LONGEST REINDEER HERDER:
A fascinating true life story of an Alaskan Eskimo covering the period from 1890 to 1973
By Chester Asakak Seveck
By Frank and Neva Whaley
From the time I first went to live in the land of Eskimo people, over 40 years ago, I have been fascinated with this hardy ingenious race. I started flying as a commercial bush pilot, based at Nome, Alaska, in 1933 and in the years that followed, had occasion to cover most all of Alaska where the Eskimoes live.
Then, as now, few people other than Eskimoes lived in Northwestern and Arctic Alaska and I got to know many of them quite well. The more knowledge I gained about the natives of the north and how they survived in such a harsh, inhospitable environment, the more I wanted to learn. Perhaps part of my interest was for self-preservation purposes so that I might have some chance of survival if forced down on the vast, Arctic Plains where temperatures could plunge to 60 or 70 below zero and the wind can cut like a knife.
Some of my Eskimo passengers must have felt they paid their fare just by answering my questions hour after hour, but on every flight I learned more about the land I grew to love. The knowledge learned from my Eskimo friends paid off many times and without it, I doubt that I would be telling you about the most "Unforgettable Character" I have ever known--an Eskimo man named "Chester Ashakak Seveck."
I first met Chester in 1937 but really got to know him well after spending several days with he and his family, living in a tent on the snow covered tundra, North of the Arctic Circle near Kotzebue Sound. He was in charge of a government herd of 5500 reindeer and he and 4 herders and their families were living the lives of nomads, following and tending the big herd day and night, winter and summer, as they searched the tundra for reindeer moss.
Since then, Chester and I have become very close friends and we have shared many unforgettable experiences. When he told me the story of his life, I was so enthralled that I suggested he put it all down on paper, just the way he told it to me, so it could be published. For many years he had kept notes which he called on for dates and names. It took a lot of prodding and persuasion, but at long last his story was completed. To make any changes in his English would take away part of the charm and credibility, so it is printed just the way he wrote it.
Only those who have lived in the Arctic and experienced the desolate loneliness of the vast, snow-covered plains and felt the searing, biting cold of a blizzard sweeping the land can fully comprehend the weather conditions described so casually by Chester. He never mentions temperatures as he never had a thermometer. Besides, the work had to be done, no matter how cold it might be. He had never heard of the words "Chill Factor," and many times he was exposed to conditions where the chill factor would be over 100 degrees below zero. He tells of experiences in a mild, matter-of-fact way that would be a lifetime thriller for most of us today.
This fascinating, true life story gives us a look at a little known way of life that is fast disappearing. It has been a privilege to witness and to photograph part of it and to be of help in passing along to you the story of the wisdom and fortitude of an Eskimo Reindeer Herder--truly a "Most Unforgettable Character."
Frank H. Whaley
Former Alaskan Bush Pilot and
Alaskan Territorial Senator
In the year of 1890 January 7th, I was born in North Alaska at Kivalina River in the camping ground name "Kaegievik." My father name "Cookik" and my mother name "Evekchuk." My father had one brother and five sisters. My mother had one sister and two brothers. My parents are traveling every spring and summer. In the fall and winter, settle down for camping to where have many fishes and ptarmigan. My father set fish trap and gill net under the ice, sometime through hole in ice hooking the fishes. My mother she set the snares which she made from braided sinew--the sinew from the caribou legs muscle. Sometime she driving the ptarmigans to the spread net staked out on the snow and willows.
I had 3 brothers and 2 sisters. We all help our mother and the father which is easy for us to help them both. In the spring we went up to Point Hope for whaling with the sled and dog team hauling the frame of "Oomiak" boat. After whaling season over, we came back to Kivalina with the small oomiak. My father is great whaler and great hunter. He had whaling outfits his own. He killed 22 whales since he start whale hunt. He pass away when he 105 years old and mother were 95 years old. They both died same day 3 hours apart. Father always tell us he and the mother will pass away same time, so they did passed away same time. They never sick long time. They both had "newmonnies." They were out hunting squirrel in the mountains in spring time. They walk over 20 miles. They had no tent. The weather were heavy rain and turn the wind north cold. Their clothes were wet and froze. When come cold weather, then they both get sick and die.
In the year 1900, Charles Brower take us to Barrow with small sailing schooner. Mrs. Charles Brower were my mother first cousin. The missionary name Mr. and Mrs. Spring come with us to Barrow to replace Dr. Marsh who were been several years at Barrow. My father were whaling for Charles Brower. He caught 4 whales. One is big whale over 40 ft. long.
In the year 1904 we went to Pt. Hope, 80 miles north on the coast with small oomiak. It take us one month and half because too rough on the coast for small boat. We came to Pt. Hope last part of August and winter at Jabber Town-7 miles from Pt. Hope.
In the year 1905 we went to Kivalina in the small oomiak. Then came first school teacher name Mr. and Mrs. Walton. I am going to school first time in the year 1906.
I was out to hunt for seal in the month of November when come young ice on the ocean. I go out to hunt for seal in the morning at Kivalina village. The ice very thin and I go out too far. I killed one seal and started to shore, but it is so dark so soon and the wind now blow strong from shore. Soon I come to open water where ice break from shore. I holler very loud many times but no one hear in strong wind, and now it gets dark and I pray I was on land. I started walking south dragging the seal which I killed. I get tired and set down to rest till daylight come. I cut some seal meat and some blubber and eat raw. I left the seal because too heavy to drag on young ice but take only one small piece seal meat with me and walk south all day where I think this floating ice might touch the land but it never touch. By dark, I get very tired and it was foggy and cold the wind from the north. I eat my small piece seal meat all gone now and when I get thirsty, I look for frost on the young ice and with knife cut off top of frost, throw away, and cut middle of frost and melt in my hand. This way how get fresh water from salt water ice. My father show me this way.
