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Walter Johnson, Interview 1, Part 1
Walter Johnson 1992

Dr. Walter Johnson was interviewed by David Krupa on August 20, 1992 at his winter home in Anchorage, Alaska. Dr. Johnson was in Anchorage to visit one of his sons and to purchase supplies for a home he is building in Homer. Although retired, Dr. Johnson is very busy with a variety of projects, including lectures, building, and gardening. In anticipation of this interview, he took the time to organize and display a series of photos, records, and other memorabilia to augment the oral record. Dr. Johnson, like many others with long-standing ties to the Brooks Range, was at first hesitant to speak about complex and sometimes contentious history of the area. He was careful to distinguish his personal experience and general knowledge about the area, but because of his interest in history, he was able to provide an exceptionally rich reconstruction of early patterns of use and occupancy for the Koyukuk region. He also details some of his personal experiences while living in Wiseman: visiting with old-timers, hunting, running the local store, and working for the Alaska Road Commission. He explains that this remote subsistence lifestyle was nearly enough to keep him there for a lifetime, but the tug of social conscience drew him to a career of public service in medicine. His discussion includes early patterns of subsistence and mining for Natives and non-Natives, the social and cultural life of Wiseman in the middle of this century, and the impact of the many changes occasioned by the decline of mining, air travel, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), the haul road, and finally, park formation. Dr. Johnson concludes that the area is a too tenuous and fragile environment to support large-scale population centers, and thus a carefully managed park is probably a good way to ensure that future generations will have access to wild and scenic country. What subsistence resources there are, he says, should remain with those who live in the area and not be subject to hunting pressures from guides and interlopers from urban centers to the south. Dr. Johnson fondly recalls the many phases of his involvement with the Wiseman community and says that he has no regrets.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 93-15-19

Project: Gates of the Arctic National Park
Date of Interview: Aug 20, 1992
Narrator(s): Walter Johnson
Interviewer(s): David Krupa
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
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) Walter Johnson discusses his personal background and what brought him to Alaska

2) Early impressions of Fairbanks and coming to Wiseman

3) Living in Wiseman and periods of activity

4) Continuation of Wiseman history

5) Wiseman 1940-1941 when creeks were drying out

6) How supplies got to Wiseman and the surrounding areas

7) Continuation of supplies and transportation routes to Wiseman

8) Communication links in the area

9) Native families in the Wiseman area and their relationship to the White mining area

10) Robert (Bob) Marshall's idealic community of Wiseman and his opinion on economic activities

11) Economy of the Wiseman area

12) Health problems and their solutions

13) Social life of Wiseman and recreational mining

14) Availability of game in the area

15) The most important changes in the Wiseman area

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


Section 1: born -- July 20, 1922\ Nebraska\ bicycle\ Alaska Steamship\ Southeast -- mining\ Fairbanks -- University of Alaska\ University of Alaska -- campus\ University of Nebraska -- School of Correspondence\ Bolyan family\ Chichagof Island\ Alaska Steamship\ Valdez\ Richardson Highway\ Alaskan Highway|

Section 2: Ladd Field\ cabins -- log\ Wiseman\ WWII -- reserve\ English, Bill\ Coldfoot\ Wiseman -- trading post\ aviation\ Wiseman -- mining gold\ Ulen, Benny\ Ulen, Tishu\ Wiseman -- population\ Ulen, Florence\ Ulen, Benny|

Section 3: WWII -- army\ military\ Wiseman\ snowshoes\ mining\ Big Lake\ John, Arctic\ University of Alaska Fairbanks\ English, Bill\ Ness, Albert\ Wiseman -- lifestyle\ Wiseman -- history\ Ellingson, Knut\ Koyukuk\ Wiseman -- mining\ Union Creek\ Emma Creek\ Nolan Creek\ Hammond River\ Coldfoot landing strip\ Bergman\ Arctic City\ Bettles|

Section 4: Wiseman -- history\ Wiseman -- mining\ Wiseman -- population\ miners\ territory pension\ Jonas -- children\ Ulen -- children\ John, Arctic\ John, Ester\ Ulen, Benny|

Section 5: mining -- gold\ Wiseman -- history\ gold -- sunburn\ gold -- price\ mining -- methods\ mining -- technology\ Koyukuk -- upper\ Mertie, John M.\ United States Geological Survey\ Nolan Creek\ Hammond River\ Gold Creek\ Linda Creek\ Spring Creek\ Myrtle Creek\ Union Creek\ Slate Creek\ Minnie Creek|

