The Blue Parka Bandit

The “Blue Parka Bandit” had struck again. People chuckled over his latest exploit, although usually his holdups were no laughing matter. This time, however, Alaskans felt they had a good joke on Bishop Peter Trimble Rowe, a popular Episcopalian missionary who was in the last party robbed by the daring highwayman.

As always, the bandit’s mask and blue parka hid his face. He pointed a Winchester at his victims.

“Line up, put your pokes and valuables on the trail and mush on,” he ordered.

Bishop Rowe had no poke of gold, but he placed his little wad of money on the heap with the rest. Then he couldn’t resist chiding the bandit.

“Friend,” he asked in his gentle voice. “Is this the way you treat a minister of the gospel?”

“Are you a minister?” asked the man in the blue parka.

“I am Bishop Rowe of the Episcopal Church.”

“Oh,” said the highwayman in surprise. “Well, I’m pleased to meet you, Bishop. Of course I won’t rob you. Take your money back and take that poke with the shoestring on it, too. Why, damn it all, Bishop, I’m a member of your church!”

Excerpt Aunt Phil’s Trunk, Volume Two, 1900 to 1912

Amazon Reviews:

Laurel Downing Bill’s second volume of the fascinating history of Alaska, based on the research and photographs collected over many years by her aunt, Phyllis Downing Carlson, is even more exciting and gripping than the first book, and that’s saying a lot!

Whether on the grandest or most intimate of scales, these stories, lavishly illustrated with wonderfully preserved vintage photographs, touch the heart and push the imagination nearly to its limit. And yet these stories are true, and they are all the more awe-inspiring for it.

From the prospectors who endured soul-and-body-crushing hardships on the vast Alaska goldfields of the late 19th century, to the explorers of the 20th, who pitted themselves against the overwhelming challenges of the landscape simply for the sake of challenge, all had one thing in common: the determination to prevail against near impossible odds for the chance of fame, fortune, or glory.

One of the things that most astounded me in these accounts was the enormous independence and diversity of people who were drawn to Alaska during these years – not just the miners and adventurers and explorers and townspeople, but writers and artists as well. The vivid words of Jack London and Robert Service (The Shooting of Dan McGrew), the vibrant life in Eustace Paul Ziegler’s paintings – these brought the vast, rough, rugged – but also human – scope of Alaska to the rest of America, and eventually, to the world.

I was also amazed at how common it was for the hardy souls who made their way to Alaska to have traveled, and to continue to travel, vast distances. They crossed not only Alaska’s seemingly endless mountain wildernesses, but the length and breadth of the entire continent as well.

They came by boat, on foot, by dogsled, on mules or horses, by any means they could. They left, returned, moved on, and came back in mind-boggling treks. Wyatt Earp came with his wife from Tombstone, near the Mexican border, to Nome, then moved on to Los Angeles. Poet Robert Service traveled from Scotland to Nova Scotia to British Columbia to the Klondike, throwing in side treks up and down the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Alaska along the way – and all before he was in his mid-thirties. And this was but child’s play to those who sought to conquer the glacier-packed, oxygen-starved heights of Mt. St. Elias and Mt. McKinley (Denali).

This is just an amazing series, and author Laurel Downing Bill has related an incredible account in clear, forthright, logical style. She clarifies a chaotic history in a way that grips the imagination and draws the reader in. For all their awe-inspiring backdrops, these fascinating stories speak to us on a deeply human level. Highly recommended!

I read the first book of this series and LOVED IT! The second one only got better. A must have resource for anyone serious about the history of Alaska. Laurel Downing Bill brought the overview of this great state to the surface in a new light. Literature is a major factor in forming an insight to how things really were back in the 1900s. Not many books can cover what this author has. Making it informative and bringing it to a personal level, allowing the readers to live through their trials and errors is what caught my attention. Great job.

As this talented author digs yet again into Aunt Phil’s Trunk, we discover, in this volume, the continuing history of Alaska, in a far shorter period from the end of the nineteenth century to 1912.

True grit, and determination are the words which come to after having read this book. Its short stories tell of the true frontier spirit of these brave souls who came to Alaska from all over to try their fortune in the glorious gold-rush days. From the prospectors, to the vaudeville actors who came to entertain them, from the criminals and the lawmen to a volcanic eruption, the reader cannot fail to be entertained.

