This is a continuation on the interview with Henra Sundt by Bill Schneider and David Krupa on June 13, 1993 in Gakona, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Henra talks about artists who stayed at Gakona Lodge, making a living after her husband's death, the school in Gakona, roads in the area, deaths and burial, and learning from Alaska Natives.
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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Artists and paintings
Making a living after her husband's death
The school at Gakona
The State building a road in Gakona
Building roads, bridges, and finding Indian graves
Gakona deaths, burials and reburials
Death of a man at the lodge, and his burial
Impact of road construction on graves
Indian ways of funeral rites
Learning from the Indians
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BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay, we're back on. I noticed over in the lodge some of the Crumrine’s dogs.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah. The Crumrines, you know a lot the -- several others stayed with us.
Mrs. Crumrine did and her daughter, Jo -- Josephine. Mrs. (Nina) Crumrine she was painting landscapes and things like that. Water color, pastels. And then Josephine specialized in dogs.
And the pictures is up and down the trail. Everybody bought a painting of a dog, you know, sled dog, Husky. They --
Ted Lambert and (Eustace Paul) Ziegler came and they rented the cabin from us, and they were painting. They were staying together. And Mrs. Crumrine and Josephine stayed in the other cabin one year in the summer -- during the summer.
Well, Mrs. Crumrine, I have two of her beautiful paintings in Anchorage. They're pastels, very beautiful. She painted them in -- she had taken a scene from -- from Fairbanks. It was old cabins is one of them and the sunset. It's just beautiful.
She had one painting, so I asked her if she could take that one painting and make the same size as the other one, so she did. She made me another one just what I wanted, too. They were only about ten by ten square, you know. I had them framed and in my house in Anchorage.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Those artists though used to like to stay here?
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah. Ted Lambert and Ziegler. They rented the cabin for one summer and stayed here all summer.
I have some of -- Ziegler gave me a painting also, and Ted Lambert gave me a painting that I also have in Anchorage.
I said -- because I will go over there to the cabin when they were painting. And the minute you walked in the cabin, oh, they would lay down their brushes. I said, "Come on now, I want to see you paint."
They asked me to come and visit so I did go and visit once or twice. They'd lay down their brushes. And, "Oh," I said, "come on. I want to see how you -- how you do this." But they wouldn’t as long as I was there.
Lambert, he did the two things like this. And -- but Ziegler and -- they were, you know, --
Ziegler was an older man and, you know, he thought he was kind of -- he figured that Lambert should do the things that he want him to do. And then, of course, Ziegler --
Lambert, he was a little bit sweet on that Josephine Crumrine. And so he'd go any -- any time. Like the roof leaked one time. He left his paint brush in the door and fixed Josephine's -- or the Crumrine’s cabin so it won’t leak, you know, and things like that.
I said -- and Ziegler, you know, they come over for dinner. I had a cook, and they would come over for dinner. I remember I cooked them -- the cook made them a nice dinner on my birthday.
I invited them over, and that meant Ziegler brought me a painting that he had painted. Eight by ten. I still got it on my wall.
And so Ziegler he had a little bit head start on Lambert, because Lambert on the way over he had stopped to say hi to the Crumrines. So he was a little bit late. I said, "Where is your friend?" "Oh," he says, "he stopped -- he is --" How did he say? He says, "He is -- he is kissing the ground." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "I mean used that," he says.
He said, "Lambert could get -- he could be a great artist because he has the -- he has the ability. He could be a great artist if he would just stop and listen." I thought that would be really funny.
And Lambert he would come and he would -- he wouldn’t say much about Ziegler, but he would come and tell a few jokes and then he would laugh real loud, you know. Everybody else would laugh, and laughed like they laughed loud at his own jokes, you know. He thinks he was funny. They were two great guys, but different as night and day.
But when fall came they packed their paint brushes and left and never came back. Lambert went down to Naknek. He moved. He lived in Fairbanks for a while and then he moved down to Naknek, and he disappeared in the woods and never found hide nor hair of him.
