Selected sections from
Men of the Tundra: Alaska Eskimos at War, by Muktuk Marston
Copyright © 1969, 1972
October House Inc, New York
|Used with permission of the publisher, for educational purposes only. There are a limited number of copies of "Men of the Tundra" available. Price $23.95 plus $4.00 shipping. Contact: October House Publishers, 29 Bunny Rd., Preston, CT 06378.|
Introduction by Senator Ernest Gruening
Alaska Territorial Guard: Oath and Certificate of Enrollment
Ch. 11. "The Beam in Thine Own Eye"
Index to Photographs
The Alaskan Eskimos in World War II
by Senator Ernest Gruening
This is a story of epic dimensions and significance.
It is an Iliad: the tale of a whole people, the Eskimos of Alaska at war.
It is an Odyssey: the narrative of one man's adventurous journeyings across the Arctic and sub-Arctic of Alaska, a story of high purpose, unflinching courage, unwavering determination, brought through much travail to a successful and happy ending.
It is history a new and vital chapter in that continuing saga of our New World, an episode whose geography placed it in America's farthest West and farthest North, in the outermost reaches of "the last frontier," and over an area of more than a quarter of a million square miles.
It is autobiography a realistic account of struggle against natural and man-made obstacles, both of which were finally overcome.
It began when war clouds were gathering over the Pacific.
It began in a vast, little-known area over which floated the Stars and Stripes, but whose people had enjoyed, few of the benefits, rights and immunities associated with American citizenship. And the neglect and discrimination they had experienced could be judged by their total lack of defenses: despite their pleas, there was not a single up-to-date functioning Army or Navy base in Alaska at the beginning of this century's fifth decade.
The Army and Navy high brass were as unimpressed by Billy Mitchell's 1935 signallizing of the strategic importance of Alaska in his last public appearance as they were hostile to his previous forthright foresightedness concerning the value of air power in war.
As late as November 1937, General Malin Craig, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, rejected Alaska Delegate Anthony J. Dimond's written plea for endorsement of an Army air base in Alaska "for the reason that the mainland of Alaska is so remote from the strategic areas of the Pacific that it is difficult to conceive of circumstances in which air operations therefrom would contribute materially to the national defense."
The same unimaginative mentality prevented the start of the Alaska Highway until Pearl Harbor had brought a rude awakening.
The neglect and discrimination which Alaskans had experienced could also be inferred by Alaska's sparse population. For the white man, Alaska was a place to which to go, from which to take, and from which to leave. In 1940, with war about to explode, the decennial census showed a scant 72,225. Half of those were comers from "down below," largely folk of temporary sojourn who would, sooner or later, return to whence they had come.
But there was that other half little known, little understood, the original, authentic Alaskans, who had lived there since prehistory and had adapted themselves to climate, latitude, and environment.
Marvin R. Marston had worked as a miner in northern Ontario. He had served in World War I. When the Second World War loomed, he felt a patriotic desire to serve again. Next to nothing was known about Alaska in military circles, but Marston's "bush" experience seemed to authorities in the national capital to qualify him for that remote area. Early in 1941, commissioned as a major, he found himself in the newly authorized Fort Richardson-Elmendorf complex near Anchorage.
Accompanying Joe E. Brown, who was touring our new outposts to keep our lonely Gl's from homesickness with his friendly entertainment, Marston found himself on St. Lawrence Island. All white men, except for the Bureau of Indian Affairs school teacher, Frank Daugherty, had departed. The seven hundred Eskimos living in the Island's two villages of Gambell and Savoonga sensed that strange and threatening events were impending. A Japanese vessel had recently visited the Islands and its crew had been ashore for days for unrevealed purposes. Marston, who had taken an immediate liking to the friendly and cheerful Eskimos, conceived the idea of organizing them in defense units and to form similar organizations throughout western Alaska. But when he returned to his base, he found little receptiveness to his ideas.
