Dyea Native Cemetery graves restored

Matthews' kin continue to care for family plots

Bill Matthews stands over the crib of his wife Sophia and two daughters Mabel and Julia Matthews in a photo taken by the late Paul Sincic, circa 1960.


Among the headboards in the Native Cemetery in Dyea is that of Sophia Matthews. The white, wooden marker and crib (small fence around the grave) stand crooked while grass and bush creep around and almost cover the structures.
The graves have had little maintenance since Bill Matthews, husband to Sophia and father to the girls, died in 1976. Matthews personally tended and preserved the graves following their deaths in 1920 and 1921.
“He was the unofficial caretaker of the cemetery,” Carl Smith, nephew of Bill Matthews, said. “He took a personal interest in maintaining these grave sites.”
Carl, of Juneau, and his father Norman Lewis Smith Sr., are personally restoring their family’s headboards and cribs in the Dyea and Skagway cemeteries.
“Carl is the one member of the family that was very interested in his heritage, so he began to dig,” Norman said.
Carl said he became interested in his family history in the early 1970s after hearing stories from his uncle. He then started his search by pulling a dozen-and-a half death certificates from state archives.
“It’s been quite a puzzle to put it all together,” Carl said.
Carl looked at the graves and came up with marriage certificates of his grandparents and the death certificates of Sophia, Mabel and Julia, he said.
“This project is the brainchild of my father,” said Carl, who has already replaced six headstones of family members in Sitka, Juneau and Haines, and completed two in Dyea and two in Skagway.
A couple of years ago Carl and Norman approached the National Park Service about restoring the graves and volunteered to do the restoration, Reed McClusky of the Park Service said. The cemetery is on Park Service property.
“The families identified a desire and need to have some work done,” he said.
Headboards were replaced in the Skagway cemetery for Mrs. W.E. Matthews, Carl's greatgrandmother, and Ms. Marion Matthews, first wife of W.C. "Bill Matthews.
In Dyea, the headboard for Sophia Matthews was replaced. Sophia was 27 and died in 1921. Mabel, age 8, and Julia, 1, both died in 1920 and share the grave and headboard.
“There was always speculation on how many people were buried in that grave,” Norman said.
“I’ve got hundreds of hours into this,” said Ralph Lopez, who constructed part of the crib at his home in Port Angeles, Wash. and completed the project in Skagway’s Park Service woodshop. He said he has been working on the project for more than a year.
“It’s kind of fun,” he said. “You sort of develop a kinship with the Matthews’ spirit.”
Lopez, who has known Lewis' son Norm Smith for 18 years, said he and son David, 13 were paid to come to Skagway to do the project.
“He gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Lopez said. “I wanted to show David Alaska.”
Lopez, who has been a drywall finisher for the past 30 years, said, “This is a nice change, working on ( the crib).”
Carl said the pickets of the crib are exact replicas of the one currently in place. He said the Park Service gave his father the schematics of the headboard, crib and location.

Pictured above, Norman Lewis Smith Sr. stands next to Mrs. William Edward Matthews’ restored headboard. HJB

Carl and Lopez said they do not know when the grave site will be completely finished, but it should be completed within the next month.
The history of the Matthews family, like many other Skagway families, is intricate.
Bill Matthews, born in 1889, was a full-blood Tlingit. His mother, Florence, was from Klukwan and his father was from Carcross. Florence did not marry his Native father, but later married a white man, William Edward Matthews, in 1895.
“It was a common misconception that (Bill Matthews) was a half breed,” Norman said.
“This is where we begin to muddy the water,” Norman said. The two were living in Juneau when they first married and had 12 kids together. Bill was the only child that was full-blooded, he said. One of Bill’s sisters, Emma, married and had a daughter, Eileen. Bill Matthews, Eileen’s uncle, later became her guardian.
“Eileen was my first wife,” Norman said. “My two sons have Native blood.”
Norman married Eileen in 1947, and they divorced in 1965. She died in 1987.
The Matthews’ graves were among seven moved from the original Dyea Native Cemetery to its present site outside the Slide Cemetery by the Park Service in 1978. The move was a result of the Native Cemetery being in danger of being eroded by the meandering Taiya River.
“The crib was in poor condition and fell apart when they moved it over there,” Norman said.

