The Jackson Family on Legma Part Two: Berries, Venison, Potatoes and Bears, Goddard, Moonshine, Fox First Aid and How the Goddard Model T Got to Sitka
Berry picking back then and even today usually takes one person an average of an hour to pick one full container of the smaller berries. Blue huckleberries tasted sweeter than the red ones and made the best pie you could ever imagine. In fact, that was the first choice all ages believed was the best birthday pie of all!
Sometimes in April, (usually in May) they would also find clusters of tight fiddlehead ferns they could pick early in the season. It was one of their very favorite “natural veggies” that tasted really good when fried with butter and it was a great source of nutrients and high in iron.
After the first frost (usually early September), they picked high and low bush cranberries, crabapples, as well as currants. George always got away with just eating berries instead of picking them because his job was carrying the gun to protect everybody in case a bear came. Usually the berries were canned and if they had sugar, they made jelly or jam. JoAnn always said jars filled their shelves with all these beautiful glasses in different berry colors. Awesome!
Today, organic veggies cost more because they are grown “naturally.” The veggies most of the fox farmers raised (potatoes, carrots, turnips, lettuce, radishes and peas) were planted in the spring. Nanny mixed potash with crushed shells, fish guts, dish water and coffee grounds to use as fertilizer. The kids liked to pick up a bunch of shells and smash them and they looked really pretty. She also used seaweed but it didn’t look as nice as the shells. Scrunching a bunch of it together and squeezing the little pockets of smelly water was an “old fashioned” squirt gun. We still use those today.
Agricultural Professor Darren Snyder, at the University of Alaska in Juneau, said Nanny would have used shells or seaweed or both because “both shells and seaweed have important contributions to successful garden soils in Southeast Alaska.” Shells are calcium carbonate (same as bone) so they provide calcium but more importantly they are a great "liming" agent. Liming agents bring up the pH or "sweeten" the "sour" soils to the range that garden plants can uptake nutrients properly. Seaweed contributes Potassium and micronutrients as well as general good structure to the soil by way of it breaking down and being composted. It can also work well as a mulch on top of the soil to insulate perennials in the winter. Sounds scientific and impressive and Nanny (our Gramma Anna) wouldn’t have understood that language, but she did know it worked and that was what was important.
A lot of food the family ate was canned but veggies like potatoes or onions were kept in a root cellar. They didn’t have a freezer for meat so they dried that and pickled it in a barrel. Fish was either dried and salted or canned and sometimes they burned alder to smoke some of it. Seafood that was part of their everyday diet is outrageously expensive today, delicacies like halibut and salmon or crab. They would also catch a lot of red snapper and ling cod, which are other favorite fish to order as a “special” in a restaurant today, but back then, they used those for fox food. When the tide went out really far they did get abalone and loved eating those fried. For the first few years, every time they had a minus tide during the day, George and JoAnn would go out and dig clams. When Gertie, Polly and Chris got old enough they would also help dig because Nanny’s great clam chowder was a huge part of their diet. She always made sure they had plenty of fiber.
The other main dish was venison (only 31 calories for one ounce) which was usually fixed into rullepolse. A round steak cut was beat to a pulp. Seasonings like salt, pepper, sage, and whatever else available were sprinkled over the meat. Then a piece of pork was placed on top, rolled up as tight as possible, and held together with strings. After roasting for a couple of hours and cooling down it was sliced about ¼ inch thick. It was a great way to make a smaller cut of venison feed a family of seven.
Nanny’s cousin in Kansas really wanted to come up and visit so he could hunt or fish and help feed the family. He wrote and asked if he did come to Alaska, would it be ok to bring his gun? George explained “you have to pack it down and you are supposed to have a license for hunting which cost $50 for outsiders. Actually lots of people don’t have one.” The license for nonresidents covered them for hunting big game, small game, fur-bearing animal hunting and a trapping license. The other thing he could do was get a non-resident small game hunting license for $10.
Officially deer season was open September 1st (from 1927-1929) while they lived on Legma and stayed open until the 30th of November. They could kill three bucks with horns at least three inches in length above the top of the skull. Today the islands are in Game Management Unit Four and it opens August 1st. Until September 14th hunters can kill three bucks and if they don’t get three, starting September 15th they can kill either another buck or a doe up to a total of three deer, and closes on December 31st.
There are notes from records by other fox farmer who were here before our family came to live on Legma about hunting for and killing deer when it wasn’t open season. One guy who was hired to work on a fox farm was told to kill at least 20 deer for the fox farmer so he could put the meat up. He also cut up the deer hides and fed them to his fox to help them with their digestion system. When a Game Warden visited the fox farm and searched their boat he found a hind quarter of a deer but he did not make an arrest. That’s because when folks ran out of meat it was ok (not against the law) to kill a deer.
Realistically it is very hard to believe that our family with five kids, and the Mills family with six, could have lived on the limit of deer allowed back then. Even if Grampa had hunted and taken a total of twelve (three each for himself, Nanny, George and JoAnn) during the three-month hunting season it wouldn’t have fed the family the entire year.