As Governor of Alaska, I took office on December 5, 1939. There had never been a National Guard in Alaska, and I immediately took the necessary steps to organize it. I asked for five companies respectively in Ketchikan, Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Nome. The Federal authorities authorized only the first four. Action by the Territorial Legislature was also required. It encountered the opposition of the lobby representing the absentee-owned fishery and mining interests which managed to defeat the efforts to secure armories, although ten out of sixteen House members and five out of eight Senators favored them. (This interesting episode was set forth in my 1941 "Message to the People of Alaska" which I found useful to issue after legislative sessions telling the people what had happened as I saw it. By the 1948 elections, these messages had helped rout the lobbies and vest the control of subsequent legislatures in legislators concerned with the public interest.)
However, House Bill 122, which became Chapter 60 of the Session Laws of 1941, which I signed on March 27, enabled us to go ahead. Before long, in the face of the growing emergency, our Alaska National Guard was federalized, becoming the 297th Infantry.
It should be recalled that at that time our Alaska defenses, long not in existence, were still wholly inadequate. The Naval air stations at Sitka, Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor were still under construction. So also was the Army Air Force Base (which Chief of Staff Malin Craig four years earlier had "pooh-poohed," but which was finally authorized only after a request was turned down by the House of Representatives in March 1940 and reintroduced in the Senate in May after Hitler's invasion of Denmark and Norway). This was now in its early stages on the site near Anchorage I had recommended to General George Catlett Marshall, who by this time had become Army Chief of Staff. Moreover, these belated actions to make Alaska secure had come only as the result of proddings from Alaska officials, notably Delegate Dimond and myself. I had felt I could not rely on the wisdom, so far as Alaska was concerned, of the long-uninterested military chiefs in Washington. We had no assurance that they would be able to defend Alaska successfully in the event of invasion, and there had even been talk in military circles of abandoning Alaska on the ground that it would be difficult to defend. Such thinking was nauseating.
So even before the four companies of Alaska National Guard were federalized and therefore removed from the role of possible local defense, I determined that every able-bodied male otherwise not in military or essential-to-war service would be enrolled in a territorial guard and kept at home for our defense if needed. At my request, the Alaska Command assigned me, as military aides, Captain Carl Scheibner and Major Marvin R. Marston.
We were at war after December 7, 1941. Early in 1942, Marston and I set out in a small float plane from Elmendorf for the Kuskokwim to organize our Territorial Guard units. Morgan Davies, a skilled aviator, was our pilot.
At that time, I knew relatively little about the Eskimos indeed almost nothing through personal contact. My reading had informed me that they had suffered at the hands of the white man throughout the past. Their food supply whales and walrus had been depleted; they had endured starvation, and their numbers had been reduced by diseases to which they were not resistant; they had at times been unfairly taken advantage of by the strangers who had come into their midst. I wondered whether deep-seated resentments might not lurk behind their outwardly friendly appearances.
My doubts were soon set at rest. Everywhere I found only the heartiest response to my pleas for organization in self-defense. In every Eskimo village, I would call a meeting. Everyone came: men, women, children, infants. I would tell the story simply. Out there across the Pacific was the enemy. He had attacked us without warning in Hawaii. Soon he would be coming to Alaska. Indeed, shortly thereafter, Japanese navy and aircraft had attacked Dutch Harbor. On June 7, they seized Attu and Kiska. Presumably they would come on and occupy more Alaskan terrain. In each village I said that I was asking its people to organize to repel the Japs if and when they came. Our government would supply rifles and ammunition. Everywhere in the Eskimo villages, there was a whole-hearted patriotic response by the Eskimos. In various communities white men asked how much they would be paid. My reply was that they would be paid nothing. They would have the privilege of defending their homes and their families if the enemy should come. No Eskimos ever raised that question.
One meeting, typical of many, took place at Cape Prince of Wales on the westernmost tip of the Seward Peninsula. It so happened that the King Islanders had come to trade their ivory carvings and fox skins with the Prince of Wales villagers the folk of both communities crowded into the school house. After outlining the program, I proceeded:
"Now who is qualified to serve?" I asked. "Out here a boy of sixteen is a man. If he can handle a rifle, he will be enlisted." At my feet listening intently was a handsome, well-built "skookum" youngster who looked to be about eighteen.
