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Alaskan Margie, Margie Culver, Hero to the Kid in Me

Updated on April 11, 2014

Margaret Aileen Culver Nappe Broyhill

My mother was an authentic Alaskan Pioneer, born in a one-room cabin that her father had built on a barren Bering Sea coastal beach. He had been hired by the US government Bureau of Indian Affairs to teach Alaska Native children in a new settlement that was being opened.

Her parents had lived in the tiny wood cabin for five years, with some time off to bear their first live born child in late 19th Century Oregon. Since the pregnancy was successful, with both mother and son healthy and hearty, Mom's dad brought his young family back to their pioneering life.

Their second child, my mother, was born without incident in their wilderness home, Grandpa attending. Mom's birth was followed one year later with her younger brother's arrival, completing the family.

Life in the wilds was both a challenge and a gift for them, but one in which my ancestors thrived. Once they mastered the art of survival in a land without transportation or any early 20th Century conveniences, future hardships seemed minimal. Transportation amounted to walking and dog-sledding most of the year. There were no roads, only wild animal paths and those regularly used by the encampment.

Once each year a ship arrived with supplies for the camp's oncoming year, and that was always a cause for celebration. At times residents traveled to the States on the ship's return route. And frequently my grandfather's supervisor, from the States, came for yearly inspections and occasionally he was accompanied by staff.

Eskimo and Aleutian Indian families accepted my mom and her siblings into the community and best and life-long friendships developed. Below is a photograph that includes one of Mom's oldest friends, a woman whose retelling of ancient Yupik tribal stories led to the writing of several children's books based on her life, as an Alaskan indigenous woman with a rich Eskimo heritage. My mother lived to the age of 91, never breaking her bond with the heroic character of the Alaskan persona.

ALL PHOTOGRAPHS copyright Leslie Sinclair

All Rights Reserved

NO USE PERMITTED

There's Many Faces to Herohood

Do you have a hero in your family?

The Map You Might Want to Buy for Perspective On The Area of Mom's Birth

16363--Port Moller and Herendeen Bay
16363--Port Moller and Herendeen Bay

Herendeen Bay and Port Moller are near the area where this story took place. From this map you can get a feel for the wildness of the landscape and the isolation for my urban grandparents.

For as far back as I can remember I've wanted to walk the land of my mother's birth. I'd like to see the beach where the yearly supplies were unloaded and smell the sea air.

 

Mom Held Tools As Often As She Held Dolls

Mom Held Tools As Often As She Held Dolls
Mom Held Tools As Often As She Held Dolls

A Young Margie Sights Her Rifle

Rifles were a necessity in the wilderness, and the kids learned arms management at a young age. Polar bears and land bears were not likely recipients of my mom's aim, but she did develop sharp shooting skills.

As a child I remember hearing Mom bragging about shooting birds on the wing, of course, meaning she killed them while they were flying overhead.

Never a shy little girl, Mom met all the challenges head-on, learning from both her parents to build confidence in using domestic tools as well as as tools that in that era were normally relegated for men's use.

Wild ducks, ptarmigan, rabbits were all fair game for Mom and her siblings, as the family could always use fresh meat and variety was a plus. In this photograph Mom demonstrates her shooting proficiency to her friend in the foreground - the storyteller I mentioned in the Introduction - and her younger brother.

Book by Mom's Alaska Friend Shown in the Photo of Mom Shooting Her Rifle

The Eye of the Needle: Based on a Yupik Tale
The Eye of the Needle: Based on a Yupik Tale

My mom's friend, Betty Jean Huffman, pictured above, told this tale to the author, Teri Sloat.

Ms. Huffman attended my mom's 85th Birthday party and gifted her with a copy of the book, which is now mine.

 

Have some fun and sing along with me this little ditty about my mom.

sing to the tune of "Davy Crockett"

Born in Alaska on a Bering Sea beach

A new settlement with her Daddy-Teach

Raised with Eskimos as her very best friends

Margie, Margie Culver, Hero to the Kid in Me

Started wearing furs when just a baby girl

She wore wool dresses with great big hair bows

Ate snow ice cream with all the school children

Margie, Margie Culver, Hero to the Kid in Me

Loved all the kids on the sea coast beach

Hunted ptarmigan and picked ripe berries

Wore warm fur mukluks, cooked fish on a fire

Margie, Margie Culver, Hero to the Kid in Me

Grew up to use tools to cut and to build

Learned to be a miner, to pan for gold

And waterproof her boots with melted seal fat

Margie, Margie Culver, Hero to the Kid in Me

Went to high school and said I'll choose my right

To take the shop class like the big boys do

Became a nifty handy girl and mom

Margie, Margie Culver, Hero to the Kid in Me

Taught her little kids to fix the broke things

Learned to scare and keep the big bears away

To cook mooseburgers for gourmet camp meals

Margie, Margie Culver, Hero to the Kid in Me

Taught all her children resourcefulness

Used a 10 foot ladder to prune the trees

Remodeled the house and the marriage too

Margie, Margie Culver, Hero to the Kid in Me

Fixed broken windows and baked the fresh bread

Supported the kids in all their school sports

Taught her kids to work and save

Margie, Margie Culver, Hero to the Kid in Me

Poured her heart out in love to her kids

Became a Great Grandma Superstar

Mastered the Internet at eighty years

Margie, Margie Culver, Hero to the Kid in Me

Teenage Margie Dresses to Build

After they moved to the metropolis of Anchorage, population 3,000 in the late 30s, Margie successfully lobbied the school board to allow her to take shop classes, designed exclusively for boys, in the Alaska Territory of the 1930s. She had already mastered all the girls' Home Economics classes, and she wanted to learn to make things with wood and metal.

