Setting: Wiseman, Alaska
The book title, Arctic Village, is given to the small village of Wiseman
by the author. Please know that there is a real Alaska town of Arctic
Village some 150 miles northeast of Wiseman. The real Arctic Village is
nestled in the foothills of the Brooks Mountains 140 miles north of the
Arctic Circle and is the home of a tribe of the Gwich'in (Caribou People).
Also know that the Native people at Wiseman during Marshall's time there
were Eskimo and not Athabascan as are the Gwich'in at the real Arctic Village.
Robert Marshall earned his BS degree in Forestry in 1924 and a PHD at
John Hopkins Laboratory of Plant Physiology in 1925. Marshall came to Alaska
in 1929. He was motivated by adventure, but with the excuse of adding to the
knowledge of tree growth at the northern timberline. He settled in at
Wiseman, an ancient trading site where four cultures of people had long come
together during the summers for trade. Once there Marshall devoted his time
to fraternizing with and studying the people instead of tree growth (admitted
by him in the introduction).
Wiseman is situated on the North fork of the upper Koyukuk River and is
about 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 180 miles North of Fairbanks.
Of the 127 population at Wiseman, 70 were white males, 9 were Eskimo males, 1
was Indian for a total of 80 males. There were 7 white women, 11 Eskimo, and
4 Indian, for a total of 22 women. 25 children made up the balance. The
almost four to one ratio of men to women created interpersonal relationships
that engrossed the author and became the center theme of the book.
All of the white men were gold miners who had not been successful in the
more popular Yukon and Forty Mile mining areas. They came to Wiseman singly
and by pairs in search of pay dirt. They found the area about Wiseman not
very productive. Most continued to pan for gold but also took up trapping to
keep up expenses. They ended up almost destitute, some receiving money to
tide them over from relatives in the lower States.
Arctic Village is well written and interesting documentary. It is
illustrated with photos and maps and it reads almost like an adventure novel.
It gives a 1930 history of Wiseman and the nearby settlement of Coldfoot.
The cultural aspects are almost entirely that of Marshall and the white
miners, the harsh environment, and their rather spicy and not very tasteful
association with the women.
Arctic Village : A 1930s Portrait of Wiseman, Alaska
by Robert Marshall
Available at Amazon.com