Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Project Jukebox Survey

Help us redesign the Project Jukebox website by taking a very short survey!

Lee Saylor, Interview 2, Part 2

This is a continuation of the interview with Lee Saylor on June 5, 2013 by Karen Brewster at his home in North Pole, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Lee talks more about the people and history of Healy Lake. He discusses relations and trade with people of the Copper River area, especially for copper, and the 1927 potlatch that Old Chief Healy gave where he brought Copper River chiefs to Healy Lake. Lee mentions Old Sam and his father, Tseyh, tells a story about a young woman who was taken by another tribe as a slave, and describes the hunting, trapping, and trading lifestyle of the Upper Tanana region. Lee also talks about establishment of a school at Healy Lake and Dot Lake, the epidemic in the 1940s that killed many people of Healy Lake, impact of the Alaska Highway, and connections between communities in the Upper Tanana region.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-14-01_PT.2

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Jun 5, 2013
Narrator(s): Lee Saylor
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

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


Connections between Healy Lake and Ahtna people

Trading for and using copper

People from Tanacross moving to the Upper Copper River area

Old Chief Healy's big 1927 potlatch

Sam Lake, Old Sam, and story about Old Sam's dad, Tseyh, and his dog

Story about a young woman being stolen by another group

History of the community of Joseph, and caribou fences

Coralling and hunting caribou at Healy Lake and Joseph

School, military and Civilian Conservation Corps at Healy Lake

Establishment of Dot Lake and school

Community at Little Gerstle

Trading and trapping

Impact of the Alaska Highway, and sickness at Healy Lake

Flood at Little Gerstle

1967 flood in Fairbanks

Moose hunting near Healy Lake and Mansfield

Death of Chief Joe, and settlement at George Lake

Connections between communities and how people moved around

Click play, then use Sections or Transcript to navigate the interview.

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


KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, why I say you -- you know, you've -- not only did you listen, you obviously listened carefully enough to remember so you've heard all these -- LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: -- things for a long time. But lots of people listen and don’t retain it, so it's amazing how much you remember of all this. LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: Especially, when, you know, it was your wife’s side.

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, it's -- and, you know, Healy Lake and Tanacross is -- oh there's -- a little bit different accent, but it's the same language exactly -- it’s -- KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: You go down to, you know, Salcha or Nenana and its -- Minto -- it's just not even -- can’t understand it all.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, it's that different, huh? LEE SAYLOR: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, one of the things I wanted to ask about was, you know, we're talking about all these connections with different communities and different families. LEE SAYLOR: Right.

KAREN BREWSTER: Are the connections more towards the Ahtna side?

LEE SAYLOR: You know --

KAREN BREWSTER: Have you heard about any of that?

LEE SAYLOR: That’s -- and with the Ahtna that’s -- that’s more with -- with Tanacross and, of course Dot Lake that place is really essentially from Batzulnetas. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: Most from Doris Charles. She was from Batzulnetas. Gene Henry, he was Batzulnetas.

KAREN BREWSTER: They settled in Dot Lake?

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah. Well, when Batzulnetas was abandoned the people from there went either to Mentasta or Tanacross.

Well, Jimmy Henry, he was north -- went to Northway.

KAREN BREWSTER: So have you heard stories of the traveling and trading that might have gone on -- maybe Healy Lake was too far away that they didn’t make those connections down towards Batzulnetas.

LEE SAYLOR: You know, the Healy Lake -- when I talk about Frank and Abraham Luke and their grandpa was from Copper, but he, you know, married to Goodpaster.

But yeah, their grandpa, but their dad that Old Luke was known as a bad medicine man. He was -- was, you know, feared that he might --

KAREN BREWSTER: That was -- he was the one from Copper?

LEE SAYLOR: No, his dad was from Copper KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LEE SAYLOR: He was from Goodpaster.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Yeah, well, that's what I was wondering if people from the Healy Lake, Mansfield, Kechumstuk --

LEE SAYLOR: They'd -- I've heard of them, you know, going down there for potlatches. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: I'll tell you the attitude that the Copper River chiefs considered themselves, you know, a cut above, you know, the Tanana people that they were more sophisticated -- they --

Well, that’s -- they actually hadn't -- where you got your copper. And that old man -- Little White Man, he was a coppersmith.