"How old are you, son?" I asked.
"I'm fourt " he replied and quickly corrected himself. "I'm sixteen."
"Well," I said, "I'm proud of you. Even if you are only fourteen, if your father here says you can join, I'll enroll you." He was enrolled.
Actually, not a few of his age or younger were enrolled. I remember a five-foot eleven youngster whom I encountered strolling across the tundra, near Koyuk. He had a rifle slung over his shoulder, from which were dangling four ptarmigans. He had brought them down with that rifle not with a shotgun. He proved to be only twelve years old. He was enrolled.
After several joint sorties, Major Marston continued the organization alone. His territory was all western Alaska. Captain Scheibner had the eastern half, which provided its quotas readily, although, because of its location, it was not so susceptible to attack. In a few months we had organized 111 units.
"From Metlakatla to Barrow the Territorial Guard," a handsome painting by "Rusty" Heurlein, who accompanied us on one of the jaunts to the Far North, proclaimed. This superb depiction, showing an Eskimo, a White, and an Indian, rifle in hand, against a backdrop of Stars and Stripes and the Alaska flag in the sky, was later used nationwide as one of the War-Bond-drive posters.
When I returned from my first trip with Marston, I dined one night with the lieutenant colonel who had assigned him. After a few martinis, be waxed loquacious and confidential: "Governor, you don't want Marston," he said.
"Why don't I?" I asked.
"Because he's no damn good," was the reply.
"Why did you assign him to me, then?" I asked.
In the current phrase the officer "hung his head."
"So you wanted to get rid of him?" I asked, "Is that it?"
My dinner companion admitted it.
"Well, it may interest you to know," I said, "that I do want him. He's first class in every way."
"Oh, that's fine," said the lieutenant colonel, "if you like him."
I had already gathered that Marston's offense was that he wanted action, that he was not an apple-polisher, and that in cutting corners to achieve desirable objectives, such as building a Kashim, or enlisted men's clubhouse, on the base, he had found it necessary to cut red tape and occasionally step on a few toes.
Knowing that this hostility to him existed at headquarters, I made a point the next day of thanking Major General Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr., the Alaska commander, for assigning him to me.
"He's a very good man," I said.
"Of course, he is," General Buckner replied. "You don't suppose I would have assigned him to you if I hadn't thought so."
Six months later my request for a promotion for Marston to a lieutenant colonelcy was turned down by General Buckner. I flew out to Adak, where the General was preparing his campaign to expel the Japanese from the Aleutians, to ask why.
"Because he's no damn good," said General Buckner, forgetting his previous endorsement.
"Let me tell you, General," I said, "he's the only man in Alaska who could do the job he's doing. Your officers wouldn't and couldn't do it."
The fact was that most of the military at that time, including General Buckner, with his southern background, shared a prejudice against any darker races. In the early days of the war, "Native" girls were excluded from the Alaska U.S.O.'s. I could not get General Buckner to change this inexcusable discrimination and had to fly to Washington, where I had no difficulty in persuading President Roosevelt to overrule this general's mistaken policy.
The rest of the story is Marston's. His continuing difficulty with the military he has clearly set forth. When they put obstacles in his way in supplying the rifles and ammunition to remote outposts, he drove them there himself by dog team under conditions that few, if any, of the regulars could have faced.
The "tundra army" proved so efficient that, at war's conclusion, I felt they should be included in our Alaska National Guard. I encountered considerable resistance at National Guard Headquarters, based on lack of flexibility and lack of understanding of Alaska's special conditions. The National Command found it difficult, at first, to visualize units other than of conventional size, drilling on the same night of the week, 48 out of 52 weeks in the year. I persisted, and so our Eskimos were enrolled in the Alaska National Guard as "scout battalions."
