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Lena Charley

Lena Charley was interviewed on April 23, 2015 by Leslie McCartney and Barbara Cellarius at her home in Chistochina, Alaska. Jessica Denny, Lena's granddaughter, also participated in the interview. In this interview, Lena talks about growing up living a traditional subsistence lifestyle, learning to hunt, fish and trap, and working as a hunting guide in the Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains. She discusses what she did as a guide, what and where they hunted, and what it was like to be a woman guide when all the clients were men. She also talks about sled dog racing and running the Yukon Quest International Dog Sled Race. Lena tells one story in particular about hunting a black bear by herself and carrying the animal back to camp on her back.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-14-19

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Apr 23, 2015
Narrator(s): Lena Charley
Interviewer(s): Barbara Cellarius, Leslie McCartney
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
People Present: Jessica Denny
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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Personal background

Growing up living a traditional subsistence lifestyle in Chistochina and Batzulnetas

Working as a hunting guide and taking care of horses

Other ways of earning a living: construction work, selling sewing

Learning to hunt and spending time in the woods alone

Fishing at Batzulnetas

Male clients acceptance of a woman guide

Getting a black bear by herself, and using pack dogs

Getting paid as a guide

Running a trapline

Brothers and sisters

Areas where went hunting and types of animals hunted

Tasks she did as a guide, and riding horses

Hunting mountain goat

Guiding with airplanes versus horses

Hunting in the Chisana area, hunting caribou, and hunting in other areas

Being raised by her mother, and learning to hunt and trap

Speaking her Native language

Getting married and raising a family

Hunting sheep and goat in the Chitina area

Dog racing and running the Yukon Quest dog sled race

Starting to mush dogs, first dog racing, and delivering mail by dog team

Dealing with the cold on the Yukon Quest

Being out on hunting trips

Numbers of animals killed by hunters, and communicating with hunters

Unusual things seen when hunting

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


LESLIE McCARTNEY: So today's April 23, 2015. And thank you, Lena, for letting us come into your home and talk to you today. LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: We're with Lena Charley and Barbara Cellarius is here, and also Jessica Denny who is Lena’s granddaughter. And I'm Leslie McCartney and we're in Chistochina.

Lena, can you start off by telling us who your parents are and your grandparents and when you were born?

LENA CHARLEY: My mom, what I hear, she born in Batzulnetas. And my dad he born in Tazlina.

And me I born right here in Chistochina. We had fish camp back there by the river.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And when were you born? LENA CHARLEY: Probably was the 1929. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. What month and day? LENA CHARLEY: I don’t know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Don’t know, okay?

LENA CHARLEY: We don’t that, but they put me in February 20. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. Just a second. Just pause this.

So, Lena, you were saying you were born right here in Chistochina? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. And what did your mom and dad do? Did they live a subsistence lifestyle?

LENA CHARLEY: What? LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did your mom and dad live a subsistence lifestyle? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, yeah, they’re -- we’re here, but up there by the river. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: Back there over fish camp. We had -- they had house there. But last year ago went over there and looked for the house. I didn’t seen them. It was old -- long time ago. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Hm-mm. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: They fish 'em and hunt and stuff. That the only way we used to live.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you -- did you grow up in Chistochina?

LENA CHARLEY: No. We -- round a little bit and mostly we spend time in Batzulnetas. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: And they got creek right there and fish come up. And so we had to stay there for fish all the time. And then move back way up -- they call 'em Batzulnetas Lake. Now, Tanada Lake. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Tanada Lake?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. 'Cause fish go up in that lake, too. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Hm-mm.

LENA CHARLEY: Then when I grow up, I must be about six years old lose the daddy. And all that time my mom just raised us up. My brother's old enough, my sister and Ruby, she’s the oldest one, too. And just me and Laura. Little small -- Laura's four years old -- younger than me. So he was a baby yet when I was about six.

Then we go up way back Nabesna Road where we call Two Lake there -- Twin Lake, we call it. And we fish in there, too, for grayling.

We stay there for fish, too, all the time. And more we go -- go up Nabesna and then I never came back 'til I grow up. Right here at Chistochina.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did you have --

LENA CHARLEY: And then I move back when my -- I had my first baby. Evelyn. That's when we started to stay down here. Long time.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: We were talking to Wilson, and he said that you had worked for some hunting guides. Can you talk a little about that?

LENA CHARLEY: What’s that?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: You -- you -- talked -- you worked for -- helping take -- LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Guides and stuff. BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- care of the horses for the hunting guides and you guided. LENA CHARLEY: Okay. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Could -- could you talk some about that?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. When Lee Hancock come up up this country and he's a guide, so when I was in my twenty he hire me for a horse wrangle. Just take care of horse and stuff.

