A dark tale of legendary creatures stalking the isolated trails of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in the deep cold of winter. Lured b...

Guest Post || D.M Shepard - Teaching in Chicken in the 1920’s

A dark tale of legendary creatures stalking the isolated trails of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in the deep cold of winter.

Lured by her high peaks and vast forests, adventurers swarm to the siren call of Alaska’s backcountry. Her harsh bite scars many. Some never return.

Please find my son’s remains…

Haunted by the last request of her foster mother, experienced outdoorswoman, Rose Long, skis into the Wrangell-St. Elias wilderness to search for clues surrounding the missing man. Concerned about the suspicious circumstances surrounding the older woman’s death, her childhood friend, Ulrik, joins the quest to protect the woman he secretly loves.

Ancient evil seethes in the ice-locked boreal forest, watching their every move during the long northern nights. The legend of the Headless Ravine is steeped in blood. The Dark Land’s hunger for flesh never sleeps, even in the deepest cold of winter—and it has marked Rose as its next victim.

I have a treat for you today! 

D.M. Shepard, the author of horror novella The Dark Land, is here with a guest post!

Teaching in Chicken in the 1920’s

Picture of Tisha’s School House
Frozen Toilet Seats, Recycling Water, and other adventures, The reality of Anne Hobbes Purdy’s Tisha.

“It was the outhouse that almost caused a tragedy of sorts at the end of the week. Ten minutes after I excused little Willard Friday morning he still hadn’t come back to the classroom, so Nancy went out to see what was keeping him…Nancy came back right away, trying not to laugh and looking worried at the same time. Willard was stuck to the seat.”
 -Anne describing little Willard getting stuck to the outhouse toilet seat the week the temperature dipped to 40-below.

Valerie at Cats Luv Coffee graciously allowed to let me do this guest blog. With everyone huddled down, trying to teach from home, and dealing with the stress of social distancing, I thought some readers would enjoy the details on the tiny town of Chicken, Alaska, and one of it’s most well-known historical residents, Anne Hobbes Purdy, or Tisha as described in the romance by Robert Specht.

Location of our Cabin

My husband and I have an off-grid cabin 6 miles outside of the community of Chicken. Per the last census, approximately 6 people live in the area year-round. In the summer, the population grows to approximately 100 people in the vast region known as the 40-mile. This region has been continuously mined since the 1870’s, predating the Klondike rush by ten years. It also has the longest continually operated post office in Alaska. Anne taught in Chicken, Eagle, Dot Lake and other small towns during her tenure as a teacher in the area. The Purdy family still has land in the area, and out of respect for their privacy, this post will not include any identifying details about them, but will focus on the old town of Chicken, and the book, Tisha.

Off-Grid Living

Ray and I spend our winters at our house in Anchorage, where we have all of the modern amenities, and our summers (as much as we can) at our cabin in Chicken. The cabin is a dry cabin. We are slowly working on adding conveniences, for example, we have a solar kit we are bringing online and a small generator we use for power tools. For now, we have no running water, two outhouses, no utility electricity, no internet and no cell phone connection. We do not even get am/fm radio in the region. We carry a satellite phone for emergencies, but otherwise when we are out in the region, we stay disconnected. We focus our time on developing our 31 acres and I spend a lot of time writing.

Picture of our cabin

That being said, I don’t spend all my time writing. It does take a lot of work when you don’t have the convenience of flipping a switch for heat and lights, or turning a spicket and getting clean water. But Ray and I still have things far easier than Anne did back when she taught in her small, one room school house in the 1920’s.

Outhouse Humor

As previously mentioned, Ray and I spend our winters in Anchorage, where we do have electricity and running water. Sometimes we go out to the cabin in the shoulder season (March/April, September/October), the days during this time of year can be sunny and pleasant, but the nights can still dip well below zero. But could you imagine having to use an outhouse when the temperature dips to 40 below?

“Up until the cold weather hit, I never knew why Mr. Strong kept such a supply of laxatives in his store. I knew after it did, though: nobody wanted to go to the outhouse until it was absolutely necessary, so by the time you went, you needed all the help you could get.”
 -Quote from Anne about using the outhouse.