Questers finally reach summit
Gaseous intake, conflicts make good TV

The sight of the Canadian flag blowing in the alpine breeze of the Chilkoot Pass was a welcome sight for the five Canadian stampeders participating in History Television’s “Quest for Gold.”
Their arrival to the pass signifies that the remainder of their 500 miles to Dawson City’s gold fields will be downhill. It also means that they have crossed the international border into Canada, the homeland of the hearty cast members.
The homecoming will be short-lived, though, for a new country means new bureaucratic red tape.
“The rangers on the American side seemed to be more helpful than the Parks Canada wardens,” said Don Young, director for the historical reality-based television show scheduled to air in Canada in January of 2003.
Parks Canada is not allowing the historically accurate cast members to set up their canvas wall tents in either Happy Camp, four miles beyond the summit, or Deep Lake, nearly seven miles past the summit. Instead, the next camp after Sheep Camp, mile 13 on the Chilkoot Trail, is Lindeman City, mile 26.
The stampeders, who began their journey in Dyea on June 5, have been hauling their 3,000 pounds of goods from Sheep Camp, just under 1,000 feet in elevation to the 3,525’ summit of the Chilkoot Pass where they have cached their goods.
On July 7, two officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrived at the summit via a Temsco Helicopter equipped with a scale to enforce the weight the team is required to haul for entry into Canada.
Now that all of the provisions are at the summit, the camp is being moved from Sheep Camp to Lindeman City. The four men of the group will then make daily treks from their new camp to the summit until all of their goods are in Lindeman. They will then relocate to their last camp within the Klondike Gold Rush International Historic Park at Lake Bennett, where a boat will be built to haul the argonauts to the gold fields of Dawson.
While the men folk haul their daily loads, the only woman in the cast, Andria Bellon of Whitehorse, stays in camp to cook, organize loads, and entertain the occasional tourist who wanders curiously into their period-appropriate camp.
Bellon said that food has become a serious issue for the latter-day Klondikers. While director Don Young said, “They are eating like they are at a buffet,” Bellon states otherwise.
“We are on strict rations- one tablespoon of sugar each per day, one teaspoon of butter, one slice of bacon, three pieces of bannock, and eight pieces of dried apple or apricot slices.”
That food is supplemented with porridge for breakfast, beans for lunch, and peas with rice or barley at night.
Due to the gaseous nature of their diet, Bellon said she is “glad to have her own little wall tent to sleep in.”
The food dilemma could potentially be solved upon arrival into the Yukon River system. The five cast members all have Yukon hunting and fishing licenses. They are hoping to catch many fish as well as grouse, a smallish game bird that yields about a pound of meat per bird.
As difficult as problems with food, camp locations and personality conflicts may be for the cast members, they do, however, make for good television- and good television is the goal for any director.
“The worst thing that could happen to me,” said Young, “is for everything to go smooth.”

UPDATE: The Questers reached Whitehorse July 31, to read more go to www.whitehorsestar.com.

Observation car returns to WP &YR

- Photo by Dimitra Lavrakas

Passengers aboard White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad’s the new Observation Car No. 230 enjoy the sunshine and unobstructed views from Fraser to Lake Bennett.
“It’s a replica of a coach that used to run on the Scotia tram,” Gary Danielson, WP&YR vice president said.
The coach’s design is historically correct, he said, down to the number on the car, thanks to historian Carl Mulvihill. The original Observation Cars 230 and 231 ran behind the tiny steam engine Duchess on the two-mile track between Atlin Lake and Graham Inlet, connecting to railway-owned steamships.
The car was constructed in the Skagway rail shops and took about one and a half years to complete, Daneilson said. It made its debut on the Fraser-Bennett section last month.
If service to Carcross resumes again, the Observation Car will also make the run Carcross, but for now it only has the one route, he said. - HJB

Important meeting on borough formation
An informational public meeting on Skagway’s borough proposal is set for July 25 at 7 p.m. in the Skagway City Council chambers.
Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development reresentatives will address the standards and procedures for borough incorporation.
The public will have a chance to ask questions and make verbal and written comments concerning the department’s “June 2002 Preliminary Report on the Skagway Borough Proposal.”
The Local Boundary Commission will hold a public hearing on the borough proposal in Skagway at a later date.
Copies of the report are available at the Skagway Library and City Hall. It can also be downloaded off the Web at http://www.dced.state.ak.us/cbd/lbc/skagway.htm.
The deadline for receipt of comments on the report is July 31. For additional information call (907)269-4559 or write to Local Boundary Commission, Department of Community and Economic Development, 550 West Seventh Ave., Suite 1770, Anchorage, AK 99501-3510. Inquiries may also be made by fax to (907)269-4539 or by e-mailing DanBockhorst@dced.state.ak.us.


• Fourth of July photo spread and parade results

• Yukon River Quest - Skagway team finishes strong

• Heard on the Wind: Animals and literati

• Softball tourney, Skagway News Runaround results

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