So in the wintertime, I take care of them way up Nabesna country. I had to go up with sled, got about three, four dog. Take care of them horse.

And then we came back next summer. Of course, I've been huntin' all that time for ourselves. And sheep, moose. And so he hire me for the guiding.

So I went out doing pretty good after that. Only they have to show me how to cape it and cape out the moose and stuff. And I do. I learned pretty fast.

So I started to guide for him and then I work another place. DeHart, I worked for him, too. Up Copper.


LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Slana. Way up Copper. That's where we hunt for moose and sheep, bear.

I work on all. And then when we came back out and with the hunters I had to work on them cape down here at Chistochina.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. Were you at -- at -- were you working at your house or were you working at somebody else’s -- LENA CHARLEY: I worked down there. BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- place? LENA CHARLEY: My house right here. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh, so every morning I go down and get all them capes fixed up, salt them, get it ready, and just mail it out.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. So how many years? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: How many -- how many years did you work as a guide?

LENA CHARLEY: Ah, gee, I lose -- maybe more than 20 years I've been out there in the woods. BARBARA CELLARIUS: A long time? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: A long time. I start when I was about twenty and all the way 'til I don’t know, might be 50, 40.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you keep working as -- LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, I kept -- I got -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- with the guide after -- after you had kids?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, after kids -- well, he's -- my husband watched them when I go out in fall time. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: Then I come back and that's how we used to live for awhile. And then everything okay. Then work on construction. I don’t know how long I had in there, too.


LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, on the road. And then fishin. I put away fish for wintertime making dry and put away. That's the same way my mom and them used to. BARBARA CELLARIUS: You learned that from your mom?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Then sew and sell the moccasin, gloves and stuff. I do that for a long time, but when I were young I didn’t sew.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: When did you start sewing?

LENA CHARLEY: Must be I was about thirty. That's when I started sew, but I doing pretty good with them, too.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And did -- so who did you learn that from? LENA CHARLEY: What’s that?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Who did you learn to sew from? Did your mom teach you?

LENA CHARLEY: Well, all us watch. My oldest work on moose hide with her. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. So that's how we learn. My mom never home. Just busy all the time.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: She was working all the time? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: What did she work at?

LENA CHARLEY: When I was about fifteen years old, I think I start to hunt in the woods. All the way 'til I’m done.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So who did you start hunting with? Did you -- did you go with someone else when you started? LENA CHARLEY: No, myself.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: You just went by yourself? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, all the time. Sometime I camp out out there. Big tree and branch like that. I just crawl in under, never even think nothing.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Get out of -- out of the weather a little bit.

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. I doing that all the time. Since I were young I started to go out or go around in the woods and stuff. All the way.

And then fish that's another one, too. We're up in Batzulnetas. I got no kind to get fish. Whole bunch of fish down there by the bridge. Nobody. Everybody left. Somewhere down this way, I think.

And no fish. We got my mom home. I went down creek, grab their tail, and pull them out. It was fun for me, eh.

Pull it out. Oh, I got about six, seven fish. And then put them on the brush and walk back in the water. We got camp way back where they had that camp. You been there, uh? BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah.

LENA CHARLEY: Back there we had camp, yeah. We went --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So how old were you when you did that? Pulled the fish out of the water? LENA CHARLEY: Ten years old. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: I was nine, I think. We don’t even know how old we are. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right, right. LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So that was -- so you didn’t know then about using the trap? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Didn’t you sometimes use trap?

LENA CHARLEY: You know, they're strong them fish. Their tails. But I got it out. I tried king salmon, but I lose them.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, that would be even bigger. LENA CHARLEY: Too big.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So you can you tell me about the bridge? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: What was the bridge for?

LENA CHARLEY: Fix that bridge so they got that fishtrap and then fish coming in there. It's just all --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So a fence to stop the fish?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. So I got some fish, so I'm happy. And then I started to do that all the time so we can have enough fish. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And when did you start using fishwheel? When you come back to Chistochina?

LENA CHARLEY: When we came down -- oh, Batzulnetas at the low camp down there. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah.

LENA CHARLEY: Batzulnetas Billy, they call him. They had that fishwheel.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, so Gene had -- Gene's dad?

LENA CHARLEY: Grow up most of the time. When we came back, first time we see a fishwheel going in that river. That Batzulnetas Creek go in that river. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.

LENA CHARLEY: Way back there we stay and then fish go up that way.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Hm-mm. And when you -- go ahead. When you worked with the hunting guides --? LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- did you meet people from lots of different places?