Through this very talented author, the true adventures in this harsh landscape is brought vividly to life, not only by the wonderful collection of stories but also by the incredible collection of hundreds of photographs which help to make this book so amazing.

I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review for a blog tour. Volume Two portrays the history of Alaska for a much shorter period, the end of the nineteenth century through the year 1912. Nevertheless, it packs quite a punch with more than 350 photographs and a saga of interesting characters and developments.

The Klondike Gold Rush brought the ongoing boundary dispute with Canada to a head. Stampeders from Canada walked freely across the border in an attempt to make their fortunes. Crime and robberies became rampart. Miners sometimes took justice into their own hands. One criminal was named “The Blue Parker Bandit.” A small group sailed from Seattle to steal one of the native totem poles for its city. Reportedly, Wyatt Earp and John Clum fled from Arizona to Alaska after the demise of Tombstone.

But as more settlers flooded the area and stayed, order needed to be restored. Leroy Napoleon McQuesten set up supply stations in the wilderness. Clum often traveled by mule and set up Post Offices. Frank Canton set up a court and became the first law officer. As towns sprung up and the area became more stable, the people demanded entertainment and culture. The Black Prince Boxer was listed as a popular attraction. The Monte Carlo Theater came to the town of Dawson. Poet Robert Service wrote his poem “The Call of the Wild.” Estace Ziegler painted scenes of Alaska’s rugged landscapes. The Iditarod trail was blazed;soon railroads and schools followed. Prosperity reigned until suddenly the Katmai Crater Volcano eruption created such a wasteland in 1912 that President Woodrow Wilson called it the largest national monument in the United States. As with volume one, these people and events are richly documented with photographs and drawings. Lots of changes were on the horizon which will be explored in volume three.

These books are highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Alaskan history, geography, and culture. Children age nine and above should be able to handle reading the text independently. All the volumes are a wonderful addition to the bookshelves of teachers, librarians, historians and the general reader. Well-written, comprehensive portrait of America’s forty-ninth state.

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!

This is the second book in the Alaska documentary series, the development of the vast land of Alaska continues; with all the different gold rush time periods from the early 1800’s until the early 1900’s carefully documented, and the landscape of Alaska that had evolved tremendously. In the beginning of the book we had the feud concerning the border between Alaska and Canada, which made for some interesting reading. At the end Canada won and the border was laid down as they wanted it.

A lot of information was given in the first book, but in this book a lot of missing detail is presented so the first book becomes more real as we meet the different people that had a lasting influence in the early years of development in Alaska. We see how a new country developed, and how the things that happened draw the good and the bad. All of a sudden authorities had to be appointed, and we see how law enforcement, police judges and the postman were added to the mixture.

We learn more about the people that used their positions, to steal the claims from the uninformed prospectors, with legal paperwork. Alaska became a country that was a haven for the outlaws running from America, but they were caught and brought to justice, in most occasions, immediately.

This volume has more detail, which fills the blank spots, and answers questions you maybe had when reading the first book.

Very well written and researched, I found this book highly informative. A resource for the history junky, filled with facts and photos that gives you a clear picture of Alaska’s history.

This is also a tribute to Phyllis Downing Carlson’s lifelong work by Laurel Bill. Showing her dedication to her cause, and to enrich us with the rich history of this fascinating country. Really a great book to be enjoyed.

The Alaska history stories in Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Two kept me spellbound and the historical photographs are amazing. I highly recommend this book.

Through this very talented author, the true adventures in this harsh landscape are brought vividly to life, not only by the wonderful collection of stories but also by the incredible collection of hundreds of photographs, which helps to make this book so amazing.

I just love knowing the history of my adopted home. Very well written and researched! This collection will go with me wherever I go.

General Reviews:

“After two enormously entertaining books with more than 700 pages between them, this series still hasn’t even made it much past 1913. With nearly a full century of history yet to be explored, we can all hope for many more volumes to come.”

