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William and Shirley English

Bill and Shirley English were interviewed at their home in Anchorage, Alaska on August 4, 1992 by David Krupa. Before consenting to the interview, Bill took time to inquire about the purposes of the project, the background of the interviewer, and the nature of the information sought by the project. At the outset of taping, he modestly disavowed having much to say: ninety minutes later Bill had established an enduring and fascinating record of the early days in Wiseman, Alaska. He discusses early transportation with horse-drawn scows, mail routes from Fairbanks to Tanana and up the Koyukuk, hunting for sheep and caribou with his mother in the uplands, the first plane into Wiseman, the colorful characters who populated the Brooks Range in days past, and his experiences as a commercial pilot in Alaska when aviation was still largely a "seat of the pants" adventure. Both of the English's continuing fondness for the area and its people shine through in this interview, and the tape offers a fascinating glimpse of an earlier era of--perhaps surprisingly to some listeners--more vigorous human activity in the region. Bill recalls Wiseman when it was a community of 2,000: today perhaps fifty individuals reside there permanently. He concludes by saying that when times were good in Wiseman, when people could make a living, it was a warm, gentle, and cooperative community. He expressed his concern that the National Park Service, while doing important work in preservation, must not "lock away" land for the pleasure and use of a few elites at the expense of those who would make this their homeland.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 93-15-14

Project: Gates of the Arctic National Park
Date of Interview: Aug 4, 1992
Narrator(s): Bill English, Shirley English
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) Bill talks about his personal background

2) Where supplies came from and how they got to Wiseman

3) Summer and winter transportation of supplies and travel between communities

4) History and settlement of Wiseman

5) Lifestyle of residents in Wiseman

6) Comments on Robert (Bob) Marshall's observation of mutual dependence

7) Native involvement in mines and mining

8) Recollections of some early residents of Wiseman

9) Where miners came from and basic health care

10) Bill discusses the period he lived outside of Alaska

11) Changes in Wiseman after returning from eight years outside Alaska

12) Flying to Wiseman

13) Memories of early pilots and plane accidents

14) Shirley English discusses how she met her husband

15) Bill talks of getting stranded in bad weather

16) Aviation impact on roadhouses

17) Lifestyle of Anaktuvuk Pass residents and relations between different population groups

18) Impressions of Robert Marshall

19) Relationship to Tishu Ulen and descriptions of Arctic John

20) Dispersal of population and community activities

21) Changes in the Wiseman area as mining declined

22) Pipeline days, Native Claims, Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act

23) Thoughts on D-2, land selections, and Gates of the Arctic as a Monument rather then a Park

24) Direct effects of formation of Gates of the Arctic National Park

25) Comments on Robert (Bob) Marshall's book on Wiseman

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 -- January 1923\ Wiseman\ English, William\ English, Mary\ Ulen, Tishu\ Wiseman -- store\ Northern Commercial Company\ St. Michaels\ Bettles -- store\ Dubin, Sam|

Section 2: supplies -- boat\ Seward\ supplies -- train\ Nenana\ supplies -- sternwheeler\ Tanana River\ Yukon River\ Koyukuk -- station\ Wiseman\ Bettles\ Allakaket\ Hughes\ scows\ caterpillar -- tractor|

Section 3: Bettles -- supply warehouse\ dog team -- mail run\ Tanana\ scows\ Coldfoot -- landing strip\ Bettles\ Allakaket\ Kobuk\ Barrow\ travel -- motivations|

Section 4: Wiseman -- gold discovery\ miners -- Klondike\ Coldfoot -- landing strip\ Wiseman -- population composition\ navigation -- water\ Fairbanks\ Yukon River\ Eskimos\ Athabaskans|

Section 5: subsistence -- hunting\ hunting -- rabbits\ hunting -- caribou\ fishing\ berry picking\ Rooney Lake\ Big Lake\ fish traps\ grayling\ miners -- hunting\ hunting -- sheep\ Allen, Jess\ Harvey, Ken\ hunting -- caribou\ food -- sharing|

Section 6: miners\ "community of interest"\ parkas\ mukluks\ hats -- fur\ tobacco\ tea\ ammunition|

Section 7: wood -- collecting\ population -- sex disparities\ prostitutes\ "sporting girls"\ Mabel\ Nolan Creek\ Hammond River\ population -- turnover|

