How Pop Miller Drove Into The Canyon At Caribou Creek & Was Rescued By His Wife

Pulled From The Wreck At Caribou Creek Copyrighted By Northcountry Communications, Inc. of Gakona, Alaska, 2020. The Matanuska River n...

Pulled From The Wreck At Caribou Creek

Copyrighted By Northcountry Communications, Inc. of Gakona, Alaska, 2020.
The Matanuska River near Caribou Creek. (Photo, Country Journal)

 

Caribou Creek, at roughly Mile 107 of the Glenn Highway, northeast of Anchorage, lies at the bottom of a deep canyon between the Talkeetna and Chugach Mountain ranges.

Edgar ‘Pop’ Miller  was born in Norton Kansas. He came to Alaska, and worked as a riverboat captain on the great Alaska rivers. Thin and lanky, he met and wooed a cheery Yup’ik girl named Augusta. They moved to the town of Glennallen, in the Copper Valley.

At least 60 years ago, Pop Miller was driving the Glenn Highway one winter night. When he did not come home,  Augusta realized he was in trouble, and she went out into the cold to find him. She took her son-in-law, Arnold Engebretson, down  the long lonely Glenn Highway, all the way from Glennallen, hoping for any sign of Pop.

Slowly scouring the road edges, she finally saw a spot where she felt a car had gone off the cliff–at the deadly Caribou Creek Canyon. The night was brutally cold. The dark, thin road was empty. Augusta Miller grabbed her flashlight. “I’m going down there,” she announced.

The cliffs at Caribou Creek are steep. Augusta hurtled over the edge, and scrambled down the ice. She found the overturned car. And she found Pop Miller, alive, but freezing in the snow.

Augusta wasn’t young. She clawed her way back up the steep canyon walls and told Arnold to go find a wrecker, and then she slid back down into the gully. To stay with her man.

Pop Miller’s granddaughter, Darlene Stemp, who now owns Northern Nights Campground in Glennallen,  told the story years later: “So he had a broken wrist, frostbite on his hands, and they took him in to the Palmer Hospital. Later, after he was sent back to Glennallen, he told my grandmother he heard the doctor in Palmer say, ‘He’s never going to make it. He’s been out too long in the cold. He’s pretty old’.”

The Palmer doctor was wrong. But, Pop Miller didn’t escape unscathed. Tough as nails, Pop just ignored his frostbite, for days, until finally, it was too much. He was persuaded to go on over to the little country hospital in Glennallen, to see the kindly missionary there, Dr. Schneider of Faith Hospital.

Augusta and Pop Miller with Dr. Schneider after the accident. (Photo sent to Country Journal by Judy Arvidson, Dr. Schneider's daughter)
The Glennallen physician took one look, and said, “We have to amputate.”  It was so long ago, on this wild frontier. And there was no nurse.

So Arnold Engebretson volunteered to help. They found a sheet of plywood and laid it across a desk. They found a 2x4 and put it under Pop’s left arm and roped him up to the 2x4, all the way to the palm of his hand. It was like surgery on a Civil War battlefield. Pop lost quite a few fingers. But he was alive. And brave Augusta – all 4 foot ten inches of her – remained, for all time, his perfect Alaskan wife.

Caribou Creek has been improved. But, it’s still a treacherous curve. And winter nights are still as cold as nights on the moon.

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