CELIA HUNTER TALKS ABOUT
MARDY MURIE WITH AMY MAYER, AUGUST 1, 2001
MS. MAYER: I don’t know if you’ve come prepared with various [topics] but I was
wondering if you would want to maybe talk about Mardy Murie today?
MS. HUNTER: I could talk about Mardy Murie.
MS. MAYER: With it being her ninety-ninth birthday and all. . .
MS. HUNTER: Well, that’s an amazing thing. Mardie Murie is a long time friend. I
don’t know when I first met her. It was probably sometime after we started Camp
Denali in 1951-52. Because one of the people who was very influential in the Park was
Dr. Adolph “Ad” Murie, who was her brother-in-law. Ad and her half-sister, “Weesie”,
lived at Igloo Cabin, which is right next to the Igloo Campground, at about mile thirty out
in the Park. Ad was a very familiar figure. Not that he bothered to come to Camp Denali
very often, because Ad did not like people. He liked animals, and tourists were an
anathema to him. It was too bad, because I think Weesie would have loved to come out
and visit once in a while. But Ad just avoided us like the plague. He really didn’t hate
people, but just the “class tourista”, I think bothered him. Well, Mardy and Olaus
[Olaus Murie] had been in Alaska way back when. She graduated from college here in
1924, in about the first class that graduated. It was right after that when she went
trundling down the Yukon River, in one of the river steamers, to Aniak or something like
that. I have forgotten which town it was down there, where she was to meet Olaus, who
was out in the Kuskokwim. I think he was clear down in Hooper Bay or somewhere like
that. He had to make his way up to where she would arrive. They had made
arrangements to be married in a little church on the riverbank. Then, they were going on
the Koyukuk river steamer, well, it wasn’t a steamer it was a little boat, which would take
them up to Old Bettles. This is not Bettles where it is right now, but farther down the
river. After that, when they got some snow, and cold weather, they took off with two
dog teams and went up around Wiseman and different places up in the area which is now
Gates of the Artic National Park.
MS. MAYER: This was long before the Hall Road was in?
MS. HUNTER: Oh, there was nothing up there at all! You just went out with your
dogs. The two of them were alone. In fact, Mardy told this rather plaintive story about
how she was out in the wilds there, and Olaus had gone off to collect some Caribou
specimen. He was doing a Caribou study up there, and he needed the information he
would get from an animal. It got to be later, and later, and later, and she sat there and she
worried, and she was trying to figure out what she should do. How could she get herself
out of there? Could she run the dogs all by herself? All of these kinds of thoughts that a
new bride might have who was in a very unfamiliar setting.
MS. MAYER: That anyone might have in that setting?
MS. HUNTER: When Olaus came back, he found her in tears. He said, “What’s the
matter? Are you sick?” She said, “I was so worried!” And he said, “Now look, things
don’t happen right when you think they will. And things often take longer than I think.
So you’ll just have to get over that”. That was it. He was not very sympathetic. He
just said, “This is the way life is, and if you’re going to worry, that’s your problem”. He
didn’t do it that crudely, but she said that that was a real lesson to her. From then on, she
just kept her own counsel and figured that everything would be fine. And it always was.
MS. MAYER: It seems like that as life went on, of course the Muries left Alaska and
lived down in Wyoming for a long time; but what Mardy did continue to worry about has
always been Alaska, and Alaska’s wild places.
MS. HUNTER: You bet!
MS. MAYER: A lot of younger environmentalists now really look up to Mardy Murie,
but you were almost her contemporary: What kind of influence did she have on you?
MS. HUNTER: Not quite!
MS. MAYER: Well, you’re not ninety-nine!
MS. HUNTER: No. Well, I am closer to being her contemporary than you are, by far!
We always looked up to Mardy, because for so long, it was Olaus and Mardy. That
went right up until 1964 when Olaus died. Mardy was left alone, and she went back to
her house in Moose. They were living in Moose, Wyoming then, in this big log cabin that
she is still living in. She was ninety-nine on the eighteenth of August . Which was
Saturday I think. We sang “Happy Birthday” to her from the party over at Mary
Shield’s, and I talked to her on the phone. She’s not very verbal these days, but I
understood that she was there and she was listening and she was very happy to have
everybody wishing her a happy birthday. They did leave for Wyoming because Olaus
was given the job of studying the Elk down there. So they spent a lot of time down there.
She continued to take her kids with her out in the field, just like she had here in Alaska.
But they still were worried about the Artic National Wildlife Refuge and came back in
1956 to set up camp on the Sheenjek River with Brany Kessel and George Shaler and the
young man who was the photographer for them. [Ms. Hunter could not recall his name].
They spent the whole summer up on the Sheenjek trying to decide where the southern
boundary of the Refuge should be. They hadn’t really fastened that in place. It was
during that time that she came through Fairbanks and had meetings with people here with
people who remembered her from earlier days, and with the conservation community.
They were very supportive of what she and Olaus were doing. It was after that when we
founded the Alaska Conservation Society, which was the first statewide conservation
group here in Alaska.
MS. MAYER: So it was fettering our the boundaries for that original Artic National
Wildlife range that helped introduce the Fairbanks environmentalists to Mardy Murie in
MS. HUNTER: That’s right, because many of them had not had the opportunity to
know her earlier because she had left sometime in the early 1930’s when they went down
to Moose. Yes that’s true. We did then, get together then to give testimony before
Congress; Senator Bob Bartlett, who was not very sympathetic to us and our desire to
protect the Refuge, any more that Rykowski and Stevens are now. Presidential
Proclamation by Eisenhower’s Secretary of the Interior protected it. And that’s how the
Artic National Wildlife Refuge came into being. And it is still in being, and we’re going to
keep it there!
MS. MAYER: Celia thanks for coming in today.
MS. HUNTER: Your welcome.
MS. MAYER: That’s Celia Hunter, our “Fairbanks Pioneer”.
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