It was in February 1952 that the National Guard held an encampment at Fort Richardson. The weather was unusually cold even for the Anchorage area, with a strong wind. The target practice was held out of doors. But the next day because of the continuous low temperatures the ceremonies were held in the theatre on the base. All the Alaska commanders were there, Lt. General William E. Kepner, the overall commander, the Admiral who had flown in from Kodiak, the Army and Air Force chiefs, and their staffs.
In front of us in their seats were the 300 Eskimo scouts from the far westward. Capt. Frank Clayton proceeded to call out their names, and as each would come to the platform I would confer his award: "Marksman, sharpshooter, expert." As the roll call continued, I was increasingly surprised by the large proportion of recipients. Two-thirds, three-quarters, four-fifths. . . .
Capt. Clayton stepped to the microphone and said: "That's all, Governor."
I took over the mike and said, "I want to congratulate you men of the 2nd battalion. It's a wonderful showing. As for those few who did not make it, I'm sure you will, the next time."
At this point, Capt. Clayton interrupted me: "Every one of these men got an award, Governor."
I turned to General Julian Cunningham, Alaska Army Commander, and asked, "Isn't this an unusual showing?"
"Unusual," be replied, "it's unprecedented. I've never known of a unit with a 100-percent marksmanship record."
General Kepner took up the "mike." "I wish there were forty thousand of you," he said, with real feeling in his voice.
Those were the Alaskans who served and continued to serve Uncle Sam, loyally, cheerfully, patriotically, efficiently, modestly. Had the parachutists come, or would they tomorrow, the deadly accuracy of these Eskimo marksmen would bring them down.
They continue to serve not merely in the Alaska National Guard. They serve in the Alaska legislature; and it is one of my proudest accomplishments that I persuaded the first Eskimo to run (Percy lpalook) and to start the inclusion in our Territorial and, later, State legislatures of Eskimos to represent areas which are almost wholly inhabited by Eskimos.
So "Muktuk," as he is now widely known, rendered not only a substantial military service by his high purpose and devotion but a no less notable civic service. He helped integrate an ethnic minority, a great people with qualities that are admirable and precious, into our society to which they contribute at the very least as much as they receive.
That's why Marston's story of the "tundra army" which, incidentally, is good reading, is an epic.
United States Senator (Alaska)
ALASKA TERRITORIAL GUARD
OATH AND CERTIFICATE OF ENROLLMENT
I, ________________________________________aged _________________,
(First Name) (Middle Name) (Last Name)
a citizen of the United States, resident of ___________________, Alaska, do hereby acknowledge to have voluntarily enrolled this _______day of ________________19________ , as a soldier in the Territorial Guard of Alaska, and I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America and to the Territory of Alaska; that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies whomsoever; and that I will obey the orders of the Governor of Alaska and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law.
(First Name) (Middle Initial) (Last Name)
I certify, that the above oath was subscribed and duly sworn to before me this __________ day of _______________, A.D. 19 ____. I further certify that this soldier was minutely inspected by me prior to his subscription to the oath; that I found him entirely sober and in full possession of his mental faculties; that to the best of my judgment and belief he fulfills all legal requirements, and that in enrolling him into the Territorial Guard of Alaska I deem him a thoroughly worthy and dependable person. I further certify that the above oath, as filled in, was read to the applicant before his subscription thereto.
___________________________________________, Company Commander.
(Signature) (Name typed)
_____________________________________ unit of A.T.G.
(Fill in town)
Governor of Alaska
11. "The Beam in Thine Own Eye"
Perhaps there has never been a time in the human history when conflicts and tensions were more universally prevalent. Fortunately, we are fully aware of conditions and every intelligent individual is seeking to discover and eradicate the causes of these tensions. All of this may indeed presage the birth of a new order in which the brotherhood of all men shall be given not only mental and verbal acknowledgment, but in which the recognition of brotherhood may also become so complete in the hearts of men that racial discrimination and minority group oppression shall truly be banished from the world.
