Description




Klondike Gold Glitters

The sleepy, old Russian town of St. Michael awoke on June 25, 1897, when the steamer Alice arrived with 25 miners from Dawson carrying $500,000 among them in gold dust. That was enough to liven up just about any town.

But the party wasn’t over. Two days later, the Portus B. Weare carried in another group of successful men who staggered off the small steamer with pokes of gold estimated to be worth around $175,000.

And more miners followed. St. Michael became the hub for those with visions of nuggets dancing before their eyes, both coming from and going to the rich Klondike fields in the Yukon.

(On average, once these hopeful prospectors from the Continental United States disembarked their steamships in Southeast Alaska, it took them about three months to reach the Klondike.)

Excerpt from Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One, Early Alaska to 1900


Amazon Reviews:

I have never enjoyed reading history so much! This first volume had so many stories in it that I have never even heard of that I had such a great time reading. I even reread a few of them to my young daughters.

Anyone who enjoys learning about our history, about the past, or just other cultures will LOVE this series! This first volume draws you in with the mysterious missing Eskimo people, makes you think of the Aztec right? It continues to tell tales of the spiritualism that was just fantastic.

I have to say the story of Sha-E-Dah Kla is my favorite, be sure to check it out. Spiritualistic and Shamanistic healing stories were just amazing, and just not something you read about unless it is a paranormal fiction. So to read about them as first hand experiences that happened to real people was enthralling for me.

The stories continue and draw you into the Alaskan history, telling of the wars and gold rush. Things you had never read before or never heard so much about, and as if the stories weren’t enough, she has these amazing pictures to bring out what she is telling you.

I believe even if you aren’t a history buff, you would be able to enjoy this book. It reads more like a storybook rather than a history book or schoolbook. It is engaging and so full of information, it just isn’t work to read. I can’t wait to find out what is in volume 2!

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One, by Phyllis Downing Carlson and Laurel Downing Bill, is a wonderfully written, eminently readable, and richly illustrated narrative of Alaska’s history up to 1900. Ensuing volumes – including one expected to be released within the coming year – continue the story through the 20th century.

I especially loved the wealth of vintage photographs in these pages that made frontier Alaska spring to life. So many cultures and so many characters populate this book: Native tribes, Russian and American explorers and fortune hunters, trappers, prospectors, merchants, heroes, shamans and scalawags. They are all here in their wild and woolly glory, pitting themselves against one of the most beautiful and forbidding landscapes in the world. In pre-1900 Alaska, fortune and disaster are never more than a hair’s breadth apart.

Aunt Phil’s Trunk is full of well-researched tales both wonderful and tragic. Written in a clear, coherent and evocative voice, it is a fascinating window to Alaska’s wild past. Highly recommended!

I love books about the past and how people use to live. I’m not from Alaska, but I learned so much and I felt like I was right there. As one person said, “You can get information from anywhere.” But for me, Laurel took me deep inside the lives of these people and showed me how they must of felt deep inside, the stuff they endured, making it a very informative and fun book that kept me turning the pages.

The photographs brought it to life, making it so very interesting. It brought tears to my eyes, even when I smiled. I can’t express how great this book is and you SHOULD BUY IT! Stories I’ll remember for a long time. 🙂 I am so happy I ran across this and plan to read more from this series. Alaska is part of American history. One day I’d love to visit and would love more than anything to meet Laurel, shake her hand and thank her in person.

She truly brought Alaskan history to life! The conditions these people worked in from ice forming at cave entrances to giving people hope for a better future all come together with good old fashion American stamina. Stand for what you believe and don’t let anyone say you can’t make your dreams come true. These people did it, and they didn’t stop till they did it right. I’m so overwhelmed with awesomeness of this book that I can’t say enough good things and I’m hard to impress.

