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Chapter Thirteen
An Uninvited Guest

Lying in my snug goose down mummy bag, with one ear cocked towards the beach,
battling mosquitoes, I wished I had my shotgun or rifle, instead of the little .22 caliber Colt

Dawn arrived at three a.m. Breakfast was bacon, hot cakes and eggs. I watched bacon
smoke pour out the open flap of the tent, wondering how far the scent would carry? I’d
heard a bear can smell food a mile downwind. I shuddered and made sure the .22 pistol
was handy, what little good that might do if an unexpected furry guest showed up for

It would be a long time until dinner, so I took several left over hot cakes and a couple
of candy bars for lunch. By four o’clock I was on my way, anxious to see what I could find.

After looking at the chart I decided to fish off Point Gardner Light, (as if any fool could
possibly know where the salmon hung out by looking at a chart.)

What a beautiful morning. The sea was the color of melted lead, the southerly swells
undulating gently. The eastern sky was a pallet of violet, pink, salmon and rose. The snowcovered mountains of Baranof Island were breathtaking in the morning sun. I breathed the
clean air deeply into my lungs. How wonderful to be fishing again, instead of working in
a deep, cold, muddy ditch, or continually breaking my back lifting cement forms and roof

Herring flipped out of the water off the western entrance to Murder Cove. I set my net
right in the middle of a school, allowed it to soak a few minutes, then hauled it aboard. A
half bucket full of wriggling, bright, rainbow-colored herring spilled into the boat.

While I was picking herring out of the net, Neely roared past in his skiff. He stared at
me with surprise. I waved but he only nodded. A few hundred yards to the west, he stopped
and tossed over a light anchor and coil of line with a liver can attached for a bouy. As I
approached I noticed his skiff was tied to the float. He was busy rigging up bait.

“Hi. I’m Frank. You must be Neely?”

“Yes Sir.” He peered at me for a moment, then resumed his work.

“I just caught half a bucket of herring, if you’d like some?”

“Have plenty. Thanks.”

“How’s fishing?” I could tell from his attitude this conversation was going nowhere.

“Not very good. Not at all.”

“I know nothing about cutting strips. I motor mooch.”

“Whatever you like.”

“Well, good luck.”

Neely cast a bait towards the kelp bed and turned his back towards me. Not wanting
to appear a pest, I took off and ran to Point Gardner. The current was flooding up Chatham
Strait at a lively clip. The flood tide split at Point Gardner, part going east up Frederick
Sound. I fished for an hour without a strike, then moved up along the shore a short distance
towards Wilson Cove where birds were diving on bait. After an hour with no luck I
cruised back down and tried it off Surprise Harbor, east of Point Gardiner Light. I caught
one 15 pound king, and hooked and released several rockfish, keeping one for dinner, then
caught nothing. I became discouraged.

I kept thinking about Neely. Would he think I was intruding if I joined him? Well,
it’s a free ocean. As long as I didn’t crowd him, what would it hurt? I ran towards Murder
Cove looking for his skiff, but he was gone.

The herring schools had also disappeared. I put out two lines where I’d left Neeley earlier
and started motor mooching. Suddenly I hung up on bull kelp. The current was running
so strong the kelp was submerged.

I moved out and tried again. Noon came. I ate my left over hot cakes and finished the
thermos of coffee. Had I expected too much of this place? Probably. I’d have to invest time
learning it. I was tired and wanted to go in, but with only 15 pounds? That wouldn’t make
much of impression for my first delivery. I couldn’t keep the one salmon overnight.

I’d just finished lunch when a heavy salmon took one bait and charged towards the protection
of the kelp beds. I followed. The fish went into the kelp and broke off.

To heck with this, I moaned. I dropped anchor and laid down on my back across the
boxes and seat. The sun was warm and sky blue. I slept for two hours, then awoke
refreshed. The current had slowed, and the kelp beds were showing again. I put out all three
baits and trolled slowly along the kelp. Now that they were showing it was easy to avoid

The rod that I used over the stern was my worst pole and reel. I hated to see fish strike
it, but they frequently did. Suddenly the reel buzzed and the tip of pole bent down into
the water. Before I could remove it from the holder, one of the other reels began to sing. I
backed off on one reel and grabbed the stern pole. After a long struggle I landed a 30-
pound king. By then the other fish was several hundred yards off and still headed for the
shore. I motored after it, but before catching up, the fish was in the kelp. I stopped the
motor and crawled up onto the bow deck with the cleaning knife and began following the
nylon, chopping bull kelp as I went. Finally I chased the king out of the kelp and into deeper
water. It refused to tire, and I still hadn’t seen the fish.

“Well,” I said, to the world at large, “I have as much time as you do, big salmon. I’m
going to have a look at you eventually.” The salmon jumped a few yards away, then dived
under the boat, tangling the other line. It appeared huge. By the time I straightened this
mess out, the fish was headed back into the kelp. I was reminded of fishing large mouth
bass in a Washington lake. The only salmon that had gave me as much trouble was the one
at Point Baker that had both hooks in its cheek plate. I began to think this was the case
now. Eventually the king tired. I eased it up and shot it with the .22. After sliding it aboard
in the net I looked for my hooks. One dangled free. The other barely held a tiny thread of
the jaw. One jerk against a tight line and the fish would have broke free. I placed my hands,
with thumbs and longest fingers around its tail. The fingers just touched. I’d discovered
that measurement usually indicated a 50-pounder.

When I weighed in the three fish weighed 107 pounds. Neely’s skiff was tied up and
the floor boards were dry. “How’d Neely do?” I asked John, the fish buyer.

“Oh, about same as usual. Two hundred fifty pounds.”

“What time did he quit?”

John looked at his old pocket watch. “Must’ve been about ten o’clock.”

I was flabbergasted. In four hours Neeley had more than doubled me!

Joe Cash came in and unloaded 800 pound of halibut. I thought that was pretty good,
but he shook his head. “Too many small fish out there now. Maybe I should switch over to
salmon, take on some ice and get the hell outta here.”

“What ever you do, good luck, “ I said.

