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Hoodoo Island, renamed Evans Island in 1918 in honor of the US Navy Admiral 'Fighting Bob' Robley Evans, is where Port Ashton Lodge is located today.


Before the name change, superstitious mariners feared approaching Hoodoo island. The wary mariners thought that the island's name was associated with the African American spiritual practice of 'Black Magic' hoodoo. It was actually named after the natural rock formation hoodoos, which are tall, thin spires of rock formed by erosion. These pillars of rock can be seen jutting out from the ocean at various points off the shore of Evans. 


 Prior to the establishment of a herring saltery, only a few hopeful copper mining prospectors and fox farmers staked their claims on Hoodoo Island.


The nearest neighbors were the Alutiiq people of Chenega Island and miners at the Beatson Mine, a booming copper mine on Latouche Island.

“The ‘Hoodoo’ of ‘Hoodoo Island.’ (Port Ashton is on ‘Hoodoo Island.’)”.jpeg

Photograph courtesy of Charlie Burrow


Pictured: Ashton W. Thomas

Photograph courtesy of Franklin Thomas in the book 

Arctic Dance: The Mardy Murie Story by Bonnie Kreps and Charles Craighead


Ashton W. Thomas, a man of many titles and pursuits, initiated the development of Evans Island.

He was a captain, businessman, aspiring politician, pioneer, sheriff, canneryman, fisherman, father of an industry, and father of Franklin Thomas and Margaret Murie. 

Port Ashton is his namesake. 

Born in 1864 on Grand Manan Island, Canada, he first worked in the Atlantic fishing industry. As a young man in pursuit of adventure and better opportunities, he decided to move West, to the Pacific Ocean. His one true love was the sea, and though he traveled far and often, he never lived far from the coast. 

Over the course of his lifetime, he worked in the fishing industries of Nova Scotia, the San Juan Islands, Juneau, Ketchikan, Little Port Walter, Sitka, Prince William Sound, and Kodiak. To learn more about his travels in detail, click here.




In 1918, the Alaskan salmon and halibut fishing industries were thriving, but Captain Ashton W. Thomas wanted to develop a new Alaskan industry: the herring industry. World War I was interfering with the production & shipment of Scotch-cure herring from the North Sea, and the US market demanded a supply. Alaskan herring had its big break.

That year, with a combined capital stock of $30,000, Ashton constructed a new herring saltery and salmon canning plant with his brother, Ellery, and his son, Franklin, on Hoodoo Island in Prince William Sound. The new company was named 'The Franklin Packing Company' after his son. 

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Franklin Packing Company on Evans Island, May 22, 1919. 

Photograph courtesy of Charlie Burrow. 

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Margaret 'Mardy' Thomas Murie with dog


Ashton W. Thomas's daughter, Margaret 'Mardy' Thomas, was born in 1902 to him and his second wife, Minnie Eva Fraser. Mardy spent the first five years of her early life in Juneau with her parents and half-brother, Franklin, (from Ashton's first marriage, to Katie Thornton of Anacortes, WA). Then, her parents divorced, and her mother moved them back to Seattle. Her mother, Minnie, remarried in 1910 to Louis Gillette, deputy U.S. Attorney for the Alaska Territory. His work moved them to Fairbanks, where Mardy grew up. 

In the summer of 1918, at only 15 years old, Mardy was sent on an exciting trip down to Prince William Sound to reacquaint herself with her father and half-brother and get a taste of the cannery life. The trip south to Evans Island was an adventure all in its own: a 400+ mile journey by horse-drawn sleigh on the Valdez Trail, dog-sled, and steamship. She wrote about the trip in her book, Two in the Far North. 


In 1920, she returned to Franklin Packing Company, but this time, to work, as storekeeper.


Read more about her adventure in this article she penned for the Alaska Magazine in 1980:

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First Annual Picnic of Franklin Packing Co. at Ellrington Island on

June 30, 1918

Ashton Thomas pictured standing in the back center, Margaret to his left in the back center

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Workers arrived at Franklin Packing Co. (FPC) by steamship, as pictured above, which was the only way to reach Alaska at the time. FPC employed Norwegian fishermen, Scottish Scotch-cure herring technicians, American women herring 'chokers,' coopers, mechanics, cooks, and a few storekeepers. Their room, board, and passage were paid for by the company. The workers stayed in steam-heated rooms with electric lights and ate their meals in the communal mess hall. 

Mitch Spaeth, as featured under 'Key People,' was the storekeeper for the first couple of years. A spirited, witty young man, he wrote to family and friends back home, describing his long, 12-16 hour work-days and playfully complaining about the long list of job titles he held: 

'Doctor,' janitor, counter-jumper, dry-goods clerk, hardware clerk, assistant bookkeeper, soda clerk, mailman & more 


Mitch Spaeth (far left) in front of Franklin Packing Company Store with Jessie and George. Jessie was one of the gibbers/herring chokers that prepared herring for salt curing. George Hanson was an 11-year old kid that helped Mitch with the store.

