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M. Carolyn Steele
Death Keeper
1836

PUBLISHED IN VOICES OF THE HEARTLAND, Summer of 2005
First Place Winner, Literary Category - Heartland Authors Contest

he old man woke knowing--knowing that death walked on silent feet again, much like it had every night for weeks. Maybe it was the soft hoot of the owl in the near distance that alerted him.
Maybe, though, it was the sure knowledge that death was a hungry master, its appetite never satisfied, guarding each soul closely, waiting.
XXXXXThe owl, death's messenger, hoots again, closer. With a sigh, the old man struggles to sit, allowing his frost-crusted blanket to fall away, allowing the cold night air to embrace him. He wraps strips of fabric holding threadbare moccasins to his feet.
XXXXXBones pop and crackle like brittle tree limbs as he rises. The pain does not matter. Pain reminds him that he is alive and has to hurry. It would not do for the soldiers to find death's victim first. Bodies piled in wagons, dumped without ceremony or left in gullies for the wolves that trail the forced march from Georgia.
XXXXXCampfires glitter in the darkness as far as he can see in either direction. The fires of several thousand Creeks trying desperately to hold back the cold, make it through another night so that tomorrow they can shuffle and crawl ever closer to the promised land--Indian Territory. Promised. Only a fool believes the land will be Indian for more than a generation. Then the invaders will come again, like ants from an anthill.
XXXXXHe turns, testing the air, sorting the wood smoke from the odor of the white soldier's bitter coffee, a whiff of tobacco, the acrid scent of urine. Which direction? The sweet smell of death rises, churning, growing, drawing him to the east--the direction of home, the direction of the ancestors.
XXXXXTime is short. The old man secures his only tool, the shoulder blade of a deer, around his waist and pulls a cape of tails - coyote, fox and squirrel - tight across his back. He rolls his few possessions into his blanket, picks a flaming branch from the fire, and starts the hunt.
XXXXXLight from the torch drapes him in a soft glow, shifting only when he holds it low to examine a prone figure, as he looks for death. Several open their eyes and when they see him, shrink back, eyes wide with fear. No, it is not their time, he assures them and goes on, guided by a sense he would not be able to explain if he cared to.
XXXXXA wind stirs, clearing the low cloud of smoke, cleansing the air, leaving the cold taste of metal in the old man's mouth. The assortment of tails attached to his cape flutter like they want to flee, want to escape back into the forests.
XXXXXAstride a tired roan, a soldier pauses in his patrol of the camp parameters. The old man can feel the soldier's glare following him, but does not stop. He knows the rider is warm inside his great coat, knows he doesn't really want to shift his position and allow a finger of cold to crawl up his sleeve. The soldier clucks to his horse and moves away.

o many people, huddled under low brush arbors, in wagons, beside campfires--piled one upon another, living on each other's warmth like parasites. So many, he cannot count
them. Hollow-eyed children cough and turn their faces to the ground. Cough is a living thing, traveling from one mouth to another, staying until all breath is gone.
XXXXXHe is close now. He can feel it and stands still, waiting for death to show him the way. Then, he sees it--sees a lump in the shadow of a great hickory. The tree is in mourning, bare branches drooping, keeping a steady beat in the wind, like the drummers of old beating out a message of sorrow.
XXXXXThe lump stirs at his approach. A bony arm flings off the dark blue government- issue blanket that covers a thin body.
XXXXX"Death Keeper," she whispers.
XXXXX"I am here, old mother," he answers. He pushes a damp strand of hair from her forehead and his fingertips are seared with her heat. Her eyes blaze with fever, with the knowledge his presence brings.
XXXXX"I am ready," she says at last. "It is time." The acceptance seems to bring her peace. She twines her long fingers together, joints swollen like boles on a tree, and carefully places them across her chest. Two beaten silver bracelets gleam against her acorn brown skin in the torchlight.
XXXXXHe does not pull the blanket back over her body. The leaving will be faster this way, kinder. Instead, he moves off a few feet, away from the road, away from the old mother, and gathers twigs and kindling into a pile and sets it ablaze with his torch. The frozen moisture in the ground will melt, make the digging easier.

