The Dalton Highway: A Multi-Media History of Alaska's Arctic Road

Archeologist: Susan (Sue) Will

Select a section below to listen to the interview segments.
Interviewer: Marie Mitchell photo of Susan Will  
Date: November 20, 2006
Identifier: H2006-28-06, tape 1 & 2
Approximate Length: 75 min.
Biographical Information: Raised in Bismarck, North Dakota.
In 1973, Susan Will traveled to Alaska to enroll at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). Will came from a family who was actively involved in archeology. At a very young age, she was interested in history, the outdoors, and archeology. Her grandfather, George F. Will, was a well-known archeologist and historian. Will earned her degree in archeology at UAF and gained additional archeological fieldwork experience with the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System (TAPS). In 1979, Will was hired as an archeologist with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Fairbanks, Alaska, where she currently is the Associate District Manager. Will's first Alaskan archeological fieldwork was located at Dry Creek in 1973, the same year the TAPS was authorized to begin construction of the pipeline. John Cook, Chairman of the Anthropology Department, UAF, was the Project Manager for Haul Road and TAPS archeology. Cook needed an archeological crew to excavate sites along the proposed route. Women were not permitted to work anywhere along the TAPS. John Cook was instrumental in recruiting the first women, Susan Will and Ruth Croxton. His efforts opened the door for other women to work with TAPS.
Summary of Interview: Susan Will discusses her archeological field work on the Haul Road and the TAPS project; her interest in mining history, particularly with Wiseman, Coldfoot and Hammond River area; her feelings about being the first woman recruited to work with TAPS; the role of archeology in relation to TAPS and the Arctic; the changes in the landscape along the Haul Road and TAPS after the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay; her opinion about the intent of the Haul Road as a trucking route to haul materials north; and a brief history of Wiseman, Alaska. Will's educational and professional background has ranged from archeology to mining compliance to resource management, giving her a unique perspective in how to manage the land and resources for the future.
Storytelling: Click to listen to Sue talk about her family background, and how she became an archeologist.
Click to listen to Sue talk about working on the Haul Road as a contract archeologist.
Documents: Click to view a study by Sue Will and Pamela Hotch for BLM that describes the historic structures of Wiseman. (pdf)

This interview has been edited. Original recording is available at the Alaska and Polar Regions Collections Archives, Elmer E. Rasmuson Libary, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Segment 01) Sue enrolled at University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) in the fall of 1973. She met John Cook, Chairman of the Anthropology Department. Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) had just started (US President Richard Nixon signed the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act into law on November 16, 1973, which authorized the construction of the pipeline). John Cook needed an archeological crew to excavate sites along the Haul Road - TAPS route. She volunteered to be part of the archeological team -- but women were not permitted anywhere along the TAPS route during construction. John Cook recruited an archeological team to work the Atigun Site near Galbraith Lake. There was no road access. The Hickel Highway was to the west. Ruth Croxton and Sue were the only females on the crew. Sue remembers a TAPS official asking John Cook why he recruited women for this project. John Cook told him, "This is the crew, take them or leave them". That was the first time woman who worked out in the field on a TAPS related project. Sue was 20 years old. Ruth Croxton was 21 years old.

birthplace -- name of\ colleges -- attended\ interests -- art\ University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) -- attended\ Cook, John -- Chairman of the Anthroology Department\ meeting of\ Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) -- beginning of\ Cook, John -- recruitment\ archeologists\ TAPS archeology\ Haul Road -- excavate sites\ Atigun Pass -- first site\ field work\ TAPS -- women not recruited\ Galbraith Lake campsite -- recruitment of\ archeologists\ women\ Cook, John\ archeologist -- first women recruited\ Will, Sue -- age\ Croxton, Ruth -- age|

Segment 02) The Atigun Pass archeological site was related to the Haul Road project. The Haul Road route crosses the Atigun River, which goes through an area that resembles sand dunes, then north to the Atigun Pass campsite. John Cook's effort was primarily public relations in order to bring archeology and archeological protection to the area. Sue remembers John Cook saying to the archeological crew, "Your not in an ivory tower academy. This is construction, and it's their world not yours." (best advice) Everything accomplished during that TAPS project relating to the archeology was due to completing the work and accommodating the construction schedule. Cook managed a big project successfully for that time.

