Honoring Our Scandinavian Ancestors
The name of Fred Christiansen’s boat told the story of his heritage. Aleut Viking. Fred’s grandmother, Alexandria (Sasha) Kelly Christiansen, was a Kodiak Island Native, at one time known as Aleut. Today the island’s indigenous people are commonly referred to as Alutiiq.
Fred’s grandfather, Rolfe (Nookin) Christiansen, sailed around the world from Norway. Like many of his fellow Scandinavian sailors, Rolfe decided to drop anchor permanently on Kodiak Island. He married Sasha; they raised many children. Most of their sons became fishermen.
It’s not hard to see why the Scandinavians decided to stay here. Kodiak Island bays and rocky mountains reminded them of their beloved Norway and Sweden. There were scenes that were also similar to Denmark.
But I think the attraction went beyond the geographical.
These Viking descendants were living out the adventures of their forefathers. They adapted to a new culture; they continued to battle the sea as they fished its waters. Here are a few of the heroic, adventuresome people who forged a legacy on Kodiak Island. They bring remarkable stories and examples of courage and determination. Their descendants continue to call Kodiak home.
Chris Magnusen was from Larvik, Norway. He was a cabin boy at age 14 when he sailed to the United States from Norway.
Chris enlisted in the Coast Guard and worked on the revenue cutter, the Manning, which evacuated residents from Kodiak during the 1912 Mount Katmai eruption. He married Margaret Mahle of Kodiak and became a commercial fisherman. Chris also skippered tenders for Kadiak Fisheries and Alaska Packers Association. George and his brother, Robert, worked with him.
Robert drowned in a skiff accident at Chignik Lagoon.
Chris and George were part of a War effort to lay mine fields near the channel in order to keep Japanese submarines.
Chris died while working on a fishing boat that was commissioned by the government during World War II.
Hans Olsen left the farming community of Sigersted, Denmark, at age 18 and took to the sea. He traveled in a four-masted sailing barque, hauling freight to ports around the world. He jumped ship in Boston; went to New York and made his way to Minnesota where he and a fellow Dane worked on farm managed by a cantankerous Norwegian boss. When the boss hollered at them (most likely in his own language,) the Danes thrust their pitchforks at him and jumped a freight train heading west to the “booming city” of Seattle.
Not knowing exactly what he was getting into, Hans joined the Coast Guard. He was assigned to the cutter, Unalga, a lighthouse tender serving the Bering Sea and Aleutians. Honorably discharged in 1923, Hans got off the ship in Kodiak. He met Gladys Gregorioff, whom he would later marry. But first he had more adventures to engage in. He fished in Southeast Alaska, worked as an engineer on a tug boat and finally returned to Kodiak where he found employment with Kadiak Fisheries, working on tenders, pile drivers and tending fish traps. Hans was one of four men who scouted out the Kadiak Fisheries site of Port Bailey. He helped build the cannery and re-build it after it was destroyed by fire. Hans also owned a gillnet site and commercial fishing vessel.
In 1932 he married Gladys Gregorioff in Afognak. The couple moved to Poulsbo, Washington in 1969, six years before his death.
Born in Norgard, Finland, John Norton sailed to America at age 16 to escape the poverty and hardships of his native Finland.
When he got to New York he tried to join the Navy, but was turned down because of his age.
Even though John didn’t sail on a Navy vessel, he got to travel to many ports in the world. He sailed around the Cape Horn and then got a job on a lumber schooner that sailed up the West Coast of the United States.
Next John became a crewman on a sealing schooner which headed for Alaska.
In April of 1893 John landed on Woody Island across the channel from the town of Kodiak.
John was employed as a otter hunter, earning 15 dollars a month. The Natives, who hunted in kayaks using bow and arrows, got only five dollars a month.
John Norton followed the example of many fellow Scandinavian immigrants. He married an island girl.
Anton Jorgenus Larsen was born in Trondheim, Norway.
He traveled extensively in sailing ships, worked on the Panama Canal, the Valdez Bridge, the Alaska Railroad and Alaska Commercial Company. Anton came to Kodiak on The 76, along with other Norwegians Otto Mahle, Albert Torsen, Oscar Krockstad and Black Larsen.
He skippered boats for Kadiak Fisheries and Alaska Packers in Uyak. Anton married Jenny Pestrikoff Meleshkin, from Ouzinkie and they had two children, Sarah and John, before Jenny died of consumption (tuberculosis).
Anton traded a sailboat to his father-in-law, “Old Man” Pestrikoff, for what would later be called Anton Larsen Island, a trade prompted by his cows eating laundry off the clotheslines while he lived in Ouzinkie.