But I have his painting. I -- I have one painting I paid him $150 for. I have one painting 16 x 20 of Mt. McKinley that he gave me. I said, "Well, you don’t have to -- " He said, "I have been using your power, and I have eaten some of your cooking and I have -- " I forget what else I had done. So he said, "I am going to present you with this painting." And he did, and I thanked him.
I told him I appreciated it. That's one of the best paintings he ever did. He ever made to my -- to my notion. So --
BILL SCHNEIDER: Sounds like you've had a lot of fun out here.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, I did. I -- I -- I did at times. I had hard times sometimes, but this was the first year my husband was gone and that summer was a kind of a -- everything was kind of a turmoil.
I didn't know, everybody said you should sell out and not mess with it. "Well," I said, "how -- why should I sell out?" I said, "What could I do? I have to make a living and I know how to do this kind of stuff." I said, "I'm not a stenographer."
I couldn’t go to town and get me a office job. I can write, yeah, but I couldn’t do what people would expect me to do. I said, "I'm not going to go and clean house and sweep floors for anybody." I'm all done with that. If I was going to do it, I'd do it for myself.
So I hung onto the lodge, which was a smart thing to do 'cause I made really -- I made good there. I came out -- I was never short of money. I came out solvent in the end.
After I sold out, I had a few thousand dollars left. And then I get money from these people. They haven’t got it paid for yet. There -- This I shouldn’t tell. (Break in recording)
BILL SCHNEIDER: Is there anything else you’d like to add on this? I really appreciate you taking the time to do this recording.
HENRA SUNDT: You know, I really don’t -- I -- I can’t think of anything that is of any -- anything significant or important.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, we sure appreciate you taking time.
HENRA SUNDT: We did get a -- We did go through a lot of problems trying to get a schoolhouse here -- a school built. And we had --
We started a -- a -- a schoolhouse over here. Now, I don’t know who built this. There was a fire control station, and the schoolhouse. But I don’t remember, did we build the schoolhouse? ROY SUNDT: Well, that, I don’t know.
HENRA SUNDT: Somebody did. They finally got a very small building. There wasn’t very many kids right here.
ROY SUNDT: Well, a long time ago, yeah, it was in the fire control building. And then later on, I think it moved over to one of the hangars. HENRA SUNDT: Yeah.
ROY SUNDT: And then from there, then they finally built a -- about a two-room schoolhouse.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, then they built a big schoolhouse here. The state finally -- You see it was a territory and they paid -- that’s right.
And they decided that they were going to build a school here -- establish a school. The fire control was already over there. So they decided to establish a school here, and I gave them permission to build a school on my land and they paid me a dollar.
They said they would lease it for a dollar a year, but I only collected one dollar for all the years. That's the way government works.
Anyway, it didn’t matter. A dollar is -- it's nothing. It was more important that we had a school, you know. So then they built a -- now there're lots of kids there.
I sold the state five acres of land. And really funny, you know, them big shots, you know, from Juneau came and the superintendent Max Branchard (phonetic). He's still around the country.
He came to talk to me about this land. I will sell the state some land. And because they were thinking of building a new school.
So I fixed them up with a nice lunch and had a good visit with them. There were two of them guys. And so they -- The state, they didn’t want to pay very much money.
In the first place, I was a little bit bitter because the Road Commission decided they were going to put the road through here, and that I wasn’t going to get paid very much. They had to put the road there because they needed several feet of right-of-way. This is -- this is when we became a state, they required a right-of-way.
So they were going to pay me for so many acres. I took them to court over this deal, and they sort of -- I -- I gained some, but I didn’t gain a lot. But they also didn’t have their way completely.
So I was a little bit bitter over this road deal, although the Department of Education had nothing to do with that. That was the state. But the state also wanted to buy this land.
So I said, "Well," I said, "it happened that the -- " They offered me $10,000 for five acres. I said, "No." Because they had looked the ground over. A few feet back, the ground drops and the river sort of -- well, it kind of becomes part of the river, but the -- the water isn’t there -- it dry.