17 Year Old Margie Dons Fisherwoman's Garb

The Summer she was 17 she accompanied her mom to join her dad at his platinum mine, further north of the Bering Sea Coastline. It was a thrilling year for her to share with some of her best childhood friends, whose parents ran the tiny post office-general store and restaurant in the mining outpost.

Famous Writer Found Margie Remarkable

Ernie Pyle, a world famous WWII War Correspondent found my mother resting on a log on the beach, on her return hike from taking a hot lunch to her dad, when he was mining at a dig five miles away. Pyle's photographer pictured life in the platinum camp and featured Mom in a Sunday special edition. That's her center bottom.

Heroic Maybe Isn't Perfect

I think

superheroes are

heroes with flaws,

and in their flaws,

there is a sense of humor.

Peter Segal

Margie's Kids At The Hard Rock Mine

Margie was a real trooper - without her we kids wouldn't have known what to do. She kept us clean and fed - kept me dolled up in dresses in the dread of winter's snow in an uninsulated wood cabin.

Our tiny houses were for sleeping only. The cookhouse, with a real life camp cook, was situated up the hill, a steep walk up a plank lined incline. Mom did all the cleaning and washing by hand, and hung the clothes outside, Summer and Winter.

This is where we lived when I drowned in the camp's open well. My mom and uncle tag-teamed and brought this still body back to life. Then Mom, true to her determined nature, whipped us kids onto the nearest Bush Plane, and flew us out to The States, for respite from the harsh dangers of the wild life.

Heroic Mom Drives 3,500 Miles With 3 Preschoolers

Mom was the Superhero we trusted to lead us on the epic adventure from the Summer off in Southern California, back to Alaska. She had talked my dad into leaving the active mining life. He took over a huge heavy equipment dealership in the Interior, and the rest of us had the journey of a lifetime. the photograph shows us on the road in Canada.

Read more about how my heroic mom influenced me to acquire some handy life skills in several of my articles. More of My Journey and More Pics and Stories

When Dad Returned to Mining Mom Danced

We really did leave Alaska and settle down to grow deep roots in the Pacific Northwest, in another town of 3,000. Although our house was only 4 blocks from the center of town, we had the best of both worlds. Our back yard was huge and it bordered another kind of wilderness - an overgrown blackberry bog that led to a cattail haven that extended down to the train tracks that bordered the beach on Puget Sound.

In this setting Mom fixed the potty, wallpapered the house with huge tropical leaves, painted the fireplace grout white one Christmas Eve night while we slept, remodeled each of our bedrooms on weekends we stayed overnight with our grandparents, the boys one time and me months later.

During my 16th year she and I drove 2,000 miles, up to a placer gold mine, for a return to the wilderness, for the Summer. My brothers, father and grandfather had already been on the job for months by the time we went. I put my housecat on a leash and he made the drive with us, not without protestation, and he flourished in the mining camp and came back home in the Fall.

This photograph is of one of the Saturday night rendezvous with other miners and neighbors in the tiny community where we mined. Mom dances with a brother to music on a juke box at the one and only Roadhouse in 50 miles.

She bought a 6' pruner and climbed the ladder to cut back the 80 year old king cherry tree, forgetting she wasn't grounded. She burned the tent caterpillar nests, canned foods, made jam, replaced windows, led kids' groups, and decorated birthday cakes for our teachers. She never could sing, but she made sure we all realized we were from Alaskan Pioneer stock.

After Dancing We Came Home

This is how we made a three-bedroom home out of a 8' x 9' Wanningan, a wood plank building on timbers hewn to act as sled runners. The tiny buildings were drug around by mules that the full-time trappers kept in their encampments.

Mom, Dad and I once climbed up a mountain to visit their favorite trapper friend in his tiny tiny cabin up in the woods. It was like entering a fairy tale scene, with furs staked on lines outside, stretched to dry.

I was the only one who slept in the Wannigan. My brothers shared the tent, and my parents turned the station wagon into their estate. Make it work - might as well have been from New England.

Mom proved her stuff when she sent us kids home alone on a plane from Anchorage, and remained back with Dad, to close the camp. They went hunting and bagged a moose apiece, bring them both home frozen. By the time they drove back South the camp had been deep into winter for over a month.

My Grandfather Once Plugged an Oil Leak in a Bush Plane With a Hunk of Bacon

Alaska has no shortage of heroes and I think that heroes begat heroes. Mom was brave enough to risk encounters with bears, just to take her dad's lunch to him every day.