LENA CHARLEY: Lots of different place. They always -- I mean, for first time they think, agh, woman for a guide.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: What did they -- what did they think of having you as their guide?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. They’re good. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: I mean, I can get sheep. I can get moose. I mean, they -- I've been learning lots of how to sneak up on things, but some of them are hard to sneak.

Then I work for Bud Conkle. And there's two hunters come up and I take one out. He tell him take her and take her in boat, so we went across that lake.

Oh, he didn’t know. He think a long time that a woman and never trust.

Well, we go. We go and then we went up hill. We cross lake and we went up hill. I glass up that way and there's all kinds of moose up there in that -- lot of trees, too Brush and trees.

I tell him I see moose up there and I give him glass. Oh, yeah, I see, he say.

Well, we go over there. We go up there and we get in that timber. We sneak and we got big bull right there. He don’t want to shoot him.

He don’t know if I skin him or not. And then we go home. He take pictures everything all in.

We go back, and my boss get mad at me. That woman know more than anybody on this country.

And he can skin them all by herself. Then he just looked down and told --

Yeah, some of 'em think that I couldn’t do it. 'Cause I've been in that woods for since I was a little kid and study everything. Moose, birds, just everything. And I know which way I had to go home.

Well I get teach about from my mom and dad. All the trees, how it look out there. Just thinking don’t mess up, that's all they tell me always.

Sheep is another one, too. Sometime right straight up to it I go. Sit. You got to use something in front of you all the time. Trees, rock, everything.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: To hide you from the sheep, so they can’t see you?

LENA CHARLEY: Come up right there. And lots of hunters we've been all over the country outside. Some take my pictures.

There's another one I never talk about because nobody wouldn’t believe. I went out hunt up Nabesna. Way up in that Totschunda looking for sheep, but I didn’t see sheep.

And when first I came up, my dog with me. I went up hill and that dog -- that little black bear coming this way. Close. Right there. I need him for fur, so I had to shoot him. And I gut it on the hill.

He kind of big, but look like I can pack him a little bit. I lift it up easy, so I put his foot and his hand and I hike it up easy. So I walk right down to my camp with it.

I never did tell story about those things. And I skin him up and I nail him down with them stick. I make 'em sharp. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: Let him dry a little bit. I leave it there and I live up the Soda Lake place -- Soda Creek.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, I’ve been up.

LENA CHARLEY: Way up there. 'Cause Lee and them left the meat on the rack, so I had to get that one.

I come down there and I put his pack on and me, a little too much yet, so I just put him way up in the tree some and then we'll go back.

One day all the way down to Nabesna. And that next morning I got up real early. I had to go back up there and nothing bother them. No track, nothing. So I bring all that one in, too.

When I get my own moose, I got three or four dogs. Round trip we'll make all them. Bring 'em in, just me and the dog.


BARBARA CELLARIUS: And you also did -- did some mushing?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Yeah. Fishing and huntin' moose. That was fun for me.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you usually take the pack dogs when you were hunting then?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Sometimes when we need food -- We got no food, we got to go out there and get moose or something.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And when you worked for the hunters did they -- or when you worked for the guides -- LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: How did they pay you?

LENA CHARLEY: Oh, they paid pretty good. I wouldn’t know how much. I forget everything.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you -- did they give you money?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, they give me money. Cash, sometimes check.

So, I come back with enough money to use a lot of groceries. When we had them kids, we got four, so he had to work and I got to go guide. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did you also have a trapline, Lena? LENA CHARLEY: Huh?

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did you also have a trapline? Did you have a trapline? LENA CHARLEY: Oh, yes. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

LENA CHARLEY: That's how I lived to make money before, yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, before you started guiding, you -- you were -- you were trapping?

LENA CHARLEY: We trapped long ways though. Nabesna, go down way down they call that Pickerel Lake between Northway and Nabesna.


LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. That's where I trapped. And go all the way back halfway to Chisana and come back. Long trip. One time I got four dog and with sled.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you do that by yourself?

LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh. Just me. Everywhere, it's just me. Hunt. There's nobody.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. What about your brothers and sister -- your brother and sisters?

LENA CHARLEY: My brother, he's way up Chisana. BARBARA CELLARIUS: He's already --

LENA CHARLEY: I have one brother. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Is he older? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, he's older. Johnny you know. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. LENA CHARLEY: He's the one.

And my sister is up Mentasta.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Which sister is that, Lena? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Which sister is that? LENA CHARLEY: The oldest one. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oldest one?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Ruby was in Mentasta?

LENA CHARLEY: There's my brother, then her, then Ruby, then me, and Laura last one. Yeah.

