Cole and his mother, Lorene Ellis, were interviewed on June 11, 1993 by Bill Schneider and David Krupa at the family homestead, Mile 42 on the Nabesna Road in Nabesna, Alaska. In this interview, Cole and Lorene speak about the joys and hardships of their lives at the "end of the road," high in the Wrangell Mountains. They candidly discuss what this life means to them and how guiding, despite its recent vilification in some circles, has been for them a way of life rooted in love and respect for the land and animals upon which they depend. They discuss the effect of park development on their lives, and admit that the future for big game guiding looks limited. They recognize that the pressures upon land and resources are growing steadily from all directions, and in this respect they have common interests with the National Park Service. They speak of their fears and hopes for the future and of their yearning to be understood in their own right as hardworking people with ties to the area that go much deeper than those of the recently arrived officials who, by virtue of their federal mandate, will exert great control over the Ellis' fate.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Jun 11, 1993
Narrator(s): Cole Ellis, Lorene Ellis
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, David Krupa
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
People Present: Christy Ellis
After clicking play, click on a section to navigate the audio or video clip.
Coming to live at 42 Mile Nabesna Road in 1957
Description of Harry Boyden
Harry Boyden's freighting business and route
Life alone at the homestead while Bill Ellis was away on guiding trips
Safety and the necessity for caution in the area
Living with the weather, being prepared, and being careful
Rescuing people, and the rescue of an accident victim that had been stranded for three days
Accidents that have happened in the area and the necessity for caution
Education of children
Managing the family's horses and using them in guiding
How Cole got interested in flying
Lorene's trap line
Changes observed since first coming to the area
Wolves and wildlife management
Wildlife management and lack of local participation
Wolf as hunters, and use of wolves
Effect of the national park on wildlife populations and local lifestyle
What the future has in store for the Ellis family due to the effects of increased use of the Wrangell-St. Elias area
The excitement of getting of mail as a child
Hopes for the future of the park, experiencing wild country, and continuing their lifestyle
Teaching the next generation respect for animals, and hunting ethics among clients
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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay, today is June 11, 1993. I'm Bill Schneider. David Krupa's here, too. And Christy Ellis is going to be joining us in the background.
But right now we're going to talk a little bit with Lorene Ellis and her son, Cole. And we're out here at their place in Nabesna on the Nabesna Road at 42 Mile.
And we're going to talk a little bit about your history of activity out here. We had a chance to talk a little earlier with Kirk and we're going to re-visit some of those subjects and talk just a little bit about your involvement and love for this part of the country. And we appreciate your taking the time, both of you, to share in that.
So let's -- let me start by asking both of you to remember that historic trip in 1957 when you -- when you first came out here. Well, when you came out here to stay, I guess. You'd already scoped it out, is that correct?
LORENE ELLIS: I don’t know which trip you're talking about, but --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Maybe I should ask the question better?
LORENE ELLIS: When we came in ’57 -- It was a little later I think when we had so much trouble.
In ’57, the roads were -- were never washed out then, too, but we weren’t set up too good then.
It was a couple years later that -- when we came in and all the roads were washed out and it took so long to get in. It took almost 24 hours to get in from Chistochina.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How did you decide on this place?
LORENE ELLIS: Well, Bill actually was the one that found it. He was in here hunting, and he found it and he made a deal with Mr. Boyden to buy it from him. The old man that lived here.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And let’s see, Cole, were you born at that time?
COLE ELLIS: Yeah. Yes, I was born in ’55, so I was probably -- I don't know, I was pretty little at the time, but see now when dad bought the place in ’57, we didn’t actually move here until 1960. We stayed summers and fall.
So, you know, the actually time that I start remembering is about there. You know, it was just kind of glimmers before that that I can remember because that's when we stayed year round.
I mean, you know, before that I'd been to a couple of years of school and just getting started and this and that. So then we moved here, and, you know, it was, you know, our first time with, you know, no electricity. No running water. No nothing, so it all --
And that's when I can, you know, really remember from there on. 'Cause we left Anchorage and we didn’t even go back to Anchorage for like six years in the first initial hit here. Dad went back and forth some, but mom and us kids were -- we were here then. It was just too hard to get anywhere them days, you know. Being poor didn’t help either.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How were you make a living then? How was your --
COLE ELLIS: It was guiding. Dad was in the guiding business and he'd been going for a few years before that and that's what he was doing when he found the place. He was looking for an area that, you know, we could all move into and make it.
You know, so, he's trying to get far enough away from the crowds and all the people. That's how he ended up way back here.
He started -- you know, before that he worked off the river right below us here, a little north to us about six miles from here. And that's how he got started.
And then Harry Boyden when he was talking about -- you see, he used to freight from here to Chisana when all the big gold rush was going on and all that.
Then Harry ended up settling here on this side of the range because it was easier for him. He was getting older then, and all.
And this lodge here we're in was the -- belonged to the mine's blacksmith at the time. And Harry bought that from him and he tried to put a store in here and hang on, but the winters just got tougher and tougher for him. He was ready to get out. You know, getting older so --
And that's how dad got the place. He bought from Harry and moved us here and here we are, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Lorene, do you remember some of -- can you give us a picture of Harry, what he was like?
LORENE ELLIS: Well, he was an Englishman. He was a tall, thin man. He was pretty tough.
COLE ELLIS: He was what in his 70’s or so when dad bought the place? Or was he in his late 60’s? LORENE ELLIS: I think he's about 70? COLE ELLIS: About 70 when -- LORENE ELLIS: Yeah, because, he was in --
COLE ELLIS: You wouldn’t know it to watch him move around, but -- LORENE ELLIS: Yeah.