In this matter of racial prejudice we of the Caucasian race are more guilty than any other. Wherever the white man has gone the natives of another color have suffered at his hands. Alaska is no exception. The present generation of native Alaskans is keenly aware of the unjust discrimination and exploitation of his race by unscrupulous white men. Many young Eskimos have been educated in the higher government schools or in the mission schools of the Territory. Many have served creditably in various theaters during the recent war. They have lived with whites of their own age. They have seen the outside world. Theoretical democracy has been a part of their indoctrination. Can they be expected to return to their native villages to resume again a position of dumb acceptance of the white man's word or wish as the law of their village? I think not. These young natives are now fully informed of their rights as American citizens. For the first time in the history of Alaska, the native vote is something which political aspirants must reckon with.
The civilian population of Nome at the close of the war was approximately 1500. Roughly one-half of these were natives. It was my observation over a period of five years that in the village of Nome the native Eskimo was a pawn to the white man's greed, lust, and prejudice. Many an Eskimo came to Nome, clothed in beautiful warm protective fur garments and would crawl back to his igloo a drunken debauched wreck, fleeced of all his worldly goods and clothed in ragged and tattered cotton jeans, sold to him by a trader.
If he were able to resist the pitfalls of the white man's treachery, he would find himself blocked in every move he made toward economic and social progress by the white man's prejudices. The case of Joe Amorock illustrates the point. Joe was a hard-working, intelligent Eskimo who had built a successful business. He was the owner and operator of the only commercial laundry in Nome. One evening he took his family to the local movie house, "The Dreamland." In this movie theater the Jim Crow law operated as truly as it did in Little Rock. One side of the theater was for natives, and the other side was reserved for whites. The evening that Joe last attended the movies, he entered to find the Eskimo side full and the white side less than half-filled. Rather than seek out singles to accommodate his family group, Joe led his family to seats together on the white side of the aisle. They were barely seated before an usher tapped him on the shoulder and said,
"You can't sit here. You'll have to get over on the other side where you belong."
Without a word of protest or argument, Joe rose and motioned to his family to follow him. As they left "The Dreamland," Joe stopped as he passed the manager's office and said, "You can remove my ad from your screen hereafter. If I can't bring my family to sit together in comfort to see a picture in your theater, then I don't want to spend my money to advertise on your screen."
Three years later when Joe was relating this incident to me, he said, "I wasn't mad. I was just hurt sort of humiliated publicly by the affair guess maybe I just began to think I was a citizen like anybody else. I've never been back there since. My family just doesn't go to the movies."
One morning in 1944 1 received a telephone call at my office in Nome from a young Eskimo girl named Alberta Skenk. She said she was in difficulty and wanted me to advise her. I had no idea of the nature of her problem, but I told her that I would be down at the Nome grill for lunch and if I could be of any help to her she could come there and talk with me.
When Alberta appeared at my table that noon, I invited her to be seated and waited for her to disclose the nature of her problem. I remembered having seen the girl before. She was evidently a half-breed, and a very beautiful girl with an intelligent, alert countenance. She was in a very serious mood and somewhat embarrassed; so to ease the situation, I said, "Alberta, what's on your mind? You know I am a friend of your people, and it is always a pleasure to me to be able to help any of you."
"Yes, I know that, Major. And that is why I telephoned to you this morning. I want so much to do something to help my people here." She paused with downcast eyes. I thought she was on the verge of tears, and began to suspect her family was in need or distress. But I was wrong.
"Our history class in high school has been studying about the Constitution and about the Civil War in the United States. I have been thinking so much about the Negro slaves down there and what Lincoln did for them! And all the time I keep thinking about us Eskimos."
"Well, Roberta," I interrupted, "what do you mean?"
"Well, Major, you don't know how it is here, maybe. You see, I usher at The Dreamland theater. I do not usher the white people. My job is to watch that no Eskimo sits on the white side of the theater. Many times when the Eskimo side is full, I must tell my people they cannot take the empty seats on the other side. Sometimes I must go to them and tell them they must get up and leave. They get mad at me and I lose many friends. I cannot understand why an Eskimo can't sit in the seat if there is nobody else that wants to sit there. Can you, Major?"