LEE SAYLOR: He could, you know, make the old tools and spear points, arrow points, knives out of copper and he could forge them.

That John Newton at the trading post I guess that one time he had a commission to get some of those copper things

and that old Little White Man he's the one that did the actual work. I guess John Newton got the raw copper to him,

but he did the work. And Margaret told me that her and her sister were, you know, gathering wood for him to make his fire and do that work.

KAREN BREWSTER: Huh. Do you know how he learned how to do that?

LEE SAYLOR: He might have learned it in Copper. I don’t know.

He may have been apprentice to someone.

But the raw copper came from down around Chitina and also from the Chisana from the upper Chisana River.

KAREN BREWSTER: So did the people in the upper Tanana have copper tools? LEE SAYLOR: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: They traded the copper from Chisana and Chitina?

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, they'd trade for copper and -- it wasn’t -- there was no stone tools. There was either copper or bone. KAREN BREWSTER: Huh.

LEE SAYLOR: That was like a stone age was over.


LEE SAYLOR: The only thing I heard of them using the stone was like for a hammer and for an adze.


LEE SAYLOR: Well, right there that’s bone. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEE SAYLOR: Or antler adze, but they'd also use stone sometimes.

And then I 've heard, you know, Jeany and old Bessie and some of them would tell me what was used in the old days. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: And how they did things and

like for diapers it was squirrel nests or moss.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. It probably worked pretty well. LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. So did Jeany -- she was of an age that she went back so much farther in time --

LEE SAYLOR: Yes, well, it sounds like there's always, you know, a kid that'll listen to them. Most of them don’t. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: But there's -- it always seemed -- seemed like there's one that takes an interest and listens to it.

And I just have an idea that Jeany really listened to her mom. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: And that told a lot of things. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: And her sister Lucy, old Frank Luke’s wife, was somewhat like that.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. So did they have stories about people traveling down to get copper or to go hunting and fishing down there?

LEE SAYLOR: No, not really. And I'll tell you the one that -- that's told me more of that was Oscar Isaac in Tanacross. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LEE SAYLOR: Jerry's (Issac) dad.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what did he say?

LEE SAYLOR: Well, he -- what he told about is that one time when he was a kid and it must have been right after World War I that really hit hard times around Mansfield/Tanacross

and his dad and his immediate family they all, you know, packed up their stuff and they moved in -- into the Upper Copper. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LEE SAYLOR: And ended up there in the Slana/Batzulnetas area.

He said they attended a potlatch in Batzulnetas some time then. It must have been in the early '20’s.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. Did he ever talk about how they were accepted into that community, because they were sort of outsiders?

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, they were and they -- it's just like sometimes someone because of hard times would move and they weren’t really accepted into it, but they often married.

It was just understood they were there temporary and were going to go back.

But as far as -- that potlatch that Old Chief Healy threw in 1927,

sometimes maybe I'm reading between the lines here, it was in a way to put down the Copper River chiefs and their pretentions.


LEE SAYLOR: What he -- he put out a lot of money, probably close to $30,000 in money in those days.


LEE SAYLOR: But he hired cars to pick up those Copper River chiefs down there and bring them up the Richardson Highway.

And he had a freight boat hired.

And I'm not sure, I think one of the guys that was running the freight boat or captaining a freight boat then was Silas Thomas, you know, Kenny Thomas’ older brother.

Whose daughter lives right about two blocks from me here, Old Birdie. But --

KAREN BREWSTER: So the freight boat brought them into Healy Lake village?

LEE SAYLOR: Yes, brought them right into the village. Right up to the potlatch and the freight boat they had, you know, had cooked moose meat all stuff to entertain them.

And they'd have come into a potlatch -- everyone would line up when these guests come in and they'd fire over their head and then the guests would -- they'd come dancing in. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: But, of course, there they had the land. It was thrown in June -- this potlatch.

Of course, the next year Tanacross had a big potlatch, but that was in the winter.


LEE SAYLOR: Well, I actually have pictures of the Hudson Bay blankets for that. KAREN BREWSTER: Yes.

LEE SAYLOR: But, you know, they brought the Copper River chiefs up.

KAREN BREWSTER: It's amazing to think about how long he must have had to save or how he got that much money. What -- what -- it's not like there were any jobs.