The next morning I stayed close to Neely. He didn’t object, but he didn’t talk much
either. Mostly because he was occupied catching fish. After he hooked a salmon, he’d pull
a slip knot in his bow line and drift free of his anchored bouy. This allowed him to stay clear
of his own anchor line and chase the fish.

The anchor and bouy were a neat trick, but wouldn’t work for me. Unless the tide was
strong enough to work my cut plug herring, I had to keep moving, where Neely cast his
strip bait and gave it action by jerking on the line.

Idaho had shown me how to cut strips at Grindall Island. I’d given it a try, but it
required more patience than I was willing to give. I didn’t catch a salmon on strips. Actually
it was a simple technique. Two hooks were spaced about the same distance apart as the set
up I was using. Both were inserted through the fillet. The trick was how the cut was made
that gave the bait action, then how you jerked and retrieved the bait.

I was too embarrassed to try fishing strips around Neely, not wishing to be judged a
silly copycat. After he quit and went in, I tried it, but caught nothing.

After weighing in I hung around the cannery, hoping to see Neely, but he wasn’t
around. I met Virginia, his wife, at the post office. She was a short, muscular woman, with
dark hair and a ready smile. She wore glasses, blue jeans and a flannel shirt. Stewart, Stu, as
she called him, was sleeping. We had a pleasant chat, during which she divulged that they
had previously fished Danger Point, near Angoon. During the winter they sometimes lived
in Juneau, but were planning to stay in Tyee where they had bought a cabin from Pap Short
west of the cannery.

Each day produced about the same. Barely enough to keep me interested. Neely spent
less than half the time out fishing as I, and caught twice as many pounds. It became disgusting.

At the store I ran into Mike Goodman. He greeted me like an old friend. “How you
doing Caldwell? I hear you’re catching kings.” Actually I think he was relieved because no
bear had attack me yet.

“Not very many. Compared to your star strip fisherman.”

Cliff laughed. “Neely’s been at it a long time.”

“Well, we can’t all be high liners.”

“You stay at it long enough, you’ll do okay.”

Norman showed up. I invited him over for a crab feed. I used my dip net to scoop 10
Dungeness crabs from the bottom at low tide beneath the cannery where they dumped
salmon scraps and trimmings. We built a beach fire and cooked them in a liver can.

Norman had been experimenting with flashers, the first I’d seen. Because they had to be
trolled fast, he thought one could cover more ground and they would work better in a place
like Tyee. I didn’t have the stiff poles and heavy leads required.

After eating our fill of crab I suggested going to the store for groceries and a quart of
ice cream. We took my skiff. The Chinook was anchored out. When we returned, I took
the groceries and ice cream and Norman handled the anchor gear and running line.

Norman gave the skiff a hard shove and watched for it to stop, which meant it was out as
far as it would go, then gave the running line a jerk.

When I stepped back outside the tent Norman was standing at the water’s edge holding
onto the running line, but my boat was rapidly drifting away, the painter hanging limp
off the bow.

“What happened?”

“I think we forgot to tie the bow line onto the anchor line,” he said meekly.

The skiff was a hundred yards off by now and heading for the tide flats. “Well, maybe
we can alert someone at the cannery. We yelled but no one appeared around the docks. I
fired my .22 pistol several times.

“We might as well eat this ice cream before it melts,” I said. It was almost ten o’clock.
The tide would stop flooding in two hours.

We discussed swimming out to the Chinook. I rejected the idea. I had recently nearly
drown because of cramps while swimming in cold water. Norman wasn’t anxious to swim

“Those grass flats at the head of the bay are full of channels and holes. If my skiff goes
dry on the edge of one of those, it’s liable to tip over.”

“Can’t have that. Have you been up the river?”

“Only in the skiff. As far as I could go during high tide one day. I know what you’re
thinking. The water is deep in the river channel for a long ways, probably half a mile, during
high tide.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Well, obviously no one is going to help. I have hip boots. I’m going to go after my

“Salmon are coming into the river. Bears may be there now.”

“That’s right. But there’s too much at stake. I pulled on my hip boots and took off
along the shore, the .22 pistol in my hip pocket. It was tough walking because the tide was
nearly high. I had almost a mile to go before I could look for a windfall, or shallow place
to cross. When I entered the forest along the river it was getting dark. I could smell bear
and rotten salmon. I shivered. I finally found a place to cross and started down the other

I sang, and talked loudly, “Hey bear. It’s only little old me. I’m coming. Hey bear. I’m
too skinny to make a good meal.” I doubt if my voice scared away any bears, but at least it
was comforting to me. I saw shadowy images that resembled bears every where. The river
gurgled and rattled. I heard something that sounded like a bear splashing across the river.
It was only a submerged limb tapping against a windfall in the current. The west wind blew
in my face so my scent was not proceeding me.

A salmon carcass lay in the grass ahead of me. It was fresh and the belly had been bitten
away. I watched the fish a moment and sure enough, it still twitched. My hair imme-
diately responded by standing up. I got the .22 pistol ready. If it wouldn’t stop a charging
bear, at least it might give him a toothache.

A maze of windfalls lay strewn along the river bank. Most were parallel, across my
path, having been felled by some southeast gale. Devil’s club slowed my progress. I climbed
over one large spruce windfall and under another. Darkness was settling in fast. The smell
of bear was strong. Pink salmon carcasses littered the shore. They appeared to have been
chewed recently. Like that same day! I raised my voice a couple of notches. “Hey bear, it’s
only me. Don’t be scared of little old me. I won’t hurt you,” I yelled.

I crawled under a windfall, then stood upright. Another big spruce, only a few feet
away, blocked my path. Through the dusky gloom a brown bear’s head was staring at me
across the windfall. It’s stubby little ears were cocked towards me.

They say never run from a bear. That easy for someone to say when they’re not facing
one only ten feet away in a dim Alaskan rain forest. What do you do when sheer fright overcomes all other senses? I yelled, turned around, started to run, but was blocked by the
windfall I’d just crawled under. I think I did a standing leap, and a belly flop across that log.