My brother, he's a good guide and huntin', too. He used to work for that -- what you call those? I forget everything. I can’t recall anything.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: One of the other guides?

LENA CHARLEY: For country-- they go all over the tundra?


BARBARA CELLARIUS: The Geological Survey? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. That's where he work.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. Yeah, I heard they -- they went a lot of places.

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. He went lots of places, him. And he know quite a bit in the woods, too, so he get hired for that.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Was he working for the same hunting guides you worked for or for different ones?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, he worked for anybody. There's Ken Bunch, and DeHart, and what --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: We talked about Lee -- LENA CHARLEY: Lee Hancock.


LENA CHARLEY: He worked for Lee. Me, I worked for all this Bud Conkle. And Ken Bunch, he worked with airplane, but he picked me up with airplane here, and they got horse way up Zina Glacier on the Chitina (think she may be referring to the Nizina Glacier).

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So not just Nabesna country, you were down -- LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Down by -- LENA CHARLEY: All up --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: The Chitina River, too?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, and Tanada. All up in the mountain. And then we go Dot Lake, too. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, wow.

JESSICA DENNY: So -- Can I ask her a question? LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm. Sure. Go ahead.

JESSICA DENNY: What did you hunt -- sheep, moose?

LENA CHARLEY: Bear. Even wolf, if you see it, I got skin them there, too. All them foot, their stuff, you got to leave it on, too. Lots of different things you do, but I'm doing okay.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So it sounds like you were guiding the hunters? LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And then when they got something, you skinned the animal? LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And you prepared the capes? LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And did you have to pack the meat? LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh. Packed the horse.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: How exciting. And cooked the meals? LENA CHARLEY: I even packed the horse, too.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Packed the horses?

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And cooked their meals? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: They got -- they had all kinds of help from you.

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. It was so easy. The moose leg, you pick 'em up and put 'em on the horse. Two-legged side you got to pack.


LENA CHARLEY: My hunters just take picture.


BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you get to ride a horse?

LENA CHARLEY: I ride horse. I got my own saddle horse and lead all them horse.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. Usually how many horses did they have in a group when they went out hunting?

LENA CHARLEY: A whole bunch sometime. The own -- has to have three, four hunters. BARBARA CELLARIUS: It depended?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, got have lottsa horse. The way they bring stuff with them.

JESSICA DENNY: Did you ever hunt mountain goat?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, we did, going down to Valdez. Ooh, those things can sit high.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Higher than sheep?

LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh. Bad places. All rock like that -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: It's steep?

LENA CHARLEY: You can stand way up there. Go down to Valdez, all back there in the creek all over I see there, too. It's good, though, to see all the country.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: It sounds like you've been a lot of places? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: While you were -- you were hunting? Where you were being a hunting guide. And how much -- how much would you say you were involved with the guides that used airplanes versus guides who used horses?

LENA CHARLEY: Horses. I like horse. I don’t care too much plane. Small one will come through over between mountain and the jump. That small plane just barely go and he left gas can in there in back and it say bang. Ee!


LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. It don’t bother me. I just look and geez, it's funny. Just right there ground. We just went over. Come right at -- He dropped me off right here at Chistochina.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: A faster trip than if you were walking.

LENA CHARLEY: Gee, now I don’t -- I don't know if I like to ride little plane. We ride little plane from Hawaii to Molokai. JESSICA DENNY: Oahu to Molokai. LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: That thing goes way down and just -- oh.

JESSICA DENNY: It was bad. I was praying. And Lena's in her seat practically --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: This was just a little while ago, was it?

JESSICA DENNY: Yeah. Like last week. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So worse than when we went to Chisana?

JESSICA DENNY: It was bad. It was like -- my mom's like, if I could reach you, I'd slap you.

LENA CHARLEY: No, I don’t think I like to ride little plane anymore.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And did you spend much time in Chisana?

LENA CHARLEY: Not too much. We go over summer and then we go over at wintertime.

Me, I go over with dog team. In the summer, we'd fly from here to Chisana. Two times, I think, yeah. Just to take us over there.

Nobody that own the place, I never hunt yet. I could have went one time, but never did.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. Do you ever hunt caribou?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, caribou. Oh, yeah, caribou, I forget that one. BARBARA CELLARIUS: We didn’t talk about caribou.

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, we got caribou and then --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you ever hunt caribou with the -- the hunters from Outside?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Uh-huh. Take them to ride up to that one, too. We never did shoot far away from -- Always get near.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. So you did that for, you said, close to 20 years? LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh. A long time.