I carry with me sealskin raw hide rope and when hungry, I cut small piece and chewing all day long and night. When I tire, put down spear and rifle and set on top my seal skin bag that hold my ammunition and stuffs. I plenty scare--think maybe I never see land again or maybe freeze and never get up.
The 3rd day the cold fog lifted but I see no land, only lots miles of nothing only young ice and cold wind. I keep to walking I think direction south for 8 days. I travel like this--chew up and swallow seal skin rope and drink water from frost. Many times I almost fall through hole in ice where not frozen over and wind keep open. End of the 8th day, I see what look like high land and I walk and run and it was dark when I get near land. I try to reach the land but too thin the young ice so I stay all night and try keep from freeze in cold wind and hope land still there when delight come. Night seem very long and cold but the land still there when delight come and I try to reach the land but too thin the young ice for walk on so I crawl flat like polar bear on thin ice. Take one hand spear and other hand rifle--almost break through but after long flat crawl, I reach the land and it feel strong under my feet and I feel very happy to get off that ice where I spend 9 days and nights and I thank God for letting me live and on shore.
I was so weak and then made snow house for shelter to sleep. I was sleeping not much when maybe noon and wake up plenty cold and hungry. Think better to start walking north along the shore ice to find home. All day I walk, sometimes fall a little, eat snow and chew on raw hide from seal skin rope. On land, I move along faster and when dark come see little light, maybe Kivalina, my home. Now I hurry, try to run, fall down very tired, weak, cold, but keep moving to light far away. Just before morning, I get to my home. My mother very surprised. She thought I was ghost. She ask me 3 times "That you, my son Seveck?" I said yes I was come home so my mother wake up my father who also very surprise and glad. They gave me only little meat and drink water and I sleep long time. Next day they gave me little more eat and drink. In few days my strength come back, but I did not go back on young ice for long time.
When well and strong, I go to school. Father and mother they went up to fishing camp for fishing and hunting. I stayed with my cousins "Attatoruk" and "Ahawyuk." School started Sept. 1st and go to May 31st.
In the spring we always go to Pt. Hope where my father were great whaler and in the summer we go to Kivalina. In the spring and summer we were hunting the walrus, big seal "Oogruk," other seal and some other games. My mother and father knows of old days when hunting and fishing was bad times and some people starvation when no game or fish to catch so they work very hard and save everything--waste nothing. They put seal blubber in seal skin poke to save. They dry seal meat on rack and also put some seal meat in seal poke. Some skins they dry and make clothes and seal skin rope--everything saved. Seal gut they dry and make raincoat and water proof cover. When they catch whale, all the muktuk is cut up and dried or put in hole dug in ground to keep cold. Animal blood is saved and put in seal pokes.
In springtime hunting on ice, each man have his own open hole for hunt seal and he make wind shelter of blocks of ice or snow around hole and he wear white cloth snow parka over fur parka. He have spear with hook and line. Hook line "Nicksick." Every time catch one seal, a hunter called his wife to get his game right away which he caught so the woman do get that catch right away and take it to the hole dug in the ice for keeping cold. Very soon seal skinned and cut up and put away, save.
In late summertime, hunter went out to hunt for caribou soon as the skins have thick fur to wear for clothing. Save and dry all skins and the meat put in frozen ground deep enough keep cold and not spoil. The fat and sinew keep with the skins. In the fall time good for fishing with the nets and seining, some time hooking but we use fish traps all year round. In the winter, dig hole in the ice to set fish traps.
All the fishes we keep in frozen ice cellar. Also we snares the ptarmigan birds and hunt rabbits, foxes, and wolverine. In the evening they have many old stories telling time and some games. One of the stories were:
HOW SNOW BIRDS START
Once upon the time, a small sparrow she had late lay eggs in the spring. So the young ones are slow to grow enough to fly. Then come the fall time, getting cold, so the mother she made some kind den in the thick willows to hide from the hawks and foxes. She watching the small ones very closely and pick some food, store away from them to use until to be strong enough to flying. It was early in the fall. She was too worry to go south. All the birds flew to South already. One night she were dreaming to meet the big bird in at the high cliff in the mountain. A big bird said to her, "You are to worry too much on your little ones. All you can do, bring all your little ones to here for winter. I had good warm nest here and I will to keep them here until next summer. You can go to South yourself."
That sparrow, she believed her dream. So she flew to highest mountain. She meet a big bird. It may be 10 times bigger than her. She told the big bird about her dream and about her little ones not big enough to fly, too weak and poor. Then the big bird told her to bring all the little ones to this big, large warm nest in the highest cliff. So she brings all her little ones to that warm nest by one by one. There were 3 little ones and then she flew to South very late. It was cold but she made it OK. All her little ones grow and the big bird take good care them and then all little ones winter in Alaska. Since that time, little small sparrow winter in Alaska--never go to South and now they name "Snow Birds." The end the story.
In the early November month, one of the hunters killed a polar bear near his home. They went to get the polar bear meat and every family have some fresh meat. In the month of March, several hunters killed "Oogruk"--big whisker seal. Every families have share of the meat. When Eskimo hunter killed big games, he share the meat for all the families who stay next door and neighbor.
In the month of April, my parent went to Pt. Hope for whaling and I stayed with the school teachers in Kivalina. I was schooling the Bible School all spring and summer. In the fall, start to school again. In that fall, ship wreck at Deering, Alaska. That ship one who take the freight to all school teachers in Alaska. Seven dog teams from Kivalina went to bring some supplies to the school teachers name Alfred Walton and his wife, Priscilla. We take three 350 mile round trip to Deering to bring some supplies for teachers and school supplies.
In that year, 1907, I took 2 dog sled loads of fresh frozen fishes 190 miles to Candle, Alaska, to selling the frozen fishes. There were many gold miners at Candle Creek. Also some of the Eskimos live there from Buckland and from Pt. Hope.