Wearing hip boots! After running for fifty yards, I glanced back. The bear was jumping
logs, running the opposite direction, his rear end flashing as he cleared each windfall.
Evidently the bear was as surprised by the sudden encounter as I had been, but I doubt as

I retraced my steps, my hair standing straight up. I was as scared as I’d ever been. I
reached the open tidal flats without seeing another bear. Naturally my boat had decided to
drift into the southeast corner, the farthest possible place from where I emerged from the
timber. The tide was high, so I had to stick to the timber again until I got near the boat,
then wade out in my boots. It felt mighty good to get aboard.

Norman was relieved to see me. “See any bear?” he asked.

“Couple of dozen,” I said. I took him out to his boat and went to bed at one o’clock.
As soon as we started fishing together at Tyee, Norman started out catching me with
cut plug herring. It’s always difficult to determine why one person out fishes another consistently.

After several days it became obvious that something was wrong with me, or my
gear. I stopped using Bag Balm on my hands for fear the odor was getting on my bait. I
wondered if it was the oil that always seemed to tint the water behind an outboard. Norman
became as engrossed in solving the problem as I was.

The weather remained clear and sunny. We finally traced the problem to the white 15
pound line I was using. The water around Tyee was nearly clear, tinged a light green because
of glaciers at the head of Frederick Sound and coming from bays east of Steven’s Passage.

Norman’s nylon was light green. He gave me enough to make a test. It worked, and I started
catching equally. Evidently the white nylon glinted in the bright sunlight and scared off
some salmon.

I solved that problem by going to the store, buying some green food coloring, and soaking
my white nylon in a bucket of colored water.

Norman decided he wanted to fish at Angoon. He’d managed to have a long talk with
the elusive Neely, and became convinced he could do better at Danger Point.

Neely went to Juneau on business on the mailboat for a week.

Virginia didn’t go. When the cannery was real busy, she worked there. I sometimes
spent an hour or two talking to her in the afternoons around the store or post office, pumping
her for clues as to how they managed to catch so many fish. She couldn’t explain that,
except to say they had been at it a lot of years, but I did learn quite a bit about both of them.
Stewart Neely had came to Alaska at the age of 18 in 1927 and worked for Libby,
McNeill and Libby on the cannery ship Admiral W.W. Gorgas packing red salmon in the
Bering Sea. Before Pearl Harbor, he worked building the new naval base on Japonski Island,
at Sitka.

In 1939, Virginia and her younger sister, Fern Lechelt had been operating a restaurant
on the Naches Pass highway in Washington when they got the urge to head for Alaska. Both
were in their early twenties and lusted for adventure. In Seattle they bought passage on the
little freighter Tongass to Juneau. The tickets were all they could afford. The girls were
thrilled by the long voyage north through 900 miles of forested wilderness.

In Juneau they stayed at the Alaskan Hotel on South Franklin Street, then moved into
a private home where the rent was cheaper. They both eventually managed to find work,
Fern at a bakery and Virginia as a waitress.

After a summer in Juneau, Fern returned home to Kennewick. Virginia headed for
Fairbanks, where she spent a winter working, and actually managed to reach as far north as
Circle, on the banks of the Yukon River. Her wanderlust slated, Virginia returned home to
Washington State.

As have so many others who tasted life in Alaska, Virginia was soon back in Juneau,
and took a job at the B.M.Behrends Bank. Her salary was $110 a month. On December
7, 1941, Juneau received word that Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese.

Virginia remained in Juneau, and at a New Years Eve party in 1942, met Stewart Neely, a
blue eyed handsome man. It was love at first sight, but the wedding was delayed while Stu
served in the Army. Not until 1944 did they marry.

Virginia didn’t realize at first that she had married a devout salmon fisherman. She soon
learned, however, when he took her to Comox, Vancouver Island, for a salmon fishing trip
on their honeymoon.

It was Stu’s dream to return to Alaska and fish commercially with sport gear. I doubt if
anyone had ever done that before. They couldn’t afford a boat, so, during the summer of
1946, took a job at Pelican Cold Storage, where Stu worked in the freezer, handling hundreds
of tons of frozen salmon and halibut.

They spent that winter living in a cabin 15 miles north of Juneau. They dug clams
commercially and lived on venison and fish. Both enjoyed life in Alaska. In 1947 they
bought their first commercial licence for one dollar, an old skiff and ten horsepower outboard
for $50, and started fishing kings out of Tee Harbor.

Stu Neely introduced strip fishing for king salmon with a limber pole to the Juneau
area. Virginia also began fishing with her husband. Fishing at Aaron Island, they seldom
saw another boat, except on weekends.

After they began delivering 15 to 30 kings a day at Donohue’s float, word soon got
around, and strip fishing became popular. They were paid $.16 cents a pound for silvers and
$.40 cents for kings.

It wasn’t long until they felt crowded by numerous other fishermen who were also fishing
with sport gear commercially. They moved their operation to Angoon, a Tlingit Indian
village on the west side of Admiralty Island, in Kootznahoo Inlet.

At first the Indian hand trollers ridiculed the new arrivals with their whippy sport
poles. The Indians were still using old fashioned cotton mainline, hand gurdies and Oregon
leaders. The Indians completely ignored the new arrivals on their traditional fishing grounds
at Danger Point. Even when they had a salmon on, the Indians would troll by without
acknowledging the fact. Some of the younger men examined the Neely’s light gear and
refused to believe they could catch a 50-pound salmon on 15-pound-test monofilament

After the Neelys began out-catching the hand trollers ten to one, some of the younger
Indians changed their minds, ordered sport gear, and began using light tackle. It was a radical
departure for people who were steeped in long tradition, and the older generation flatly
refused to change.

After several season at Angoon, the Neelys were forced to move again because Jim and
Mary, the fish buyers, decided to stop buying at Angoon. In the spring of 1952, three years
before I arrived, they moved their operations to Tyee, on the southern tip of Admiralty

“Your husband isn’t very friendly, is he?” I asked.

Virginia looked at me sharply. “I wouldn’t say that. If he hasn’t exactly welcomed

another sport fisherman with open arms, perhaps it because he’s afraid you are the vanguard
of more sport fishermen at Tyee.”

