Henra Sundt was interviewed by Bill Schneider and David Krupa on June 13, 1993 in Gakona, Alaska. This interview was conducted at her summer home next to the Gakona Lodge. Henra's son, Roy, and her granddaughter, Kari, also were present during the interview. Henra, was living mostly in Anchorage, and was spending her first weekend of the summer in Gakona, tending to the lawn, seeing friends, and tidying up. When Bill Schneider and David Krupa arrived, Henra was busy clipping the grass growing up around the towering spruce in her front yard. In this interview, Henra recalls her life experience with relish and humor. In this first part of a two part interview, she gives an excellent account of traveling along the precarious and precipitous "goat" road from Valdez to Glennallen and on to Gakona, where she and her husband got their start. She describes many of the colorful characters who passed through the Gakona Lodge and records some of her own adventures, including hiking across the mountains to visit her husband at Slate Creek. She tells of her struggle to carry on alone after her husband's death. She and her son, Roy, give a darkly humorous account of some historical deaths, burials, and reburials in the Gakona area. The interview provides a good perspective on early life along the highway and the characters who passed through.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Jun 13, 1993
Narrator(s): Henra Sundt
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, David Krupa
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
People Present: Roy Sundt, Kari Bernard
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What brought Henra to Alaska
Traveling in Alaska by truck
Her husband, Arne Sundt, and mining
The people and town of Chitina and Gakona
Working with Mrs. Erickson, who was Swedish
Learning to read and write English
Springtime and visits to Slate Creek
Traveling to and from Slate Creek
Flying, airplanes, pilots, and airstrips
How they got supplies into the area
Learning to write checks
How her husband got the Gakona Lodge and mining claims at Slate Creek
Dealing with corrupt mine manager, Elmer
Seeing Elmer in Anchorage church, and learning about her husband's death
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BILL SCHNEIDER: Today is June 13, 1993, and we have the pleasure today of talking with Henra Sundt. And I'm Bill Schneider. Dave Krupa's here. Henra’s son, Roy, is here and her granddaughter, Carrie. HENRA SUNDT: Kari.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Kari, yeah. Kari Bernard, is it? And so thank you all for -- for making time. Let’s -- let's talk a little bit about what brought you to Alaska.
HENRA SUNDT: Well, I -- I married a man that owned -- my husband that owned this place. So I came from Norway. And we were --
I came from Norway and we traveled by steamship in those days to Brooklyn, New York and then the train to Chicago and to Seattle, Washington, and from Seattle up to Cordova.
And my husband met me there and we were married in Cordova. So we came up on the train to Chitina. And we drove our truck from Chitina to here all loaded with supplies that had been unloaded off the train.
You see we got all our supplies from the states and they were shipped into -- on the train into Chitina, but -- and I'll never forget that train trip. It had a beautiful dining car with white crisp looking tablecloths, finger bowls and a Chinese waiter that were very, very polite, you know, and he was tending to our every wish.
And then there was a big hotel in Chitina at that time and I spent the afternoon in the hotel lobby. Everybody tried to talk to me because I couldn’t -- I didn’t understand anything they said. I didn’t know the language.
And the man that owned the hotel his name was Oscar Bridman. He was a Swede and he couldn’t talk Swedish.
So I felt like telling him that he was a poor Swede because you never should forget your mother tongue, you know, your mother’s language. I think he would have agreed.
But anyway, my husband was out in the yard loading the truck. We had a Model A 1980 -- 1928 Model A truck.
So we started off from Chitina in the late afternoon all loaded up. And we came on a very rough gravel road, lots of curves, and it was so noisy that we was just having to shout in order to hear each other.
So there wasn’t any honeymoon language much, you know. It was just the bare necessities were said.
And the first stop -- the first stop we made was on the curve just before we got to Tonsina, Lower Tonsina. And there a man standing in the -- his name was Slim McMann. He was standing by the road, and my husband stopped and handed him a bunch of mail.
And then we went over to the Lower Tonsina. The place was run by an old couple, the Lansens (sp?), who later when they died they were buried right there on the hill, on the Tonsina hill, just at the -- almost at the bottom of the hill.
And they were smiling and laughing and my husband explained that -- See, he didn’t tell anybody he was getting married. There was a big secret. So they were all very surprised.
And so we got in -- they were smiling and I waved to them and we went on the somewhat rough roads. No gravel on the roads, crooked, lots of curves.
And I don’t remember where we stopped the next time. We stopped -- I remember that we stopped at Gulkana, five miles down the road.
Somehow they got word of what was going on because you see the road went in front of the lodge and up around the hill then. The lodge isn’t there.
