In 1915, Frank Glaser arrived at the Port of Valdez in the Territory of Alaska. He had heard much about the grand adventures and plethora of wild animals found within the state and wanted to check things out for himself. With no commercial services offering transport on the rough summer trail to Fairbanks, Glaser decided to walk. Walking over 300 miles, he crossed Thompson pass over dozens of feet of snow, swam across glacial creeks filled to the brim with melt off and navigated the muddy and wet bogs that characterized much of the route. Upon reaching Fairbanks, he decided he wanted to return to the Alaska Range, where he had seen many animals, in the mountains and on the valley floor, on his earlier passage.
For a decade, Frank worked as a market hunter out of Black Rapids Roadhouse, eventually buying the roadhouse himself. The book is almost entirely comprised of stories of his many animal encounters, some of which pertains to the grizzlies in that section of the Alaska Range. One example is the time in the spring he followed fresh grizzly tracks up a box canyon, hoping to find the track’s maker. Other anecdotes were intriguing and something of an earlier time. For instance, hanging sheep meat in glacial crevasses to keep cool or capturing wild caribou and using them in lieu of dogs to pull a sled.
Glaser eventually headed further west, walking a couple hundred miles across the Alaska Range to the Savage River in and near what had just become Denali National Park. For a few years he helped Adolph Murie, studying caribou in the area. Ultimately, he retreated to his cabin on the Savage River spending many years trapping and roaming about the surrounding landscape.
With books of this era, something that can be difficult to read is the abundant killing. Like Charles Sheldon in his accounts in The Wilderness of Denali, these men killed just about anything that moved, without thought for limits and low population density of each species. The practice of science was definitely different at that time, with actual specimens taking priority over studying behavior and preserving the life of the species. Glaser worked as a bounty hunter and then eventually on predator control for the state and killed hundreds, if not thousands of wolves. He talks of killing a wolf pair he had watched for months, then calling their pups after and then killing them one by one.
I find myself falling prey to the notion of charismatic megafauna, the romantic idea that many people (especially those in urban centers) have of wild animals like bears and wolves and that there is no reason they should be hunted. I am not a biologist or ecologist, however the act of attempting to completely wipe out an entire species has never made sense to me. While hunting wolves gives me pause, I see nothing wrong with hunting them like any other animal. I might have a different perspective if I was living in mid 20th century Alaska without the abundant road system and the supermarkets and grocery warehouses that can be found along its reaches. Perhaps one arrives at a different sentiment when hunger is more of a real concern. I don’t know.
I had hesitated to read this book after being told by a friend a few years ago how Glaser was not that impressive and it was an ok story. How wrong that was. The stories of Glaser’s accounts and animal in the Alaska Range were thrilling and the stories offered a good perspective on life in the Territory at that time, and as a market hunter. Having now read over 100 books on Alaska, I remain surprised each time I find one that excites me and brings about the feeling that is Alaska, that I first experienced back in 2013.