JESSICA DENNY: Did you guys go over into Canada? You know, like -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yukon? JESSICA DENNY: Yeah.

LENA CHARLEY: Far as Chisana. We -- we fly back there though. And then we come back just to show us around that time we -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, just to look.

LENA CHARLEY: From here. Ahtna, I think, put that big plane, too.

JESSICA DENNY: But you never hunted back in there, huh?

LENA CHARLEY: No, I never did hunt in the Chisana.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Or further -- further tow -- further east towards Canada? White River country, did you ever go over there?

LENA CHARLEY: No, never did. I never did go that way. Always go to Copper and then down Chitina -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Down south?

LENA CHARLEY: And we went up Dot Lake and Little Tok. All through there. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Healy Lake at all?

LENA CHARLEY: Huh? LESLIE McCARTNEY: What about Healy Lake? Over towards Healy Lake?

LENA CHARLEY: No, we never. Oh, we went for goat down Valdez, but we never go everywhere. Just going one way.

Boy, that was high mountain. I look at them goat, gee they're more than sheep can do.

And then I spot that goat way up in them rocks, and everybody start look for -- Go up and see if they come down. In the morning early, they're still up there, so we never get.


LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, too rough that mountain.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. And what did you do after you stopped working with the hunting guides?


JESSICA DENNY: Construction. Huh?

LENA CHARLEY: Construction. I work for construction. I don’t read and write, but I did finish everything.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Sounds like you work hard though? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Lena, you said that your dad died when you were young, and that your mom had to bring you up, is that right?

LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh. We lost my mom when I was about twenty-five, I think.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh. And when did you lose your dad? When did you lose your dad? When you were six?

LENA CHARLEY: When I was little -- six years old.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So your mom raised you up?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, yeah. My mom raised us up.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And so did you go around and help with hunting and trapping -- LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh. LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- with your mom?

LENA CHARLEY: First, when I was kid, but I start from seven all the way up. I pick up rock and put them in a little pack and carry around for spruce hen and rabbit.

And I get spruce hen with a rock and I started to hunt that way.

And rabbit a little too big. I hit him, but he took off all the time. Not much strong yet. When I grow up, it was easy.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So, when did you get a gun? LENA CHARLEY: Huh?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: When did you start hunting with a gun? LENA CHARLEY: With a gun? BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yes.

LENA CHARLEY: Like almost twenty, I think.

JESSICA DENNY: How did you get your first -- L

ENA CHARLEY: I got old 30.30. Only put one shell, that’s all. No, can’t put no more. Old gun.

I hunt with that one with that little black bear. At that time, my step-daddy was with us.

So he eat them so I shoot him. He go up tree. My dog chase him up tree. I got him one shot he went down.

I skin him up and all cut it up and I take back some. And I told him where and we went up -- I show him where he pack it in.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So what was the name of your step-daddy? LENA CHARLEY: Huh?

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Who was your step-daddy?

LENA CHARLEY: His name, you know him. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Was that Jack John?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, Jack John. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Jack John, oh.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Okay. And at home you speak your language? LENA CHARLEY: Me? LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, I --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: With your mom?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. I speak my language still right now, but nobody just me.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Nobody to talk to?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, nobody to talk. All them old people are gone now.

My aunt, and he mom, they're all gone. Those are that talk Native all the time.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Hm-mm. When did you learn English?

LENA CHARLEY: When I were about almost old before I come out and started. But we talk a little bit at the time. But not -- don’t pull right everything.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So when you were working with the hunting guides?

LENA CHARLEY: When I -- I talk -- I speak -- that's where I learn more. They speak everything, but I can’t talk my language, I got to talk --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. You have to speak to them in English. LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: When you were a hunting guide, Lena, and you were married, were your children in school? Did your children -- so --

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, he stay home with them and watch them, yeah. We never --

Sometime we had my Uncle Fred John used to -- when he come down here we keep the one and watch them kids when we start going.

My husband working that time in construction.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And when did you get married?

LENA CHARLEY: When I was about thirty years old -- 31 years old, I think. About the oldest one, Evelyn, I was about thirty-three years old before I got her. No time to get married.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: It sounds like you were very busy.

LENA CHARLEY: That's my husband’s dad right there (pointing to photograph on the wall).

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh. What was his name?

LENA CHARLEY: Arne Sundt. Old guy Frank Stickwan, when he pass away 104 years old.



LENA CHARLEY: Those is that old people down in Chitina.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, yeah. Is that Doc Billum with the hat?

