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John A. Dexter

JOHN A. DEXTER is one of the earliest pioneers of Seward Peninsula. He first came to this country in the steam whaler Grampus in 1883. In 1890 he came to Alaska to work in. the Oomalik silver mines, and has been a resident of Seward Peninsula ever since. He conducted a trading station on Golovin Bay at the place now known as Cheenik. For many years this station was known as Dexter s. As early as 1895 he prospected on Ophir Creek, and assisted George Johansen, a prospector and quartz miner, to saw sluice lumber for the purpose of mining property in this region. When Libby, Melsing, Blake and Mordaunt came to Golovin Bay in 1897, he sent a native out on a prospecting trip and the Eskimo returned with a small bottle of gold dust. At the time of the excitement resulting from the strike on Anvil Creek. Mr. Dexter obtained some property in the Nome country, but he is now pinning his faith to 960 acres of placer ground on the Kuik River, a tributary of Norton Sound which contains a vast quantity of low-grade gravel which may be profitably operated by improved methods.

Mr. Dexter was born on Barton Heights, Virginia, December 9, 1852. He went to Boston after the surrender of Richmond, and in 1870 went to sea. For a period of twenty-one years he sailed the seas. During an interval he was engaged in putting down torpedoes for Chili and Peru. He served as paymaster clerk in the Shenandoah with Captain Charlie Norton.

Mr. Dexter has had some thrilling experiences in the Northland, one of which came near costing him his life, and so seriously injured him that he never will recover. In 1894, while traveling from St. Michael to his home on Golovin Bay, he got caught in a blizzard while on the ice. This was the worst blizzard he ever saw in the country. It lasted near three weeks. The ice broke and he and four natives were afloat for nine days. They dug a hole in the snow and put a cover over it. This dug-out was their only protection from the furious storm. When the ice finally drifted back there was a chasm of several feet of water between it and the anchored ice. In his anxiety to be released from imprisonment on the floating floe he attempted to jump the chasm, but miscalculating the distance fell in the water. He came so near accomplishing the feat that he was able to grasp the anchored ice and pull himself out. He was wet to the waist, and with the thermometer at forty degrees below zero was instantly covered with a solid sheet of ice. His legs were blistered by the intense cold and he was saved from freezing only by a change of clothing. Before he arrived at home he got in an overflow and had another narrow escape from freezing. After this trying ordeal he went to bed, and when he awoke from the sleep following the extraordinary fatigue and nerve tension of his perilous trip, he was a victim of locomotor ataxia. The pain he suffered was intense. Using morphine to alleviate his suffering, he consumed as much as twenty grains of the drug daily. Finally he threw the opiate away, remarking that he might as well "die of locomotor ataxia as be a dope fiend." Mr. Dexter still suffers from his misfortune, but is able to travel and attend to his business affairs.

No man in the North country is better acquainted with the Eskimo, no man knows more of the true life of the native of this country than Mr. Dexter. His wife is an Eskimo woman. She has a character that commands the respect of everybody and the highest esteem of those who know her well. She is a member of an old family of her race, and the education she received from her mother would profit many of her white sisters. From Mr. Dexter I have learned much of the Eskimo folk lore; stories which their historians have handed down from generation to generation.  

Source: Nome and Seward Peninsula by R. S. Harrison. Seattle: The Metropolitan Press, 1905.




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