But the good ground, it drops a little bit, you know. So they had looked it over and they said that they had wanted this five acres. And I said that it was part of it. Well, I said -- I told them that they could have five acres of good ground, but I wouldn’t sell it for $10,000.
I wanted something like $18,000 for the five acres. Well, they didn’t go -- So I think I settled for about $15,000. So that was all right. We had a school, and I sold them their land. And they paid me precious little for this right-of-way over here. But anyway, they had their way there, too. They had to change -- and they built the road there.
BILL SCHNEIDER: This is the road right out in front of us here.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, and, you know, you see the old bridge then. They had built about two -- at least two bridges since I've been here. See the road came off the hill and then the -- the -- the bridge pointed kind of upstream a little bit to -- to go inside this part of the road.
When they built the road through and they were going to make a turn up the hill, then they had to change the location -- they had to change the location of the -- of the bridge so they built a new bridge. That's the only way they could do it.
DAVID KRUPA: And that's the one that still stands here? HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, that’s right. ROY SUNDT: That was built in 1950.
HENRA SUNDT: See the road used to go way up on the -- on the hill. Way up there, but when they -- the new road is down below.
They covered up a few Indian graves and all that kind of stuff. They used to be some Indian graves up there. It was kind of a bank up there. I remember that there was Indian graves.
They had -- the Indians had these tall markers and they had a waistcoat or a man’s coat. Some kind of waistcoat, you know, under your -- and hanging on this. And one even had a pocket and a watch in the pocket. And it was there for a long time.
Of course, the Indians they wouldn’t touch it, you know. But, you know, these white people they're not always to be trusted. I don’t know what happened to it, but it all disappeared. The road was built just about where those graves were. Not that it makes any difference to the Indians they are there and if they are under the road. But, you know, the Indians they -- they -- they built --
ROY SUNDT: Well, there was one grave over there just across -- HENRA SUNDT: Across -- ROY SUNDT: -- the bridge on the other side. HENRA SUNDT: Yeah. ROY SUNDT: There used to be -- Well, there was a gravel pit there. HENRA SUNDT: That’s right. ROY SUNDT: And if somebody was buried there, they would've crushed that one all up.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, well, I can tell you there was a story. ROY SUNDT: I guess they had to build a new box and pick up the remaining pieces. HENRA SUNDT: You know, I can --
ROY SUNDT: I know when I was a kid, I used to go over there and play, you know, with little trucks and spoon, you know. And build my own little -- HENRA SUNDT: Yeah. ROY SUNDT: -- roads down the hill and stuff like that. And then, gee, I found a bone.
HENRA SUNDT: I'll tell you -- tell you something funny about -- ROY SUNDT: It was part of -- part of it -- It was a human bone.
HENRA SUNDT: It really isn’t funny, but one summer when my husband -- he had a different kind of Swede fellow was a partner on the creek, but he also had a hired man here at the old lodge.
A man came over there one day and he had a gun and he killed himself. I don’t know if he came and borrowed the gun from the man and went outside and killed himself. But he killed himself right outside in the yard in front of the old lodge.
So they buried -- the commissioner had to come up from Chitina. You know, in those days there was slow traveling on the road, and they -- I don’t know what they did with the body. I wasn’t here.
But the commissioner had to come up here and make some kind of a identification or something, I guess. And they buried the guy in the gravel pit right over across the river. But they dug into the gravel pit. They didn’t bury him very deep.
And there was a guy had a cabin over there. Somebody's still living over there in the same place, and people will go over there. Those old guys, those two old Swedes, lived over there, and when they cut down, they cut down the -- took gravel out of the gravel pit to prepare the road. So they cut down into the gravel pit and this casket made out of lumber, you know, is hanging up here on the side, you know.
And I can remember when old Charlie Anderson, you know. They used to -- they used to have a few drinks, him and the guy staying with him have a few drinks.
