Re-Carving the Waasgo Legend Pole in 2021

The Waasgo Legend Pole at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition, there are 10 other poles standing beside it, a carved canoe in front of the poles, and the corner of a building in the background. The photo is in black and white.
Waasgo Legend Pole (and others) at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition

Sitka NHP, Museum Archives.

History of the Waas'go Legend Pole

The Waas'go Legend Pole is one of the original totem poles acquired by Alaska Territorial Governor John Brady for the St. Louis, Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904. He acquired it from K’áyk’aanii (Kaigani) Haida Chief Yeltadzie. The pole was located in K’wíi Gándlaas (Koianglas), on Long Island, in the Prince of Wales Archipelago which is just south of Baranof Island.

The Waas'go Legend Pole was carved by Gid K’wáajuss (Dwight Wallace) a Kaigani Haida totem carver from Hlankwa’án (Klinkwan). The Waas'go Legend Pole would travel to the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904, the Portland Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1905, then return to Sitka in 1906 to the newly established Sitka Totem Park located by the Indian River. The Waas'go Legend Pole in this picture (2nd from right) taken at the Lewis and Clark Exposition.

 
Replica Waasgo Pole and Replica Raven/Shark Pole Alongside Merrill Rock, Circa 1940
Replica Waasgo Pole and Replica Raven/Shark Pole Alongside Merrill Rock, Circa 1940,

Eby, Shelland, and Stark tourist papers, Alaska Historical Society collections, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Years later, in 1939, Sitka National Monument decided to do an official survey to verify the condition of the poles. The Waas'go Legend Pole, like many others, was found to be badly deteriorated. It had been standing out on the trail for nearly 40 years, and had likely stood for many more before that in its home on the Prince of Wales Archipelago. The rainy environment, multiple transportations, and haphazard attempts to preserve the poles had all taken their toll on its condition.

In the end, the Waas'go Legend Pole was in too poor condition to be saved. Sitka National Monument asked the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) to support a project that would repair the totem poles that stood along Totem Trail, or craft re-carvings of the poles that were too far gone. Tlingit Carver George Benson was asked to create a replica of the Waas'go Legend Pole. There were only a few carvers left with the skill and expertise to carve totem poles at that point in time. George Benson, and others like him, ensured that not only would the image of the poles be preserved, but also the art of carving. His replica Waas'go Legend Pole was raised at the entrance to Totem Trail (see picture to the right).

The original Waas'go Legend Pole was unfortunately lost to time. However, the replica created by George Benson is currently housed within Totem Hall in the visitor center of Sitka National Historical Park.

In 2020, Tlingit master carver, Tommy Joseph, would begin a project to create another re-carving of the pole, this one to be raised along the Totem Loop Trail in Sitka National Historical Park. The Waas'go Legend Pole is currently the only pole of the original John Brady collection, to not have a re-carving standing along Totem Trail. The pole will be raised in the park in 2021.

 
 
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Duration:
7 minutes, 38 seconds

An interview conducted with Tommy Joseph, Naal’xák’w, a Tlingít Master Carver, as he is in the process of re-carving the Waasgo Legend Pole. In Part 1, Tommy Joseph talks about his background as a woodcarver, and opportunities in Southeast Alaska for others to learn how to carve.

 
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Duration:
16 minutes, 37 seconds

An interview conducted with Tommy Joseph, Naal’xák’w, a Tlingít Master Carver, as he is in the process of re-carving the Waasgo Legend Pole. In Part 2, Tommy Joseph talks about how it has been carving the Waasgo Legend Pole so far, as well as the legend behind the pole and some of its history.

 
A man holding an adze behind a partially completed totem pole.
Tommy Joseph Carving the Waasgo Legend Pole in Sitka National Historical Park, September 2020

NPS Photo

Last updated: October 28, 2021

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