LEE SAYLOR: At that time fur prices were at tops.


LEE SAYLOR: But still that old chief and his two sons had the reputation of always hustling -- always working.


LEE SAYLOR: And not only that, he had that saved and all kind of goods saved, he borrowed $10,000 in goods from John Hajdukovich.

KAREN BREWSTER: He was a trader.

LEE SAYLOR: Trader out of Delta.

And the next spring he -- they paid him off in full and still had money left over.

KAREN BREWSTER: Just from being -- from trapping?



LEE SAYLOR: At that time a black fox would bring close to a thousand dollars.

KAREN BREWSTER: I've never heard of a black fox. What's a black fox?

LEE SAYLOR: A silver fox. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, silver fox, okay.

LEE SAYLOR: nageddh sęy.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so would they run trap -- where would they run their traplines?

LEE SAYLOR: Oh, they had an extensive one up the Healy River, up the Volkmar, up the Gerstle River back.

About the time -- I don’t think they were running it at George Lake or Sam Lake, because by that time Old Sam, Jeany’s dad, he had moved to that camp at the mouth of Sam Lake and made a little village there.

And I know Martha Isaac was telling me when she was a little girl she went up to Sam Lake because Belle Sam was throwing a potlatch.

You know, not a big one like happened at Healy Lake and Tanacross then, but, you know, throwing a potlatch and she went up there, because after all her -- that Belle Sam was her dad’s really aunt.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. So, you guys call it Sam Lake and Sam Creek?

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, it's Sand, it's Sand on the map.

KAREN BREWSTER: On the map it's S-A-N-D. LEE SAYLOR: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you guys call it Sam because of Old Sam? LEE SAYLOR: Yes. KAREN BREWSTER: Who lived here?

LEE SAYLOR: Yes, and his dad -- now there's something I'll go into. Old Sam and Josie and Little White Man’s dad he was, you know, supposed to be a pretty powerful medicine man.

And then I heard some stories about him, too. I don’t know -- the only name I’ve heard him referred to was Tseyh.

And that means that's the -- that orange ochre paint. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: That's Tseyh. Tsesyu clan comes from that. But the story that I remember most about him was of his -- he had that little dog.

You know, just -- it wasn’t a lap dog, but it was a small dog for that time and they say that he thought more of that dog than he did of his wife and kids practically.

And because the dog -- the way I hear the story was he could talk to that dog and like it would understand him. And he’d say --

tell the dog that -- you know -- I'm gonna moose and send the dog out. And if the dog came back to the house and walk around in circles like that and take off, he found the moose and they'd go and the dog would take them and they'd get the moose.

And it was the same for a rabbit or whatever. He'd send ducks -- the dog would go look and if he came back and came in and laid down, hey, don’t even bother. We won’t even waste our energy.

And then I’d hear this story these guys they don’t believe it and they said we’re hungry for porcupines. He says tell your dog to get porcupine.

So he tells the dog want porcupine. The dog went off and came back and walked in circles. They all followed up. The dog stopped and they're looking in the trees and no porcupine.

And these guys started making fun of this and so that old medicine man he looked and looked in the tree and finally there in that thick willow tree there was a little bitty porcupine, just a baby.

I don’t even know if they bothered it -- get him and eat him, but that was the story that --

That the dog ate off a birch bark plate and was really pampered and slept right in there with him.

Then that other story I've heard about him is -- well, the way Jeany put it, says yeah, my auntie got stolen off of the -- that they were coming back from Gerstle -- down the Gerstle River on that trail

and different groups they got separated and this was his daughter and she was what they call dzuugi ("spoiled," "one raised to be a chief/chief's wife").

That she was really spoiled and, but, anyway she ran off try to catch up with the next group and when they camped that night she was missing.

And so they went back and looked and here they found where some people -- some men were waiting along the trail and they grabbed her.

And this was some time in early September evidently, and they say that old man medicine and caused it to snow.

And they found the tracks and they followed, you know, trying to catch up with that -- it sounds like people would steal kids and sell them for slaves in those days.

Mostly my guess is Tlingit’s coming in up the Yukon and down the White River and some of those.

KAREN BREWSTER: Up over from Eagle?