XXXXXThen, he takes his place beside the old woman, chanting the ancient words--words so old their meaning has been lost to the ages. His voice is barely a hum. It would not do to attract the soldiers' attention. They do not understand that possessions belong with their owner, even in death. She will go to the darkening land with her bracelets and with ceremony; at least what ceremony he can give.
XXXXXIn the leaving, flesh melts from her face, until only hair and eyes sunk deep in her skull are all that seem to be left. The frozen vapor that marked her breath trails off.
XXXXXThe soft hoot of an owl sounds high in the hickory tree and tells him what he already knows. With a mighty throw, the old man sends a rock aloft and chases the harbinger of death away. The bird will not steal tonight's spirit.
XXXXXHe pushes the embers aside and tests the softened earth. The digging will not take long. She is shrunken and tiny and will not take up much room in the ground. His pot of red ochre is nearly empty, so he dips a thumb into the paint and runs a single line across her forehead. He removes the threadbare moccasins from her feet. It is not for her that he does this. It is so the living might not hear her walking around in the spirit world.
XXXXXThough the woman is slight, he huffs with the exertion of lowering her body into the crevice prepared
for her. His years are many and the old ones are leaving now. He worries that no one will be left to perform the ceremonies.
XXXXXHer family has gone before her, lost to the coughing sickness, the fevers, the cold. He positions her so she will see their spirits when they come. Mounds of dirt sift down covering her face, her glittering bracelets until nothing is left--nothing but the memory.
XXXXXHe pats the earth smooth. Living embers roll before the sweep of the shoulder bone until they are gathered on the mound. The fire spirit will discourage predators.
XXXXXOut of respect for her memory, her name will not be spoken again.
XXXXXTired, his body groans aloud as he reaches for the government blanket and imagines her warmth still in the folds. He will give it to a young one. They are, after all, the people's future.
XXXXXOverhead, the seven sisters sparkle like they did in the old land. It is a comfort. He sinks down and leans against the hickory tree, desperate for sleep. But the knowing comes again, prods him to his feet.


ith a sigh, Death Keeper lifts his face to the night and tests the air, waiting to be shown the way.

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"Death Keeper, 1836" is a fictional story based on the removal of Creek Indians from their homelands in Georgia and Alabama to Indian Territory.
"The Captain's Troublesome Catch" is a non-fiction story about the author's Alaskan grandfather and mail-order bride grandmother. This ancestor story is complete with footnotes. Click here to read.
The Captain's Troublesome Catch
He came from the sea, smelling of salt water and engine parts, to claim his bride. In 1915, certainly few in land-locked Chillicothe, Missouri, had seen the likes of young Edward Earl Kalkins. His arrival was so startling, the newspaper began the marriage announcement with, “An Alaskan steamboat captain came 2,500 miles to Chillicothe for a bride.” (1)

If traveling thousands of miles for a wife seems extreme, scanning the 1910 census record for Wrangell, Alaska, Edward’s hometown, gives hint to the scarcity of marriageable women on the mountainous island. (2) Of 770 inhabitants, men outnumbered women nearly two to one, with most females married, elderly, or underage. (3) No wonder Edward resorted to drastic measures and took pen in hand to find a mate.

After all, frontiers proved popular for obtaining mail-order brides. The West was settled and civilized by the custom. However, by the early 1900’s, correspondence clubs were in vogue. Lonely young men in faraway locations like Alaska sent a photograph and fee to a correspondence club and were matched with interested young women.