Photograph courtesy of Charlie Burrow. 

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The women 'herring chokers' of Franklin Packing Company on a mug-up break. 

Mug-up was a traditional fisherman and canneryman's ritual observed three times a day. A whistle would blow, and the workers would break to enjoy a hot mug of hot chocolate or coffee and a snack. It most likely originated on the fishing boats. The fishing was often done at night until around 2 am, when the fisherman would gather and drink hot cocoa, and eat Norwegian toast, cheese and jam. 


Unlike most canneries at the time, Captain Thomas hired exclusively European and American workers. He chose to employ women to process the herring, a job traditionally done by Scottish women in Scotland, which was Alaska's main herring market competitor. 


The fishermen arrived at FPC before the rest of the workers. Mitch Spaeth reported to a friend via telegram that when the 20+ women filed off of the steamship at the beginning of the season, there was 'an epidemic of twisted necks' among the fishermen trying to get a look at the new arrivals. 

Clad in yellow oil aprons, the women 'herring chokers' would FLIP, SLASH, THROW the fish, gibbing the herring. 'Gibbing' consisted of thrusting a sharp, short-bladed knife into the neck of the herring, and with a deft flip removing the viscera, and at the same time removing the gills and gill-tips. The women were paid by the barrel, and a good gibber could fill a barrel in twenty-minutes. 



Ashton Thomas expanded his operation by taking the schooner Henry Wilson to Kodiak Island. The schooner became a floating saltery. His son, Franklin, captained the ship. His wife, Ida Alice Creviston Thomas, joined them. 

An old business partner, Lee H. Wakefield, invested in Port Ashton starting in 1919. Thomas had run the Little Port Walter herring saltery on Baranof Island with Wakefield up until 1917. Wakefield convinced Thomas to open a herring reduction plant at Port Ashton. 

Leif Buschmann, son of the founder of Petersburg, was superintendent at Franklin Packing Company this year.

Four-masted schooner “Henry Wilson” at Izhut Bay, Afognak Island, being used as a herring

Four-masted schooner “Henry Wilson” at Izhut Bay, Afognak Island, used as a herring saltery by Franklin Packing Company, summer 1922.


1923 July insane Captain Thomas

In July of 1923, Captain Thomas was declared 'of unsound mind' and institutionalized in an asylum at Sedro-Woolley, Washington. According to a news article from August 1923, Thomas had shown signs of being 'mentally unbalanced' some weeks prior at the Port Ashton cannery. 

Records recovered from the Sedro-Woolley asylum by Casey Gleason suggest that Thomas suffered from Cerebro-Spinal Syphilus, a bacterial infection that can remain latent for many years before causing major mental health problems. Thomas passed away in 1927, at the asylum.


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Inside the Cooper shop at Franklin Packing Company

Photograph courtesy of Michael Nore


Lee H. Wakefield assumed control of the Franklin Packing Company after Ashton Thomas was declared insane. In December 1926, he consolidated his fisheries and fishing packing plants into Wakefield Fisheries, valued at $999,000. This consolidation merged his Baranof Packing plant at Red Bluff Bay and the Franklin Packing Company (FPC). 

In 1929, Wakefield sold the FPC to the Alaska Pacific Salmon Corporation (APSC). He stayed on as a manager for the Port Ashton salmon cannery. August Buschmann, son of the founder of Petersburg and brother of Leif Buschmann, was an officer of the APSC. 



The Franklin Packing Company plant and salmon traps were sold to the Shepard Point Packing Group for $500,000. Port Ashton was one of the largest independent canneries in the Territory at the time. With this sale, Wakefield closed his career as a canneryman after 25 years in the business. 

In 1945, the other cannery under Shepard Point Packing Group's ownership, located at Shepard Point, near Cordova, burnt down. Thirty-five gill net boats and 135 skiffs were destroyed in the blaze. The Port Ashton Packing Company became their only asset. 



In 1957, the Port Ashton Packing Company was acquired by the Pacific American Fisheries (PAF), a powerful fishing conglomerate with headquarters in Bellingham, WA. The Alaska Packers Association of San Francisco and the PAF had a monopoly on Alaskan salmon. The cannery's usage and ownership of salmon traps had been largely unregulated since the early 1900s and the salmon population was going extinct. 

Alaskans were becoming increasingly agitated with the lax federal oversight and 'Outside' control of Alaskan fisheries. The fight for statehood intensified. 

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The main driving force behind the fight for statehood was the desire to abolish fish traps. Commercial fishing was the largest industry in the Territory, and Alaskans wanted the right regulate their own resources and control their own economy.


