And she didn't -- I mean, there were no antibiotics, of course, at that time. So I remember her using flax seed to pull out infections and pus and this sort of thing from carbuncles. I recall an instant where a kid, he lives next door, stuck a match in a drum and blew himself up. And I recall there was, like, a teacher locally and my mother. And the teacher gave up, but my mother kept sucking out the phlegm and stuff that built up in his lungs. And she worked all night. I know that she was still doing it at six o'clock in the morning. And he survived. I recall another time someone had blood poisoning, and I don't know how you cure blood poisoning, but she lanced something and put it -- I don't know what powers flax seed has, but I mean, I -- I was too little to even know what -- what she was doing. But that was -- that was what she did around -- well, he met her, and then they lived other places, went to Selawik (map), and then moved over here. And then he bought out somebody's store here, a Mrs. Vernon's store. Bill Schneider: And what was her name? Ruth Sandvik: Mrs. Vernon. Bill Schneider: No, your mom's name. Ruth Sandvik: Oh. Nellie, Nellie Flood. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. Ruth Sandvik: And that -- and that was her stepfather's name. We -- I -- we don't -- we have no knowledge of her father. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. Ruth Sandvik: Of her biological father. Bill Schneider: Boy, she sounds like quite a woman. Ruth Sandvik: Well, I -- I think they -- I think they really trained them because they were short of -- they were short of -- of nurses. And I think they just took native women in and -- and... Well, for instance, they helped the doctors. I don't -- I mean, handing instruments during -- and they seemed to do it -- not my mother, but I mean the doctors did a lot of appendectomies. I never hear of so much being done now, but they did at that time. Bill Schneider: Yeah, that's interesting. Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum. Bill Schneider: I don't hear about that much. Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum.
Bill Schneider: For people that will be listening to this, some of them will be visitors to the state that have never been here before. Maybe a word or two about Noorvik (map) and why it was established by the Friends. Ruth Sandvik: Noorvik, that's an interesting village. They moved from Aaqsiiq (Oksik), which is upriver from Noorvik, because Aaqsiiq was -- the Aaqsiiq area was sluffing off. And the Friends came in and established an ideal -- what they called an ideal village. They searched around and they felt that -- they brought over some people from Deering to share in this new community, and Noorvik means new place. And they actually did it quite -- quite right. They built lots. And they had electric lights, they had some communication, probably the Morse Code. And they had staff there. They are fundamentalists, but they -- they did a lot of other things, too. And they were responsible for the -- for the hospital. Building the hospital. It was -- I was still around -- still young enough to remember. Noorvik doesn't look the same, but it was really picturesque to see that -- this hospital next to a lake in back. And it was just -- just pretty. And -- and the houses were -- there were in lots. I don't know if they were 100 by 100, but there were established lots. Bill Schneider: Yeah, that's interesting. Ruth Sandvik: And the Noorvik people, I understand-- I mean, not the Noorvik people, but the Deering people who came over missed -- it was not easy to get down to the coast as it is now, and they missed their seal -- their coastal foods, which is the seal oil and seal meat and this sort of thing. So some went back, some stayed, some went to Kotzebue, which is -- which is, of course, on the coast, and where they could get the food that they were more used to.
Bill Schneider: I kind of sidetracked you a little bit, so I guess back to the story of -- of this community. And so your -- your parents then moved here and -- Freddy Jackson and Elwood Atoruk in front of old Blankenship store in the 1950s Ruth Sandvik: And then -- Bill Schneider: And they bought the store? Ruth Sandvik: And then they bought the store. And we were in a place kitty-corner from where we are now. And then when he bought the -- the present store and moved over there, he sold the kitty-corner area. And let's see. I'm trying to think the year he died. I think it was '57. And so he was in the hospital in Fairbanks, which is why I got involved with -- with the store at all. He was -- he was a veteran. I think he had 17 or 18 years in the service, but there weren't any veterans homes here when he had a stroke, and certainly no medical facilities nearby, so Fairbanks was the nearest place. Bill Schneider: So you took care of the store while he was -- Ruth Sandvik: Well, I had a first -- his nephew, who was my first cousin, came up from North Carolina. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. Ruth Sandvik: And he had just gotten out of the service. And he -- he enjoyed mostly doing things with the Eskimos. He liked to hunt with them, and he -- he was really, I always said, more Eskimo than the Eskimos. But all of a sudden when this happened, my father had a stroke and my mother had died by then, we had to buckle down and get the store going. So it started off as a part time thing for me because I was married and had children, and my husband had a career. He was a geological engineer. And so I -- wherever we went, I herded, I came back with a herd of children every summer and fall and took care of the store to -- and then relieved my cousin every March. But the children have all had connection with -- with Kiana. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. And your mother had died earlier? Ruth Sandvik: Yes, she had died earlier. Let's see, I'm trying to think. 1953, I think. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum.
