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Tony Sam, Sr.

At the time of this interview, Tony Sam was the traditional chief of Huslia, Alaska. He and his wife Emily, who is Lee and Eliza Simon's daughter and originally from Allakaket, live in a large, two story house at one end of town near the school. Their own children are now grown, but their house is still busy with returning children, grandchildren, and visitors. The interview took place in the living room area of Tony and Emily's house in Huslia, between about eight and nine in the evening on July 20, 1992. The interview was quite relaxed, for even though I have not interviewed Tony before, I have known him for some time. Emily was busy working in the kitchen area during the interview. One of Tony's main interests is in music. He plays the fiddle, like his father who was a noted fiddler, and the guitar. He owns a fairly extensive amplifier set-up that he loans or rents for various community functions and dances. Much of our taped conversation focused around music. He talked about how his father, Sammy, first acquired a violin and learned to play, in part with help from a old wind-up gramophone. Tony also described how he and his brothers learned to play music together. Today, Tony learns new pieces in much the same way as his father, but now he listens to tapes instead of records. Very poignantly, he talked about how his father almost quit playing music when his brother, Ross, was burned to death. People came to Sammy and told him the village just wouldn't be alive without his music. So he began playing again, as did Tony, even though a couple of the other brothers did not. Tony found that the death of his daughter, Darlene, affected him much the same way. He found it hard to play for quite a while, but others would not let him quit, and ultimately he's glad he didn't. On the tape he also discusses how he and his brother, Wilson, as well as others play at funerals, potlatches, for holidays, and other special occasions. Tony's family is like his father's in that some of his sons are excellent musicians, mostly guitar players. The main difference is that they play primarily rock-n-roll, rather than fiddle tunes and gospel music. Tony has a fancy violin that his wife, Emily, bought for him as a special gift. Painted blue it is decorated with flowers and stars and equipped for amplification. A white ermine skin hangs from the scroll. Tony played two songs for the tape, one a slow waltz and the other a jig. The waltz is the first tune he learned; the jig, "Arkansas Traveler", was a favorite of his father's.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 93-15-35

Project: Gates of the Arctic National Park
Date of Interview: Jul 20, 1992
Narrator(s): Tony Sam, Sr.
Interviewer(s): Wendy Arundale
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.

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


1) Growing up with his father

2) Learning to play fiddle himself

3) Reasons for his family moving to Rampart

4) Playing for dances with father

5) Occasions for dances

6) Other family and friends involved in music

7) Tony plays songs on the fiddle

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.


Section 1: born -- March 28, 1929\ Dulbi\ Rampart\ Hughes\ father -- good hunter\ provider\ gold mining\ Indian Mountain\ music -- father buys boat and violin\ record player -- 78's, learned from\ father -- trapping\ music -- Tony learns from father\ brothers -- Billy and Ross|

Section 2: dances -- first performs at eleven\ practice -- every night\ brother -- Ross gets burned\ brothers -- Bergman and Billy quit playing\ father -- urges him to continue\ wife -- buys him a $900 violin\ daughter -- her death makes him quit again for three months\ playing guitar|

Section 3: hunting -- moose\ trapping -- rats\ moving around\ Allakaket\ Rampart\ Little Sammy -- Tony's father, "Old Man"\ Stevens Village\ Attla, "Old Man"\ hard times|

Section 4: Fort Yukon\ jigs\ square dances\ callers\ Charlie, Larson\ Stickman, Fred\ Derendoff, Richard\ Simon, Edwin\ Charlie, Larson|

Section 5: Thanksgiving\ Christmas\ New Year\ March 17 -- St. Patrick's Day\ Yukon -- late spring\ Old Koyukuk -- booming place\ Arnick\ Patsy, Tony\ Nulato|

Section 6: guitar -- boys play\ Vent, Warner\ Wilson, Sam -- brother, violin\ brother -- Hudson\ gospel music -- 1970's\ Kotzebue\ Noatak\ Shungnak\ Ambler\ Wilson, Sam -- a leader\ grandson -- Brown, Mark\ Brown, Gertie\ Darlin, Don\ grandson -- started own band playing bars at seventeen\ band -- $8000-$9000 outfit|

Section 7: waltz -- "Nobody's Darlin' But Mine"\ "Arkansas Traveler"|