Remembering how Tom and Lloyd caused such an increase in fishermen at Mountain
Point, I could relate to that. It had happened to the Neely’s at Tee Harbor also.

One evening I arrived back at camp and found I had new neighbors. The Jackson family,
the Indian family I’d met in Rocky Pass with the leaking boat, had set up their tent several
hundred yards from mine. I cruised up to the beach and shut off the outboard. They
had a fire going and the kids were playing around the tent. The dogs began barking and
charged down the beach, stopped only when belly deep in water, then stood growling at

Jackson came out of the tent and threw rocks at the dogs until they slunk off.

“Patched up your leak in the boat okay, huh?”

“No problem. Wife work in cannery.”

“That’s good. Make money.”

“You catch Tyee?”

Tyee in his language meant “big salmon.”

“A few. You going to fish here?”

“I dono. Maybe. Lot’s halibut. Many big waves this place.” He held his arm out and
worked it up and down, the signal for heavy seas.

“Well, hope to see you out there fishing soon. “I started the motor and went to camp.
Each time I returned I expected to see the tent flattened and food ruined.

Several days went by. One night I was asleep in my tent when I was suddenly awakened
by a peculiar popping noise coming from the beach. It took only a moment to remem-
ber that my boots produced the same identical sound when I walked over dry seaweed, a
plant we call pop weed, that contains small air bladders, drifts onto shore and drys. Only
one thing would make that sound; big flat feet and a heavy weight. I didn’t kid myself thinking
it might be a human at this time of night.

Next came a loud crash came from in front of the tent. My liver can, that had been
hanging 12 feet high in the alder tree, was the only thing that could have made that noise.
My sleep-fogged brain went into overdrive. Next was a series of loud bangs.

I recognized those sounds. A brown bear beating the liver can with its paw. After a few
moments the crashes of paw against tin stopped and a new sound reached me. The crunch,
crunch and slurp, slurp of something eating my slab of un-sliced bacon, butter, candy bars,
raisins and sweet rolls.

A paralyzing fear raced up and down my spine. Goodman’s warning, “Don’t keep
bacon in camp,” echoed in my ears.

Four questions immediately came to mind:
1) What would happen next after the bear
finished his midnight snack?
2) Would the bear decide to come into the tent and see what
else was good to eat?
3) Most important, could a ten-foot-long visitor, and skinny little me, both fit inside
an eight by ten foot tent?
4) And last, would my stinking, sweaty body, reeking with man scent, be repulsive
enough to drive the bear outside my tent, seeking asylum in the sweet smelling forest? I certainly hoped so. I was glad I hadn’t showered recently.

There were indications that my sleeping bag would soon become much more stinking
and repulsive because I was so terrified I was probably going to ****.

While the bear wandered around outside, with me following its progress by the loud
sniffing and snuffing and sticks breaking, I took the only steps I could think of to welcome
my uninvited guest inside. I always brought my .22 pistol inside to clean and oil after being
exposed to salt water in the boat. It was kept lying under my pillow. The pistol felt flimsy
as I grabbed it and retreated as far as possible into the army surplus mummy bag drawing

the flap closed around my head.

Should my guest decide I was fit to eat, at least it would have to paw through some
stinking chicken feathers (the army called it down) before it reached me, the meat inside. If
it came to that I was prepared to season the bear’s meal with a dozen spicy .22 bullets, hopefully right into his sensitive snoot, or mouth.

Then I remembered my semi-automatic sometimes jammed, especially if fired rapidly.
This gave me something to think about as I scrunched pathetically as far down in the sleeping
bag as I could scoot. What were the odds that the pistol would jam?

The temperature inside my bag climbed rapidly, until I thought if the bear didn’t attack
soon, I’d die of heat prostration anyway. I wondered if I had ever taken time to write a
will? I laid there sweating and listening for the sound of claws ripping canvas.

Suddenly I heard dogs baying. Was my neighbor’s camp being bothered by another
bear? The sound came closer and closer, then suddenly all hell broke loose right in my front
yard. Those mongrels lit into my nocturnal guest with a rush. Howls, growls and roars filled
the night. They were experienced bear dogs, and knew they had to stay away from those
murderous paws. The bear bawled, the dogs growled, yipped and howled. Suddenly there
was a crash as my table collapsed, followed by clinking metallic sounds as either the bear, or
dogs, stepping on or kicked the liver can. The next crash shook the wall of the tent inches
from the foot of my sleeping bag. That was my neatly stacked pile of wood toppling against
the tent.

Even more alarming, was an occasional twang as dog or bear stumbled across one of
the tent guy lines, shaking the tent. Suppose the bear decided to take shelter inside the tent?
What would it be like with bear, three dogs and myself all tumbling around inside?

Next the tent shook so hard the stove pipe came apart and collapsed across the grub
box with a bang. Thankfully, there had been no fire in the stove.

This would have been an exciting show, if it had happened during daylight, and I had
been fully dressed and in a bear-proof observation stand 20 feet high.

Escape through the back door was impossible because it was tightly secured against
mosquitos and a solid stand of brush and devils club were outside. Besides, what would a
naked man do wandering around in the dark, beside swat mosquitoes?

The bear grew weary and began puffing and blowing, out of breath. The fight moved
into the brush about twenty feet behind the campsite. The snap and crash of brush and
small saplings became mixed with the yelping of injured or wounded dogs. In the brush
the bear had the advantage and the dogs couldn’t move around as quickly as in the clearing
in front of the tent.

I came out of the bag for fresh air. I’d almost decided to make a naked dash for my boat
when the bear grew weary of the fight and crashed off through the brush, huffing and puffing.
The three dogs limped back home. I looked a my watch. Three a.m. Time to dress,
cook breakfast and go fishing.

I untied the front of the tent, and while mosquitos dined on my sweaty, naked body,
examined my front yard with the flash light. What a mess. It looked as if someone had
drove through camp with a bulldozer. The liver can was crunched and twisted, with holes
through the tin where the bear’s teeth had bitten. Holes so large I could jam my fingers
through. As expected, the can was empty. My well-built table had been reduced to kindling.
I dressed and went behind the tent where the fight ended. Huckleberry bushes were broken
and flattened. A rotten snag had been broken off at ground level.