It is, of course, rather nice to breathe the fine air of history once again. Through a chain of friends I was asked to take a look at the first two volumes of what is growing into a series called, Aunt Phil’s Trunk. Even the making of these books has a historical tang to it. Aunt Phil, Phyllis Downing Carlson, was a historian and a meticulous collector of Alaskan Lore. She bequeathed this body of knowledge to her niece, Laurel Downing Bill. Laurel, fascinated with the treasure trove she had found, took herself off to university to learn journalism and history. Upon graduation she began further researching the history of her home state, Alaska. Then she began the process of weaving her own tales with those of her aunt’s to create a really fascinating read. You never get lost because she always makes sure that while you are reading Alaskan history, you also know what was happening in the burgeoning country to the south.

I found myself quite delighted wandering through the pages of this collection of stories. Bill provides some background on habitation in Alaska as early as 850 BCE. In the early chapters of volume one, Bill gives a brief history of the violent geological nature of the land. She describes how volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and Arctic winters shaped the land and the islands that are near its shore.

Of great interest to me was her research of the Russian possession of the country, and the dream of Secretary of State Seward to own the northern frontier. The purchase price of Alaska was somewhere around 2 cents an acre; $7.2 million dollars. There’s a photograph of the check! There are photographs of the Russian forts, the lovely Russian princess bidding a sad farewell, and of the American soldiers taking possession of the territory.

She adds to her story further research on the purchase price. There have been some rumors that the payment included a thank you price for the visit of the Russian fleet during the Civil War. Bill, in story-time style tells you that history shows a different tale. The price of the territory was already in the process of being negotiated before the war (somewhere in the 4-5 million dollar range). As far as the Russian fleet was concerned, the wars brewing in Europe put Russia at a distinct disadvantage. It was necessary to get their fleet to safety and by parking it on the American shores, Russian helped to tip the balance of support to the Union. American officials studiously ignored Russia’s encroachment on Polish soil. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When Volume 2 begins we discover that it wasn’t all settled with the deed and treaty. As gold was found and things started to perk up a bit, well, the Canadians had their own ideas of where the boundary lines were drawn. Interpretation and re-interpretation of the boundaries conveyed by Russia brought the US and Canada close to the threshold of a border war. With the building of the railroad, which ran through territory that both the US and Canada claimed, things were getting serious. As progress pushed north (1898) serious negotiations began in Quebec City to settle the issue. Finally in 1903 a panel was set up to decide once and for all where the Crown lands ended and America began. President Theodore Roosevelt informed the panel that if they didn’t get it settled he would send in the Marines.

The tales and the photographs (some 650 between the two volumes) continue to lead you through the development of this beautiful wild country including the conquest of Dinali (Mt. McKinley), the volcano Katmai, the birth of the Iditarod and stories of the men and women who had no wish to tame the wilderness, but to learn to live within its majesty.

It’s a good read and I highly recommend you check it all out!

Laurel Downing Bill did an amazing job at keeping my attention with her stories regarding the history of Alaska. Before reading her book I knew very little of this northern state of America beyond the basics and now I feel as if I lived there once.

From discovering new communities and mining new gold, Downing Bill took me from the time when Russians discovered and claimed ownership right through to the transfer to the USA. Included within the stories of Alaskan’s Native people were pictures that impressed me just as much as the adventures of each piece of history.

Through the prices of meals, the desperate measures and determination of its settlers, Downing Bill introduced me to the colourful past of this ever developing state. Hospitals built with money raised in raffles still house the sick today while many communities burned to the ground as the ever-ready firemen couldn’t get to the locations fast enough.

Thought over 300 pages long, this novel contains so many interesting and intriguing facts it kept me challenged and learning about the state. Before I read this I basically knew Alaska was cold, Anchorage was a place there and Jewel was raised there. (Ok, Maybe I knew a little bit more but not much until now!)

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One should be in all the schools in the USA as it was easy and fun to read and contained a lot more than the usual dry facts and dates I remember reading in history class.

Enjoy reading about our history and learning about the world with Laurel Downing Bill and Aunt Phil’s Trunk.

This talented author’s love of Alaska shines through as she tells the world of its past.

In this, the first book in the series, the author takes her readers right back in time, to when the first Alaska Natives arrived, there after crossing the Bering Sea Land Bridge, thousands of years ago, and through history until the famous Klondike Gold Rush in the nineteenth century.