So I said -- and they sit in the lobby and they have a little drink and they get a little bit, you know. Really not drunk, but a little bit funny. I said, you know, "Charlie, you know that guy over there, across, he's liable to reach out and slap you if you don’t behave yourself. Walk straight. Better walk straight"
I can remember that Leo Fissel (phonetic), you know. He says -- he was a kind of a funny guy, but he wasn’t paying a great deal of attention to the man hanging there and pretty soon a board fell out and some of the bones got --
And then I don’t know what happened in the -- like Roy says, they picked up the rest of the stuff. The gravel pit is --
ROY SUNDT: They had to build a new box, and picked up the pieces. I guess, well, they must have left a few pieces. I found one. And then they just had to take him and bury him somewhere else. Just where, I don’t know.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah. And all of the place where they buried somebody. And they wanted to build a new road, just about a mile. Half a mile from the post office, there was a turn in the road and they cut into this hill. They had cut into the hill a little bit, but there was some high ground and, you know, people for some reason --
A guy died in our -- a guy came up from the states. He -- he stayed at the lodge quite a bit. He had a few dollar. But he fancied himself that he was a prospector and was going to go out in the woods and prospect. He had only one arm or something. Yeah, and he had -- the rest of his arm he carried in a sling.
And so he -- he wanted to go prospecting. So the guys around here they fixed him up with a gold pan with some wires on it, so that he could dig with one hand. And he could go to the creek and fill the pan with water and shake it with one hand like this. And I'm sure it was -- I'm not sure if it was the right hand or the left hand.
But anyway, he was gone all summer. Or he came home sometime in August. And he slept up in the attic, you know. We had lots of cots up there for people like --
Well, it was cheap to sleep up there. It was only two dollars for a night’s sleep and very comfortable. We had lots of cots set up from people working on the road or around here.
And he had a cot up there in this corner, and the doctor from Fairbanks, Dr. Gillespie. He used to come down every -- every -- he was a pretty good drinking man. He would take a vacation, and he had a lot of liquor in his car.
And he would come over to the lodge. They'd stay for dinner. They have a night’s sleep, you know. I mean, they stay and have a room. And, of course, people just gathered around him because he was giving away drinks to right and left, you know.
And this old guy evidently got in on it a little bit, although I don’t believe he was a drinking man. But I can remember to this day that in the evening he sat over by the staircase in a chair and he was smoking something. Smoking a cigar, I think, or it might have been a cigarette. But he was smoking by using his hand.
I thought that he -- I thought he acted a little funny. A little different, but I just thought maybe -- Maybe he did have a drink or two because we had a dance over there. And a lot of people -- somebody was --
We had a lady here who was a wife of one of the bush pilots. She was playing the -- the -- the -- the accordion. Dancing around and playing the accordion at the same time. And then we had phonograph music, too. Everybody had a really good time that night.
So it finally quieted down after the doctor, he, was done serving drinks, 'cause there were no bars or anything like that around. No law against liquor, you know. So everybody went to bed. And in the morning everybody got up, had breakfast, and somebody said -- I forget what his name was.
I think they said they're all -- the one-armed man hasn’t got up yet. So I never missed him. I mean, I -- I figured he was just sleeping late.
Somebody went up that staying. Said that there -- I said, "He's sleeping up on the -- " "In the attic," I said. A guy said, "I'll go up there and have a look." And never did. He died in the night.
So we had to send for a commissioner and -- just like they did the other time. And we all had to come up there and stand in a ring. Everybody that was present at the time. We all had to go up there and the commissioner came.
And we all had to go up there and stand around the bed and -- and be a witness to the fact that he was dead, I guess.
So anyway we -- we took him out, carried him out, and they built a -- my husband was alive then. They built a cask -- We had lumber for sale here. That we had a sawmill. We had cut our own lumber. We were selling lumber and they -- spruce lumber, you know. Native lumber.
And everybody made caskets out of this lumber. Even the Indians and everybody. They didn’t have steel caskets. Not in town like they do now.
So they made him a casket and they -- they went up the road a mile and a half up on this high place and they -- they -- they dug a grave and they buried him up there. Some preacher came and was going to say a couple of words, I can’t remember.
But anyway, I didn’t go up there. But my oldest boy, Arne, went up there. He didn’t really know what was going on, but he had to go. Everything that went on, you couldn’t keep a kid away, you know. And he wasn’t very big. It was -- He must have been six or seven, eight years old, something. Before he started school anyway.
