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Howard Luke, Interview 2
Howard Luke
Howard Luke talks about the 1967 flood in Fairbanks and growing up in Alaska.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2008-04-04

Project: Fairbanks Communities of Memory
Date of Interview: Mar 2, 1996
Narrator(s): Howard Luke
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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The Fairbanks Flood

Dealing with the flood, and the memories of it

Getting the barge stuck in the river

Taking a wrong turn on the way to Nenana

Rescuing people during the flood

On the river

The river is our livelihood

The origin of Noyes Slough

A surprise visit out on the trapline

Modern food vs. Native food

My mother was a doctor and a teacher

Howard did not want to go to the Mission school

Packing wood and learning a life lesson

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


At that time, it was over here I tied my boat underneath the bridge all the time. So I was partying that time, I didn't, I was just like everybody else I guess, I didn't care for nothing, [inaudible] or nothing.

So one afternoon, I went down, people said water was raising, and I didn't know, I never paid attention while we were having party. And so I went down underneath the bridge down there, and my boat was just down like this way.

The front end, the motor was out of the water. You see, I had it tied down here on a big rock down there, and the water was rising, and it was just pulling out this way.

And I tell you, I had to run up to the old barber shop over there; old Pappy up there, and I asked him for a knife. And said, "What do you want a knife for?" he says. He says, "I don't have no knife," he said, "I got a razor here." But he said, "I don't loan that out." I told him please, I said, "My boat is sinking down there."

He said, "What do you mean you're sinking? What do you need a knife for?" I said, "Well, my rope was tied down on the bottom of the rock, and I can't untie it. I said, "If I have a knife, it would let loose." "Oh," he said. "I follow you," he says. And so he gave me a razor and that’s when I got the boat loose.

And I come to then. I come to. And I thought about my mother, so I went down the river. I went down the river and Robert Titus and them was down living at my camp at that time. I went down there and water was really raising, it was coming up.

So we moved our dogs across the river, we moved our dogs across river over there. Then I brought them all to town, and I'll tell you I never see my mother for four days, I didn't know where she was.

I thought she was over University, I'd never seen her, because I was so busy hauling people back and forth, back and forth. So I didn't. The only place I ate good was at our friend Johnny Anderson's. Every once in a while, I'd go over there and eat with him every once in a while.

So, one day I forgot, I didn't have no hangover or nothing. I just went to work right away. I forgot about having a hangover. I didn't know what the heck was a hangover? So it just sobered me up right there, boy just like that.

So I was going down College Road, I was going down, and there was a lady up on the roof up there, and she had a little tent. She had a little tent up there, and she was having a high old time up there. She waved me in, so I went over and I asked her, "You need help?" I said. Because I maybe they didn't have no water or nothing.

And she says, "Hell no!" She said, "Come on up and have a snort with me," she says. I said, "No, I can't do it. I got to haul these people back." "Oh, the hell with them," she said. She said, "You look like you're tired," she says.

And I’ll never forget that day. I sat with her for a few minutes, but I had to get out of that. I'll never forget. I see that lady every now and then, and it brings back old memories, just like I was, just like what we were talking about today.

Richard was talking about Frank Albee. Well, I used to work for Frank Albee on the boat too, and that fellow he used to do a lot things. I mean, just like he said, in his second childhood.

One day, him and Lawrence was up on top there in the pilot house. We were going up the river right below Minto down there. We was going up the river, and I was down there making coffee, and I look out of the window, I look out of the window and geez, seems like we're not moving.

So I never paid attention. And I went to look again, and the same damn tree is still there yet. So, I went up and I told Frank. I says, "Uh, Frank," I says, "something’s wrong." I says, "We're either put in something, or we're stuck," I says.

"No," he says. "We're going," he says. "We’ve been going," he says. So, I never said nothing. I went down and I went out in front of the barge down there, and I used a pole, and put a pole down there, and here we were stuck right at the front end of the barge. We're just stuck like that.

So I pull the pole out and I wave at him, and he started huddling, he got sort of excited because he knew what I was talking about then. So he used to do a lot of things. I mean, we used to work for him.

One time, he was coming up river, and I was doing the raft. When they were rafting people all... It was good money that time, you know, for taking raft and a bunch of drums down there. So we had a load that was bringing empty drums back up again.

So he was coming up and... I forgot what's his name now? The one that used to work for them. Matthew Johnson. Yeah, Matthew Johnson used to work for him. That was his first mate.

