Grampa Chris Jackson helped fox farmer C. Jay (CJ) Mills kill and skin his foxes. It was definitely a different way of life here on Tava because on this island Grampa wasn’t operating the fox farm. He focused on fishing and logging to make a living. Obviously, the two oldest Jackson children (my mom JoAnn and Uncle George) thought it was totally laid back over here compared to what they had been doing since coming from Norway and living on the Legma Island fox farm for the last two years.
However, they didn’t have docks on islands these new float planes could use to pick up any fox farmers, especially ones that needed to get to town quickly. Most likely the cost of these charter flights was way more than they could afford. So Grampa took her into Sitka and their son, my Uncle Chris Jackson, was born in “the big city” on July 6th 1929!
Len T. Peterson was President, his brother C.A. Peterson was Vice-President, F. Beauchamp was Secretary-Treasure and CJ Mills was the Manager of Sitka Fur Farms Inc., the company that leased Maid and Tava Islands. The note on their letterhead stationery made the important point that Maid and Tava Islands were “stocked with an improved strain of Alaska Blue Foxes.” (Very impressive!)
Sitka Fur Farms Manager CJ Mills and his family lived on Maid Island. His cousin Foster had come to Alaska to run Tava Island, next door, in November 1924. Foster and his wife Louise, daughter Jane and son Russell lived there a couple of years. When our family arrived on Legma Island, in March 1927, the Foster family had already decided they didn’t like fox farming and had moved to Sitka, so they never met Grampa & Nanny.
Carl Mills must have had a crush on Gertie because he always teased her and put crabs down her neck. He probably thought it was cool because she really didn’t like it but he definitely got her attention. George thought Mrs. Mills was pretty mean because every time something went wrong, she blamed him. Very likely she didn’t appreciate him teaching her sons and daughters nasty words in Norwegian because no one else was supposed to know what they were really saying.
This was basically a new life, in a new location. Obviously, Grampa thought the amount of money being made by fox farmers was not enough these days, and that it would be much better to focus on fishing and logging. He spent time fishing on his boat, the FV Star, and always looked for the best cedar and spruce trees as well. Hand logging was the common practice in Alaska, instead of using animal or steam power. Fishing industry folks would buy the biggest trees for fish traps, and local sawmills sawed lumber for canneries and salteries. They also made cases and crates for Alaska canneries to use for shipping salmon, and used pole-sized timber for pilings.
We’re not sure (but it is doubtful) if he had a special permit to cut and sell timber, but they did make lots of trips to the beach to find prime timber. If the water was calm enough, rather than hit a “deadhead” (partially submerged floating log) when they were running in high seas, they could hook on and tow some nice sized logs to the logging camp. In fact around December 8, instead of checking out foxes at the feeding stations, he had a different focus. He tied two prime cedars up in the narrows and hauled them into the camp to sell the next morning.
Another change of life for fox farm kids JoAnn and George here is that they were totally laid back compared to what they had to do when living on Legma. They had time to “watch the stars,” and actually saw some awesome northern lights in January and a moon eclipse in April. One of the not so great things was when school started, they had to get to the harbor (on the other side of Tava) to catch the school boat. Even though school started in April, spring weather wasn’t great and it was pretty darn scary to walk because the woods they had to go through were pretty thick and dark, and they didn’t have trail lights.
The 1926 Forest Service appraisal of the Tava Island lease included lots of good info about this fox farm. For instance, it is 501 acres (just a little smaller than Legma Island), the beaches were mostly large boulders and there were some reefs with rocks that were hidden at high tide. They didn’t think the harbor was the best in the world, but it was ok because it was protected really well from the storms. Actually that was, and still is, a huge benefit!
The best place for foxes to have their dens was along the shore line because the drainage kept the beach very wet. Even during the dry season, these islands had a very good supply of water. Spruce and hemlock covering the south beach was a good thing. The Forest Service guys thought the food supply for the fox houses was good because folks could get fish heads from the cannery and mild curing plants and buy cereals from the local merchants. Because of all these positive variables for the fox farm, the annual lease fee was being raised from $25 to $61.96!
One really “cool” thing about living on Tava was sometimes it would get cold enough to freeze the lake. It was in the middle of the island and the Jackson and Mills kids would always skate there together. Our family didn’t have any ice skates but the Mills family did and were kind enough to share. Like Cora Mills explained, “we had clamp-on skates that were easy to take off, so we always shared our skating time.” Very nice.
Compared to what their mom cooked, our kids thought Mrs. Mills made some really weird peanut butter cookies and hotcakes. Well, of course they didn’t even taste close to what they were used to because Nanny always used butter and eggs cause they had chickens and always had fresh ones. Most folks didn’t know or even care about high cholesterol back then, and taste was way more important. When asked today what snacks Cora Mills loved most, she said her favorite was our Nanny’s sponge cake!
Mr. Mills was generous enough to give our family a radio. Grampa hooked it up to the same six-volt battery that Grampa used to run off his boat. They always listened to the main station in Des Moines, Iowa which was chosen so they could listen to the news. When he did have it on, all the kids were supposed to be totally quiet. If they did make any noise they would be in big trouble! Cora also remembers that everyone had to be quiet when their dad was listening to his radio, too.
The first week of November 1929 stenographer Dorothy, the daughter of Dr. Fred Goddard and Home Supervisor Mary of the Goddard Sanitarium, “enumerated” all the residents in the Outlying District of Goddard. Needless to say, everybody here knew all their neighbors. The most senior fox farmer was 61-year-old Seth Mills, who had been born in Illinois. He and his 39-year-old wife lived on Elovoi Island with 41-year-old Claude, 42-year-old Mabelle, and their son Donald, who was 11.