Eager for a bride, Edward was delighted with his match, though he kept secret his true destination when he left town aboard the steamer bound for “down below.” (4) Noticing the absence of one of the town’s eligible bachelors, the
Wrangell Sentinel’s nosy reporter noted on November 18th, that Edward was “taking in the sights of Seattle.” (5) It wasn’t until his return on December 2nd, with a wife in tow, that townsfolk learned the truth when the newspaper announced, “Captain Ed Kalkins certainly slipped one over on his friends when he arrived from the south on the Jefferson bringing home a bride.” (6)

Alaskan sailors, including Edward, were a superstitious lot. One didn’t whistle aboard a boat for fear of calling up the wind or tote a black satchel on deck. Especially taboo was talking about one’s love life. That was sure to bring bad luck. (7)

Only cheechakos did any of those things and Edward was no newcomer to the North. (8) Motherless since a babe, he was brought to Alaska at the tender age of eight and raised in the Cassiar Mountains of British Columbia panning for gold alongside his father. (9) Even as a boy, he crewed aboard the boats bucking the mighty Stikine, the wildest, meanest, river in Canada. (10)

He owned a goodly number of sled dogs and in winter when the river froze solid mushed mail and mining equipment from Wrangell into Telegraph Creek, some 160 miles up the Stikine River. (11) Edward was a pioneer in the true since of the word, but despite this harsh life, he was educated and held certificates to captain any size boat afloat. (12)

On his way south, Edward had plenty of opportunity to work up the traditional bridegroom’s nervous sweat. Depending upon the Alaskan ferry and stateside train schedules, the trip to Chillicothe took some seven to eleven days. And, once there, it surely crossed his mind how different Wrangell was from busy Chillicothe, the intersection of two major railroads.

Wrangell, squeezed between the ocean and the base of Mount Dewey, consisted of false-fronted buildings clustered along a street constructed of boards and placed over pilings rising from the water. The town was a mix of nationalities –– recent immigrants from Norway, Sweden, Germany, Russia, and Ireland. The salmon cannery housed scores of Chinese and Japanese during the fishing season. Massive totem poles, carved with fierce animals, dotted the northern end of the island and were a strong reminder of the presence of Tlingit Indians. (13)

Edward was a long way from the brace of ocean air and sweet aroma of spruce, a long way from a landscape forever brilliant and green. As he made his way from the train station to Ethel’s home, along the maze of dusty streets with shedding trees, he must have suffered a host of emotions––hope that love would be mutual and fear that it wouldn’t.

Alaskan winters are harsh, and, though only twenty-three years old, his leathery face already showed the crags and valleys of a life lived in the wilds. One can only imagine Ethel Fae Pearson’s surprise upon meeting her future husband. Where was the handsome face gracing the paper photograph sent her, most likely with a marriage proposal enclosed? (14)

But the petite, raven-haired, seventeen-year-old was, if anything, plucky and adventuresome and found Edward’s ruggedness appealing. He, after all, could regale young Ethel with real life and death adventures that were so popular in dime-novels of the day.

Perhaps they sat on the front porch swing, nervous in each other’s nearness, getting to know the person behind the letters. She would have told him of her job as a seamstress at the glove factory making $6 a week. (15) And, how she loved to draw and sing, how there wasn’t an article of clothing she couldn’t stitch to perfection. (16)

He most likely enthralled her with stories of panning for gold in the wilds, threatened by fickle weather and sudden freezes as well as hungry wolves and grouchy bears, or of being on the hunt for moose to feed himself and his sled dogs to keep from starving on trips into Canada.

Edward was sure to relate how he and three men, upon hearing the plight of Peter Anderson, known as Captain Kidd, started out to effect a rescue; of how the old man should have known better than to take his daughter along to winter on a slough off the Stikine; of how when the river ice thickened, it squeezed Captain Kidd’s old boat right up and over on its side. Not a particle of food could be found when they discovered the bodies of the captain and his daughter frozen in a layer of ice on the floor. (17)

And, if Ethel gasped at such tragedy, Edward would be quick to assure her of his prowess as a fisherman and hunter and that he would never put his beloved in such danger, that he owned a home in Wrangell and his father retired from boating to run a restaurant there. (18) No, she would never go hungry or suffer greatly from the elements.