She does this wonderfully, bringing the history of this amazing place to life, through short stories, which vary tremendously. Through her brilliant penmanship, she brings alive the lives of these people who made this made this land their own under incredibly harsh conditions.

For me, though, I have to say the wonderful collection of hundreds of pictures were the icing on this most enjoyable cake. Being able to actually SEE the people who were alive in those times past is a joy I will never tire of, and it enhanced even more (if possible) my enjoyment of these wonderful tales.

I have never been to Alaska, however I would love to do so, especially having read this book.


I reviewed books one and two in this series as part of a blog tour. This first book in this series like all the others are based on the writings and research of the author’s aunt, Phyllis Downing Carlson. In the first volume, the reader is treated to thousands of years of Alaska’s history from the time the first humans crossed the Bering Sea land bridge to the Klondike Gold Rush in the nineteenth century. The photograph of a mastodon graveyard is most impressive. Readers learn how the native Eskimos coped with the unknown with the magic of their shamans and the legends of the gods. An influx of Russian fur traders changed Native life forever. They brought illness and destruction to their hunting grounds and forests. Eventually Natives adapted by becoming guides for the newcomers exploration of the seas and the mining operations that later followed.

One of the short stories relates how the last gun shot of the American Civil War was fired from the Confederate ship Shenandoah off the coast of Alaska in June, 1865, two months after the war actually ended. These ships fired on whalers near St. Lawrence Island. The Shenandoah had previously captured thirty-eight Yankee warships. Not willing to surrender to Union authorities in the States, the Shenandoah sailed to England to surrender that November.

Bill traces the history of opposition to William Seward’s purchase of Alaska for the United States and the change of opinion once gold was discovered. Several stories detail singular individuals in Alaska’ s history. Readers learn about Captain James Cook, the explorer, Bishop William Carpenter Bompas, the missionary, Ivan Petroff, the census taker, and Old John Bonner’s murder mystery. One of Alaska’s most educated early citizens was George Washington Carmack who wrote beautiful poetry. Not only do the short stories cover all these areas, but the photographs, maps and drawings provide a feast for the eyes!

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One is an entertaining and easy-to-read collection of short stories that really do bring Alaska’s history to life! Anyone interested in Alaska will love this book.

I have always been fascinated by how people would drop everything, and go to faraway places to look for gold in horrendous conditions. So when I was contacted by Laurel Downing Bill to participate in a virtual blog tour for her books about the history of Alaska, I jumped at the chance of learning more about the Gold Rush.

Laurel Downing Bill is a third generation Alaskan who was born in Fairbanks in 1951. She spent her childhood in Juneau, and then traveled to Africa, Asia and Europe with her parents as her father worked for a company that built roads and bridges around the world. All this traveling opened the author’s eyes to other cultures and to world history. At the age of 19, Laurel Downing Bill came back to Alaska, married and had 2 children. In 1993, the author inherited her aunt Phyllis Downing Carlson’s research and books on Alaska. Her aunt was a respected historian and librarian in Anchorage. Laurel Downing Bill didn’t want all this research to go to waste, so she decided to write about the history of Alaska, but she thought she lacked the necessary knowledge to write properly. So she went back to school in her late forties to study journalism with a minor in history.

Laurel Downing Bill started by writing about history in 2002 in a weekly column in the newspaper The Anchorage Chronicle. The author saw that people were interested in the history of Alaska, so she decided to write a book. She used her aunt’s research but there were holes in the story. For example, her aunt didn’t talk about Juneau, the capital of Alaska. So the author did her own research to fill these gaps. Another challenge was to try to make history compelling. Unfortunately, history books are usually very dry and boring, and the author wanted to avoid this. Laurel Downing Bill also wanted to write in the same tone as her aunt Phil. The result are short stories in a narrative style storytelling. In fact, the books have a conversational tone, and cliffhangers at the end of chapters keep the reader wanting to know what comes next. Each book includes more than 300 photos which is quite a feat since the author had to find the right pictures to go with the text, and buy the rights in order to be able to use them. Each photo cost from $5 to $250, and she had to hire a photographer to clean them up because some of them were damaged or too dark.

