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   UNCLE SAM GOT NO SHOES

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Late evening in the House of Wickersham, I once again settle like a little cocoon to watch the cruise ships.  The events of the day are gently drifting like clouds through my mind: the claws left by the black bear who wandered into town last night and attempted to empty the Wickersham trash container, the fifty-five stairs that I must climb each time I return from a trip downtown, the steep hills that remind me of San Francisco, and the promise I made to myself to eat at least one meal in the Red Dog Saloon that Johnny Horton sung about with such passion in North to Alaska. In my mind the phrase by Robert Service, a master of the art of story telling whose writing I would choose over Shakespeare any time.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

It is a harsh land, where  in 1971 the temperature reached  -80 F in Prospect Creek, central Alaska and where bears try to try to steal your trash off your back porch. Between tours, I had watched the cruise ship passengers as they immersed themselves in the lovely little town where I was to spend the next four months. There is much to do in Juneau, beginning in the downtown area, just after one disembarks. St. Nicholas Orthodox Church which was built in 1894 represents  a spiritual influence  on the Tlinkit people that  resulted during the historical period  1728 and 1867, the era in which this land was known as Russian Alaska. Vitus Bering’s discoveries in the early 1700’s, under the direction of the Peter the Great, of first the Bering Strait and then Kodiak Island, resulted in Russian occupation and the decimation of many of Alaska’s fur-bearing animals.  When the Russians lost interest in Alaska and sold it for $7,000,000 to America (Seward’s Folly), the Tlinkits, especially in the Aleutian Island chain, continued to worship as they had been taught.

Only a few blocks away the passengers can visit the Alaska State Museum and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. However, with the magnificence of Juneau’s natural environment, visitors can seldom resist the 26 miles of hiking  trails within the city proper. Visiting the old Treadmill Gold Mine,  the Gold Creek, and Perseverence Creek. Only a short distance behind the House of Wickersham, one can hike more than 3 miles along Perseverence, surrounded by some of the most beautiful forest on the North American Continent. For those whose taste run more to spending their vacation savings, there

Of course, no trip to Juneau would be complete without a trip to Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area that covers 5,815 acres in the Tongass National Forest, the Shrine of St. Therest, the Tracy Arm Fyord, and Mount Robert’s Tramway.

And as I watch the evening sky darken, I sit is absolute awe at the beauty before me. Juneau and the cruise ships which have positioned themselves in the harbor for departure through Gustineau Channel when the dawn once again breaks comes alive with light. Like a million fireflies, the ships lights twinkle, casting their soft glow on the waters of the Pacific.

Juneau will likely never become a large city, for there is no road leading out of her. The coastline is so rugged, that the cost of building and upkeep of a highway to Anchorage would be incomprehensible. As a result, there is small town feeling that is always present. The stories of the ancient Sourdoughs, or the old time miners, and those of the Cheechokos , the newcomers who came stampeding into the Klondike are as much of the present as there are of the past. And that is the beauty of Juneau. Although she has been awakened, she will always be a sleepy, beautiful village that, unlike major cities the world over, the ravages of time leave almost untouched. Pristine, calm, and with the knowledge that still beneath her rugged surface, there remain resources incomparable with most of the lower  48 states. She is a jewel, as is the state that she calls home.

“And Judge Wickersham served as the sole delegate to the United States Congress after serving as the architect of Alaska’s Territorial legal system,” I remind them as I conclude my tour speech. As a retired history teacher and librarian, by my very nature I have a deep appreciation from my topic.

Judge Wickersham wrote the book, Old Yukon: Trials, Trails and Tears. I will close with a story from it, I tell them.

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Footwear is much more necessary to comfort and the preservation of health in far northern Alaska than in a more genial climate. Its absence naturally attracts more attention here (Tenana Valley) and especially from the Koyukuk natives, who are never seen without such protection. A merchant from a northern camp, who had recently come to the Tanana stampede, told me this story to indicate the Indian idea of a shoeless man. These Indians are deeply interested in the large colored-picture advertisements coming to the stores and will examine them long and carefully and discuss them in the Indian tongue as they might a circus poster. The had so often heard about Uncle Sam as the big chief of the white people, that they seemed to believe him to be a veritable chieftain in the flesh and to reside in a great house in Washington. One of these large and flaming poster advertisements which caricatured Uncle Sam as a barefoot man particularly attracted these natives, who discussed it solemnly at great length. After long study, the chief of the Koyukuks said to the merchant, in sympathetic concern; “What’s matter, Uncle Sam got no shoes?” “Oh,” the trader carelessly replied, “he pretty poor this summer.” “Too bad,” the Indian said as he walked away, “Uncle Sam got no shoes.”

Two weeks later the Koyukuk chief returned to the store and laid on the merchant’s counter two pairs of the finest moose-hide moccasins the Indian women could make, and said; “Too bad Uncle Sam got no shoes. My wife he make this shoes for Uncle Sam, you send ‘um, tell Uncle Sam Koyukuk chief his friend, send ‘um shoes, Uncle Sam.” The merchant had not expected this result of his careless statement, but accepted the moccasins and promised to send them to Uncle Sam for his winter use as a present from his friend the Koyukuk chief. What he did was to send them out with his summer shipment of furs and sell them to a trader in Seattle, but that winter when the old Koyukuk chieftain and his family were at the usual point of starvation, he was greatly please to be told by the merchant that he had just received a letter from Uncle Sam in Washington, thanking his brother the Koyukuk chief, for the moccasins and ordering the merchant to present to the chief a sack of flour and other provisions sufficient to keep him and him family in food until the time for the spring moose hunting arrived. The value of these supplies just about equaled the price received by the merchant for the moccasins. The old chief was greatly pleased with this exchange of presents with Uncle Sam, and told his people about it with much pride.