Since Ethel was underage, Edward undoubtedly strove to assure her parents, Robert and Lucy Jane Pearson, of his ability to support a wife. Not only was he master of his own boat, the
Rex, but several months previous became part of a new company, The Cassiar Transportation Company, and served as its secretary. (19)

All parents want to know the family background of their son-in-law, and the Pearsons would be no different. Though a full-blood Pole, born in Fairhaven, Washington, on January 10, 1892, Edward professed to be a proud American even though he would be the first in his lineage to legally carry the last name of Kalkins. His father, a Polish immigrant named Anton Krzyzanski, informally abandoned the family name about 1880 for a more Americanized Anthony (A.J.) Kalkins. (20)

And, just as Anthony took a different name, he also created a false birthplace, telling census-takers he was born in New Jersey. Whether or not Edward knew the truth about his father’s birthplace is unknown. A century later, Anthony’s secret would be undone with the discovery of his Hull, Wisconsin, marriage registration to Frances Lieterska on January 7, 1889 where he reveals he was born in Possen, Poland. (21) One might lie to the census-takers, but under penalty of committing a venial sin, one didn’t fib to the Catholic Church. If discussed, such details would have been unimportant to Ethel, who was known to take on a few airs herself, and insisted on being called “Ethelyn.” (22)

Edward convinced Robert of his worthiness as a son-in-law, and the old man formally gave his permission for the union. (23) On Sunday morning, November 21st, 1915, in the parsonage of the Elm Street Church, green-eyed Ethel answered, “I do!” to the minister’s entreaty: “Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

Perhaps there was a luncheon afterward to celebrate the affair, but the only witnesses to the happy occasion were Ethel’s parents. (24) Friends and family had scant time to offer their well-wishes after the ceremony. Within hours, Edward and Ethel posed for a last-minute photo before boarding a westbound train, where they spent their honeymoon. (25) Eleven days later, Edward stepped off the ferry at Wrangell, and with Ethel on his arm, stopped at the newspaper office to announce his marriage.