In the spring, my father caught good size whale. One quarter of whale baleen goes to Mr. Walton, the school teacher, who gave some grubs for use during whaling hunt and goes one quarter of whale baleen to Eluktoona Driggs, who gave him 10 live reindeer.
In the year of 1908, Mr. Evans, Gov't. Reindeer and school teacher's superintendent in Alaska and 3 Eskimo reindeer herders, they brought and drive 200 heads of reindeer to Kivalina, Alaska. There were Eluktoona and Okpolick have reindeer herd, so the Government reindeer were put in Eluktoona's herd. The school teacher and Mr. Evans hired me to be Gov't. apprentice reindeer herder, also George Onalick, the same age me, to be Gov't. reindeer herders apprentice. The contract and agreement said for 5 years to be Gov't. herders. We should earn 6 live reindeer and with supplies, food, etc. for the first year. Second year, 8 live reindeer, third year 10 live reindeer, and fourth year 10 live reindeer, and the fifth year no more be called apprentice--name now "Herder."
In the year 1912, Gov't. reindeer Supt. transferred and move my earned reindeer to Eluktoon's herd from Okpolick's herd.
I MARRIED TILLIE
In July 12th, 1912, I and Tillie Ferriera, we were married by Archdeacon Goodman at Pt. Hope Episcopal Church. In the month of January, I took Mr. Shield, Reindeer Supt. Kivalina to Pt. Barrow with the reindeer teams. We take 6 trained sled deer pulling 4 sleds. We take tent, camp stove, primus stove, sleeping bags, good warm clothes with us. At Cape Lisburne portage inland, we lost 3 sled deer by the big storm snow blizzard and strong, thick wind from South. For 3 days we had bad storm and then I found our 3 lost sled deer on the 4th day. We started again after I found all our sled deer. We reach Pt. Barrow first part of February. We make trip 28 days, plenty dark and stormy one way, about 400 miles the trip.
We stayed 2 weeks at Barrow, then start to go back to Kivalina middle part of February. At place called Pitmegear River, some one came to get me account my wife having birth a baby. I take someones dog team take me there to my wife. Her family called Keashemalook. Our first son born 22nd of February 1913, the George Washington birthday, so we named our son, George Washington Seveck. Second child born Nov. 1st, 1915. Third child born Nov. 27th, 1917. Fourth child born March 19, 1919. Fifth child born May 27, 1921. Sixth child born July 4th, 1923. Seventh child born May 15th, 1925. Eighth child born September 11, 1927. Ninth child born Nov. 11th, 1929. Tenth child born Oct. 27th, 1931. Eleventh born March 11th, 1933. We had eleven children. Most were born in the camp in tent, cold weather. Some were born in the village. My wife and I, we let them born and raise them.
In the year 1910, Nov. 26th, four of us, George Onalick, Jakey Attungora, George Sukannorak, and I we drive 75 reindeer to butcher at Kiana River for sell meat to the gold miners men working there. I was supervised them and we sold them all and started home with our reindeer sled teams. One place we camped, no wood for fire. Big storm came so we build snow house for 4 persons to live in for 2 days and 2 nights. When the storm leave, we started to go and we reach a shelter cabin, take a rest for one day and we let to dry some of our clothes that get wet while we traveling and then we reach to Kivalina, our home, on sixth day.
We meet 2 men who run the dog team mail from Barrow to Kotzebue. They take one month from Barrow to Kotzebue and went back one month from Kotzebue to Pt. Barrow. They stopped and delivered mails every village--Pt. Hope, Kivalina, Icy Cape, Wainwright, and Pt. Lay. This total miles about one way 560 miles.
In the year of 1914, Nov. 11th, come big overflow on the river. Heavy rain and come high water. We moved to highest place in night. All camping peoples moved to highest places. In a week the high water go down and then we move back to our cabin which we build with the frame of willows and cover with sod and dry moss. Then we started over again for fishing in the river after high water gone.
In the year of 1915, I bought a whale boat, cost $1000.00 and we use the boat for whale hunting and use to go to Kotzebue in summertime for short while. Then I sold that whale boat to a Noatak village man name Benjamin Enewruk.
In the year of 1918, the Supt. of Reindeer Service send me papers and said all reindeer herders going have Reindeer Fair at Noatak Village. He say 2 or 3 reindeer herders should come to the Reindeer Fair from all towns--Barrow, Wainwright, Icy Cape, Pt. Hope, Kivalina, Noatak, Kobuk, Selawik, Buckland, Kotzebue, Deering, Candle, Shishmaref, and Noorvik. They had races using one sled deer then 2 sled deer and then 4 sled deer and 8 sled deer and lassoing the bull reindeer. Also they have things made of reindeer skins for show like reindeer collars, lasso rope, parkas, mukluks, mittens, pants, gloves, sleeping bags and other things for show, too. The Reindeer Fair take 3 weeks. Also, they had cooks and many good foods. Every reindeer herder made some things for show. Reindeer things had prizes--No. 1, No. 2, No. 3. Even reindeer team have prizes, also.
After the Reindeer Fair, I take the Reindeer Service Supt. name Mr. Shield to Mary's Igloo for another Reindeer Fair near Cape Nome. Eluktoona, Otpelick, and Kanauk come with us. We had tough trail and tough traveling. We lost 2 sled deer on the trail and took us 3 weeks go Mary's Igloo from Noatak Reindeer Fair.
They had Reindeer races and show all reindeer stuff made, the same at Noatak Reindeer Fair. After the Reindeer Fair, I start home alone with sled deer to Deering Reindeer herd, to where our sled deer were left when we go to Mary's Igloo. Then I come to Kotzebue to where my wife waiting me to come to pick up. She stayed with her parents and stayed in Wheeler's family, her relative.
In the month of April, we coming home with 5 sled deer team and reach our herd last part of April. Then Eluktoona and Otpelick, they come home in first part of May. They come home by way of Shishmaref. They had tough time coming home with sled deer tired and all in.
