Mosquitoes – A Story from An Alaskan Pioneer
by Gerrit “Heinie” Snider
The following story is from Heinie Snider’s book, Centennial – 100 Stories of Alaska, published in 1966 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the United State’s purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Everyone can appreciate a good mosquito killing story, especially in Alaska…
Last Sunday we had a really warm day. Our thermometer showed 84 degrees Fahrenheit, and almost everyone we met was complaining about the heat and the pesky mosquitoes. Mosquitoes, with this cloudy and rainy weather, have been bad, but not as bad as they used to be, at least in this part of Alaska. Many summers we worked on the Alaska Railroad with a mosquito net over our hats, and on our hands canvas gloves. We kept smudges burning, and as the present repellents were unknown, we smeared our faces with a mixture of Vaseline and creoline. At night the baby slept under a net, and the cow was dressed in a burlap gown. We know of at least one man who cut his wrists and died in the Cache creek swamps, driven crazy by the flies.
Before the writer came to Alaska, he became acquainted with mosquitoes in German Southwest Africa and in Argentina on the Rio de la Plata. Some of these mosquitoes spread malaria and other diseases. While I do not know if our mosquitoes are carriers, they surely give us a bad time by drilling a hole in our skins to suck blood (only the female doing the dirty work). Most of our contacts with these pests are detrimental to our sense of fair play and the English language suffers immensely thereby.
One of the very best prospectors who panned on the tributaries of the Yukon or drove a pick in the hard rock of Willow Creek was a gold miner by the name of Buck Sparling. When not prospecting he was chief cook at the Lucky Shot mine, but as soon as the snow was gone, Buck was somewhere in the hills.
Once, about 1920, I met Buck in Anchorage.
“Well,” I said, “I thought you were going to prospect in the Cache Creek country.”
“I was,” he replied, and informed me that the mosquitoes drove him out.
“Have you seen the new invention, some kind of dope to kill mosquitoes?” I asked, “No? Well let’s go to the store.”
I asked the manager to show us how a flit gun works. Taking the gun and spying a fly on the window, he aimed, and, puff, a dead fly on the floor.
Buck scratched his cranium, for an idea was forming in his upper story. He bought a flit gun and a couple of gallons of flit, and set out for the hills and creeks of the Cache Creek country.
Less than a week later, when the train stopped in Wasilla, who should step off the platform but my friend Buck.
After a handshake and salutations, I said, “What brings you here?”
He took me to one side, and said, “You remember when I bought that flit stuff? Well, my boy it worked! It worked.”
“When I walked through the swamp, the skeeters followed me by the millions. When I got into my tent and closed the flap, the noise they made sounded like an electric generator.” His blue eyes shone, and a big grin covered his bearded face.
“Here is where I come in! I started the flit gun, and puff-puff! It was raining dead mosquitoes. When there were no more skeeters, I opened the flap. ‘Come on in, boys!!’ I closed the flap again, and puff-puff! I killed them by the wholesale. Soon there were several inches of dead skeeters on the table. When I ran out of flit, I grabbed my sleeping bag, struck a match and burned the tent to the ground, watching till it was completely out. Yes, Heinie, I got even with a couple of mosquitoes, the sons of —–!”
If you enjoyed “Mosquitoes” check out “The Camp Robber – Superstition of Old Gold Miners in Alaska.”