The Good Life

Jack Carson, a Sourdough Pioneer

From Heinie Snider’s book Centennial – 100 Stories of Alaska, originally published in 1966

The sourdough pioneer may well be classified as a vanishing race. The world has become so small that distance is almost eliminated. Travel by plane has cut a week’s travel by boat to a couple of hours, and even the auto has helped greatly in making Alaska a place for tourists.

You can consider yourself in luck to come across a man like Jack Carson. About 15 years ago, a report drifted into Anchorage of gold found on Yakataga Beach. A friend of the family, the late Clyde Dimmick (prospector and miner from Willow Creek), and I boarded a plane to investigate.

Although we gained lots of experience, we found little gold; but we had the good fortune to meet Ben Watson and his charming wife (who, by the way, carried my pack, shovel and pick across the Yakataga River), Mrs. Watson is postmaster at Yakataga.

The team of retrievers on Yakataga Beach.
The team of retrievers on Yakataga Beach.

During the gold rush days, hampered by a food shortage, wilderness, and no way of travel but over rough trails, the way of life was indeed a hard one; but not so for another newly found friend, Jack Carson, who lives on Cape Yakataga. Here he built a nice home on Little Creek, where his food swims past his door. This stream is about 30 miles from the Cape.

Taking advantage of the fish supply, he catches the Coho salmon for smoking. Bears—black, brown, and grizzly—often raid his cleaning table, which is situated on the bank of the stream. The hides from those who tried to take possession of his cleaning table hang on the wall, while skulls and bones are dried for museum specimens.

Fish bones and entrails are thrown in the creek, food for the trout which may be caught later for breakfast. Carson builds a fire in an oil drum stove, and an underground passage directs the smoke into the smoking chamber.

He also dries salmon, with the drying racks high above the ground out of the bear’s reach. Jack gill-nets his salmon, taking only enough for his own use and for dog food.

He has a team of fine retrievers, which come in handy for bird hunting as well as for running his trap line and bringing mail and supplies from Cape Yakataga.

Berries, mainly blueberries, are put up in a keg. His vegetables, lettuce, carrots, and potatoes, he grows in two feet of dirt on top of his cabin, with flowers on the outer edge giving it the appearance of a Babylonian hanging garden.

Inside his clean and comfortable cabin stand a homemade table and chairs made of spruce. On the shelves, neatly arranged, are long rows of the National Geographic magazine, issues dating from many years ago to the present time. There are also books from the pen of Darwin, Nietzsche, H.G. Wells (The History of the World), and many other books and magazines.

Water from the upper creek may be had from a faucet over the wash basin.

When we met him, he was well past 80 years old, straight as a telephone pole, with a big smile and a twinkle in his eye that seems to say, “I enjoy life … how about you?”

After many years as packer, miner, fur farmer, and anything else a man can do in outdoor Alaska, he went to the States, bought a car, and toured every state in the Union.

Coming back, he settled down to stay.

“Too damned dangerous to live Outside,” he said. “Can’t even cross a street safely.”

Just then we noticed a large shaggy bear. “Look!” I said.

“Yeah,” he answered. “That’s old Sam—old and no teeth. He’s the cleanup boy around here.”

Printed with permission from the family of Gerrit “Heinie” Snider.

Printed in the May 2015 issue of Last Frontier Magazine

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