The other “All-American” family was on Maid Island, “headed” by CJ Mills who was 43, born in Illinois; his 38-year-old wife Gretta was born there, too. Their three girls (Helen, Ruth and little Cora May) and three boys (Glenn, Donald and Carl) living on Maid Island were all born in Alaska.
Adolph Thompson was 36 years old and had come from Germany, and his 32-year-old wife Sophie came from Poland. They had a daughter, Anna, who had been born in Alaska five years before. Carl, his 51-year-old brother, also from Germany, was living with them on their Biorka Island fox farm. Adolph was a naturalized citizen, but his wife and brother were aliens. Our Jackson family, living on Tava Island, is also included on this list, and there’s one other person from Norway - John Clausen, a widowed 51-year-old, who was also a naturalized citizen.
Besides the Goddard family living in the Goddard Village, there was a sister-in-law from Scotland, Marjory Clumsa, doing housework at the sanitarium, and Carl G. Hill a 49-year-old guy from New York who was their manager. Titus Demidoff (27 years old), an Alaskan, and Charles Fulton (who was 38), a Tlingit, were their laborers. The day Dorothy did this report there were also two fishermen doing some salmon trolling: Augustus Woodrow, a 41-year-old guy from Pennsylvania, and 85-year-old George Sykes, from England.
Moving to town or another island would not and did not change anything that would make Nanny’s life easier. She was still working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to take care of the family. No doubt she was totally blown away when the Huffs came over to visit on January 26th, 1930, which just happened to be her birthday. Imagine that! They brought a nice birthday bouquet and bottle of wine, right? Maybe a nice bouquet yes; but there is no question that her children had a very beautiful cake that would feed them and all the guests.
The first week in May, Grampa got some dahlia bulbs from Mrs. DeArmond at Goddard so he could give them to Nanny for Mother’s Day. All her life, growing flowers was one of Nanny’s favorite things to do and the family always believed she had the most beautiful flower gardens on any island, or in any neighborhood. She always planted daffodils in December, her tulips always started coming up in March for Easter, and she always had lots and lots of nasturtiums blooming in August.
Whenever Grampa and son George were out hunting, fishing, or traveling around the islands, like all the other folks, they would shoot eagles. Sometimes they would even take hunting trips just for that purpose. One reason was because these damn birds would go after newborn fox pups that were coming out of their dens, which was obviously a loss of income. Also, because an eagle bounty law had been passed in 1917, as our family friend and historian Bob DeArmond described in his article “Shoot the Damned Things! - Alaska’s War against the American Bald Eagle” they would send the claws in and make 50 cents for each pair.
In 1923, when the bounty was raised to $1 for a set of claws, a lot of people who did it for a hobby went into business. Gertie remembers seeing claws hanging (not the full bird) so they would get good and dry. The Jackson girls always thought eagles were really big and looked very mean and they were always scared of them. (Not cool.) Lots of folks also believed eagles were damaging and worried about them picking up little kids.
The last day of school was usually the second week of October because seas were pretty rough that time of year. Their summer breaks, October to April, were definitely a lengthy school vacation. Seas were not calm enough on regular schedule till April for the School Boat to start up the daily run between fox farm islands and Goddard. The kids definitely had lots of time to spend on their beach playground every day. It was the same back then as it is today - activities were not cancelled, and the kids definitely did not stay inside, when it rained.
One day (probably cool and rainy) in January 1930 George was beachcombing and found what he thought was a seal skull and took it home to show Nanny. She almost had a heart attack and told him to take it outside and bury it. When other adults heard about it, they dug it up and took it to town. During the next few days they found vertebrae and another bone, parts of some pants, and a life belt on the beach. Dental images identified him as one of the four missing fishermen who had been on a halibut boat named the FV Washington at Sandy Bay.
Ten years later, when he was 22, in 1940, George met a young man in Sitka selling life insurance who told him how dangerous and hazardous it was to spend your life working on the sea, and said he knew from experience, because his dad had drowned while he was fishing years ago. When George asked him what boat his dad was on, and he told him the FV Washington, George said he was probably the one who had picked up his dad’s skull and bones on the beach. Then he decided indeed it would be a good idea to buy insurance from him.
Our mom JoAnn didn’t have a lot of good memories about being raised on the fox farm islands either. Her example was on July 3rd, 1930, when she celebrated her 9th birthday on Tava Island, which was nothing exciting, but always remembered that George swamped the skiff when they were hauling wood.
That year, when hunting season opened August 20th, Grampa didn’t think the deer were as fat as they would have been twelve days later (when it had opened the year before.) The season closed 15 days earlier on November 15th. No change in the number of deer you could get though; only three male deer, with at least 3-inch horns.
One of the worst things that ever happened to our family was on March 2nd in 1931. Nobody could have done anything about it. George had run over to Maid Island to pick up Mrs. Mills and bring her back to Tava to help Nanny as her midwife, when his baby brother, named Ole, was born dead. Needless to say, it was very sad. He was buried on the island. Claude Huff posted the notice on the dock “Mrs. Jackson’s Baby Dead.” This was definitely very hard for JoAnn to accept this happening. Several members of the family have been out to the island quite a few times but so far nobody has been able to find the gravesite.
Grampa anchored his boat between Maid and Tava. Unfortunately, during a good storm, the boat drifted ashore and broke up.
Really? Hmmm--maybe so!
Next post: The Jackson family on Elovoi Island, April 1931-March 1932