Section 8: Nolan Creek\ Jones, Bobby\ Harvey, Ken\ Wind, Biner\ "Windy Bill"\ English, Shirley|

Section 9: sickness\ Marshall, Bob\ White, Jack\ Pingel, Mr.\ Slavs\ Jones, Bobby\ Irish\ population -- citizenship|

Section 10: Roseberg, Oregon\ farming\ Great Depression\ Aunt Christine\ education -- high school\ education -- junior college\ WWII\ Public Roads Administration -- Alaska Highway|

Section 11: Wiseman -- size\ Fairbanks\ Seattle\ Portland\ Roseberg, Oregon\ education\ Carpenter, Clara -- teacher\ career -- goals\ aviation -- impact\ aviation\ aviation -- training\ Lee, Richard \ Lee, Allen\ airplane -- rearwind sportster\ Warren, Neil\ Johnson, David\ airplane -- Aeronca K\ aviation -- transport|

Section 12: Johnson, Walt\ Fairbanks\ pilots -- pioneer\ navigation -- difficulty\ Range Station\ Bettles\ Wiseman\ Fort Yukon\ Beaver\ communication\ airplane -- impact\ Nenana\ Koyukuk -- station\ mail|

Section 13: Wien, Noel\ Crosson, Joe\ Wiseman -- pilots\ Pollock, Frank\ aviation -- accidents\ Wiseman -- airstrip\ Johnson, Walter\ University of Alaska -- Fairbanks|

Section 14: English, Shirley\ University of Alaska -- Fairbanks\ Fairbanks -- 1940's\ snowfall\ Silver Wings\ marriage -- 1948\ aviation -- history\ women roles -- winter|

Section 15: Beaver\ Fort Yukon\ Tanana\ aviation -- history\ Wien, Noel\ aviation -- commercial\ aviation -- license\ Northern Airways -- DC-2\ aviation -- interior routes\ Old Crow, Canada\ Porcupine River\ Fort Yukon\ aviation -- accident\ Minto\ Weeks Field -- Fairbanks\ University of Alaska Fairbanks Agricultural Farm\ rail lines|

Section 16: roadhouses\ Wiseman -- roadhouse\ Slisco, Martin\ Tanana -- roadhouse\ Bettles\ Hughes -- James family store\ Allakaket\ Anaktuvuk Pass\ Chandler Lake\ nomads\ Brooks Range\ Rulland, Frank\ Darling, Mary\ communication|

Section 17: coffee\ tea\ tobacco\ ammunition\ "community existence"\ Wiseman\ Beaver\ Athabaskans\ Iñupiaq\ Native -- interrelations\ Allakaket\ Rooney Lake\ Rooney, Jack\ traplines|

Section 18: Marshall, Robert -- book on Wiseman\ Harvey\ Snowden, Harry\ Mt. Doonerak\ Nome\ Hammond River|

Section 19: Ulen, Tishu\ Fairbanks\ Arctic John\ pipeline -- controversy|

Section 20: Fourth of July\ Christmas\ fruit\ Victrola\ singing\ Nolan River\ Hammond River\ Rooney, Jack\ Rooney Lake\ Neck, Victor\ South Fork\ Coldfoot -- landing strip\ Wiseman|

Section 21: Wiseman -- mining\ clothes\ food\ liquor\ rifles\ hunting -- technique change\ modernity\ hunting -- overkill\ bears|

Section 22: Wiseman\ machinery\ WWII\ mining -- gold\ Wiseman -- population decline\ Native Claims Act\ Fairbanks\ Barrow\ Kotzebue\ Nome\ Juneau\ Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act\ lobbying\ Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act|

Section 23: Johnson, Walt\ Wiseman\ Gates of the Arctic\ land -- park system\ land -- accessibility\ tree -- cutting\ tree -- uses\ park -- restrictions\ cabins -- inside Park|

Section 24: cabins -- prohibited\ "generosity of spirit"\ Park Service\ land -- accessibility\ Wiseman\ Bettles\ float trip\ Staly, Walt\ Stealey, Syd|

Section 25: Marshall, Robert (Bob)\ community -- ideal\ Wiseman\ "sense of community"|