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John Cook, Part 2
John Cook

This is the continuation of an interview with John Cook on November 20, 2006 with Marie Mitchell and Bill Schneider in the audio studio of Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks. John's wife, Elizabeth Cook, was also present during the interview and contributes her own thoughts on some of the topics discussed. In this second part of a two part interview, John continues to discuss archeology along the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and Dalton Highway. He provides background on how the large-scale archeology project got started, and talks about his role as the project manager, work accomplished by the field crews and section supervisors, the equipment used, the tough working conditions, how the material collected was analyzed, stored and reported, and the importance and key findings of the excavations. John also talks about the history of the Wiseman and Coldfoot area, the economic boom brought about by the oil discovery, and tells some personal stories about events that happened out in the field.

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Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2006-28-05_PT.2

Date of Interview: Nov 20, 2006
Narrator(s): John Cook
Interviewer(s): Marie Mitchell, Bill Schneider
People Present: Elizabeth J. Cook
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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


1) Field crew training

2) Alyeska's support of archeology

3) Juggling multiple projects

4) Guiding a helicopter through fog

5) Work schedule, equipment, working conditions, and reporting findings

6) Analyzing artifacts and storing collections

7) Producing excavation reports

8) Importance of protecting cultural remains

9) Job experience for archeologists

10) Interaction with Alaska Native communities

11) Story about confiscation of beer, and story about wolf encounter

12) Story about skinny dipping

13) Love of Alaska

14) Need for more analysis of artifacts

15) Story about getting back to Fairbanks for birth of his first child

16) Large size of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline project

17) Selling of supplies

18) Economic boom from the discovery of oil

19) Stories about the collection of gas caps, fake artifacts planted for tourists at Finger Mountain, and protection of resources

20) Gold mining history at Wiseman and Coldfoot

21) Importance of finding the archeological sites

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


Section 1: The archeological field crews were trained before heading to a section. Crews were trained in how to record materials, including site location and weather conditions. Excavations were similar to salvage excavations, modeled after highway projects in the Lower-48. However, TAPS was the largest construction project at the time. This was also the first time companies funded an archeological project in Alaska. This was the first attempt to organize and contract a large-scale excavation program. Nothing like this had been done before. TAPS archeology was a groundbreaker.
archeologists -- training\ duties\ tools -- types of\ usage\ TAPS -- largest project\ TAPS archeology -- funding of\ large scale\ funding -- private\ source\ innovative|

Section 2: John Cook conducted public relations tours, giving Alyeska much credit for supporting archeological excavations. Alyeska could have fought any excavation, because regulations were not in place at the time. The National Historic Preservation Act and the Antiquity Act could have been used as legal arguments if Alyeska refused to permit TAPS archeology. John Cook successfully collaborated with Alyeska.
Cook, John -- public relations\ public relations -- tours\ Alyeska -- credit to\ cooperative\ TAPS archeology -- establishing standards\ Historic Preservation Act\ Antiquity Act\ Alyeska -- collaborative|

Section 3: While working on the Pipeline archeology project, John was also busy teaching and working on other projects, including doing an archeological survey on Amchitka Island for the nuclear testing being done by the Atomic Energy Commission.
teaching\ Atomic Energy Commission\ Amchitka Island\ Aleutian Islands\ nuclear test\ archeology -- survey\ schedule -- busy\ projects -- multiple\ Cook, Elizabeth\ job -- Labor Department|

Section 4: John describes the working conditions. John tells of one incident that occurred at Happy Valley Camp, north of Galbraith Lake. Helicopters were used to transport crews. The helicopter he flew in was forced to land in ice fog conditions, so John had to walk the route to guide the chopper back to camp.
archeology -- tools\ tools -- sturdy\ adaptive\ weather -- winter season\ crews -- working conditions\ seasonal\ Happy Valley Camp -- story of\ helicopter -- incident\ weather -- bad|

Section 5: Overall, the archeological equipment was basic. They did not use any fancy survey equipment. The daily schedule would involve waking up at 6am, packing a lunch, flying, driving or hiking to the site, returning in the evening, reporting findings, and collating the findings. The findings were copied and given to John, a supervisor, and then later to the University of Alaska Museum.
weather -- conditions\ equipment -- reliable\ basic\ crew -- schedule\ schedule -- description of\ tasks\ findings -- copies of\ location|