Bill Schneider: Then a little bit on your own education because I think that's fairly unique. Ruth Sandvik: Well, at the time, when I was ready to go to high school, there was a war. And they were evacuating from some of these cities, so the only school I could go to was a -- a boarding school called White Mountain. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. Ruth Sandvik: And I went there three years. And then went the fourth year to Fairbanks high school. Then went to the university. And taught -- taught in the Fairbanks high school. And then moved out of Fairbanks and then began traveling other -- other places. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. What year did you graduate from UAF? Ruth Sandvik: Let's see. '50. Bill Schneider: What we call UAF now. Ruth Sandvik: Okay. Last summer I went to reunion, and it was a fiftieth. So it must have been '51. Bill Schneider: '51? Ruth Sandvik: Yeah. My husband graduated in '50, and he came back for the fifth year degree, in '51, to graduate with me. Bill Schneider: Oh, that's neat. So you've seen quite a few changes here in Kiana, I suspect? Ruth Sandvik: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, when I grew up, people had -- it was very simple to have a store. The basic things were salt, sugar, coffee, flour, baking powder, and soda. And canned fruit was a luxury. Dried fruit, you know, you had -- you saw them have the dried fruit the other day. Dried fruit was -- was used. They tried to keep oranges and apples until Christmas, but you can imagine they were not in top -- tip-top shape when they doled them out at Christmas.
Bill Schneider: Maybe that's a theme we ought to talk a little bit about is quot;what is a village storequot; and how it's changed over the years. First remember your dad ordering supplies, how did they come in? When did they come in, and -- Blankenship's Trading Post in Kiana Ruth Sandvik: Well, we had two ships from Seattle a year. And so it was necessary to get your supplies on the first boat because you never know -- you never knew whether it could be freighted up from Kotzebue on the last boat because of the season. And the things that he ordered were -- was some lumber, ammunition, of course, ammunition. A few guns, but it was not too -- so complicated to order guns as it is now. Everyone wants a Mini 14 now, and there was no such thing as a Mini 14. And -- and those basic things, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and soda. Bill Schneider: So the ship would come into Kotzebue? Ruth Sandvik: Kotzebue. And -- Bill Schneider: And -- and then we learned a little bit about -- I always used the wrong term, what's the term when you carry stuff from the boat to the store? Ruth Sandvik: Longshoring. Bill Schneider: Longshoring. Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum. Right. Bill Schneider: The other day. Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum. Bill Schneider: So the goods would have been longshored? Ruth Sandvik: Shored from the beach up to whatever store -- Bill Schneider: Yeah. Ruth Sandvik: -- there was. Yeah. Bill Schneider: And then they had to be put on a barge for up here. Ruth Sandvik: Oh, longshored onto a barge in Kotzebue, and then the barge would bring it up here, and then long shore it up to the store. Yeah. That -- in fact, my cousin Rob was the first one to get a vehicle up here of, not only a Jeep, but also snow machine and those things, which made -- made things a lot easier. Bill Schneider: Yeah. It's certainly a lot different. I mean, when young kids hear your story about that, they may be surprised at that supply line. Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. Uh-hum. Bill Schneider: And of course, fuel was not as big an issue back then. Ruth Sandvik: No. My mother had a three-horse Evinrude. We had that. Percy Jackson's father had an outboard. Let's see, I'm trying to think what that was. If you -- and he will tell you. He will know. And there were -- so there was not too much -- too much necessity for gasoline. And then they didn't burn -- everybody burned wood until when -- I -- I think until I was in my teens. And then I think my father got the first oil stove. And then as the Eskimos went to work at Nome, at the mining camps and other places, they began buying oil stoves also. They bought cook -- cook stoves, which took care of heat as well as cooking on. You -- you probably know those old stoves with the fire. Bill Schneider: Yeah. Ruth Sandvik: I mean, not a fire, but a water thing in the back. Yeah. Bill Schneider: Yeah.