1. Chillicothe Constitution, Chillicothe, Missouri, "Long Way for a Bride," November 11, 1915.
2. The town of Wrangell is located on the northern tip of Wrangell Island in Alaska's Southern Panhandle and is named after the Russian explorer Ferdinand Petrovich Wrangel. The town's harbor is 6 miles from the mouth of the Stikine River on the Alaska mainland.
3. 1910 Wrangell District, Territory of Alaska census, Wrangell proper statistics drawn from pages 43-73.
4. Edward reported to the Wrangell newspaper that he met Ethel through a cousin in Chillicothe; however, Edward had no relatives in Missouri. This descendant believes he fabricated his introduction to his wife due to the great interest the Wrangell Sentinel had in romance as evidenced by the many quips printed in the newspaper through the years about men going below to get married. Family legend through Ethel's sister, Mattie, is that Ethel exchanged letters with Edward and was a mail-order bride and that Edward was crazy about her. Edward and Ethel's daughter, Melba, believed her mother was a mail-order bride.
5.
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, "News of Local Interest" column, November 18, 1915.
6.
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, "Capt. Ed Kalkins Brings Home a Bride," December 2, 1915.
7. Known to be superstitious about these things, Edward never spoke of his first marriage to the children of his second marriage. They learned of this early union when Melba, the daughter of Edward and Ethel, arrived in Alaska (1951) for a visit with a father she hadn't seen in twenty-five years. When his son, Edward, Jr. tried to tell his father about his desire to marry young Minnie Larsen, the elder Edward didn't want to listen fearing the bad luck that would follow.
8. Cheechako is part of Chinook Jargon, a trade language composed of Chinook, Nootka, English, and French. Used by early traders in Alaska and Canada, it is still in use today. The word "cheechako" translates into newcomer, tenderfoot, inexperienced.
9. This information gleaned from obituary for A.J. Kalkins,
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, "Funeral of A.J. Kalkins Held Sunday," October 24, 1924.
10. List of the boats captained by Edward and his father, A.J., found in the Stikine Riverboat History file, which is part of a collection in the Wrangell Alaska Library. See librarian for access to these privately assembled files.
11. Ads in the
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, during early 1900s, stated "River transportation - summer and winter with launch, "Black Fox" and dog team." In addition, several newspaper articles about A.J. and Edward mention the use of dog teams during winter and boats during the summer. In the 1800 and early 1900s, the Stikine River would freeze solid making the use of boats for transportation impossible.
12. Various Master's Oath documents via National Archives, Anchorage, Alaska.
13. Nationalities taken from1910 Wrangell District, Territory of Alaska census, Wrangell proper, pages 43-73.
14. A comparison of the photo of Edward taken circa 1910 and sent to Ethel before they were married and their wedding photo taken five years later on November 21, 1915 shows a weathering of his features.
15. This information gained from Livingston County, MO circuit court records, January term 1917, concerning an affidavit in appeal dated October 14, 1915 in which Ethel was sued to recover the unpaid balance due on a piano purchased by her December 21, 1914 when she was only sixteen years old.
16. Ethel's purported talents are per memories of Ethel's daughter, Melba, and journal notes of Ethel's sister, Mattie. Surviving examples of Ethel's seamstress abilities, a dress and initialed handkerchief, in possession of author.
17.
The Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, "Bodies of Anderson and Daughter Brought Down From Hot Springs," February 13, 1913.
18.
The Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, from various articles about Anthony Kalkin's restaurant in issues dated March 7, 1912; November 14, 1912; October 9, 1913.
19.
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, "Local Men in New Company," May 27, 1915.
20. No legal name-change has been found. Family legend is that Anthony wanted a name easier for people to spell and more "American" than Krzyzanski. His brother, Frank, changed his last name to Chris, while their parents, John and Magdalena Krzyzanski did not change their last name.
21. Edward did not know the name of his mother per his Social Security application dated September 20, 1938. Whether this was because of his father's superstition not to discuss one's love life or because Edward, motherless since the age of eighteen months, had simply forgotten her name by the time he was 46 years old is unknown.
22. Names were obviously important to Ethel. She insisted on calling Anthony by his more exotic Polish name, Anton; named her first daughter after the small gold rush town, Glenora, located in British Columbia along the Stikine River; and second daughter after the Australian opera star, Dame Melba, who was a famous singer in that era.
23. Marriage license of Edward Kalkins and Ethel Pearson dated November 21, 1915, Chillicothe, MO.
24.
Chillicothe Constitution, Chillicothe, Missouri, "Long Way for a Bride," November 22, 1915 marriage announcement of Edward and Ethel Kalkins.
25. See wedding photo of Edward and Ethel taken at train station, November 21, 1915.
26. See photo of Ethel taken Wrangell, Alaska while working fishing nets. Family legend is that when she was unable to purchase a woman's suit of overalls at the town's store, she made herself a pair. She could look at a catalog picture and copy an article of clothing without having a pattern to work from.
27.
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, Local and Personal column dated October 12, 1916, announces birth of a baby girl to Mr. and Mrs. E. E. Kalkins.
28.
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, untitled article dated December 6, 1917.
29. Birth certificate for Melba Kent Kalkins, born June 12, 1918, Chillicothe, Missouri
30. Death certificate for Glenora Kalkins dated August 17, 1918, Chillicothe, Missouri and
Chillicothe Constitution, Chillicothe, Missouri, "Death of Child," August 19, 1918.
31.
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, untitled article in the Of Local Interest column dated September 19, 1918.
32. Divorce decree between Edward and Ethel Kalkins dated April 16, 1919, Chillicothe, Missouri.
33. Marriage license of Ethel Kalkins and J.E. Callaway, Chillicothe, Missouri, dated June 20, 1919 and
Chillicothe Constitution, Chillicothe, Missouri, marriage announcement article in the Society and Clubs column dated June 21, 1919.
34. Marriage license of Edward Kalkins and Ethel Calloway dated September 20, 1921, Wrangell, AK.
35. Edward was a member of the Motorboat Club per
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, "Motor Boat Club Enjoys Picnic" article dated July 23, 1912 and mention of motorboat outing in the Of Local Interest column dated September 26, 1918. See also picnic photo circa 1922.
36.
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, Photoshow advertisement dated May 1917 and numerous notices of dances held in the Redmen Hall celebrating holidays and fund raisers printed in the Wrangell Sentinel throughout the years.
37. Petition for divorce between Edward and Ethel Kalkins dated September 3, 1922, Chillicothe, Missouri
38.
Chillicothe Constitution, Chillicothe, Missouri, "Real Bear Meat," dated December 26, 1922.
39. Divorce decree between Edward and Ethel Kalkins dated January 31, 1924, Chillicothe, Missouri.
40. Ethel's death certificate dated December 30, 1927, Kansas City, MO and newspaper articles in the
Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Missouri, "Kills Wife and Himself," dated December 30, 1927 and Chillicothe Constitution, Chillicothe, Missouri, "Quarrel Leads to Murder and Then Suicide," dated December 31, 1927.
41. Postcard with picture of iceberg and note written by Edward on the back is in possession of the author.
42. The receipt of this chest made the first Christmas without her mother bearable per Melba's memories. The chest is in the possession of the author, who removed three coats of paint to refurbish the chest to its original condition in 2001, some 73 years after it was made. It was when the well-worn velvet lining was removed that the used nature of the wood was discovered.
43. Memorandum of Dimensions for the gas screw, "
Melba," Record of Marine Documents, U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Commerce, Bureau of Navigation, Catalog 1413, found in National Archives, Anchorage, Alaska.
44. Marriage license of Edward Kalkins and Ethel Vance dated September 12, 1931, Wrangell, AK and
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, marriage announcement dated September (?) 1931. NOTE: Curiously the marriage license misstates the bride's name as "Ethel." The newspaper article correctly identifies the bride as "Elsie."
45.
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, "Visits Father Here First Time in 25 Years," dated August 10, 1951
46. Death certificate for Edward E. Kalkins dated January 23, 1954, Wrangell, AK and obituary in
Wrangell Sentinel, Wrangell, Alaska, "Death Takes Eddie E. Kalkins, Wrangell Pioneer," dated January 29, 1954.