Section 6: Any authorized excavation requires a repository. The only logical repository was the University of Alaska Museum. The museum already had an extensive collection, though most unrecorded. Archeologist Richard Stern was responsible for processing and organizing the materials from the Haul Road -- TAPS archeology. After the field season, each TAPS archeologist supervisor would spend time at the lab documenting the collections - describing, measuring, etc.
excavation -- authorization of\ repository\ University of Alaska Museum -- repository\ collection -- extensive\ unrecorded\ Stern, Richard -- archeologist\ responsibilities\ processor\ Institute of Arctic Biology -- lab\ TAPS archeology -- materials|

Section 7: Supervisors were responsible for reporting their site and section. Reports were completed and given to the IAB lab before archiving the materials with the museum. Cook says, "Not much has been done with the materials since then (from TAPS archeology)."
crew supervisor -- duties\ reports\ Institute of Arctic Biology -- responsibilities\ materials -- processing\ University of Alaska Museum -- responsibilities\ materials -- storage of|

Section 8: TAPS archeology recorded more than 300 site locations and artifacts. TAPS gave archeologist the opportunity to excavate the material. John informed oil companies and construction crews about the potential of destroying cultural remains. Large-scale projects like TAPS were apt to destroy cultural remains. TAPS archeologists were on the vanguard for testing and developing new methods, such as radio-carbon dating and obsidian dating. TAPS archeology also provided students an opportunity to work in arctic archeology. The impact of the TAPS project was wide spread.
TAPS archeology -- results of\ materials -- collection of\ recording\ preserving\ TAPS archeology -- opportunities\ contracts\ importance\ methods -- development of\ testing\ TAPS archeology -- impact\ positive|

Section 9: Working on the Pipeline archeology project provided young archeologists great training and job experience where they earned some money as well, instead of having to pay for a field school to learn excavation techniques.
project -- impact\ archeology\ training\ field school\ job\ experience -- gaining of\ wages\ employment|

Section 10: Crews did not have much contact with the Native groups. Only a couple of Native people were hired. The pipeline was routed between Native villages. Analysis of TAPS archeology is not complete, and John feels it may never be. John is still in the process of finalizing the findings from the Healy Lake site.
Alaska Native communities -- interaction with\ minimal\ pipeline -- route\ impact -- minimal\ communities -- not effected by\ archeological findings -- incomplete\ Healy Lake site -- findings\ in progress|

Section 11: John tells a story about trying to bring beer up to his crews when all the camps were supposed to be dry and having the beer confiscated. He tells another story about having a close encounter with a wolf, and a separate incident with a rabid wolf in camp.
fieldwork\ stories\ humorous\ workers\ crews -- visiting\ camps -- dry\ drinking\ beer -- delivery\ Yukon River\ beer -- destruction\ whiskey\ truckers\ Galbraith Lake\ Gallagher Flint Station site\ Gallagher, Charles\ site -- discovery\ route -- change\ site - -material\ excavation\ camping\ food -- delivery\ helicopter\ lobster\ steak\ food -- expensive\ tent\ wolf\ close-call\ wildlife -- encounter\ rabies\ tent -- destruction\ shotgun\ Dairy, Dave\ wolf -- death|

Section 12: John tells a story about skinny-dipping. When the archeological crew arrived at the Livengood site, they would skinny dip at a nearby creek after work. The location was close enough for the truckers to see, and apparently the site became popular among truckers and construction crews.
swimming\ skinny dipping -- story of\ archeological crew -- skinny dip\ location -- Livengood site\ truckers -- reaction\ construction crew -- reaction to\ location -- popular|

Section 13: John talks about why he and Elizabeth stayed in Alaska after retirement and that he is still working on writing up his old research results.
retirement\ Alaska\ Alaska -- love of\ activities\ research\ writing\ archeology\ home\ community\ university|

