Thursday, July 10, 2014

Aunt Phil's Trunk--A trip into Alaska's wild past

       Welcome everyone, I am glad you could join me. I want to introduce you to a great author and a wonderful set of books.

      Laurel Downing Bill is my guest today and I am extremely happy to have her. Aunt Phil's Trunk is a wonderful collection of stories about Alaska's colorful history written by both Laurel and her aunt Phyllis.      
      These books are dedicated to Laurel's aunt. Phyllis Downing Carlson was one of Alaska's most respected historians and the inspiration behind Aunt Phil's Trunk. She moved to Alaska as a small child in 1914 and grew up amongst railroad men and miners before becoming a teacher and historian.
      Laurel Downing Bill was born in 1951, just four short years before Alaska became a state. She grew up between the gold rush town of Fairbanks and Juneau. Growing up with a passion for writing she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism in 2003 and has since written award-winning articles while working hard to give us these wonderful stories.
      These women were immersed in the rich history that fills these volumes.


         Aunt Phil's trunk, both volume one and two, are filled with the adventures of Russian fur traders, Eskimos, gunslingers, dog sledders, and the first lawyers. Filled with thrilling tales and wonderful photographs it is easy to lose yourself in the past of one of our wildest states.

      I am glad to have had the opportunity to read the first two volumes and am looking forward to the volumes to come.
       Excerpt from Volume One: 

Woody Island’s Icy Past
      A little “two-by-four” island a couple of miles off the city of Kodiak has a number of Alaska’s firsts. The first horses in Alaska were brought here, the first road was constructed,
the first iron rails were put in and the first field of oats was sown. And they were all put in place to support one thing: a sawmill, so the residents could start what many people called “Alaska’s Wackiest Industry,“selling ice.
      The sawmill established on Woody Island was perhaps unique in commercial enterprises because its main product was sawdust, which was needed to preserve ice – something abundant in Alaska that
California wanted.
      In 1851, Californians were in the midst of a gold boom and could afford such luxuries as ice to chill their drinks and keep their food from spoiling. But ice sent from Boston via Cape Horn was very expensive and not enough could be supplied to meet the demand. Alaska was closer. The first shipment of ice was sent from Sitka in February 1852, and it sold for about $75 a ton in San Francisco.
      Some authorities contend that the secret and principal object of the American Russian Commercial Company, or the “Ice Company” as it was generally called, was not to deal in ice. They say it was to supply Alaska with provisions during the Crimean War when it was feared
that Alaska might fall into British hands. But it’s beside the point WOODY ISLAND’S ICY PAST 59
whether the “ice business” was just a blind. It proved profitable, after an uncertain start, and provided work and profits for many years.
      Little Woody Island profited, too, for ice from Sitka proved unpredictable due to that city’s mild climate. Once – in the winter of 1853-54 – a California ice ship had to chip ice from Baird Glacier
because Sitka had no ice that winter.
      The first mention of the ice establishment on Woody Island comes in 1855 in a letter from Lt. Doroshin to Gen. Helmerson, according to Seal and Salmon Fisheries and General Resources of Alaska IV.
      “On Wood Island, Kodiak Harbor, during a number of years past, horses have been kept to perform certain labor in connection with a mysterious ice company and for the use of these horses a field of 12 acres of oats is regularly sown.”
      The ice company encountered some financial trouble in 1859, and a Capt. Furuhelm was sent to put matters on a better footing; a new contract was arranged and the depot of the American Russian
Commercial Company was fixed on Woody Island.

As a thank you for joining us please take this time to enter into the giveaway for a chance to win a PDF copy of one of these great books. Enter here :

For more information on these or other of Aunt Phil's books, please visit
Please connect with Laurel Downing Bill and get to know more about her and Alaska's history.