Blind Nick McNeil Wasilla Alaska
TWO BROTHERS

"Capt. Slivers" and "Blind Nick"
McNEIL

of Knik, Alaska



My  research of "Capt. Slivers" and "Blind Nick"
is far from finished. This is a
very rough edit of what I've found to date
2019



    coleen_mielke@hotmail.com


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Pre-1950, the Wasilla-Knik area had two colorful characters (literally) walking the crossroads of the valley; everyone seemed to know them. They were the McNeil brothers: "Blind Nick" and "Capt. Slivers".



"BLIND NICK" McNEIL

Nick McNeil, locally known as "Blind Nick", was born about 1880 and (according to the following newspaper article) lost his eyesight in 1928 at the age of 48. Probate papers say he died in 1953 at the age of 73. The following Anchorage newspaper article describes him quite well:

NICK OF WASILLA, BLIND FOR 20 YEARS,
 LEADS FULL LIFE AND FINDS IT INTERESTING


Anchorage Times
1948


"Icy roads or darkness do not keep 73 year old "Blind Nick" from making his almost daily trek to the little town of Wasilla from his cabin 3/4 of a mile down the road. With his trusty two sticks to guide him and creepers fitted over his shoe packs, "Blind Nick" walks the distance in half an hour with ease. He buys groceries in small quantities and carries them home in a pack on his back. In his cabin, where he lives alone, he cooks his own food on a wood heater, cuts kindling and packs water from a nearby well. Although blind for the last twenty years, his main diversion is walking around the countryside visiting his friends.

"Blind Nick" McNeil, a Native, was born in the Matanuska area and has lived all his life in this section of the country, living many years at Knik. For the past nine years, he has made his home near Wasilla.

A territorial pension takes care of Nick's modest needs, which he spends wisely, taking precautions to keep a well stocked wood pile during the winter months.  Always cheerful, he enjoys talking with strangers and has an unusual memory. When he cashes his pension check at the local store, he asks the storekeeper which is the twenty dollar bill, the ten, the five and the ones. He then rolls them carefully with the twenty inside, then a ten and a five with the ones on the outside. The next time he shops, he lays a bill on the counter and knows just what denomination it is.  Silver coins are very easy for him to distinguish.  

Several years ago, Nick often walked to Palmer, a distance of 12 miles. By counting the cross roads along the way, he knew just where he was going. One late afternoon, while returning from Palmer, he told how he missed a cross road because there was a car parked there.  He became lost and wandered around all night. Since that time, Nick confines his hikes to a four mile jaunt down the Old Knik Road to visit his friend of many years, Theodore Wasilla.  There he visits and spends the night, returning home the next day.

Nick has his own system for getting around, which no doubt takes experience and patience but the main thing is that it works.  He has various markers along the way: by the side of the road, and in front of his cabin, he has a stick marker and here he turns into the path which leads him home, which is about 100' off the road.  The Community Hall, a large log structure at the end of Wasilla's main street is one of his landmarks. A little further down, it is the telephone pole near the coffee shop.  From there on, there's nothing to it. He walks straight to the local store, from there, a telephone pole a few feet from the building, and the end of the sidewalk, act as guides.

When Nick makes his weekly visit to his friend Theodore, he walks straight from the telephone pole in front of the local store, down to the railroad tracks, about a hundred yards away, crosses the tracks and down the Old Knik Road.  Using sticks, the roadside ditch leads him down the highway.
 
Time is not all important in the life of "Blind Nick", but when he gets curious about the hour of day, he pulls out his watch from which the crystal has been removed, he feels the hand and he never misses."

(end of newspaper article)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

In 1950, "Blind Nick" narrowly escaped death when someone tried to run over
him and Annie (Stump)Stephan (his cousin) as they walked along Wasilla Fishhook Road
Anchorage Times 1950


Blind Man Steps Off Road To Miss Death

Two law enforcement agencies are carrying on a joint search today for a hit-and-run driver who fatally injured Annie Stephan, a 64 year old native woman, early Wednesday near Wasilla.  Mrs. Stephan, a member of a large and widely known clan, was killed when a speeding vehicle bore down on her blind companion, Nick McNeil.  Mrs. Stephan's neck was broken by the impact.  Her skull was fractured and she was badly cut.  McNeil, known in the area as "Blind Nick" heard the car or truck approaching and stepped off the road.  However, he was injured when Mrs. Stephan's body was hurled across the road with such force as to knock him down.  McNeil's shouts for help aroused the dead woman's children who were asleep in the Stephan cabin about 100 yards away.  The driver of the death vehicle, meanwhile left the scene.  McNeil was unable to tell whether the vehicle was a car or truck but told investigators that it was running without a muffler. On that slender clue, Deputy Marshal Bill Bouwens of Palmer and Patrolman Stanley Laird of the Highway Patrol have been trying to find the driver. The spot where the accident happened is about a mile north of Wasilla on a road known both as Willow Creek Road and as Fishhook Road. Funeral services were held for Mrs. Stephan at Knik.

(end of newspaper article)


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The following is an excerpt from a 2003 interview that I did with May Carter
who was the
U.S. Commissioner in Wasilla from 1944-1959.


"Blind Nick used to teach at the Eklutna School.  He was a very intelligent man and he spoke good English.  He was completely blind and he would make his way all over this valley.  He had sticks he carried so he could feel the edge of the road, people watched out for him. One time Nick had been drinking and he laid down in the middle of the road and someone ran over his leg and never stopped.  Somebody finally found him and took him to the hospital, fortunately they weren't broken but he was laid up for quite a while.  He had a cabin out of Wasilla about a mile out Fishhook."