LEE SAYLOR: No. More like down the Whitehorse area. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEE SAYLOR: And then up the Yukon and over to the Tanana Divide. But they say they followed them all the way to around Mt. Fairplay and lost them. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LEE SAYLOR: But that lady -- years later she made contact in the Upper Tanana again, but that's exactly what happened.

She was just a little kid. She was sold as a slave and she was sold to a, you know, Métis, half-Frenchman

that was, you know, run the store and fur dealer. And when she grew up old enough he married her.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hum. Well, you're right. It would make sense that the Tlingit -- those boundaries -- LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: -- were sometimes not very safe areas. LEE SAYLOR: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Different groups didn’t always get along.

I was thinking you'd say that somebody would be stolen as a wife rather than as a child as a slave.

LEE SAYLOR: Well, they'd often steal the child as a slave and, you know, even young boys and sell them as a slave.

KAREN BREWSTER: One community we didn’t talk about -- Josephs -- that was another old --

LEE SAYLOR: That was just a winter camp, a caribou camp for Healy Lake people and Kechumstuk people

and actually it was named after Joseph Joe that Belle Sam’s brother, Chief Joe.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that's where they -- I've heard about the big caribou fences.

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Those were up there?

LEE SAYLOR: They were. There was fence in the upper Healy, the Middle Fork. There was on Kechumstuk Creek there was --

And generally it was a family that would, you know, own the fence and keep it up.

And what they’d do is the fence would go and they'd have a corral enclosure. They run them in there and cull them -- kill them and what --

KAREN BREWSTER: So what was the fence made out of?


LEE SAYLOR: Trees, brush and it was a fence. I don’t know if they dug in the posts, but I -- that they'd --

you know, connect the trees and put brush between them and when they drive the caribou in.

I often was thinking about that. I was wondering if no contact had ever been made if they'd have ended up domesticating caribou and being like the Laps.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Maybe. Although --

LEE SAYLOR: The Eskimos -- they never had caribou corrals or anything.

KAREN BREWSTER: Actually they did. LEE SAYLOR: The Eskimos --

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, not corrals, but in the Anaktuvuk Pass area they use the same idea of fencing. LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: They used brush. They sort of made figures out of the bush. They couldn’t -- they didn’t have enough brush to connect it all together, but they kind of made like a channel --

LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: And between people and brush. They kind of herd them in and they would -- herd them into a lake. LEE SAYLOR: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Instead of a corral, they herded them into the lake and then they could kill them in the lake.

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah. That one time at Healy Lake the caribou were swimming over the lake and they just tied knives at the end of a stick and would go out and kill them that way.

On the Kobuk, when I was working around Ambler and Kiana, those guys were telling me that's what they do. They'd wait until they cross the river then go out in the boat, and so they don’t even have to waste shells.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. But so at Healy Lake they would hunt the caribou right there at the lake sometimes?

LEE SAYLOR: Well, this was just one time. It wasn’t a usual thing, but when it happened they improvised real fast. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEE SAYLOR: They'd tie knives at the end of a pole and go out and --

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you know what year that was?

LEE SAYLOR: It was late 30’s or early 40’s when the caribou -- the Forty Mile Herd was just, you know, at its peak, just before World War II.

You know, Gaither told me that when he was just a little kid there was hardly any moose in the, you know, Mansfield -- In the Mansfield area it was caribou and then all of a sudden it's the caribou got scarce and a lot more moose.

KAREN BREWSTER: Huh. Did he say when that shift happened?

LEE SAYLOR: Again, that -- that was probably around 1940.

KAREN BREWSTER: Huh. Well when it's at -- the caribou herd peaked and then crashed.

LEE SAYLOR: Yes, and just before that they were swimming over Healy Lake.

KAREN BREWSTER: Huh. And those caribou fences up in Joseph -- that’s above tree line or close to tree line?

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, it's close to tree line, but they had them down under the tree line, too.

You know, there in the winter they -- the caribou would come down into the forest country and a lot of it was, you know, they used the standing trees as the bases of the corral and then or the -- as a fence and then the corral enclosure.


LEE SAYLOR: Here, I 'm just thinking of something. Here

KAREN BREWSTER: I’m sure it's been written about, yeah.