Without a moment's hesitation I answered her, "No, Alberta, I can't. But I'm afraid if that is the rule of the theater, and if that is the job you are hired for, you will have to do the job or quit. Unless, of course, you can go to the manager and persuade him to change his rule."
"That's just what I did. But you know the manager is drunk most of the time and he just swore at me and told me to get out and I was fired. His father-in-law owns the theater, but he lives in Seattle, so I can't go to him."
Then Alberta drew out a folded piece of paper which she held hesitantly and then passed across the table to me.
"I am so mixed up about everything here in Nome that I wrote a theme for school and before I pass it in to my teacher I thought maybe better I talk to you about it."
Silently I read this simple, high school girl's theme. She wasn't so mixed up after all. Alberta had written a logical appeal for justice and fair dealing toward her people. This was their native habitat. A few whites had arrived, taken possession and now were persecuting the Eskimo and forcing him into a position of painful inferiority. She pointed to the discrimination of the theater against them and related with pride their contributions to the Red Cross Drive, their support of the Bond drives and the large numbers of the race, including her own brother, in military service. Through it all there was clearly evident the suffering of a sensitive spirit.
There was no use in evading the issue nor in pretending to this intelligent adolescent that all was well. She knew and I knew that here was a festering core of racial prejudice and social injustice wholly incompatible with our loudly proclaimed equality and justice for all."
"That's a very good theme, Alberta," I said as I finished reading it and handed it back to her. "Why don't you take it over to the Nome Nugget and ask them to print it?"
"Oh, I wouldn't dare," she said. "They wouldn't ever print my theme."
"Well, it certainly wouldn't do any harm to try and you might be surprised. I'm sorry, Alberta. I can't change many of these things. But don't be discouraged. As more and more white people come here to live and do business, you will see that not all white people want to take advantage of the Eskimo and push him around as some of them do. We aren't all like that, you know."
She smiled appreciatively. "Oh no, Major. I know that. We all know you are fair and you work for the good of our people, too. That's why I wanted to talk to you."
"Well, I can't help you, I'm afraid," I answered.
"Yes! Oh yes! You make me feel not so hopeless. And you tell me I am right. So now I feel better. Maybe I'll take this to the Nugget."
And so we parted. I was surprised to find Alberta's theme in the next issue of the Nome Nugget. It appeared in the form of a letter to the editor and bore her own signature. The next issue carried an answering protest signed only "A subscriber." It had been written and sent in by the wife of the manager of a local store. The editor felt obligated to print it. But Alberta was in dead earnest and was ready with her second article in reply. By this time the newspaper was anxious to drop so hot an issue and the printed discussion came to a sudden close. But the issue remained a live one.
About a week later Alberta was invited to go to the movies by a white Army sergeant from the States who was stationed at the Nome base. He purchased tickets at the window and escorted her to a seat in the white section of the theater. Now Alberta was as much white as Eskimo. Her father was Irish and English. In appearance Alberta was a most attractive brunette with clear olive skin. The moment they were seated the manager himself strode down the aisle to their seats and in a belligerent tone said to Alberta, "Get over there where you belong, Alberta! You can't sit here and you know it get over there with the 'skimos."
"Don't move, Alberta," said the sergeant. "Sit right where you are.
For one moment the manager stared in angry amazement. He turned and strode out of the theater. In a few minutes he returned with the chief of police in tow. Together they marched down the aisle to where Alberta sat.
"Young lady, you belong on that side of the theater. You'll have to get over there," said the chief of police.
The sergeant showed real courage when he quietly looked at the Chief and said to Alberta, "Don't be afraid. You are my guest. Sit right where you are." At that the police seized Alberta by the shoulders and literally pulled her into the aisle, pushed her down to the door, and out onto the street into the bitter cold night of the Arctic alone.
Early next morning I received a phone call from Alberta's white father, demanding action to protect his daughter from such violence. I sympathized with him but knew how helpless I was to rectify such injustices of long standing. Later I met him on the street and assured him that I would think the situation over and try to suggest some plan to relieve the existing tensions. As I was about to leave him, he grasped my sleeve and said,
"What would you do if your daughter were pushed out of a public theater as my daughter was?"
