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!

David and Moya James, Part 1

David and Moya James were interviewed on April 22, 2015 by Leslie McCartney and Barbara Cellarius at their home at Mile 1254 of the Alaska Highway near the Alaska/Canada border. In this first part of a two part interview, David talks about working in logging, coming to settle in the Northway area, and living a remote lifestyle. He talks about hunting, trapping, mining, and being a fur buyer. He also talks about changes he has observed in the environment and the wildlife populations. Moya talks about sewing a special dress for her daughter and making quilts.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-14-17_PT.1

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Apr 22, 2015
Narrator(s): David James, Moya James
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney, Barbara Cellarius
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
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.

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


David's coming to Alaska and settling on a homestead

Working in logging and the sawmill, and getting married

Highway maintenance job

Property ownership

High cost of electricity when living in a remote place

David's gun collection, hunting, and his sons working for a hunting guide


Son's hunting guide work, and his own sheep hunting experience


Changes in the animal populations, the weather and the environment

Muskrat trapping

Changes in the number of people trapping

Use of weasel tails, and Moya sewing graduation dress and making quilts

Selling furs and changes in the prices

Trapping with snowmachine, and changes in his trapping activities as he ages

Their children trapping and going to school

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.


DAVID JAMES: Hearing don’t work very good, so.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. Well, if your hearing's a little low, you let me know and I’ll talk louder.

So today's April 22, 2015. We're here in the home with David James at Mile 1254 on the Alcan Highway. DAVID JAMES: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And I'm Leslie McCartney and we're here with Barbara Cellarius. So, thank you, David, very much for -- DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- letting us come and speak to you. We really appreciate it. So can we start off with just a little bit maybe tell us where you're from, where you were born.

DAVID JAMES: Well, I was born in Wisconsin. And in 1940 we moved out to eastern Washington, and then war broke out and dad was afraid he might get drafted. So spring of ’42 we went back to Wisconsin.

And he worked there in the woods cutting pulpwood and such for the -- What could that be? Anyway, logging.

And then in ’46 we moved back to Washington -- eastern Washington. '48 moved over into Idaho and '50 we came up here.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Why did you come up here?

DAVID JAMES: Why not, eh? LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. So your dad and your whole family came up here? DAVID JAMES: Yeah, oh, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. And you drove up? DAVID JAMES: Yep.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: How old were you at the time?

DAVID JAMES: The old truck over there. We was logging there in Idaho. That's poles on there. That when we came up had a flatbed on that truck and a stake rack and it had another one. That's a ’40 Chevrolet. We had a ’41 Dodge and a ’40 Plymouth.

There're 13 of us come up. I was the oldest of nine kids. I was 17 and the youngest one was, oh, eight months. And mom got to cook for the whole bunch of us on the two burner Coleman for three weeks.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: She must have been happy?

DAVID JAMES: Yeah. We left down there the last day of August. Got up here the 22nd of September.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And what year was that? 1950, you said?

DAVID JAMES: No place to live and broke, so we had to get busy. We had brought a little Cat with us to log with. Got some logs in and finally got up the cabin.

Let’s see, this is 14' by 24'. That was, I think, 14' by 16.'

LESLIE McCARTNEY: For all of you to live in?

DAVID JAMES: It was kind of crowded. Then we got another cabin up. Me and one other guy.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And what area, David, were you? Where were you? DAVID JAMES: Right across from the -- the -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: The junction there? DAVID JAMES: Just this side. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.


DAVID JAMES: Up the hill there. Up above the bar. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay

DAVID JAMES: Yeah. We was up there for three years. Then, on down the road -- down below where the trooper is. Built that place and moved in there in ’53.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: This is the trooper station by Northway, is it?

DAVID JAMES: It's up on the road. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. DAVID JAMES: His living quarters is up on the hill. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right, yeah.

DAVID JAMES: Yeah. There's a log house and a couple other buildings there.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So that was your homestead? DAVID JAMES: Yeah. Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So what did your family do then? Your dad was still -- did he do logging again or just --

DAVID JAMES: Yeah, we had the sawmill. We ran that until -- Well, in ’55 we moved the sawmill up onto the Gerstle River. And in ’56 I wandered off to get away from the sawmill.

We were just barely making a living and I went out to the states. A couple of GI’s was getting out of the service, and I went out with one of them and then back up to Ketchikan and I worked up there for a couple months.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And what were you doing? DAVID JAMES: Logging. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Logging.

DAVID JAMES: Prince of Wales Island. It was a little different than what I was used to.

I remember one log in particular. It was quite an effort to get it out even with the donkey, I guess they call them, yeah.

It was about four foot through on the top end. Forty-foot long spruce. Not a knot showing, just perfect plywood wood. It took a while.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. And so you hauled them out with donkeys, did you? You didn’t have any heavy equipment? DAVID JAMES: They had several. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Quite the job. So you did that for a couple of months, you said?

