Grienoff Elxnit, died May 26, 2001. He was born Nov. 3, 1903. He was
of Aleut, Russian and Finnish descent, and he lived in Seldovia for
most of his life.
Mr. Elxnit was one of 23 Alaska Native
elders featured in the book "Our Stories, Our Lives," published in
1986 by The CIRI Foundation. Following are excerpts of Mr. Elxnit's
comments in the book. The full text of Mr. Elxnit's interview is
available on the CIRI website. ...
An interview with Nick G.
"... We had to saw them by hand - six foot saw. Oh,
work! But it was healthy job. Out in the fresh air, good stream of
My father was Harry Grienoff. He was a Finlander. My
mother's dad was Russian. She was Alaskan. Her mother was
Native-born, Native background. I still have pictures of my
grandmother and my mother.
My mother was born in Kodiak. She
used to tell us, she remembers when Russians sold Alaska to United
States. She was around Kodiak when they hoisted the flag on the
pole. She was there at the time.
My sister, she was born on
the boat, they call Steamer Dora, used to carry mail and passengers
to Unalaska along the Aleutian Chain. So the crew, the skipper named
my sister. They acted as the nurse. They named her Dora after the
boat. She goes by that name yet.
My mother used to speak Russian.
Course we did. Pretty much at home used to speak Russian all the
(Mr. Elxnit recalls the eruption of Mt. Katmai in
1912.) I remember it was month of June (in Kodiak). It was nice
sunny morning like today. But towards noon hour, clouded up. It got
darkness. And by two or three o'clock it got dark. Of course, those
days there was no such a thing as light plan. It was kerosene days.
We had kerosene lamp. Ma had to light the kerosene lamp. Everybody
wondered what was happening, what cause it. And then sometime we
heard maybe concussion of the Katmai blowing up. Just like
lightning, maybe kind of shake like earthquake. Course it got dark.
People got jittery.
Lot of church bells - Russian church
bells would ring. A lot of people went to church. They thought the
world was coming to an end. Course nobody know. The only thing Army
had was this wireless. That was on Woody Island, on that island
where the Army had that communication. And nobody know till next day
what happened, what caused it. And then the ash start to fall. Ash
was coming down like snow. And that was coming down for two, three
days. And darkness.
Anyhow in a day or two the Army knew
what happened. They got it through wireless. And then three Coast
Guards come to Kodiak. They awake you, and loaded all the people in
town onto boats. We were on the biggest one that was there. And the
name of it was Manning. Kept us couple days on that boat. Course
they were anchored out.
And then that ash that fell in the
ocean. You could see, look down as far as tide went down, it was
just flat white laid on the bottom of the ground in the water on the
beach. You could look down I guess ash went in the ground and things
got normal again.
We lived in Kodiak permanently until 1912.
And then we come to Seldovia in 1913 because my mother's folks lived
in Seldovia. And then Ma remarried. We adopted the stepfather. Of
course he went by Elxnit. That's why our names changed. All my
records went by Elxnit.
In those days, salmon was plentiful
there and coal on the beach, lot of game up in the woods. Moose, and
winter months, ptarmigan. Of course, people in those days used to
have gardens, and they had chickens and cow. They used to live
I didn't go very far. I didn't go to high school
- about eighth grade is as far as I got. It wasn't too important,
anyhow. There wasn't no such a thing as high school in those days.
Course we come out of poor family. Family couldn't afford to send
kids out to school for good education.
And then we used to make
our own skis out of barrel staves. You know, like herring barrels
used to have - they're kind of rounded a little bit. And then we'd
put rubber straps over them and use them just for sliding. The road
would get kind of smooth on the ridge.
Those days there is no
such a thing as - nobody dreamt of chain saws. We had to saw them by
hand - six-foot saw. Oh, work! But it was healthy job. Out in the
fresh air, good stream of water. I never forgot, way up at the head
there we had a cabin we stayed there when we was logging. There was
a little short grass grows on the flat. I counted 40 porkies
(porcupines) all in one bunch - young ones and old ones feeding on
that little grass. There was a lot of game those days. You very
seldom see one nowadays.
I still think the old lifestyle was
better than what it is today for people. We went a little too far
with everything. Lot of guys I meet, like some politicians, they say
"progress." But progress went a little too far for good things in my