McNEIL FAMILY OF KNIK ALASKA
OF KNIK, ALASKA
I have researched this McNeil family for decades with minimal success.
It was a fascinating family with a colorful history. If you have any corrections
or additions to this page, I would like to hear from you.
Here is a thumbnail sketch of the McNeil family line.
Census for KNIK, AK
age 49 married 18 years Born: California (later years known
as Malcolm McNeil)
age 29 married 18 years** KNAIAKHOTANA
McNeil age 31.......Older than Anna, so probably her
sister not her daughter
Nick McNeil age 30..........Older than Anna, so probably her brother not her son
Aleck McNeil age 16
McNeil age 12
McNeal age 4
on this census entry makes sense. The 1st thing I noticed was that McNeil
and Anna had been married for 18 years. That means (if the ages were correct)
that Anna was 11 when she married McNeil. This record also says that Anna
had given birth to 7 children and 5 were still living in 1910. Those numbers
don't add up either, since the 2 oldest children on this census were OLDER
than Anna. This is a fairly common error/assumption on the part of the census
taker when the parents died and an older (or married) surviving sibling
became the head of the house and the census taker never questioned it.
I do not know (for sure) what Anna's
maiden name was, however very early Russian Orthodox church records suggest
her maiden name was Chsidalusion. Whether that was actually Chickalusion
or not, I don't know (yet).
1920 US Census for Knik, the older children (and Anna's husband)
were out of the home:
age 60 Born Alaska (Mother Tongue: Old Knik)
age 12 son Born Alaska Father born Colorado
age 11 daughter Born Alaska Father born Colorado
age 5 nephew Born Alaska (Mother Tongue: Old Knik)
age 8 niece Born Alaska (Mother Tongue: Old Knik)
the 1930 US Census for Knik:
J. McNeil(age 53*) Born Colorado Father
born Canada Mother born Colorado
born 1879 (age 60) Born: KNIK TRIBE Parents of Knik Tribe
Name on 1910 Census was Mike McNeil
(although "Mike" could have been a nickname for Malcolm. Also, 1910 Census
said he was born in California. This census says Colorado. Were there TWO
McNeil's? or just another case of census taker errors.
still in the home in 1930:
(age 22) born Alaska (son)
(age 21) born Alaska (adopted daughter)
(age 15) born Alaska (adopted son)
Alex Slivers (age 37) born Alaska
*A McNeil descendant told me that Myrtle and Victor were
biological children of Anna McNeil and Frank Crabb, although
they were raised by the McNeils,
Frank Crabb, from Oregon, was often a wood cutting partner of McNeil's
McNeil died 10/7/1938 and was buried in the Indian Cemetery at Knik
Malcolm McNeil died
3/23/1945 and was buried in Anchorage
Tommy McNeil killed himself 2/8/1944
Myrtle McNeil's 1st husband was John Wells in 1927
Myrtle McNeil's 2nd husband was Clifford Strickler in 1940
Two of Anna's "children" were
well known colorful characters; well known for (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
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
"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
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."
of newspaper article)
"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
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
of newspaper article)
is an excerpt from a 2003 interview that I did with May Carter
who was the U.S. Commissioner in Wasilla
"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."
of interview excerpt)
Capt. Alec Slivers McNeil
"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
If you have additional information
about, or photos of "Capt.Slivers" McNeil
or "Blind Nick" McNeil, I'd love to hear from you.