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Frank and Sue Entsminger, Part 2

This is a continuation of an interview with Frank and Sue Entsminger on April 22, 2015 by Barbara Cellarius and Leslie McCartney at their home on the Tok Cutoff Road near Tok, Alaska. In this second part of a two part interview, Frank and Sue talk about creation of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, finding ways to make a living, and changes in the nearby communities. They also talk about the guiding business, commercial fishing, trapping, and the various work they've done to be able to keep living their rural lifestyle.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-14-18_PT.2

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Apr 22, 2015
Narrator(s): Frank Entsminger, Sue Entsminger
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.

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Resident zones and boundaries

Difficulty of making a living in the area and the need to hold various jobs

Commercial fishing

Other jobs, and helping at the local school


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


BARBARA CELLARIUS: The Dot Lake's really tiny, but everybody else drew pretty big boundaries. Tetlin is the Tetlin Reservation.

I can’t remember what mileposts, but that Northway goes from like this milepost to that milepost, past the junction, and everybody down the road to the village.

SUE ENTSMINGER: It does include the junction? BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. SUE ENTSMINGER: Oh, okay.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah, so it includes the junction. It includes people on either side of the junction. It doesn’t go all the way to Border City, but -- SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: The -- the councils, you know -- The -- the Dot Lake is kind of postage stamp. SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: It's that original postage stamp.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Well, they were on the far end of -- the last community on the west.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Although, Healy Lake's even further west. SUE ENTSMINGER: That’s true, it is. But it's kind of remote.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right. And Healy Lake is pretty much off the road. It's --

SUE ENTSMINGER: Did they get in? 'Cause we didn’t -- BARBARA CELLARIUS: Yeah. SUE ENTSMINGER: -- work to get them in to start with.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: They were -- It was a separate EA on them.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Well, I'm -- See, that's not one that I forgot. I kind of knew that it was being worked on and I knew it was separate so it wouldn’t stop the other one. Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Uh-huh. So, anyway. But we can look at the map after.

SUE ENTSMINGER: We -- we have had some vast changes here.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: More people moved here? Was it more populated now than when you first moved or -- ? SUE ENTSMINGER: I don't think it's that much more populated. LESLIE McCARTNEY: No?

SUE ENTSMINGER: Tok's a little more populated, but, you know, like in the villages, like Mentasta, there isn’t a lot of jobs and people leave.

And then they leave their roots. You know, I know -- I know people that were born and raised there. One gal's a nurse in Anchorage and somebody's doing a job in Fairbanks.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: Yeah, it seems like -- SUE ENTSMINGER: All these families have left.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: As many people move away as new people move into the area. I'm not sure that it's increasing or decreasing.

SUE ENTSMINGER: You have to figure out how to make a livin’ to stay here. It's pretty tough sometimes. Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: It sounds like you --


SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah. And, yeah, and I -- I guess when people tell me that they have to leave to -- to get a job, you just have to say what -- what is my priority? Do I want to leave my subsistence lifestyle and live an Anchorage lifestyle? Or do I want to figure out how I can make it out here?

That’s what I think that people are faced with. 'Cause I really believe -- my son, Matt, he grew up here. And when it came time to figure out a livin’, I was commercial fishing and I took him to the -- couple commercial fisheries that I worked and he got into commercial fishing.

And he has a love of flying since he was a little boy. He would get airplane books. He even drew airplanes. When the -- when the -- when the --

You'll love this, Barbara, I don’t think I ever showed you or told you, but I should show you the drawing.

He would -- we were all saying, oh, no, you know, ANILCA, Antiquities Act. This -- They're -- they're making all our hunting into national park. We were all upset.

My son drew pictures of the US government and Alaska airplanes fighting each other. He was only eight years old.

And then by the time he was 12, he had all these airplane books. He knew everything about airplanes. It was all his own thing, you know. He just got very interested in airplanes and he eventually learned how to fly.

But he learned to -- really fast, you know, if -- You know, I’m hunting with mom and dad down in the Wrangell’s. If I want to continue hunting down there, I'm going to stay here.

If I move to Fairbanks or Anchorage, I'm going to lose my hunting. So he made a way to figure out how to stay here. And one was commercial fishing and the other one was he got into guiding.

So it gives you a -- and early on it was good because we could all three work together, and he could have enough income to survive and still have time to go hunting.

But now he's got to do it all himself, and he doesn’t have a lot of time to go hunting. So it makes it kind of hard.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Does he live nearby, then?

SUE ENTSMINGER: He lives next door, yeah. Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And how did he learn the guiding business?