In the year of 1918 late Spring, big flu come at Nome. Supt. of Reindeer Service Mr. Shield died. The flu came to every village of the North even to Pt. Barrow. Many peoples died with flu in every village.
In the year 1919, Ross Kenney (Road Commissioner) gave me a job to stake the winter dog team trail from portage of Cape Thompson to half way to Cape Lisburne. I finished trail stake in the fall of Nov. 12th, 1920.
In the year 1920 the month of April, 3 dog teams arrived Kivalina from Pt. Hope. They take prisoner who killed Mr. Rowe, Pt. Hope priest. The killer name James McGuire, school teacher at Mission Bldg. Pt. Hope. The marshal name Bert Merril (negro man). He hire me be night guard for prisoner and take my dog team to Nome. In middle part May, we came home from Nome before the snow trail all gone.
In that spring, 3 oomiaks were whaling at Cape Thompson. We had one boat whaling, too. We caught one small whale and one bigger one that was lost under the ice.
Once in awhile we go picking crow bill bird eggs. Also, we hunting for bearded seal name "Oogruk." We caught quite a few oogruk and smaller seals. The women cut the oogruk meat and hang on the rack to dry. We stretch the oogruk skins for use on bottom of mukluk and for skin boat cover. We go to hunt ducks and geese and we catch quite a few.
One time a man went to climb up to the cliff rock for picking crow bill eggs and then he fall down about 150 feet and he died right away. So every one should watch careful when they climbing up in the cliff rocks. Sometime they take long rope to use when they coming down from the cliff rocks.
In the year 1922, a schooner came in to Pt. Hope who are looking for good trappers. He take 2 young man from Kotzebue, Abraham Howark and Roy Coppock, Eskimo name "Kachuak" and "Sagauk." They take a man name Petter Koonanaruak and with his family, wife and daughter go with them. The schooner it sailing to Wrangle Island near Siberia and landed there with Eskimo trappers, grubs, guns, ammunition, traps and other things for trapping for white foxes for them. Those trappers stayed there for 2 years and they caught and trap white foxes and Polar Bears. Then Russian steam boat stop and take all they catch and take them for prisoner. Take them to Russia and to Japan and then turn over to Japan and to the United States. They keeping them for quite awhile before they return to United States and to bring them back to Alaska. They said they had bad time and keep them in prison. Sometime they get not much to eat and sometime they put in bad room, not much bed and poor room.
I WAS "YES" TOO QUICK THAT FUR MAN
In the winter of 1921, a fur buyer came to Kivalina to hire me to take him to Pt. Lay with my dog team. This man name Harry Strong. Another fur buyer came into see me. He wanted me to take him to Pt. Lay also but first one hired me already. Second man name Tom Berryman. He owned the store at Kotzebue and also Kivalina. I was feel sorry for that man Tom, because he had the store here. I was "Yes" too quick with that first man, Harry Strong.
At 6 A.M. we started to North. We traveling very good, the trail were hard pack good. We reach to Cape Lisburne at 7 P.M. We camp at Eskimo house. At noon, Paul Green came in from Kivalina with dog sled and fur buyer, Tom Berryman, but his dogs were tired out so his fur buyer hire a fresh dog team from this place Cape Lisburne and left the Paul Green dog driver here.
At 6 A.M. we started again to North. We pass the dog team with other fur buyer Tom this morning. So we reach Coal Mine Camp where stay Eskimo people fur trappers. The fur buyer he bought all white foxes from that camp before other fur buyer came in. So we keep going to Pt. Lay. We camp where Eskimo trappers camping. The fur buyer bought all more white foxes. The other fur buyer never show up.
Next day we go to Pt. Lay and stay in Fred Forslunds house. He had Eskimo woman wife. That woman my wife relative. The fur buyer bought all white foxes Fred Forslunds had, buy from the trappers and then we hurry back to Kivalina in only 3 days. Next I take that fur buyer, Harry Strong, to Kotzebue with my dog team. Those 2 fur buyers trying to buy white foxes all they can from the trappers but Harry Strong, he win. He buy most all.
In the summer of 1927, we saw the first airplane come to Pt. Hope, Pilot Noel Wien. He bring Bishop Rowe. Everybody had excitement and afraid to see the first airplane. Everybody were surprised and look and watch the first airplane landed.
One time when I was 7 years old, my grandma tell me, "There will be a ship in the air before long and she said I will ride one of the airship while I am living." That old lady, she knows 30 years ahead before we saw airplane.
Her son, "Elgauk" big whaler. Every spring he killed a whale but after that old lady died, he never catch any more whale. That old lady were 109 years before she died. That old lady name me "Seveck," nickname "Ashakak," when I was born.
One time my brother Harold "Elapuk," we went hunt for ptarmigan with the double barrel shot gun. Then the double barrel shot gun go off and shoot me some in my neck. Both shell go off same time. l was suffered for one week. Then the wound heal up in one week more. I saw a big Eagle flying and he stopped on my head on top and when my mother coming, the big bird flyed away from me. One time 2 sled deer took me run down big high mountain. Then I never get hurt. All people thinks I was dead because the high mountain very steep to run away down.
Another time I was shot with 30-30 rifle when we hunting for seals. I was no hurt, even no cut but my parka had shot hole through. These things I was done when I was young man.