Bill Schneider: Let's go through a yearly cycle, if you would, with us, in the old days when you first began to remember being here. Ruth Sandvik: Okay. Bill Schneider: So you would have been about 7 or 8? Ruth Sandvik: About 6. Uh-huh. Bill Schneider: 6. Okay. Ruth Sandvik: So every spring, somewhere in April, the last part of April, we would -- everyone in the village would select a certain place to hunt muskrats. My mother always enjoyed hunting muskrats. So you take your tent and your -- your food up into a certain area that -- that you decide to camp in, around lakes preferably. Some people went downriver. Some people went up Squirrel River (map). Some people went down across from Kobuk -- across from Okok Point (map). And generally you were there for two or three weeks. And you were there until the ice went out. You'd go -- you'd take a boat up. And so you would hunt muskrats in the lakes there. And you -- and as they -- the river, as the little sloughs would melt, you could put a net there so you would have fresh fish. And then when the river cleared up, you would load up all your -- all your gear and then come back down to the village. And then shortly thereafter, you'd go down to another slough to fish for -- for whitefish. And so that would last for two or three weeks, and then back to the -- back up here to the village to wait for the salmon. And then when the salmon came, then you seined all summer. Salmon and sheefish and whatever. And -- and most of this was to be dried. Dried and put away. We participated in that. So fall time, you pretty much remained in the village. But there were no caribou at that time. I didn't grow up with caribou. In fact, my father had the mail contract and he took mail up from Kotzebue clear up to the -- clear up to the village of Kobuk. And I don't ever recall seeing a caribou on -- on the trip all the way up there. You know, they -- caribou had different migration routes. And so if the -- the more ambitious people or the people who had the dogs and enough -- enough food to take them up to the Noatak area would go up there to hunt caribou, and that -- that's where I wish you would get Johnson Black to tell him his -- about his first hunt with his uncle and then two others. That's quite -- quite interesting how the older people advised him on how to -- what to do, go up and find the -- find the caribou. And they took just basics. I mean, absolutely basics. They had a pot. And he mentioned after they killed these, I think there were 12 or 16 caribou, they put a bunch of choice -- of choice parts in the pot and he said, boy -- and even today, and it must have been 40 years ago or maybe 50 years ago, he said, quot;boy, did we eat.quot; You know, they were -- they had not had meat and... Bill Schneider: So they were ready. Ruth Sandvik: They were ready. So I recall a number of men who went up into the Noatak to hunt for -- for caribou. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. Ruth Sandvik: And they -- and that was hard work. Some of them only had five dogs. And they stashed them en route, somewhere between here and Noatak, I mean, they would bring them -- they would stash -- they would make several trips to stash them near Kiana (map), and then go back and get them and haul them in, haul the caribou in. Bill Schneider: So that would be fall part? Ruth Sandvik: No, this would be winter. Bill Schneider: Be winter. Okay. Ruth Sandvik: Fall time they came to go -- it's time to settle in and then, you know, ice fishing under the -- that was the other thing. You'd fish under the ice and they got gobs of fish. Fish traps. We had fish traps, mudshark -- mudshark traps and ling cod is what you call them over in Fairbanks, or burbot. Right. That was -- that was a pretty choice fish. And they -- they got tons of whitefish. And -- which pretty much took care of them for the whole winter. I mean, it was that -- I mean, that was their protein. And so when they wanted meat, it was either going to -- going out for rabbits, and they would -- they had kind of a unique way of -- of hunting rabbits. They would have -- did any of them explain that to you? They would -- Bill Schneider: The driving rabbits? Ruth Sandvik: The driving, driving rabbits? Yeah. Eileen Devinney: He just mentioned it. They described it a little bit, Leo did. Ruth Sandvik: Yeah. Men would walk through the brush and they would have a shooter here, now my cousin, excelled there, because he was a very, very good shot. So they always had him as -- as a gunman. And so if you didn't have rabbits, then you tried to look for caribou up in the Kobuk. Bill Schneider: Yeah.
