Story last updated at 7/18/2012 - 5:24 pm
Many of the islands in Southeast, and some in Prince William Sound, were used to raise foxes for their pelts during the 1920s and 1930s. One such island is Jackson Island, off the southern tip of Sukkwan Island near Hydaburg. The island's name honors Sheldon Jackson who had visited that part of Southeast many times. Jackson himself called the island "Norcross" in 1888.
Jim Smith applied for and acquired a fox farm permit for this island but must not have been serious about such a venture. In July 1923, before making any improvements, he sold his lease to J. W. Barnes. Barnes was on a year's accumulated leave of absence as the lighthouse keeper at Unimak Pass. H. M. Broadwell was Barnes' partner, and they were able to get the permit into their names on August 17, 1923. Immediately Barnes began work on necessary buildings. Undoubtedly his first projects were food storage sheds and the feeding stations around the island. Meanwhile Broadwell arranged to purchase, probably from other fox farms in Southeast, 18 pair of foxes. Later in August he and the animals arrived at the island.
Barnes didn't have long to enjoy his new enterprise, though he spent the winter on the island. In March 1924 he traveled South and soon passed away. Broadwell wasn't interested in being responsible for the entire operation. Consequently he sold his rights, the lease, and the boat Union Jack to S. J. Claridge of Portland, Ore., for $10,000.
Claridge incorporated and operated the fox farm under the name Oregon-Alaska Fur Farm and Trading Company, and he and his wife moved North to the remote island for the summer. Apparently the pair didn't relish the thought of a cold, windy, rainy winter at the fox farm. They hired a caretaker and his wife and returned to Portland.
On May 2, 1925 USFS ranger J. A. Thayer (for whom Thayer Lake on Admiralty Island is named) and another USFS employee, John J. Davis, stopped to examine the fox farm, called "Reynold's camp" in Thayer's report. They found the man and wife so sick they were unable to care for the foxes. The USFS vessel took the pair to Hydaburg for help. Thayer arranged with Jim Wallace to take over care of the foxes at Jackson Island.
Keeping caretakers, who would feed and harvest the foxes for any length of time, was very difficult for owners including Claridge. In 1926, he hired his next set of caretakers. S. B. Sandifer and his wife were to operate the fox farm and help with other operations Claridge intended to start on the island. They were promised a pay of $150 per month and that included $40 for an extra man to care for the foxes, some of which were in cages.
The feeding stations were in the woods along the shoreline. It was hoped this would entice the foxes to scavenge the beach for food. The stations, being in the woods, protected the foxes from eagles unless caught on the beach. The men used rowboats to circumnavigate the island, stopping at each station.
Claridge harbored grand ideas. He contemplated having Standard Oil Company or some other company put a fuel station on Jackson Island, presumably for trollers. He also thought about a store with groceries and supplies. When Claridge hired Sandifer, he told him to use the company boat to fish for salmon and that he was to mild cure or kipper. The processed fish would be sold, and the proceeds split 50-50. When he was not fishing, Sandifer and his helper were to care for the foxes and their pups.
However, in 1928, the two men had a disagreement after Claridge learned most of the foxes had vanished. Claridge insisted that there should be more foxes, but Sandifer said that people were poaching the foxes and that there had been 135 foxes and someone opened the doors to the pens. Claridge learned that Sandifer had been raising police dogs for sale, and he though the dogs scared the foxes, and they swam to other islands.
In September of that year, Claridge asked the Craig U.S. Marshal to search Sandifer's home on the island and seize any pelts and live foxes. Consequently Sandifer sued in Ketchikan's federal court saying that Claridge had his house wrongfully searched and his property seized. He insisted that the marshal had illegally taken 12 blue fox pelts and six live foxes. The live foxes were returned to the island because the Ketchikan court did not want to feed and care for the animals. The pelts could have been more problematic. The court records do not clarify if part of Sandifer's compensation was a share of the fox pelts.
Despite the accusations by both parties, the civil court case never was settled. With insufficient brood stock to repopulate the island, the farm was abandoned.
Broadwell probably made the most money of anyone connected with the farm when he sold the Jackson Island fox farm to Claridge.