LONG DOG TEAM TRIP
In the year of 1926 February month, Supt. of Teachers and Reindeer Service write me letter from Kotzebue to go there for take a trip to Pt. Barrow with the dog team. So I went 85 miles down to Kotzebue with my dog team--13 dogs, big long sled, tent, stove, primus stove, dishes and dog food. The Supt. name Mr. Morlander. We started to Pt. Barrow first part of February. We stop every village who had school teachers, also visit every reindeer herd. There were 6 villages had school teachers, Kivalina, Pt. Hope, Pt. Lay, Icy Cape, Wainwright, and Barrow. Also there were 7 reindeer herds, one in Kivalina, Pt. Hope, Pt. Lay, and Wainwright have 2 herds and Barrow have 2 herds. We made 30 days one way over 550 miles. Then we started to go south first part of March. We make better time cause the day is longer. One place we stop no wood and very cold weather. I make snow block house to camp in. We use only primus stove and we had good comfortable home in that snow house. Supt. Morlander broke his ankle while he ride with some Wainwright reindeer herder so I have him ride on the sled all the time. Morlander was surprised when I made a snow block house so he tell every one of school teachers about the snow house. Cut 1-1/2 feet square blocks of snow and the snow must be hard enough so block of snow will stand on edge on ground or on the snow. Build up each snow block with more snow block. When come to top take bigger snow block and plug the hole on the top. Make only small top hole for air to go out. Make door so step down 2 or 3 feet and toward the middle of snow house floor and for door use snow block and reindeer skin. Then you have good comfortable home, warm and good living.
EAT FROZEN RAW FISHES--KEEP WARM
In the year of 1927, 6 men working for survey inland from coast hired me to take them to Kobuk River to Koobaaruk River to Kakalick River and Otookok River for making maps. Every time we camp we keep the stove fire burning because too cold for them to keep warm.
One night I told one of the man, "You eat frozen fishes with me tonight when other men eat hot stew and hot coffee." So that man do of what I said and we eat frozen raw fishes and drink cold water. He said he never to get cold that night so he told the other men about the frozen fishes for supper if real cold weather. Next night we all eat the cold frozen fishes and cold water drink for supper. We never keep the stove fire burning. Everyone got no cold that night and they all keep doing that if the weather cold. When come warm weather, we ate the cooked grub. If cold weather, we ate cold frozen fishes and cold water drink. Believe it or not, when it cold weather eat cold frozen food with oil and cold water to drink then you will have no cold body. You eat cold uncooked grub and just like start cooking fire in your stomach. When hot weather, eat hot cooked stuffs and drink hot coffee or hot tea. Then you feel not too hot your body after eat hot stuffs.
One time an old blind lady, she gave me a tobacco pouch made with wolverine leg skin and had string for tie up when close up. She told me do not lose it and keep it as long as I am alive. I used that tobacco pouch for 35 years. One time we driving the reindeer herd from Kobuk River to Kivalina River. We were 4 reindeer herders. I drop and lost my lucky tobacco pouch and next day one of my reindeer herder, we go back to look for my lucky tobacco pouch. We were never luck and never find my lucky tobacco pouch. Next day I was became sick all over. My body pain. We never go nowhere. We stay over a day because I was too sick to travel. That night I was dreaming a wolverine find that my lucky tobacco pouch and took up to the high mountain. When I wake I was health, no more sick. Then we started again to travel to drive the reindeer herd and reach the place we are going for to count the reindeer.
We made willow stick corral and count the number of reindeer. How many we had? There were 1,582 reindeer come through corral and we castrate some bulls. We put 15 females for one bull. We keep moving camp every 10 days or two weeks to another grazing ground in wintertime. In summertime we keep reindeer on the Coast near ocean side where flies and mosquitoes not so many.
In the year of 1928, four reindeer herds near Kivalina join to be one big one. They were Eluktoona herd, Otpelick herd, George Onalick herd and my herd. They all together were 6,122 live reindeer. All reindeer herders, reindeer owners, all village people, they had big meeting to elect a President and manager and reindeer director. They elect me for Manager, George Onalick for President and 6 other men for Directors.
Every summer we butcher steers for ship out by the U.S.S. Boxer, later on by U.S.S. North Star. Sometime years we butcher over 1,000 steers to ship outside to states.
Then 3 more village reindeer herds joined us and became big Reindeer Company. Now Pt. Hope, Kivalina, Noatak, and Kotzebue herds make one company. They election for Reindeer manager and elected me again for managing all these reindeer herds. I appoint Harold Elapuk, my brother, for Chief Herder for all the herds. There were 8 different herds. Each herd have 5 reindeer herders. There were 40 young men herding reindeer night and day. Round-up time in the fall, my brother Harold go with them and after round-up, I have him to visit every herd every 2 weeks. Once each month we count reindeer at corrals. In the month of November last count, we have 36,000 of reindeer came through corral chute.
NO FREEZE TO DEAD
In the year 1929 last part of April, I take a school teacher from Kivalina to Wainwright, about 370 miles north. The teacher name C.L. Andrews. My nephew Milton Swan come to help me to drive 5 sled deers and 4 sleds. One day we hit the snow storm cold, snow, blizzard thick. We stopped the middle of day. Mr. Andrews said he wanted to go back before he freeze to dead. I told him it is long ways home. He said no matter how long ways, better go back before he freeze to dead. I said to him, "I can make good shelter for the overnight to stop in." He never believe can make good shelter for home, but I started to build the snow house. After I finish snow house, I have him go inside the snow house. He take off his parkie and mukluks. He said, "Nice and warm." We light the primus stove have on for cooking meals. He was surprised. After we ate, we went to slept. After we wake up the weather was good so we started again and reach to Kukparuk River mouth and stop with my old friend there. Milton Swan was snow blind so I have him to stay there and take with me Thomas Otukruk, my friend.
We reach to icy Cape and stop there for while and then come to Wainwright. We stayed 4 days at Wainwright and then we went close by to the reindeer herd to pick up the sled deer to go to Pt. Lay. We reach Pt. Lay noon. My nephew was heal up his snow blind so we started to go home.
Early in the morning, we reach Pitmagia River reindeer herd. George Omnik in charge of this Pt. Hope reindeer herd. We catch our sled deer and keep going on to Kivalina. We traveling day and night over inland cut off portage. We reach late in the evening to my reindeer herd. They all OK and having lots of fawns born. I take Milton home to Kivalina village. I take some seal meat with me from Milton's father. He killed many seal and oogruk while we were at Wainwright.