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Vol. 1 and 2 are impressive and absorbing books. The first volume starts when the first Natives settled in Alaska thousands of years ago, and ends during the Klondike Gold Rush. The second volume covers the period from 1900 to 1912. These 2 books alone taught me many things about Alaska. For example, I didn’t know that the state was Russian before becoming American. I also loved the anecdotes about outlaws such as Soapy Smith or Wyatt Earp. In addition, the photos were great additions to the books as they make history come alive. I wish I had books like these when I was growing up. History would have seemed a lot more interesting!

I received this book from the author for an honest review.

This is not your regular documentary. My limited view of Alaska was broadened and what I have learned from history class. But this book really pushed my boundaries out of its limits. I was really caught up in the events and stories of this book giving me a clear picture of the different periods in Alaska. A land that came from almost nothing, to a place that was involved in so many stages of many prominent countries development, and the riches that led hordes of people flocking to its riches; to make their claim on their own wealth. Where do you start? There is so much detail and history revealed in this book.

I really discovered the full content of the words “the Good the Bad and the Ugly”, all this get revealed in this book regarding the development of Alaska. What stood out most was that the native people of the land consist not only of Eskimo’s, but different tribes of Indians. I never knew they lived in Alaska, but now I know. We also discovered the influence of Russia in Alaska, how they moved in to the land claiming vast parts of the land as their property. They started trading with the natives, and also became involved in the fur trade that was the gold of that time; until the Gold rush to the Klondike in 1896. A very interesting fact that was highlighted to me was that America bought Alaska from the Russians, not the native’s of the land, amazing.

There is a fast amount of historical information in this book capturing the many people that contribute to the development of Alaska, as we know it today.
If you like History, and want to know more about Alaska, and especially how the gold rush affected Alaska, this is a good book to use; it has a lot of historic photos as well that is placed strategically in the chapters for you to have a better grasp of the times. A must have for the history junky.

These books are so well researched and written. I’ve lived in Alaska since January of 2001 and was embarrassingly ignorant about the rich history of my new home. It’s so much fun reading the surprising and interesting history of this beautiful place. I highly recommend this collection.


General Reviews:

Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume One,” published last year, was an unexpected gem. The book was a compilation of historical essays about early Alaska, ranging from Native life in the pre-contact period through the era of Russian possession, and onward to the purchase of the territory by the United States and the gold rushes that ensued a few decades later.

Most of the book’s stories were compiled by the late Phyllis Downing Carlson, a near-lifelong resident of the state who published many of these tales in numerous publications. When she passed away in 1993 at the age of 84, her countless files fell into the hands of her niece, Laurel Downing Bill.

As luck would have it, Downing Bill also has a flair for writing and a passion for Alaskan history. As a memorial to her aunt and a gift to the rest of us, Downing Bill has been organizing these stories, adding her own details, exhaustively illustrating them with period photos, and publishing them in books which deserve to be snatched up by anyone with an interest in our state’s rich past.

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive written by Phyllis Downing Carlson and Laurel Downing Bill is a collection of short stories and photographs compiled together into a five volume book series introducing readers to the life’s research of both authors, including the history of Alaska’s first inhabitants through the Alaskan gold rush. The book tells of the lifestyle, adventures, and habitat of the Alaskan Natives, the Russian fur traders arriving in the 1700s, as well as the late 1800s civilization when Alaska became a part of the United States of America.

Phyllis Downing Carlson spent her entire life collecting stories and photographs of Alaska and it’s people throughout the years. Phyllis, or Aunt Phil as she is referred to, was a teacher in the 1930s for many years in a few different areas of Alaska. Thus, she began gaining the respect and friendship from native tribe chiefs and was able to obtain many stories and facts to help her research immensely. As Phyllis’ research ended, Laurel Downing Bill picked up where ‘Aunt Phil’ left off and continued gathering information, researching, and interviewing, to create this book’s collection of facts and stories. Come read and be intrigued by a fascinating timeline of events and by the people who shaped present day Alaska.