Anton later married Olga Naumoff from Afognak in 1904, and they had four children, Laura Margaret (1905-1995), Martha Ingaborg (1907-1933), Lawrence (1908-1922), and Mary (1911-1914). Anton was a charter member of the Kodiak chapter of the Pioneers of Alaska. He developed a commercial farm on Anton Larsen Island, producing beef, dairy and vegetables which he sold in Kodiak. He also fished around Kodiak and in Bristol Bay.
Anton initiated legislation requiring boats to have compasses after his daughter Sarah and others were lost at Mill Bay Rocks when she was coming to Ben Kraft’s wedding by boat to be a bride’s maid. He petitioned the government to build a road to Anton Larsen Bay, and with a Road Commission representative walked the bear trail which would become Anton Larsen road after his death. He died of a heart attack on 8 Jan 1933, coming to Kodiak by boat from the island. His last words were “Tell everybody I said hello.” Anton’s funeral services were held at the Pioneers of Alaska Hall in Kodiak. He lies in the old American Cemetery in Kodiak.
OLE EDWARD OLSEN
Ole Edward Olsen was born in 1885 in Fredrikstad, Ostfold, Norway, one of five children. His father died in a boating accident when Ole was about six years old, making it difficult for his mother to provide for the family.
Ole left home at age 17 by ship and traveled all over the world. He entered America from Barbados on June 27, 1903 on the Barque Ruth. He was a fisherman, and worked on the East Coast around Savannah, Boston and New York.
On a dare from his ship-mates Ole tried out for and was offered on on-stage singing role on Broadway, which he declined. He crossed the country by railroad to be a deep sea fisherman in the Seattle and Ketchikan areas. It took five years to receive his American citizenship in March 1919.
He was really proud to be an American and was extremely patriotic throughout his life. He arrived in Kodiak on a government boat called the Ida, and within a few years married Laura Larsen, the daughter of his friend Anton Larsen. Ole and Laura raised five daughters, working in many jobs as a fisherman, running boats, long shoring, carpentering, and eventually retired as a civil service shipwright on the naval base. He belonged to the carpenter’s, longshoreman’s and fisherman’s unions. He drove the first car in Kodiak for O. Kraft and Son, delivering groceries and coal. He was an excellent carpenter, and a hard, hard worker. He had a terrific sense of humor, and was a wonderful husband and father. Ole died 4 March 1958 and he lies in the old Russian Cemetery in Kodiak.
HERMAN VON SCHEELE
Herman von Scheele left his homeland of Sweden and headed to New York. Then he traveled to Chicago where he delivered ice to homes. His ventures took him to the San Francisco winery owned by his brothers. Herman finally obeyed the impulse to go to Alaska. He worked as an Alaska Packers fisherman in the village of Karluk and eventually settled in Afognak, marrying Eulavia Gregorioff.
They started the first grocery store in the village and had 14 children.
Charles Madsen left his home in Denmark and established himself as a hunting guide in the Arctic.
Madsen was on his way north from Seattle on a sailing ship with a load of trade goods when the boat sprung a leak in the Gulf of Alaska.
He pulled into Kodiak and unloaded his wares. He rented the old Russian orphanage, behind the Orthodox church, and took his goods out to dry.
People started coming I and buying the goods. Charles opened up a general merchandise store in Kodiak.
He married Mary Metrokin, whose father, Walter, was a famous bear hunter.
When companies started drilling for oil near Kanatak on the Alaska Peninsula, Madsen moved his family over there and opened a store, trading post and post office.Returning to Kodiak, Charles continued running the family store and after Mary died he started the guiding business. In the late 30’s another business opportunity opened up for Madsen. Kodiak’s only hotel burned down, so Madsen turned rooms in his three-story house, into hotel rooms.
Eventually Madsen opened a curio store, selling ivory carvings, furs and other goods he bought up north.
Entrepreneur, businessman, trader, guide – all those titles, and more, could be slapped on the name Charles Madsen. But for many who are familiar with him, they most readily associate Madsen with his guiding.
ROLF (NOOKIN) CHRISTIANSEN AND ART HAAKANSON
Arthur Haakanson, and Rolf (Nookin) Christiansen, were young men when they left their home countries of Denmark and Norway. They met for the first time in New York, immediately taking a liking to each other. The boys wished they could travel together.
They reunited when their vessels ported in New Orleans and again in Capetown, South Africa.
After Haakanson jumped ship in San Francisco, he worked as a bartender at the renowned Barbary Coast, where he met many seafaring adventurers like himself. As he heard of stormy seas and fair winds, he told himself that he would get back on a ship once he earned enough money.
