Historic Interviews For Heritage Month: Ben Neeley, Eileen Ewan & Jim McKinley Recall Their Youth

 COUNTRY JOURNAL HISTORIC INTERVIEWS GULKANA VILLAGE Ben Neeley Recalls His Dog Teams In The Old Days "I was young and tough" Ben ...

 COUNTRY JOURNAL HISTORIC INTERVIEWS

GULKANA VILLAGE

Ben Neeley Recalls His Dog Teams In The Old Days

"I was young and tough"

Ben Neeley in the 1980's (Photo, Linda Weld)

Ben Neeley: I had a dog team a long time ago. I never run races though. I used them for work. Mostly 7 dogs. I ran them everywhere I go. I fed them dry fish them days. Cornmeal, and rice. Them days they call that rice 'dog rice.' That's what they used to call it. There's two different kinds of rice, one long like a needle, and one short. That's the one we used – the short one. They cooked fast.

I worked hard, and when I stopped and had tea I gave a piece of tallow to each dog. I used to take care of my dogs good. They didn't get run down. I never had no race dogs, but I had work dogs. I got 8 dogs right now. I just don't use them. Just feed them, feed them...

I got some good husky dogs. I got a sled, harness, everything. I hitched dogs the way I wanted.  Nowadays people study about dogs. Them days we take care of them the way we want. They do good.

Longest I ever went from up here where my homestead is to Tyone Lake. All the way. That's about 60 miles. One day, I made it up there. That's the longest I ever went. 

Way young days, I was young and tough. I could run, too. It's about 50 years ago...

 

GULKANA VILLAGE

Eileen Ewan Packing Fish & Picking Berries

"It was a hard life. That was fun." 

Eileen Ewan in the 1990s (Photo, Country Journal)

Eileen Ewan: I remember summer... going fishing. Cutting fish, which I really used to enjoy. I like to smoke fish. Me and my mother used to go and take care of fish early in the morning. I used to like it because we got up early. That was Tazlina. We had to pack the fish up a steep hill. It was a lot of fun, packing fish. It was 2 dried fish my mom would let us pack because we were too little.

We picked a lot of berries too, in August. Cranberries for the winter. That was our fruit. 

It was a hard life. That was fun. When you work for your living!
 
 

KLUTI-KAAH VILLAGE

Jim McKinley Remembered Potlatching, Telegraph Lines, Riverboats

"My grandfather died. Lots of people died with him; the flu"

Jim McKinley in the 1980s (Photo, Country Journal)
 
Jim McKinley: I was born in 1899 on May 3rd in Copper Center, Alaska. My mama took care of me up to 4 years old. Then I knew this world...
 
1903-1904: I went to school here in Copper Center. They first built the roadhouse in Copper Center. The telegram went through to Eagle.
1905: The first time I saw a sawmill.
1906: My grandfather died. I was 7 years old at that time. Lots of people died with him; the flu.
1907: Potlatch over my grandfather in Wood Camp for Copper River Indians. The first time a boat came up the Copper River was that summer.
1908: They built a Russian Orthodox Church across the river.
1909: We went to Tazlina Lake for a potlatch. A boat came to Copper Center. I went to Chitina with my dad – I was 9 years old – to see Chitina. There was no road at that time. We went down the river.

This is an ongoing, original series of interviews and photographs from the Copper River Country Journal, celebrating Native Heritage Month, November 2020.

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