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Jack Coghill
Jack Coghill
Jack Coghill talks about Christmas in Nenana.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2008-04-01

Project: Fairbanks Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Dec 9, 1995
Narrator(s): Jack Coghill
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
Alaska Humanities Forum
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

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Nenana is the hub of transportation

The Pioneers of Alaska and the Christmas season

The Christmas Eve skit

Christmas day events

The simplicty of the old days in Nenana

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Well this is quite an honor to be leading off. I see a couple of my [tilicomes?] over here from Minto.

Ah I think would like to kind of reminisce today about growing up in interior of Alaska, not Fairbanks, but the interior, in the small town of Nenana.

I was born and raised in Nenana. I was born in the fall of 1925, and my father was a trader.

We had a trading post in the town, in the community. In those days, why Nenana was the hub of transportation for the interior.

All of the mail was delivered to the villages and to the mining communities by stern wheeler and by riverboat during the summer months, and by dog team in the winter months.

The mail went to Tanana, and to Ruby, to Loudon, this was before there was a place called Galena. To the Koyukuk, Koyukuk Station was one of the hubs on the Yukon at that time.

And there was relays that went from Nenana to the west. There was relays that went from Nenana to the south,

old Mike Cooney had the, the dog team route that left Nenana and went to Knight's Roadhouse, and turned at Diamond City,

and Diamond city why another dog team took -- the mail to Minchumina, from Minchumina to Nicolai, and Nicolai eventually to, to McGrath.

So we were kind of a hub, hub of commerce, transportation and communication.

In those days this was, now you got to remember this was before airplane was a part of our society, or a part of our being. And it took three or four days for somebody to come from Tanana, and they all came through our little town,

and that’s where the railroad was, you might say, was the focal point for all of the surface transportation in the winter time.

Well along comes -- the holiday season, and the Christmas season for the interior of Alaska.

And I can remember that the ratio of a family compared to the old-timers, the miners and the trappers that were living in and working in Alaska at that time, was a ratio that was well over 100 to one.

There was more than 100 bachelors to every family. And of course that meant a great deal to an awful lot of these bachelors, because they all remember fond memories of their family days,

their growing up with their family whether it was in Canada or whether it was in the Lower 48.

And so they took kindly to the fact that they could share and be a part of a family.

And so it was, it was conceived back in the early 30's as I recall, that the Pioneers of Alaska, our igloo was Igloo Number 17, would distribute contribution lists.

And those contribution lists the old-timers would donate, and they would buy... The Pioneers would buy a gift for a child,

a girl child under 5 years old, -- a gift for a girl child under 10 years old, and for a girl child over,

ah or under 15 and then over 15, and the same for the boys. And they would chip in and they’d get all of this together,

and ask the merchants in the town, in fact at that time there was about 8 trading posts, or 8 merchants that did business in Nenana.

And they would divide up and ask the merchants to send out for these toys, or for these trinkets.

And then the old-timers would get together and they would, in the Pioneer Hall, several days before the Christmas holidays, and they would get 300-400 pounds of mixed nuts and they'd mix them up in a big number three barrel, or tub.

And -- make and sew regular stockings and fill the stockings with nuts and with candy.

And that was a great joy to them, because they were participating in the Christmas season.

And then they'd put a big tree in the Pioneer Hall, and they'd decorate it themselves and now we're talking not about family people, and people that have family, we're talking about the old-timers.

These folks that had left their families long, long ago in other parts of the world. And that was a great joy to them.

Well, come along Christmas Eve, it was our duty as people in the community, not only the kids from St. Mark’s Mission which was about a mile and half up river from Nenana,

and the -- school children in Nenana and I think the total amount of children in our school at that time was about 80, about 78 or 80.

And we would all have to put on a skit. And we would put on this skit for the Pioneers, for the old-timers.

So it was, wasn't necessarily a religious skit, as much as it was a share the family skit, so that we shared with all those old-timers that didn't have a family, and didn't have anybody to share.

And so on Christmas Eve, we'd all gather and we'd be nervous and we'd be scratching where we're not supposed to scratch, and we'd be squirming where we're not supposed to squirm, and we're doing our recital.

Doing our recital not necessarily to make our parents proud, but to give something back to the old-timers that wanted to share Christmas and Christmas sprit in our little community.

Then the next day, on Christmas day, after church services, and we used to always have to walk that mile and a half up there to St. Mark’s Mission, and -- they'd have the little church.

In fact that church building is still standing in Nenana we've moved it down, and its in the middle of the community, would be all decorated with spruce boughs,

and they would have caroling. And after caroling we'd go back and that’s when the, then family of our little town, the families would pay back to the old-timers,

and to the Pioneers for entering into the Christmas spirit, and they would have a big community dinner. And that community dinner would be served by the families, and it would give a little bit of joy and a little bit of Christmas and a little bit of sharing of what the family was all about,

to these old-timers who just really didn't have any, any -- family to go to.

And like I was, like I started the story with, the fact that we were at that time the hub of transportation, a lot of those old people, old-timers,

came in from the mines and came in from their trap lines, because during that time of the season, was when the mink and the marten and the short-hair furs where in their prime, and that’s when they'd bring them in and that’s when they'd sell them.

They’d sell them during the Christmas season and there was a reason for people to come to the community, and to be able to share these, these -- wonderful experiences that..this was... In fact, we even had to pay the old Henry Kaiser who had the power plant in Nenana.

He'd always turn the power plant off at midnight, and during that Christmas day celebration, what we would have to do is we'd have to pay him an extra $50.00 to keep the power plant going for another hour so that we could have, really have a good festival time.

I think that if you look back, and I guess when you look back on fond memories, there's a lot of things that are always brighter.

There’s a lot of things that are always more simple then what we live in our, in our society today,

but I think that there was values in those days because everybody knew everybody, and everybody cared about what we were doing.

And I guess that’s my story of Christmas in the past in the interior. Thank you very much for listening.