DAVID JAMES: Yeah. And then there was nothing to do out there other than log, so I quit. Came back up here.

Then I went out with another guy, and went to work in the sawmill out there and eventually married his sister. And she's in the other room. And that was just about 58 years ago.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So 1950? What year -- what year did you get married? 19 -- ? DAVID JAMES: '57. LESLIE McCARTNEY: '57. DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.

DAVID JAMES: So the 11th of Jan -- or May will be 58 years. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, congratulations. Wow.

DAVID JAMES: I was looking for sympathy.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah, I think that's pretty admirable. So after you got married, where did you go and live then?

DAVID JAMES: Then we came up here. I was working in a big mill out in Oregon, but they shut down for 17 days for summer vacation and whatnot.

And thought, now, five days up here, spend a week, and then five days back. But I wasn’t planning on the engine going haywire on my car. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, no.

DAVID JAMES: So I ended up -- finished the summer out in that sawmill up there on the Gerstle. Her folks and another couple had bought it.

Went back out and, of course, I didn’t have a job out there. Then spring of ’58, we came back up and been here ever since.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. You're still a newcomer? DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. So what did you do when you came back up, then? You just worked at the sawmill --

DAVID JAMES: Went back to work in the sawmill and then in ’59 I went to work for highways. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh.

DAVID JAMES: Highway maintenance up the Taylor Highway, Eagle and South Fork and whatnot.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And that mostly summer work?

DAVID JAMES: For a couple years, and then I got on permanent and transferred down here and got on permanent. And I spent 25 years, then. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Wow.

DAVID JAMES: Keeping the road rough and ready.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: There're a few rough spots out there today. DAVID JAMES: Oh, yeah. But it ain’t bad now.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: No. No. We were up last year and they were re -- re-surfacing it and it was kind of --

But tell me about what the roads were like then when you were -- when you were working on them in the early days.

DAVID JAMES: Actually, here, I believe in ’59, they had paved here. Yeah. Taylor Highway, of course, was gravel.

Which in a way, that's all right. You get a bad spot, you can dump some gravel on it and go on somewhere else. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: And this out here, a little more effort.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. So that was year round work then, was it, David? DAVID JAMES: Yeah. Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Wow. And so when did you come to this -- this place right here where we are right now?

DAVID JAMES: I moved the building in here in ’62.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. What was here before? Anything? You just -- ? DAVID JAMES: Nothing. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Nothing. DAVID JAMES: Just cut the brush.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right, so you own this? DAVID JAMES: Moved in. LESLIE McCARTNEY: You own this then? DAVID JAMES: Not yet. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.

DAVID JAMES: In ’66, yeah, ’66 I went to homestead it and it was closed to homesteading. Great. Then land claims hit and, yeah, I would get it when they got their property.

And a couple years ago, reminded them that I hadn’t got it yet, so they done the paperwork and sent it in to Fairbanks to, I don’t know, Tanana Chiefs (Conference) or Doyon, one or the other.

And they said they didn’t get title to this particular spot. Probably because I was on it. They said go to DNR. So I went to them. I called them and they looked it up on Google. Spotted gravel pits over there and everything here, and they said they didn’t have it.

They said go to BLM, which I haven’t done yet. I keep forgetting to do it. So it don’t belong to me.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You said there're some gravel pits over there. Were they your gravel pits, then? Did you -- DAVID JAMES: Well, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. DAVID JAMES: For a -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: The DOT?

DAVID JAMES: They used that for location. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: DOT -- actually they don’t use them anymore, but they did building the road and so on. but they showed up on -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: It shows up on Google. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: So you can figure out where your house is. DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: Yeah, they was able to locate me. I couldn’t hide from them.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So maybe, you know, when your 60th anniversary hits you’ll finally own your property. DAVID JAMES: Yeah, maybe.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Huh, that's interesting.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Well, you do have a lovely view. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Definitely.

DAVID JAMES: Yeah, that we do.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You picked a beautiful spot.

DAVID JAMES: And commercial power is two miles away. And it would cost a hundred thousand or better to get it on down here.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So you use a generator, you were saying. DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: And then -- DAVID JAMES: And that's just eating us alive.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, you said just before we started recording that -- How much was diesel when you first started with your generator?

DAVID JAMES: Twenty-eight cents. LESLIE McCARTNEY: And now it's --

DAVID JAMES: Of course, I was only making three and a half an hour, too. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. And now it's up to three --

DAVID JAMES: It came down to three thirty-five. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. It was up over four a while ago? DAVID JAMES: Up over four.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. So you had -- you -- last year, you said, you installed some solar panels? DAVID JAMES: Yeah, I have now.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And has that been working?