And there was a bunch of Indians and they were all shouting and they had drawn a -- a -- a line across the road. And they hung a lot of baby clothes on this line all across the road.
And I thought it was very strange that people would dry their clothes out in the middle of the road. I couldn’t figure it out. But I learned later what it was, you know.
And we got here in the middle of the night just about and everybody was in bed and we just went up and found ourselves a place to sleep and got --
The place was full of people because they were getting ready to go to Slate Creek, to the mining claim they were working in the summertime.
So there was -- they had about twelve men. And he had a partner, John Poulson (sp?) was the partner. And some of the boys was there waiting to go up to Slate Creek which they had to drive up to Chistochina and hike up the river -- up the Chistochina River up to Slate Creek.
And they were going for the summer, good or bad. There wasn’t -- they didn’t make -- we -- we broke up -- we -- we came out even.
He had a eight -- He had a twelve year lease on the ground from a company back in New York.
And so he had -- well, he had -- we -- we -- in the -- at the end of the twelve years we have some good years and some bad years.
And then the lease went up. My husband was no longer even then mining. That was the last.
He had mined all over, various places. He'd been in Canada. He worked in mines, you know, in Mayo and Quino (phonetic) if you know the -- They have big quartz mines up there.
He was a -- he was a foreman up there in one of the -- He was a mining engineer, actually.
And they had a lot of men there. He had a -- there was a big mine, and he had --
There was another engineer that I met later in life. I forget what his name was. And they were telling me that Arne would babysit their kids when they go to a dance. They must've had a dance over in the roadhouse. They were called roadhouses those days.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Arne is your husband’s name? HENRA SUNDT: Pardon?
BILL SCHNEIDER: Arne was your husband’s name?
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, Arne. They said that he was babysitting whenever they wanted to go out somewhere.
Anyway, they all went after a few days here somebody way down in Chitina and all over this trail, they came to a surprise to celebrate the wedding.
They came -- they -- they made us a surprise. Well, I guess the cook over there knew about it, but we didn’t.
So there were a lot of people. There were a lot of people in Chitina at that time. The road commission was headquartered there, so there were a lot of people.
And they had a dance and lots of music and a gay time. And we didn’t serve any drinks or anything like that. It was just plain normal fun.
And, well, I didn’t really understand what this was all about. I only knew what they told me, you know. But in the summer, I learned.
Mrs. Erickson was the main housekeeper here or she ran the place in my husband’s absence because he was appointed postmaster, a job that he did not want, but they said that it was necessary because there had been rumors that there were --
people on the trail had sent in the petition saying that the post office in Chitina they opened people’s mail and were reading their mail.
And so they figured out that they needed another post office. So they said it was necessary.
Well, none of us believed that it was true. But he took the job nevertheless. And he was postmaster until shortly before he died in 1946. This was in 1928.
BILL SCHNEIDER: That was here?
HENRA SUNDT: Here. Gakona post office. And it's still in existence. I mean the post office is up the road a mile.
So, anyway, they went to the creek and Mrs. Erickson was Swedish and that was a -- that was a pretty good help, but it could have been a lot better.
She was in -- in her late 50’s. She has been here in this country many years and forgot most of her Swedish. And Norwegian and Swedish is not -- there is similar but it is not the same.
So I'm trying to talk to her in Norwegian. Well, I could understand Swede very well because we had a Swede neighbor. Usually, I can --
I remember going to town to school. And we live out in the country about a half hour’s walk from town, maybe more, maybe an hour from where the school was.
And also Swede living half ways between. He was married to a Norwegian woman. An elderly man. And, you know, he worked on a -- in a factory there in town where they made wooden -- they were like a sawmill thing and they sold lumber.
And it happened that he nearly always was done working at the time when I can by and on my way home. So we would walk together the -- the little ways until we were at his home.
And so we would -- I would talk to him and he would talk in Swede, so I learned from him mostly.
But then there was other Swedes around the country, too. Some of the Swedes they weren’t too popular in Norway, but that's more rumor than true.
BILL SCHNEIDER: But Mrs. Erickson?
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, Mrs. Erickson was Swedish and --
BILL SCHNEIDER: So you could talk a little bit with her?
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, that’s right. She was a big help that after I got here to Gakona.
So, and then I had a -- Of course, we had a newspaper. And the newspaper was the biggest help of all.
Once you know a few words, you can guess at the rest in the newspaper. You know, you read the headline, you understand a couple of words in the middle of a sentence. Pretty soon you can put them together and then you have a sentence.
You may not pronounce it right, but people are understanding and they'll correct you.
So, by the end of the summer, in December, Mrs. Erickson -- Well, the boys came home about in September. And everybody left, you know.
