Wilkes, Lewis C.
by Lazzette Mae Ohman
I am the granddaughter of Lewis C. Wilkes, an early pioneer in Alaska and I live in Juneau, Alaska.
Lewis C. Wilkes, known as “L.C.” came to Alaska from Kansas in January 1898, and landed in Dyea. He later sent for his wife, Esther and small daughter, Marvel. They lived in a tent that L.C. had erected. Esther soon baked and sold bread to help out with expenses. Later on she took in some laundry. L.C. was in partnership with his brother and they were operating a horse team to haul freight over the Chilkoot Pass from Canyon City, charging only 16 cents a pound. Hauling freight from the scales to the Summit was a dollar a pound. As time and hard work wore on, L.C. worked the new railroad laying ties. His daughter Marvel (my mother) was the first white child to have a lifetime pass on the railroad. L.C. divided his time between Skagway, Valdez, Seward, Katalla and Cordova. He soon tired and moved himself and family to Ketchikan and started his own business in 1908. He wrote that the “Robert Service tales of the wild were all visibly true.” L.C. set up a paint shop at what was referred to as “Newton” in Ketchikan. He took in many jobs on painting houses and his largest job was when he had a contract for painting the many canneries in Southeast Alaska. I understand he spray painted the canneries.
L.C. wanted a son but he got a daughter, Marvel. He was blessed with her so in time he had her working in the carpenter shop with him. He made cabinets and other furniture and Marvel helped. She started out trying to clear up the sawdust but he soon handed her a hammer and then came a handsaw. L.C. had her learning to do various things in his cabinet shop and as the years went by she learned a lot. She could also cuss like any man, but he forbid her language! As time went on, she used this knowledge passed on to her from her father and built additions to her home, furniture, etc.
Marvel finished 8th grade and soon met a Chief Engineer on an Alaska steamship boat by the name of Milo Clifford Caughrean. They married and in time had two children, Lazzette (me) and brother Clifford. Milo being on a boat traveling up and down the Alaskan waters with freight and passengers was never home. Marvel tired of his never being around and soon filed for divorce. What she did to support herself and two children I don’t know, but it wasn’t an easy time by no means. Eventually, Milo took Clifford, and Lazzette stayed with her mother.
Sometime later, Marvel met Tom John “Scotty” Shearer who was originally from the Ornkey Islands. Tom was a caretaker on a fox farm. They married and lived on Sukoi Island out of Petersburg. Soon Lazzette had to go to school, so Marvel and Tom moved to Juneau in 1923. Meantime, Clifford had stowed away on a steamship boat because he wanted to be with his sister. He was going to Alaska where his sister lived. He was found out and his dad let him go. Tom and Marvel bought the old Superintendent of the Boston Mining Co. house at Salmon Creek (the mine was where the Salmon Bake is today). Lazzette and Cliff were inseparable from then on, their ages only being two years apart.
Tom built silver fox and mink pens and raised them for sale. Lazzette and Cliff helped Tom fish for Dolly Varden in Salmon Creek. Mom cooked up a feed for the foxes. Meantime, Tom went back to his profession, tailoring. Soon he had his own shop. Spring came and Marvel readied the soil around the place for vegetables and flowers. Her garden and yard were famous throughout town and tour buses would stop on their return trip to town and let the tourists pick flowers for their staterooms.
Tom soon got the contract to run a school bus. At that time, our house was at the end of the road, from thereon it was more or less a two-rut road. Dairies moved their cows out to the summer farms near the current airport and brought them back before winter. Marvel had a very short time to learn to drive the school bus, but she did. It was a car which had a back bed and two seats, one on each side. When it rained the canvas was rolled down so the kids didn’t get all wet. Mom picked up the kids along the way to Juneau.
Sam Jacobsen’s son, Raymond, lived with us so he could go to school as his summer home was on a scow in Warm Springs Bay located on Baranof Island. We went to Warm Springs some of the summers and we three kids had fun. Mom was great—she handled each problem as it arose. She made all of my clothes as she was a terrific seamstress. We didn’t have much for variety in preparing meals, but she made the best meals for any table, including homemade bread. Christmas time she made chocolates as she had worked in a candy factory at one time in Juneau. We kids also got to make peanut brittle, dip apples and put in sticks so they were easy to handle when caramelized and hardened. Last but not least, she let us three kids pull taffy. We pulled and pulled till she thought it ready. We had fun and laughter. Strung popcorn to decorate the tree also.
Tom soon took to gambling at the old New York Tavern (now the Rendezvous) and drinking at the bar. Finally, mom couldn’t take any more as he got mean. Mom and Tom separated. Ray Jacobsen went elsewhere in Juneau to live and we stayed with mom. Times were really tough. Cliff got a job after school in a bakery and Lazzette babysat but never got paid.
Mom passed away in Ballard, Washington, on January 8, 1969, at 72 of cancer. She thought she was just getting old as I forbid anyone to tell her she had cancer. Grandpa Wilkes died in Seattle, but the date is unknown. He ate lunch and told his wife he was tired and went to sleep on the couch on the porch and never woke up.