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Ruth and Harry Johns, Sr
montage photo of ruth and harry johns, sr.

Harry and Ruth Johns were interviewed by Bill Schneider, Ruth Ann Warden and Karen Brewster on June 26, 1998 at their home in Copper Center, Alaska. Arrangements for the interview were made by their granddaughter, Ruth Ann Warden. Ruth Ann is a member of the Interpretation staff at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and she assisted with the interview. Harry is the Traditional Chief of the Ahtna people and is an ordained minister in the Native Bible Conference of the Central Alaska Mission. The Johns' dedication to the community and the church is evident throughout the recording. Their home is the center of activity for their large family of eight children, all of whom still live in the area, over 30 grandchildren, and at least 20 great-grandchildren. The Johns provide a perspective on the early history of work and transportation along the Richardson Highway. Both are very careful not to discuss culturally sensitive topics.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 98-28

Project: Wrangell-St.Elias National Park
Date of Interview: Jun 26, 1998
Narrator(s): Ruth Johns, Harry Johns, Sr.
Interviewer(s): Bill Schneider, Karen Brewster, Ruth Ann Warden
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) Personal history and background of Harry Johns, Sr

2) His days working at the roadhouse in Copper Center

3) The locations of several roadhouses along the stage line

4) The yearly subsistence cycle and employment driving truck

5) The Alaska Road Commission and the role of Natives in constructing highways

6) Jobs involved in building a road and the work camps

7) Cooking for segregated road crew work camps

8) Driving different models of old trucks

9) Driving truck and transporting freight

10) Their marriage and Ruth Johns' personal background

11) Her family background and the wedding ceremony

12) Attending BIA schools and her grandmother teaching her how to sew skins

13) The flu epidemic and the Russian Orthodox Church

14) Harry Johns' father's role as a medicine man and involvement with the missionaries

15) Harry Johns' involvement as a pastor in the Glennallen mission and bible school

16) The Glennallen mission and changes he has seen in the Glennallen community during his lifetime

17) Changes in subsistence and becoming village chief

18) The position of a chief and the issues which he faced

19) Ruth Johns earning her teaching certificate and employment at the Copper Center School

20) Language education in the schools and trapping

21) Ruth Johns' mother and sewing skins

23) Harry Johns' trapping lynx and fox

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: Copper Center\ family history\ Klutina River\ Johns, Skookum\ Johns, Susan\ Chitina\ Southeast Alaska\ Athabascan -- father\ hunting\ fishing\ trapping

Section 2: roadhouse -- employment\ Barnes, Florence\ mining\ Valdez\ glacier\ travel route -- Fairbanks\ horses\ travel -- stageline

Section 3: travel\ barns -- horse\ roadhouses\ Tiekel\ Valdez\ Tonsina\ Copper Center\ Gulkana\ Sourdough\ Meyers\ Paxson\ Big Delta\ stageline\ trapping\ hunting -- moose

Section 4: subsistence -- yearly cycle\ hunting\ trapping -- fox\ trapping -- muskrat\ fishing -- salmon\ fishwheel\ roadhouse\ Alaska Road Commission\ Barnes, Florence Mrs.\ driving -- truck\ truck -- Model-T

Section 5: driving\ Johns, Harry -- cousin\ Alaska Road Commission\ roads -- cutting\ road construction -- Native role\ highway\ Paxson\ Fairbanks\ Copper River area\ Glenn Highway\ Denali Road\ Chitina Road

Section 6: roads -- building\ brush -- cutting\ driving -- equipment\ truck -- Model-T\ camps -- work\ cooking

Section 7: cooking\ road crew\ camps -- Native versus non-Native

Section 8: truck -- Model-T\ Truck -- Model-A\ Valdez\ Chitina\ Ford\ Chevrolet\ freighters\ Copper Center Roadhouse\ Gulkana\ Gakona\ Valdez\ Tiekel\ driving -- truck

Section 9: boat -- steamship\ roadhouses\ trading\ truck -- Model-A\ Chevrolet\ freight -- hauling\ Gulkana\ Gakona\ driving -- truck\ truck -- repair.

Section 10: marriage\ Johns, Ruth -- family background\ Ewan, Estaku\ Charlie, Jessie

Section 11: Upper Tonsina\ family background\ disease -- flu epidemic\ potlatch\ wedding ceremony

Section 12: marriage\ school -- BIA\ Miller, Mr.\ Juneau\ grandfather -- education of\ substitute teacher\ grandmother -- role of\ sewing -- mittens\ sewing -- mukluks\ caribou hide\ sheep hide

Section 13: disease -- flu epidemic\ , Dr.\ Russian Orthodox\ religion\ priest -- Native\ Chief Andrew\ language -- Russian\ language -- Latin

Section 14: Johns, Harry -- father\ medicine man\ mission\ Chitina\ ceremony -- healing

Section 15: Johns, Harry -- pastor\ school -- Bible\ Glennallen\ Christianity\ Glennallen Mission

Section 16: mission\ Joy, Reverend\ Glennallen\ Russian Orthodox\ Christianity\ pipeline -- impact of\ change -- economic\ change -- transportation

Section 17: subsistence -- change\ moose\ caribou\ fish\ Wrangell-St. Elias National Park\ chiefs\ Chief -- Johns, Harry\ Copper River tribes

Section 18: chief -- role of\ chief -- issues facing

Section 19: teaching certificate -- Johns, Ruth\ Juneau\ University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF)\ Krauss, Michael\ Kari, Jim\ Copper Center School -- teaching\ Copper Center School\ students -- former\ Reed, Ruth\ Stellahan, Mrs.\ Chitina

Section 20: language\ Athabascan\ English -- learning\ school -- BIA\ trapping\ jobs -- lack of\ fur -- trade of

Section 21: Johns, Ruth -- mother\ sewing -- moccasins\ sewing -- slippers\ children\ work -- wages

Section 22: Johns, Harry -- injury\ trapping -- lynx\ trapping -- fox\ Copper River\ fur shop -- Anchorage\ children