BILL SCHNEIDER: He was pretty spry, still? COLE ELLIS: Yeah, real spry still at that age, yeah.
And the last I remember of him, I remember he said like he was like, you know -- I know they had a hard time remembering their ages 'cause they didn’t -- a lot of the years went by, you know. But I remember him saying that he was sure he was going to be 83 when he got sick. LORENE ELLIS: Yeah.
COLE ELLIS: His blood pressure medicine got messed up on him and he got sick. He got so far down that he didn’t get out, so we lost him. But still, he was still a year or two after that. LORENE ELLIS: Yeah.
COLE ELLIS: Gosh, he had to be, I don’t know what, but he was up there, you know. He lived a long time out here.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Do you remember more about him freighting in the old days, and stories about that?
COLE ELLIS: Yeah, he said that his best money freighting from Valdez, which he did starting out, to Chisana. Chisana's 50 miles from us here. So, you know, that's a fair piece of wild country he went over, you know, for just getting to here, and then from then on it was horses he used.
He said bacon was his biggest money. Taking bacon to Chisana. The miners would pay more for bacon than anything else. Just crazy for it, you know.
So he said that was -- that was the main money. You know, sugar and tea and salt and all that was good, but that was the first thing they'd always ask, if he brought bacon, you know.
And it came from a long ways. He was getting his bacon in Valdez, so they had to bring it, you know, through boat from wherever it came up from there and bring it on.
Of course, they had the old road out there, you know, as far as Slana, and some road in here, but not much. So it was mostly horseback he was bringing it.
He'd tell about packing it nice, you know, and keep it from ruining. Hauling 'er through.
And in the wintertime he used the dogs, so then he didn’t have to worry about stuff like that. He could freeze all it wanted, but he said he made good money at it. He said while the people were digging for gold, he was freighting, you know, through.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How did that route go to Chisana?
COLE ELLIS: It went through Cooper’s Pass, which is about eight miles from here. You go down Nabesna River and go down Nabesna River and then you go up Cooper’s Pass and right to the top of -- You go right to the top and Cooper’s Pass is -- Well, we're 3,000 feet here, and that's -- top of Cooper’s Pass is probably about? I'm just guessing without looking at a map, probably five, 4,800 something like that. And that was his hardest part. The journey.
Of course, getting across the Nabesna River was, you know, tough. In different times of year. And he had the Chisana River to cross. So he had two major rivers to cross and he had that pass, which in the wintertime when it gets ice and overflow in, it's treacherous, you know, to get up over it.
So he -- he worked for his money, no doubt about it, you know. Man, fifty miles and I'll bet it felt like, you know, (inaudible) sometimes, you know.
Had one line shack on this side of the pass that's all down now, except for the roof. And then on the other side, there was several cabins over there. There's a little creek, Star Creek, that coming down there with some miner cabins there, so --
But he had every bit of forty some miles before he got to, you know, any easy going at all. He worked for it every inch of the way.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And when you were growing up here Bill was away part of the year, I understand, guiding up on the (North) slope, is that correct?
LORENE ELLIS: He would stay up there two months for polar bear.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Tell me what that was like to raise the kids here alone.
LORENE ELLIS: Well, we just lived here, I don't know. Sometimes it was kind of scary if one of them got sick or something, but otherwise we did okay. I guess you'd say it's kind of rough sometimes, but we seemed to survive.
In the winter, we trapped and kept busy, knowing we had school and things like that, so we were always busy. At night, you had to do your chores. And if the lanterns failed and --
During the day, they had to either haul snow or go get water, whichever one you -- You couldn’t get the water a lot of times, so you melted snow. They remember that very well. Always having to haul snow.
DAVID KRUPA: How much did you know about this way of life before you came out here? I mean, were you pretty green when you came?
LORENE ELLIS: Well, not too much, but I'd lived on a ranch and I was raised on a ranch. Of course, I left there pretty early, but I still remembered a lot of it.
We hauled water there from a trough, you know, where the -- the tanks where the water was held from the windmill and things like that. My mother had it kind of rough and I kind of remembered what she did and that helped.
But, a lot of it we just learned as we're doing. And we were always careful. And it was always it's a hundred miles to the hospital so be careful, you know.
And nobody used anything when they were younger. We didn’t use anything that was dangerous. Like the chainsaw I used it and I didn’t let them until they got older, you know, where they could at least stand up and hold it. And things like that. You know, you were just real careful and we did okay.
DAIVD KRUPA: Did you have other people around that you could turn to for help? Were there other people living along the road anywhere that you could --
LORENE ELLIS: Well, the closest neighbor was at Mile 26. But, I mean, Jack John was down here six miles away. He was an older Indian, you know, and he turned out to be a really good friend. He's still out here down the road.
He'd be pretty interesting to talk to. He knows a lot of stories and things. But as far as help, well, you just had to make sure you didn’t need any.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I think that's a perspective that a lot of people forget about. People that haven’t lived in a rural area. They don’t -- they don’t think in terms of being super cautious because you realize you're a hundred miles from the hospital. And, yet, I've heard a lot of rural people say that, "We couldn’t afford to have an accident."
COLE ELLIS: That's right, yeah. And you got to think about, you know, each thing you do because you got to get yourself out of any trouble you get yourself in, 'cause nobody's coming, you know. Unless you got somebody there with you. You can’t wait that long. You're not going to make it out of there, you know.