DAVID JAMES: Ah, I think it was June when we finally got it going.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And you were saying on a sunny day -- DAVID JAMES: Last year. LESLIE McCARTNEY: -- it's good, but on a cloudy day it's not. DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: It's not so great. DAVID JAMES: Nothing. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah, that's -- And you can’t -- can you store the solar in batteries at all?

DAVID JAMES: I've got batteries, but I don’t get enough out of the solar, I guess. I don’t know.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hi, I’m Leslie. How are you? Nice to meet you.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, Moya. Oh, okay. Very nice to meet you. Have a seat.

We were just talking to David about coming up here and moving in and living here and -- So your family was already here?


MOYA JAMES: Yeah, we've lived here for quite a while.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah, that's what he was saying. Yeah. So -- And you've been married 58 years. Congratulations.

MOYA JAMES: Thank you.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yes, very good. Did you want to partake? MOYA JAMES: I don’t know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. MOYA JAMES: I'll listen.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. LESLIE McCARTNEY: All right. That's fine.

So you worked for DOT most of the time. Did you do any hunting at all then, too, David, or -- DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: I was saying with my tongue in my cheek, 'cause look at all -- how many guns do we have here?

DAVID JAMES: Well, that's what's left. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, you had more?

DAVID JAMES: I had a pretty good collection. I had that full and then I had a rack over there with -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Wow. DAVID JAMES: Four dozen in there. Hers are over there.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. MOYA JAMES: Mine are in the cabinet. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yours are in the cabinet. MOYA JAMES: Most of them.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. Did you do any guiding then, too? DAVID JAMES: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No, just for yourselves? DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. And you were saying that your sons have learned to hunt?

DAVID JAMES: Yeah, I suppose. At what age, huh?

MOYA JAMES: Well, they -- I think they all started shooting when they were six. That's when -- that's how old I was when I started shooting. And I figured, okay, if I can do it, well they sure can, too. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Huh.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, they guided. Three of them guided out at Chisana. DAVID JAMES: Yeah. MOYA JAMES: They was out there for a while.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So they had their own guiding businesses?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: No, they -- they worked for the guide.

MOYA JAMES: They guided for Jerry Overly (his name is actually Terry Overly). LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, I see, okay.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: How did they get started doing that, working with Terry?

DAVID JAMES: Had to have some work. MOYA JAMES: They needed to work.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So they were looking for work and that's what they found? MOYA JAMES: Uh-huh. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And they had hunted before, just -- DAVID JAMES: Oh, yeah. MOYA JAMES: Oh, yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- kind of for themselves or for the family. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

MOYA JAMES: Moose in the fall and muskrats in the spring. And learned to be pretty good shots.

DAVID JAMES: One time had a Mountie stopped in here, 'cause I was selling the cold weather bunny boots. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Oh, right.

DAVID JAMES: He looked at that rack and he didn’t know what to think of that. Down there they got to be locked up, unloaded, ammunition locked somewhere else.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: I’m from Canada, so I know the rules. Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: Yeah, he was a little nervous. LESLIE McCARTNEY: That would never fly.

DAVID JAMES: Well, he says, "You have any trouble with kids?" I said, "No." I said, "They're used to it."

MOYA JAMES: They've been there ever since they were born.

DAVID JAMES: Up here, they're about as common as a knife, fork, and spoon, you know. Everybody has guns.

There's a few kids that you couldn’t do that with, but most of them pay no attention. They know what they're for. They see you shoot grouse and so on before they're old enough to shoot.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Well, I just counted. I think you've got 60 guns there. About. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So you used to have a lot more over here, too?

DAVID JAMES: Yeah. I used to have four dozen over there. MOYA JAMES: That rack used to be full, too.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, so every gun is for a different purpose? I don’t know much about guns.

DAVID JAMES: Well, yes and no. They all work.

MOYA JAMES: He just likes to collect Winchesters. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, I see, okay. Huh.

DAVID JAMES: Now, mostly just a collection. A few of them that I like. I've used this one for over fifty years. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm.

DAVID JAMES: And let’s see, this is the oldest one. It's an 1886 Winchester. It was made in 1888. It still works.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. And where did you buy all of these then, David? Just there and --

DAVID JAMES: Oh, one here and one there. And go to the gun shows. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Collect them there? DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: What's the one from 1800’s? Can you show me that one again? Wow.

DAVID JAMES: 1888. It was -- it's a 1886 Winchester. And it was made in 1888. MOYA JAMES: And it's heavy.

DAVID JAMES: And I'd hate to have to carry that all day.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Holly jumpen’s, yeah, that's really heavy. Wow. Geez. How is it on your shoulder when you -- when you actually pull the trigger? It looks like it'd really throw you back?