In the year 1930, 1st of April, my uncle Chumarooruk called me to hunt whale with him in partnership at Jabbertown, 7 miles away from Pt. Hope. My wife and I and children, we go up to Jabbertown for hunt whale. I caught one baby whale and the mother whale she got caught by other whaler name Peter Koonaknourak. After we had whale feast, my wife and children, we go home to my reindeer herd at Kivalina for roundup marking time. A school teacher from Jabbertown, name Fred M. Sickler, was Supt. of Reindeer Service. He came to help with the marking and counting reindeer. He stayed with us for 1 month. After finish counting and marking time, I take him to Jabbertown with walking travel--80 miles and it took us 2-1/2 days. Then I came home alone over same trail by walking.
At marking time, each reindeer get mark on ear. Each owner have own ear mark for his reindeer like this:
His mark on ear with sharp knife cut just right. We castrate many 3- or 4-year-old bulls. Sometime we castrate yearlings, sometime even few fawns.
HOW TO HELP FAWNING TIME
How to help fawning time, sometime female have bad time when born her fawn and so herders must help to born so no fawn or female die or freeze or lost. First make large deerskin mitten to use only at time when the fawn born to dry up good, no freeze. Sometime a female desertion her fawn when born and will not take care that fawn. We took that desertion fawn with clean large reindeer mitten and then we lassoed some female which she lost or stillborn her fawn and we rubbing from her behind and rub this on desertion fawn and then that female take the desertion fawn for she thought that her own fawn because she smell her own behind smell on that fawn. We do same way as desertion fawn to get female to take this twin fawn and raise.
WE TRAIN REINDEER STEER
How we train a reindeer steer to be a sled deer--First lassoed the steer and tie up. Then cut off the horns with saw very short and put on strong halter made of rawhide and use good strong rope. Then tie to strong anchor on ground only 3 feet long rope. After one day tied up with short rope, then next day use longer rope and lead while walk around until he can follow you by the long rope.
When you next tie him up to anchor solid use 4 feet long rope, then next day when come to him he be more gentle and try not kick and jump so much. Always work on his left side and touch him gentle. On 3rd day, you can do the same thing, pulling and leading him with the long rope. If not much kick, you can now try to put the harness on and lead him for awhile before you try to hook up to sled.
Take a light sled and long tow line and then lead him until he anxious to go himself. On the 4th day, you do the same thing but shorten the tow line every time you driving while training sled deer. In 6 days have trained sled deer for to use when you moving the camp or when you traveling. Every time when moving camp, we use 6 or 8 sleds and load our camping outfits. Then we lassoed 16 trained sled deer to pull when we moving our camp.
Sometime we build snow house for camping. Sometime we camp with the tents. Sometime we build small willow frame house, then cover with light sod and moss and put light snow on top the moss cover and put the camp stove up for cooking. Sometime we stay 10 days or 2 weeks each camp, then keep moving all year round. Even in summertime we moving camps with skin boat, name Oomiak. This boat covered with oogrook or walrus hide. The frame were of spruce wood and lashed together with sealskin line or rawhide line.
Every summer in June, we mark the fawns by ear mark to the owner who belong the reindeer and in the month of first part of August, we castrate the bull and put enough bulls for breeding females. This take one bull for 15 females.
Every 3 years, we make new corral with the willows we cut and then round up all reindeer and count. Every month I make report of reindeer what died or butchered for food or killed in handling. Also keep number how many we have of trained sled deer. My report go to local Supt. of school teachers who work as both Gov't. school teacher and reindeer service. I keep diary every day and also make annual report every once year. Also, he have me travel to each herd to talk to them how to taking care and raise the reindeer. Also teach them how to train the steer to be sled deer. Also how to castrate the bull to make a steer. Also how to keep and protect the reindeer from the storms, overflow on the river and the high water. Also teach them about the grazing ground for the reindeer when too hard and too soft the snow.
In the year of 1931, wintertime, 3 persons came to Pt. Hope to make moving picture. They name Scotty, Ray, and Roy. One day they came to me. They need some letters and film to ship out as quick as they can. They offer me to go and say will be good pay on that trip so I said "Yes." At 6 A.M. I started to go to Kotzebue with my dog team to take the films and letters. They also had coming in a package from the States. I reach Kivalina, 80 miles, at 12:30 P.M. and rest for while. At 2:30 P.M. I started again to Kotzebue from Kivalina, 90 miles. The trail were bad and soft. At 10:00 P.M. I reach Kotzebue and delivered the letters and films to the postmaster of Kotzebue and pick up the large packages to Scotty. At 3:00 A.M. I started toward back to Pt. Hope. At 10:00 A.M. I reach Kivalina and stop for awhile. At noon I started again to Pt. Hope and reach there 7:00 P.M. Those 3 men were very much surprised I make that quick trip to Kotzebue and back, over 300 miles. They pay me very good and since that time, those men send me postcard every year, even they went out to States--long way. Those 3 movie men make 1st picture at Pt. Hope and they went north in the summertime and they went back to the States late in the fall.
In the year of 1932 in the month of December middle part, a Priest with dog team driver from Ft. Yukon came in to Kivalina. They stop in Jim Allen's home who is my cousin husband. The Priest name Archdeacon Stock, Episcopal minister and the driver name Roy, half and half white and Indian.
They wanted me to take them to Pt. Hope with my dog team, for his dogs were tired out. I started to take them to Pt. Hope Mission and we stop overnight at Cape Thompson in small sod house. The owner of this house, he came too, and camped with us. The Priest make a pot of coffee while Roy and I tied up the dogs and feed them. After we come in and start to drink coffee, it is salty. He make with salt water ice, so we empty the coffee pot and I got to get fresh water ice. Then we drink coffee and have lunch. Next morning we started to go to Pt. Hope Mission. We go over portage on top over Cape Thompson, much strong the wind. At noon, we reach Pt. Hope mission 3 miles from the Pt. Hope village. Archbishop Goodman was at the mission and I stop overnight there. At 6 A.M. I started back to Kivalina and reach there at 6 P.M. plenty tired.