Bill Schneider: You mentioned dog team mail carriers. Ruth Sandvik: Yes. Bill Schneider: And that's a subject that's -- that's been of interest to -- to some people because information about dog team mail carriers is -- you've only got a limited span to get it from people. Ruth Sandvik: Right. And I'm trying to think. Bill Schneider: Your dad was involved in that? Ruth Sandvik: My -- when my dad was in the service in Tanana, that was his main job, carrying mail. He had 22 half-breed wolves. And when he was discharged, they had to kill the wolves because they were pretty much one-man -- one-man dogs -- one-man dogs. And you couldn't -- they -- Eileen Devinney: Couldn't be transferred to another owner? Ruth Sandvik: Right. Right. Now, they also, I do recall, but I don't recall who carried mail to these villages, and that was, like, once a month. But you know, that wasn't very much mail because not much was coming up from the states. So... Bill Schneider: Did you mention that your dad carried mail on this route? Ruth Sandvik: No. On the Yukon. Bill Schneider: On the Yukon. Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum. Bill Schneider: Okay. But you don't remember any of the early mail carriers here? Ruth Sandvik: I recall dog teams coming up with mail, but not -- they were few and far between. And not much mail. And then when we got airplanes, it was only like once a month. Oh, how we got -- like some people would order -- order from Walter -- Walter Field and Sears Roebuck or Montgomery, and you had to order early in the year. I'm trying to think how it even got out because they would come on one of those boats I'm talking about that freighted -- that brought everything into Kotzebue. So you -- you got your order once a year. And perhaps twice a year if -- if the second boat got there in time for the -- for the barge that brought the goods up this way. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. That's interesting, the mail order.
Eileen Devinney: I know the other night we were talking about, I think it was whitefish and how they were -- I think you were there, and how they were without eggs down here and upriver they get them with eggs. And people were talking about -- I don't know if you recall this, but talking about how different the fish are this -- this far down at this -- you know, earlier in the season. Ruth Sandvik: Well, because they spawn up there. Right. And I've never been able to understand how -- how they sanction a sport fishing where the sheefish is spawning, but I guess they can. I mean, of course, subsistence, I mean, it's -- it's okay for subsistence, and that's -- and that's one of their delicacies. They get these great big sheefish and bulging with roe. And -- and yet -- usually if any of the people from up there come down here, they bring that as a -- as a treat for the people down here.
Bill Schneider: I think you're one of the few people probably that can -- can give us a personal introduction to Louis Giddings and the archeology in this area. You had mentioned the other day you remember Louis Giddings. Ruth Sandvik: Yeah, he was a friend of my parents because, you know, there are very few places to stay and he became a friend. He stayed with us until -- and they helped him out a lot when he would stop here. I was still in grade school when I first saw him. And then later, at the university I got to know his wife and his children. But he -- I think I've stressed, he'd -- grants were not like they are now. He operated on a shoestring. And -- but he was a very quiet, sincere person. No ego. And he worked very hard. And he seemed to assimilate with the Eskimos. And then I recall his doing work at -- at Ekseavik which is on the Squirrel -- the Squirrel River (map), and then he spent several seasons up at Onion Portage. And then after his death, actually, they gave that chunk of land, which I think the Park Service has since bought, they gave -- gave Bets and her children a chunk of land and they built a log house up there. Eileen Devinney: Yeah. That was recently turned over to the Park Service. It was either purchased or donated to the Park Service. (Indiscernible.) Ruth Sandvik: Yeah, I think I read that it was donated or something, I don't know. But it was vandalized as much, which was really too bad because it was kind of unique. A unique cabin. It was a hike getting up -- have you been there? Eileen Devinney: No. But I do know that it is in the process of being restored. Ruth Sandvik: Oh, well, good. Good. Eileen Devinney: I haven't been able to get out there, unfortunately. I'd love to see it. Ruth Sandvik: Yeah, that was good there. His deal -- up -- up at Onion Portage (map) was very -- he did everything very scientifically. The whole family was there and... And he had Percy Jackson's sister, Ruth, Ruth and Almond Downey. He had Almond working for him and Ruth did the cooking. Eileen Devinney: And they were two interviewed last year. Someone interviewed those two about their experience with him, yes. Bill Schneider: Well, that's good.