Would my visitor return? No one has ever packed up camp as quickly. I threw everything
into the boat and ran across the cove. I chose a spot 25 yards past the last Indian cabin
in the row and pitched the tent. Not wishing to awaken my neighbors, I left driving stakes
until later.

Mike Goodman was an early riser. I’d noticed him strolling the beach past the Indian
cabins as I left to go fishing. No doubt this was his time of reflection and solitude before
confronting the many duties of operating a cannery and cold storage during an 18-hour day.
I was carrying up the last of my camping gear as he walked up. He stopped, pushed
back his hat and scratched his head, peered at my tent, then looked across the cove where
it had been previously. “By God, Caldwell. There must have been an awful big high tide
last night to have floated your camp clear across the cove!”

“That’s right, Mike. That’s the trouble with these modern new tents with water tight
floors.” (Actually it was a worn out army surplus with no floor)

“Yah. Yah. So what happened? You get lonely over there?”

“Not really. Actually I had an uninvited visitor last night “

“Yah. I see. You kept a clean camp like I told you?”

“Well, it’s clean now. No bacon, sweet rolls, eggs, butter. My guest ate all that, and
probably would have considered me for desert, except Wilson’s dogs came down and interrupted his plans.”

Mike laughed. “I see. Well, it’s probably for the best. I’ve been worried about you over
there. More salmon are starting to come in now and strange, uneducated, hungry bears
will be showing up.”

I had neglected to tell Mike about my evening stroll across the river in pursuit of my
boat. It wasn’t necessary that he knew I was that stupid.

“Well, you have good neighbors next door. “Mary is in charge of inventory, and has
worked here for several years. Her room mate, Linda, works on the can forming machine.
“Linda with the long, black, curly hair? She’s beautiful.”

“Yeah.” Mike looked at me thoughtfully. Then he lowered his voice and said, “Linda’s
married to a seiner, a big, tough white guy, from Sitka.” He gave me a long look. “You need
anything, just let me know.” He continued his walk down the beach.

After camp was set up I cooked breakfast, then went to the store to replenish what the
bear had eaten. All frozen meat sold for fifty cents a pound. I bought six of the largest
steaks I could find in the freezer. I had a debt to pay. After they thawed, I went to Wilson’s
camp. He was scraping a seal hide.

“Woman’s work,” he grumbled. “Now women earn money and men scrape hides.”
“Your dogs saved my ass last night. They came down and chased a bear away from my
camp. Did any of them get hurt?”

He smiled. I heard the fight. “Scratched up some. Good bear dogs. Not worth damn
for anything else.”

“Well, I want each one to have a steak on me. The other two are for you and your wife.

He nodded. “You move camp to cannery side. His dark face split into a grin. Now have
new problems.”

“What could that be?”

He laughed. “Instead of bear come visiting in the night, lonely Indian women living
in those shacks.” His whiskered face split apart in a laugh.

I joined him in laughter. “Do you have a gun?”

“Shot gun. No work.”

“Why. What’s the matter with it?”

He went into the tent, got his gun and handed it to me. The shot gun was badly beat
up. The stock was chewed or scratched and the barrel rusty. “Firing pin broke. Machine
shop at cannery no fix.”

“My neighbor in Ketchikan is a gun smith. If you want me to, when I leave, I’ll take it
with me, have it fixed, then ship it back, either to here or Kake, whichever you want”
“We here till cannery close.”

“Okay. I owe you and your dogs a lot.”

I doubt whether the dogs received any of the steak, but that was okay.

One evening I was busy scrubbing my skiff on the beach in front of my tent when a
tall, red haired man appeared walking a Labrador dog on a length of rope. I’ve always had
a soft spot for Labradors. They evidently sense my weakness. The dog came to me and
allowed me to rub his ears and pet him. The man introduced himself as Red Kelly.

We started talking. He had a problem. He was crewing on one of the seine boats tied
at the cannery, and had been taking his dog along on the boat. They were ready to leave,
and didn’t expect to return to Tyee. The skipper had informed him that he couldn’t take his
dog again. He asked me if I knew of anyone that would take him.

“You want to give this dog away? What’s his name?” The animal was quite thin.

“Buddy. He’s a good dog. I don’t want to get rid of him, but the crew says a dog on a
crowded seine boat is a problem. I don’t have any choice, except to quit. Then what would
I do? I need the job.”

I looked into the dog’s amber eyes. I could tell he was worried about something. Well,
I’d take him, but what would I do with him when I go fishing every day in my skiff?”

“He wouldn’t be any trouble. He minds good. I raised him around small boats and
taught him to go to the bow and stay there.”

“Well, okay. You ready to give him up right now?”

Red seemed relieved. “Yes, but I warn you, he’s really attached to me. He’s going to raise
hell if I leave him here with you.”

“What do you suggest?”

“Let’s take him inside your tent. You take his leash, pet and talk to him. Get a frm grip
on this rope. Then I’’ll leave.”

“Will he bite me?”

“No, but he’ll be dammed hard to hold.”

Inside the tent I knelt down and held out my hand to the dog. He sniffed it, then
crowded against his master’s leg, already suspicious of what was happening. I talked to him
and fondled his ears. He resisted, and crowded in between Red’s legs.

Red bent down, gave the dog a hug, then looked into his eyes. “You have a new owner
now, so be a good dog.” Red stood up and handed me the leash. “Hang on tight. I don’t
want him following me. Having to tell him good bye once is enough,” Red choked. I could
see tears in his eyes as he turned and disappeared out the tent flap.

For a few seconds Buddy thought this was only a momentary separation. He listened
intently. As Red’s footsteps disappeared, the dog lunged to get away. He was strong and I
had my hands full holding onto him. After he found out he couldn’t escape he quit fighting,
cocked his ears and listened for his master to return.

