Alaska's Daughter: An Eskimo Memoir of the Early Twentieth Century

Alaska's Daughter: An Eskimo Memoir of the Early Twentieth Century

Alaska's Daughter: An Eskimo Memoir of the Early Twentieth Century

Alaska's Daughter: An Eskimo Memoir of the Early Twentieth Century


Elizabeth B. Pinson shares with us her memories of Alaska's emergence into a new and modern era, bearing witness to history in the early twentieth century as she recalls it. She draws us into her world as a young girl of mixed ethnicity, with a mother whose Eskimo family had resided on the Seward Peninsula for generations and a father of German heritage. Growing up in and near the tiny village of Teller on the Bering Strait, Elizabeth at the age of six, despite a harrowing, long midwinter sled ride to rescue her, lost both her legs to frostbite when her grandparents, with whom she was spending the winter in their traditional Eskimo home, died in the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Fitted with artificial legs financed by an eastern benefactor, Elizabeth kept journals of her struggles, triumphs, and adventures, recording her impressions of the changing world around her and experiences with the motley characters she met. These included Roald Amundsen, whose dirigible landed in Teller after crossing the Arctic Circle; the ill-fated 1921 British colonists of Wrangel Island in the Arctic; trading ship captains and crews; prospectors; doomed aviators; and native reindeer herders. Elizabeth moved on to boarding school, marriage, and the state of Washington, where she compiled her records into this memoir and where she lived until her death in 2006.


Bret Corrington

Once in a while, maybe only a few times in a lifetime, we stumble upon something truly unique and undeniably beautiful. I met Elizabeth B. Pinson, “Betty,” on a park bench in Seattle the summer of 2002. This was clearly one of those moments. Never before had I encountered a stronger embodiment of the human spirit, courage, and grace. At ninety years old, this half German, half Iñupiaq Eskimo from Teller, Alaska, held more life in her eyes than many a quarter her years. Though our encounter was brief, it would mark an important point in both our lives, and the beginning of a very special relationship. Because of it her manuscript fell into my hands.

Every year in August, a time in the Northwest when dark clouds seem most reluctant to blanket the skies, a reunion is held. This reunion is not centered on a family or graduating class; rather, it is centered on a town, the small but infamous town of Nome, Alaska. Since 1972, past and present residents of Nome have flocked to Woodland Park in Seattle’s Greenwood district for what has come to be known as the Nome Picnic. Nomeites, as we like to be called, mill from table to table filling paper plates from . . .

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