Ruth Sandvik: Yeah. That's a mudshark trap. And he explained how they put trees down, and they put this -- this where the mud -- well, let's see. Harold Gooden Sr. (left) and Tommie Douglas (right) building a mudshark trap The mudshark, the mudshark are coming -- the mudshark are coming up the river. Are they coming up the river? Yeah, they are coming up the river and they go in and they have -- what do they -- let's see, I'm trying to think. What do they have there? They have -- did he show you the -- that great big scoop - net? Yeah. Anyway they have it so the mudshark can't be -- they have to follow this little chute. And that's fun. I mean, they can get 16 to 100 -- 100 in one scoop. And the liver, have you had the liver? Eileen Devinney: No. I've never had it. Ruth Sandvik: It's a delicacy. And it's -- this is Harold Gooden. And it's his grandfather that I was talking about who -- who chased away the demons or whatever they were. On -- and Claudia's grandfather. Bill Schneider: Oh. Oh. Eileen Devinney: Claudia Sampson?
Ruth Sandvik: He was just kind of a character. Lived -- they didn't have any children. And so they lived out of town up at Coal Mine. And he always had -- he had this unique -- yeah, he had this unique hat. I don't know why he doesn't have it on now because I never saw him without it. And it was not -- it was not -- it was not a beaver cap like they wear today, it was -- it was open on top. Bill Schneider: Oh. Stonewall and Susie Jackson.
Ruth Sandvik: This one is Harold Gooden again, and then this is Rob Blankenship, my cousin. Bill Schneider: Would you hold it toward the -- Ruth Sandvik: Yeah. They did things together. They made kayaks together. Roger and Rob made sleds together. Rob Blankenship (left) and Harold Gooden Sr. working on a wooden boat frame.
Eileen Devinney: Do you know what building that is? It is huge construction. I wondered -- Ruth Sandvik: This one? I think it's -- I thought it was Hanson's -- oh, they called it Hanson's Store, but I think it was Levey's Store before him. It was still -- it was still up when we moved here in '35. Left to right: Vincent Schuerch, Lorry Schuerch, Michael Atoruk, Winona Gooden, Leo Gooden, and Wilbur Atoruk Bill Schneider: Let's just turn it this way here. Just a second. Ruth Sandvik: Okay. Eileen Devinney: All the people are identified on the reverse. Ruth Sandvik: Oh, really, are they? Eileen Devinney: Seems to be. There's -- I just noticed there is a lot of handwriting on the back of it. Bill Schneider: So you think that was a store, huh? Ruth Sandvik: Yes, it was William Levy's Store, and -- but we always called it Hanson's house. And he was a miner. I -- he was old when I -- when I saw him, and I don't know, they just kind of drifted and died, and then you just never heard too much more about them. They didn't have families.
Eileen Devinney: So, when you were a child growing up here, were there still quite a few miners living here? Ruth Sandvik: No, there weren't too many. They lived up there. I don't think any of them really made any money because I know several of them died paupers. And they were -- and they were -- they were nice. They were really nice people. In fact, I recall May Black, she's a widow here, she was -- she was a widow who lived at that point across there, and she has a bunch of descendants here saying that it was the miners who kept her going. They'd-- they'd take over 100 pounds of flour and staples like that for her. They were very -- they were kind people. I mean, they were not -- I don't know how serious they were about mining. They certainly were not mining engineers, you know, they just always thought they would find -- find gold. I just don't know any that -- of the miners that remained here in the winter that really did very much financially. Bill Schneider: Hmm. That's interesting. Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum.
