In 1901, the ACC closed its
trading posts in Knik, Susitna, Kenai, Kasilof and
Seldovia. This left a huge part of south central Alaska
without access to merchandise. Palmer recognized the opportunity
and ordered an entire seasons worth of groceries, clothing, hardware,
etc. and "set up shop" in the old ACC building at Knik. His timing
The discovery of gold in Alaska's
Interior made Palmer's Knik store a critical re-supply stop for hundreds
of prospectors traveling overland from Seward to the Willow Creek,
Yentna, Chulitna, Gold Creek, McKinley and Iditarod gold strike areas.
Prospectors arrived on foot, by dog team and pack horse; he sold them dried salmon for their dog teams and locally harvested wild hay for their horses. He sold perishables like butter, lard, bacon, berries, fish and moose meat he sold hard goods like shovels, axes, cookware, guns, ammunition, boots, cold weather clothes, stoves and beach coal. He also sold a few "luxuries" like tobacco, medicines and sail cloth.
set up an unofficial post office in his store and mail arrived,
by boat, about once a month in the summer. In the winter, he hired Athabascan
"mail runners" to carry mail from Knik to Sunrise (and back) about twice
a winter; it was a dangerous 12 day round trip by foot/dog sled. On October
29, 1904, he became the first official U.S. Postmaster at Knik.
Palmer was the first person, in the Matanuska Valley, to sell fresh vegetables
commercially. The USDA established an Agricultural Experimental
Station in Sitka in 1898, with Dr. Charles C. Georgeson in
charge. Georgeson was interested in determining what crops
could be grown in Alaska, so he sent vegetable seeds to a variety
of settlements and roadhouses throughout south central and
asked the recipients to report back to him about their successes and
Palmer decided to participate in the program and hired Athabascan friends to prepare and plant a garden plot next to his store. As requested, he reported back to Georgeson for the seasons of 1900 to 1903, in a series of letters, which were published in the USDA Alaska Annual Report. Palmer wrote, that in spite of his inexperience and lack of fertilizer, he was able to grow an abundance of potatoes, lettuce, rutabagas, kale, radishes, cabbage, carrots, parsnips, and turnips. The project turned out to be quite profitable for Palmer because he was able to sell the vegetables to the vitamin starved prospectors in the Willow Creek Mining District. In addition, he asked Georgeson to send extra seeds for the Indians in Knik so they could supplement their diet of wild game.
In 1900, freight destined for
south central Alaska was brought in by large ships that anchored
offshore at Knik Harbor (later called Knik Anchorage).
Once anchored, locally piloted scows transferred the freight to remote
locations for a fee. If the scheduling was off and the ships did not connect
with the smaller scows, freight was routinely dropped off
en masse at the Seldovia, Tyonek or the Sunrise docks. This required long and dangerous sailing voyages for people trying to find and retrieve their merchandise. Sometimes freight would sit on the dock for days before it was located by its rightful owner. To alleviate this problem, Palmer built the first commercial warehouse just north of Ship Creek in 1901. From this warehouse, he lightered freight (by the pound) to its rightful owner.
Palmer’s first schooner, the two masted "C. T. Hill", was towed into Knik, by the "Traveler" on 6/8/1913. He and a crew sailed the schooner to San Francisco two or three times a summer to buy merchandise for his Knik store. These buying trips generally took place in May, July and October.
In the spring of 1915, Palmer
bought a schooner named "Lucy" which arrived at Goose Bay with a
$2,000 printing press aboard.The press was ordered by the "Cook Inlet
Pioneer Newspaper" and paid for by Frank Cannon, George Palmer, Dr.
Haus, Leopold David, Orville Herning and Mr. Needham.
Hauling merchandise TO Alaska was
not the only time Palmer made money with his schooner; he hauled merchandise
OUT of Alaska as well. In August of 1916, a San Francisco newspaper
article reported: First of seasons salmon catch from Alaska waters arrived
in San Francisco on the schooner "Lucy", owned by G.W. Palmer. On the
voyage from Knik, Alaska, the schooner was buffeted in a heavy southeast
gale and her sails were torn and several of the crew were hurt; the schooner
was also carrying furs and empty oil drums. Alcohol was another thing
that Palmer hauled. In 1917, Palmer's schooner was 3+ weeks late
on a return trip from San Francisco. When questioned, he said that
"officers held her up on account of booze".