So, they went up the Kantishna, so they went up about ten miles up there, and this guy was fishing up there. And they stopped down there and this guy come down with a... down to Frank down there, and he tell him, "Frank," he said, "You got quite a load! I don't think you'll make it up there," he says. He said, "Where are you taking this load?" He said, "I'm taking it up to Nenana," he says.

He says, "Frank, I'm afraid you're on the wrong river," he says. "You're on the Kantishna River," he says. He never said nothing. He jumped in the boat and him and Matthew Johnson got in an argument because they kept blaming each other.

Matthew couldn't see very good, he couldn't see very good, so they blamed each other for it. So those are the stuff that I've learned from a lot of people.

You see a lot of funny things. Like during the flood. I was so busy hauling people back and forth, me and my brother-in-law Henry, we saved, over there by the Northwood Building there was a big whirl just coming and washing right down the basement down there.

And we was coming around the corner, we come around the corner, and there was this lady hanging on, just hanging on like this. And if we never come around, I believe that lady would have went right down underneath that, because there was no other boats.

And about a week later, we seen that lady, me and my brother-in-law, we seen that lady down there, and she never said thank you or nothing to us, you know, after saving her life.

So, I never thought of nothing. Henry told me, "Oh, to heck with it, maybe some day she'll remember that." I said, "Well heck, I'll be sitting pretty by that time," I said, because she was a young woman at that time. So I said I'll be sitting pretty, so let her worry about that.

Tell you about old Fifer, old Fifer used to be quite a fella. I mean, like my mother mother used to, used to tell Mary a lot of things.

Mary was just like a little girl to her. "You just like little girl, you listen," she tells her. She gives...she wants to tell you, she will tell you, too. She will tell you right off. I remember her telling Mary one day down there, "it was hot."

I guess you remember that from [inaudible] huh? At the Goodspeed you'd park right in front of the boat, right in front of the...I was on there. And it was hot.

So Mary went down to the boat and put on her swimming suit on. And mom come down the bank, she look at Mary, "what's the matter? You''re just like little girl!" I'll never forget them days. "You're just like little girl! Mosquito gonna get you!"

I'll tell you, I learned a lot from old Jeff Studdert that’s where, when I went to work with Independent Mill down there.

They took me all over, and I went all over, and went right a head of Goodpaster [River] over there, and that’s why Effie was talking about the river, you know, that’s our livelihood.

The trees and the river is our livelihood, like the snow and everything. I tell you right today, we got so much to be thankful. Every place on the river down there, they got a name.

Every bend down there. Like them big boats one of the deckhands they called "Shirttail Shoot" and all this. "Shirttail Shoot." This guy was washing his clothes, and he was hanging up there, and they went so close to the bank that his shirt got caught on the brush, so they called it "Shirttail Shoot."

So all them places down the river down there from my camp all the way down, they got a name for every bend down there. Every bend down there.

Bughu Tr'etreghee. Bughu Tr'etreghee. They call this, down below my camp down there. I ask Mom, I said, "What do you call that Cry Baby Hill for?" I says.

She say, "Everybody that goes by there started crying." "Well hell," I said, "I went down there hundreds of times," I says, and I never cry," I says.

"No," she says, "there’s something that really happened there at one time, and that’s the reason they call it Bughu Tr'etreghee". And that one where I'm living right now, they call it K'uth Tsoola.

K'uth Tsoola means you look at that hill, you look at that hill, and you can see where it narrows out and you could see the forehead right in there if you look at it good on this upper side, if you look at it.

It means... Bughu Tr'etreghee means Cry Baby Hill. This one K'uth Tsoola means Long Neck Hill.

Its neck is just sticking out. So all those, everyone that, I know all those things by people that told me them things. I’ve made a map, about ten years ago when I was over University, and I’ve got all them places.

All this place around here. [Athabascan], they call it down there, and that means "outhouse."

Right below where Dead Man's Slough is. Now they call it Noyes Slough now? They don't call it Dead Man's Slough, you know what they call it Dead Man's Slough for, huh?

They found a fellow's head down there, that’s why they call it Dead Man's Slough.

Old Pfeiffer used to tell story about that thing there. Now they changed it, they change all those things.

I tell you those, those are the things that I've learned from people on the river. There’s a place down there they call it's Sixteen Mile, they call it Sixteen Mile. And my, my step-dad used to be... his father used to trap there and there’s a place there, he left his spirit down there, and that thing that you hear it all the time, you hear it all the time.

Daniel Thomas, a lot of people heard that thing, but the more you get scared, the more it will bother you. So when I go down there, it don't bother me.

There’s another place up around, up at Novi [Nowitna River], up at Novi there' s a place up there too, people don’t go up there. There’s this one fellow that used to go up there all the time, and Solomon Wright used to trap up there.