They didn’t spend -- only one or two spent the winter with us. They were two Norwegian guys, too. And they spent the winter with us.
And I said to my husband in December, because I missed Mrs. Erickson. I told him I was going to write her a letter.
I had promised her I would write her a letter, but she said don’t write in Scandinavian, write English. So I said, "Well, I'll do my best."
By that time, I had learned enough in about five months time. I had learned enough English to be able to write a letter.
He read the letter and he said that I did very well. He said that there was only a couple little mistakes in the letter, but he -- he -- he said that -- that I was to be commended on it.
He never talked very much. To commend anybody came hard for him, but he did.
And so Mrs. Erickson got her letter. And I heard from her, too. She could write pretty good in English that is, or language.
She left us in December and went out for the winter. Of course, she had grand -- a son that was married and had grandkids out there.
Then the next year, she came back. And she had one of the grandkids with her, a little kid, and she went to a mining camp up in Chisana. That's way up in the mountains from -- across the mountain range from Nabesna. There was no Nabesna at that time, yet. That came later.
And the winter we spent, we had a lot of fun that winter. We went out skiing and we had a dogteam. We were mushing dogs and they were cutting --
My husband and the two boys that were staying with us, they went up the river about eight miles. The river is very crooked. They went up the river about eight miles and they were cutting down big logs to build something because we had a sawmill at the end of the -- kind of an old-fashioned sawmill, but it was -- it was effective.
And they would go up in the early morning. Take two horses -- a team of horses and some dog handlers and drive up there early in the morning, and cut a log or two.
And I had a girl staying. She was from Seattle and she was very young, but she stayed with us that winter.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So she was staying with you that winter? HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, staying with us. KARI BERNARD: Who was that?
HENRA SUNDT: Well, she worked for someone in the summertime. Someone else. She worked down in Copper Center in the summer. A large business was active -- more active.
But, what we did then, the boys before they left, they would harness up two dogs. And we would cook -- make lunch for the boys. Sandwiches or whatever we had for lunch. And we put in a, what we call a rig sack, a rucksack on the back. And then we have skis.
And we had skis and a dog apiece, so the dogs pulled us up the river to where they were working. And we cooked coffee and made a bonfire.
And we cooked coffee in a four pound lard pail, which was a very popular utensil at that time. And so we all had lunch. We sat on the logs and had lunch.
And it was about early March and the weather was getting a little bit -- we were getting a little bit warm from the sun after the very cold winter about sixty below or so.
We couldn’t be up the river in that kind of temperatures, you know. So we sat around and chatted a little bit and the boys felt rested and they started to -- to cut the -- the limbs off of trees. And the girl and I we started for home 'cause by the time we got home it was time to cook dinner.
So they got home about -- when they got everything loaded up there, they got home quite a bit later. About -- late, you know, about seven o’clock. Maybe a little later. And had dinner.
And this happened several times, but not really all winter. In the meantime, we also had a lot of -- we went for sled dog rides and we amused ourselves pretty good that winter until then pretty soon it was spring again.
And towards spring, you know, everybody was mushing dogs and I wanted to mush dogs. So my husband, he was a little big reluctant about -- but I insisted that I wanted to mush the dogs down to Gulkana because all the Natives did.
And we went up the road and up on top of the hill, approximately where the road now goes but a little bit straight for Gulkana.
There was a trail made by the Natives, but, you know, it was a difficult trail because when the snow melts on the side of the road it leaves the beaten track kind of high.
And they finally hitched up about three dogs, and I went down to visit Mrs. Griffith that was an old English lady running the lodge. And she didn’t really like the idea of Arne building a lodge down here because she figured that would be competition.
But she somehow took a liking -- she liked me. And I got along with her famously. She always asked me to come down, have a sit, and I had a nice visit.
But anyway I -- I made it down there with the -- with the dogs, but they were difficult. And I was getting -- I was pregnant, too, about this time.
And it was -- the sled wanted to go like this off the road all the time. It's really a wonder that I really made it.
But I did and visited. And tied off the dogs down there and came home the same day. It didn’t take very long.
And the dogs then -- I didn’t have a leader because he was a pup. His name was Blackie. My husband said that I wouldn’t probably be able to handle him because he was very stubborn and it would take a man. He only would listen to a man because that's all he was used to.
So I just had three dogs, and they were just ordinary dogs. They were used to follow the leader, but they did remarkably well because the trail's all the way there, so it wasn’t so hard.
And then spring came and I had lots of visitors that summer. Friends from Cordova came to stay awhile, you know.