You're dumb enough to walk over too thin ice without checking it, you're going to fall through it, you know. Unless you got figured some way to get out of that, you know, and then get dry and, you know, warm up. You've just done it to yourself, you know.
So that's, you know, man, you've just got to think about everything like that. Overflow's a big problem. You know, you get wet, like I say, and you got to figure some way to get yourself dry right away or you're going to frostbite, you know.
Fire's the same way. The whole shebang, you know. You got to be prepared ahead of time the best you can. You got to have extra wood in in case something happens, you know.
And you got to have enough water and means and enough food put back, you know. And you got to have another place to go if your place burns down. You got to be thinking all the time, you know.
I guess that's one reason things kinda go a little faster, you know, when you think they're at the slowest, 'cause you are, you're -- when you're really surviving, you know. Things just have to go by. Days go by and then you don’t even realize it, you know.
That's the same with our nights up here. People wonder, you know, it gets so dark, what do you do? Well, you know our nights up here, you know, shoot a lot of times you can read a newspaper by the light of the moon. So you don’t worry about time, you know.
You might still be out going somewhere at three in the morning, you know, because you got light, you know. You got no reason to have to get up at six o’clock, you know.
So, you just -- we let the weather work with you, you know, or you work with it. You know, you can’t fight it. It's the same thing, you know, when it's 50 below. Sure, you can go out in it, but you got to remember everything you touch is probably going to break. 60 below. So, you know, you try not to.
You try to have wood up enough or just to go out and do just a little bit of wood. A little bit of that, so you don’t frost your lungs or, you know, goof you up or something like that.
And in the warm weather, try to get ahead on it, you know. So, it's just kind of the way we've always done it, you know. We just get by. Make do, you know. Try not to fight it and let it get to you.
LORENE ELLIS: And like being careful, they usually go in pairs or all three of them go together. And it's saved them a lot of times. 'Cause --
Well, one time Kirk fell through the ice and Cole grabbed him, you know. Things like that. Got him out. And so you just had to be really careful
COLE ELLIS: And then you, you know, you learn what you can do and what you can’t. And you always end up pushing it. I ain’t saying I never pushed it or I never done nothing stupid, you know. I’ve done that,. A lot of it, you know.
Been lucky a lot of times, too, you know. Should've had it. But boy, I've seen a lot of people, since we've been here, hurt. And, you know, not a lot of death, but enough, you know, enough of it.
And a lot of it's from that carelessness, you know. Just not -- not thinking. Just taking that extra couple of minutes, you know, and they'd still been here with us.
And getting people out of the woods, you know. We've always been, you know, ready to help any time 'cause I know what it's like to be out there. And we brought, you know, several occasions people in -- hurt people, you know. And trying to get them out.
And, you know, it's just like now they're saying, well, you know, why don’t you have an EMT card or have this? Well, back then we didn’t have nobody to come up, you know, and give these three-day courses. We hold first-aid cards now, 'cause you're supposed to do with your guiding license. But you just learn.
You know, it's just like a sick animal, you know. I sewed up animals from the time I was little bitty, you know, just to keep them from dying or saved them or this and that. And the same with my horses and that.
Well, you treat people the same way. You know, they're going to bleed just like an animal so, you know, you try to treat them for shock and take care of them and talk to them and get them to somebody who can help them, you know.
But sometimes that person's a long ways away, so you got to keep, you know, letting him know that he's going to be all right and not ever give up, you know, 'cause that's when they will. They'll give up, you know.
But, gosh, it's amazing how strong human is. How they can make it, you know. Gosh, in the cold, and in the, you know, wet and water and all the -- Still, it's that struggle for survival, you know. You can do it, you know,
BILL SCHNEIDER: Were you thinking of a specific example? COLE ELLIS: On people? BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah, when you were mentioning the cold and the wet.
COLE ELLIS: There's been several times that, you know, we've done it. One of them I was thinking of just now when I was mentioning that, is a guy fell. And the reason he fell is 'cause he was -- he's huntin' and it was in September, late September, and he was on a mountain.
And a lot of times, you know, it's freezing at night. The water will come out, you know, and run in the daytime and then, of course, it freezes at night. And you can’t really see it real good, especially if the light's a little bad.
And he was going around the edge of a cliff. And there was these little rocks and that water was just froze right on there. And he stepped out on there and he took a fall. And he hit and his pack took the first load so that kept his back probably from breaking. And he did a flip, hit again on his shoulder and it dislocated his shoulder and messed his arm up. And then he messed -- he hit on -- let’s see, then he hit on his butt and he drove gravel right through a pair of Carhartt’s, just right into his thighs, just did a good job.
So when we got to him -- the reason we even knew about him is his buddy had hiked out -- all the way out over by Tanada Lake, and he met a guy that happened to have a CB radio. And the guy was radioing around back and forth and happened to come in on ours.
And so we went after him, Kirk and I did. And got him and brought him out of there. But he had been -- he was pretty shook up.
He'd been laying in a tent then three days by himself. And the days probably went by as years, you know, so he was probably thinking, you know, there was never no help coming. And he was bleeding a little bit, and probably hearing bears and who knows what all.
But the hardest part was getting him in the airplane, 'cause, you know, he was so hurt, you know. And then, of course, he couldn’t sit and couldn’t lay or anything.
But, you know, he was really brave, and, you know, he did, of course, he knew he had to get out of there. And we folded him up and brought him out of there. But, man, poor guy. You know, I really felt for him, especially being alone all that time.
