Blind Nick McNeil Wasilla Alaska
"Capt. Slivers" and "Blind Nick"
of Knik, Alaska
research of "Capt. Slivers" and "Blind Nick"
is far from finished. This is a
very rough edit of what I've found to date
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.
"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
"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."
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 at Knik.
of newspaper article)
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."
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
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.
In 1910, the McNeal/McNeil family was living in Knik and the census
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
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
Children still in the home:
(age 22) born Alaska (son)
(age 21) born Alaska (adopted daughter) (*see note)
(age 15) born Alaska (adopted son) (*see note)
Capt. Alex Slivers (age 37) born Alaska
*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.