Palmer sailed with a full crew on
his schooners, but he was also known as a fearless boatman himself. He
often ferried Athabascan passengers from Knik to Tyonek, Sunrise, Hope
and Seldovia in a small gas launch. The following photo was taken on
4/16/1907 as he and 8 passengers were leaving Knik, headed for Seldovia.
Palmer's gas launch, heading out to Seldovia 1907
Photo by O.G. Herning
Palmer's store was very well
stocked. A receipt, dated 1901, gives an example of his prices: tin ware
60¢, a blanket 75¢, 52 pounds of moose meat $5.20, a stove
$8, a leather shirt $3.50, 10 pounds of salmon 25¢, 15 gallons
of cranberries $1.10, 80 pounds of potatoes $2.40, horse medicine 25¢,
smoke tanned gloves 50¢ and 85 pounds of turnips for $2.55.
Life changed for Palmer in 1906,
when he built a saloon and started drinking heavily. He got into physical
altercations with people and even tried to hire someone to sabotage
a competitors scow. Worst of all, he ignored his store. By 1908, Palmer's
drinking problem was so bad that his store was temporarily closed due
to a lack of merchandise.
By 1912, Palmer had serious competition
in Knik. There were 4 general stores, 3 hotels, a pool hall, 2 saloons,
a church, a school, 2 cafe's, a candy shop, a barbershop, a doctor,
a blacksmith, a tin shop, a boat shop, an assay office, dog kennels,
a laundry and a jail, but the boom didn't last long.
In 1916, the railroad built a construction
camp at mile 15 of the Carle Wagon Road; they called it Wasilla. It quickly
replaced Knik, as "business central", because the railroad tracks brought
people and freight 15 miles closer to the Willow Creek Mining District.
Knik became a ghost town in less
than one season; buildings were dismantled and moved to Wasilla or Anchorage.
George Palmer was one of the few people that stayed in Knik and kept his
store open. Two years later, on 5/15/1918, his store and warehouses burned
down. He told reporters that he had plans to rebuild with insurance money,
but he never did.
Shortly after the fire, Elmer
Hemrich, a Washington businessman, convinced Palmer to be his partner
in building the first major clam cannery in Cook Inlet. In the fall
of 1919, they acquired financing from the Bank of Alaska and began
construction at Snug Harbor on Chisik Island. The cannery hired Indians
from Tyonek, Iliamna, Seldovia, Kodiak, Ninilchik and Kenai to harvest
clams from the beach at Polly Creek and paid them $1.25 for each 5 gallon
box. The business venture was fraught with problems from the start and
was not the financial success that Palmer hoped for. In 1921, he sold
his half interest in the project to G.P.Halferty. Without Palmer's financial
backing, Hemrich lost the cannery to foreclosure that same year.
Palmer’s third wife was
an 18 year old Athabascan woman from Knik named Mary (Palmer was 55).
There is no record of them having children together and I don't
know what happened to her.
4th wife was an Athabascan woman named Anestatia, although she went by the
nickname "Kit". In Palmer's will, he described her as "mentally child like
and unable to care for herself". According to her death certificate, she
was born on 3/7/1894 at Knik and was a diminutive 4' 3" tall when she died
on 11/5/1943 at the age of 49.
In 1921, Palmer and William N. Dawson opened
the "Dawson and Palmer General Store" in Kenai.
Dawson died one year later and Palmer spent the next five
years in Probate Court trying to get full ownership of
the business which he finally received in 1927.
*** Please respect the amount of research it
took to write this article.
Do not re-post or publish without my permission***
George W. Palmer 1920
GEORGE W. PALMER FAMILY TREE
George W. Palmer was born in 1855
in Amity, Erie County, Pennsylvania.
He died 4/11/1930 in Kenai
Alecda (step-son) born 1882 (mother was Pelagia Chanilkhiga)
Ishca (step-son) born 1885 (mother was Pelagia Chanilkhiga)
Nickoli (step-son) born 1887 (mother was Pelagia Chanilkhiga)
Mary (step-daughter) born 1895 (mother was Pelagia Chanilkhiga)
Annie (biological daughter) born 1897 (mother was Pelagia Chanilkhiga)
John Bud (biological son) born 1900 (mother was Pelagia Chanilkhiga)
George W. Palmer's Parents