And I had a girl from Cordova also that came. She was about fourteen. She came for a visit, too, and they liked them and they came.
The next -- the summer after that, of course, I had the baby then in the fall. And by next spring, that's when I decided I was going to visit Slate Creek.
I was going to visit Slate Creek. My husband had said no women in camp, because you have to cook for them and wait on them hand and foot. And so they had made a rule between him and his partner there would be no -- no visit from any ladies up there or women.
Well, all of them guys they were -- they were single, except John. And she was kind of fragile. I mean, she would never have -- well, she wasn’t quite as rugged as I was.
She was a typical American woman. Very good education at being a schoolteacher and kind of thin, and very modern and very proper.
I said, "Well, I don’t care." I said, "I'm able to cut my own wood. I can build my own fire. There'll be no problem." So nothing was said.
So I got a bush pilot to take me up there to -- to Slate. He was new in the country. He didn’t even know where Slate Creek was, yet they had come up.
They were based down at Copper Center. Yeah, he would. I described where the place was. I told him it was up at the head of the Chistochina River and that it was on a tributary, you know, that runs into the Copper -- into the Chistochina River.
And so we went up there. And we were flying around in the mountains, you know, but there was no airfield there at -- at Slate Creek where we could land.
But I said -- we heard that -- that you could land on the river bars, sometimes. So we do and we finally came over something that looked like a -- it was a pipeline, a big pipeline that was leading down to the creek to the mining. We didn’t know it.
I said to the -- his name was Ed -- Ed Dorns. I said. "What is that?" 'Oh,' he said, 'that looks like somebody’s fence."
But finally we seen the camp, but he said, "I can’t land here." So we went over to a place called Middle Fork and landed.
And there was a bunch of engineers. They were prospecting and mapping. But the mine never amounted to anything, but this head engineer he used to stay with us on the way to Middle Fork.
And so here it was raining and I want to go to Slate Creek. "Well," he said, "the only way to go to Slate Creek would be to walk over the pass." And he said, "I'll let you -- one of my engineers -- " I remember him well, his name was McClain (sp?). "I will have him walk with you." So we did.
We started off with a little lunch and we started up and was very big rock slide and were very rugged and we climbed all big rocks getting up on top.
And when we got up on top, it was a green valley. A long valley ahead of us. So that was -- I forget what the name of the creek was.
But eventually, after several hours of walking in the rain, we finally got to the head of Slate Creek. He sort of knew the way. He had a pretty good idea, although he was a -- he was a newcomer up here. He was from Seattle -- from Everett, Washington.
And so we spotted some wildlife when we came down, way down in the valley. And oh, boy, he said, "I see some game." He got real excited to see some game.
So he said, "We have to lift our feet up and -- and not make noise in the grass." Well, we did this for a long ways.
But when we got far enough down the valley, it was Arne’s horses we had spotted. They were up there on the creek, you know, and when they weren’t in use they turned them loose and they would be up the creek.
So we knew that we were -- so we knew we were near Slate Creek then. Then we got down there in the evening.
And I think he spent the night at camp and went back the next morning. Walked back. Very heroic of him to take off all by himself.
But anyway, my husband didn’t know I was coming. The cook -- they worked night shift. When they came in in the night, he said, the cook said, 'Your wife is here." So, my husband says, "Oh." He thought the cook was kidding.
But I went upstairs. I went to bed in his bed. I was asleep. He was very surprised I'd made it to camp. (Laughter)
So I always sat that I was -- But the reason I wanted to -- I knew he was coming out to order supplies and stuff for the winter. So he always came out in August. I knew that.
So we started out across country from Slate Creek to -- he had to put shoes on his horses, you know. And we ride -- we road -- and he says, "Can you ride a horse?" I said, "Well, I guess so. I could sit on a horse all right."
And we rode up, and we walked a lot, too. But it wasn’t a very good day. It was kind of misty and raining, squalls.
And we crossed several, you know, the -- this -- the Gakona River comes off of the glacier way, way up in that -- this is up in the mountain range and when we were going out to Paxson. I don’t know if you're familiar with the country because that's a short cut. Shorter than to come the other way.
So we started out from Slate Creek early in the morning and we cross some river. And we got out in the -- in August, you know, the river is just a torrent up there.
And we attempted to cross the -- the river way up under the -- near the glacier. And very, very rough. Of course, they had rain, a lot of water, and the glacier's melting.
Arne got across first, but my horse stopped right in the middle of the stream sort of. It would not move. Wouldn’t move. Arne got to the shore and he was a hollering and the horse just stood there.
So he made -- he made -- to take -- to take a hold of and pull on the rein, which I didn’t do. I didn’t know enough about riding a horse to do that. I just hung on them kind of loose so that they didn’t fall down on the side of the horse.
