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Trail History

Portraits of the Past

A. H. Twitchell sitting in front of the Takotna Roadhouse 1936 (Photo courtesy of family)A. H. Twitchell

Adams Hollis Twitchell was born in 1872 on the family farm near Jamaica, Vermont. Like many adventurous young men of his generation, he left his home to seek fortune in the Alaskan and Canadian gold rushes of the 1890s. By 1902 he had followed the gold rushes even further north to the Nome area. But prospecting must have lost its allure because by 1903 A. H., as he was called, was in a small Yupik village on the tundra near Bethel trading for furs. It was in this village he met a lovely young Yup’ik girl named Qeciq (baptized Irena by a Russian Orthodox priest), got married and started a family.

In 1904 the young family moved into Bethel and A. H., with two business partners, bought controlling interest in a trading post. This trading post was originally called Joaquin, Twitchell and Fowler, but was later changed to the Kuskokwim Commercial Company. In 1916 A. H. and partners sold the trading post. 

A. H. moved his family to Flat and took up reindeer herding, selling much needed fresh meat to miners in the nearby communities and mining camps. He quickly applied to the U.S. Reindeer Commissioner for exclusive use of the Dishna River/Beaver Mountains area. The pastures on the southwestern side of the mountains were good summer grazing and the drier north side of the mountains the ranges were good winter grazing. To facilitate good reindeer range stewardship, A. H. built corrals and herding cabins throughout the range.

Alice, A.H. and Ben Twitchell on the reindeer range (Photo courtesy of family)

These years were not just filled with reindeer herding. An observant and curious individual, A. H. collected field specimens for scientists with museums in the eastern U.S.  In 1922 a new species of mosquito was described in professional journals. Specimens of this mosquito were collected in 1917 and 1918 by A. H. and his oldest daughter Alice while out on the reindeer ranges. In 1921-1922 A. H. also built three shelter cabins for the Alaska Road Commission. These cabins were distributed along the Discovery-Ophir summer trail. Many of the structures A. H. Twitchell built for the road commission and for his reindeer herding still exist and are listed as historic resources with the State of Alaska Office of History and Archaeology. 

A.H., son Ben and daughter-in-law Bernie 1947 (Photo courtesy of family)The Twitchell family lived in Flat until 1929 when the Guggenheim dredge mined its way through town forcing many cabins and businesses to move and reassemble in a different configuration. The family’s cabin was sold but reindeer herding kept them in the area, although by this time several of the children were grown and on their own. The Reindeer Act of 1937 brought an end to A. H.’s herding days. He sold the herd and moved to Takotna, where he again owned a small store and planted fields filled with turnips, potatoes (which he sold commercially), rutabagas and other northern adapted vegetables.

In the 1940s, A. H. turned management of his store and fields over to his son Ben, who left his teaching career and moved his young family to Takotna to assume these duties. Now in his 70s, A. H. Twitchell spent what would be the remainder of his life in Takotna with friends and family, enjoying village life. His life-long interest in the natural world around him is his legacy carried on by his grandchildren today.