Ruth Sandvik: Tommy and I used to accompany our parents seining. I don't think either one of us was very enthusiastic about it. I remember coming home all wet. Eileen Devinney: That's a lot of work. Ruth Sandvik: Oh, this was an interesting woman. Nellie -- Nellie Coffin. She lived in the house right next to us down there. I named my third daughter after her. She went to school maybe three months one summer when someone passed through the village of Kobuk. And when she developed -- when she -- when her health gave way, when she was in her 60s and 70s, she'd sit there and read Life Magazine and those magazines and tell me -- one day I went over, I -- I would fix a plate for her to take -- take over frequently. And -- and one day I went over and she told me about President Eisenhower's favorite meal. I know she was intelligent. Nellie Coffin Baldwin And she said -- she -- she figured her age, because she was 12 years old, she figured that was the age of when you began your period. And she -- her family was camped at -- at Salmon River. And she said that 1898 summer and fall, the -- the would-be miners came up in their skiffs and their boats and their this and their that and their -- she said she memorized this word, quot;how far Pah River?quot; In other words, they had heard there was gold up in Pah River, and so all summer long, quot;how far Pah River?quot; She was married to an Eskimo man, Coffin, but -- and she -- they -- she always worked hard. She was very good with a needle. She did very, very good sewing. She had a large -- she was unique. She had a birthmark between her eyes up here. It didn't distract from her. I never -- I just -- I just kind of -- you never even thought of it. I always thought she had an interesting looking face. Anyway, she decided, well, when she was up there, they would -- she and her husband would often take fish, fresh fish up to the people who were mining in back of Kobuk. But she grew weary of her husband and she told me she took her sewing machine and a bag and there was a -- a boat that they called a Steam-a-Launch down at the beach owned by an Eskimo. The Eskimos just inherited some of the boats that the miners left and they operated them. So she came down to Kiana where she was -- she was more from this area, the Salmon River area than she was from the Kobuk. And she -- I don't know how -- who built her her house, but when we moved over here, she had a very clean -- a clean house with an added bedroom. She -- her common law husband was Tommy -- Tom Baldwin. She had two children by -- by him. And she lived -- she -- there wasn't anything she couldn't do. She was just very -- a very interesting woman. And intelligent. Even when her hands were so -- so crippled from arthritis, she had enough sense to know that she had to keep moving them, and she made quilts, by hand, just to keep moving. And she -- I recall just from sewing for the various Caucasians who came by, or even some of the miners, I recall that she had saved $2,000. And this would have been in 19 -- 1954 about. She called me over one time and asked me to deposit, to deposit the $2,000 into the bank in Fairbanks, which I did. First National Bank of Fairbanks. But how anyone could have been able to save that much from sew -- from sewing. And then she had the -- the teenage boys, she had them getting wood and selling wood, and there was not too much cash at that time. But she was one of the most interesting. She has a daughter who lives in Fairbanks. I don't know whether you would like to contact her. Edith Cummings is her name. Her boy, the teenage boy went into the Army. And later died out there. I mean, after he got out of the Army. So she had a lot of heartbreaks, but she always was always optimistic, but very capable. She also saw some -- I also saw something there I never saw before. She could -- what -- she could juggle. She could juggle. And I had never seen anyone do it this way, this way, I mean. And it's not something she practiced. I mean, someone gave her two rocks one time and she was old, elderly at that time, and she could -- she could do it. She did the other two that were -- that's common, but this is something she learned as a child, camped up at -- camping up at Coal Mine. But years later she could pick up two rocks and do it without prac -- without practicing.
Ruth Sandvik: These are quite recent. His mother and Martha Wells. Now, this is -- this is the way I recall their getting whitefish. Not only in the summer. And this is to be cut and dried, and but, through the ice, of course, they froze them. Roger -- Roger does it in the nets then. But these, by seining. Martha Wells (left) and Lucy Jackson (right) with seined whitefish.
Ruth Sandvik: Here's Johnson Black. You didn't call him, huh? I -- I enjoy his stories. He's young. I mean, compared to me, he's young because I remember him when he was very small. But -- but they took him because he had -- he had strength and he was young. And he could climb the -- climb the hills better than they could. But they also showed him how to hunt. But if -- if you could get him to tell that story about how he moved up and how they cornered these 16, and got 16 . Left to right: Johnson Black, Inez Black and Grace Outwater possibly at a Thanksgiving celebration.