And so I did that and the horse sure enough started across -- we were halfway across. My husband said that the horse had gotten in some quicksand, that's why he stalled.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So there -- there you were and the horse was stuck in quicksand.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, there was a quicksand in the bottom. The horse wouldn’t --
KARI BERNARD: Do you think maybe he was just getting ready to walk into it and he knew it was there and he didn’t want go any further?
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah. The horse stalled there. Just wouldn’t go. But I took hold of the reins and then the horse moved. But that's when my husband said -- later, he said, that was the reason the horse stopped.
So anyway we got -- we crossed several streams and rivers. In one place, there was a -- there had been a bear. He was -- he was having a salmon for dinner. He had caught a salmon and the salmon was laying on the shore half eaten, you know.
But the bear took off when we came. So it meant he came back and finished his dinner after we passed.
Anyway, we got down to a place called Fish Creek above -- between Paxson -- I think it was between Paxson and Summit Lake. It's called Fish Creek. And there's where we -- we got onto the road.
And when we got there, there's an old, old friend of ours. He used to come down here all the time. His name was Al Norwood. He was running sort of a roadhouse up there at Meyers (Lake). And he was up there with his little old car.
We were going to ride the horses down to Paxson and leave them there. So he said, "No, leave the horses here. They'll find their way to Paxson."
Okay. So we left the horses and rode with him and he brought us home all the way to Gakona.
Well, my husband was home several days thinking that the horses would be at Paxson. And he had brought some things, you know. Like I can remember that he had a -- he was going to take half a case of eggs with him.
Well, we took the truck and drove up there and the horses had -- couldn’t find the horses at Paxson. So what happened was that the horses they turned around and went back to Slate Creek. BILL SCHNEIDER: Oh, yeah.
HENRA SUNDT: They weren’t waiting for anybody. So Arne had to come back here and he had a -- one of the bush pilots. Bush pilots, they were kind of new in the country. There hadn’t been much flying, but the same guy took him into Middle Fork.
And he packed everything. He packed even a half a case of eggs on his back to Slate Creek. He was determined he was going to have eggs, 'cause all they had up there were powdered eggs. He was going to have fresh eggs.
So they finished the season up there. Everything was fine. My little -- my little boy was -- at that time, was about two years old and the young girl had taken care of him very good.
And we had a handyman that did the -- did the -- cut the hay and did the freighting and things like that. And sometimes she was alone here, but she was pretty grown up. So everything worked fine here.
I later -- after I had Roy, just before they were -- they were done mining up there. By that time, my husband had made an airstrip on the river so you could land on the river bar.
And we had a pilot from -- but by that time we had built a hangar here. Those guys with the airplane wanted to be up here. So he talked them into building a hangar right almost across -- a little further up from the lodge. So anyway they flew -- I forget what I was going to say.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You were talking about them building the hangar there.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, they built -- we had built a hangar. There were two guys. No, one of them, that’s right. They split up. And the other one had a bigger plane. He went Outside and bought a Travelair.
The first pilot, Ed Thorns, he crashed up on a creek some place here and killed himself up there by -- I can’t remember the name but it's on the way to --
ROY SUNDT: Walkers Fork?
HENRA SUNDT: Walkers Fork. It's on the way to Dawson in the Fortymile.
The other -- Well, he never lived here. He stayed at Copper Center, but the other pilot. His name was Lyle. He moved up here and he had a Travelair and a couple of other little planes.
The Travelair was a six passenger plane. You know, on one -- You know, when they first started it was -- they made frost on the wings. And I guess they hadn’t cleaned the --
He always had wing covers, but something happened. He was taking off from right here and the -- and the plane would not take off so he crashed here. Damaged the plane pretty heavily, but it didn’t hurt himself very much.
So that plane was restored here, rebuilt, over there where that café is now. I can remember the body of the plane going across like this. It was so big through that building. That's how big it was.
Everybody got busy and they had a sewing machine and was sewing wing covers and stuff like that. And the plane got restored. Nice plane.
BILL SCHNEIDER: You had other bush pilots stop in here, too, didn’t you?
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, we had -- at that time, yeah. And then you know like (Harold) Gillam. He stopped here a lot of times. They always were very friendly and they would come out in the kitchen, you know, and watch you cook their lunch and all kinds of stuff.
And there was Gillam, and I can’t remember the name of the other. Do you remember some of the Fairbanks pilots? Noel Wien came here and picked somebody up that was sick and landed on the river. He had a big plane. He came from -- that was in the days when they had just started to fly out of Fairbanks.