And, you know, like talking about deals like that, you know, the people's been hurt right over the mountain from us. There was an airplane crash here. And I wasn’t in on it, but the airplane hit. And one guy got out, the other guy didn’t. And it was burning and he got burnt real bad.
Well, then the guy got back and got him. Well, the guy was just burnt terrible. So he pulled him out and he was on a sandbar and, of course, there's no help, nothing around.
And he didn’t have any idea about anything. He stuck the guy in a sleeping bag and zipped it up. Well, the guy died during the night and he sat there and held him while he screamed and screamed and screamed, you know. He didn’t know. He just flat didn’t know.
And, you know, I mean he just, you know, shoot when I was just a little kid they helicoptered a guy right off this mountain right here, right into the place, because he took a fall off the mountain. He was up climbing in a limestone chute and that mountain's just full of rotten rock. He got ahold of a whole bunch of it and that was the end of it.
They brought him in, you know, just, you know, it's just one of those things. But still, you know, you mess with that rotten rock that's freezing and thawing in the daytime, and, you know, you got to know a little bit about that. Know a little bit about the area, you know.
In fact, those same people were here before that one guy was killed. And dad's pretty crude in the way he talks sometimes and, you know, of course, it upsets people sometimes 'cause he's so much to the point. But he stood right here and told them, "You know, some of these mountains you really got to watch."
And the guy said, "Oh yeah, why's that?" And he said, "'Cause there's rotten rock." He said, "You take this one right here for example." He said, "You climb around on that you bust your butt."
You know, that's the first place they headed. And he figured, well, I don’t know if he figured it, but it's like maybe he's keeping something back there, you know.
But that'll wake you up, too, you know, seeing a lot of that, you know, especially at a young age, man.
LORENE ELLIS: And the guy that came -- tried to come through the canyon here. He was sheep hunting. He decided to take a shortcut and it took 'em three days to find him. He was -- and came through the chute there.
COLE ELLIS: And everybody knew where he was, but, yet, you know, it was just so bad. There's a couple little waterfalls in there, straight canyon on each side. They brought mountain climbers from --where were they from, Fairbanks somewhere?
LORENE ELLIS: Yeah, that Army base, I think, or somewhere.
COLE ELLIS: And they were trying to get to him. Climb all over, and use ropes and all this. Still took 'em three days to get him out of there, you know. There's a guy, no ropes, no nothing just walking through there, you know.
LORENE ELLIS: They put him in a body bag and put him right here in the yard. Well, it makes you think, you know. It helps you be a little careful. COLE ELLIS: Pick your route.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, a little brighter subject. LORENE ELLIS: Okay (laughter).
BILL SCHNEIDER: How did you educate your kids? LORENE ELLIS: Well, I -- COLE ELLIS: Club, mostly.
LORENE ELLIS: They -- they did most of it theirselves. Really. They've got all their license and everything else, you know, by theirselves. And it was a pretty tough job, but they managed to do it.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How did they learn to read and write? LORENE ELLIS: Well, we had correspondence school. And so we studied as much as we could and then they kind of took it from there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: As you were growing up, Cole, were there particular subjects you liked, particular things you liked to read or -- ?
COLE ELLIS: I think I always enjoyed reading. You know, I'd read about anything being out here. We didn’t have TV and radio never really worked. So, yeah, you know, I liked -- I enjoyed reading.
I think the first books that we ever got into was like the Tarzan series. You know, that was a big deal for us kids. Edgar Rice Burroughs there, got into that. And, of course, liking horses, you know. I read Westerns and about -- You know, anything to do with animals I always enjoyed reading. So, yeah, we all read a lot, you know, because that was a big thrill for us gettin' the lamp going so you could read, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Talking about a kerosene lamp or a Coleman?
COLE ELLIS: Yeah, we had them both, yeah. As we progressed, we got Aladdin lamps which was just a little bit brighter, you know. Saved our fuel a little bit.
The lantern was -- we didn’t get to run them too much because there was so much Blazo, you know. Mom didn’t really like them anyway, they're so noisy. They were kind of dangerous, you know. You’d knock one over and so a little worse than the other one. You could just throw a blanket over it and put it out. But that old lantern, it kept spewing fuel, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: We should say that, Cole, those are your horses down there at the -- ?
COLE ELLIS: Yeah, they're the family’s. I take care of them, work 'em, but, yeah, everybody's got a little part in them. They rub on everybody’s airplane and everybody’s mailbox.
Steal something from everybody. But, yeah, I'm kind of the head of the horses there. But I'm in charge of wintering them, and breaking them, and shoeing them, and all that stuff.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And this has been an interest of yours for a while?
COLE ELLIS: Yeah, we've had horses here for 22 years. And I've always liked -- always enjoyed horses, yeah. It's been a real thrill for me. I got plenty of scars to prove it.
But they've been a real joy to me over the years. They really have. And my favorite one just died last winter. And he was 31 years old.
And people being -- you know, they'd say, "Well, how could he live that long? How that -- ?" Well, our horses seem to live a long time, and I think it's just because good feed and keeping them wormed and, you know, taking care of them. The right, you know, right stuff for them.
And they're out here, too. They're not having all the diseases and stuff, you know. And luckily we've been able to keep our grazing lease. That was kind of close for a while.
Without that, it would be tough -- tough to keep 'em. Now, we feed them all winter long, you know, but they need to get out, you know. Being confined's tough on any animal, as you know. But so they're free to roam around, you know, getting away, and cause trouble. But they're a great group.
DAVE KRUPA: Have they been a part of guiding, too?