LEE SAYLOR: There is what David Paul, Rita’s granddad. This was a book he dictated.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, "According to Papa’s --

LEE SAYLOR: And there is -- is kind of a caribou fence diagram.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, neat. And so they just -- the people stood around and herded the caribou in?

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, they herded them in and then -- That story I told you about those guys killed in the caribou stampede they were trying to shut the gate and the caribou panicked and ran right over them.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. Do you know what time -- what year time period that was?

LEE SAYLOR: That had to be -- when that happened that had to be, oh, around 1900, 1905 in that area some time at the turn of the -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEE SAYLOR: From the 19th to the 20th Century.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right. When did they stop using those corrals up there?

LEE SAYLOR: Probably shortly thereafter -- then they -- it was a lot of work making and maintaining them and besides that's when the 30.30’s were replacing the muzzleloader and they could just -- why go to all that effort.

KAREN BREWSTER: They were easier to get them. LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: Before we were on tape you had told me a little bit -- you were talking a little bit about the school at Healy Lake. They tried to have a school there.

LEE SAYLOR: Yes. The -- Johnny Healy was really trying to get them to make a school at Healy Lake and, of course, George Fleischman, right here, he had that school in --

I think that was the summer of ’40 or ’41 -- I believe ’41 and, of course, after that World War II disrupted everything in the Interior. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEE SAYLOR: Well, it put the freight boats out of business and it -- all those Army troops were in there.

Actually, there at Gerstle River at the bridge there was an Army camp on each side. On one side it was black troops and the other side was white troops.

And according to what both Jeany Healy and Frank and Lucy Booth told me about that -- that there was actually a little shooting between the two.

And Frank told me he was coming up there with a dog sled and here there's that -- that black soldier dead in the snow, but he loaded him on the dog sled and took him to the camp and turned him over to the --


LEE SAYLOR: And that's -- I've heard that, but I've never seen anything written about it and now the Gerstle River Bridge is called the, you know, the Black Veterans Memorial Bridge -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, it is?

LEE SAYLOR: Now -- yeah, there was a lot of black troops and well, they tell me Walter Charles there from Dot Lake he actually was married to that black woman for about a year. (Phone ringing)

She was up with the soldiers. It didn’t work out very good.

KAREN BREWSTER: It's never -- not a good time to go. Well, I was asking you about the school at Healy Lake. So George Fleishman -- did that school for that one summer -- 1941 -- ?

LEE SAYLOR: Yes. And then after that -- and just before that in Healy Lake they had, you know, Civilian Conservation Corps projects there.

And most of the men there at Healy Lake were in the Civilian Conservation Corps and they made trails and other improvements around there.

I saw the -- Arthur Healy’s discharge papers from that. I think it was 1940 that’s -- 'cause around then that whole program was folded up.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. And then they started building the highway shortly thereafter.

LEE SAYLOR: Well, when -- when -- after Pearl Harbor was bombed, you know, within three, four months the highway started to be pushed through.

KAREN BREWSTER: And I had asked about if the children at Healy Lake -- that school didn’t work out, could they go to Dot Lake and you told me Dot Lake --

LEE SAYLOR: Dot Lake did not exist at that time.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, tell me about how Dot Lake came about.

LEE SAYLOR: Dot Lake came about, you know, when the highway was pushed through that was a Army camp and a road camp there at Dot Lake.

And, you know, after that was abandoned Peter Charles and Doris Charles and Andrew Isaac they moved up there, took over some of the old buildings.

And after that Fred Vogel, the preacher missionary, he started that roadhouse there and the church and they used influence to get the school put at Dot Lake.

And when that was put there at Dot Lake, they really put pressure on people from -- to move from the outlying camps to Dot Lake.

Frank Luke and his kids they were talked out of George Lake, although they couldn’t get along at Dot Lake and ended up in Tanacross for a while before -- well Louise, she moved back to Healy Lake. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: But Alice Joe and Margaret Kirsteatter they stuck at Healy Lake, although Alice would move over to Dot Lake and send her kids to school there, but she --

KAREN BREWSTER: Was that a mission school sort of or --

LEE SAYLOR: No, it was a state -- KAREN BREWSTER: It was a state school?

LEE SAYLOR: Not a state school -- a BIA school. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. LEE SAYLOR: But the --

KAREN BREWSTER: Because I thought there was also some kind of a private thing there, maybe I'm just thinking of the mission.