BILL SCHNEIDER: I think your granddaughter mentioned Reeve, too.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, Bob Reeve. Oh, yes, he came. Bob Reeve came. In fact, he came to the country in 19 -- You know that book that they'd written about it's not exactly correct.
He did come into Valdez, but he came up here. And he was also over there at the lodge and he was in the -- but I couldn’t understand him. That was the first year I was here. I couldn’t talk to him.
But I remember that he was there out there in the kitchen. And because everybody would come in the kitchen, you know, and visit with the cook.
And then he went down to Copper Center and he got acquainted with the two pilots. That was before we had a hangar here. And he was acquainted with those pilots at Copper Center.
And I don’t know what kind of deal he made with them, but he got to Valdez eventually and he acquired a plane.
The plane that I remember him flying was a Fairchild, 'cause he stopped here many times with that old Fairchild and visit my husband. I would tell him -- he would say, "Where’s Arne?" He’d come in, and say, "Where’s Arne?" I said "Oh, he's resting upstairs." He said, "Oh, okay." So he just went upstairs and visit with Arne. They had a nice visit.
Well, everybody they feels like home when they came here for some reason. They just act as though they were home. And I like that. Thought that was nice.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How about holiday time? HENRA SUNDT: Pardon? BILL SCHNEIDER: How about holiday time? Did you do special things at holidays?
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah. Yeah. We cook a -- on Thanksgiving we have -- we cook a turkey and then we -- there wasn’t very many people here. We invited everybody over for Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey dinner. And we did the same thing at Christmas, too.
We always observed the holidays. And it was nice, you know, then I had kids. I had -- Roy came along and then there was my daughter that's the youngest.
And we always had toys and a Christmas tree. We'd go out in the woods and hunt for a Christmas tree. Of course, that was for free and was the only way.
If you want a tree you have to -- you have to go in the woods and get it. But you couldn’t find a perfect tree. You always had the aked side kind of against the wall so you wouldn’t see that part. So that solved the -- the problem.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Did old-timers come in for holidays?
HENRA SUNDT: Well, they -- they were around. There was an old-timer that lived across the river. They came to the -- in a cabin. They lived in a cabin, two guys, two old guys. One was a Swede. I think the other one was a Swede, too, way back.
They would come over a lot and just to visit and I would invite them to dinner. Then they would wash the dishes and I would go and watch the kids.
And I would go out on my skis in the moonshine, and there was a woman living across there, she'd go with me. So we went out there. We weren’t really -- You know, the hills and that wasn’t very -- wasn’t perfect. It was either too steep or too -- whenever there wasn't -- but it was nice moonshine I can remember. So we did that.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How about ordering things? Did you order from Outside?
HENRA SUNDT: Well, we lived in the -- all the groceries and all the supplies were laid in in the -- in the fall. That's what my husband did.
Everything came from the Outside and that's what the -- we had a man that drove truck to Valdez every -- every two, three days and we had freight in Valdez. We had a big stall that said Sundt’s on it. Gakona.
I can remember the big sign over the -- we went in with a truck -- we had a man with the Model A `28 truck. We had two of those trucks. One for the mine for the supplies for the mine or for the creek, and one for here.
So that had to all be hauled in before Thompson Pass would close about the first -- never safe in October. No plows on the road, until in 1942 when the war started out that all that changed. We saw big progress then.
They were building the Alaska Highway. And although they were doing some work up -- all the way up to the junction. They changed the road to go across. It used to go up -- wind up this way. You can see it on top of the hill. If you follow that road, you will get up to the -- the Richardson Highway that way, but you have to go up the new road mostly. So --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Did you order from Sears at all?
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, I ordered a -- One time, yeah, I ordered a -- We didn’t order very much from Sears, but my friend down in Copper Center --
You see, we were washing -- doing the laundry in the kitchen over there. And there was a washboard and there were two laundry tubs. You know what they're like? That's what we were doing and after I had the first baby I decided that it was pretty --
So my friend Dannie lived in Copper Center. She had a new baby and she used to come and visit because her husband was a truck driver. I would invite her to come up and stay a day or two. And she had two little kids. One of the oldest one is now an eye doctor in Anchorage. No, in Fairbanks.
And so she said -- she said that she had ordered a washing machine from Sears Roebuck, a gas machine. Of course, we had no electricity. No electricity anywhere. No ice -- no refrigerators or things like that. We had to --
So she explained to me about this. I mentioned to my husband, "Why don’t we buy ourselves a washing machine?" "Oh," he said, "your mom she always washed on the -- on the"
He -- he kind of thought it was a big joke I should want the washing machine. He said your mother washed on a board, you know, on a --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Washboard? HENRA SUNDT: Washboard, you know. BILL SCHNEIDER: Scrub board.
