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arrow Stories and Tales of the Coast & Geodetic Survey
arrow Alaska Tales

Reminiscences of Alaska by Capt. Thomas J. Maher, C&GS

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By George Wilcox

The Devil, in Hell, we are told, was chained,

Thousands of years he there remained;

He did not complain nor did he groan,

But determined to have a Hell of his own,

Where he could torment the souls of men,

Without being chained in a sulphur pen.

So he asked the Lord if he had any land

In a cooler climate that a poor devil could stand.

The Lord said, "Yes, but it's not much use,

It's called Alaska, and it's cold as the deuce;

In fact, old boy, the place is so bare,

I don't think you could make a good Hell up there."

The Devil said he couldn't see why,

He sure knew his business and would like to try;

So the bargain was made and deed was given,

And the Devil quickly departed from Heaven.

We next see the Devil far up in the North,

Exploring Alaska to see what it's worth;

From the top of McKinley he looked at the truck,

And said, "If I got in for nothing, still I'm stuck."

But oh! It was fine to be out in the cold,

And though the wind blew a gale, the Devil grew bold;

And there on the height of the mountain he planned

To make of Alaska the Home of the Damned,

A different place from the old-fashioned Hell

Where each soul burned in an old-fashioned cell.

He used every means that a wise Devil needed.

He filled the air with millions of gnats,

Spread the Yukon over the flats;

Set a line of volcanoes near Unimak Pass

Bred the mosquitoes in tundra grass;

Made six months night, when it's sixty below,

A howling wind and a pelting snow.

Six months day with a spell now and then,

Too hot for the Devil - too hot for his men.

Hungry wolves and dogs by the pack,

That, when they yell, send chills down your back;

And as you mush o'er the barren expanse

The north wind blows big holes in your pants.

But of all the pests that the Imp could devise,

The Yukon mosquitoes are the Devil's prize.

They have the rattlesnake's bite and the scorpion's sting,

And measure six inches from wing to wing.

The Devil said, when he fashioned these,

"Each one will be worse than a million fleas."

When the dew falls low and there's plenty of rain

He grew flowers and berries - just for a bluff,

The Devil knew how to peddle his stuff.

To show how well he knew his game,

The Devil next salted his new Hell Claim;

He put gold nuggets in all the streams,

Hid them 'neath the glacial ice,

As a Reform City hides its vice;

He bid Dame Rumor spread the news,

To all the world and its motley crews;

That there was gold in heaps and piles,

All the colors and all the styles;

He then displayed a grim sardonic grin,

And said, "Now watch all the fools rush in."

They'll fight for gold and steal and slay,

But in the end, it's me they'll pay.

Oh! A fine Hell this, that the Devil owns,

Its trails are marked with frozen bones;

The wild wind moans o'er bleak plain and hill,

'Tis a Hell of a Place he has for his Hell;

And now you should know if anyone ask you,

What kind of a place is our Alaska.

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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