Volume Two has arrived right on schedule, more or less continuing where the first book left off (although there is some overlap in the time period covered). And this edition is, if anything, better than the last. Where Volume One began and ended with a few stray stories that didn’t quite fit the flow of the overall book, most of Volume Two is tightly focused on how the territory went from a freewheeling frontier with little governmental oversight to being a true extension of the United States.

Downing Bill opens this volume with a summary of the first edition, adding a few new details in the process. This is followed by the book’s longest chapter, an account of early Fairbanks.

Our community, like any town of worth, was founded by a shyster. E.T. Barnette who recognized that supplying gold miners presented a more lucrative potential than the hard work of actually digging the ground in search of pay dirt. So in 1901 he finagled a ride aboard the riverboat Lavelle Young up the Tanana River, seeking to establish a trading post in the Interior. He was rather unceremoniously dumped on the shores of the Chena just in time to encounter Felix Pedro, a miner who had discovered “prospects” nearby. As quick as you can say “con artist” Barnette was building his new supply center and the town was born.

Downing Bill captures the essence of early boomtown Fairbanks with plenty of anecdotes and more than 40 photographs. Along the way she discusses the arrival of Judge James Wickersham, who helped civilize the new community and who established his offices here, assuring the town’s long-term viability. This leads into the next major portion of the book, which explores the development of law and order in a territory not known for either.

Early Alaskans were generally left to fend for themselves, and vigilante justice was far from rare. The situation was hardly improved by the arrival in Nome of the controversial sheriff Wyatt Earp, still running from the aftermath of the famous OK Corral shootout. Earp set up shop as a saloon keeper for a few seasons and also continued to fancy himself a lawman, much to the consternation of Nome’s residents.

Somewhat more successful were Frank Canton, the first officer of the peace in the Interior, and Capt. Michael Healy, who plied the waters off coastal Alaska, dispensing justice and encountering his own share of difficulties.

It was Wickersham who ultimately brought things under a semblance of control. Appointed to the territory in 1900, he cleaned up the cronyism that infested the legal system in Nome and then established a federal building and courthouse in Fairbanks.

Alaska had plenty of criminals about, and we learn here of claim jumpers, thieves, pirates, and murderers, including Robert Stroud, better known as the Birdman of Alcatraz, who was originally imprisoned for a Juneau killing.

Crime in the territory could also be more humorous in nature, and Downing Bill provides several examples including this one: “Dog teams routinely carried several hundred thousand dollars in gold on the trail, but there was only one dog team robbery, according to “Gold Fever in the North” editors Darcy Ellington and Angela Tripp. William Shermeier, owner of the Halfway Roadhouse, and a prostitute, known as Black Bear, got driver Bill Duffy drunk one night and stole $30,000 in cash from his sled. Shermeier went to jail, and Duffy married Black Bear.”

Those dog teams were also used to open up the territory for mail delivery. The establishment of postal routes, like the appointment of federal judges, was an important step toward solidifying the federal government’s presence in Alaska. The authors tell admiring stories of the efforts made by early postal workers to provide reliable delivery.

The book includes biographical sketches on such famous northerners as the poet Robert Service, artist Eustace Ziegler, and pioneer Arthur Harper. We learn that an 8-year-old Hoagy Carmichael entertained the residents of Nome with his piano playing. We read of the establishment of the towns of Seward, Valdez, and Cordova. The authors pay homage to the trappers, loggers, mushers, merchants, and mountain climbers who forged a life in the Last Frontier. And we get literally hundreds of pictures to help bring their stories alive.

All this and more can be found in “Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two.” After two enormously entertaining books with more than 700 pages between them, this series still hasn’t even made it much past 1913. With nearly a full century of history yet to be explored, we can all hope for many more volumes to come.
5 Stars

“Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two is a thought-provoking and informative book that will captivate both younger and older readers.”

Laurel Downing Bill continues her story about Alaska in the series called Aunt Phil’s Trunk in Volume Two. The period 1900 – 1912 were years, which brought significant changes in the development of Alaska. The contagious gold rush fever infected many prospectors who endured the savage cold while seeking a better future. While dedicated men toiled years searching for gold, others quickly gained prosperity providing goods and services to these miners. They included merchants, ferry captains and vaudeville entertainers. Towns rose where gold was found, and the introduction of the postal and railway systems helped form vital communication links. Judge James Wickersham was instrumental in creating Alaska’s judicial system, which was desperately needed as crime escalated. Other men with vision ventured further into the Yukon, which saw few white men. Their attempts to prove the Yukon stored riches paid off and prospectors soon settled there. Alaskan mountains attracted numerous daring climbers who wanted recognition for being the first to reach their icy peaks.