When it became obvious Red wasn’t coming back, Buddy made a last attempt to get
away. I got one arm around his neck and the other hand inside his collar. We tumbled
around on the floor in a wrestling match. “It’s okay, Buddy. This is your home now. I’ll feed
you and take better care of you than Red could.” Finally he settled down. We were both
hot and sweating.

After I thought enough time had passed that the seiner had departed, I took Buddy
outside. That was a mistake, and we had another wrestling match on the grass. The two
seine boats had pulled away from the dock. Red stood forlornly on the bridge looking back.
He remained there until the boat disappeared out of sight. I felt bad. Giving away a beloved
dog is a difficult thing to do.

I drove a sturdy stake into the beach in front of my tent and tied Buddy securely. He
howled pitifully, and kept looking towards the cannery. I talked to him and offered him a
dish of water and some bread, but he refused both.

I took him on the leash and walked to the store to buy a sack of dog food. Buddy
though I was returning him to his master, and pranced along, sniffing the grass along the
trail and on the boardwalk.

When it came time to return to camp I had to drag him. He wasn’t going to give up
easily. I fed him some of my dinner. He ate it and wanted more. I filled a bowl with dog
food and placed a coffee can of water where he could reach it. He ate all the dog food. The
poor animal was starved. I went to bed with his leash tied to my wrist, expecting trouble
during the night. I laid one of my sweat shirts by my sleeping bag and made him lie down
on it. His stomach full, he finally relaxed.

I woke up during the night, reached out and patted Buddy’s head. In the morning I
cooked breakfast and fed him several hot cakes. As soon as he discovered he was going to be
cared for and fed, he accepted the fact that he had a new master.

When I began loading stuff into the boat Buddy watched with great interest. When I
led him to the boat and told him to jump in, we were going fishing, he leaped in and went
right to the bow, as Red had claimed.

As we ran out to the fishing grounds, Buddy barked and watched every bird intently.
He was at home aboard a boat. When I pulled my herring net, spilling fish into the boat,
Buddy leaped around on the front seat, trying to grab a flipping fish. He was the first to
spot seals and seal lions.

When I hooked a salmon, Buddy became my cheerleader, barking excitedly until the
fish was in the boat. But he didn’t leave his spot at the bow. He’d been well trained.
The boat had a small cubby beneath the bow deck where I kept my coiled anchor line.
This anchor line became Buddy’s bed, but he rarely used it, preferring to stay on the bow
seat where he could watch what was happening.

After that first day of fishing, Buddy fully accepted me as his new master. That night
he slept with his head on my sleeping bag. While I was cooking, Buddy sat nearby watching
every move. Occasionally he drew in several short breaths, inhaling bacon smoke or eggs
frying, his tongue hanging out. That dog loved to eat.

My next door neighbors worked long hours when there were fish to process, so I seldom
saw them. We became acquainted quite by accident, through my dog. During a day
when the west wind howled, and no salmon were brought in to the cannery, they were

I allowed Buddy to run loose as long as I was around the tent and awake. Buddy had
already coaxed handouts from Mary and Linda. They brought him bones from the dining
room, for which Buddy showed his gratefulness by dancing around, licking their face and
hands. Mary especially loved dogs. She and Buddy immediately formed a strong bond.
While in camp, if the women were home, Buddy became a permanent fixture by their cabin
door, and in their kitchen. They spoiled him unmercifully. I didn’t mind because the store
seldom had dog food and I didn’t have enough left overs.

Most of the Indian workers were from Kake, but Mary was from Hoonah, a Tlingit village
on Chicagof Island in Icy Strait. She was about 35 years old, with muscular arms and
shoulders and rather heavy for her height. She wore no makeup and the only jewelry I
noticed was a heavy silver cross, decorated with abalone shell, hanging on a chain around
her neck and dangling between her ample breasts. Her straight, black hair was shoulderlength,
and parted down the middle. On first glance, Mary’s face appeared course and plain.

After one got to know her, that imaged changed. She had a quiet but radiant nature, a
friendly smile and husky laugh. Her hands were as strong and muscular as any man’s.

Linda, from Sitka, was 25. Beautiful women are rare around salmon canneries, but
this lady would have been an eye stopper anywhere. She was barely five foot tall, with
unusually dainty features for a coastal Alaskan Indian. I doubt if she weighed 100 pounds.
Her perfectly proportioned body resembled an athletic teen-aged girl. Despite her small
size, she was strong and tough and swung an axe like a logger as she chopped wood for the
stove. I suspected there was some non-Indian blood somewhere in her family tree.

One day I asked her about her family. Her father had been a handsome Slavonian fisherman.
When she was five, her father and his boat disappeared at sea. Her mother was a
Tlingit princess, a descendent of Chief Katlian. Linda was very proud of that.

Her glowing, ripe peach complection, pear-shaped face and dark eyes would have been
perfect for a beauty product ad in Ladies Home Companion, or Cosmopolitan magazines. Her
most striking feature was her large, dark eyes and long, curling lashes. Her eyes extruded
sparkling catch-lights, and the corners of her mouth curled up in provocative manner when
she smiled.

Off work she let her hair tumble down in a cascade of glistening blue-black tight natural
curls that fell over both shoulders and nearly reached her hips. Each curl caught the
light and reflected like tiny diamonds. I think she used some kind of oil on it. Mary claimed
Linda used seal oil, much to Linda’s disgust. Many women would kill for hair like that.

Linda’s weakness was cheap jewelry and makeup (although she didn’t need any) and
perfume, which she was never without. She was forever surrounded with the odor of fresh,
blooming wild flowers. It was most disarming and I noticed that most men’s eyes, especially
the Asian crew, followed her discreetly as she went about the cannery.

Although Mary and Linda shared nothing in appearance, they were second cousins,
and had lived and worked together at Tyee before.

They shared a great zest for life, and having fun was important to them. When at home
their peels of laughter easily carried from their cabin to my tent.

I discovered that most of the other native women, who worked the slime or fill lines,
and lived in nearby cabins, were jealous of Mary and Linda because they had “clean” jobs.

One evening Mary was sitting outside on the step of their cabin sewing a piece of white
fur. I admired her deft strokes with the needle. It took powerful fingers to force the needle
through more than one layer of skin. Buddy sat obediently at her side, as if he belonged
to her, instead of me.

