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Susan Holly

Sue Holly was interviewed on September 16, 1992 by Bill Schneider and David Krupa at the National Park Service field office in Bettles, Alaska, where Sue works as a seasonal park ranger. Although the tourist season was winding down, an early freeze-up was threatening to complicate Sue and her husband's plans to move out to their trapping cabin along the John River. Snow was already on the ground, the season's moose had not been taken, and the river was already turning to slush. Still, Sue took these circumstances in stride, her ready laugh confirming that humor and patience are critical qualities for life in the bush. On tape, Sue discusses her and her husband Tom's lives as trappers and about the ambiguous feelings she has about the role of the National Park Service (NPS) in managing the area comprising Gates of the Arctic. Like many local people, they have endured some of the bureaucratic obstacles to subsistence that have been put in place by the NPS. At the same time, she values the protections offered by the park designation and would not like to see uncontrolled development in the region. Likewise, she enjoys her job with the park and relies on the income that it adds to the household economy. Sue describes what it is like to move back and forth between life in the village and life out on the trapline. She also gives excellent descriptions of the stresses, strains, and many joys associated with living out the winter trapping season in the isolation of their cabin along the John River.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 93-15-40

Project: Gates of the Arctic National Park
Date of Interview: Sep 16, 1992
Narrator(s): Susan Holly
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, David Krupa
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) Her background and experience leading up to life in Bettles

2) Where they live now and how they decided on the spot

3) Freighting gear on the river and by air

4) A typical yearly cycle for the Holly's

5) The mechanics of the bush life

6) Impact of the Park Service presence

7) Visitor use of the park

8) Pros and cons of this way of life

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 -- Pennsylvania\ husband -- she followed to Alaska\ Anchorage -- until 1984\ Bettles -- husband had lived there\ Noatak River\ trapping\ North Fork -- prior to park formation\ residents -- since July 4, 1985\ husband -- Tom\ Cub -- crashed out on Noatak\ park -- formation upset husband\ issues\ access -- closed; tourists vs. residents\ traditional means\ airplanes\ hunting\ Nuiqsut -- serious access problem\ visitors -- can fly in|

Section 2: residence -- south of park\ Hickel Highway\ Wild Lake\ Timber Creek\ Suckik Creek\ Button Mountain\ John River -- vacant spot\ cabin -- ten miles out of Bettles\ wall tent -- lived in for four years, built cabin around\ cabin -- twenty by twenty-five feet\ dual residence -- Bettles and bush\ cabin -- mid-September to mid-March|

Section 3: freighting -- boat and air\ boats -- three\ river -- conditions determine travel\ beaver -- work horse of bush\ freeze-up -- travel obstacle\ Bettles -- winter, shuts down\ winter -- working for NPS one week per month\ March -- shuttling gear back to town\ freight -- essentials\ technology -- solar panels; mixer; computer; TV; VCR; sewing machine\ mail -- get around Christmas|

Section 4: September -- boating supplies in\ hunting -- moose\ wood cutting\ October -- cabin chores; mixing bait; break trail\ November -- trapping; tent camps; trapping -- November\ December -- marten; alternate lines\ December -- fox; lynx; wolverine; wolf; hauling water; trail to town\ town -- supplies; mail\ trapping -- December to February\ February -- beaver trapping\ Nictune, Wallace and Florence\ Withrow, Al\ traplines\ John River -- respected each other's lines\ Hickel Highway\ Hankie, John\ March -- close up cabin\ April -- visit family\ work -- full time from April end through September\ husband -- employment|

Section 5: trapline -- found vacant area\ expenses -- dogs, $2500-3000 per year\ dogs -- one and a half tons of food; straw; tallow\ mail -- everything comes this way\ supplies -- Anchorage, Fairbanks\ radio -- rangers relay requests; emergencies|

Section 6: National Park Service -- flexible employer\ visitors -- contact nice\ job -- like it a lot\ Gates of the Arctic -- only park I'd work for\ impact -- negative\ hunting -- closed areas, concentrated users\ moose -- hunting pressure\ moose hunting -- trusting you'll get one when time comes|

Section 7: tourists\ float trips\ Noatak River\ Kobuk River\ John River\ Killik River\ hiking\ Arrigetch Peaks\ personal use -- haven't seen much\ Ernie Lake -- haven't been west of\ visitors -- many return; personal contact\ Hughes -- visit relatives upriver\ Bettles\ Anaktuvuk Pass -- come by snowmachine\ Huslia\ Allakaket\ Wiseman\ Reakoff's\ cabin -- few visitors\ Fickus -- tip wings hello\ National Park Service -- visit occasionally\ fall -- village visitors|

Section 8: work -- hard; self-employment\ teamwork -- essential\ conflict -- no escape; little 'til one is on way to town\ lifestyle -- not ready to give it up; enjoy it\ routine -- love it, hate it|