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Wiseman

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By following the river systems, prospectors reached beyond the Interior of Alaska to the Brooks Range. Like the rest of the Interior, the temperature range is extreme, but the nearly constant sunlight in the summer creates a verdant landscape that belies its arctic location. The foothills of the Brooks Range are forested, although the spruce are small. Located on the middle fork of the Koyukuk River at Wiseman Creek, the town of Wiseman was founded about 1906, providing access to diggings on both Nolan and Hammond creeks. The Koyukuk District, centered at Wiseman, produced nearly $5 million worth of gold between 1900 and 1930. Wiseman flourished until 1916 but, instead of disappearing after the initial rush, continued to survive. In the winter of 1930–1931, Robert Marshall, an explorer and forester, lived in Wiseman and undertook a study of the town, focusing on the cultures and compatibility of the Eskimos and white Americans. Written in the vein of the then-new sociological study Middletown, Marshall's Arctic Villageis an affectionate portrayal of a remote village.

Bypassed by the road to Prudhoe Bay constructed in the 1970s, Wiseman still retains many of its early log structures. Arranged in a seemingly random plan on the west bank of the Middle Fork of the Koyukuk River, the town is bisected by Wiseman Creek. The log cabins are small—one or two rooms, usually—and low, with berms around their foundations. Sod roofs, covered with metal, and arctic entries are favored in this northern climate.

Materials are frequently reused in remote areas such as this, and the metal roofs are a good example. Five-gallon fuel cans (the trade name Blazo being the most popular) are flattened and form large shingles, which are then layered on a roof. Sometimes the cans are applied only to the ridges of roofs or are used to wrap the legs of caches so that porcupines cannot climb them. Other cans, such as butter tins, served for smaller jobs. Wherever they are used or whatever kind of can, they rust to a uniform brown color, adding an interesting texture to an otherwise organic structure.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Alison K. Hoagland

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