He -- he went up there and took this box that they had made. They didn’t let him see what was in the box. Took it up there and buried the guy.
So he comes back and he tells me that -- that they went up the road with a pickup. "They had a big box in the pickup," he said. And he said, "Over there by the side of the road," he said, "there was a big hole." And then he said, "They covered up the hole with this big box. And then they just put a little dirt up on top." (Laughter).
But this comes to mind because later when they were building the road they dug that whole thing out because they want to straighten the road. And this road is right -- the man --this grave is right in the bend of the road.
So I asked the people that built the road. I said, "You know, there's a dead man-- there's a man buried up there." So they said -- because they were staying at the lodge. I -- I told them, I said, "There's a man buried up there." I said. He said, "Yeah," he said, "we will take care of him."
And what I think they did they just moved him and -- and -- and built the road right over him. That's what I think they did. We never knew where his relatives were or where he came from or -- he's just one of them people disappearing up in Alaska.
ROY SUNDT: Well, up about Fifteen Mile there's -- up there they had an Indian grave there. Then later on after all the road construction over that area, they made a huge, huge gravel pit out of it.
When they come across this grave, it kind of looks funny. So they dug out all of the gravel all around it and here is this grave sittin' -- Oh, it must be sittin' fifteen feet or so, you know, off the ground level as it is now. HENRA SUNDT: Yeah.
ROY SUNDT: It's just a big, you know, round -- big round -- sort of like a mountain peak it looks like, with an Indian grave up on top. HENRA SUNDT: You know that was up the river here. ROY SUNDT: No, the one up here at Fifteen Mile.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, but you know where Arne had -- that piece of ground where he had his trailer. ROY SUNDT: Yeah.
HENRA SUNDT: A man was buried right there in the middle of the gravel pit and they did the same thing there. They built around him and I think -- I think that the man in the gra -- isn’t there now. I think the river has changed and washed out or whatever. It could be that --
Well, they lost the grave. The Natives, they used to run -- they had a camp up there. And then somebody died. They -- they -- they just buried them just -- no cemetery. Just buried them. They found a spot they liked, then they buried them.
I can remember an old couple living up here. We called him Gakona George. His wife was happy because she was truly happy. She laughed all the time. Smiled all the time.
And she got kind of -- they were pretty old, and then one day she died. But the Indians didn’t want to -- there was nothing official about when they had a funeral. They just go out there and dig a hole and they'd bury them. So they did.
And Gakona George he came down. And he was pretty sad and I said, "What’s wrong, George?" "Oh," he says -- He said, "Me feel bad." He says, "Happy, he gone. Happy, he gone." I said, "Yes, I know." He says, "I no get -- " He said, "I no get no -- no -- no sleep." "Oh," I said, "That’s too bad. Why don’t you -- why can’t you sleep?" He said, "I have no bed. I have no bed. Happy has the bed." They buried her in her bed.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Okay.
HENRA SUNDT: The Indians did everything their own way in those days. I don’t know if you can call it civilization, but that was their civilization. That’s how they did it, I know.
Nobody could come and tell them what to do, but things changed when the missionaries came. They -- they have a different belief now. Now they know that there is more to it than just bury a person in the ground. We went to an Indian funeral just Sunday. ROY SUNDT: Yesterday.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, yesterday. And man, there were a lot of people there and they had a really truly a modern burial service.
You know, she died in Anchorage. She used to live up here in a cabin. She was only about sixteen years old when I got here, and she came down to the lodge a lot. And she -- she had some talent. She could sing beautifully and she made beautiful moccasins. And she was fairly intelligent, too.
Because a lot of the Indians they couldn’t hardly speak in the English, but they had a school down at Copper Center, an Indian school. And kids in the wintertime would board down there.
And, but the kids, the Indian kids, they weren’t happy in the -- in the -- in school, because when a guy decided to go hunting or doing something, they'd take the kid out of school. You know, the kids wanted to go hunting, too. They did all this sort of thing.