“You’ve spoiled my dog.”

“He’s smart. He’d rather live in a warm cabin and eat my cooking than live in your old
cold tent.” Mary smiled. “It’s too bad Red didn’t offer Buddy to me,” she added wistfully.
“Well, he isn’t up for adoption. You sure make beautiful things out of fur. I used to do
some trapping.”

“What did you trap?”

“Pine marten, muskrats, racoons, a few mink.”

Linda, in her usual white dungarees and flowered print blouse, came to the door with
a dish towel and plate in her hands. “Come see Mary’s collection of fur pieces,” she said,
inviting me in.

“Okay. I’ve always wanted to see what the inside of the cabins were like”

“This is the Tyee Ritz-Carlton,” Linda said, holding the door open. “How do you like
our wall paper?” The girls had plastered the wall with cutouts of handsome male movie stars
and wrestlers taken from magazines.

“Wow,” I said. “Very macho.”

“Well, it’s a lot better than it was. When we first moved in several years ago, the walls
were covered with ghastly Sears Catalogue pages and Juneau Empire newspapers. You
wanna see the master bedroom?”

“Master bedroom? Sure, why not?” The rear half contained two bunks. A few shelves
and wooden pegs along the walls held clothing. A stack of two wooden Du Pont powder
boxes between the bunks served as a night stand. The walls were covered with light purple
wall paper.

“Sexy, huh?” Linda teased.

“Very.” With her perfume filling the room, what else could I say?

The front kitchen section contained a wood-burning combination cook stove and
heater. A large, blue enamel teakettle was kept on top for heating water. A beat up, handmade
wooden table, three old chairs, a few crude shelves and cupboards made from packing
boxes, hooks for pots and skillets, a mirror and wash stand, a coal oil lamp and a
Coleman gas lantern, completed the arrangements.

“Mary’s work,” Linda said, pointing towards a top shelf. She climbed on a chair and
took down a beautiful, white fur hat and placed it on her head. The shelf also contained
fur mittens, purses, gloves and dolls. Some were trimmed with white ermine, black wolf
and decorated with white-tanned caribou hide.

“Mary, these are beautiful. What kind of fur is this white hat made from? It’s as soft as
sheep skin.” I held out a “hugger type” so popular in Alaska’s cold climate. Large ear and
forehead flaps folded up against the sides of the cap.

“Unborn seal,” Mary said, coming inside and closing the door. Buddy followed. “Phew,
those no-see-ums and mosquitos are making mincemeat out of me.”

“Harbor seal fur is stiff and brittle. This is as soft as lamb’s wool.”

“My husband and I used to hunt seals. If you shoot a female in the spring, and she has
an unborn pup, this is what the pup’s fur is like.”

“I’ll buy it.”

“Sorry. It’s already sold.”

“Can you make me another like it?”

“I can, but I’m out of unborn seal until next spring.”

“Okay. I’ll pay for it now. You can ship it to me when you finish making it.”

She measured my head and took my address.

“You catch ling cod?” Mary asked.

“Once in a while.”

“If you do, save it for us. We’d rather have ling cod than salmon.”

“You’re coming to the dance Saturday night, aren’t you?” Linda asked.

I knew they had live music on Saturday nights at the cannery. “I doubt it. I don’t have
any suitable clothes.”

“That’s no excuse. Everyone just comes in their every day clothing.”

“I’ll think about it.” Buddy was lying by the stove. “Come on Buddy,” I said. “You
stick around here you’ll be so spoiled you won’t want to come home to a cold tent.”

Mary patted Buddy’s head. “Smart dog. You know a good place, don’t you Buddy?”

“See you at the dance Saturday night,” Linda teased.

Reluctantly, Buddy followed me to the tent.

Other neighbors, closer to the cannery, were Native women from Kake A few had children
with them, but the company had a policy that no children under 12 years of age could
be left alone while their mothers worked at the cannery unless accompanied by a baby sitter.

Some of the older daughters took care of the children. They were a somber group and
difficult to get to know.

Almost all other production employees were Fillipino. Although courteous if spoken
to, they were a clannish bunch, and were housed in one of the cannery buildings.

Now that Neely was in Juneau and Norman was at Angoon, I had the place to myself.

Fishing improved and I began averaging about 200 pounds a day. Buddy became totally
devoted to his role in the boat and was good company. I talked to him constantly.

Once a week I sent a money order home. Since I had few expenses, except for fuel and
groceries, it was usually about $200.00

I kept Mary and Linda supplied with ling cod and yellow eye rockfish. Mary invited
me over for dinner one evening. She poached the fish smothered with butter, canned
spinach, wild onions and asparagus she gathered in the nearby forest. It was delicious. The
two women kept me entertained with hilarious stories about other cannery workers, especially
neighbors, and things that happened at work.

Linda’s husband owned a small seine boat, but he wasn’t fishing for Sebastian Stewart,
so he never came into Tyee. Mary constantly teased Linda, claiming her husband kept her
“in exile” at Tyee to keep her away from all the handsome young men in Sitka while he was
away. He’d tried taking her along on the boat but she was prone to seasickness.

Considering Linda’s extraordinary beauty, I thought there might have been some wisdom
to this.

The girls were always short of wood. I remembered the stack of drift wood at the
entrance and invited them to go out in the boat and gather a load. I’d already cleaned up
the pile I’d left at my old camp. One evening we went to the west entrance to Murder Cove
and filled the boat with chunks about stove length size. They wanted to continue beach

combing, so we walked over rocks and logs out to the point. Beach crows were cawing excitedly in the nearby timber. We went to see what attracted them. Mary was standing on top of a pile of drift logs. “Bear kill! A deer carcass,” Mary exclaimed. “Let’s get out of here. He’sprobably watching.”

We hurried back to the boat Mary was afraid of bears and said she had good reason.

One evening Mary was sewing, as usual, during her time off. She asked me about my
family. I showed her pictures of my two young sons. Then, no doubt feeling melancholy,
she said she had always wanted children, then mentioned how much she missed her husband.
When I asked what had happened to him, in her simple, direct way, she told me he had
drowned a decade ago while on a seal hunting trip.