COLE ELLIS: Yeah, I've used them a lot in guiding. Yeah, they're -- they've been a real help to me. And mine, I use them a little different than a lot of other people. And the main reason is 'cause I can’t afford as many as I'd like, you know, where I can take groups of people.
So a lot of times, I won’t actually take hunters out on the horses, but we'll get the game and then I'll use the horses to bring it in. Or if I got an older guy or a guy that's not in real good shape, I'll take him, you know, on the horse.
I may not even ride one. I may have my pack on mine. You know, or just ride him across the river or whatever.
So mine are all kind of trained like, you know, your pet dog, or so. They'll come along and follow you. You got to get a hold of one of them and leave the others loose, you know. And so, that's how they work for me. They just help out, whenever they're needed. If I need them across the way, to the other side of our area, I'll take them over there and leave somebody with them. And then we'll come in and the same thing, maybe walk the hunter, and then I'll go get the moose for them.
But I don’t actually, you know, I'm not outfitted where I can take a big group out with tents and stoves and all that stuff, you know. Years back we wanted to do that, and tried it, but it just cost us too much to keep them year round, you know,
And boy, like I was saying a while ago with the cold weather and stuff, they got to have a lot of feed, a lot of water, a lot of care. And it's just too expensive, you know, which is too bad.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, how did you get interested in flying? Tell us a little bit about that.
COLE ELLIS: I think that I got interested in flying because it was just a way to get from point A to point B, you know.
At first, I wasn’t really interested in it 'cause I always kind of had dad to fly me, you know, here and there. But with him gone a lot and this and that and it taking so long on horseback or any other way to get somewhere, you know. And as more people come in and more airplanes come in and more things come in, I kind of had to compete.
So it was one of the big reasons for getting into flying, because I couldn’t compete, you know. Or hold up with horses where it'd take you so long to get there or wait on somebody or have to hire somebody so -- and that was at, shoot, age 18, I guess I figured that out, you know. So I started flying then and doing --
I never did get into the mechanic end of it too much. I never did like bleeding to death through my knuckles, you know. My other brothers they -- they jumped right on it. I stayed down there getting my head kicked in. The smart one, you know. (Laughter).
But I really enjoy flying. I have. It's been great. I really like it. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Once I started it and then it was like, I don’t know, like something that you just couldn’t stop, you know, just to get a real love for it. And I did. It really grew with me.
I enjoy it now. My other brothers are more into bigger airplanes and more time, but I'm just petty much happy with a Super Cub and flying around, you know, like that. And to keep it, I got to work it or you can’t afford it, you know. Or I can’t.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You were saying to keep it you need to work it.
COLE ELLIS: Yeah, because it costs so much again to keep them, you know. You got to have an annual on it every 12 months. You know, there's different AD’s coming out on it all the time. And you can only do so much time before you got to change the engine, change your prop, tires, you know.
Like owning a car, but only so much more. The tires on my airplane out there right now they get $2,500 for them. A prop's, you know, $2,000. It's just --
So, you know, you try to keep it up. You really think about it when you're landing on one of these short strips. You try to think ahead, you know. And because, boy, if you wreck one.
I've been lucky, you know. I never have, but, you know, man I see these guys that do it and I've helped them out. You know, get 'em out and boy, the money it takes for 'em, you know. Especially if they have to hire choppers to sling them out or something.
Kirk, he's really into that now. He does that sort of thing. He's in the mechanic end and helps guys get 'em out. Dad and Glenn, they're that a way, too. And so, they'll go in and rebuild and re-help and get them out and get them ferry permit. Whatever it takes to get it out. Or hire a chopper as last resort.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And, Lorene, you never got interested in flying yourself?
LORENE ELLIS: No, not really. I think there was enough for everybody else to take me where ever I wanted to go.
DAVE KRUPA: Did you do much flying?
LORENE ELLIS: Not too much. Just when I wanted to go somewheres. But I really didn’t need to be a pilot, because if you're a Sunday pilot, you're apt to get hurt. You need to work it. If you're going to stay in it, you need to stay in practice, you know. So, it's better than to just ride in the back seat.
4BILL SCHNEIDER: But I understand that you have a trapline and that you also are a pretty good shot.
LORENE ELLIS: Well, I usually hit what -- something. Yeah, I really enjoy the trapline. I still run it some. I always like to go to the cabins and stay and trap. I've got a short trapline around here. I'm still doing it.
COLE ELLIS: We've got out cabins. Sixteen of them that we built in the Wrangell-St. Elias here that we used in huntin' and in trappin', and that's where mom likes to go a lot of time in the wintertime. She'll pick one and go spend a couple weeks there. Trap.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you'll drop her off there and she'll --
COLE ELLIS: Uh-huh, yeah, drop off. And she's without her dog, now, but she had a dog for years and that was her only companion she'd take with her. So dog, snowshoes --
LORENE ELLIS: A lot of fun.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, let’s -- let me ask both of you to talk a little bit about some of the changes that have occurred since you first came out here. What would you see as major changes?
LORENE ELLIS: Well, I'm not real sure. What do you think? COLE ELLIS: People, I guess. We got so many more people now. You'd hardly ever see people here before, when we first came, you know.
And then the difference in the people I'm seeing and the people we seen back then. If somebody showed up back here, you know, in them days they were like a different caliber than what the park's brought in.
And what I mean by that, the people that's showing up like have on short pants, little tennis shoes, and a big sack of what I call bird seed. And, you know, and they're ready to run the park trails which ain’t here, but they're under an illusion that there's park trails and benches and little paths and rangers to help you on every corner. Which, you know, we're far from that.