Bill Schneider: This has been real informative. I think we've touched on a lot of important themes. One of the ways in which we're going to approach this, I think, is to have a list of themes - Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum. Bill Schneider: -- so you can click on it and then hear the different people talking about it. Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum. Bill Schneider: And I think some of the themes that have come out of your discussion is certainly the formation of -- Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum. Bill Schneider: -- the community here. A little bit on the -- on the store and how supplies came in. And a little bit on your mom and dad. Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum. Bill Schneider: I think those are important things. Ruth Sandvik: And you know, at that time, before he ever -- when my father ordered, you had to have the money in Seattle. You had to pay for the stuff before you ever -- before you ever got the goods. And sometimes you found that they dumped a bunch of stuff -- I mean dumped the stuff that you didn't order. It was pretty -- it was pretty iffy. It depends on who ordered from, of course, but I mean, they substituted things, maybe because of necessity, I don't know. But you pretty much had to take what you got. One -- one thing that we changed was hardwood. Hardwood -- for them to make sleds, the hardwood has to be a certain -- certain quality. And we weren't having good luck even after I was involved with quality hardwoods. So finally I said the only way we can, I said, we're just not going to carry it unless you, Rob, go out there and hand pick them. So -- so he has done that almost every year until he got sick. And... Bill Schneider: You mean hand picked them in Seattle? Ruth Sandvik: In Seattle. Uh-hum. Uh-hum. Which is the only way to do it. You -- we were -- I mean, if they send some that are too dry or too old, they are useless. Bill Schneider: That's interesting. Ruth Sandvik: And -- but now, of course, it's a different system. You -- we have bypass from Anchorage and we pay when -- when we get the goods. But in the olden days, you had to have the money out there beforehand. Bill Schneider: Do you still buy hardwood for your store? Ruth Sandvik: Well, I have two planks left. And I have a son-in-law who could, but I actually don't know that I really want too much -- I -- I really don't want to do this too much longer. I -- I would like not to -- not to do it at all. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. Uh-hum. Ruth Sandvik: They have gotten accustomed to getting it from here. People come up from Noorvik (map). Some people -- some people send for it up from Buckland and some of the other villages. Shipped it up to Red Dog when they have had people making -- I guess people just transport it back to Noatak to make sleds there. People from Shungnak come down to get it.
Bill Schneider: Maybe one final question. Are there some things that you would want the young kids to know that we haven't talked about that you would want to share on tape? Ruth Sandvik: Well, I'd like -- I'd like a miracle. I would like them to -- I'd like more structure in families here. I'd like them --; I'd like more parenting done. I think that's a -- there's a big lack of that, which has -- has resulted in -- in a lot of vandalism and break-ins. I think that has been my misery. That you can't -- not respecting other people's things. And I think everything begins in the home. And I think we're -- I think we are -- we are failing as parents. And as parents sometimes we push off our children on to our grandparents. I mean, on our parents, the grandparents of the kids, to raise. And that has not always worked too well. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. Well, that's certainly a problem. It's universal in terms of kids and - Ruth Sandvik: I -- I guess I'm baffled because this is a small community, under 400. We're related to one another, we're friends of the parents. And I'm shocked every time when the -- the children don't respect people's property. Bill Schneider: One of the things that one of the earlier people we worked with talked about was the council in the old days and how the council was a force that provided structure when justice needed to be done. Ruth Sandvik: I've heard them say that, too. But I never -- I -- I guess I never found them that effective. Bill Schneider: Hum. Ruth Sandvik: And you can see it now. Any time we have any -- the VPSO program, we're not too supportive of the Village Police Safety Program. I think if we were more supportive and there are consequences to some of these actions, I think we would get somewhere. And be a more productive -- productive village. And a village that we can be proud of. Bill Schneider: Okay. Ruth Sandvik: I was always impressed with Pauline Harvey. She was -- she died several years ago. She has a bunch of children from Noorvik. But I remember at a NANA annual meeting where she said everything begins in the home, everything starts in the home. And I thought what a good thing to hear. Someone -- an elder. I mean, I wasn't an elder then, she was an elder at that time, and she got up in front of a whole bunch of people and she said everything begins in the home. And I thought, how true. She didn't have it pounded into her, but she knew. Bill Schneider: Uh-hum. Ruth Sandvik: She was another outstanding individual. Bill Schneider: Thank you for taking the time to come do this. Ruth Sandvik: Uh-hum.