One night a familiar face showed up at the tavern. It was Rolph Christiansen, full of exciting tales about the ports he had visited since they last saw each other. By now the men began to wonder if they were destined to spend their lives together.
They both badly wanted to go to Alaska, that “Eldorado” to the far north.
Soon after their visit, Arthur got a job on the schooner, Hunter, which headed to Alaska for a commercial cod fishing trip. He was in the company of such men as Walter Kraft, W. J. Erskine, Julius Anderson and Nick Wolkoff, who would become important characters in Kodiak history.
Loaded up with cod, the Hunter, hit a reef near Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula. Another vessel transported the crew to Kodiak where they planned to catch a steamboat that would take them to Seattle. The boat had already left and wouldn’t return until spring.
During the long, hard winter, many in the crew decided that Kodiak Island would be the place to spend the rest of their lives.
Arthur ended up in Three Saints Bay, running a herring plant for Trinity Packing Company.
One late afternoon, he paddled his dory to the village of Old Harbor to attend a dance at the school. As soon as he pulled into the harbor, he got word that a schooner had just anchored up at the other end of the bay. Pretty soon the ship’s crew showed up in the village. One of the crewmen was Rolph Christiansen. They were so happy, they hugged each other.
Apparently the men hugged others than night too. At the dance they met their future wives, Alexandria (Sasha) Kelly and Wassalissa.
The couples were married in a double wedding at the Three Saints Orthodox Church.
Rolf Christiansen stayed in Old Harbor where he and Sasha raised 19 children.
Arthur Haakanson and his family moved to different parts of the archipelago, including Ouzinkie, where Arthur became a web mender.
Ed was born on Popov Island on the Alaska Peninsula to Norwegian immigrant, Chris Opheim,
Chris Opheim came from a little town in Norway called Opheim, which means “uphill,” Ed told me. His family name was Olsen, but he took the name of the village.
Chris married Katie Devine, an Alaska Native from the Alaska Peninsula.
At Balboa Bay, Chris Opheim built the family a sod house (also known as a barabara) which included a little kitchen and bedroom.
Chris had 15 cows which had been shipped to Balboa Bay from the village of Unga.
He ended up on homesteading at Sunny Cove on Spruce Island where he raised a herd of cows and goats.
Bertha Kvasnikoff bears the distinction of being the only woman immigrant that is honored in the Scandinavian Festival. She grew up in Bergen, Norway.
Her father came on a steamer to this country, working for a mining business in Montana.
When he made enough money, he sent for his family.
Bertha married Bill Kvasnikoff, a fisherman and trapper. They raised a family in Ninilchik and later moved to Kodiak.
Gus Skonberg, called an “easy going Swede” by his children, was a seafaring man. He started out as a cabin boy on a ship. He spent 10 years at sea, stopping at ports around the world, including Australia and South Africa.
He was a cod fisherman at the Shumigan Islands and finally came to Chignik to settle down.
As one of Gus’s sons said,, “Norwegians and Swedes had one thing in mind: go to Alaska and raise a family.” Gus and he was proof of that saying.
He was over 40 when he married Alice Anderson, who was 17 at the time. They had 14 children.
Gus was a pile driver for fish trap operations and boss of a beach gang at Chignik.
JOHN OSCAR NORRELL
John Oscar came to San Francisco from Sweden as a young man. He traveled to Alaska every summer to work in the canneries.
He first lived in the village of Afognak and then moved to Karluk where he married Daria, a Native from Uganik.
John Oscar trapped during the winter and worked on the beach gang in the summer as a straw boss –one who lays out the seine and tells the beach gang what to do.
Like many Scandinavian immigrants, adapted to his new country by learning English.
CARL JOHAN CHRISTENSEN
Carl Johan Christensen was raised in Stavangar, Norway. As a young man he settled in Karluk where he married Alice (Sasha) Noya.
Peter Julius Gustav Olsen was born in a village near Copenhagen, Denmark. He left home at age 16 and sailed to America as a merchant marine. He ended up in Prince William Sound and married a local Native girl, almost 20 years younger than he. They had 10 children. His nickname was Whiskey Pete, revealing his preference for beverages. His son, Pete Olsen, eventually settled in Kodiak with his wife, Nina of Afognak.
THURE (TOM) LEANDER JANSSON
Thure (Tom) Jansson (Johnson) was born July 3, 1896 in Nortbol Bjorkvik, Sweden. He married Annie Norrell of Karluk. He died July 3, 1959. His children are Virginia Abston, Tom, Roger and the late Jimmy Johnson.