And I hear that thing all the time, I hear somebody going by my door, and just like he was knocking snow on his head, it don't bother me because they told me about it, you know, they told me these things. They left their spirit there. One time Bill told me about them.

One time I was coming back, I got three lines you know, I was trapping on the river. 'Cause I didn’t know Novi that well, you know. So one day, I got a moose and I was making a bunch of dry meat you know.

Nobody around. No game warden or nothing, so I made a bunch of dry meat and I was making dry meat. Yeah, I was coming home, I come home and my dogs started barking, and there was a plane on the river right on my, right on my trail.

Geez, I got scared that, for sure as hell this is the game warden. So I walk in there, and it was Bill sitting down at the table, and he said, "Gee, you got good dry meat."

I was really happy then, you know. I was really happy. I thought it was a game warden, you know! Because we, down there there's no game warden around down there.

I'll tell you when I'm going out like that, Mom taught me all these things, how to do, how to make dry meat, just in case, have it handy all the time.

And I still do them things yet. A lot of things that I still do to this way. When I come in town, I get sick 'cause I’m drinking this water here.

They got so much stuff in this water. And I drink Tanana River, the last two years I drink the Tanana River, and I've been, they tell me where you get your water?

I said I get it from the Tanana River. He said, that will kill you!

Well hell, I've been here for 70 some years, I've been drinking this water. I'm still here yet. I say you're the one that’s going to die; you look awfully pale!

'Cause they got so much stuff in this water. And the Tanana River is going through that gravel, it just sterilized the whole thing, you know. And people get that all their lives on the river.

I tell you, it's, it made me think twice the other day when my, when my doctor told me that’s what I had, you know the other day. And he said,"Oh what did people do them days when they have cancer?" he says.

I said, "There was no such a thing as cancer, pneumonia or nothing. They never get no flu or anything." And he said, "Well, how did they cure each other?"

Well, I said they had some; they had great medicine men, and people themselves. But I said, now, they got so much stuff in this food, all your, all your meat, your steaks and all your vegetables and stuff from there has got everything in there.

It’s got worms; it’s worse than... Me I'd rather eat muskrat, than eating that stuff all... And I told these things about the cancer, you know that what scattered it, started out all wrong because we never did have no... people just died of old age in them days.

So we got to talking, and he asked me how they cured each other, because my mother was kind of a doctor. She used to take me around a little bit, you know people get infections, stuff like that, in their breasts, she used to poke them.

And she'd feel around their head like that, if they had a headache, she just knows where to poke, where to poke them.

She’d just clip the hair, and she burned the knife. I watch her. If I had to do it, do it now, I would do it, I mean to save anybody's life, you know, I would do it.

And, those are the things that I have learned from my mother. I'll tell you, my mother really saved me as I was growing up, because I almost gave up. 'Cause I didn’t get no schooling, I didn’t get no schooling, and she got after me.

She got after me, and she says, I told her, I can write my name. She says no, she said, there'll be people all over, all over here, and you've go to learn how to write.

You aren’t going to be no such a thing as labor, she says. What did she know about labor? She said it's gonna be all machinery, going to be everything. She said you've got to learn how to be something, she told me. And she was right.

She was right, too, when she told me those things, but I really had to study to, to read and write. If I didn't do it, I had to go back to the Mission.

And I didn’t want it; I didn't want to go to the Mission. I used to lie to Mom that I was going to school, and one day the teacher came down and told Mom, he says, "What's the matter with your son? He's never been to school for three days now." She said, "I don't know."

So the teacher left, and she told me to sit down. My mother never did spank me or nothing; she always scold me by talking to me.

So she asked me, "What did you lie to me for?" She says, "What you say you went to school and stuff for and you come back at three o'clock?"

And she talked to me all in Native, too. Well, I told her that I seen that old lady, and that old man up there cutting wood, so I stopped and started helping them cut wood, and I packed water for them,and I wait until three o’clock and I started coming home.

My mother never say nothing. She just told me thank you, she said you did that. She said, one of these days these things will come to you, that them old people giving you your wisdom she says.

And that’s what saved me. 'Cause I did lot of things that I shouldn’t have did, you know. And 'cause I used to party like heck, and right today, I thank Jim for looking after Mom when Mom was living, 'cause I didn't.

I didn’t take care of my mother that good, I was just partying. He used to pack groceries down to her and stuff after my step-dad passed away.

So I got so much to thank him for doing something like that because you know, when you're partying just like a mischief kid you know.