Without a moment's hesitation I replied, "I'd arrest any and every man who touched her."
I left that day by dog team for a trip of several days northward up the coast. On my return the issue had reached white heat. On Sunday evening the Eskimos had lined up, bought their tickets and literally taken over the theater, sitting wherever they wanted to. They had filed charges against the theater manager and the chief of police. Feeling was at intense heat. The situation was critical anything might happen.
Late one night soon afterwards I received word from an Eskimo lad that Alberta's father wanted to see me at once at his home. I went and found Alberta, her parents, and her soldier brother there together with some friends, including a white man and his Eskimo wife. They were worried about the outcome of their suit against the theater manager and the chief of police. They were not weakening in their position at all, but they wanted advice and help in regard to legal counsel.
I advised them to employ both lawyers in the town. One very smart Eskimo spoke up and said, "One of them won't get in and fight for you, Skenk. He'll just poke along and level it off and you'll be just where you were. You can't depend on him in this case."
There was complete silence! A sudden tenseness held the group until one Eskimo man spoke out, "He will work for us and he will do as we say too."
"Well, what makes you think he will?" I inquired curiously.
"He will," was his only reply. When pressed further, the Eskimo said quietly, "He have Eskimo woman. He have two children by her too. Many white people not know. He will do what we ask. Now you see?"
Yes, I saw. The situation was becoming involved. I asked Alberta to get me paper and pencil and proceeded to write out the simple facts of Alberta's forcible ejection from "The Dreamland" and the subsequent developments. When finished, I handed it back to Alberta.
"Now Alberta, read this, and if it is a true and exact statement of the facts in the case, you sign it. Then when the telegraph office opens in the morning, you send this message to Governor Gruening at Juneau. If I am not mistaken, he will act at once. Here is the money you will need to send it."
Alberta's father raised his hand in protest, "No, Major, I pay for this. We have money."
The following morning, bright and early, Alberta sent her message. Within twenty-four hours the Governor had wired Mayor Edward Anderson of Nome, stating that his attention had been called to discrimination against the natives in Nome. In particular he referred to the forcible ejection by city police of one Alberta Skenk from The Dreamland theater. Mayor Anderson was requested to make a full and complete investigation and report back to the Governor at once by wire.
In a matter of hours the following message was sent to the Governor from Nome:
A mistake has been made. It won't happen again.
Signed: Mayor Anderson.
In fairness I must add that Mayor Anderson was in no wise to be blamed. He was known as a friend of the Eskimo.
The situation cooled off and quieted down thereafter. Apparently there had been incidents in previous years. The Mayor called in the chief of police and reprimanded him thus: "You've been told before to go slow on such matters. Now don't rush into trouble so fast again."
But when the white man called in the law in the Arctic, the native was always in the wrong and the white man was always in the right. Too often there was no real, unbiased investigation of the facts. So far as I know, the suit brought by Alberta's father against the theater manager and the chief of police was never heard.
The story of Alberta Skenk would not be complete if concluded here. The Army paper at the Nome base carried full details of the theater episode. The sergeant was not at all reluctant to tell the world about the unfair and unjust treatment of his girl friend. And she was half white, wasn't she? What if her mother was an Eskimo. What difference did that make? She was smart and attractive. And she was an American citizen, wasn't she? At the Army post there was much talk pro and con which lasted for weeks.
Many times before Eskimos bad been forcibly ejected from that movie theater and the incident was soon forgotten and dropped. But this time the theater manager had made the mistake of picking on an attractive young half-breed. Furthermore he had not reckoned with the soldier population and her popularity with the Army.
Every winter Nome elects its queen by popular ballot. That year the Gl's rallied to Alberta's support and she was amazed to find herself elected Queen of Nome, only a few weeks after her public humiliation. The so-called "Four Hundred" of Nome were dumbfounded. I suspect they have not yet fully recovered from the shock.