MAKE MOVING PICTURE--PT. HOPE
In the year of 1933 in the month March, MGM movie hired me to be mover by dog team. They make cut in the ice at Cape Lisburne about 40 feet long and 6 feet wide. They make 5 doors on the side. They set big trap for Polar Bear catch. Also they use walrus meat for bait. If they trap one Polar Bear, I am to killed him with spear and bow and arrow but no luck. No polar bear come for bait and trap. After many days gave up all the traps and stuffs I hauling back to the camp from the ice. Next day we move to Pt. Hope village. Next they make moving picture hunt for whale with 2 boats and 20 people working as crews for whaling. Also they bring down Jim Allen, big whaler from Wainwright, with 2 Eskimo men from Wainwright. They bring my family from Kivalina. First time I ride on airplane. They had 6 airplanes and 2 dog teams. I taking the manager and director in my sled team.
Other dog team take assistant manager, name Frank Messenger. They had 4 photographers, 1 telegraph and radio man. 1 cook, 2 carpenters, and 6 other men for any kind work. Sometime I was actor to make the movie picture. One time they make picture me drifting out on ice flow into open water ocean. Sometime I driving my 5 dogs with sled in the rough pile up ice. Sometime make picture drifting snow that cover dogs in the wind, much cold weather. Sometime they have me build snow block house for shelter. Sometime they have me drive the dogs fall in the water. The MGM Co. quit making picture in the month of July. Then I and my family go home to Kivalina by Northland, U.S. Coast Guard ship, which going that way.
BAD TIME WITH WOLVES AND CARIBOU
In the year 1937 many big herds caribou coming through our reindeer grazing land up north. Sometime the caribou herd come to our reindeer herd and mixed up with them and then same reindeer follow the caribou go away. They lost and never get back. Many wolfs around the caribou herd and we lose many reindeer that follow the caribou and also some killed by the wolfs. We started to watch the reindeer day and night. Three big herds of reindeer follow the caribou and lost completely. We could not catch them. The caribou very wild and travel day and night. We must let them go because we could not catch them. They too fast for us to follow.
I BE CHIEF HERDER
In the year of 1940, the Gov't. Reindeer Service call me to move to Kotzebue for be chief herder of Kotzebue, Selawik, and Buckland Reindeer herd. So I move by boat with my family. I hired 5 men for reindeer apprentices. In Sept. we round up the reindeer and do corral count in November. There were 2,563 deer. I have them train 5 steers into sled deer for each apprentice. They watching the herd night and day, two apprentices each 24 hours shift, then another two apprentices.
In the year of 1941, we round up and count 3,628 reindeer. We castrate 641 bulls for steers, We had over 60 trained sled deer. Nov. 24th I loan 800 live reindeer to York Wilson who serves 4 years in this Gov't. herd. Also his step-son Henry Weber, we loan 800 head of reindeer. They take over their herds between Noorvik and Noatak village.
In the month of April, I take 14 trained sled deer and 5 sleds and harness to Nome, about 260 miles trip south. Four men and one woman go with me. There were big Fair time, dog sled races and reindeer races and have meeting in Nome every night all one week. These men come with me to Fair--York Wilson, his wife Altar Wilson, his step-son Henry Weber, and my son Norman Seveck. Wien Airlines fly us all with the 14 sled deer, sleds and harness and took us back to Kotzebue with big airplane.
In the fall of 1942 I gave another loan to Ross Stalker of 800 heads live reindeer. He take that reindeer herd to Noatak. I hired 2 men for reindeer apprentices, Larry Gray and George Keats to take York and Ross's place. Also, I hired one man from Buckland, name Bob Clark Ohkalick for assistant chief herder.
In the year of 1946 we round up and counting reindeer 5,263 heads and 96 trained sled deer. In the month of April when we were fawning time season, Wien Airlines plane landed to my reindeer camp. There a man to come to make the picture, name Frank Whaley. Also a white lady name Lola Kirkland to stay with us for a month. She also to make few pictures of reindeer camping and the new born fawn. We bring her down to Kotzebue by small boat with Evinrude, the only white lady come to my reindeer camp since I started be reindeer herder in the year of 1908, Jan. 3rd. Many white men stayed with my reindeer camp but no white lady stay with us except Lola Kirkland.
In the year 1947 University of Fairbanks called me to bring 12 trained sled deer with the sleds and harness. I take 3 reindeer herders with me. Wien Airlines fly us over to Fairbanks. When we reach there, they take us to Country Club up to the hill about 5 miles from the downtown. We gave sled ride behind the reindeer teams anyone can ride. Every day the people came to ride on reindeer team. Two weeks we stay, let them ride.
In the year of 1955 they called me again from Fairbanks, the Traveler's Inn open house. They call me Kobuk. That night I cannot sleep. First time I ever try sleep on spring soft bed but I cannot sleep, so I lay the blanket on the floor and sleep there on the floor very good.
In the year of 1949 I gave a loan 800 reindeer to Paul Hadley. He take that herd to Buckland River.
In the year 1950 a man name Carruthers from Los Angeles came to my reindeer herd. He came to buy 14 trained sled deer to take outside to California. He see and talk with Reindeer Service Supt. first before he came to my herd. We lassoed 14 trained sled deer to take to Kotzebue and then he flew them to the States by big plane.
