A page from the album. “Whitehead Pete” Nelson, Hilda, and son Rudolph Nelson. Pete was a skillful salter of fish, but Hilda was apparently the driving force behind the family business.
By Stephen Canright, Park Curator, Maritime History
You just never know what treasures are lurking in peoples’ closets and attics. And last December, with the help of the great granddaughter of the owner of a lumber schooner, the park made an exciting discovery.
Vicki Kuells, a woman living in Foresthill, California, a small, Gold Country town located northeast of Sacramento, called the park. Her family had been in the shipping business and she had a family photo album that had been around for awhile and, “Would someone like to come and have a look?” The park curator and historian drove there not knowing what they might find.
It turns out that Vicki is the great granddaughter of Peter and Hilda Nelson. “Whitehead Pete” Nelson was in the salmon salting business in Alaska, and between 1912 and 1925 was the owner of the park’s very own schooner C.A. Thayer. On the wall in the Kuells’ study was a framed photo of Pete. “We knew right away that we were onto something special,” recalled Park Historian Stephen Canright.
Pete Nelson was born in 1863 in Sweden and went to sea as a young man. He ended up on the West Coast, and when he married in 1897 was working for the Alaska Packers.
His new wife urged him to go into business for himself and in 1902 he established a salmon salting station in Alaska at the Igushik River in Bristol Bay. By the early 1920s, Nelson was the largest operator in the salting business, a specialized corner of the Alaska salmon fishery. He spent summers in Alaska and during the off season traveled the nation to personally sell his catch. Pete never got rich, but was able to provide comfortably for his family.
Vicki Kuells graciously agreed to loan the park the family album, allowing the park to make digital copies of many entirely new images that are now part of the permanent collection. Visit www.nps.gov/safr/historyculture/c-a-thayer.htm for more information about the C.A. Thayer.