Combined with her Aunt Phil’s hard work and research, Laurel Downing Bill has created an intriguing series of historical facts and stories of Alaska’s Native people, land, past events and occurrences. The book is written much like a textbook with all the facts, only in a more conversational and inviting way. The pictures inserted with the text allow a reader to envision exactly what the authors speak of in the context. The layout, story, plot, and text were all displayed accurately and logically. The book is very insightful, educational and an enjoyable read. Aunt Phil’s Trunk is suited for readers who love history, Alaska, Native American/Eskimo heritage, and American history.
5 Stars

“I highly recommend this book for history buffs and anyone wanting to know more about Alaska’s heritage.”

Picking up where her aunt, Phyllis Downing Carlson (Aunt Phil), a respected and dedicated historian of Alaska, left off, Laurel Downing Bill has compiled a comprehensive account of Alaska’s history. Combining the research of her late aunt and her own extensive research, Bill’s book, Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One, discusses the history of Alaska starting with the first inhabitants of the land through the Alaskan gold rushes. With rich details, a comfortable and inviting writing style, and countless supplementary photographs, drawings, and maps, the story of Alaska is brought to life.

From the title itself, Aunt Phil’s Trunk, readers can tell that they have picked up a history book that is a little different than most. This is not a stuffy tome of text that drones on about inconsequential details or in lofty speech that only a scholar can appreciate. Instead, Aunt Phil’s Trunk succeeds in being highly educational and informative while still being an entertaining and enjoyable read. It contains within its pages a conversational tone that delivers fascinating accounts of Alaska’s rich history. I never really considered myself overly interested in the history of Alaska, but I’m so glad that my curiosity got the better of me, and I picked up a copy of this book. If more history texts were written like this one, then I think there would be more interest in the topic.

I highly recommend this book for history buffs and anyone wanting to know more about Alaska’s heritage. I also believe that this book would be an excellent addition to high school classrooms, since it is such an easy, entertaining, and informative read. I’ll definitely be hanging on to this book, and I look forward into to delving into Phyllis Downing Carlson and Laurel Downing Bill’s volumes 2-5 of Aunt Phil’s Trunk as well.
June 14, 2014
5 Stars

“If you like reading historical novels, then you will appreciate these fascinating tales and rich heritage of Alaska … Laurel Downing Bill did a remarkable job writing this book and illustrating it with hundreds of historical photographs.”

If you like reading historical novels, then you will appreciate these fascinating tales and rich heritage of Alaska. Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive by Laurel Downing Bill explains how Alaska first came under Russian dominance. The greed for sealskins, pelts and other valuable commodities depleted the wildlife population. They also ill-treated the Alaska Natives, forcing them to work under inhumane conditions. Some of these stories were of the shamans who possessed healing powers. Alaska was the new frontier, undeveloped and filled with untapped prosperity for new settlers. Many countries sent naval ships on expeditions to claim a piece of this intriguing land. Another interesting historical account was how the U.S. government acquired Alaska from Russia.

Laurel Downing Bill did a remarkable job writing this book and illustrating it with hundreds of historical photographs. Her aunt, Phyllis Downing Carlson, was a respected historian who published many articles on Alaskan history. The author used these articles, along with her own notes and research, to compile this well documented book appropriately called Aunt Phil’s Trunk. I have read historical books on Alaska, but this is the first one that has given more in-depth information and recorded stories about explorers, Eskimos, missionaries, and other persons who all played significant roles in the development of one of the most important states of America. The book is unbiased in content and one that I found intriguing and knowledgeable, and I have learned a lot from reading this.
June 10, 2014
5 Stars

“I love the format that Laurel Downing Bill uses to tell the history of Alaska. I learned so much in reading this book and I truly never knew just how rich a history Alaska had and the stories are so nicely told… If you want to know something about beautiful rugged Alaska, give this one a try; you will enjoy it.”