FIRST TIME GO TO STATES
In the year of 1952, Jack Whaley, one of Wien Airlines pilots took us, my wife and I to Seattle for first time we went out to the States. Jack have us stay Hotel Stewart in 7th floor, 312 room. Before we go to sleep, wife and I we try to get the light off. We use a small table and on top we put chair so my wife hold the chair while I stand on chair and try to move that big light globe on room roof but it never move. So my wife said "Maybe every one sleep here this room must have light on," so we went to sleep with light on. In the morning we get up. I saw something on the wall in that room look black so I touch and move down that black thing. Then the light go off, but it is too late to put off the light for sleep. When we go for car ride, my wife said "The car are faster than airplane." I told her the car is very slower than airplane because we flew on above the cloud very high.
Then Jack Whaley take us to Los Angeles. We flew in night time. We saw the lights down under us. I remember when we newly married in the year 1912 July 12th, I was dreaming my wife and I we saw the stars and sky under us. We were above the sky and stars I told my wife. Now my dream come true. She said, "Yes, it is now come true." So Jack Whaley gave us room at Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood 7th floor again room 306. The waiter in this room tell us be sure lock the door before we go to sleep because it may be robbers come to try to stole things from us. So before we go to bed, we lock the door.
In the next morning, I wake went to rest room. Suddenly I see someone come behind me. I turn around quick to ready to fight him. Then I was recognized myself in the large looking glass on that door. I told my wife about this happen. She was laughing long at me. Then we return to Seattle. We stop in Lola Kirkland's home place for one month. She very good to us and feed us well and she took us to movie show. Sometime she took us to her friends to have eat big meal. That lady never forget when she stayed with us for one month at my reindeer camp.
In the month of March, Jack Whaley take us to Alaska and he gave me job to taking care the tourists in summertime at Kotzebue. Then Jack Whaley was died by the airplane wreck near Nome.
START HERDING TOURISTS
In the year of 1954 July 7th, the Gov't. have me retired from Reindeer Service. Right after I retired the Wien Airlines, Frank Whaley, have me to take a job to taking care the tourists come to Kotzebue for every summertime only. In winter time we go with Frank Whaley and Wien Airlines have us take to traveling to the States, what we called promotion tour. We traveling all big cities almost all over United States.
In the year of 1955 Bishop of Alaska, Bishop Gordon, take me to Hawaii Island to Conference of Episcopal Church--stay 2 weeks that meeting.
In the year 1958 November 13th Tillie, my wife, she passed away. She had feel bad spell over a year. She go to hospital and she had big surgery twice by the doctors.
I MARRIED HELEN
In the year 1959 May 14th Helen Tazroyluke and I we been married at Pt. Hope by Rev. Osgood. I was Lay Reader since 1917 in Episcopal Church. Helen had 9 children, all married, and I had 11 children, all married. We stay all winter at Pt. Hope. When the spring come, we started to work for Wien Airlines at Kotzebue. We be tour guides.
In Sept. we went to Fairbanks and then we go outside to take the tourist promotion trip for Wien Airlines. Every summer 4 months, we works for Wien Airlines tour guides and winter time to take the traveling to the States for promotion.
In 1953, Frank Whaley, brother of Jack Whaley, he have me summertime job at Kotzebue to meet the tourists, give them skin boat ride, dog sled ride, see blanket toss and see Eskimo dances, also see skin sewing demonstration and see ivory carving demonstration.
PROMOTION TOURIST TRIP
We be many times talk on radio show and many times also TV. Helen and I Eskimo dance and sing on the show Steve Allen and also Art Linkletter. One time on Groucho Marx TV show, he ask me this: "Chester, do Eskimo people loan or trade their wives?" I think about this and then say, "Yes, I think about all same Hollywood." Many people laugh long time when I answer Groucho this.
One time we go Hawaii Islands promotion for one week and also Tokyo, Japan, 10 days for do TV show and dancing we enjoy. This trip also with Frank Whaley.
In Nov. 16th to Dec. 5th we go Hollywood and be actors for movie called "Ice Palace" movie, Warner Brothers Co.
One time the Coffee company called me to go to Atlanta, Georgia, to make picture. I took 7 dogs and sled. They make float wagon and put the sled and dogs to string out just like I drive the dogs with the sled. Took me about a month to do this picture.
One time the Kotzebue Chamber Commerce have me to meet Governor Dewey when he came to Kotzebue from New York. One time the Councilmen have me to meet Governor of Alaska, Bill Egan. I have him to see Eskimo big dances and dinner with him at Wien Arctic Hotel, Kotzebue, Alaska. One time the Chamber Commerce have me to meet the Governor of Alaska, Wallie Hickel. We had dinner and talk with him and have him to see the Eskimo dances at Kotzebue.
In the year of 1964 in Fairbanks, we bought a trailer from Jim Thompson. Then we sold that trailer and bought a house at Island Home 1967 January 10th. After 3 years, Helen and I we bought a house at Airport Way, Fairbanks, Alaska, because too crowded one house 4 persons adults and 5 children.
BEFORE WHITE PEOPLE COME
Before white people came, many Eskimo people were old ages, brave and long life. Never sick, only dying by accident and starvation. They works together. They hunt together to help one another. They divided equally things among themself. They do not worry. They happy and dance together. They prepare everythings in summer time and put and save everythings they catch for winter. When hunting time come they hunt and do never delay and late. When the time come for hunt the whale, oogrook, walrus, seal, fishes and picking some small black berries, salmon berries also some roots of maso, everyone in the family they do the works and hunt.
GETTING FOOD STUFFS
In the year 1973 Jan. 7th, I am 83 years live but not through live yet. Helen, my wife, live with me in our Fairbanks house.. We have now 135 grandchilds and 37 great grandchilds, altogether 172. This many come from 11 childs my wife Tillie and I have and 9 childs Helen and her first husband have. We see many changes while we live and we stay happy.
HOW HAVE LONG LIFE
For long live and joy life, I believe these things--Keep busy and do good work. Have much good exercise. Eat good food, no waste anything and every day enjoy what it gives and do not spoil this day with much worry of tomorrow.
Be happy. I know this way how I be "Longest Reindeer Herder." Start 1908, finish 1954, altogether 46 years herd reindeer.