Ethel was married again, this time to Chillicothe’s 82-year-old physician, Dr. J.E. Calloway. (33) If Edward was scandalized by his ex-wife’s actions, she evidently managed to sooth his wounded ego when six months after Dr. Calloway’s death in 1921, Ethel returned to Wrangell bringing three-year-old Melba to meet her father.

Once more, Edward and Ethel settled into married life. (34) As members of the Motorboat Club, week-end picnics filled idle time during pleasant weather. (35) Wrangell boasted a Photoshow featuring such popular personalities as Charlie Chaplin and the town looked for any excuse to hold dances in the Red Men hall. (36) But, there was no escaping the fact that Edward was a man involved in transportation in Alaska, and would be gone for weeks at a time, whether aboard his boat in summer or mushing supplies into the Canadian interior during winter.

Though Edward had his family back, he must have felt it easier to face down a grizzly than to keep his wife happy and contented. As a hunter, he knew the natural instincts of wild animals, but women were another matter. It seems he had chosen to fall in love with no ordinary woman. Obviously independent, which was a fine trait for the frontier, Ethel was also impulsive and prone to rash decisions. Barely a year later, she was gone again. (37)

Just as he had before, Edward did his best to convince his wife to return, sending a huge box of canned deer, bear, salmon, and other good things to eat to Chillicothe for the Christmas holidays. (38) Unmoved by the gesture, she signed a divorce decree a month later, on January 31, 1924. (39)

Ethel had returned once, and possibly Edward hoped she would again as he remained single despite the fact she remarried twice after their divorce. However, any desire that his family would be reunited was dashed when he received word a few days after Christmas in 1927 that his former wife was dead, killed by her fifth husband. (40)

Shocked at the news, possibly distraught at the permanent loss of Ethel, Edward was now faced with a dilemma. He had a nine-year-old daughter to think about. Though his own mother died before he was two-years-old and he’d been raised by his father, bringing Melba to the North was a poor solution to the problem. Motherless children were, of necessity, sent to one of the few boarding schools maintained in Alaska for such purposes. Edward would have none of that.