LENA CHARLEY: They’re good climb the mountain, too. That's their eldest son.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: They had good wildlife down there by Chitina. LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Were you mostly hunting sheep when you up Chitina way? LENA CHARLEY: Chitina?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: When you were down by Chitina River, did you hunt mostly sheep?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, that’s all. We were -- of course, they take us to way -- drop us off way up in. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Way -- way up. LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Way up high?

LENA CHARLEY: Sheep and the goat, but goat is so high.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Hm-mm. Well, is there anything else you can -- any other hunt stories about hunting with the -- the hunting guides that you can think of?

LENA CHARLEY: With a guide?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: When you were hunting with the guides -- when you -- when you were guiding for hunting?

LENA CHARLEY: Oh, when we go out hunting in morning and when we get sheep we hungry right. We build fire and cook the ribs in the fire. Oh, I like it.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And did the other hunters like that, too?

LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh. Oh, they liked the way I do it. Lots of them really like that.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you have people who would come back a second time and want to go hunting with you?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. And sometimes see one, but I be with another person, yeah.

Horses okay, though I almost break my finger. My horse jumped across the creek and another one pulled back -- rope around my --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, that sounds bad.

LENA CHARLEY: Boy, I can’t bend it that much. That 1974 that happen. That Gleezer, them horse, some of them not good. They see something, they just jump up in the air too --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Lena, I understand you did the Yukon Quest.

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, I did.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Can you tell me about it? And what year? LENA CHARLEY: Four time, I've been running. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Really?

LENA CHARLEY: Once I scratch 'cause my dogs they got sore foot and not -- can’t be three -- not good enough to get out.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: How old were you when you -- when you were in the Yukon Quest?

LENA CHARLEY: Way up in forty.

JESSICA DENNY: You were in your fifties?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, I was 51 when I ran. A long ways from there.

JESSICA DENNY: It was in the 80’s. LESLIE McCARTNEY: 1980?

JESSICA DENNY: I think ’89 was the last year she ran. She did the Copper Basin 300 and the Quest. LESLIE McCARTNEY: And the Quest? JESSICA DENNY: Yeah.

LENA CHARLEY: I always like it. It don’t bother when I run that. Boy, that's the roughest race in the world. In Alaska.

And I got hurt, too, one time. And it was good dog I was going to try get in the money that time, but half way from --

We left Fairbanks and then the hot springs was about fifth the way -- 50 mile away, I guess we just -- No, past Eagle.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Past Eagle? LENA CHARLEY: That's right, yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So getting close to the -- LENA CHARLEY: Coming down hill like that.


LENA CHARLEY: Pass way back, yeah. We were just coming down and I see a team coming. No, I stopped. Working on my dog feet and then I go back, I see a team coming and it just coming. Never even -- nothing.

I just get back on my sled and his sled just went -- hit me right on my leg against me so that -- Ooh, hurts. BARBARA CELLARIUS: That sounds like it hurts.

LENA CHARLEY: What’s wrong with him, I think? He don’t say nothing. He just go. Then another -- the whole five mile, I guess, that people stay.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. Like a checkpoint?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. I coming down and I see his sled there is parked. I stop. I walk in. I limping.

That woman tell me, "You're limping." "Ah, run into me with sled." “Who done that?” “Him had.” "Gee, you’re bad man." That woman tell him. I didn’t know --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: You didn’t know how bad it was?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Then they stopped me all the way. The nurse go with helicopter all the way in. They had to give me medicine and stuff.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You didn’t break your leg though, did you? LENA CHARLEY: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No.

LENA CHARLEY: I don’t know how my leg never break.

Even there, I fell down just one hand, it just grown back here, that's all. It push in too much. There's nothing wrong.

And then I fell down there this winter on the ice out there.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, yeah, the ice was bad. So when did --

LENA CHARLEY: I think -- That’s why I think this side -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Why that hurts. LENA CHARLEY: More, yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So when did you start with the dog sleds?

LENA CHARLEY: When I was a little kid.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: When you was a little kid. LENA CHARLEY: All the time.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And then when did you start --

LENA CHARLEY: When we move up Nabesna, we gotta go down, way down to where we say Pickerel Lake. Trapping with the dog.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: That's a long way.

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. One way is 24 miles. On the river, too.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And when did you start racing with the dogs?

LENA CHARLEY: I would be up there in all the time, all of a sudden we hear race all the time and then come down Mentasta. I see race there.

Nelson win the race. I went back and get my dog and I bring all my dog down and I ran --

the first time I ran up Tok. I take my time, you know, no rush. And then I keep doing that and all of a sudden I start getting in the -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Started winning?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Thought I'd get all kinds of trophy.