But the people we've seen back then are like the Indians, you know, that was coming through. Some of the old-timers, or maybe a guy coming up just seeing new country. But they were pretty well set. I mean like they had a rifle. They had a pack. They had, you know, some food.
Where these guys, like they have bells to keep the grizzly bears from eating 'em, you know. And they had their granola and just don’t have pepper spray, you know, too, to keep bears away. And they're just, you know -- they're --
And you can’t get through to them, you know. The people that I've talked to like that they see me as a killer, you know. So right away they're -- they don’t like me to start with, but yet they're here, you know. And they're all excited about the change, which it is a big change, but yet it ain’t completely happened yet.
So, you know, I mean there're strange for me to, you know, to communicate with. I have a hard time.
Every once in a while you'll get, say, a younger guy come up and a completely different guy. He's out to see it and he's, you know, he's got warm gear and rain gear and he's, you know, he's set. A pretty cool guy and you visit with him. But I see more of the other kind than I do that kind by far.
You know, they're just not -- they're not equipped. They're not -- They're headed for trouble is what they're headed for. But a lot of them, they make it. The weather stays. Nothing happens. You know, me, it floods across the river. You know, it'd snow on me or something, but I seem to get through so --
And the game, I see a real change in the game, you know. Our game's going downhill, no doubt, you know.
And in the park here, I'm not happy with the management of the game. 'Cause, you know, we need better management. But it's hard for me to explain to somebody what's going on, because like you take a park man that's been here -- say he's one of the old-timers they call him. Say he's been here five years. And I can tell him about when we sat here and counted 300 sheep on these mountains right around us. But right now you go out there and glass and you might see four or five in an evening.
And they're saying they're doing a sheep count and there're sheep still in fantastic shape. Well, they're not, you know.
So that's the main thing I'm seeing. I mean, fall time here and the wintertime here we'd sit around and listen to the wolves howl, you know. Or you'd have the track of a grizzly bear going through, that, you know, is -- they're just not -- they're not here no more.
And they keep saying, well, maybe they moved farther back. Well, they might have, but I don’t think so, because further back there's just more people. After so far.
So that's kind of sad. I think -- I think we can still have a lot of good game if we can get the management going the right way, but it's hard.
BILL SCHNEIDER: What do they need to do?
COLE ELLIS: Well, we've got a wolf problem. And, as you know, I mean, you probably talked about with other people we have a subsistence problem. You know, I don’t know how to handle subsistence, but I do know or believe that you shouldn’t shoot ewes and lambs.
And in Unit 11 over here, they have a one sheep season. So if, (cough) you're a resident and, of course, there's different laws that go with it. One side eroded the other and all this; we won’t go into that.
But you can go in and shoot one sheep. Well, between wolves and grizzly bear and us, and then all of a sudden you start shooting ewes, and they're doomed and so are we.
And when the game's gone, the guides are gone. You can’t stay in here. You say, we'll take mountain climbers or take this or take that. Well, we probably can, but it's quite a change, 'cause you got to run bigger volume, many more people.
And in the guide industry, we only need to run so many people. We only work like three months out of the year, which is great for us.
But you go handling a lot of people, you got a lot more risks. A lot more, you know, just a lot more work.
And the average person that comes up here, he can’t afford like the non-resident. I know I couldn’t. I couldn’t afford somebody to take me out and pay him to get me a sheep, you know. My gosh, I’m just a normal working man, you know. I'd have a hard time making that kind of money.
So that makes me kind of sad just to see the way the game's being handled, you know. And it's hard. And you go to these meetings and you try to talk. But, of course, you get shouted down a lot and it's hard to get your point across, you know.
And then not being a good speaker, either, that doesn’t help, you know. You need to get up there, I guess, and I don’t know what, stand up and yell and rant and rave, but it seems like when you do that then they just figure you as a crazy person and they don’t want nothing to do with you.
We've got some people in the park I think that's, you know, good people. They're trying, but, you know, they're kind of newcomers here. Like I was saying, talking about the sheep, you know.
It's hard for them to visualize, 'cause you fly up here in the mountains and you see a group of say 20 rams, which we still have, and maybe a little but 20 rams. Well, not even 10 years ago, it was probably about like 50 rams right there.
So I can see this decrease and I can see more people coming and more hunters coming, and the wolves we can’t touch them in the park, except by trapping, you know. Pretty hard to keep 'em controlled that way. And they got to eat, you know. The grizzly bear's got to eat. So it's, you know, we got to figure a happy medium there somewhere. Somebody's got to quit taking so much for them to make it.
And that makes us all sad, here. Us guides. Because we use the animals and they've been our way of life and then they've made our living for us and it's been good here. A really good life. Really enjoyed it. But I don’t want to be the one to shoot the last sheep either, you know. I want 'em here for the kids to see and everything else.
And by having the park, what I understood that's what was supposed to happen. We were supposed to have moose, caribou, sheep, bear, squirrel, everything here for all the kids to see. Well, by not maintaining it, you know, and controlling it, it's not going to work.
'Cause when wolves do get, you know, say rabies or whatever, guess what? Mother Nature's going to take over there and that's pretty scary, you know.
I've never seen the wolves have it, but I know on the coast down there the foxes when they come down with rabies, my goodness, that wiped out a lot before they got that shut down, you know.
So I would like to see that and, you know, I keep hoping it'll happen. You know, they'll get in there and get us better management and better control. But as of right now, it don’t look good to me. What do you think?
