Item #009915 1928 – A small archive from an Alaskan educator describing her husband’s daily work with the Inuit reindeer herd at Wales, Alaska as the local superintendent for the Alaskan Reindeer Service. Gertrude K. Mazen.
1928 – A small archive from an Alaskan educator describing her husband’s daily work with the Inuit reindeer herd at Wales, Alaska as the local superintendent for the Alaskan Reindeer Service
1928 – A small archive from an Alaskan educator describing her husband’s daily work with the Inuit reindeer herd at Wales, Alaska as the local superintendent for the Alaskan Reindeer Service
1928 – A small archive from an Alaskan educator describing her husband’s daily work with the Inuit reindeer herd at Wales, Alaska as the local superintendent for the Alaskan Reindeer Service
1928 – A small archive from an Alaskan educator describing her husband’s daily work with the Inuit reindeer herd at Wales, Alaska as the local superintendent for the Alaskan Reindeer Service
1928 – A small archive from an Alaskan educator describing her husband’s daily work with the Inuit reindeer herd at Wales, Alaska as the local superintendent for the Alaskan Reindeer Service

1928 – A small archive from an Alaskan educator describing her husband’s daily work with the Inuit reindeer herd at Wales, Alaska as the local superintendent for the Alaskan Reindeer Service

Wales, Alaska: 1928. Unbound. Small archive consisting of a typed five-page registered letter, a shorter letter, and two unused real-photo postcards (RPPC) related to the Alaskan Reindeer Service The letter is dated January 4, 1928. It was sent by Gertrude K. Mazen to a friend in Watsonville, California, and includes a New Year’s Day message. The letter is enclosed in a 2-cent postal envelope franked with an additional 15-cent stamp (Scott #566) to pay a registration fee. The envelope bears a registration handstamp and a Wales, Alaska postmark. There are Nome, Alaska and Watsonville, California registration handstamps on the reverse. In nice shape.

Gertrude begins her letter with thanks for receiving an apron for Christmas and promises to “wear it when we get ‘out’ again [because] its too good for these Eskimos.” She also explains that the old ivory piece she had sent was carved by a native so she could wear it as a lavalier. Then she explains that the other densely-typed pages of her letter were carbon copies that she had also sent to other friends.

After noting that “It hasn’t been very cold here this winter, the coldest we have had so far has been twenty-some below,” Gertrude reports her husband, Sylvester David Mazen “had to be away from home . . . on account of the reindeer work.” Heavily excerpted, the letter continues

“David’s last trip was to Teller where these natives butchered and sold close to five hundred deer, and of course David had to supervise it all and see that the natives got the best of the deal. [When he returned] I noticed the funniest smell. . .. He told me that he had fallen in Teller Bay . . . making him smell so bad [and that] it was no joke. [Although] the ocean is frozen over as far as the eye can reach . . . the ice is quite treacherous in places . . .. Thank goodness he had a man with him, also a dog team . . . The ice just gave way from under him. . .. The man who was with him . . . was too excited to do anything . . . except to shout for help . . . instead of helping himself. The water was getting into David’s] mukluks and soaking his parkas . . . he felt himself going lower and lower. Lucky . . . he had hold of one of the thongs connecting the dogs [and] he got out, it not being very cold that day, about five or six below. . .. He walked . . . to the shelter cabin [and] had to build his own fire and take off his clothes; [he] stood there for three hours before anyone came to help. . ..

“The month before [David] was in the reindeer camp with the natives. [That] night it was a fright, I actually thought the schoolhouse would be blown over. . .. We have triple windows here, and the snow had [blown] through the first two. . .. When I went out to empty the ashes [and] opened the door . . . a regular avalanche came inside. . .. about four feet. . .. Thank goodness David was [safe.] He had a very good driver, an Eskimo who knew enough to get off the trail and go into another native’s cabin. . ..

“At the corral is a cabin . . . about 10 by 12 feet, which has no windows [only] a hole in the roof covered with sealgut. . .. No ventilation whatever. In this room are . . . food supplies, one cookstove. No chair nor table for . . . the Eskimos always sit on the floor and . . . eat right out of the pots and pans. . .. Twenty-six men besides David. You can imagine the smells in that small room. The first day it was unbearable, but after that he got used to it. . .. Every day the same menu. In the morning hot cakes and mush, at noon they had one pot of boiled meat, one of boiled rice and then some macaroni with raisins. In the evening, the same . . . The natives dip their meat and other food in seal oil. . .. They take the meat [from the pot] with their hands. . .. The first day David was among the last to be served, but after he saw how it was done he lost all his appetite. . .. As to the deer: the first day . . . necessitated fixing the corral . . . while a regular blizzard was blowing. . .. These Eskimo people fight the elements practically all winter long to get their food and clothing. . .. They also don’t worry . .. Oh, for the placidity of an Eskimo’s mind.

“We are the only whites on this Cape [and] we are the Postmaster, schoolteacher, reindeer supervisor, doctor, nurse and storekeeper. . .. We are ‘Monarchs of all we survey’ and . . . we ‘survey’ quite a good deal. . .. We can see Siberia, [and] when the ocean is frozen over it looks as though we could walk across.

“I wish you could have heard the little ones singing and speaking in English [at Christmas.] The poor things didn’t know what they were singing nor speaking about. The only thing they realized is that they all got presents. [Next] the natives had a community dinner . . . then after [played] their games [where] not a soul speaks, and neither do they laugh. They had a wrestling match . . . and a sort of game where they played like goats, and they bumped each other’s heads. . .. These people sort of like us [or] they wouldn’t have given us the Christmas presents they did . . . real old ivory. . .. “

. Very good. Item #009915

In 1890, a missionary who was touring villages along the Bering Sea coast noted that while Alaskan Inuit seemed to be starving, indigenous Siberians thrived by managing herds of reindeer they used for food, clothing, and transportation. He had little trouble convincing the U.S. government to support a missionary-run reindeer importation program in Alaska, and by 1905, over 10,000 reindeer had been brought from Siberia. In 1907, the Alaskan Reindeer Service was established within the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Education, and school district superintendents were charged with implementing apprenticeship herder programs to distribute the reindeer. The program met with mixed results, and for a variety of reasons too complex to explain here, the Reindeer Service and its huge reindeer herds faded away with other New Deal legislation.

(For more information see Willis’s “A New Game in the North: Alaska Native Reindeer Herding, 1890–1940” in Western Historical Quarterly Vol 37 No 3, “Documenting the Ethnohistory and Ethnoarchaeology of Reindeer” online at the University of Alaska, and “Development of the Alaskan Reindeer Service” in the Alaskan Railroad Record Vol IV No 30, available online.)

A scarce first-hand account of a white Alaskan schoolteacher’s effort to implement a reindeer herding program to improve the lives of Alaskan Inuit. At the time of listing, nothing similar is for sale in the trade, and no auctions of similar items found at the Rare Book Hub. Gertrude’s diary and the papers of a Reindeer Service official are held by the University of Oregon; two other collections of Reindeer Service papers are held by the University of Alaska.

Price: $750.00

See all items by