JESSICA DENNY: Didn't you guys or grandpa used to keep dogs for mail, too? Mail run? LENA CHARLEY: Huh?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you use dogs to get to -- to carry the mail? LENA CHARLEY: Oh, yeah, yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And what was your mail route? Where did you go with the mail run? LENA CHARLEY: Mail run?

JESSICA DENNY: Yeah. LENA CHARLEY: From Slana to way up Nabesna one day.


LENA CHARLEY: One day. LESLIE McCARTNEY: One day, full-time? Once a week?

LENA CHARLEY: Just one. I went on another one, too. Lee got hurt up Twin Lake. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Lee Hancock?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. I hook up them dogs and put them in the sled and went down Slana. Round trip I make there, too.

I drop it off there and he get ride down to Glennallen and I go back. Long ways there. Forty mile.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: How long did you do the mail run for then? LENA CHARLEY: Just from Slana to --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you go to the mine? LENA CHARLEY: -- Nabesna, yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So how many years did you do that? Many years? LENA CHARLEY: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No?

LENA CHARLEY: Just the first time, yeah, because the can’t --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Somebody else couldn’t do it? LENA CHARLEY: He can't get that mail up there, yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay, I understand. Yeah. So do you still have dogs, Lena? LENA CHARLEY: Huh?

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Do you still have dogs? No?

JESSICA DENNY: One dog, right?

LENA CHARLEY: I got one dog, right now. He's just old like me.

JESSICA DENNY: And it won first place. Don’t say it's old. Remember, you --

LENA CHARLEY: I lost one this winter. JESSICA DENNY: One dogger.



JESSICA DENNY: That's Barbara’s niece. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. LESLIE McCARTNEY: In a race?

LENA CHARLEY: That dog, he come in first and second one day.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Both first and second?

LENA CHARLEY: What a laugh.

JESSICA DENNY: On the Chistochina trail, my grandpa used to trap on it. And she would run her dogs up there before she did the Quest.

And the Copper Basin 300. She'd go up 21 miles sometimes, come around and come right back, or sometimes stay there 'cause they have a cabin up there.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So just a practice run? JESSICA DENNY: Yeah. training. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Training.

LENA CHARLEY: Training is lot. And all by myself. I did it all just me and myself.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you ever take Evelyn along?

LENA CHARLEY: No. Sometimes, they go with me with sled and I drive a snowmachine then.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. When did you start using a snowmachine for trapping?

LENA CHARLEY: I used my dog for training for race. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.

LENA CHARLEY: And then I started use snowmachine. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Then you use snowmachine. LENA CHARLEY: For trap.

JESSICA DENNY: But when you started to use the snowmachine for trapping, when was that?

LENA CHARLEY: That was about -- I don’t know how long ago. I still -- I was still race when I use snowmachine.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: You were racing the dogs?

LENA CHARLEY: 'Cause I gotta break my own trail. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Hm-mm.

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, I done it so make me happy right now. And everything nothing (inaudible).

LESLIE McCARTNEY: It was really cold when you ran the Quest?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, you talk about cold. A hundred below zero when I went to that Eagle Pass. Only one guy went with me. We make it both though. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Geez.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: As you say, it's a tough race. LENA CHARLEY: It is a tough race.

JESSICA DENNY: How do you stay warm when it's that cold?

LENA CHARLEY: Ooh, I got big coat. That's a coat, that red one out there. I told you could use 'em.

And then I got another warm coat under. Just, you got to put a lot of clothes.

JESSICA DENNY: Was it windy?

LENA CHARLEY: Uh-huh. All them warm stuff I bought. It cost lots of money though. And gloves just pull out and work dog with it. Never get cold.

Or like my parka got fur and ice hitting my face, it got all black stuff. Just like froze.

JESSICA DENNY: Probably bruised it. LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: But you survived.

LENA CHARLEY: Ooh, hundred below zero. I don’t know right now. Even zero too cold for me any more.

JESSICA DENNY: And you did that for fun?

LENA CHARLEY: Ah, just reminds me of where I used to do that a long time ago. Travel with dog, make tea there, and go again. Just fun for me.

Sometime they, me, I pull all my stuff, all the dog feed. Them, they, just send 'em next all the checkpoints.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, right. They would send the -- the food drops.

LENA CHARLEY: Me, I haul my things and I come slow all the time. And I get to find out and I -- then somebody almost break my leg.

And I limping all the time. And I come back out, geez, it swell up though bad. I think that's why this side (inaudible) is bad.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. While it's -- it's hard now? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: It's not as cold as it used to be, Lena? Now? LENA CHARLEY: No.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: We don’t get the cold like we used to get here?

LENA CHARLEY: No. I was pretty good healthy when I were young. Nothing bother me.