DAVID JAMES: Oh, not bad. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Not too bad? MOYA JAMES: A heavy gun --

DAVID JAMES: It's heavy enough that it would take a big charge for it to hurt you.

MOYA JAMES: It's the lighter ones that kick so much.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right, right. Oh, the lighter ones kick back, do they? MOYA JAMES: I think so. Basically, yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. So, David, do you want to tell us about your -- your small mining venture.

DAVID JAMES: Well, Howard and a couple other guys went out prospecting. And, of course, they spotted a little gold there and --


DAVID JAMES: Yeah. Yeah, we got all excited and ended up buying the claims from Ivan Thurow (phonetic). He made out. We didn’t.

Moved in a couple of Cats in there. One dozer and the other one had a bucket on it, but it had problems so they took the bucket off not far from the road. But they walked them in. And I guess it took them a week to get in there.

MOYA JAMES: I think about that, yeah.


BARBARA CELLARIUS: Spring. Up the river? DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And do you remember what year that was? MOYA JAMES: I don’t remember.

DAVID JAMES: Probably about ’80, ’81.

MOYA JAMES: Was it that late? How old were the kids?

DAVID JAMES: I don’t know. Larry run the one. MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: But that tells us roughly. I mean, I was just curious generally.

MOYA JAMES: Mike would've been 20.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: When were your children born, then? What years? MOYA JAMES: Mike was ‘61, and -- but he's the middle one. ’58, ’59, ’61, ’62, ’63. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Wow. Okay. MOYA JAMES: I was busy.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You were busy. Okay.

DAVID JAMES: Yaz walked a couple dozers -- Cats out there. '37 model and '42 model. Caterpillar D-4’s.

They're still out there. I'm sure they're usable, yet.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Out there at the site, are they? They're still there? DAVID JAMES: Uh-huh. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

So what happened?

DAVID JAMES: Not much. Done a little diggin'. They spent a little time out there, but like I say ran out of water. It was way up on the hill. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

MOYA JAMES: I liked it out there.

DAVID JAMES: And I think they went out again the next year for just a little while. Mostly, to prove up on the claims. But they got very little out of it.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And you still have the claims? DAVID JAMES: No.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: No, you sold them?

MOYA JAMES: Well, they didn’t pay off, anyway.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But, you said you really liked it out there?

MOYA JAMES: Oh, I liked -- Yeah, I just like it outdoors and, yeah, being able to climb hills and whatnot. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

MOYA JAMES: It was totally open, you know, no trees so -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Lovely.

MOYA JAMES: A little bit of brush and grass and flowers.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did you build a cabin out there? DAVID JAMES: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you stay -- stay in a wall tent, then? DAVID JAMES: Yeah, tents. MOYA JAMES: We stayed in a tent out there. DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm. So it didn’t --

DAVID JAMES: That's about the size of it with just --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So a group of you got together and -- DAVID JAMES: Yeah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- went in to try to --

DAVID JAMES: Spent a bunch of money on it, and it just wasn’t practical.

MOYA JAMES: Wasn’t profitable at all.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Expensive summer. Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you ever spend other time out there? Gold Hill, Chisana area?

DAVID JAMES: I didn’t, but the boys have. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. DAVID JAMES: With their guiding. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah I don’t know if -- How many years did they guide? Mike guided for --

DAVID JAMES: One of them guided 18 years and the other one 19.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah. And Dan was only out there a couple years, I think. DAVID JAMES: One year. MOYA JAMES: One year? DAVID JAMES: Yeah. And that would be two months each year.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So they'd just take people out who came up to go hunting here? DAVID JAMES: Yeah. Uh-huh. MOYA JAMES: Yeah, cause -- DAVID JAMES: Yeah, Frontier Outfitters. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. MOYA JAMES: Yeah, Terry Overly. DAVID JAMES: They was working for. MOYA JAMES: Registered guide.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm. So now that --

DAVID JAMES: So, they got to climb hills and you name it. Ride horses. That sheep hunting gets interesting. I've shot two. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

DAVID JAMES: The first one, we landed in at Nabesna. The airstrip is marked on the map at 2,800 feet. Peak of Orange Hill is 8,158. I shot from the peak then at the sheep. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Wow.

DAVID JAMES: It took me five hours to climb up there.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: I can imagine, yeah. Wow.

DAVID JAMES: The prospecting outfit in there, the guy says, "That was good." Says, "That's mountain climbing time. A thousand feet an hour."

Well, I was a little younger then, too. Uh, ’67.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm. You were 67 or it was 1967? DAVID JAMES: No, 1967. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: 33. I'd have been 34 years old. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: A little better shape then.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Who did you fly in -- did you fly in with somebody you knew? DAVID JAMES: Cliff Nelson. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, he was a pilot and he was scared of heights. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Was he based here in Northway?