LEE SAYLOR: No, the -- Fred Vogel had the -- the -- it was either a BIA or a territorial school. I'm not sure which.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, but something more public like that? LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: And then so Ellen Demit talked about moving to Gerstle -- Little Gerstle? LEE SAYLOR: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so that was where Chief Healy had his -- at least that's why she moved there?

LEE SAYLOR: Yes. When he -- he moved over there to -- because he thought they'd put a school there.

And he had already bought the house at the mouth of Healy River from Hugh Ross. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LEE SAYLOR: And he died there and Chief Peter from Tetlin came up and they'd wanted to take him back to Healy Lake and Jeany had him buried right there at Little Gerstle.

And that started that little cemetery at Little Gerstle.

KAREN BREWSTER: It's still there.

LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh. And -- Well, Lena’s -- Jeany Healy’s sister Lena’s boy by Paddy Healy he died there of TB and is buried at the -- KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: That Ruth Woods is Lena’s daughter. I said she knows -- I don’t think I said anything that she would contradict, but she could add a bunch to it.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, and as I say, you know, there seems to be this feeling that, you know, the connections between Upper Tanana people going to use sort of, you know, what's now part of Wrangell National Park. LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: You know, Mentasta, Chishana, wherever and I don’t know if the Healy Lake people went down that far -- I mean --

LEE SAYLOR: They -- I’m sure they now and then went down. They go all the way to the coast to trade. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. LEE SAYLOR: And they --

KAREN BREWSTER: Would they go hunting there or they would just go --

LEE SAYLOR: No, no, they --

KAREN BREWSTER: Just for trading?

LEE SAYLOR: If they were down that way, of course, they'd hunt. That was understood. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: And I even heard stories that, you know, once the fur got valuable if you were in another man’s territory, you could shoot what you wanted to eat, but you had to turn the -- the fur or the hide over to that chief. KAREN BREWSTER: Hum.

LEE SAYLOR: So you weren’t making money out of that territory.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. But even like moose were -- moose hide wasn’t really sold was it?

LEE SAYLOR: Yes, it was. I’m not sure in the early days, but the trading post at Healy River would buy moose hides.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, they would?

LEE SAYLOR: Yes, moose hide or caribou hide and sometimes they'd -- I think they might even sell it to other Indians.

But you know, that tanning moose hide -- anymore to get Indian tanned moose hide I don’t know anyone that's doing it in the Upper Tanana. That's hard work.

KAREN BREWSTER: It is hard work.

LEE SAYLOR: But thirty years ago it was being done at Healy Lake.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, I don’t know if they do it upriver the same way they do it downriver, but I know about it downriver and it's a lot of work.

LEE SAYLOR: Sure. You got to use the moose brains and soak it and scrape it. Now Pat, my son, he'll prepare a raw moose hide and then Harold Northway -- Pat sells it to Harold to make drums out. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, right.

LEE SAYLOR: But to tan it for moccasins you got to go to Canada anymore.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. There was another question I was going to ask you about --

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, that time Joann thought she was going to tan moose hide, and she just couldn’t hack the smell of the rotten moose brains and that put an end to that.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Another question I have has to do with the highway. LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: You came into the country a little bit later, but what people said about the impacts that having the highway come through their territory and what that meant?

LEE SAYLOR: Well, just -- just meant a lot of disruption and, of course, a lot of work. When that -- after the highway came through, they had everybody working.

They either drafted the guys with the Army or they were working at the sawmill or for private contractors. Of course, a lot of them before that had worked on the freight boats.

And that, you know, the freight boats for that first summer in 1942 the freight boats were contracted and just, you know, anyone was working on those was making money, but after that --

that summer the highway was through and the freight boats were just tied up and left to rot. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LEE SAYLOR: And no use anymore.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s right. So that put that business -- LEE SAYLOR: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: -- out, right?

LEE SAYLOR: You know, John Hajdukovich’s -- well him and Herman Ketzler had the freight boats.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, you know, the highway as you say it had its pluses and its minuses. LEE SAYLOR: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Overall people -- glad it's there or --

LEE SAYLOR: Well, it -- it was, you know, a year after the highway went in and that sickness at Healy Lake and it just wiped out more than half the village in a month.


