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Merlin Henry
Merlin Henry

Merlin Henry was interviewed on March 18, 2002 by Bill Schneider, Knut Kielland, Greg Finstad, and Rose Fosdick at the Reindeer Herder's House in Nome, Alaska. Suzanne Worker, an employee of the Reindeer Research Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks was also present during the interview. In this interview, Merlin talks about his grandfather and father being reindeer herders, the importance of herding as a family activity, the effect of caribou on reindeer herds, changes in the reindeer industry, and what he sees for the future of reindeer herding on the Seward Peninsula. He also talks about not going to school and following his father to learn about herding and driving his own reindeer herds and living off the land.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2000-102-14

Project: Reindeer Herding: The Present and the Past
Date of Interview: Mar 18, 2002
Narrator(s): Merlin Henry
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Greg Finstad, Knut Kielland, Rose Atuk Fosdick
People Present: Suzanne Worker
Location of Interview:
Location of Topic:
Funding Partners:
National Science Foundation
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) Introduction and the history of reindeer herding in Merlin's family.

2) Merlin's grandfather.

3) Merlin's father's decision to go into reindeer herding.

4) How Merlin got involved in reindeer herding.

5) A typical year when Merlin was out with his father working with the reindeer.

6) How people get interested in the reindeer horns and butchering reindeer.

7) Changes in the reindeer industry, environment, and climate.

8) The effects of caribou on the reindeer herds.

9) Future for reindeer herding.

10) The effects of the caribou having an out migration with the reindeer and the effects of the wolves that came in with the caribou.

11) Rose Fosdick asks Merlin: Did you or your father ever get involved with the Bureau of Indian Affairs loan program in which some of your reindeer were transferred to somebody close by so they could start a reindeer herd?

12) Greg Finstad asks Merlin: Do you want to get back into the business and build up the herd to make a living and have your son Tyler get into the business?

13) Changes in reindeer herding and advice for herders in the future.

14) Merlin tells a story about one time when he and a buddy were herding.

15) Story about crossing the creek and living in the country.

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: 1930s\ grandfather -- chief herder\ father -- loan from the Bureau of Indian Affairs\ Deering\ Candle\ round-up\ Koyuk -- drove reindeer down to\ dog team\ travel\ Henry, Archie -- father\ reindeer herder\ worked with father\ homesick\ camp\ reindeer -- take care\ Fort Ord\ Mt. Edgecumbe\ Seward\ father -- died in 1981\ reindeer business -- took over after father's death|

Section 2: Tusaruk, Hummer\ reindeer herder\ herders -- some owned reindeer\ chief herder\ caribou -- wiped out herd\ Koyuk\ dog team\ lost herd\ impact\ Barrow\ aluminum ear tags|

Section 3: Bureau of Land Management\ grazing land\ grazing permit\ loan -- Bureau of Land Management\ Deering\ elders -- Koyuk\ caribou -- back in a few years\ driving reindeer\ dog team\ older sister -- took care of family\ reindeer|

Section 4: oldest boy\ reindeer\ school -- did not attend\ reindeer business -- involved\ learning to drive reindeer\ camp\ Deering\ Candle\ Koyuk\ fawns -- every three years\ reindeer -- stayed in Koyuk area\ reindeer -- overdrive\ feed\ grazing|

Section 5: easier\ snowshoes -- walking with\ reindeer -- keep close to camp\ graze -- all day\ evening -- go back out\ drive reindeer\ walk\ sit\ predators -- watch for\ reindeer -- move around to different sites\ rotation\ overgrazing -- none\ corralling -- July\ earmarks\ dehorning|

Section 6: Nome\ horn buyers\ Mr. Wayne\ contract -- selling horns\ butchering -- October\ freeze-up\ reindeer meat -- market\ corralling\ kids -- take care of fawns\ training kids\ burlap\ reindeer -- inside corral\ snowmachine\ pick up person|

Section 7: reindeer horns -- sell\ market horns -- Koreans\ dehorn -- learn\ snowmachines\ horns -- look at\ reindeer -- take into corral\ Reindeer Association\ horns -- depend on age of bull\ horns -- length\ horn buyers\ horns -- Grade A\ horns -- Grade B\ horns -- Grade C\ Bureau of Indian Affairs\ Bureau of Land Management\ Reindeer Association\ veterinarian\ reindeer -- need shots\ military service\ snowmachines -- 1960s\ dog team\ spoiled\ predators\ Kotzebue\ plane -- hunts wolves\ Koyuk\ winter weather -- warmer\ 1960s -- lots of snow\ 1980s -- everything changes\ less snow\ reindeer -- tougher to take care of\ reindeer -- roam for better feed when hungry\ tundra\ trees\ easier for reindeer to feed\ rivers|

Section 8: caribou\ range\ Fairbanks\ father -- had problems with caribou\ caribou -- thousands migrating\ Koyuk\ reindeer -- taken away by caribou\ summer grazing area\ fawns -- wild\ caribou -- half-breed\ 1990s -- caribou come through Koyuk\ wolves -- scattered reindeer, caribou\ herd size\ old tally sheet\ herd -- numbers decrease\ trees\ snowmachine -- couldn't get parts\ money\ Unalakleet\ track\ dog team -- drive reindeer everyday\ snowshoes -- walk|

Section 9: business -- get back into\ caribou\ grazing permit\ Koyuk\ tally grids\ very few caribou\ reindeer range\ lichen\ ranges -- use differently\ permit\ holding pen\ son -- interesting in\ reindeer herder|

Section 10: wolves\ reindeer\ caribou\ scatter\ wolves -- kill caribou, reindeer\ fall time\ Koyuk\ grazing area\ Norton Bay\ tracking\ bears -- less problematic\ snowmachine -- chase bears away\ fawns -- lost to bears\ chase bears\ cubs -- come back

Section 11: reindeer\ caribou -- problems with\ reindeer -- population dropped|

Section 12: reindeer\ buildup|

Section 13: reindeer -- be out with them\ dogs -- leader\ snowmachines\ reindeer -- tame\ children -- school\ corralling\ younger children -- don't know about corralling\ Koyuk\ people -- miss reindeer activities\ reindeer meat\ family -- long history in reindeer industry\ herders\ Reindeer Herders Association|

Section 14: springtime\ father\ April\ reindeer -- having fawns\ driving reindeer\ fawn -- no mother\ snowshoes\ fawn -- take to camp\ camp\ Koyuk\ buddy -- walked to Koyuk for grub\ river -- breaking up\ staying warm\ coffee\ crossing river|

Section 15: driving reindeer\ creek -- crossing\ clothes\ swimming\ father -- always dry\ family\ picking berries\ reindeer -- take out in to the country\ fun\ food|