HENRA SUNDT: And your whole family, you know. Yeah, but I said, "I'm not my mother." I think I can -- I said, "I'd like to do something better." Well, anyway it's in the spring. They went to the creek.
One thing he did before he left, he showed me how to write checks. He let me write checks. That was half the battle. I never had no desire to spend money. Nothing to spend money for. But he thought I should write checks or have -- be able to.
So whoever was working in the kitchen, that's -- No, my friend Dannie came up. I said, "I think that I'll just go ahead and order a washing machine like yours." She said fine.
She helped me make out the order. I made out the check. I had no idea how much money's in the bank, but I didn’t know that it was necessary to have --
I didn’t really know the workings of a check, you know. I had the money in the bank, but there were no money in the bank. So we made out the check and sent the order in. In about --
God, it took a long time. You know, took five days for a letter to get Outside or a week because of no airmail.
Well, the machine came in about -- Well, I was washing -- when they came back from the creek in the fall, I was washing clothes on the back porch. Gas machine, you couldn’t have it inside. Later we bored a hole in the log and put the pipe out -- You know how that works?
And my husband come and he seen me wash clothes. "Well," he said, "you got a washing machine?" And I said, "Yep." He said, "Do the -- do the clothes get clean?" "Yeah," I said, "I have no problem." I said, "They just need a little soap and hot water and I have no problem."
So he was convinced. He said, "Boy," he said, "if I had known that it would wash the clothes clean, I'd a had a machine years ago, a long time ago."
You see, it's pretty hard to -- to convince them old guys that it was -- but he -- he always had an open mind for new things, you know.
So I had a washing machine. I didn’t have to -- you dried the clothes upstairs on the third floor. Couldn’t hang out clothes in the wintertime. You had no clothes dryers.
BILL SCHNEIDER: How -- how did he -- how did he get this place and the mining claim up on -- ? HENRA SUNDT: How he got it? BILL SCHNEIDER: -- Slate Creek, yeah.
HENRA SUNDT: Well, I tell you it. That is another story. He came -- actually he was on a freighter going -- He -- he said that he had been around --
When he left home, he was just a very young kid. He claimed to have been around the world at least once maybe more, but he got tired of the waters so he jumped ship and worked his way.
He -- he got on a boat on the Great Lakes. He worked his way by, you know, hitchhiking and things like that. Hardly any money left. He left the beautiful blanket, all his home knit socks and everything he had on the boat.
And so he worked his way up to Alaska, eventually. Worked in Canada in the quartz -- in the -- not placer mine. You know in Canada, what they call quartz mine. You hard rock mine. He was a foreman up there and they worked shifts.
And he came to -- he -- he -- he came here. And this place, it was owned by -- it's not known how it came to belong to a mining company by the name of Yea & Angler (sp?) was their name. The headquarters was in New York.
And Arne came here and he worked for this guy, Elmer. He was the manager here and he was also mining on Slate Creek. But Elmer was not an honest man. So he owed my husband a lot of money. So my husband didn’t pressure him, because my husband knew from working on the creek he knew that he had taken out quite a bit of gold. But the gold went down to California in the wintertime and he went broke. Had it all with him.
So Arne said, well, he wanted a settlement. He demanded a settlement. He said, "I don’t owe you one thing." Elmer said.
So I guess they had quite a discussion about that, but Arne decided that he would go to New York and talk to those people. So he did. He said he put on his only suit that he ever owned and he sort of half ways dressed up and he got to New York.
He went to talk to those guys and told them all about Slate Creek and told them all about Elmer and what Elmer had said. And the whole thing only took about half a day.
They said that you can take over that mining operation. We will give you a 12 year lease. And also the -- the -- the Gakona.
Gakona wasn’t very much then. It was only a few log -- old log building, a barn and all that. The old lodge up on the river there, on the river bar -- river bank. And he said, "You can just take over there, because Elmer hasn’t sent us one ounce of gold in years."
And they made an agreement that he would pay some royalty, I think. I forget what the percentage was. And he would mine up there.
So Arne came back here, and it was in the middle of the winter, and some guys was working out there. The lodge was about this -- had about four or five rounds of logs already started and they were -- logs was there. He was going to build a new lodge.
And they were out there, and Arne went over there and confronted with this news, you know. And Elmer got pretty upset. He pulled a gun on him.
And he was telling this to a bunch of other guys at the dining room table one time, and they said, "What did you do when he pulled a gun on you?" He said, "I reached out and I took the gun away from him." 'Cause he was just a little guy and my husband was six feet tall -- a big man. Elmer was just a little squirt alongside him.