LEE SAYLOR: And it hit Tanacross too, but the Army airfield was across from the village and they had doctors.


LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, well that's why Tanacross -- well Mary Charlie was telling me about that, you know, Oscar’s sister.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, and so they didn’t have doctors at Healy Lake --it was too far --

LEE SAYLOR: No, and by the time they -- it was right during breakup it was really hard access to there.

They couldn’t land the plane on the lake. They couldn’t get a boat up.

Stanley Young was running the store then and he got out and tried to tell people, but by the time they got there it was too late. The sickness had run through.

I don’t know if it was a form of influenza or measles. I’ve heard arguments about it.

And Margaret always claimed it was from bad water, but I don’t believe that.

It wouldn’t have happened in Tanacross and Healy Lake.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, and it sounds like it wouldn’t have taken the same form.

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, it was -- it was respiratory whatever it was.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. And so did they know what the source -- I mean, did they think it came from connections with the military and the highway?

LEE SAYLOR: It probably was. Probably brought in -- And I had tried to get a -- see if there was any death certificates from then, where, you know, an actual medical examiner would have stated the cause.

But Jeany Healy told me that, yeah, the people were bleeding from the ears and from the mouth and were coughing and it was something pretty nasty.


LEE SAYLOR: But I noticed one thing. It was the, you know, the poorer people, the poorer families that were just about wiped out and the ones that were -- You know, Johnny Healy was considered a fairly rich man. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LEE SAYLOR: And his family came through that. And now, Ellen and with -- Frank Felix and Ellen were -- Of course, Blind Jimmy and Celene died and two of their kids died.

And we had that little potlatch over at Healy Lake where we replaced the fence there.


LEE SAYLOR: They didn’t -- they buried them at the foot of the hill where the cemetery was up the hill. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: And then put the fence and it was down, and so we replaced the fence there.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s nice. Well, as you said they were not -- there were not very many people or they were weak themselves. LEE SAYLOR: Yes.

KAREN BREWSTER: To be able to bury people very well.

LEE SAYLOR: That’s right and actually it sounded like maybe both Frank and Ellen were one of those that didn’t tag them that hard.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. Well, it's a very sad time for that community.

LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh. Yeah, with Frank Felix and Ellen and they moved to -- over to Little Gerstle they made that house right downstream from the bridge by the road. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: Just off the creek and there was that flood and it -- you know, Stella, my first wife, told me her and her sisters were in the house and all of a sudden water started rising.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, my goodness.

LEE SAYLOR: And they had to go into the second floor of that old house of Hugh Ross’ and what happened to Frank and Ellen’s house is the creek came over, undercut it and it collapsed into the creek.

I know where the, you know, half of the foundation is sitting, but the house itself went -- went down the creek.

It was a flash flood from raining up in the mountains.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you know what year approximately that would have been? Like how old your wife would've been?

LEE SAYLOR: Around 49, plus or minus.

KAREN BREWSTER: And it wasn’t a break -- just lost power there for a second. So you said it was a summer rain flood? LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, it was -- KAREN BREWSTER: Ok.

LEE SAYLOR: And I've seen that happen on the -- you know, down the Richardson on those small creeks.

We were surveying to assess the damage. It took the road out on Ruby Creek. KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh.

LEE SAYLOR: And a few of those creeks down that way, so it can really -- KAREN BREWSTER: Well, the ’67 flood -- LEE SAYLOR: (Coughs)

KAREN BREWSTER: The ’67 flood here in Fairbanks was a summer rain flood.

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, the Chena, Upper Chena, yeah, that was -- I was working in Delta at the time and I got caught in Fairbanks.

And David Joe and I were just walking down Second Street watching the water come up and that Lawrence David that grew up in Chena he said the town’s going under.

He says I saw this in 1928 in the summer. KAREN BREWSTER: Huh.

LEE SAYLOR: And we hopped in my pickup truck and I pushed water across the University Avenue Bridge and went up to Fox and waited it out.

KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t think the University Avenue Bridge was there yet, was it? LEE SAYLOR: Yes, it was.

KAREN BREWSTER: It was? LEE SAYLOR: It was built I think, ’61.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay. I knew it was later than the others one, okay. LEE SAYLOR: That was ’67.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, you got lucky. You got out just in time. LEE SAYLOR: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, I don’t know if we've covered everything on Healy Lake.