SUE ENTSMINGER: He just worked for Paul and Donna. And he had that history of hunting with us growing up.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: Right, so growing --so, right I'd -- I'd forgotten -- SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: -- the part -- the four years with Paul and Donna.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah, that's how he got started, yeah.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: And then he works -- he worked for Butch King out on the Alaska Peninsula.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Oh, yeah, then he'd take other jobs occasionally. FRANK ENTSMINGER: Brown -- brown bear guiding.

SUE ENTSMINGER: He worked out there and he worked for -- the guy in Anchorage out in 14C. A couple hunts.

He worked for -- I can’t think of his name. Rod Scheu (phonetic)? FRANK ENTSMINGER: Oh, yeah.

SUE ENTSMINGER: He did a couple hunts in 14C for him. FRANK ENTSMINGER: For Rob. Uh-huh. SUE ENTSMINGER: Uh-huh.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: And you mentioned commercial fishing, how did that happen?

FRANK ENTSMINGER: Well, it's interesting 'cause it goes way back to the Fairbanks days when I was -- SUE ENTSMINGER: Actually --

FRANK ENTSMINGER: -- receiving station for Denver Jonas. There was a fellow in Cordova that was a receiving station for them down there, and he stopped by one day in Fairbanks and introduced himself.

And he said, "Yeah, you oughta come down some time and do some huntin’ or whatever." And -- and -- Which we did.

We went on down there and ended up going huntin’ with his sons. And they were all commercial fishermen and --

SUE ENTSMINGER: You have a different story than I. But go ahead, Frank.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: But anyway, we actually -

SUE ENTSMINGER: How did Frank get into commercial fishing is what he's asking right now.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: I didn’t get into commercial fishing. SUE ENTSMINGER: You did. FRANK ENTSMINGER: Well, not --

SUE ENTSMINGER: Well, finish the story. I want to hear it. I want to see how it differs.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: Well, we -- we met all those -- we met all those fishermen down there, and actually we met one of the fellas that ended up hiring Matt as -- for on his fishing boat.

SUE ENTSMINGER: But who was into fishing first? Not Matt?


SUE ENTSMINGER: How did I get into commercial fishing? Let’s back up.

You and I were in Fairbanks and we ran into Rick Reakoff.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: Oh, that's true. Yep, another commercial fisherman.

SUE ENTSMINGER: That we knew. Who was a guide. Who was from Wiseman. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Wiseman.


SUE ENTSMINGER: Okay. And Rick -- I don’t remember. He just kept -- he says, "I'm going out to Bristol Bay and, you know, the wife and my daughter's going and I need a crew member."

And he asked me to go work for him. FRANK ENTSMINGER: Uh-huh.

SUE ENTSMINGER: He was kind of a goofball, sorry. At any rate, he asked me to go work for him. And I said, "Man, that sounds like fun. I want to do that."

And for what we were making for the year, I went out there and worked for three weeks --

Although, I do know June, his wife, warned me ahead of time, "I want you to know Sue that Rick’s a grizzly bear on the boat." And I had to smile. I said, "June, as long as I can get on the boat as friends and get off the boat as friends, we’re okay."

Well, he was a grizzly bear on the boat. But I ended up making almost a year’s wages those three weeks. And I worked the Bristol Bay for the next four seasons crewing in Bristol Bay on the salmon boats.

So two years with the Reakoff’s and then two years with some other guys.

And then I ended up -- one of the people I was working for was doing Norton Sound. Oh, we did Goodnews Bay and I forget the other one -- Security Cove. I remember.

We were doing herring in the spring, and then we ended up in Norton Sound and I was crewing up there.

And I saw an opportunity to do it myself. And I ended up having my own operation up there for 15 years.

And I sold the boat 'cause the herring price went (pooh), you know. So when that -- I had -- well, I had probably 20 years of commercial fishing under my belt in Bristol Bay and the herring fishing.

But it's another opportunity for people here. Seasonal work.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: And she even dragged me out there once in a while, but I just -- SUE ENTSMINGER: I drug him up to Norton Sound.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: I'm not a fisherman. I'm a land lover.

SUE ENTSMINGER: But, what I did encourage him to do -- one of our buddies in Cordova, that's where you got started saying maybe. FRANK ENTSMINGER: Yeah.

SUE ENTSMINGER: 'Cause one of our buddies in Cordova offered him a herring job. Get on the boat in Cordova and run all the way out to False Pass and over to Togiak. And he did that one season?


SUE ENTSMINGER: And he said he'd never been so sick in his life.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: Seasick, ooh. I didn’t care if I lived or died.

SUE ENTSMINGER: I have a -- he wrote me a letter and he says, "I'm literally on the bunk trying to sleep and slamming the top of the bunk ahead -- above me."

And he just -- he just -- was bad sick. And it was five weeks he was gone 'cause he had to travel out there and travel back.

