A park on the shores of Lake Lucille in Wasilla is named for Gerrit “Heinie” Snider, a well-known pioneer from the Matanuska Valley.
His nickname was given due to the Dutchman’s accent. A miner, railroad section foreman, author, iceman, community benefactor, mink rancher, newspaper columnist and politician, Snider published his “100 Stories of Alaska” for the 1967 Purchase Centennial.
The foreword to the book was written by U.S. Sen. E. L. “Bob Bartlett who wrote, “I know of no teller of tales, tall or otherwise, better equipped to relate Centennial stories about Alaska and Alaskans.”
Snider donated his home for use as a schoolhouse and also donated land for the park which bore his name.
He also donated a pair of sable mink furs to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, telling him only that they were “for Mamie.” So overwhelmed at meeting the nation’s leader he could not explain that the furs had been owned by his son Lincoln Peter, a sailor who was killed in action in World War II.
Snider was a Republican at a time when most Alaska politicians prior to Statehood were Democrats. He was elected to the Territorial Senate and served in the 20th and 21st Legislatures.
One of Snider’s Centennial stories is of Delegate to Congress Anthony J. Dimond. A Gold Rush miner who became a lawyer with an office in Valdez, Dimond was appointed as a district judge before being elected to six terms as a Democrat Delegate. Dimond, Snider wrote, held to the notion that a speaker should open with a humorous item, preferably one that poked fun at himself. Snider’s writing showed that he often followed the Delegate’s advice.
On one occasion, Snider recalled, he was working on a warm summer day at his mink ranch and removed his shirt. His bare upper body bore evidence of the dirt and grime that his labors had generated. Dimond drove up in a car in which several visitors from the nation’s capital were passengers. The mink farmer turned author was not ashamed to quote one of the ladies. After hearing Snider introduced as a state senator, she remarked in a stage whisper, “My God, Mabel, it doesn’t take much to be a senator in Alaska, does it?”
The ladies from D.C. no doubt would have been aghast upon hearing Snider’s story of the community of Matanuska getting its first school.
As told, a Nome gambler named Phil Allen opened a hotel in Matanuska, then the metropolitan center in the Valley. The hotel dining room was used for church services on the Sabbath with Snider playing the organ. The ivory-tinkling writer does not make it clear whether the room doubled as a watering hole on the other six days of the week. Wherever the bar was situated, it was Moose Hank who served up home-made beer and whiskey.
Nearby in a “large place” bearing a sign identifying it as the Moulin Rouge (Red Mill in English) was a house of ill repute run by a woman known as “Blackie.” The ladies of the town coyly let it be known that the Moulin Rouge building would make a nice school. The menfolk took the hint and offered to let Blackie retire in comfort somewhere else. She agreed, but only at a sale price considerably more than was offered.
One day soon thereafter, the privy behind the Moulin Rouge, with Blackie ensconced inside, was lassoed, the rope affixed to a wagon and the horses ordered to head out. The privy was pulled loose and drug away, its occupant loudly pleading for mercy. The cleaned and refurbished Moulin Rouge the next day became the Matanuska School, Mrs. M. D. Snodgrass its teacher and Allen its owner, he having purchased the property at a bargain price.
Alcohol was declared verboten in the United States when Congress on Oct. 28, 1919, adopted the Volstead Act.
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution had been ratified by the required number of states earlier that year. Prohibition of the manufacture, sale and possession of intoxicating liquor was the law until the 19th Amendment ended it three years later.
Prohibition opened the door to illegal stills and “speakeasies” where bootleg liquor flowed freely. Alaska, where liquor had always been a profitable commodity, had many scofflaws among its populace. Not unlike Al Capone’s Chicago, the Matanuska Valley was discretely divided into districts served by individual bootleggers. One was Tom Genial, Snider’s next-door neighbor. According to the author, Herman Grunwold operated at Big Lake, Terenteler Jack and Bootleg Kelly were at Willow, Matanuska’s Moose Hank served the railroad workers and Handsome Harrison was at Finger Lake; Montana Red at Chickaloon was so expert a brewmaster that he gave lessons on the art.
One of the most unusual of the illegal distilleries was at the Episcopal Church in Anchorage, then across from the railroad terminal site. The priest lived in Seward, with the railroad still under construction. One winter day, a parishioner noticed smoke coming from the chimney at the supposedly empty church. She looked in the window and saw a stranger stirring something. She contacted the authorities. A man named Paddy Marion was arrested and jailed. Because of his skill, he was made cook. In that capacity, he was said to have kept the inmates happy by concocting stimulants along with the meals.
The U.S. Marshal for the district at the time was Frank Hoffman, described by Snider as “one of the very best and most honest police officers in Alaska.” He was quoted as telling Snider with a wink that the ground around Wasilla was quite valuable, “producing ten gallons an acre.”
As noted by Alaska’s very first U.S. Senator, Snider was known for tall tales, so those prohibition stories cannot be verified by this writer.
If factually incorrect or causing embarrassment to kin or friend of the alleged miscreants, blame the original storyteller.
One such tale, though, that this writer heard from the perpetrator’s mouth is presented in good faith. Captain Jack was a well-known mariner in a Southcentral port city. The marshal paid a social call at the skipper’s home while on an official trip one summer during Congress’ three-year attempt to thrust temperance onto the tippling populace. The lawman was invited to join the family for dinner and gladly accepted.
The meal finished, the men withdrew to the living room to enjoy cigars. The heater had been turned up to make the room more comfortable. Their conversation had barely begun when there was a muffled but noticeable “pop” from somewhere above. A new topic was opened, only to be interrupted by another “pop.” The host began to squirm as the possible source of the sounds came to mind. The suspicion turned into reality when a wet spot appeared on the ceiling above.
Several “pops” later, the wet spot became a spigot and drops accompanied by an unmistakable odor descended onto the coffee table at their knees.
The marshal rose, snuffed his cigar and said, somewhat uncomfortably, “Well, Cap, I think I’d better go.” The wary host hurried to get the guest’s coat and hat and ushered him out the door.
Probably omitted was the customary farewell wish of “Y’all come back real soon, now, y’hear?”
The relieved host turned down the heat and hurried to the attic. There he attempted to limit the loss of more of the bottled home-brew beer stored there.
Prohibiting the manufacture, sale and possession of things sounded good in 1920, but it failed to achieve the desired results. Things got rough and there were more criminals than convicts in the country. Even Carrie Nation may have been secretly relieved to have Prohibition end.
As has been said: Those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it.
Lee Jordan has been an Alaskan since 1949, moved to Chugiak in 1962 and in 2016 moved back to Anchorage. An Alaska history buff, he enjoys writing about the place where he did not want to be sent, but came to love. He has written four books on Alaska history and has a blog at www.byleejordan.com. To reach Lee Jordan, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.