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October 10, 2013 Edition

“That Fiend in Hell”: Soapy Smith in Legend

Written by Catherine Holder Spude

We all know about Soapy Smith, Skagway’s legendary Gold Rush crime boss, killed by a vigilante intent on justice. Smith’s death ended the criminal stranglehold on Skagway, making it safe again for travelers and returning miners alike. Or did it? Was Smith the crime kingpin he’s been made out to be? Spude says no: that the conscious and subconscious building-up of Smith’s life and death served Skagway’s economic purposes at the time. Her research goes deep, showing that the charming Jefferson Randolph Smith was probably neither as philanthropic nor as dastardly as his Old West legend has made him out to be, but she goes further, examining how and why legends are created.

Colony Kids: Adventures of the First Year in Alaska

Written by Heather Cooper Lehe

If Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pa had lived during the Great Depression, Little House on the Prairie would probably have been set in the Matanuska Valley. Though written for chapter book readers, adults will enjoy the kid’s eye view of the events that led to the farming communities that dot the Valley today. In 1935, faced with too many farmers needing too much help, the US government held a land lottery, and fifth-grader Paul’s family gets chosen to be one of the 202 families awarded land and transportation to Alaska. Though he’s faced with leaving nearly everything they knows behind, Paul and his sisters are still excited to be going. But that first year of living in a tent, clearing land, and learning about the differences between Minnesota and Alaska are tough and not all the colonists stay. This is a fictionalized account of the Matanuska colonies during 1935-36 is drawn from true stories told by Lehe’s friends and neighbors in the Matanuska Valley.

World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska

Written by Charles M. Mobley

After the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands in June of 1942, taking the residents of Attu away to Japan (see Attu Boy, below), the US government evacuated the remaining islands and sent the population south to relocation camps. There have been many books published about the Aleuts’ experiences during the war, but few focus on the historical sites of their relocation. Using maps, archival materials and photographs, and oral histories, Mobley has pinned down the six camp sites from Funter Bay to Ward Lake, and documented what remains. Some have disintegrated into near-nothing while others have become private property and are cared for by those with a sense of history, and some cemeteries have even been reconsecrated. Heavy with archival and current photographs and plenty of oral histories to put things in context, this is a one-of-a-kind book about a past whose physical remains are quickly disappearing.

Attu Boy

Written by Nick Golodoff

When Golodoff was six years old, the Japanese arrived on Attu. After several months of living with the Attuans in relative peace, the Japanese soldiers loaded the villagers up and took them away to Hokkaido Island, where they lived in a POW camp. Three years later, the war was over and the remaining residents were returned, via Manila, San Francisco, and Seattle, to Alaska, but not to Attu, which had been bombed. Many of the original 40 people to be taken to Japan died there and only 24 returned to the United States. The framework is Golodoff’s tale of his experiences as a child, and it’s supplemented by the oral histories of other residents, many of whom, like Golodoff, settled in Atka. A preface by his granddaughter, Brenda Maly, reminds readers who might be impatient for hard facts that these are a child’s memories tempered by time, and adds that although she did her best to verify dates, names, and events, some of the information was not released by the Japanese government. Filled with photos that bring the story to life, this is fascinating reading.

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