And that's when -- you know, Matt was 13 when I took him up to Norton Sound, I think. FRANK ENTSMINGER: Uh-huh.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Oh, no, I took him out to Bristol Bay first and we did that kelp fishery when he was 13. Then I took him to Norton Sound when he was 14.

And then by the time he was, I think, 15, the following year, we met another friend in Cordova that offered Matt his first commercial fishing job other than his mother.

Where he worked in Prince William Sound on a seine boat. So he worked four seasons there also. LESLIE McCARTNEY: So really diverse --

SUE ENTSMINGER: He was still doing his commercial fishing. This is the first year he did not go commercial fishing.

He's -- was going to Sitka with a crew, probably since he was 22 years old. FRANK ENTSMINGER: Uh-huh.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Going to Sitka. And he used to do Togiak herring until they quit going out there.

No, they didn’t quit going out there. He quit going out there 'cause the price is too low for him to go. Yeah.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: So really diversified and just finding opportunities when they exist? FRANK ENTSMINGER: Uh-huh.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah, I’m trying to think -- I think there're some more jobs I ain’t telling you about that I’ve done. 'Cause I say I'm jack of all or jack of all trades and master of none.

I've done a little bit of everything. Yeah. But right now I can’t think of what the other job was.

BARBARA CELLARIUS: As soon as we finish.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah. Although, just working with -- I -- I've substitute taught at school. And I learned when I was 28 years old that wasn’t for me. But as I got older, I still --

I take kids from Mentasta to the mountains and we, you know, hike up into the sheep country and I've started that -- I don’t know, when Leandra -- You know Leandra? She was probably eight. Yeah.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: And we did a hunter safety course down there this -- this past winter or actually just fall before --

SUE ENTSMINGER: Oh, the teacher gets us involved. Well, the teacher got you involved in teaching that Mr. Wack (phonetic) was his name. FRANK ENTSMINGER: Oh, yeah.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Teaching sculpting to the kids when Erickson -- Erickson Sanford was, I don't know, in ninth grade or younger.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: Yeah. Rachel was a senior.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Rachel was a senior that year? FRANK ENTSMINGER: Uh-huh. Yeah.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Are you sure she was a senior? I bet she was only in ninth grade.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: Well, I don’t know. Anyway. SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: He got me down there and I taught the kids a little bit of sculpting and that sort of thing. They really enjoyed it.

Some of them were quite talented. In fact, the -- SUE ENTSMINGER: Erickson.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: -- the principal actually wanted to have one piece cast. But when he found out how much money it cost, he decided not to.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah, they should have. That's a shame.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: Yeah, for sure.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: I think your other job is accounting/bookkeeper, is it not? We were talking before we --

SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah, doing the paperwork for our business. Yeah. There's probably a few more of those kind of jobs.

Yeah, we -- because of our trapping. We've done our trapping.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Are you still trapping?

SUE ENTSMINGER: Oh, yeah. I went last year. My son and I went out.

But we did -- we didn’t do a lot. Just caught some marten and was done, you know.

FRANK ENTSMINGER: Matt did pretty good. He caught like 28 wolves, which is a pretty decent catch.

SUE ENTSMINGER: He has the golden opportunity using an airplane to get somewhere.

You know, if he sees kills, he can land and set kills if there's a place to land, of course. But Frank always called our method ground pounding.


SUE ENTSMINGER: The kind of hunting we used to do was ground pounding and the kind of trapping is ground pounding.

And you're limited 'cause if you're on a snowmachine, you just have so much line you can do. And if the wolves aren’t there, you're not going to catch them.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Uh-huh. Whereas an airplane just increases your -- your area so much.

SUE ENTSMINGER: It's just incredible. And you get to places where snowmachines don’t go. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Right.

SUE ENTSMINGER: So it's a pretty nice thing for Matt. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah.

SUE ENTSMINGER: Yeah. And that marten price pretty decent. It was.

They say it's pretty good again this winter, 'cause they're over a hundred bucks again. And Matt said he averaged 90, so --


FRANK ENTSMINGER: But it's been a very nice lifestyle living out here.

SUE ENTSMINGER: I think -- the other thing I wanted to pursue but I didn't get clients was to take people on trapline adventures, you know. Just so they can experience it.

But I guess they think everything's just easy. It's not so easy.

But we did have one couple come up with us and when it was 30 below we were out on the snowmachines going trapping.

They were in their 60’s, so I thought that was pretty cool. Yeah. I think we --

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Barbara, did you have anything else?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: No, I think we covered everything. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Covered everything we want?

BARBARA CELLARIUS: It was interesting and talking about -- I learned a lot.


LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, thank you very much.

SUE ENTSMINGER: I did, too, actually. A couple new things.

LESLIE McCARTNEY: Thank you very much.

SUE ENTSMINGER: You’re welcome. FRANK ENTSMINGER: You’re welcome.