LORENE ELLIS: Yeah, same thing. Yeah, yeah, the wolves are -- they get pretty scary, you know, when there're so many of them, but you can’t tell the other people that.
COLE ELLIS: Well, they don’t see them, you know. A wolf, a fantastic hunter, and he's a lot like a cat. And you can go out here and fly and fly and fly and not see one, even in the wintertime.
And -- but when you learn how to find them and, you know, the trails they follow and how to track them and that sort of thing, you’d be surprised. I've seen as many as 20 in a pack, you know.
And boy, it takes a lot of moose to feed 'em, you know. And I often -- And I've seen where two of them has pulled down a moose, too, you know. People find that hard to believe, but they do. You know, they can. And they're just a fantastic hunter. Fantastic killing machine. They're good at their work.
LORENE ELLIS: Yeah, and another thing, we use the wolves, you know. We use them for garments, and, you know, the ruffs and protect your face and everything. And if they let 'em go too long and, well, then they'll end up with rabies or something. And then there won’t be any for anybody to use.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But what would life be like if there wasn’t a park?
COLE ELLIS: That's a good question. You know, we're seeing that a little bit on the outside of the park, you know, the people that are trying to figure out how to, you know, maintain and take care and do.
And I guess time will tell, you know. And it doesn’t look good when you look at it from here. It looks like, you know -- 'cause maybe the animals go down, but right now some of the areas where the State's still in there, they're still kind of holding a happy medium. They still got some wolf control and this and that.
And that's, I guess, my main concern here is the wolf control and subsistence shooting the ewes and lambs is what I am scared about in the park. Losing them all.
But, you know, maybe -- maybe with the park maybe that'll be the best thing that ever happened. Who knows? Maybe they'll get it turned around and get things straightened out and we'll have game here, you know, for the grandchildren to see, which would be great, too.
But -- and like people say, well, it can’t come overnight. But time's a wasting, too while we're, you know, while we're messing with it. Because, you know -- and you can’t help but worry because it wasn’t that many years ago when our caribou was thick, you know. I mean they were thick. They let you shoot five per person a year. Then it went to three. And then it went to one. And then it went to subsistence. And now it's none.
You can’t shoot any over here in (Unit) 11. And that was a big herd, you know.
And they've got collars on different stuff out there now trying to figure out what's going on. And, of course, they don’t have hardly no calf drop this year, you know.
So it's, you know, it's scary to know, you know, what's going on. So I'm just hoping that it's not going to be too late by time something gets figured out. So I guess what we're trying to get the word out here, you know, help's needed now, not 10 years down the road.
And, like you say, with the park being here, you know, the good and the bad of it, you know. The outside, I can see where like people are -- or more people like in the areas where they've got some blocked off here, but a lot of the people right now are feeling like this.
Well, it's the park, and they made it the park and they don’t like it 'cause it's the park’s, so they're mistreating it. And it's stupidity with them doing it, you know, but they're still doing it, for the same fact, you know.
They're mad because they made it a par, so they're taking it out on the animals or they're throwing their trash out here or they're doing that. So, you know, that's wrong, too. And maybe that'll turn around. I don’t know. But gosh I hope so.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah. Well, I guess one -- one option for the future is to reorient towards the folks that are coming in to hike and to watch game. COLE ELLIS: Uh-huh.
BILL SCHNEIDER: And to do things like that. What will that mean in terms of your family life here? For those people listening, the Ellises live out here in a series of cabins and their family and their kids are here. It's -- that would mean some changes, wouldn’t it?
COLE ELLIS: Uh-huh. Yeah, we're looking at a lot of changes there. It's hard to break the mold, you know, as to where we've been all these years.
I mean, change for us is just as hard as, you know, everybody else. And you fight it, you know, 'cause you've always made it this way. It's been your way of life, so it's hard for us just to click over into something else or to, you know, change.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But do you see some potential in that?
COLE ELLIS: I don’t see a whole lot, to tell you the truth, without getting into, you know, something else that I don’t really care for. Like say, air taxiing, you know, you can get into that. I'm not really into that. I guess I've never wanted to be a cab driver that much.
I like flying. I like flying friends. I like flying folks, my clients and that, but so -- I'm sure there is, 'cause, you know, in anything if you look hard enough you can find something, you know.
But like all of us work, not all of us like it. But with guiding, you know, it's been neat 'cause it's a job you can like and enjoy, you know, so -- I'm sure there's a way to make a living here, but I don’t know how enjoyable it's going to be, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Lorene, how about you? What do you see in the way of the future and a role here? Here we drove into your front yard and wanted to stay at the lodge and --
LORENE ELLIS: Yeah, well we've -- we're used to that. People have always stayed with us. Even though, you know, not for charge or anything. But when somebody came in here, it's so far away in the old days, that you just naturally took 'em in and fed 'em and took care of 'em and give 'em a place to sleep if they needed it. So it's kinda natural to us.
It's just, like you said, there's some people that are just a different type. They don’t really like us because we're hunters, and so that's the kind of people we're seeing now.
So we have to change for the time. Like we have to try to get these people to understand and go ahead. And it'll end up that we'll have a place here that we've got to make some money one way or another. Bed and breakfast and a park. You know, it may be an RV park or a place for them to park. And may end up having to take them on hikes, you know, or something to make a living 'cause we don’t intend to give it up.
We've got to do something. And we're not looking forward to it too quick, but we don’t -- it depends on what the park does about our guiding. If they take our guiding area away from us, well then we'll do something else.
We just have to change with whatever happens, but we're hoping they don’t take our area away from us. But, of course, it can happen.