Fascinated by the Natives and their lifestyles, and an avid collector of such stories, I
tried to coax more facts from her about what happened, but she was in no mood to tell me
at the time. Later something would happen that encouraged her to talk about this tragedy.
I got up enough nerve to go to the dance Saturday night. Most everyone came, except
the elusive Neelys.

A number of Filipinos owned musical instruments. They played really well and loved
to dance. The dance was held in the net loft. Dancers had to weave around 12X12 support
posts and an occasional pallet board of seine web. The floor was kept sanded smooth so the
nets wouldn’t catch while being dragged across them.

As expected, Linda was the belle of the ball, and much in demand. She was dancing
with a handsome young Filipino who twirled her like a leaf in the wind. I sat behind several
others who were listening to the music. I’d been to cannery dances at Waterfall
Cannery and they usually ended up with many drunks staggering around like idiots. Here
at Tyee, if there was any liquor, it wasn’t evident.

Mike and his wife came in. He wore black slacks, white shirt and was tall and handsome.
His wife was a willowy, slender blond dressed in a red skirt and white blouse. Rumors
were she was a heavy drinker. Mike waved at me, and jerked his thumb indicating I should
get out on the floor and dance.

He immediately grabbed Mary, who had been sitting on the side lines, and twirled her
around at a lively clip. Mary loved the attention Mrs. Goodman retaliated by dragging me
onto the floor.

“It’s nice to see everyone having fun, isn’t it, Mr. Caldwell?” she said in my ear. Her
breath did smell slightly of alcohol. A vodka drinker, I thought.

“Yes. You can call me Frank.”

“This crew works really hard, so it’s good they can have some fun. It’s a short season.
They have to work long hours. Are you satisfied with the fishing here at Tyee?”

“Yes. It’s nice to fish out of a cannery and cold storage, especially one that have showers,
a post office and laundry.”

Our conversation ended suddenly when one of the white employees tapped my shoulder
and cut in. I was glad. I’m not much of a dancer, and I felt uncomfortable in my worn
blue jeans and wrinkled hickory shirt.

Two of the Short boys came in and made a beeline for the young Native girls dressed
in their finery. The Short’s were popular and seldom missed a dance if they happened to
be in the area.

Mary came and grabbed my hands. “Come, neighbor. Do your duty.” She danced
clumsily, which suited my style, because I was clumsy too. After the music ended, she said,
“Linda is dying to dance with you.”

“I was afraid of that!”


“She’s a high stepper. I’m afraid I’ll step on her toes.”

“Well, she’s going to be offended if you don’t ask her.”

Screwing up my courage, I walked over where Linda and a handsome young Filipino
were dancing. “Mary said you wanted to dance with me,” I blurted, for lack of an excuse
for cutting in.

“Of course I do,” she said. “Neighbors need to be neighbors, don’t they?” The Filipino
glared at me, then let her go.

She was as light as goose down in my arms. I was immediately sorry I had asked her
to dance, because she pressed her body against mine, and her perfume took my breath away.

“I’m sorry if I do not dance very well. I feel uncomfortable dancing with such a wonderful
dancer as you.”

She tilted back her head and looked at me with those fathomless, dark eyes. In the dim
light of the loft her eyes appeared purple. “Do you think I’m pretty, Frank?”

Her question startled me. She knew how beautiful she was. “Pretty? I think you’re the
most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” I stammered.

Her arm tightened around my neck. “Thank you for the compliment.”

I was relieved when the dance ended. My head whirled. I sneaked out and headed
down the beach for my camp. By the time I reached my tent my heart rate was back to normal.

Buddy, tied inside to a tent pole, jumped up and licked my hand. There would be no
more dances for me.

It was while at Tyee that I met the Short family for the first time. Over the years I
coaxed their story from one or another of them. Walter “Pap” Short, was a skinny wanderlust
who had already moved his family several times in Arizona and Colorado. He decided
to move to Alaska in 1936, and sold their farm and drove towards Seattle in an old sedan.
They had three sons, and the youngest son, six at the time, came down with osteomelitis in
Oregon, so they had to change plans. They settled in the McKenzie River area for a time.
In 1944 Walt went to Tyee, Alaska and worked for Sebastian and Stewart for two seasons.
He was impressed with Admiralty Island, and chose a home site on the Tongass
National Forest at the head of Surprise Harbor, only a mile as the raven flies from the cannery
in Murder Cove. He wanted to move his family north, but there were government
restrictions on moving families to Alaska during the war years. Those restrictions were lifted
in late 1945.

Walt bought a tiny 22-foot steel-hulled lifeboat with a cabin on the bow and named it
the Resolute, because he was resolute about moving to Alaska. In the spring of 1946 they
loaded the boat and themselves on the North Sea, bound for Petersburg. Wayne, the oldest,
was 20, had served in the navy in the amphibious corp, the same as this writer. Duke
was 16 and Dutch was 14.

They bought supplies, a wood stove, tools and ammunition, then loaded Walt’s wife,
Grace, the boys and Spot, a three-legged terrier, on two boats, the Resolute and Chester L,
Fred Manly’s troller, and headed out into Frederick Sound.

Walt assured Grace she could go to town anytime she wanted. It would be seven years
before she saw a town again.

Walt worked for Sebastian Stewart again. Cliff Erickson was the superintendent. They
camped, tore down a building given to them at Tyee, then moved camp and lumber to
Surprise Harbor. They built the foundation, then Walt had to go to work at the cannery,
so it was left up to the boys to do most of the building.

After the house was up, the three boys rigged the Resolute, for fishing. Like most newcomers,
they had problems learning the fishing business.

Brown bears were a menace in Surprise Harbor. The very first morning Dutch went to
the stream for water he had to shoot a large bear. Bears were a source of trouble, especially
when they had venison hanging in the woodshed, during the time they lived there.

Eventually all the boys owned boats, and Walt began fishing the Vanguard. Mrs. Short
was alone much of the time. It was a hard life for her, but she was a pioneer and didn’t complain.
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