Another dinner item they hunted was certain game birds. In one day, they could kill 25 duck (except elder duck) or 8 goose, and 20 snipe (yeah right J) September 1st to December 15th; they could keep these till Christmas day. Better tasting birds they could kill included 15 grouse, 25 ptarmigan, or 8 goose from September 1 to February 28th, and they could keep these until March 10th. They could keep a total of both kinds as long as they didn’t have more than 75. For certain folks goose was a real “special” holiday dinner.
One of the most important game animals they had to deal with were the bear. There was a limit of killing three large brown and grizzly during the season from September 1st to June 20th. If at any time the bear was about to attack or molest a person or property, or if one was found within a mile of their cabin, they could kill it at any time or place when it looked like it was going after (considered a menace) a person, livestock or property. It was not a menu item for the family for sure but was included in the feed for the foxes. George always felt that CJ Mills was the most experienced and wise hunter he ever knew. Today, folks are only allowed one bear every four years, by permit, from March 15th to May 20th, or September 15th to December 31st.
Two times a year they ordered canned food from Seattle. Items like fruits that don’t grow in Alaska, like peaches or pears, were a real treat. There was also peanut butter and butter in brine along with lots of sacks of flour, sugar, beans, and coffee, which was one of the most important. The supply ship would come into Sitka, tie up at the Standard Oil Dock, and Grampa would go in town and pick up the order. This six-month supply of cases of cans would be stacked to create their walls. When the “walls” were gone, it was definitely time for another trip to town (Sitka) to pick up an order.
The 1929 Alaska Game Regs said a Native-born resident, Eskimo or half-breed who had not severed his tribal relations by adopting a civilized mode of living or exercising the right of franchise, and was a hunter or trapper, could sell the skins of fur bearing animals which he had lawfully taken without a license. If somebody wanted to buy the fur for his own use he didn’t need a license either, but couldn’t sell it. Anybody who did have a license could buy and sell the skins but they had to have it posted in an established place on premises where a game warden could check it out or everybody could see it.
Fox farmers traded services and labor. Grampa made deals quite a few times with the Huffs, the Millses, Thompsens, and the folks at the Goddard Resort. Money made when he sold fish, trees, or raising fox would help buy staples like flour, sugar or coffee. They also needed money for fishing, to pay for fuel and parts to keep the boats running. One of the largest expenses of course was fox and mink feed. Several times they would run out of supplies before they got money for selling fresh fish or fox fur, and would have to use their “charge card” to purchase supplies from a supplier in Sitka.
Sometimes in the spring Grampa was fishing for salmon in Icy Straits. If he did really good and got lots of red king salmon (which sold for more than white kings), he would go into Juneau and buy a “special treat” at the Piggly Wiggly Store to bring home as a surprise. Polly remembers one time he brought some yellow marshmallow ducks for Easter- the first time they had ever seen anything like that. Gertie also remembers that when Grampa was back to making money and could pay off his “charge card” in town, he would celebrate by buying a Hershey bar which was so expensive that it was truly a very rare and “luxury” item. And oh yes, tasted so good!
Usually, every week or so, George and JoAnn rowed over to Goddard (a few miles from Legma Island, about 16 miles south of Sitka) to send letters, packages or pick up their mail & they always got special treats like a handful of fig bar cookies or other goodies. If they happened to get stuck over there because of a storm, the folks at the hotel would “put us up and feed us breakfast!” George said, “and there was no doubt they treated us kids real good.”
Indeed the Goddards were very good hearted people who always helped fox farmers. If somebody had to get to town to pick up boat parts or go to the doctor, and couldn’t run their own boat or get a ride with someone else, Business Manager Carl Hills would give them a free ride on the old Edie M. He would also give the fox farmer a ride back from town on their mail boat for No Charge! (WOW!)
When an order of groceries came in for the restaurant, the boat would go into the cove and pull up to the float that was right next to the bridge that went across to the island. Carl would drive the Hotel Model T down the hill and over to the float, load the groceries and drive back up the hill with all the “goodies” loaded into the hotel’s Ford truck.
In 1961, the Jacksons’ first grandson (actually Nanny’s favorite) Dickie was beachcombing out at Goddard and found the Model T covered under the remains of the Hotel. He thought it was very cool and wanted to find out who owned it to see if he could buy it. It was owned by the State of Alaska. His boss, Mrs. Doucett, at the Pioneer Home, was in charge. She offered to sell it to him and of course he got an awesome deal, just $6 (with the title)! His best buddy Fred Karl had a 14-foot skiff, and agreed to follow my brother Dick in his 17-foot skiff and haul it home in to Sitka.
So they picked a really nice day to run over to Goddard, and scheduled it so they got to the beach at a really low tide. Fred took the frame in his skiff, and loaded it upside down. The wheels were half in the water but it was balanced pretty good. Dick loaded all the body parts, three engines, transmission and radiators in his boat. When the tide came in, the water was almost flat calm (so nice) that it only took them three hours to get to the beach in front of Aunt Polly’s house on Halibut Point Road.
Note—Polly - the Jackson girl who was born out there on Legma Island - was very impressed. In fact, all the folks who found out about them bringing it to Sitka were amazed. He worked two years repairing and renovating the vehicle and gave it to Polly’s son David (our cousin) as a wedding gift in 1972.