Laurel Downing Bill has documented another wonderful historical journey in this book filled with 350 fascinating photos to complement some of Alaska’s interesting historical facts and stories. Her family was a part of this rich heritage as they were early prospectors. The poet and artist, Robert Service lived here, capturing its beauty through poetry and paintings. I found the assorted stories interesting, but thought provoking, too. Politicians displayed their negative and positive influences in Alaska’s development. Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two is a thought-provoking and informative book that will captivate both younger and older readers.
5 Stars

“Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Two by Laurel Downing Bill truly does bring Alaska’s history alive. Packed full of stories – all of which are true accounts – and accompanied by hundreds of amazing photographs, this is a book that no one could fail to enjoy.”

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Two – Bringing Alaska’s History Alive by Laurel Downing Bill is a continuation of a series of books that detail the history of Alaska. Running from 1900 to 1912, Volume 2 covers an incredible amount of history. Following on from the great Gold Rush, this account follows the Vaudeville period, of how the actors spent their time entertaining the gold miners. Stories include those of the railway men who used guns to settle their disputes, early accounts of the criminals of Alaska and how the lawmen dealt with them – and of how, sometimes, the criminals were in fact those who were supposed to be protecting the law! It tells the story of how the mail route was built, of the Iditarod Trail, which is still used to this day, and it ends with a massive volcanic eruption in 1912 – the eruption that was responsible for the Valley of 10,000 Smokes.

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume Two by Laurel Downing Bill truly does bring Alaska’s history alive. Packed full of stories – all of which are true accounts – and accompanied by hundreds of amazing photographs, this is a book that no one could fail to enjoy. I am learning so much about this great country through this series of books and all of it just makes me want to visit Alaska even more than I did before. Laurel Downing Bill has done a wonderful job of pulling all this information together and bringing it to us in such a fascinating and enthralling way. I can’t wait for the next installment!
5 Stars

“Bill and Carlson really do bring Alaska’s History alive in Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two and it’s a joy to experience. Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two of the Bringing Alaska’s History Alive Series is highly recommended.”

Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two continues the Bringing Alaska’s History Alive Series written by Phyllis Downing Carlson and her niece, Laurel Downing Bill. This volume covers much of the exploration and resource development that took place in Alaska during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It expands the first volume’s discussion of the fur trade and the gold rush, and the rise of Alaska’s cities to accommodate them, into an exploration of the development of Alaska’s other natural resources: coal, copper, timber and even rubies. Fans of Western folklore and the gunfights at the OK Corral will enjoy Carlson and Bill’s coverage of Wyatt Earp and the development of Alaska’s law enforcement and judicial system. Throughout the work, the reader will find dozens of photographs, making each step in this pictorial history come alive.

History, geography, true tales of adventure, obsession, action and adventure — Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two of the Bringing Alaska’s History Alive Series has it all. Author Laurel Downing Bill had me spellbound as I read the stories and studied the maps and experienced vicariously the hardships and the excitement of exploration through the incredible pictures that accompany the text. My favorite sections cover the establishment of the reindeer herds, the development of the Iditarod Trail and the early mountaineering efforts to summit Mount St. Elias and Denali, but I’d be hard pressed to name a section of Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two that didn’t make me want to read more and share a few of the really good bits with my friends. Bill and Carlson really do bring Alaska’s History alive in Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two and it’s a joy to experience. Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two of the Bringing Alaska’s History Alive Series is highly recommended.

Book 2 is everything I thought it would be, based on book 1, and a little more. An excellent read!
5 Stars

“I think anyone who has even a passing interest in Alaska or history will fall in love with this series the way I have. A high recommendation for the second volume in the Aunt Phil’s Trunk Bringing Alaska History alive series.”

