Sidebar: Establishing the Rule of Law
Pioneer Alaskans lived off the land, earning at least part of their living by mining, trapping, and hunting. Many area residents eked out part of their living from the area that was now inside the park. It was a difficult task to enforce park regulations that now curtailed or limited these activities.
Without a local community police officer or constable, U.S. Marshals enforced both territorial and federal laws. Unannounced visits and raids by marshals targeted bootleggers, fugitives from justice, and violent offenders. In one infamous shootout, a whiskey still owner was shot and killed.
Like many frontier towns in Alaska, laws here were often ignored, or adjusted according to local custom. Surprise visits by marshals netted few witnesses and revealed a "live and let-live" attitude common to Alaska.
Jack Donnelly was one of "The Hole’s" more defiant residents. He briefly ran a restaurant in a board shack wedged between the cigar store and trading post. A typical Alaska "boomer," he opened his restaurant in December 1921, just in time to serve the workers massing to build the trestle. Five weeks after opening, with the bridge finished and the workers gone, he closed the restaurant for good.
In 1922, Harry Karstens intercepted Donnelly as he mushed toward the Savage River and gave him the park regulations. Although still operating his roadhouse, Donnelly claimed to be going on a "prospecting trip," which Karstens saw as merely an excuse to go hunting in the park. For more than two years after Karstens’ arrival, Donnelly, like several others, continued to hunt in the park.
In 1923, Ranger Edward McFarland saw Donnelly arrive at the railroad depot with a heavily-loaded dog sled. Donnelly refused McFarland permission to inspect his load. The next morning, McFarland backtracked in fresh snow to a point three miles inside the park boundary and found a blood trail that led to the entrails of a caribou.
On February 11, Donnelly pled not guilty to the charge of poaching. Karstens testified that he’d warned Donnelly to cease all hunting in the park. The jury deliberated for only a few moments and returned a verdict of not guilty.
"The prosecution failed because of the reluctance of the people to convict anyone for illegal hunting," Karstens later explained. "The park seems destined to suffer along with the rest of the territory as a consequence."
Enforcing park laws protecting wildlife and resources would be an on-going, dangerous and frustrating battle, only succeeding when sufficient rangers were hired to patrol the park year-round.
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Did You Know?
Warmer temperatures have led to dramatic thawing of permafrost. Thaw releases carbon, as once-frozen materials decompose, but allows increased plant growth. Researchers in Denali are studying whether thawing permafrost will increase or decrease world-wide carbon emissions.