They said, "You should've hit him over the head with it." "No," he said, "I wouldn’t do that."
But Elmer left. Elmer knew he was beat and he left. But he had some claim -- Elmer had some claims of his own up there on Slate Creek, and he came back and mined on Slate Creek, too, every summer. But his friends was down at Gulkana. Those two old English ladies is where he stayed when he was here. But after the old ladies sold out and left, he came over here, too.
But my husband and he -- he started two lawsuits. The year I came here, there was a lawsuit. He was suing my husband for things that he did wrong on the -- on the mine. That he didn’t do this right and he didn’t do that right. And, of course, he lost.
He couldn’t prove it. He lost the suits.
So a couple of years later he started another one. He lost that, too. And it cost my husband quite a bit of money, and he were pretty aggravated with Elmer by this time.
So Elmer, finally after the creek and everything was said and done, he came over to the lodge one time and he said -- my husband was -- It was early in the evening and my husband was laying down and resting, because in cold weather he was -- be up in it.
You know, when it gets below zero, you know. You kind of watch the place for fire, you know. We had wood fire and didn’t trust himself. So he'd be tired and he laying down.
It was around dinnertime. So Elmer wanted to talk to Arne. I went up there and I said, "Elmer is here. He wants to talk to you." He said, "I have nothing to say to Elmer." I said, "But won’t you come down anyway and talk to him?" "No", he said, "I won’t. I have nothing to say. That’s all done. I’m all done."
And I went down and I told Elmer that he had nothing to say. "Well," he said, "I would just like to talk to him just a little bit, you know." So I went back upstairs. My husband was really stubborn. (inaudible) Elmer never did get to see him.
But my husband died first. He died in 1946 from a heart attack suddenly. And Elmer was still alive, but he wasn’t mining anymore. But he was around the country.
And he came over to the lodge and he said that all he wanted -- to make sure that I had -- had all the papers on this place in order, so that it would be legally mine.
So I said, yeah, after Arne died I said I had a lawyer and I said I have taken care of all of that. So I thanked him.
And one time when he was sick, that was after the old lady had -- had left the place down in Gulkana. They sold out and the place burned down. The new people burned the place down. Woodstoves and stuff. Or faulty stove pipes, that's why you couldn’t -- You know, these flimsy stove pipes, no chimneys. That’s why you have to watch in the wintertime. So the -- I forget where I was now. What I was going to say.
BILL SCHNEIDER: So after your husband died and he came back and -- ? HENRA SUNDT: Yeah. BILL SCHNEIDER: You said things were in order.
HENRA SUNDT: That is true, yeah. And then he took very sick with the flu. And I gave him a room upstairs, a single room. He stayed in bed for several days – two, three days and I brought him some stuff. You know, a little hot soup and kept him alive, and I was very good to Elmer.
So he left here and I don’t think I -- when he left that time I don’t think I ever saw -- Yes, I saw him one time. It was very funny, too. Very strange.
We were going to the -- we were living in Anchorage and it was in the spring. It was in April. And we were going to the Episcopal Church. There were no Lutheran churches in Anchorage.
So one Sunday -- this one Sunday my husband had said that he was going to town on that Sunday. He had been in the town a couple of weeks and left, but he said I’ll be back on that Sunday.
So I went to church that Sunday at the church -- at the Episcopal Church. And I was sitting kind of in the back, in one of the back pews, and Elmer came in and sat next to me. I don’t think he realized who it was, but he came and sat.
He -- he sat next to me until they started the communion. Then he got up and left. And that was a Sunday.
When I got home from church I thought I was going to cook some potatoes 'cause my husband liked herring cooked on top of the potatoes. So I thought I was going to do that.
And two of our close friends came in the afternoon. They said -- he said, "What are you cooking?" I said, "I'm cooking some herring. It is Arne’s favorite dish." They said that your husband died this morning. He had died that morning.
They had just got -- there was no telephone. There was no communication between here and Anchorage by telephone. They only had to send message to -- was it the ACS? There were only messages.
So anyway they had got the message and they came to tell me this. So then, of course, it really changed.
The boys were Outside in school 'cause there was no schools up here. And they had gone to school in Anchorage for about three years. But I figured that it was --
I heard that it was much better to send them Outside to this Canadian school in Victoria. That's where the boys were. And the girl was in Anchorage. She was going -- stayed with friends in Anchorage going to school because I had to be out here. So that was -- I stayed at the place for about thirty years until I start looking around, Figured I could -- I got tired of working for one thing. Getting old was another thing. I thought I was getting old.