The Sarkar Creek system produces four of the salmon species as we learned in last week's column. When the runs were plentiful, entrepreneurs arrived to harvest salmon and preserve them.
Southeast History: Saltery and cannery at Sarkar Cove 112112 OUTDOORS 1 Capital City Weekly The Sarkar Creek system produces four of the salmon species as we learned in last week's column. When the runs were plentiful, entrepreneurs arrived to harvest salmon and preserve them.

Photo courtesy of Pat Roppel The Dewyville cannery circa 1917-1919

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Story last updated at 11/21/2012 - 3:14 pm

Southeast History: Saltery and cannery at Sarkar Cove

The Sarkar Creek system produces four of the salmon species as we learned in last week's column. When the runs were plentiful, entrepreneurs arrived to harvest salmon and preserve them.

The first mention of a saltery in Sarkar Cove is that of Fred Henry Brockman. In 1897 he salted 45 barrels of whole salmon and 240 barrels of bellies, each barrel weighing 200 pounds. Bellies were cut from the salmon, and the remainder of the fish discarded. The practice of using only bellies was outlawed in 1908.

By 1900, Brockman's complex on the north shore of Sarkar Cove included a saltery building about 25 feet by 40 feet. It contained 14 tanks used for the steps that ensured a hard salt so the fish would not spoil. A warehouse of the same size was used to store the filled barrels. In a shop a skilled cooper shaped the barrel staves and tops and bottoms from logs. Then he bound them together with iron hoops. Brockman ran a small store where he kept a stock of goods to supply his crew with food, fishing gear, clothing, knives, etc. He and the white crew stayed in a 40-foot dwelling house. The Alaska Native crews lived in what one fisheries agent called a "small village."

The sockeyes were the staple of the nearby Klawock cannery. For years Brockman sold his freshly caught sockeyes and cohos to it. A tender picked up the fish on alternate days. In 1902, 57,500 pink salmon were taken. When processed, this produced 110 barrels of whole butterflied fish and 30 half-barrels of bellies (100 pounds). The estimated market value was $1,200. In later years he also packed the cohos.

Fishing took place at the mouth Sarkar Creek, with the fish taken by beach seines. This meant that one man rowed a skiff taking the net out to encircle fish and bringing the end back to the beach. The men pulled the net onto the beach and removed the salmon.

Brockman tried a floating trap, but he was quoted as saying "that it was a failure on account of the condition of the water." Perhaps this referred to the rapid outflow during low water. When a Federal assistant fisheries agent, John Coyle, visited in 1902 he found some trap piles still standing in the mouth of the creek. After being asked, Brockman removed them.

By 1903, Brockman had salteries at "Saheime, Saarcaar, Tokine, and Nakata." Because the timing of the run at each of these places was different, Brockman could operate at each site during one season.

Saheime is Sarheen or Camp Taylor and is a little cove south of Sarkar. Here he had a salt house 20 feet by 24 feet, a cooper shop, a warehouse that was 18 feet by 22 feet and a small house for "camping." As for Tokine, this creek flows to El Capitan Passage on the northeast coast of Kosciusko Island. I have not located what he built at that site. Nakata is undoubtedly Naukiti Creek, another pink salmon stream, near the town of Naukiti. Coyle was told by Brockman that Nakata was not completed in 1903, and he doubted he would finish it in time to use it that year. How many years he packed at these sites, except Sarkar, I have been unable to find.

At sometime he built a saltery in Devil Fish Bay, a bay north of Sarkar, where a large pink run returned. He sold the facility to W. A. Finn and C.W. Young, a Juneau store owner. They owned the sawmill at Shakan. Young was undoubtedly Finn's source of money. Finn operated it one year. In 1903, Coyle was led to believe the buildings had been destroyed.

The next year, 1904, E. F. Dickens with the U.S. Coast Survey arrived in Sarkar Cove to chart the water's depth. As mentioned last week, one of the crew members found "Deweyville" painted on a signboard over the door of the saltery. This is the first time I've found use of that name. The north side of Sarkar Cove still is called Deweyville by some locals.

Brockman continued to operate the Sarkar saltery for many years. In 1904 he valued his operation at $5,000 and paid $2,300 in wages. By that time he had equal numbers of Natives and Caucasians working for him. Every year the number of barrels differed. One year he only processed 20 barrels of cohos and 10 of pink bellies. One of his prime years was 1907 when he put up 589 barrels of salmon.

Not all was quiet at Sarkar. In March 1908, there was a drunken brawl that resulted in a shooting. Joe Lobert had a black eye and Perry Marwin (or Marvin) had two rifle wounds, one under the chin and one through his left hand. The latter may have been serious because he did not receive proper care for six days. The Ketchikan newspaper did not tell us what the dispute was over, or where the liquor came from.

Fred Brockman had a stroke sometime around 1913 and was in an almost helpless condition until he passed away on Feb. 14, 1915 at Deweyville. His remains were taken to Klawock for burial.

One footnote comes from a Ketchikan newspaper dated Dec. 1, 1915. Louis Olson had a saltery at Deweyville and reported that his pack of cohos was sold for $10 a barrel. I have found no mention of anyone operating a saltery at Deweyville again.

The site wasn't abandoned. R. L. Cole started a small cannery in 1917 to utilize the sockeye run Brockman usually sold to the Klawock or Shakan canneries. Cole had been in Wrangell as early as 1898 and became a trusted vessel captain handling the Klawock cannery steamers and the "Uncle Dan" mail boat. In 1911 he bought a store in Klawock and in 1912 was the post master.

It would be interesting to know why he decided to try his hand at commercially canning salmon. He had been around too many canneries not to realize the odds he faced. Perhaps Cole realized the abandoned buildings could be used for a small cannery, thus, saving an initial monetary outlay. Also, in 1917, the Klawock cannery remodeled, and he may have been able to buy used canning equipment.

Cole is most often listed as the sole proprietor at Deweyville, although W. J. Neill is mentioned as a possible partner. Cole, as manager, hired local Native fishermen. The Native women helped with processing. The first year Cole and his crew packed 885 cases, the second 1,361 and in 1919, 1,334 cases for a total of 3,680 cases in three years. Most canneries on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island packed twice that many cases in one day.

Unfortunately for Cole, 1917 was the largest sockeye salmon catch in Western Alaska up to that time. He was competing in that market. It was his bad luck to start his operation that year because 17 other new Southeast canneries started. Then in 1918, 17 additional more started in Southeast.

Cole abandoned that enterprise and went into partnership with Neill on the mail boat "Prince of Wales," eventually finishing his career as captain of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries vessels "Kittiwake" and "Teal." He passed away in Seattle in 1951. Cole Cove and Cole Island near Klawock still honor Roy Lee Cole.

When we've anchored in Sarkar, we've never gone ashore to see what is at the old site. No buildings stand, and the forest has covered any remains that haven't already been recovered as curios.

Pat Roppel is the author of numerous books about mining, fishing, and man's use of the land. She lives in Wrangell. She may be reached at patroppel@hotmail.com.