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McMurchie, Allen & Catherine (Sherwood)

by Dee Williams

Allen McMurchie was born in Wisconsin, January 18, 1901, the third child of nine. His grandfather McMurchie came from Scotland and settled in Michigan. His mother’s father was a circuit preacher.

When he was 12, his father was killed when a team of horses that were pulling a rake bolted and came home alone. Allen had to go and find his dad. After that his maternal grandfather came to live with them and talked the family into homesteading in Montana near Billings. It was there that his mom was remarried to one of his father’s cousins. Allen disapproved and enlisted in the Army in 1929. He wanted to see the world. He spent a year in the Philippines. On his way home his boat stopped in China and in the Aleutians of Alaska.

He went to a Bible School in Portland, Oregon, for two years. (He was admitted by passing exams as he had not finished high school.) He came to Alaska in 1932, to work in the mines for the summer but there were no openings so he went to work for the Maier Dairy and didn’t go back to school.

He bought the homestead at Echo Cove around 1940 and started the ranch. He envisioned the ranch as a place where he could take juvenile boys and teach them an occupation and keep them out of trouble.

During World War II, he was drafted and reported for duty but was rejected as being too old. Having sold all his livestock to enlist he turned to logging. He would buy a “show” from the Forest Service. In addition to selling logs, he started a sawmill and sold lumber. Over the years he had several partners. Among them were his brother-in-law, the Gilbertsons, Art Poulson and John Goins.

When in town, he took part in the civic projects of Juneau. For a couple of years he was in charge of the Fourth of July parade. When Allen came into town he attended Memorial Presbyterian Church. It was there that he met Dr. Catherine Sherwood who came to Juneau as a Public Health physician in 1947.

Catherine Sherwood McMurchie was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on October 13, 1899, to George Semedes Sherwood and Amber Payne Sherwood. Her grandparents were from England and Scotland. They had a long history in banking and in the Episcopal Church. When Catherine’s mother passed away in 1905, the family moved to Moline, Illinois, where her father became a bookkeeper for a large company. After he passed away in 1916, she and her sister went to live with the two unmarried aunts with whom they had spent summers since the death of their mother.

After gaining a BS degree in Home Economics, Catherine taught school in Minnesota. She went to California in 1928, where she obtained her masters degree in Nutrition from the University of California. The female physician with whom she boarded talked her into continuing her education for an M.D. In 1936, she finished medical school and worked for the California Public Health Service in the counties from San Francisco
to Ventura.

In 1947, Catherine went to work for the Federal Public Health Service and was assigned to Juneau, Alaska Territory. Her duties as Public Health Director took her to many villages throughout the territory.

When in Juneau, Catherine attended Memorial Presbyterian Church where she and Allen were in the same Bible Study class. Joyce, a teacher, is credited with getting the two together. (Joyce later married the skipper of the Anna Jackman.) Catherine’s and Allen’s occupations required both to be out of town a lot. This kept the mailman busy during their courtship.

Allen and Catherine were married on January 6, 1950, in the Sitka Presbyterian Church by Rev. Hunter who had been Catherine’s pastor while in San Pablo, California. Allen thought Catherine would continue her work and they would share her home in town when he wasn’t out logging. However, she quit her job to become a full-time housewife. He was logging at Cape Fanshaw at the time. While their cabin was being built she took a business trip to California and boarded with another family at Fanshaw until their cabin was finished.

When they moved the logging operation to Bridget Cove the “honeymoon cabin” went with them. After one year there, they moved the cabin to the ranch at Echo Cove, improved upon it and dwelt in it until 1973. Echo Ranch became the center of his logging and sawmill operations.

In 1965, the McMurchies gave sixteen acres to Gospel Missionary Union for a Bible Camp. In 1973, they deeded the rest of the property to them with the provision that their living expenses be paid for the rest of their lives. While the mission was building a new and improved ranch house for them they went to Columbia, South America, to visit some friends at the Wycliffe Bible Translator’s Station. After two years, they returned to the ranch to clear out their belongings, renew their visas and return to Columbia to run the sawmill for the Wycliffe.

After another year in Columbia, Allen was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. They returned to the states and settled in Prescott, Arizona, rather than return to the remote ranch at Echo Cove. After two years in Arizona, they moved to Oceanside, California, where Allen passed away on October 7, 1979.

After Allen’s death, Catherine sold their home and moved into the Lutheran Retirement Complex in Carlsbad, California, where she lived until her death in September, 1999. Both are buried in Oceanside, California.

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