In 1959, statehood was granted. Fish traps were immediately abolished and the new Alaska Department of Fish & Game (ADF&G) was certified to take over fish management the very next year. Clarence 'Andy' Anderson, the first commissioner of the ADF&G, had actually worked at the Franklin Packing Company (FPC) in the 1920s. The thesis he wrote for his master's degree in fishery science in 1924 was on the methods of curing herring, which he had gained hands-on experience Scotch-curing at FPC. 

The ADF&G placed the power of regulation into the hands of local fishery managers and biologists. Fishing regulations were then set based on scientific data and research. New regulations continue to be established every year to ensure healthy salmon returns. 

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A Fish Trap Watchman. 

The watchman would live in a shack on top of the salmon traps for the season. Their main job was to prevent fish pirates from stealing from the traps.

Some watchmen were vigilant, but some were dishonest and would accept bribes to look the other way as fish pirate took salmon from the salmon trap nets. At times, fish pirates would hold the honest watchman at gunpoint while they stole the fish. 



Downtown Anchorage, the collapse of Fourth Avenue near C Street, due to a landslide caused by the earthquake. Before the shock, the sidewalk on the left was at street level with the one on the right.

On March 27, 1964, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake shook Alaska. Since it was winter, the only people at Port Ashton were the cannery caretakers. 


Waves of an unknown origin came only 2 minutes after the onset of the quake. Watchman Alfred Blindheim was trying to secure his skiff when waves overtook him and pulled him under. He was Port Ashton's one earthquake fatality. The postmistress and her son narrowly escaped drowning as well. Various vessels were beached or carried away and the land rose several feet. The Sandbergs, the cannery caretakers at Port Ashton, reported that the water levels looked lower the next day, as if "someone had pulled the plug."

The nearby native village of Chenega on Chenega Island tragically suffered the loss of roughly a third of its inhabitants (25 of 76 people). All but the school and one house were swept away as a 'wall of water 90 feet high' crashed into the shoreside village. It was theorized that the tsunami resulted from a giant part of a nearby glacier calving, triggered by the shaker.  The Sandbergs saw a huge ice floe in the channel outside Sawmill Bay the next day, and estimated that it "must have been two miles long."



According to the United States Postal Office records, the Port Ashton Post Office was officially discontinued on June 17 in 1974. However, by our estimates, Port Ashton Packing Company (PAPC) operations ceased in the late 1960s or the early 1970s. Charred pilings jutting out of the water in front of Port Ashton are evidence of the devastating fire that destroyed the mothballed cannery buildings. It is unclear if the fire was set intentionally

Of the 134 canneries constructed in the Alaskan territory between 1878 and 1950, sixty-five of them caught fire and burned to the ground. By the end of 1950, only 37 were still in operation.


From photos shared with us from Lonnie French, a 1966 past employee of PAPC, and some newspaper clippings from 1968, we know that the last owners of Port Ashton were the Copper River Co-op Co. The last printed mention of the Port Ashton Packing Company in newspapers was in 1973. It stated that the Coast Guard officials were preparing to select a contractor to remove an oil tank at Port Ashton that had been steadily leaking oil for nearly a year because the company was unable to.

Lonnie French 1966 Copper River Co-op



After the earthquake, the Chenega people were relocated to nearby communities of Tatitlek, Cordova and Anchorage. And then, in 1971, U.S. Congress enacted the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, granting the original residents of Chenega title to over 70,000 acres of land in Prince William Sound. 

It wasn't until 1984 that a group of former villagers were able to establish a new home for the Chenega people on Evans Island. The new village neighbored Port Ashton and the Armin F. Koernig salmon hatchery.

Village of Chenega on Evans Island



Disaster struck four minutes after midnight on March 24, 1989 when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. Eleven million gallons of oil spilled into previously pristine Alaskan waters, resulting in the largest environmental disaster in US history.


The spill affected more than 1,300 miles of shorelines, killed an estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs. Subsistence and commercial fishing were severely impacted as the salmon and herring populations dwindled, and they continue to be impacted today


The tides carried the slick black waters to Evans Island, threatening the AFK fish hatchery in Sawmill Bay, and the newly established village of Chenega. Today, there are several booms (large yellow floating physical barriers to oil) that line the mouth of Sawmill Bay that can prevent oil from seeping into the bay in the event of another spill. 


A clean-up worker rakes through crude oil, contained by floating booms off the waters of Prince William Sound.

John Gaps III/AP Photo



In 2004, the Talvi Families saw Port Ashton listed for sale and bought the property. 

They turned their wild dream of constructing a remote wildness lodge in Prince William Sound into a reality as they built Port Ashton Lodge. 

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