Atigun Pass -- archeological site\ Haul Road project\ Haul Road route -- crosses Atigun River\ archeological protection -- not established\ legislation\ Cook, John\ archeological protection -- establishment of\ construction schedule -- accommodation of|

Segment 03) During the summer of 1974, she worked all over the Haul Road route. She did work at Atigun Pass, then to Isabelle Pass (mile 197, Haul Road) and surveyed this site by snowshoe. She also traveled to Pump Station 4 (mile 270, Haul Road). There were not enough archeologists to do the work. John Cook pulled people from any vocation, whoever they could find during the summer of 1974. The archeological crews worked along the entire TAPS route (800 miles), which was mostly remote.

TAPS archeology -- employment\ locations\ archeologists -- recruitment of\ in need of\ TAPS archeology -- route\ 800 miles\ wilderness\ remote|

Segment 04) Sue worked for BLM in the early 1980's. She was interested in Coldfoot/Wiseman area. At the time, she was doing both mining compliance work and archeology. Her main interest was in mining history. The Hammond River area is rich in mining history. She first looked at Coldfoot due to the pipeline. When BLM inherited that area, she started researching Coldfoot, which relates to Hammond River and Wiseman. She also went to Wiseman to interview residents for mining history, and to identify those buried in the Coldfoot Cemetary. During that time, Wiseman residents were trying to convey land. All of the land in Wiseman was federally owned, yet there were private properties on federal land. Wiseman had refused to be a community, so this created a complex situation (had a limited recorded history and identification of the property owners). Staff from the National Park Service (NPS), helped Sue set a HAB survey (Historic America Building Survey) as part of the Gates of the Arctic National Park research. Sue documented the properties in Wiseman. Eventually, the properties were conveyed to individuals in the community as private property.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) -- employment with\ Coldfoot -- interest in\ Wiseman -- interest in\ employment -- mining compliance\ archeology\ mining history\ Hammond River -- mining history\ Coldfoot -- involvement with\ TAPS\ BLM -- inherited Coldfoot\ Coldfoot -- research\ Hammond River\ Wiseman\ Wiseman -- mining history\ residents -- interview\ Wiseman -- conveying land\ Wiseman -- federal land\ cabins -- private\ Wiseman -- limited recorded history\ National Park Service (NPS) -- assistance\ Historic America Building Survey (HABS)\ Brown, Bill\ Gates of the Arctic National Park -- research\ Wiseman -- properties\ documented\ properties -- conveyed private|

Segment 05) The goal for BLM was to have historic documentation in Wiseman, and for HABS to have a structural documentation and for the community to get their parcels conveyed to individuals. Tishu Ulen assisted Sue by giving her literature. By being involved with the TAPS pipeline - BLM - Wiseman - Coldfoot, she has gathered enough material to understand the history of the area.

BLM -- conveyance\ conveyance -- reasons for\ BLM\ historic documentation\ HABS\ structural documentation\ Wiseman community -- conveyance\ land -- conveyed to individuals\ Ulen, Tishu -- assisted\ TAPS -- pipeline\ BLM\ Wiseman\ Coldfoot\ research -- findings\ understand history of the area|

Segment 06) Sue has watched how Wiseman has changed since the Haul Road. The community is changing now with road access. Who would have thought Wiseman would grow. Now, the community is much less dependent on the land and environment -- and many residents are dependent on technology, the road, and the phone. Sue is amazed at how quickly the Wiseman community has adapted to technology, and has become dependent on it.

Wiseman -- changes in\ Haul Road -- impact of\ Wiseman -- growth\ technology -- adaptation of\ subsistence -- less dependent on|

Segment 07) The Dalton Highway is still called the Haul Road. The purpose of the Haul Road was to haul supplies to Prudhoe Bay - based around the pipeline. The Haul Road (Dalton Highway) was originally a hauling road. Then the Haul Road was changed to a state highway (and renamed the Dalton Highway). Sue had the luxury of seeing that country before the Haul Road. She did not agree with making the Haul Road a state highway. Bottom line, the Haul Road corridor remains a utility corridor -- which includes oil and gas -- and should not be for public access or use. People driving along the road forget that, and tourism is important to only a few. The people currently living in Wiseman and Coldfoot have not been in the area too long, except for the Reakoff family.