DAVID JAMES: No, he was down here in early to mid-'50’s. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. DAVID JAMES: And he was a friend of Harold Johnson. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay.

DAVID JAMES: And had decided to go sheep hunting, so me, and Harold, and Loren Bennam (phonetic), and Cliff Nelson went in to go sheep hunting. I got a sheep. Didn’t last long. We divided it up. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm. MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And you said you got a second sheep?

DAVID JAMES: Yeah, a couple years later. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. DAVID JAMES: Flew in.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did you do any trapping, too, David?

DAVID JAMES: I started trapping the fall of 1942 in Wisconsin. Trapping weasels.

MOYA JAMES: Nine years old. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: Weasel, maybe a squirrel or rabbit. Been trapping ever since.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, I figured 'cause -- are these for stretching beaver pelts?

DAVID JAMES: I -- I bought them. Muskrats. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Muskrats, okay.

DAVID JAMES: Well, I got a trophy. Right over there. MOYA JAMES: Right there in the corner. In that box in the corner. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. Wow.

MOYA JAMES: It's a least weasel. It's the smallest carnivore on earth. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Really?

MOYA JAMES: It doesn’t have the long tail with the black tip. It's got a short tail.

DAVID JAMES: That's an adult least weasel. MOYA JAMES: That's an adult, yeah.


DAVID JAMES: And you can see the picture up there with all the others. MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: Those are ermine. That is the least weasel.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And where did you get that?

DAVID JAMES: Mile 1244. In a marten trap.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: In a marten trap. What year? Do you remember what year?

DAVID JAMES: It's marked on there. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Is it?

MOYA JAMES: February 16. (20)10. LESLIE McCARTNEY: February 16, (20)10. MOYA JAMES: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Wow. Yeah, I’ll take a picture later. Never seen one like that before. MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So it was in marten trap? DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right there. MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: And I think my son Mike has got it figured out why we don’t catch more of them. They don’t weigh enough to spring the trap. MOYA JAMES: Right, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

DAVID JAMES: They weigh up to four ounces.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So they could stand on that and it wouldn’t even spring it? DAVID JAMES: Right. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. MOYA JAMES: Just walk right across it. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. Hm.

DAVID JAMES: I did catch another one a year later, and I gave it to my daughter. She hasn’t had it mounted. I think it's still in the freezer. MOYA JAMES: Probably is.

DAVID JAMES: But, this one was unusual with the brown markings on it. It should've been all white.

But that was the middle of February, it wasn’t going to change any more.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So do you still run your trapline?

DAVID JAMES: Well, I had 200 traps out this past winter. LESLIE McCARTNEY: I'd say that's a yes. And how was trapping?

DAVID JAMES: November and the first half of December I caught marten. And after that, almost nothing. Just all at once it dried up.

And a normal year I’d pick up 15 or 20 lynx. I got three this year. And I almost had four.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, a little bitta one. Huh.

DAVID JAMES: I got a toe off a hind foot. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: A week later the boys got it. They shot it.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So why -- why the different this year? Any -- DAVID JAMES: I don’t know. There was tracks early, then all at once they vanished.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm. Over the years have you noticed changes in the cycles? DAVID JAMES: Oh, yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Are they quite repetitive or are they really changing?

DAVID JAMES: I think every seven or eight years. They build up and then drop. BARBARA CELLARIUS: The lynx do that. DAVID JAMES: Yeah, the lynx. Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: How about with some of the things like marten? Do you see the same kinds of cycles that you see as with the lynx?

DAVID JAMES: Well, here's an example. I started trapping marten on the Taylor Highway in ’59 with the car. And I caught -- in a month I caught 19 marten.

The next year I trapped a little bit longer. I got 31. And then the third year, I had that old truck to back me up. I could go up and pull the traps. I got 57.

Well, the -- the fourth year, Fred Terwiliger from Tok was working up there. Culvert stakes and whatnot for highways. He says, "You're going to make a killing up there." He says, "I saw three in a week."

I went up and there were tracks all over. And I caught two. And I got to looking, the tracks come up on the road from the left-hand side, left on the right-hand side. MOYA JAMES: Going through.

DAVID JAMES: They probably ended up back here on the Ladue. Two years in a row, I caught two. When I caught almost 60 that one year. So, yeah, they vary.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. Have you noticed a change in the types of animals coming in on the land at all, like is there a -- ?

DAVID JAMES: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No. Pretty -- pretty stable that way? DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay. I don’t know about the changes like in -- in the landscape itself? Like is it warmer, colder? Have you noticed winters aren’t as cold as when --

DAVID JAMES: Well, this past winter, of course, the warmest we've had in all the years I've been here.

That second winter, it'd be the winter of ’51, probably January or February of ’52, officially it hit 76 below over here.

