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Alaska's Daughter

An Eskimo Memoir of the 20th Century

Elizabeth Pinson

Publication Year: 2004

Elizabeth B. Pinson shares with us her memories of Alaska's emergence into a new and modern era, bearing witness to history in the early twentieth century as she recalls it. She draws us into her world as a young girl of mixed ethnicity, with a mother whose Eskimo family had resided on the Seward Peninsula for generations and a father of German heritage. Growing up in and near the tiny village of Teller on the Bering Strait, Elizabeth at the age of six, despite a harrowing, long midwinter sled ride to rescue her, lost both her legs to frostbite when her grandparents, with whom she was spending the winter in their traditional Eskimo home, died in the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Fitted with artificial legs financed by an eastern benefactor, Elizabeth kept journals of her struggles, triumphs, and adventures, recording her impressions of the changing world around her and experiences with the motley characters she met. These included Roald Amundsen, whose dirigible landed in Teller after crossing the Arctic Circle; the ill-fated 1921 British colonists of Wrangel Island in the Arctic; trading ship captains and crews; prospectors; doomed aviators; and native reindeer herders. Elizabeth moved on to boarding school, marriage, and the state of Washington, where she compiled her records into this memoir and where she lived until her death in 2006.

Published by: Utah State University Press

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pp. vii-x

Once in a while, maybe only a few times in a lifetime, we stumble upon something truly unique and undeniably beautiful. I met Elizabeth B. Pinson, “Betty,” on a park bench in Seattle the summer of 2002. This was clearly one of those moments. Never before had I encountered a stronger embodiment of the human spirit, courage, and grace. At ninety years old, this half...

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pp. 1-9

On my mother’s side of the family I am Eskimo. My father was a German sailor shipwrecked in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska’s northernmost coast. Ouiyaghasiak (pronounced ow-ee-yag-has-ee-ak), my mama, was born about 1889, daughter of Ootenna (pronounced oo-ten-nah) and Kinaviak (pronounced kin-ah-vee-ak), at the village of Shishmaref, Alaska, just below the...

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pp. 10-31

My mother, Ouiyaghasiak, attended the missionary school operated by William T. Lopp and his wife at Cape Prince of Wales, and during this time they gave her the Angelican name of Agnes. In her second year of school, at the age of ten or eleven, she learned rudimentary reading and writing. Mr. Lopp and his family soon moved to the Teller Reindeer Station, which later...

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pp. 32-51

In 1918, when I was six years old, I lost both of my legs to frostbite. In order to set this tragic event into some perspective, I must provide some background information relative to my grandparents. Every spring after school was out and the ice on Grantley Harbor had broken up and been carried out to sea by offshore winds and tidal currents, we’d move to our fishing camp at Nook across the bay from Teller.

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pp. 52-80

Although Teller was more or less isolated in the years I was growing up, as was most of the northern half of Alaska from the mainstream of travel in the world, interesting and historical events always seemed to be happening there. During the early 1920s, while the Russian Revolution was still going on over in Siberia, refugees would cross the Bering Sea by open boat...

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pp. 81-109

The last summer that my father worked at hauling freight to the Tin City mine was 1918, the summer before the fall of my accident. Taking care of seven children was just too much for Mama to handle with help only from the older ones, along with fishing, berry-picking, preparing skins, sewing, and all her other duties. Papa’s presence at home was more important than...

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pp. 110-129

No more children were born to my parents after Robert came into the world in 1928. Albert Junior, who was given the same name as the one-day-old baby boy who had died during the flu epidemic, came along in 1920, just two years after the previous Albert Junior. Five children were brought into the world between 1920 and 1928. By this time, the four eldest had...

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pp. 130-154

With the coming of aviation to remote regions of Alaska, the demand for dried salmon for dog feed began to dwindle as dogs were no longer needed except for local travel. By the early thirties mail and supplies began to come to us by air, and long trips by dog team were getting to be uncommon. Before the airplane, summer travel was mostly by water because overland...

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pp. 155-172

The air was crisp and clear, not a cloud in the sky, and the gentle wind blowing from the shoreline seemed to caress my face. From astern a low bright sun cast a long shadow of the vessel and her rigging as the ship slowly cruised a straight course through the choppy green water. Besides the familiar scent of salt sea and kelp, there was an aroma in the breeze that I could not...

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pp. 173-200

It wasn’t all work and no play in the summer of 1931 for the kids at Jesse Lee. When the crops were planted and the cleanup and maintenance work was done, we had some free time. It was often spent going camping or picnicking, taking boat rides on the bay or motor trips out the Hope Road. We all loved those carefree times. We felt happy walking the clean, sandy...

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pp. 201-205

The four youngest in the family never knew the two eldest in the family. Tommy, the eldest of the clan, left home at the age of twenty-one. He was experienced in handling boats with our father; consequently, when he made up his mind to become a seaman, Captain Pederson of the old MS Herman took him aboard as a member of his crew on his way south from the...


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pp. 206


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pp. 207-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780874215052
Print-ISBN-13: 9780874215915

Publication Year: 2004