Dalton Highway -- Haul Road\ Haul Road -- purpose\ history\ state highway renaming of\ arctic region -- pre-Haul Road\ pristine\ travel -- construction\ exploration\ research\ Haul Road -- utility corridor\ access -- not for public\ tourism -- minimal\ communities -- new\ Wiseman\ Coldfoot|

Segment 08) After the archeology for TAPS, there was not any money left to document the findings. John Cook (Project Manager for TAPS archeology) accomplished a lot. He had money to do the excavation and surveying for the first summer. During the second summer he had full crews, but there was not enough sites. The TAPS and Haul Road archeology was the first major archeological project in that area. Most of the Haul Road and TAPS tasks were figuring out the logistics. When the job was completed, there was no money to do the follow-up analysis. The archeological team was unable to fully analyze the material they had collected. Most of the materials were accessioned to the University of Alaska Museum.

TAPS Archeology -- post TAPS\ funding -- limited\ Cook, John -- TAPS Project Manager for TAPS archeology\ excavation -- funding of\ findings -- limited funding for\ TAPS -Haul Road archeology -- first major archeological project\ arctic region\ findings -- no analysis of site findings\ materials -- accessioned\ University of Alaska Museum|

Segment 09) From an archeological perspective, the excavations along the TAPS and Haul Road Corridor were not based on cultures or time. The pipeline route cuts through the state, a slice of the state, so it is difficult to conclude anything from an archeological perspective except for specific analysis for each site. Some sites were completed for master's degree papers, but most sites have not been completely analyzed.

TAPS archeology -- opinion of\ cultural history -- no basis\ specific analysis -- limitations\ TAPS archeology -- part of a bigger picture|

Segment 10) Archeology is about looking at the remains of past life ways and putting together the pieces. BLM currently has management of the Alyeska Archeology TAPS (from the Yukon River to the North Slope). Sue does not know how valuable the information from the TAPS - Haul Road archeology will be. The archeology completed along the Haul Road was not an entity. It was a snapshot of a situation at a specific time. The archeologists did not do a great job in excavations due to the time limitation. On the other hand, none of the archeology along the Haul Road and TAPS would have happened without John Cook.

archeology -- purpose of\ BLM -- Alyeska Archeology TAPS\ management of\ Yukon River to North Slope\ TAPS archeology -- value of\ snapshot history\ excavations -- rushed\ time -- limitation\ TAPS - Haul Road archeology -- positive outcomes|

Segment 11) Alaska is a continent, the range of ecosystems and the range of latitude is large and diverse. Alaska is a huge area. It is difficult to make a timeline or analyze a slice of an area. Cultures and ecosystems in Alaska are dynamic and not absolute. When looking at the pipeline archeology, it tells only a part of a larger story that is interconnected. For example, the artifacts she found along the Haul Road are similar to artifacts found in other areas.

Alaska -- continent\ ecosystems -- diverse\ Alaska -- cultures\ dynamic\ not absolute\ pipeline archeology -- part of a story\ interconnected\ artifacts -- similarities with\ Haul Road\ other areas|

Segment 12) Her job is Associate District Manager for BLM. BLM manages 55 million acres of northern Alaska. Everywhere she has worked has been BLM managed land. After the Haul Road, she worked for National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA), which is related to oil and gas exploration. She was doing similar tasks -- helicopter transportation, surface excavation, testing sites and airstrips. All her jobs relate to each other - from archeology to resource management. Her perspective is unique. As she looks into the future, she always asks about planning and managing resources at the same time. Sue has lived in one place for a long time. She has lived in Fairbanks since moving to Alaska and has always worked in the field of resource management.

job -- Associate District Manager\ positions -- current\ BLM\ BLM -- role\ land management\ fifty-five million acres -- northern Alaska\ National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA) -- employed with\ oil and gas exploration\ skills -- surface excavation, testing sites\ archeology\ resource management\ jobs -- interconnected\ interests -- planning\ resources -- managing\ Fairbanks, Alaska -- home|

Segment 13) Sue is interested in the Hammond River area, a rich mining area. She is amazed to see how much effort man has taken to extract gold from the land, especially the time, thinking, and the physical labor. Mining claims were considered private property in the past. Now mining claims give you the right to mine the minerals, but without the surface rights. Sue expresses how phenomenal the pre-historic period must have been, and how the people lived. People traveled long distances throughout the seasons just to survive. Work on the Haul Road gave her a perspective on life in the area in earlier times.

Hammond River -- interest in\ mining -- history of\ interest in\ effort in\ mining claims -- changes in\ pre-historic period -- interest in\ people -- pre-historic period\ survival\ migration\ seasonal\ Haul Road -- perspective of|

Segment 14) Sue talks about the villages that have been impacted by the Haul Road, particularly Stevens Village.