Alaska Breeds The Heroic Lifestyle

On the Edge of Nowhere
On the Edge of Nowhere

Written by a born Alaskan this book is rated 4.5 Stars in 33 Reviews. Valuable for anyone with an interest in gaining personal perspective about real life in mid-century Alaska.

The scene is northern Alaska, but bears so much in common with my mother's experiences of life in the 49th State.

 
Alone in the Wilderness
Alone in the Wilderness

Richard Proenneke's story is presented in all the expansiveness of the great wilderness. Rated 4.5 out of 113 Reviews, this DVD is a must see.

How many of us wish we could do what he did! The difference is that he did it; he left the rat race and found the nature of his true self. I've seen some compelling excerpts of this magnificent journal.

 
One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey
One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey

220 readers and this book still rates 4.5 Stars.

 
Call of the American Wild: A Tenderfoot's Escape to Alaska
Call of the American Wild: A Tenderfoot's Escape to Alaska

Guy Grieve's solo adventures in Alaska remind me of my grandfather's escapades during decades in the outback.

This adventure story reads like the best tale of peril and excitement. A perfect gift for the thrill taker. Another 4.5 Stars from 28 Reviews.

 

Perfection is not a prerequisite for heroism. My mother wasn't perfect, but she embodied the rugged spirit of a woman who was strong before her time, although for some it was the norm in Alaska, even back then.

Does Margie Seem Heroic by Nature?

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    • lesliesinclair profile image
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      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @ecogranny: You are welcome, and I intend to write more about her.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Absolutely. What a wonderful tribute to a fascinating woman. Thank you for sharing a bit of your mom's story, and your story.

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 4 years ago

      Lovely tribute, and great photos!

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 4 years ago from Arizona

      Your Mom sounds like a fascinating lady!

    • MEDerby profile image

      MEDerby 4 years ago

      Wonderful...a great tribute to your Mom. I spend a great deal of time in Alaska and I'm always thankful for every hour I spend there.

    • MEDerby profile image

      MEDerby 4 years ago

      Wonderful...a great tribute to your Mom. I spend a great deal of time in Alaska and I'm always thankful for every hour I spend there.

    • BarbRad profile image

      Barbara Radisavljevic 4 years ago from Templeton, CA

      I have great respect for pioneer women like your mother. I don't think I would have made a good pioneer. This was a great story.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @Johanna Eisler: I'm so glad you found pleasure in the tales. Had I no responsibilities but to myself as I age I'd be on the road to Alaska, but I'd settle for Canada without any tribulation. I have fond memories of our drives over the Alaska Canadian Highway in the 40s and 50s. My last trip to Canada was to a Russian hotel restaurant in Grand Forks - what a fantastic cultural experience.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @DebMartin: Thanks. She was very determined not to compromise her beliefs. I think that's one of the effects of life in the wilderness of Alaska, that willingness to strive hard to defend one's safety and family, and to explore the bend in the animal path and the river. We always felt like the next gold pan might bring the really big nuggets, and sometimes it did.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Mom was very practical and determined to take advantage of opportunities for discovery and learning, and she was a fierce protector of her children. Prior to her passing I told her I was planning to write something about her and she was pleased.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
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      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @Titia: Thanks. I feel like I benefited from the writing and remembering too.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @DrBillSmithWriter: It's surprising how much I learn about my mom by doing research and connecting memories with photos.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 4 years ago from Shanghai, China

      You have so many good stories here. I bet your whole family loves it!

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @Diana Wenzel: Yes, the settlement where Mom was born and lived her early years is now long gone, only the wilderness remains.

    • lesliesinclair profile image
      Author

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      @Im2keys: It was my joy to put these photos in perspective and mull over some of the ways my mom influenced me.

    • Johanna Eisler profile image

      Johanna Eisler 4 years ago

      My Canadian-born husband and I just read your mother's story with great enjoyment. They just don't make people like Margie any more. *grin*

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      DebMartin 4 years ago

      Wow, wow, wow, Margie is a hero indeed. She seems a hero most to me not because of all she accomplished (which was a lot!) or for her lifestyle (which was unique, indeed) but for her determination to live life on her terms. A true hero.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Heroes are practical folk I think, if something needs doing, they just take on the task and get it done...weather saving a life that needs saving or fixing a plane that needs fixing. What a wonderfully colorful lady, your Mom reminds me of my Grandma who also had that great pioneer spirit. A wonderful tribute to a true hero in your life....she gave you life twice, now that is something to shout about! Sharing with a FB like....congratulations on your Imminent victory! :)

    • Titia profile image

      Titia Geertman 4 years ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

      Beautiful story, enjoyed reading. Thanks for writing it and congrats on the ticket.

    • DrBillSmithWriter profile image

      William Leverne Smith 4 years ago from Hollister, MO

      Thank you for sharing this magnificent set of stories. Keep telling and sharing, for sure! ;-)

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 4 years ago from Central Florida

      This is a marvelous tribute to your mom and preserves family memories for future generations and historians. Well done!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 4 years ago from Colorado

      Such a fascinating life and hero.

    • profile image

      Im2keys 4 years ago

      what a beautiful lens! thanks for sharing :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Great pictures and even better tribute article!