COLE ELLIS: The paperwork's what's getting harder and harder for us. The guiding. And with this deal it's a lot of politics, so it's hard for us 'cause we, you know, just never done the paperwork much.
And, you know, trying to understand what they want you to put on paper and getting it down right, that's the secret to hanging on, you know. That we're finding. So that's kind of hard to do that.
LORENE ELLIS: It's like being -- and if the guy up here's a schoolteacher or something and he knows more about paperwork, he's more apt to get it than the guy that can handle the clients. That's the way it looks to me.
COLE ELLIS: Well, on another note, go back here a little bit to where we were again, and you was asking earlier about when we were first living out here and stuff. And one of the main things I can remember sitting here, now, that was one of the biggest joys that we had was mail, you know. And our mail didn’t come but to Chistochina. And that's 69 miles from here.
So we got mail -- you were lucky every two weeks, which dad -- or we had a guy hired at the time that would fly and get it. But usually it came every three weeks. But that was the biggest thrill. You know, you hearing from the outside world. For us, you know, back there. It was just -- it was the mail.
Now we get it here. You know, it's drove up the road three times a week, so it's hard for our kids to understand the excitement of it, you know. Or even turning on a light bulb, you know.
So it's like everything, you know, everything's changing. But I did remember how we really enjoyed our mail. That was always great to get mail.
LORENE ELLIS: There was one year -- We hardly ever got mail for two months when Bill was gone polar bear huntin'. And one of our neighbors out here had a little Champ and he flew it in to us every week. And he wouldn’t let us pay him anything or nothing. He said the kids enjoyed it so much that he just got a -- he just really enjoyed bringing it to them.
Now, that was really nice. We had that for two months. We always watched for that mail plane.
COLE ELLIS: Yeah, you sat in here and hear things, you know. Like, "I think I hear it."
DAVE KRUPA: Well, of -- of all the changes that you have been through and may still have to face, for your kids and grandkids what do you feel is like the most important thing that you'd really like to see go on up here for you and your family?
COLE ELLIS: I'd like 'em to, you know, see it, you know. And, you know, and hopefully that it won't be just garbage mounds and dead animals, you know. I'd hope -- Hopefully, that they get to see the beauty, you know, that I've got to see.
And, you know, the main thing. And that's -- it's hard to explain to anybody what's out there until you've been there and seen it, you know, or walked it, or, you know, been out there.
I'd like for them to be out, you know, somewhere way out like I've been lucky enough to be where there's nobody but you. And be able to hear the quiet, you know, and understand what it really is to hear it. You know, because sometimes it'll get so quiet that your ears'll actually start buzzing, you know. It's just the same -- it's maybe there's a little creek running or this and all of a sudden the wind will stop and it's just so, so quiet, so peaceful, you know.
And not everybody's ever going to hear that, but I'd sure like for them to have that chance. You know, to get that -- that shot at it. Because that's been great.
LORENE ELLIS: And, yeah, it'd be nice if they can go ahead with the lifestyle, but, of course, you know it's not going to happen. But we've been taking them trapping ever since they were little so they can learn that. And I know most people don’t believe in that, but it's really an education and it teaches them to respect the animals. And they all do.
And, you know, they can't hardly kill anything, but it's a lifestyle and they do it. Yeah. You know, and it's hard to understand. And they have a lot of a fun and they enjoy skinning and taking care of 'em and stretching 'em. And then brushing 'em and how beautiful they are. And then they don’t want to sell 'em. But they learn a lot from getting out in the woods.
COLE ELLIS: It's the respect you gain for the animal, you know. And like mom says, it's hard to say, but you don’t want to be cruel or anything in the way you do it, you know.
You take care of your traps. You do 'em right. You do 'em often. You don’t -- you know --
And the kids, they understand that. You know, it takes a while, but they understand it. So, it's pretty special to be able to push that across to 'em, you know. There's not one of them here that wants to grab a gun and shoot a bird that goes by unless they can use him for something, you know.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That's really a lesson you can’t learn unless you live out in the woods, is it?
COLE ELLIS: That's right, yeah, you know. I haven’t been on the other side, so it's hard for me to sit here and say that you couldn’t take a person that'd been that way all his life and change him or, you know, just the opposite, 'cause I don’t know -- I don't know what that person's thinking, you know.
I've handled a lot of clients in my time and I've seen a lot of different people. And I've handled a lot of people that came out here to hunt. To have a good time. To cross rivers. To climb mountains. To look at glaciers. And just to really enjoy that and get away from the phone.
Then I've had people that hit this lodge and ten minutes later they'd be ready to leave if they had their game. And that's what, you know, sours me on it 'cause they're not, you know -- And they're missing the most important part of it to me.
It ain’t so much the game, it's just being able to get out there and have a blast out there and relax. But they're usually so keyed up and so nervous when they're like that and they've -- of course, they've saved for a while and this and that. All they can think about is what people's going to say if they don’t get their animal. They're so worried.
They can’t think about relaxing and having a good time themselves and what they're going to see. They're just worried what everybody's going to say, you know.
I've talked to a lot of people like that and it's strange, but that's the way you'll find it with a lot of them, you know. They're just worried about maybe how big that's going to be, not how good it's going to taste. Or getting it took care of right, or getting it back down without losing any of the meat or, you know, they don't think of that, you know. So it's sad to see that.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, thank you both for taking the time to do this. I think it's important.
COLE ELLIS: I'm glad to. Yeah. Hope it helps.
LORENE ELLIS: Yeah. Yeah, sorry I couldn’t tell you more, but --