From all memories shared and diaries kept, the Jacksons didn’t go to town as often as other fox farmers. Other than going into town to have baby Chris and going to Glenn Mills’ funeral, we didn’t hear about Nanny taking any other town trips like going to parties or shopping at the mall. Thank goodness there weren’t any serious injuries so they didn’t have to go into an emergency room to see a doctor or need a dentist to pull teeth.
Most likely some fox farmers and fisherman knew which island(s) was the best to buy moonshine from for special occasions. Sometimes yacht passengers would spend a lot of time at the hotel and run out of their “liquid” supplies. Some of the fox farmers who were also running a distillery ordered grain they needed for feed and brown sugar because they thought that also made fur shinier. One source of information said 550 pounds of food per year was how much each fox would eat. (Wow—that is a lot!)
Liquor sales competitors included Scotty Jennings on Gornoi Island (George found some remains of a still there) and Charlie Pinkston, on Long Island, who was supposed to make the best moonshine in the country. Claude Huff mentioned in his diary that on January 12th 1929 they chased an “odd acting boat” in the morning. Grampa told them it was Shorty Abrahamson who had been Boozing Heavily! December 2nd the next year, they saw the Sunbeam of Seattle going by “so often”, they knew it was in bootleg business!
Carl Peterson, who operated the Legma Island fox farm before the Jacksons did, had already stored first aid remedies for fox so they had an awesome supply in the medicine cabinet which folks could use for themselves, too. The US Department of Agriculture put a bulletin together about Blue Fox Farming in Alaska in 1922. A veterinarian was sent for a Biological Survey to check out blue fox farms (particularly the ones on islands) with special attention to the matter of sanitation and disease.
Here is what and how much D.E. Buckingham (the vet) said you should have on hand for the fox you were raising:
One pound each of:
- Boric acid to use as powder for open wounds, or dissolved in hot water for inflamed parts.
- Epsom salt: 1 teaspoon in half a glass of warm water to use as a laxative (really?)
- Peroxide of hydrogen (we know it as hydrogen peroxide)
- Sulfur (powdered) which you can use with one part sulfur and 4 parts lard or other pure fatty base for skin disease and bald spots
- Flaxseed: for warm antiseptic poultices for boils, abscesses and swollen feet- boil in water until it assumes consistency of a thick mush and apply while warm and moist.
- Alum (dried) - used for light bleeding, added to boric acid 1 part to 4- makes a non-poisonous dusting or wound powder.
- Iodine- used in full strength just as for human cuts and wounds.
One of the most important items on Grampa’s list of “things to do” was file a Declaration of Intention with the US Department of Labor Naturalization Service saying he wanted to become a citizen. Kristoffer Benjamin Knubedal, 32 years old with an occupation as a fox farmer, declared his personal description:
He was white with a medium complexion, 5 feet 9 ½ inches tall and weighed 174 pounds. His hair was brown; eyes were grey and there was a scar at the bottom of his left thumb.
He was born in Sokndal Norway on the 18th of November 1894, and emigrated from Vancouver B.C. on the Great Northern Railroad. They had lived in New Westminster, B.C. and his wife Anna was also born at Sokndal, Norway and Sitka was their residency.
It was his bona fide intention to renounce forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty and particularly to Haakon VII, Kind of Norway, “of whom I am now a subject.” He arrived at the port of Blaine in the state of Washington on or about the 17th day of September in 1926. He swore that he was not an anarchist, polygamist or believer in the practice of polygamy and it was his intention in good faith to become a citizen of the United States of America and permanently reside therein: SO HELP ME GOD. (Wow-impressive!) Sworn to James ? in the Office of the Clerk of the US District Court June 27th, 1927. This was required to keep while living in the US for at least five years in order to become a naturalized citizen.
Two months later, in August of his first year as a fox farmer here, one of Grampa’s new friends C. Jay Mills who was in the same business over on Maid Island was generous enough to share a radio. When C.M. Cook opened this Sitka radio station he provided some “outstanding” service to his listeners as a “fellow fox farmer” and was also a radio builder. This was one of the best ways to hear about and focus on how to dedicate and prove his lifestyle and beliefs in his new country.
We aren’t sure why Grampa decided to move the family over to Tava Island on March 29th in 1929. One very good reason could have been the opportunity to move into a much larger house. This was definitely an advantage since now, along with two older kids, they had two baby girls and were expecting another baby in a few months. George and JoAnn would be starting school in a couple of weeks and would be very glad about not having to spend their “free time” feeding fox. The island was about ¼ mile farther away from the school but they were still on the bus route so there was no problem with that.
There could also have been some issues related to running the fox farm for Len Peterson that didn’t work out. Maybe he was not satisfied with the way Grampa ran the fox farm or how he took care of the fur selection and sales. In the records we have found there are no reports or papers that show who ran the Legma farm from 1929 up to 1936 when Mills’ son-in-law Baggen became the operator. In 1937 Grampa worked skinning fox, for $75, which Peterson had to pay before he could close his papers on the island.
Next: The Goddard School