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive by Laurel Downing Bill is a series of short stories and hundreds of photographs of historical note that go along with them. The first volume showcases the arrival of Alaska Natives thousands of years ago. There are stories that include the story of mighty shaman, mysterious petroglyphs and fierce battles against Russian fur traders, who arrived in the mid-1700s. Follow time through to 1867 when Alaska became part of the United States and Americans began steaming their way to the final American frontier, when gold sent people into a frenzy. Alaska is a state of legend with a colorful past and you can find it here.

I love history and I fully admit I am hooked on all the Alaska shows that are currently on TV, so when I got the chance to read this book I jumped at it. I love the format that Laurel Downing Bill uses to tell the history of Alaska. I learned so much in reading this book and I truly never knew just how rich a history Alaska had and the stories are so nicely told. You can tell that a lot of work and research went into this book and it is clearly a passion for Laurel Downing Bill. I am looking forward to reading more books in this series and I would give this book a big recommendation for history lovers. If you want to know something about beautiful rugged Alaska give this one a try; you will enjoy it.
June 7, 2014
5 Stars

“Anyone who thinks that history is dry, dead and boring should give this work a try and they’ll be quite pleasantly surprised. Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive is an enthralling adventure and is highly recommended.”

Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume One Bringing Alaska’s History Alive is a historical work co-written by Phyllis Downing Carlson and her niece, Laurel Downing Bill. Carlson was a teacher and author who amassed a lifetime’s worth of pictures, articles and stories about her beloved home state, Alaska. This 4-volume history has been compiled, edited and written by her niece. Volume 1 covers the early history of Alaska, starting from settlement of the first Asiatic travelers across the Bering land bridge. The volume describes the Russian expansion into Alaska, the purchase of Seward’s Folly by the United States and the subsequent gold rushes that made Alaska the stuff of dreams for adventure seekers. There’s an impressive stockpile of photographs that make this very much a pictorial history.

Phyllis Downing Carlson and her niece, Laurel Downing Bill’s pictorial history, Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume One Bringing Alaska’s History Alive does what it sets out to do – it really does bring Alaska’s history alive. I was enthralled by the stories and marveled at the photographs that are such an integral part of this work. The depth and extent of the research conducted by these authors is remarkable. I loved the descriptions and pictures of the earliest tribes, and the stories of how they lived and survived in this harsh environment. The gold rush stories are also superb, with accompanying pictures that make all the history one might have learned in school feel so much more complete and real. The images of prospectors hauling their supplies up icy heights are ones I won’t be forgetting any time soon, but my favorite story of all is that of Reindeer Mary. Also, at the end of the book is a marvelous bibliography filled with an impressive amount of sources. Anyone who thinks that history is dry, dead and boring should give this work a try and they’ll be quite pleasantly surprised. Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume One: Bringing Alaska’s History Alive is an enthralling adventure and is highly recommended.
June 5, 2014
5 Stars

“Laurel Bill has a way with words that made me want to keep on reading and makes me want to read the other books in the series. The amazing photographs were a wonderful addition and made the stories seem even more real. Praise to Laurel Bill for a fantastic journey, one I want to continue.”

Aunt Phil’s Trunk by Laurel Downing Bill is a historical journey through Alaska. It tells of the adventurers that shaped Alaska into what it is today and of the Eskimos, the first people known to have inhabited Alaska. It talks of the famous Klondike Gold Rush and a connection Alaska has to the U.S. Civil War. It is the first part of a history gathered by two women, through research and interviews, through hard work and perseverance. It answers a lot of questions and it raises many others that remain unanswered to this day. These are questions that are perhaps best left unanswered as they may change the way we see Alaska. Join us as we start our voyage, the first leg of our journey through a barren and beautiful country with a history as rich as that of any other old world country.

Aunt Phil’s Trunk by Laurel Downing Bill was a fascinating read, a real insight into the one place I want to visit. It is a bit of an eye-opener and the book has been written in a wonderfully narrative way that makes you feel as though you have been transported there. Laurel Bill has a way with words that made me want to keep on reading and makes me want to read the other books in the series. The amazing photographs were a wonderful addition and made the stories seem even more real. Praise to Laurel Bill for a fantastic journey, one I want to continue.
June 5, 2014
5 Stars