Section 14: The most important goal was to provide a record of the archeology. The material is there, it just needs to be analyzed. Graduate students analyze the findings for their thesis or dissertation projects. The obsidian work did not originate with the Haul Road -- but with the Healy Lake project. John Cook encourages archeologists to follow-up with the TAPS materials. He does not have the time, facilities or resources.
TAPS archeology -- goal\ goal -- description of\ aboriginal studies\ materials -- collection of\ findings\ needs\ follow-up\ graduate student -- opportunities with\ TAPS archeological materials -- opportunities|

Section 15: John Cook shares a personal story about a well-coordinated delivery. John Cook was with Mike Kunz viewing a site at Slope Mountain. That day a helicopter was standing by. Suddenly the helicopter pilot yelled to John and Mike to return to the helicopter. The pilot flew to Galbraith Lake where a small plane was waiting to escort John to Fairbanks. A bus was waiting to pick up John from the airport to drive him to the hospital. His wife was delivering their first child. Someone called Alyeska, and said, "John Cook's kid is being born". He arrived in time to see the birth of their child.
story -- delivery\ delivery -- coordinated\ Slope Mountain -- site location\ Kunz, Mike\ pilot -- emergency\ transportation -- types of\ helicopter\ plane\ bus\ hospital -- destination\ wife -- child delivery\ first child\ witnessing of\ Alyeska -- coordinated delivery|

Section 16: The TAPS project was massive. People brought home materials from the camps. What did not get used from the project was thrown into the dump -- office equipment, food, vehicles, appliances, etc. This was a demonstration of waste on a scale that had never been seen, particularly in Alaska. So many supplies were being delivered to TAPS camps that there was a shortage of supplies for Fairbanks residents.
TAPS -- massive project\ supplies -- unlimited\ wasteful\ Fairbanks -- impacted by\ supplies -- delivery of\ bypassed Fairbanks|

Section 17: Alyeska had a yard sale with equipment and supplies from the TAPS project. This was a sell-off to the locals, who did not have access to the necessities -- like toilet paper, crackers, and flour. The supplies were delivered by railroad to Fairbanks, then shipped north, bypassing Fairbanks and local markets. No one in the state could purchase a Caterpillar, or other supplies.
story -- Alyeska\ yard sale -- Alyeska\ items -- cost of\ types of\ supplies -- priority\ delivery of\ remainder\ items -- $25 each\ supplies -- delivery of\ Fairbanks, Alaska\ pipeline camp\ story -- Caterpillar|

Section 18: The economic boom that occurred in Fairbanks resulted from the discovery of oil in 1968. The economy simmered down from 1969 through 1971, until the construction of the TAPS resumed. At the same time, a recession affected the Lower-48 states, which encouraged people to move to Alaska for employment and opportunities. The pipeline was similar to a gold rush.
oil discovery -- impact\ economic boom\ Fairbanks -- effects of\ TAPS -- impact of\ recession -- lower 48\ people -- migration of\ TAPS -- gold rush similarities|

Section 19: John shares other funny stories from the field: how children in Fairbanks used to collect yellow gas caps from Alyeska trucks who had been driving up and down the Haul Road, and how a tour bus driver laid out fake artifacts at Finger Mountain to impress tourists.
children\ gas caps -- collecting\ gas caps -- yellow\ Alyeska\ trucks\ tourism\ bus\ Finger Mountain\ archeological site\ excavation\ tourists\ artifacts -- fake\ artifacts -- identification\ construction workers\ mastodon ivory -- search for\ paleontological resources\ resources -- protection of|

Section 20: Most of the gold mining operations had access to the Haul Road corridor route. At Wiseman, there was a cemetery that Sue Will did historical work on but it was a bit off the route. In Coldfoot, the pipeline probably ran through the eastern edge of the town and part of this was excavated by Robin Mills, now with the Bureau of Land Management.
gold mining -- location\ haul road -- access\ Wiseman -- minimal contact with\ Coldfoot -- TAPS\ cemetery site\ town site\ pipeline -- rerouting of\ Mills, Robin -- archeologist historian\ Coldfoot site -- excavation of\ dissertation|

Section 21: The locations of these archeological sites provide the hunting patterns and the trade networks of the prehistoric people. When obsidian is discovered from each site, these sites can be linked together along with the dating, styles of tools, and cultures.
archeological sites -- description\ importance of\ history\ obsidian -- purpose of\ cultures\ material -- preservation of\ cultural information|