(end of interview excerpt)


~~~

"BLIND NICK's"  BROTHER

Capt.  Alec  Slivers  McNeil / McNeal


"Blind Nick's" brother, Alec Slivers McNeil, more commonly known as "Capt. Slivers", was physically small but very strong and self reliant. Acording to his WWII military registration, he was born on 12/10/1886 in Matanuska, and was only 4' 8" tall and weighed 110 pounds. He had a humped back, a curved spine and a stiff right leg that gave him an exagerated limp as he walked around the valley.

According to Wayne Bouwens, son of Marshall Bill Bouwens, Slivers once ran a small freight boat between Knik and Anchorage and that is probably where he picked up the moniker of "Capt.".

Slivers was an industrious, hard working man, a jack of all trades. He delivered freight by dog team; he was an avid and very successful hunter; he chopped wood for people; he ran a trap line and was an excellent mechanic. He loved music and could often be found listening to the radio in Herning's general store in Wasilla. He lived in a small cabin one mile up Wasilla Fishhook Road and there were always friends and relatives living in (or around) his cabin. Today, that area is called Blind Nick Drive.


 

An early Valley resident, named Bruce Graham, used to give Slivers a ride when he spotted him walking along the road. Graham's son, Robert, wrote: "He moved steadily along the ditch's edge with his rolling gimpy gait. If you passed him on the gravel road and he caught your eye, he always seemed to be smiling. Whenever we found him going our way, Dad gave him a ride in our Model A pickup. It only took one trip to town in the front seat to realize that Slivers carried the aroma of his meager avocation as a trapper."

"Marshal Bill Bouwens took an interest in the general well being of the Dena'ina people that lived near Slivers little cabin and carried a large first aid kit [with him] that included the basics to treat major cuts, bruises and even broken bones. I was in town one weekend and spotted Slivers coming out of Koslosky's", Graham said. "Even from the street I could see a boil the size of an orange on the side of his neck. Bill Bouwens lanced the boil while Slivers sat on the tailgate of Bouwens truck and when he was done, he provided Slivers with a whole bottle of aspirin for pain and fever."

A few years later, the Graham family spotted Slivers walking with crutches and a homemade peg leg. They gave him a ride and found out that he had fallen while tending his beaver trap line. Marshal Bouwens had set Slivers leg, assembled a splint and built a peg leg for him out of a small birch limb crotch so that he could get around.

On 12/18/1942, O.G.Herning wrote in his diary, "Third day of big wind, Capt.Slivers found frozen to death near his cabin at mile 1, went home drunk, failed to arrive, 1st victim of Wasilla Cocktail Bar." Four days later, he wrote, "Capt. Slivers buried on knoll back of his cabin at mile 1."

The front page, of the 12/22/1942 Anchorage Times, had the following article: "A report reaching Anchorage today, reveals the death of "Capt. Slivers" McNeil, a Native who lived in the Wasilla District for many years. Slivers, as he was known, is said to have frozen to death last Friday night on the trail between Wasilla and the point where he had killed a moose. He had been into Wasilla after downing the animal and it was on his return trip that he died. It is reported that he was buried by his native friends in their own burial ground."

According to Slivers military registration papers, he was born 12/10/1886 at Matanuska, which would have made him 56 years old at the time of his death. As far as I know, he never had any children. I know of two photos of Capt. Slivers as an adult. They are in the Leonard Grau photo collection at the Anchorage Museum.

A year after Slivers died, his step-brother, Victor McNeil, received patent to 159 acres in the general vicinity of where Slivers was buried. Several of McNeil's relatives (and friends) lived on this land at one time or another, including "Blind Nick McNeil", Rufe and Annie (Stump) Stephan and their children Irene, Doris and James. I've talked to the City of Wasilla (more than once) trying to get them to officially recognize the McNeil homestead area and burial ground, but they don't seem to agree with me.
 


If you have additional information about, or photos of "Capt.Slivers" McNeil
or "Blind Nick" McNeil, I'd love to hear from you.


coleen_mielke@hotmail.com




In 1910, the McNeal/McNeil family was living in Knik and the census taker recorded:

Mike McNeal age 49  married 18 years   WHITE
Anna McNeal age 29  married 18 years   KNAIAKHOTANA
Matrona McNeal age 31..............................probably Anna's sibling not her daughter
Nick McNeal age 30..................................probably Anna's sibling not her son

Aleck McNeal age 16
Nickoli McNeal age 12
Stephan McNeal age 4
Mary McNeal age 2


I suspect (from decades of working with census records) that Matrona and Nick were Anna's siblings, not her children. I've seen this in other census records, where orphaned children are taken in by an older/married sibling and the census taker lists them as the "children" of the head of the house.

In the 1920 US Census for Knik, the older children were out of the home, as was Anna's husband:

Anna McNeil age ?
Tommy McNeil age 12 son
Myrtle McNeil age 11 daughter
Efim, Bosco age 5 nephew
Efim, Dalia age 8 niece


On the 1930 US Census Anna's husband is back in the home:

Malcolm J. McNeil born 1877 (age 53)     WHITE
      Anna McNeil born 1879 (age 60)     KNIK TRIBE

Children still in the home:
            Thomas       (age 22) born Alaska    (son)
            Myrtle       (age 21) born Alaska    (adopted daughter) (*see note)
            Victor       (age 15) born Alaska    (adopted son) (*see note)
Capt. Alex Slivers       (age 37) born Alaska    (step-son)




*A McNeil descendant told me that Anna's children: Myrtle and Victor were the biological children of Frank Crabb, although they were raised by the McNeils.

                   

coleen_mielke@hotmail.com

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