I think the firewood was coming out the stack half burned.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. And the cold spells don’t last as long as they used to?


DAVID JAMES: And I don’t think that we have anything to do with it. Change has been going on forever.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, for thousands of years.

DAVID JAMES: The Ice Age and so on. I went up north with the brother a couple of years hunting. And the other side of the Brooks Range, probably 50 miles from Prudhoe (Bay), the Sag River (Sagavanirktok River) is out there a little ways and you could walk out and fish.

And they had kind of dikes. And picked up a couple of rocks there, corral.

And had a young lady stop out here. A couple of them asking questions about the -- the quartz and such. And I told her where I had found some. And I showed her that corral.

What? She says corral is only found so many degrees north and so many degrees south of the equator not the other side of the Brooks Range. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: When my brother was hunting sheep up there and he sat down to rest, and there in the rock is the imprint of a clam shell. Up in the mountains. So over the years it's changed. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, it's been changing for thousands of years, so -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah, continually changing.

DAVID JAMES: And we're not going to stop it.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Hm. So how -- how many muskrats in a season have you been getting?

DAVID JAMES: Well, I bought them the other day. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, they're new. MOYA JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.

DAVID JAMES: And stretched them. I don’t know, I've maybe caught 200 in a year. And I've been buying 'em for quite a while.

In ’77 and ’78, two years in a row, I hung 16,000 muskrats. From this area. Northway and Tetlin. Last year 900.

Different people that -- the older ones have died off. The ones that had to live off the land. And now with the welfare and food stamps and so on, they don’t have to.

And there's an awful lot of muskrats this year.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Just 'cause not -- people aren’t harvesting them like they used to? DAVID JAMES: A few.

MOYA JAMES: Lots -- lots of muskrats and very few people out trying to get them. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm.

DAVID JAMES: Have to take them in and let them look out that spotting scope at Ten Mile Lake. All them little spots out there.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: All the pushups?

DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. DAVID JAMES: That lake I’ll bet there is 200 pushups out there.

MOYA JAMES: I know there's 200, because I had at one time counted -- I forgot how many. Well over a hundred on this side. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

MOYA JAMES: And a couple of days ago I counted 112 on the back side. DAVID JAMES: Uh-huh.

MOYA JAMES: And I'm sure there's more on this side.

DAVID JAMES: In the old days, they'd have been trapping every one of them.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. What about the beaver population then, too? Has it gone up, too? DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So how long have you been buying furs? DAVID JAMES: I started out, I think, in ’72.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Hm-mm. And how have the number of trappers changed over the years?

DAVID JAMES: Oh, it's changed. Changed a lot. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh.

DAVID JAMES: Yeah, there's not many of them now. We've got a couple around here. One of them, Louie Frank. He's up in his 70’s. And he ain’t going to quit until he's dead. MOYA JAMES: No, he won’t.

DAVID JAMES: He almost done that last year. He got out there, and why he was out when it was that cold I don’t know. And the machine froze up.

He done some walking, built a fire and burnt what wood there was there. And Glenn Demit then went out looking for him and found him and if he hadn’t done that, it would have been it. That would've been the end of it.

Brought him in, took him in to Fairbanks and he survived. His body temperature -- I forget what they said it was, but it was --


BARBARA CELLARIUS: Are most of the folks trapping these days older or are there young folks getting started trapping?

DAVID JAMES: Not really.

MOYA JAMES: I don’t think there's very many of the younger ones that are doing anything like that.

DAVID JAMES: "I got no traps. I got no traps." MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: There's got to be a million of them out there in the brush.

MOYA JAMES: Oh, yeah, if anybody get traps then somebody else sees them, well, they'll take them. And, you know, that's really bad. Really bad around here.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Whereas before you would never steal anybody else’s traps? MOYA JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No. MOYA JAMES: Right.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But now it's endemic, is it? It's --

MOYA JAMES: I -- I don’t know what they do with them if -- when they do take 'em, because there's not -- You know, it doesn’t mean that anybody else is starting to trap or anything. Maybe they sell them?

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Huh. And you got a little bunch of fur all hanging up there, David. What are those? DAVID JAMES: Well --


MOYA JAMES: There's a probably a story -- DAVID JAMES: White tails all from weasels that were damaged. Mice got to and so on. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm.

DAVID JAMES: And a couple of the tails are flying squirrel. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh.

DAVID JAMES: One of them, with the white on the side, I had a lynx set. I had a trap and a couple of snares and the trap was sprung.

And a friend says, "I know what happened." He says, "The old cat backed up, got his tail in the snare." Now how do you get a tail like that in a snare this size?

And it got a good hold because it got the skin off of the tail. The next year, half a mile from there I got a lynx with no tail. LESLIE McCARTNEY: There you go.

