Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story about Tustumena miner and trapper Joe Secora, who lived a mostly solitary life on the lake for several decades. Part one reveals the type of man Secora was and the way he lived. Next week, part two will discuss his origins and his abrupt demise.
By Clark Fair
Joe Secora was not known as a letter writer. Although he was an avid reader,
Photo courtesy of George Pollard. A group of Joe Secora’s clients in the late 1950s share a laugh as they display the trophies of their sheep hunt in the mountains. Secora is standing at the far right.
he never filled the pages of a journal with words of his own. Taciturn without the dour demeanor, he seldom initiated communication but was genial enough once engaged in conversation.
As a result of these traits, Secora, when he died suddenly nearly 40 years ago, left little record except in the memories of those who knew him. Consequently, his voice comes filtered through the recollections of others and through his Tustumena handiwork, of which there was plenty.
In the years after arriving at Tustumena Lake in 1938, just before his 30th birthday, Secora built three cabins and mined for gold in the turbulent waters of Indian Creek. He hand-dug trenches and canals; he built mining tools and fashioned sluice boxes; he moved heavy earth in search for ore.
As the years passed, Secora walked the upper lakeshore and the mountains at its periphery, learned their convolutions and best passages, and found their hidden, magical places, such as an ancient, giant cottonwood grove near the glacier flats.
He also learned the ways of the animals that trod these hills and valleys, and
Photo courtesy of George Pollard. Joe Secora dumps a load of creek gravel from his handmade wheelbarrow into his handmade sluice box on the banks of Indian Creek near Tustumena Lake in the late 1950s.
when young George Pollard became an area big-game guide in 1958 and asked Secora to work for him, he said yes and he excelled.
“He was the best, if you could keep up with him,” Pollard said. “He wasn’t so fast, but he was steady, up and down the mountains. He just never quit.” Continue reading