Aunt Phil’s Trunk: Volume Two Bringing Alaska’s History Alive by Laurel Downing Bill is the second in the four-book series that delves into the rich and deep history of Alaska. Volume two takes us into the new century, covering the history of Alaska from 1900-1912 and has another full array of stories and almost 350 photographs to go with them. This volume introduces us to vaudeville character actors who entertained gold-laden miners, and bring us into the way disputes were solved with shotguns in the days of Alaskan wilderness. These stories go right up through the volcanic eruption of 1912 that terrified everyone in the area.

This is another fantastic volume in the series and I found myself once again loving every single story that was shared. My personal favorite was that of Eustace Ziegler but every single one has value and adds to the book. You get a sense of Alaska and how diverse her people are and what they have gone through. Yes, Alaska is part of the United States, but it is so much more and the stories and history shared give you that deep look and show you its diversity and strength. Laurel Downing Bill has a talent for putting the stories and pictures together in a way that ensures the reader will get the most enjoyment out of the book. I think anyone who has even a passing interest in Alaska or history will fall in love with this series the way I have. A high recommendation for the second volume in the Bringing Alaska’s History alive series.
5 Stars

“I highly recommend Aunt Phil’s Trunk by Laurel Downing Bill. It is a fascinating read that is sure to enthrall both scholars and casual readers alike.”

The history of Alaska comes alive once more in Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume 2. Compiled from the countless notes and research done by her late aunt, Phyllis Downing Carlson, and her own painstaking researching, Laurel Downing Bill has once again created a fascinating account of Alaska’s history and the characters that made it the state it is today. Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume 2 starts out where Volume 1 left off, with the gold rush in Alaska, and continues through to the eruption of Katmai in 1912.

It is obvious that Laurel Downing Bill has channeled her aunt’s passion and love for Alaska. Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume 2 has a heart that other history texts lack. Her intrigue, interest, and even the humor she finds in the events that have formed the great state of Alaska are infectious. Residents of Alaska can take great pride in the grand accounts that can be found in this book, while those who have never been there can get a glimmer of the beauty and antiquity that lies within its lands. As I said before with the first volume of this collection, Bill’s text is far from boring or stuffy, like many history books that often never get farther than offering the blandest of facts. It is instead an amusing read that allows readers to learn as they are being entertained.

Bill’s book is chock full of first person accounts and photographs, which allows the imagination of the reader to rebuild the landscape. I often found myself smiling at the motley of characters that braved the harsh wintry lands in order to settle Alaska. Once again, I highly recommend Aunt Phil’s Trunk by Laurel Downing Bill. It is a fascinating read that is sure to enthrall both scholars and casual readers alike.
5 Stars

Aunt Phil’s Trunk Volume 2 tells the story of Alaska in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It includes stories from Phyllis Downing Carlson, who moved to Alaska in 1914, and was co-written by Laurel Downing Bill. From their efforts, readers get an in-depth look at what Alaska is like during the time period with stories of railways, the Alaskan entertainment industry, and the economic change due to the Gold Rush that occurred there. The historical context allows you to understand the transformation of Alaska’s rapid development. In fact, during the Gold Rush, people began to discover that the entertainment industry was as profitable as the gold industry, resulting in a surge in popularity of dancers, singers, wrestling matches and more. This in turn arguably created more wealth for those who ventured to Alaska and became entertainers there than those who went seeking to strike it rich and find gold. Indeed, it was easy for gold hunters to be misdirected, literally, down a wrong path. For example, there was an Alaskan newspaper hoax about how the Valdez Glacier trail was the best trail when, in truth, the weather conditions were so harsh that it spelled certain doom for anyone who used it. Can you imagine how difficult and dangerous it would’ve been to try and seek fortune in Alaska, only to get there and have newspapers there lie to you intentionally to make sure you never found your riches? Aunt Phil’s Trunk is full of stories about these kinds of problems that gold miners found waiting for them when they arrived in Alaska.
Perhaps the most important point to mention is the authenticity of this book. If you are interested in reading a book about the Gold Rush and want to find out what it was really like from those that actually experienced it, well, no problem here; Phyllis lived during that time period. This 300+ page read uses wonderful pictures along with her perspective to paint an accurate picture of what life really was like back then. I feel that for this reason, Aunt Phil’s Trunk has enormous value for researchers looking to get insight into that period. This was a very interesting and thorough read.
4 Stars