So like I say, they -- but I wanted to come. They were part of my reason to come up. She died in Anchorage. And that was the main reason really that I wanted to come out here. One of the main -- I had two reasons was to -- because that Mr. Robinson had wanted me to come out. He called me up. I said I'd try to make it. In the meantime, Stella died so I knew I wanted to come out.
And they had a church service and a couple of preachers there and lots of music and singing. And they had a truly modern burial service over there. So that has changed a lot since -- when I first came here.
ROY SUNDT: Well, the one thing they still do when they get to the -- to the grave -- Of course, the only way that they can -- Well, see they got a couple of poles, you know, across the grave and then they set the casket on top. And then after the, you know, the graveside service is finished, then they take ropes and string it through under the -- HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, they don’t have any one of those mechanized things out here.
ROY SUNDT: -- each handle of the -- under the casket. Then they lower it that way. HENRA SUNDT: That's what they did all over the --
ROY SUNDT: And then immediately it goes, you know, the top box, the rough box. As soon as that's in, they start filling the grave, just -- you know, right -- HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, they -- they -- what they do is --
ROY SUNDT: Everybody's still around and some are already starting to leave, but they just don’t wait. They just fill it in right -- right now.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, well, there -- I thought that the rough box was set in the grave first and then put the lid on top, but here they -- they set the casket on a couple of logs. Because I went over there and I looked down in the grave to see how deep it was.
And there was two -- two logs laid across so then they can -- They put the rope under the casket and lower the casket. And then they can pull the rope from under it. But the grave was not much more than five feet deep, which I guess is deep enough. And then they put this rope --
ROY SUNDT: You mean they have logs in the bottom of the grave? HENRA SUNDT: Pardon? ROY SUNDT: You mean they have a couple of logs in the bottom of the grave? HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, two. ROY SUNDT: You see, the top ones they pull.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, they did. So the casket would sit on those two logs, and then the -- the rough box on top. Oh, that’s a good place. But what bothers me, yes, that was at least --
BILL SCHNEIDER: You want this on tape?
HENRA SUNDT: At the Indian -- is, that they put about four beautiful blankets on the casket on top. Really beautiful. And this particular casket they had one quilt across the head part and then the other. They had at least four or five blankets. Brand new. And that's the custom. They bury all these blankets.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Uh-huh. Well, good.
ROY SUNDT: See, the rough box is open, but then the box goes in upside down so that was all covered. HENRA SUNDT: So it covers up the blankets. BILL SCHNEIDER: Yeah.
ROY SUNDT: And so then Henry Bell, he was -- Well, he was the Indian that said the final prayer. And then when he was leaving, you know, walking right by me, so I said hi. He's 79. Anyways, I said, "Well, how come they, you know, leave the blankets on when they bury her?" He said, "Oh, that's to keep her warm."
HENRA SUNDT: Keep her warm, yeah. ROY SUNDT: That's what he said. HENRA SUNDT: Yeah, they have a certain --
First thing I learned before I even learn good English, I learned Indian. I learned from the Indians, you know.
You know, that first winter when I was here, the Indians come and it would be very cold come in inside the front door. And he said -- I forget what he said first -- he said hi and he was rubbing his hands. He says --
He says, "How you easterly?" (edlii kulaen (Indian)?) And at first I couldn’t understand what he meant, "How you easterly?" (edlii kulaen (Indian)?) I found out that it meant that they were very cold. Cold out.
And then they would say -- they would say kind of predict the weather. It's going to be -- it's going to be sixty below tonight. In a few days, it's going to be really cold. It is going to be hwdidak'ats' (?Indian).
And said, "How do you know?" "Oh," he says "besiinn, he tells me. Besiinn, he talks." That’s an owl, besiinn. Besiinn talks. "He tells me." My God, most of the time he was right, too. In the wintertime when it's sixty below, you know, if it was fifty below in the night it was going to be sixty in the morning. That's hardly any guess work.
BILL SCHNEIDER: Well, I think we -- I think we should leave it there. Thanks.
HENRA SUNDT: Yeah. Yeah. We can do that, too.