MOYA JAMES: Just a little bone sticking out. And you can do stuff with weasel tails, too. Just --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, decorative. Very pretty.

MOYA JAMES: It's our foster daughter’s graduation dress. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Ah. BARBARA CELLARIUS: It's beautiful. LESLIE McCARTNEY: It's lovely.

MOYA JAMES: Now she's gone. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Now she's gone? Where she -- MOYA JAMES: She's in Fairbanks.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Ah, lovely. Who made the -- who made the outfit? MOYA JAMES: I did. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Beautiful.

MOYA JAMES: I had help on the beaded hearts on there. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm. MOYA JAMES: The -- the center of the hearts is caribou hair tufting. BARBARA CELLARIUS: Hm-mm. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh.

MOYA JAMES: And I don’t do much beadwork, so I had help on that, but I pretty much did the rest of it.

This piece of moose hide, there was a couple of ink marks. When you're -- sometimes, especially the commercial ones, they'll put a black ink. You know, they'll stamp it with some sign of some sort. On the side that we use. That -- that goes out. They don’t put it on the smooth side. They put it on the fuzzy side.

And so I put these hearts over the top of those two little black marks. Just tried to do something special for her because this, you know, dad caught the weasels.

These beads here were some that were in her mom’s stuff. And her mom had passed away. And I -- we just, you know, fixed it up. And this inner hair there was supposed to represent the little tufts of that --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Like the cotton grass? MOYA JAMES: The cotton grass, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, beautiful. MOYA JAMES: Yeah, that's what that was for. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. And -- and the same -- MOYA JAMES: And this is, oh -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: On the sleeves.

MOYA JAMES: Arctic fox on the -- there. And then there's beads -- the bigger beads on -- LESLIE McCARTNEY: On the sleeve.

MOYA JAMES: And -- and these are heart shaped beads here. The red ones.

But these -- I made her a dress when she was about eight and she wanted it like that. Well, it's different, but a lot alike. She wanted the -- the -- the white fur on the ends of the -- the deals there, you know. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

MOYA JAMES: The fringe.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And you said this was her graduation? MOYA JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: From high school? MOYA JAMES: Yeah. Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Lovely. And -- and what's her name? MOYA JAMES: Erica. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Erica. MOYA JAMES: Here's a picture --

DAVID JAMES: She was almost two. MOYA JAMES: Yeah, she was almost two.

DAVID JAMES: When she was placed with us. Yeah. And, yes, we were hooked instantly.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: All -- You had boys. Were all your children -- MOYA JAMES: One -- one girl. LESLIE McCARTNEY: One girl. MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And then you have Erica?

MOYA JAMES: And then Erica much, much later.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. So the other -- the other family had kinda grown up and then -- MOYA JAMES: Oh, they had -- yeah, they were all grown up

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And now you -- now you have a new one. Yes, I can see you were hooked.

MOYA JAMES: There's a picture of her. That top left picture over there, that everybody calls that one Mobley.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So now she's in Fairbanks, is she? MOYA JAMES: She's in Fairbanks, yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Ah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And did you do other skin sewing? MOYA JAMES: Not very much.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Okay. I -- I've talked to some -- I've talked to some couples where the husband was a trapper and furbuyer and --

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, yeah, I didn’t really get into that. I was busy doing other things. I do regular sewing on the sewing machine.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. We heard you -- we heard that you make quilts. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yes.

MOYA JAMES: Oh, yeah, okay. Lately, I've been doing small designs. I want to give my kids each something.

So I'm making -- doing some small items that -- Oh, I'm going to put 'em in picture frame.

And Jeannie Teasdale over here, I gave her a little quilt design that I had pieced together and framed it for her. And she just loves it.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Lovely. MOYA JAMES: Yeah. I put it in a 8 x 10 frame. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Very nice.

MOYA JAMES: But uh -- so I've been getting, you know, thinking of ideas for different -- I want each one of them to have a different design.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah, yeah, very nice.

How's the price of fur changed then over the last several years, David?

DAVID JAMES: Quite a bit. Muskrats a couple years ago averaged maybe about ten dollars. And in January they sold 900 of 'em for me at five dollars. And I don’t know what these are going to bring? Maybe even a little less.

And a few years ago, the lynx averaged 300, now they're down to a little over a hundred. Marten prices are good yet. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.

DAVID JAMES: Close to a hundred bucks.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Each for marten? (Moya and Barbara talking in background) MOYA JAMES: I've never done it before.

DAVID JAMES: Although a couple years ago, I'm pretty sure that my marten averaged 200. So it's just back and forth.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right, right. You sell them at a -- I'll let them talk first 'cause it's hard to --

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, we should wait until --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You sell them through like a wholesale fur -- fur buyer or --


DAVID JAMES: Yeah, they get sent out to the Canadian auction.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm-mm. In Edmonton or don’t know?

