Mike Alex

Copied 23Jan07from:

Southcentral Alaska, 1915-1980 THE LAND AND ITS USES

Alaska's Past - Regional Perspectives

Web Page <http://www.akhistorycourse.org/articles/article.php?artID=90>


Mike Alex-Last Eklutna Chief

Now you are going from Eklutna, now you are going from your children.

This Tanaina mourning song was composed by an Athapaskan song leader for the funeral of Mike Alex in 197. Alex was the last traditional village chief of the Knik Arm Tanaina at Eklutna. With his death, the Tanaina people lost a link with their heritage.

Alex's father was Alex Vasily, who was the last practicing shaman in the region. Railroad construction workers nicknamed hire Eklutna Alex when they arrived in Cook Inlet in 1915, and the name stuck. Eklutna Alex grew up in a time when the Tanaina Athapaskans moved seasonally from winter villages to summer fishing sites on Ship Creek, Eagle River, or Fire Island. The villagers fished for salmon, which they dried for their winter food supply. Women also dug K'tl'ila--wild Indian potatoes--to store for winter use, and picked berries in the bogs and hills around Cook Inlet. They sewed clothing from the hides of mountain sheep and goats that the men hunted above Eklutna Lake.

Mike Alex was one of 13 children. He was born before Anchorage existed. From his father he learned how to hunt, how to make sailboats, and how to navigate the dangerous Cook Inlet tides. He helped build a driftwood and plank smokehouse that still stands at an Eklutna fish site on Fire Island. Alex also inherited a deep devotion to the Russian Orthodox faith.Eklutna, on the east side of Knik Arm, is now the major village for upper Cook Inlet Tanaina. In Mike Alex's youth, however, the village was a temporary camp. A number of trails leading into the Interior met here. The Russian Orthodox Church built a small log chapel at the site.

During construction of the Alaska Railroad, Eklutna was a railroad storage yard. In 1924 the U.S. Department of Education built an industrial boarding school for Native youths from throughout Alaska at the village. Three-story dormitories were built for boys and girls, along with a gymnasium, shop, and other buildings.

Most classes at Eklutna were devoted to vocational skills. Mike Alex taught fishing. Under his instruction students learned how to set nets in Cook Inlet, how to operate their boats, and how to care for their catch.

Eklutna Alex died in 1953. Mike Alex, the new chief, took over responsibility for maintaining St. Nicholas Chapel. He carefully replaced the foundation of the 100-year-old building and restored the floors, walls, altar, and icons. He also helped compile lists of Tanaina place names in upper Cook Inlet, and urged villagers to remember their traditional language and skills. By the time of his death, the last Eklutna chief had helped to keep his cultural heritage alive for future generations.


Mike Alex is the hero of Chugiak

In 1950 Mike Alex was driving home to Eklutna in his pickup form Anchorage at about 6:30 PM.

Gib and Eileen Reid were rushing their son Mike to the Army Dispensary at the east end gate of Fort Richardson, they were driving their 1-1/2 ton 4x4 Army surplus truck; their only vehicle; which had a bad shimmy, and they could not drive very fast.. They met Mike Alex coming up the Eagle River hill just after crossing the bridge. They flagged Mike down, and asked him to drive them, and their son to the Fort Richardson Dispensary, as they could not drive their trick above 25 miles an hour.  Mike said sure jump in, and away went at a much better speed than their truck could do.

On the way the Reid's tried to think of what had happened to their son Mike age 2 years. old.

All the new was little Mike and been playing in their yard at their home at Mile 18 on the Glenn (Palmer) Highway, and come in the house having trouble breathing, and they were unable to help him. They did not know at the time what had happened to him. When Mike Alex got them to the Fort Richardson Dispensary, the Doctor noticed the smell of gasoline, and forced Mike to vomit, he asked if little Mike could have drank some gasoline. After a short time Mike's breathing became normal, and Mike Alex drove them home. The Reid's did not know, till they got home, and looked around the yard.. They found out what happened. There was a 50 Gallon drum standing on end, it was on a slight angle so water could drain off without going into the gas. In warmer weather the gas expands and the pressure makes it a small amount seep out around the caps, this then mixes with the a little water at the edge. Little Mike was just tall enough to put his mouth on the edge of the drum, and he must have ingested a small amount of the water and gasoline mix. The little gasoline he swallowed closed off his wind pipe and he could not breath. Thanks Mike Alex you save our boy's life! Added by Gib Reid 23Jan07