LEE SAYLOR: That -- I mean there're other things that I can probably remember.

I've got a notebook that I got a lot written down in and when something reminds me of something, I'll check there to see if I've got in there or not.

KAREN BREWSTER: That’s great. That’s good. LEE SAYLOR: So.

KAREN BREWSTER: Well, yeah, I mean well we sort of talked about people would trap and in the summer they'd go fishing and then they'd go up to the caribou camp. LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: And they would travel around. And was there any moose hunting? Because you said there weren’t so many moose around.

LEE SAYLOR: Well, there was at Healy Lake. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LEE SAYLOR: I was talking about up in Mansfield -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, okay.

LEE SAYLOR: Tanacross area, but yeah there was always moose in Healy Lake.

And now here was something that I didn’t go into that, you know, Chief Joe and Chief Healy I think, you know, they were the same clan, but they were kind of rivals in a way.

And after that ’27 potlatch at Healy Lake, well they said Chief Joe he -- he paddled his canoe down from George Creek and attended it and then when he went back he shouldered his pack, the canoe, and walked on the foot trail. But he planned to make a potlatch.

He was starting to build a dance hall over there. And over on Black Lake -- Abe Luke told me that Chief Joe had shot and dried eight moose and was all for making a potlatch.

And then his wife Agnes died and he got sick. And they took him to Tanana. They said he was just diarrhea. He was just fading out, and he got on the freight boat and they took him all the way to the Tanana Hospital. And he died.

So they never made the potlatch. Then those cabins at George Lake where he had his little settlement, they were abandoned, and John Joseph moved over to Healy Lake. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

LEE SAYLOR: And Frank Luke later moved there. And he made a tent house. And sawed up the old log cabins for firewood.

Even in -- when Frank moved up to old Tanacross he never build a house. He had a double-walled tent frame that -- KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LEE SAYLOR: -- was insulated and that's where he stayed.

KAREN BREWSTER: That's pretty cold in the winter. Why is --

LEE SAYLOR: Hey, I was there one night when it hit over 70 below. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LEE SAYLOR: In Frank’s tent house, yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: And it was still warm enough?

LEE SAYLOR: It wasn’t warm. You just piled the blankets on and kept throwing the wood in.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, it needs a lot of wood. (Phone ringing) LEE SAYLOR: Get the phone.

KAREN BREWSTER: -- question and then we'll be done. LEE SAYLOR: Sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: Which was to follow-up with when Chief Joe left and died in Tanana and George Lake -- Lake George was abandoned -- LEE SAYLOR: Sure.

KAREN BREWSTER: About what time period was that?

LEE SAYLOR: That was ’29. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. LEE SAYLOR: That was that year.

KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. I'm trying to get a sense of the different communities and when they were used -- LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: And not used and how people moved around. LEE SAYLOR: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: I was thinking that the highway -- the good thing about the highway is it has helped people move between all those communities. LEE SAYLOR: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Maybe, more than they used to. LEE SAYLOR: It is, and -- yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. LEE SAYLOR: So, anyway, that's -- KAREN BREWSTER: But it does --

LEE SAYLOR: I can’t remember right now of anything just off hand.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, but it does -- it sounds like going down towards Wrangell Park and over with the Ahtna people happened a little bit but -- LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh.

KAREN BREWSTER: You know, did Healy Lake people -- Healy River people go down for salmon? Did they ever go -- ?

LEE SAYLOR: I don’t think so. Of course, I hear there was some kind of hostility between Healy Lake and the Goodpaster there. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LEE SAYLOR: They’d -- they’d marry down that way, but yet there was -- it's the language barrier there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Right and Ahtna again would be a different language.

LEE SAYLOR: Yeah, although Mentasta is -- sometimes I think it's -- Mentasta dialect is closer to Tanacross/Healy Lake than it is to the Lower Ahtna.

KAREN BREWSTER: Uh-huh. Well, and certainly Tanacross, Tetlin, and Northway they're closer -- (Phone ringing) KAREN BREWSTER: Down there. LEE SAYLOR: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay. Thank you. LEE SAYLOR: Uh-huh. KAREN BREWSTER: All the telephones I think we’re done.