Gosia and Hank Nuwer

A pioneer Cordova businessman named Harry Christie lived his life pretty much unknown by the outside world, but all that changed two days after his death.


Born in Illinois, Christie arrived in the Copper River Delta about 1905, intending to make his fortune as a trapper. At one point, he boasted that he had gained trapping experience “in the sunny Southern swamps” and the “Canadian wilds” before making a living “among the beautiful mountains, valleys, lakes and streams of Alaska.”


Like others of his trade then, he lived out of a tent while checking his traps. At some point, he acquired a piece of land in Alaganik and erected a cabin.


In 1913, he converted his property to a fox farm. Fox fur had long been desirable for women of fashion in old England and France, and the industry prospered enough to see a large number of farms in Alaska, including Prince Edward Sound, Dutch Harbor and Kodiak Island.


In 1916, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tracked a number of fox farm failures and warned that m’lady’s fickle fashion taste made farming “a highly speculative and uncertain business,” according to Skagway’s Daily Alaskan.


Raising fox turned out to be a whole lot more challenging for Christie then trapping had been. In particular, he managed to frequently spook his vixens who then attacked and killed their own young. He lost all his litters over a two-year period, he told the Daily Times.


Worse, just before World War One, fox fur went out of fashion.  It would be another decade before fashion conscious females such as aviator Amelia Earhart and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth were photographed with fox fur tippets worn snugly around their necks as accessories. He sold his remaining dark cross and black foxes, along with a few mink, plus their wooden dens, to two men named Jackson and Everson who relocated the farm to a remote island in Alaska.


Ever entrepreneurial, Christie learned the art of hewing with an axe to make rail ties and replacement ties for the railroad and local mines such as Mile 19. He found a market for ties all his life.


In his spare time, he was out checking his trap lines, of course.


He became successful enough to become a pretty regular Cordova Daily Times classified ad purchaser, seeking makes to build and haul ties using a team of horses and a logging skidder. He also later in life used the cabin in milder weather and lived at Dooley & Greenig’s steam-heated Cordova House in winter, “Headquarters for Railroad and Mining Men” (as its advertisements declared).


“Wanted—a man to haul ties,” he advertised on February 14, 1922. “This is heavy work and a real man’s job (with) good pay.”


About that time, perhaps because his aging legs lacked their old spring for digging skidders out of mud and tromping through snow drifts to check traps, he set out to write “how to” book. In 1923, he paid the Cordova Daily Times to issue an 85-page edition of “The Practical Trapper: Simple Instructions for Trapping Fur Animals.”


He declared it was all anyone needed to know about snares and deadfalls and scents. He penned chapters on trapping big game and beaver, weasel, muskrat and lynx. For some reason, he used the pen name of Harry Christy instead of Christie.


“I thank the great Giver of Life for having permitted me to live my three-score years, still able to fight life’s battles,” the author’s introduction began. “I thank Him that while He has not suffered me to endure great poverty, He has never given me riches, and I sincerely hope that I shall never have the opportunity to possess great wealth.”


The author’s cover photo depicted a lean, long-haired man wearing a tie and Stetson type hat, one hand curled self consciously around a wide leather belt.


The author took out an ad in the August 1923 “Fur Trade Review” that declared 4,000 copies were for sale.


Then his health failed, and at the Cordova hospital on his deathbed, he asked for a pencil and a piece of cardboard to pen his will. Having no living relatives, his wish was simple. “Take body (to) my cabin—burn it.” Presumably, all his unsold books would serve as adequate kindling.


Harry Christie, 63, died on March 26, 1925, and two days later, the story of his dying wish—as we say today—went viral. Newspapers all over Alaska and the Lower 48 published the tale of his odd last wish.


“The Hospital officials are in a quandary at the request,” the story said.


Apparently, Harry Christie’s dying wish went unfulfilled. Hospital officials deemed to put him into the ground with other pioneers at Lakeview Cemetery.


Today, a single copy of “The Practical Trapper” resides in special collections at the Valdez Consortium Library.