He knew the longing a child has for the comfort of a woman’s arms or sweet lullabies on dark nights. Without a doubt, the best place for nine-year-old Melba was in Missouri with her grandmother, Lucy Jane, and Ethel’s sister, Mattie.

Alaska was the “great alone land”––a place to escape responsibilities. Many men disappeared forever, leaving mothers, wives, and children with little recourse beyond posting “lost” notices in the newspapers. This would not be Edward’s course. Though he had been unable to keep Ethel’s love, he would not be denied his daughter’s affections. Across the lonely miles, he posted letters and cards, telling her of the frozen land, of hunting and breaking trails through deep snow, of the dangerous work of chopping ice from giant floating icebergs. (41)

Thousands of miles away, he could not comfort his daughter in her grief, so he did the next best thing. Over the months that followed Ethel’s death, he salvaged precious lengths of walnut wood from an old boat, sanding them smooth as silk, measuring, cutting, and crafting a special chest for a little girl’s treasures. At 10”x15”x10” it was too big to lose, yet small enough to keep forever.

Adorned with hand-crafted molding and his own designs carefully carved into the front and back, Edward hid rounded recesses for nautical instruments and the scratched initials of some long forgotten seaman beneath a velvet lining. A carefully notched small piece of mother-of-pearl placed just below the lid completed the much labored over trunk. One year after Ethel’s death, the chest arrived in Chillicothe at Christmas time for young Melba. (42)

In 1930, Edward built a new boat, one meant for fishing, not bucking the Stikine River. Maybe in an attempt to keep his daughter close, he christened the craft,
Melba. (43)

Edward never ventured “below” again, although he eventually remarried three and a half years after Ethel’s death. (44) Perhaps he came to believe those not born to the country had no place in the “great alone land,” for this time he chose a young Tahltan Indian woman from Telegraph Creek to wed.

It would be twenty-five years before Edward saw Melba again. (45) On a brilliant summer day in 1951, she waited on the docks for him while he guided the
Melba into the Wrangell harbor. When, at last, he embraced his daughter, did he see a flash of Ethel’s green eyes or catch an echo of her ready laugh? Whether or not Ethel still lived in his memory, the reunion was emotional for both father and daughter.

Unfortunately, it would be the only reunion. Three years later, Edward fell ill while aboard the
Melba and died a week after reaching his beloved Wrangell. (46)

Sea and weather eventually ate away at the
Melba’s wooden body and she was beached and burned in the 1970’s. Now, all that remains of Edward’s craftsmanship is his gift to his daughter. Sitting in a corner of his granddaughter’s bedroom, it survives as testament to a father’s love and whispers of salt water oceans and roaring rivers, of frigid winters and rainy summers, of towering spruce and lush forests. It whispers of Alaska.
Ethel took to her new home and loved the outdoors. She amazed the town’s womenfolk by fashioning a pair of bib overalls to wear on outings aboard the Rex. (26) In due time, the young couple increased Wrangell’s population with an infant daughter named Glenora. (27) Even motherhood didn’t dampen Ethel’s enthusiasm. With baby in tow, she accompanied Edward and his crew on long fishing trips. (28)

But the rigors of frontier life had its limits and Ethel went home to Chillicothe for the birth of their second daughter, Melba, in June of 1918. (29) A month later, the tragic death of little Glenora marred this happy event. (30)

Edward was undoubtedly devastated by the loss of his first child and subsequent refusal of his wife to return to Wrangell. He made improvements to their home, but to no avail. (31) She would not be wooed back and divorced him the following year, in 1919. (32)

The ink was barely dry on the divorce decree before
contact the author: mcarolyn.steele@cox.net