Willard and the Outhouse

But back to our young friend stuck on the outhouse seat.

“Getting him out turned out to be a major undertaking. We tried pouring warm water around him, but it froze almost as soon as it hit the boards, so finally Mr. Carew had to come and pry the boards off. The outhouse was a two-holer, so when we carried him into my quarters he looked for all the world like a prince on a litter…We propped one end of the boards on the stove and the other over a chair and he sat there calm as you please until he thawed off.“After that, Mr. Vaughn loaned us a ten-gallon kerosene can with the top cut-off. We put a toilet seat on it and put it in the cache. Since it was almost as cold in the cache as it was outside, somebody lined the seat with caribou fur so nobody got stuck again.”

Picture of the remnants of the two-holer outhouse in Chicken, AK behind the school house

Chilly School Room

I can only imagine what it must have been like trying to teach 10 kids in an uninsulated school house with a homemade stove to provide heat. School wasn’t cancelled because of the cold. The picture below is from the school room with the original stove made from a barrel.

Picture of Anne’s School room and dwelling, the stove is handmade and original

“On Thursday it dropped to 40 below, and even though we moved all the tables close to the stove, Willard, Joan and Lily couldn’t work for their feet being so cold. We finally had to move the whole class into my quarters and let the little ones sit in the bed.”
 -Anne describing trying to teach the kids in the extreme cold.

The Luxury of Water

Clean drinking water is definitely a luxury our modern society takes for granted. Even in 21st century America, there are places that do not have consistent access to safe drinking water. One that comes to mind is the issues with drinking water in Flint, MI.

Another was made famous by Erin Brockvich. The story of Hinkley, CA (near where I grew up), and how their water became contaminated with Cromium-6.

Here in Alaska, many of the remote villages and towns struggle with getting clean, drinkable water, even with modern science. This could be a topic for a complete blog post of its own. For now I’ll focus on how Ray and I get water at the cabin, and what Anne had to do at the school house.

Water at the Cabin

Our property sits on a granite outcrop. Drilling through almost 2000’ of solid rock for a well would be an expensive undertaking, and would be useless in wintertime. We have to haul all of our water in, for drinking, cleaning and for growing our plants. We have a system set up to collect the water off the roofs of our structures. In the summers we get water from the local RV park in Chicken for drinking. During the times of year when we are out there alone, we have to either bring in our water, or break-up ice and snow for drinking water. Eventually we plan on putting in a later water tank and cistern system, but for now, water is a major undertaking out at the cabin. 

Tisha getting water

Tisha’s story of how they sourced their drinking water will probably make some people cringe.
“Then all of a sudden the temperature dropped to thirty below and the creek froze up. She was one step ahead, because she’d already piled snow high alongside the door, and there was our water supply. I didn’t care much for the taste of it. It was flat until Nancy dumped oatmeal in the barrel, and that improved it.”“We’ll have to go easy on the water now,” she told me.“I thought I was going easy before,” I said.She told me no, we’d have to go even easier. The trick, she showed me, was not to throw any water away until it was thoroughly used—first for personal washing, then for clothes. If necessary, it could be used a third time to scrub floors. It didn’t seem very sanitary to me at first, but after packing in snow and ice a few times I stopped worrying about hygiene.”

-Anne on water usage.

Anne’s story in Tisha is not all hardship. But if you are interested in more, please pick up the book. It is still available on Amazon. If you find yourself in Alaska, heading to the small town of Chicken, you’ll be happy to know that in the summers, you can still tour the “Old Town of Chicken.” Below is my previous link to the tour we took last summer, and pictures of the town. If you have already read Tisha, you can see the town is laid out as it was described in the book.

If you’re interested, The Goldpanner RV Park runs tours daily. 

Thanks again for reading. I hope it helped lighten up your time in isolation. If you’re interested in a tale of legendary bloodthirsty creatures stalking the isolated trails of the Alaska backcountry, check out my horror novella available on Amazon.


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