Section 6: supplies\ Coldfoot\ Wiseman -- supplies\ supplies -- surface\ Teddy H -- steamboat\ Dubin, Sam\ Koyukuk River\ Bettles -- warehouse\ Alatna -- store\ scow\ scow -- description\ Caterpillar\ English, Bill\ Dubin, Sam, Mrs.|

Section 7: transportation route\ supply route\ air transport\ freight\ mail -- parcel post\ Alaska Airlines\ Wien Airlines\ Veach, Norman\ Wiseman -- airport\ airplane -- D-3\ Haul Road\ freight -- air\ dog sled\ boat freight\ scow -- horses\ Good, Jack\ White, Jack|

Section 8: communication -- links\ supplies\ freight -- once a year\ store\ Geist, Otto\ Murie, Olaus\ store -- accounts\ gold\ scales\ English, Bill\ account -- credit\ San Francisco\ Seattle\ First National Bank -- Fairbanks\ Watts, Vern\ miners\ telephone lines\ Wiseman\ Nolan Creek\ Hammond River\ communication -- Tanana\ communication -- Fairbanks\ messages -- exchanges\ Ulen, Tishu\ Ulen, Joe\ Signal Corps -- US Army\ Morse Code\ Fairbanks\ Tobin, August\ post office|

Section 9: Mr. Jonas\ Wainwright\ Mrs. Jonas -- Kobuk\ Jonas family\ subsistence\ mining -- camp -- Wiseman\ Big Lake\ Big Jim\ Kobuk\ Wilcox, Mrs. Ace\ John, Arctic\ Colville River\ Point Barrow\ Wiseman\ Barrow\ John, Ester\ Tobuk\ Bettles\ Tobuk, Jimmy\ Anaktuvuk\ tuberculosis -- deaths\ English, Mary\ Kiana\ Ulen, Tishu\ John, Arctic -- father|

Section 10: Wiseman -- population\ Wiseman -- intimacy\ bias -- racial\ economics\ market -- hunters\ vegetables\ Coldfoot\ Hope, Sammy\ Hope, Ludie\ mukluks\ Wilcox, Ace\ meat -- storage\ English, Mary -- bread\ woodcutting\ woodcutting -- technology\ Ulen, Joe\ chainsaw|

Section 11: mining -- success\ Wiseman -- mining\ Nolan Creek\ Anderson brothers\ Olson, Mr.\ Seattle\ Watts, Vern\ Hammond River\ Ellingson, Knut\ Fairbanks\ Chapell, Oliver\ old-timers\ Ness, Albert\ Wiseman -- population\ Paneak, Simon\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ Chandalar\ Jones, Bobby\ Alaska Road Commission\ old-timers -- lifestyle|

Section 12: health\ Rabeau, Dr. Stuart\ English, Bill\ Kotzebue\ Barrow\ Tanana\ Fairbanks\ depression -- acute case\ John, Arctic\ penicillin\ sulphur\ teeth\ tuberculosis -- story\ tuberculosis -- sanitarium, Skagway\ Anaktuvuk\ Rayburn, George\ Leonard, Harry\ Hammond River|

Section 13: dance halls\ visiting\ George the Greek\ Ness, Albert\ Pioneer Hall\ dances\ celebrations -- holidays\ Christmas\ churches -- lack of\ funerals\ families -- not many\ marriages\ prostitutes\ Fairbanks\ Nelson, Jack -- saloon\ mining -- recreational\ English, Mr.\ Road Commission\ summer work\ Jones, Bobby\ Nolan Creek\ Christiansen, Hans|

Section 14: wildlife\ caribou -- Porcupine Herd\ caribou -- Western Herd\ Arctic Village\ Chandalar\ Etherington, Wes\ Wiseman\ sheep\ Bettles River\ waterfowl\ Ulen, Tishu\ salmon\ grayling\ arsenic\ trout\ Big Lake\ moose\ Allen, Henry\ Koyukuk -- middle\ Tanana\ Koyukuk\ John River\ Bettles\ Delta\ Anaktuvuk Pass|

Section 15: Haul Road\ Upper Koyukuk\ population -- turnover\ Wiseman\ Bartlett, Bob\ Nome -- road to\ pipeline\ mining\ land -- human impact\ technology\ park -- development|