DAVID JAMES: It's not Edmonton. There was -- there's an auction out -- MOYA JAMES: Montreal? DAVID JAMES: In Edmonton. MOYA JAMES: Montreal? LESLIE McCARTNEY: Montreal? MOYA JAMES: Was it Montreal? DAVID JAMES: Yeah, Montreal.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay, right. Well, hopefully prices will come back up for you.

DAVID JAMES: Oh, back and forth. Part of it this year and maybe the Russian dollar's only worth half of what it was.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And they were big fur buyers? DAVID JAMES: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay.

DAVID JAMES: But then there'll be maybe 500 people there at that auction, so it's more than just Russia. China and Taiwan are big consumers. Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Hm. Well, I've noticed in the fashion industry -- I don’t think it's real fur, but you can see fur coming back as a trimming on clothing. DAVID JAMES: Yeah, oh, yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So, it'll be interesting to see in a few years if the fur makes a come back in the clothing industry like, you know, it was 20 years ago or whatever. DAVID JAMES: Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. Just need one Hollywood superstar to wear it and everybody'll wear it. DAVID JAMES: Yeah. MOYA JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So are you going to be trapping again this winter?

DAVID JAMES: If I'm still alive.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: You will be. You will be.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Do you mostly trap along the road these days?

DAVID JAMES: Yeah, yeah. I've got asthma and any exertion I run out of wind. So, my traps are awful close to the road. I just set them where very few people even notice them, but --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And you're going to use your truck or the snowmobile to go and get them? DAVID JAMES: The truck. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Truck. Right.

MOYA JAMES: Before the season was even over, he was saying next year I'm going to do this.

DAVID JAMES: And before the season opens, I'll go out and -- For marten, I make boxes about that big square and so long. Three-sided. Put the bait in there. Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: About a foot long and six inches high, yeah.

DAVID JAMES: And I'll go out ahead of season and string them out along the road and tie the traps out. So that opening day, I get to set lots of them.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, that's all he has to do then is just go set 'em.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right. Everything's already done in advance. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. Do you go out and trap, too, Moya? MOYA JAMES: No. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No, that's not your thing? MOYA JAMES: Let him do that. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

DAVID JAMES: No, she trapped me.

MOYA JAMES: That’s enough.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: That's a big catch. MOYA JAMES: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you ever trap further out away from the road or have you always trapped more along the road?

DAVID JAMES: I used to get a little farther out. And then, oh, for many years I'd go down towards the border. And get on the snowmachine and go out to Scottie Creek, and down Scottie Creek to the river, follow that a ways and then on the far side get out in the timber and trap.

And then I'd cross the river again below the mouth of Gardiner Creek, come out to Deadman Lake, and up the old pipeline right-of-way home. 43 miles on the snowmachine.

MOYA JAMES: I'd take him down and drop him off early in the morning. DAVID JAMES: Yeah.

MOYA JAMES: Come home and wait for him to come back. He trapped out here some. Across the river out here.

DAVID JAMES: Yeah. Yeah. I've been going out across the river. Oh, about six miles each way. Recently. Same old machine.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, 40 how many years old is it? DAVID JAMES: It's a 70.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: 1970's snowmobile, okay.

DAVID JAMES: Well, it's pieced together.

MOYA JAMES: Forty-five year old snowmachine.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: But I imagine you fix it, right? When things can go wrong, you can still fix it. Yeah. MOYA JAMES: Hm-mm.

DAVID JAMES: I stick with it because it's very simple. It's primitive. There is nothing to it. MOYA JAMES: Just like him. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

DAVID JAMES: And it works. It does what I want. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Did you ever trap with a partner or have you always trapped pretty much on your own? DAVID JAMES: Pretty much on my own.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Do you ever take the kids out? DAVID JAMES: Ah, I've took them out a -- MOYA JAMES: Couple times. DAVID JAMES: Couple of times.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: But it wasn’t something they got -- DAVID JAMES: Yeah, it might be their school day. My weekend for highways -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. DAVID JAMES: Would eat up their -- They were setting traps of their own.

MOYA JAMES: Yeah, they got -- they've done some trapping.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: So they had their own traplines? MOYA JAMES: Even our daughter still does some trapping.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh. So your kids must have gone to school in Northway, then? MOYA JAMES: Yeah. Uh-huh.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: And that's probably when the school was much bigger than it is now and --

MOYA JAMES: Yeah. Even before they even had a high school. 'Cause Larry had to go to high school in Tok. The oldest one.

And then, Steve, they just got the new school when he was going into high school, so he was ready for that. (phone ringing)

LESLIE McCARTNEY: If we can just press stop for a minute.