JESSICA DENNY: How do you guys stay warm in a wall tent when it's that cold?

LENA CHARLEY: You got to run and walk keep warm. Mostly, we use our foot walking all the time.

Even from -- now they start to walk from here to Mentasta to make it up there. My sister pack kid. She walk up Mentasta and make it there from here. From Indian River, I think, that's where they were.

JESSICA DENNY: Was that Agnes or -- ?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Rosa is the oldest one. 1944, that's when she born. Rosa.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Anything else, Lena, about guiding that you'd like to tell us about? LENA CHARLEY: Guiding? LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: Uh, just Copper River here. I like that way to go. And then Zina Glacier (think she may be referring to the Nizina Glacier), kind of mountain kind of rough to go on the north -- And all over the place. Up Little Tok, pretty good then, but we start from Slana and haul horse over there and stuff. That Mable Creek, I think, before Mentasta. That creek. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

LENA CHARLEY: Right now, people stay up. That road go up there. And we go up that way with horse. And then we make a round. Then we go in Suslota. We go all the way around. We come out up Twin Lake.


BARBARA CELLARIUS: How many days would you go out for?

LENA CHARLEY: Well, we hunt, too. If we get some, we stay there too. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. But -- but if you --

LENA CHARLEY: Sometime it take for a while. I don’t know. I don’t even know how long we --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: You don’t remember how long you were gone?

LENA CHARLEY: We come back out Twin Lake. We got our sheep and stuff.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did the hunters hunt for just one animal or did they try to get -- ?

LENA CHARLEY: They want moose, sheep, bear. One hunter's. Or caribou, whatever you gonna have.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So they might get more than one animal?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Well, all is filled up with 'em.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. Come back with a lot of animals. LESLIE McCARTNEY: How many animals -- ?

LENA CHARLEY: Well, they get it all. They don’t come back. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Hm-mm.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: How many days would you spend out with the hunters?

LENA CHARLEY: Sometime two weeks, I think. Yeah. Try to get another one, another one.

JESSICA DENNY: Did they ever give you a hard time for -- LENA CHARLEY: Oh, yes. JESSICA DENNY: -- being a woman hunter?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Oh, yeah, lots of -- But they can’t keep up with me.

The way I had to pack their stuff. All this -- nothing but camera and stuff hanging down on me.

JESSICA DENNY: Did you -- did you guys have a lot of American people or European people come over?

LENA CHARLEY: Either way. Either people. Sometime you can’t understand them what you say.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: They didn’t speak English?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. All kinds of people come up for a hunt. Pretty hard to understand, and just point and stuff.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Was it all the seasons around the year that you go hunting or just certain times of the year?

LENA CHARLEY: They got -- they start August sometime. Well, we go --


LENA CHARLEY: Come back little while and then go again.

Well, they get their hunters and they get done with them and go back. It takes a while before another one come in.

JESSICA DENNY: They fly into Nabesna or they drive up before they go out?

LENA CHARLEY: Nabesna, they fly in.

JESSICA DENNY: Okay. From Anchorage or from down here?

LENA CHARLEY: Some place down here, I think.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And did you -- did you ever work on the capes after you finished the guiding?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. I had to do all that. Some time when I skin them right there, I don’t know. I do it fast and skin 'em. And others.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Hm-mm. Lots of experience?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. I just don’t know what you doing, they tell me. It's so fast and --

JESSICA DENNY: Did they ever tell you good job?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, they give me a tip all time. Almost every hunters.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So it was a good life, Lena? LENA CHARLEY: Huh?

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Good way -- good life?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah, it was good. I like the hunters. It don’t bother me.

JESSICA DENNY: She was talking about hunting one time and she said she took on a Swedish guy, and they seen a sheep and it only had one horn.

It was double curled. And he didn’t want it 'cause it was a freak.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: It wasn’t symmetrical?

JESSICA DENNY: It didn’t have the other side. And she said, "You don’t ever see things like that."

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Are there other unusual things that you saw while you were hunting?

LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Lots of things. We watch some caribou one time. We sit and we come out -- we was coming down. Whole bunch of caribou down there. We watch 'em.

They run -- they run across the big creek. They went up the hill. He just taking pictures.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Big group? LENA CHARLEY: Yeah. Lots of things. We see wolf, fox. And then bear.

Some -- some of them people don’t hunt bear, so we just -- they just take pictures.

My voice getting bad.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: We can stop now if you like, Lena, if your voice -- LENA CHARLEY: Okay. LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- is getting sore. Thank you very much for sharing with us.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: This was very interesting. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Very good. Thank you.