Haul Road -- impact of\ Stevens Village\ Barrow -- impacted\ Prudhoe Bay|

Segment 15) The Haul Road is expensive to maintain. The road is currently not paved, and the question remains about where the money will come from to justify paving it. The Haul Road is too expensive to pave and maintain. There are only two places for fuel (along the Haul Road). The Haul Road is mainly a trucking route that was built for truckers. Any safety improvements along the road should be for the truckers.

Haul Road -- maintenance\ expensive\ conditions of\ road services -- limited\ Haul Road -- for hauling\ trucking route\ paving -- disagrees with\ funding -- for safety improvements|

Segment 16) Statistics from the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center show that tour buses in the Coldfoot area are up 12%, while independent travelers were down. Yet, the results also show that there are more children traveling with families. Increased gas prices may be affecting independent travelers. The Haul Road is for trucking. The Dalton Highway is a Haul Road.

statistics -- Arctic Interagency Visitor Center\ tour buses -- increased\ independent travelers -- decreased\ fuel prices -- effects of\ Haul Road -- trucking\ Dalton Highway -- haul road|

Segment 17) She and Ruth Croxton were the first women to work anywhere along the Haul Road - TAPS (they worked as field archeologists). There were intense times during the pipeline construction. TAPS was a large-scale construction project, with a lot of money and resources, and condensed into a few years. The Haul Road was a small part in the whole (TAPS) project. As females in the archeology field, we had access to many areas. We had air travel. We were not stationed in one location. More women were hired as the project progressed.
Click here to listen to more about being one of the first women to work on the TAPS project.

TAPS -- recruitment\ women -- not recruited\ TAPS archeology -- first recruitment of women\ Will, Sue\ Croxten, Ruth\ TAPS -- large-scale construction project\ budget -- substantial\ natural resources -- location of\ extreme frontier\ timeline -- short\ Haul Road -- (TAPS) project\ archeologists -- mobile\ exploratory|

Segment 18) Sue would like to see more of Alaska. Alaska is magical. Since 1973, she has been in Alaska without much travel. She likes the cold, the low population. She still has an outhouse (common in Alaska). She likes the sounds that a dog team makes across the snow. Sue is curious how future generations will impact Alaska in the decisions they make -- particularly future land and resource managers, politicians, and bureaucrats.

Alaska -- impression of\ appreciation of\ winter -- enjoys\ outhouse -- facilities\ dog mushing -- sounds\ future -- impact of\ policies\ land management|

Segment 19) The gas line project may open the Haul Road for more people, and increase commercialization. She wonders what land is really considered the last frontier - land that is without the traces of human contact. She feels the area along the Haul Road is more like the Black River area, which is still remote (northeastern Alaska) and managed by BLM. This area is probably the last frontier. Youth in Fairbanks do not realize how close they are to the last frontier and wilderness. There are no fences in Alaska. In the Lower-48, there are fences and barbed wire that block your path. In Alaska, you can drive or dog mush for a long way and not come across a fence. Even along the Haul Road, it is still very remote - and still phenomenal. You can get yourself lost just 10 miles out of Fairbanks, which cannot be done in the Lower-48. Sue hopes the remoteness lasts for a while in Alaska.

gas line project -- Haul Road corridor\ opinion of\ commercialization -- increase\ last frontier -- description of\ Black River -- comparison\ BLM managed\ last frontier\ youth -- unaware\ wilderness\ Lower-48 -- boundaries\ Alaska -- remote\ boundaries -- lack of\ remoteness -- beauty of|

Segment 20) Sue describes the Haul Road as a utility corridor, where the land around the road is set aside for natural resources. The corridor will be used for the future gas line project, which means areas along the Haul Road will experience yet another major change.

gas line project -- impact of\ utility corridor -- purpose of\ Haul Road -- changes in\ surrounding area\ Wiseman -- changes in|

Segment 21) Sue thinks about the future plans along the Haul Road (Dalton Highway), particularly with the future gas line proposal. While at NPRA, she noticed seismic damage resulting from seismic lines and the Rollagons (low pressure vehicles that move along the tundra). This impacted the tundra, leaving deep trails. Thirteen years later she visited the area, and the damage was not noticeable. The environmental law states that land will be reclaimed, which is a complex process. Her role (at BLM) is to find out what people and public agencies need to know to manage the land and resources for the future.

gas line project -- impact of\ NPRA -- employed with\ seismic damage -- effects of\ tundra -- damage to\ recovery\ land -- reclaiming of\ process -- difficult\ role -- public awareness\ land -- management of\ natural resources -- management of|

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