You may find a little bit of the background of Chisana and Pioneer Outfitters interesting after hearing me speak of the fundraiser Stand for the Man in Black. There is so much to share with you why Alaska, Chisana, Pioneer Outfitters and Master Guide Terry Overly who is the Man in Black, deserves your attention, consideration, prayers and support.
The biggest reason of all is the heart of the matter. He cares. Master Guide Terry Overly cares. He cares for us all, his Team, certainly. But he also cares for those he doesn’t know, those that come to Chisana to pursue their dreams, he cares about someone who he greets at the store in town, he cares about people on the other side of the world, as humanity makes us all brothers and sisters.
Please allow me to share with you a little about Chisana and the beginning of Pioneer Outfitters, almost a century ago.
“Shushanna” or Tsetsaan’ Na’ ~ literally, copper river or red river. “Shushanna” was the spelling of Chisana before the “powers that be” decided to map the area, and for some unknown reason (that couldn’t possibly make sense!) change the spelling of our home.
Copper mining inspired some of the early prospectors to travel to the land that is now Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve, but it was the discovery of gold in Chisana (pronounced “Shoo-shana”) that began the last great gold rush in Alaska.
The Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve hosts thousands of tourists and visitors each year, who come to see this magnificently beautiful National Park. The Wrangell St. Elias is our Nation’s largest National Park. In 1978, it was designated a National Monument, in 1979, it was designated a World Heritage Site and in 1980 it was designated National Park and Preserve.
In 1913, thousands of stampeders made the treacherous journey through rugged country by whatever means possible to reach the new found mining district. Chisana soon became known as “the largest log cabin town in the world.” This was a short boom, only lasting a few years, but an important part of the history of this area.
Nestled in a remote valley between the Nutzotin and Wrangell Mountains, the Chisana mining district provides visitors with a unique glimpse of Alaska’s gold rush era. Unlike many better known and more accessible regions, this area retains extensive evidence of its early mining use, including the deteriorating remains of two towns; numerous tent camps, various water diversion and delivery systems; a full range of hand, hydraulic, and mechanical mining operations; and a well-developed transportation network.
The Wrangell St. Elias is over 20,000 square miles, over 9,000 acres of which are pure undisturbed wilderness. Snow capped peaks climbing over 18,000 feet, rich, lush, green valley’s alive with over 1000 different flora and fauna types with the many colors of wild flowers to add dimension and depth to the overall beauty of the vast arctic tundra, 48 mammals ranging in size from the tiny shrew to the giant Alaska- Yukon moose, 239 different birds and so much more.
The greatest concentration of glaciers in North America, 25% of this vast Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve is covered by glacial ice. In addition, it has 60% of Alaska’s glacial ice. Incredible glaciers that you can explore as you walk across.
However, the vast majority of all the visitors and adventurers see only the south-west side of this tremendously vast Park. The many tourist facilities that are available as well as the road system in much of that area make access so easy. Very few tourists or adventurers ever get to see or experience the north-east side of the glacial divide that separates the south-west Wrangell’s from the north-east Wrangell’s and the incredible Nutzotin Mountains that extend all the way to the Canadian border. This is Pioneer Outfitters’ country.
Pioneer Outfitters was founded in 1924. Chisana is hidden deep within the Wrangell Mountains and is only accessible by air. It was once the largest log cabin settlement in the state and the site of the last historic gold rush. Old log cabins, gold rush artifacts and flumes, remains of an era gone by are locked in this land for ever.
The world is changing and has been changing for a long time. We here, at Pioneer Outfitters in Chisana, especially those that have been here for a long time know that not everything changes and we would like to share that with you.
Pioneer Outfitters has made its living as horse- outfitters from it’s’ birth. Taking those generations of living in this enormous wilderness and using them to show you all there is to be seen and to help you safely experience all the wonders it has to offer.
Since 1924…When Canadian and Alaskan frontiersmen Lou Anderton & Co. started Pioneer Outfitters with horse trips to the Bonanza Creek to pan for gold and sightseeing and Spring Bear Hunts, they couldn’t have known the legacy they were building.
Bud Hickethier, Lou’s partner took over in 1957, and Lou Anderton passed away in late 1959. Bud Hickethier became Pioneer Outfitters. Bud met Elizabeth Overly in 1960 and the next chapter began. Elizabeth was Alaska’s first female licensed Registered Guide. Terry learned from them and worked with his mother and Bud to build Pioneer Outfitters into something more.
Elizabeth decided to move away from Alaska, turning to Terry for Pioneer Outfitters’ future. From the time Terry’s mother and Bud talked to him at work one day, at a dairy in Palmer, into coming to see Chisana and to live and work with them, it has been his home. After listening to the old timers sitting around Chistochina Lodge, listening to the “Mountain Monarchs”, Guides, like Bill Ellis, Ken Oldham and Ron Hays and more. Listening to them speak of and about guiding and horses and clients, Terry was 15 years old.
Pioneer Outfitters has been home to a lot of people over the years, Terry raised his family there, guides that have lived there year round (for 1, 2, some for up to 8 and 16 years), my own children (15 and 7 years old) have never known any other home. The trainees that come to us, some even fresh from high school, live here with us for 1- 3 years each, some from lifetimes of service in the military, some looking for the peace and healing that comes from the wilderness, space, silence and acceptance they are so in need of.
From the last Historic gold rush, to being in the Nation’s largest, most beautiful Park, from the history of the buildings that are still being used today and shoot-outs that took place in them and around them in a time long gone. Natives that were here through it all, one of whom is Terry’s own blood brother, Gillam Joe, who, it is repeated, was sold for a bottle of whiskey and $10.00 as an infant. The stories of the “Man in Black” have created the legend that surrounds Pioneer Outfitters and Terry Overly’s Guides.
Stand for the Man in Black is a fundraiser with a goal of $250,000.00 to replace the airplane that pumps the blood for the heart of Chisana. Without this, not only will Chisana loose it’s own heart in Pioneer Outfitters but Alaska and the world itself will loose the living history that is Alaska.
Please help us to Stand for the Man in Black and for each other. Donate if you can, it matters. But, most importantly, help me to spread the word to the world that The Man in Black needs the help and support of each person, to become whole again and to be ready to serve as we were meant to serve.