Later that winter I saw an Eskimo who had come to Nome from another village and who was denied admission to The Dreamland because the management said he had refused the previous night to move over into the Eskimo section. He was permitted to buy tickets for his wife and daughter but not for himself. He could not understand why. As his wife and daughter went inside, he turned to the ticket-selling manager and said,
"You think I Jap, huh? I no good American, huh? I ATG man, too." And he turned away disgusted.
Much later I personally had an experience which illustrated the white businessman's attitude toward the organization of these natives. At the close of the War, I acquired from the Army several surplus buildings which I intended using as armories in the Arctic. Twenty-two such buildings resulted from the material secured at Nome when the Army discontinued its base there. Since Alaska was then a Territory and not yet a State, these surplus buildings at Nome could be secured from the Army only on bid. At the appointed time I was the only bidder and secured the lot for $500.
Now my job was to get them to the dock and shipped out to the various villages. Major Otto Geist was ATG Quartermaster at Nome. With the assistance of Alfred Hopson and the Itta brothers of Pt. Barrow, he rendered a great service in this project. Volunteer labor was assured for the erection of these armories at the various locations.
The project moved along to the point where the material was piled high on the Nome dock. A contract had been arranged with the local Barge Company to run this material to various native villages along the coast, where they were to be erected and used as ATG armories. The total bill of the Barge Company for delivering all twenty-two buildings was to be $17,000! The Territorial Legislature had appropriated funds for the use of the Guard. When the job was underway, the Barge Company presented me with a bill for $6,000 as first payment on their contract. I OK'd the bill and it was sent on to Juneau to the Territorial Treasurer, who turned it down and refused payment. Then I received a very snappy letter from the Barge Company, stating that they were shocked beyond measure to find no funds were available for the job I had contracted with them and ordering me to get "this stuff off the dock" immediately to make room for vital war material. They had already made a fortune barging for the white army. I knew their business was a monopoly without competition. I replied by telling them that the material to which they referred might well be the most vital war material they ever had handled on their dock. I pointed out the fact that ATG guarded their entire coastline. But it took a trip to Juneau to get that check signed in payment to the Barge Company.
I relate this incident here to point out the attitude of this Barge Company and other whites toward the Eskimo. They had been accustomed to an abundance of the cheapest labor fifty cents per hour. After the organization of the ATG they feared that these Eskimos would rightly ask for some of the blessings of democracy. By the very fact of their organization the Eskimos learned their own strength and power. They also learned that they had the right to equal treatment as U. S. citizens of the democracy they were pledged to protect. Many a white man saw the handwriting on the wall and knew that his period of easy money and domination of the native was over. "Equality and justice for all" was henceforth to be more than meaningless words.
The upshot of these and other discriminatory incidents against the natives was the anti-discrimination bill introduced at the next meeting of the Territorial legislature. It failed at its first introduction in the 1943 legislature by one vote but was passed with the full support of the Governor in 1945 by a large majority. The Governor had sponsored the legislation. The old politicians did not want to vote for it but were afraid not to. They feared political retaliation from the native vote if they did not. As a result of the War, the natives were organized and aware of all local and national affairs. Many were now for the first time exercising their right of franchise. Very few had ever before been known to venture into the white man's precinct and polls. But Governor Gruening encouraged and even urged the natives Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts alike to become active participating citizens. This was the very thing which the long-time white resident of Nome feared.
But the rank and file of Alaskans proved their fairness and right thinking by passing the Non-discrimination Act in the 1945 Legislature. No longer does one see signs in public places announcing that natives are not welcome. No longer are natives segregated in public places in schools, theaters, and restaurants.
In fact, Alaska is a shining example of the workings of a true democracy. In the Legislature itself, there sit, side by side in both houses, whites, Indians, and Eskimos. The Non-discrimination Act of 1945 is today translated into actual fact. It is more than a law on the books. It is a mode and manner of life in Alaska. Alaska has always been "the land of opportunity." In 1945 all racial discrimination was outlawed.
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