“Old Yukon: Trails, Tales, Trials” by Judge James Wickersham

                

RYE WHISKEY

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In the year 1880, Juneau, Alaska abruptly stirred, awakening from a deep primitive slumber. The bald eagle that soared over Gastineau Channel in Southeastern Alaska, would not have noticed those stirrings, for the majestic Sitka spruce that blanketed Mount Juneau and her sister peaks disguised the awakening. To the eagle, it seemed but only for a moment in time.  The world of the eagle was one of survival and the presence of the three men who knelt in Silver Bow Basin upon the muddy banks of the stream known as Gold Creek did not disturb her as she searched  the forest, her sharp eyes alert and watching for the tiny rodents that would fill her gullet. As the men,  Auk Tlinkit Chief Kowee, Canadian Richard Harris, and French Canadian prospector Joseph Juneau made the discovery that would result in some of the world’s largest placer and lode gold mines in the world Juneau, began a metamorphosis that has resulted in her becoming a prized destination in the industry of tourism.

In an early May morning of 2013,  I sat and peered out the window on the second floor of the House of Wickersham, the quaint old Victorian home of “Fighting Jim”, the first federal judge in Alaska’s Third Judicial District. Still sleepy from my flight, I relaxed in the cool breeze that blew into the harbor, a welcome relief from the Texas heat from which I had escaped. Below me, the Regatta, the flagship of the Oceania Cruise Fleet, slipped silently into the harbor. I knew that I could not watch the great ocean liner for long, for the first guests were to arrive at any moment to watch me perform the services of a volunteer docent for the house of “ Fighting Jim.” I crossed my fingers hoping that I could remember all the dates, names, and places that were significant in Judge’s Wickersham’s life. Alaska, the exquisitely beautiful land that I had visited for a short period many years ago, under the watchful eye of the Alaska Division of Parks and Recreation, had welcomed me, a history teacher and librarian, back to her shores to explain the life of one of the most pivotal citizens in early 20th century Alaska to an anxiously waiting world of cruise ship travelers. I dared not disappoint them.

There is something within the human psyche that yearns for truth. As the late Paul Harvey always reminded us, we must look for the “rest of the story.”  In Alaska, with its diversity of native cultures, its vast resources, and its rich history, the “rest of the story” is as rich as the Gastineau Channel is deep. This is my joy of traveling. The stories below are those that one finds beneath the tides of history, and the this article is designed to explain the wonders of Juneau, her pristine waters, her magnificent wildlife and the struggles that she faced after her awakening.

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The Chilkoot Pass: The Journey to the Klondike Gold Fields from Dyea

 

“One of Judge Wickersham’s most amazing achievements, aside from his political successes, was his 1,100 mile journey by dogsled in temperatures that reached minus forty-five degrees at times for the purpose of administering justice,” I explained to my guests as they completed the tour. “ He was fortunate in that he was able to travel to his destination in Alaska by boat instead of  by crossing either the Chilkoot Pass or White Pass.  Would you like to hear a story about a tragedy on Chilkoot Pass,” I asked. Their answers shown clearly on their faces.

Sing Your Death Song and Die Like a Hero Going Home

From Cherokee Prayer, by Chief Tecumseh (Crouching Tiger), Shawnee Nation 1768-1813

Many of the prospectors were “tenderfeet” and totally unprepared for the cruel environment in which the Klondike Gold Rush began, just across the Alaska/Canadian border in a little town called Dawson. There were also many prospectors who spent their entire lives wandering from one place to another searching for gold and attempting to escape encroachment of civilization.

To get to the gold fields, most who entered the gold fields  began their journey on ship from Seattle and landed in Skagway, a few miles from Juneau. From there they took either the Chilkoot Pass or White Pass. The worse part of the Chilkoot began at Scales, a ramshackled collection of tents at the base of the “Golden Stairs”……… a trek of 1,500 steps carved into solid mountain ice. Stampeders moved up them in single file, clutching a rope balustrade and carrying 50 to 60 pounds of supplies on their backs. They could only carry one pack at a time and would have to return and climb the same stairs over and over again until they had all their supplies with them.

One unlucky prospector slipped on the ice and fell into a crevasse. His body broken and  wedged tightly between boulders, he was unable to move. His friends attempted over and over to rescue him, but it soon became clear that it was impossible to do so. So, not knowing what else to do, they carefully lowered a whiskey bottle on a rope down to their friend. As soon as the stampeder received the whiskey, he began to drink to deaden the pain. Soon, they began to hear his voice echoing up and down the Golden Stairs. He sang a child’ sgentle  song about his mother. He sang about his father. As his voice drifted throughout the frigid winter air, his lyrics changed,  describing his first love and his hound chasing him through the wheat fields of his childhood home.  Then his voice faltered. Weakened by his injuries, he was unable to sing his death song. High above him, his friends peered into the darkened silence. Then,

Traveler’s Note: One may hike the Chilkoot Pass, but to avoid the peak season crowd it would be advisable to do so between mid-July to mid-August. One will see alpine peaks, interior forest, coastal forests, river and streams. Be sure to check Canadian Customs post-hike regulations. Although one may choose to hike White Pass, the easiest choice is to take the White Pass Summit Excursion from Skagway to the summit of White Pass.