Funter Bay History: Navy Ships

February 24, 2015

As I’ve previously mentioned, the USS Marblehead visited Funter Bay in 1919 on anti-piracy duties. Cannery owners including James Barron had complained to the government about the depredations of fish pirates, leading the navy to dispatch several patrol vessels.

Below is a photo of what appears to be the Marblehead anchored in Coot Cove near the Thlinket Packing Co at Funter. The photographer was near the scow slipways.


The next photo shows the USS Marblehead from a similar angle, helping to identify the ship seen at Funter.


USS Marblehead stern view, courtesy Library of Congress

This Marblehead was the 2nd ship to bear the name, a Montgomery-class cruiser 269ft long powered by two steam engines and armed with various 5-inch guns and torpedoes (Wikipedia page). Launched in 1892, the visit to Funter Bay seems to have been one of the ship’s last missions. It was retired in August of 1919. Additional information is available here.


USS Marblehead, courtesy Library of Congress

The masts and rigging indicate a ship capable of sail as well as steam propulsion. A photo of the USS Montgomery under steam and partial sail can be seen here.

Another vessel of similar appearance visited Funter Bay on April 28, 1923; the Coast Guard cutter Unalga (Navy History page). This vessel had only one stack, so does not match the one seen in the photo from Coot Cove. The ship’s logs (p1 and p2) from that day mention the motor boat Ceasar which had broken its crankshaft off Funter Bay on the way to Tenakee. The Unalga towed the Ceasar from Funter to Tenakee Inlet. (The source for these logs,, is a project to transcribe ship logs for historic weather data. These logs also contain other interesting information such as records of towns and vessels, wildlife, and general ship operations).

A slightly more modern ship can be seen in Coot Cove in the following photo, circa 1920. Clear Point is visible in the distance, the foreground rocks were near the cannery wharf where the photographer was probably standing.


This is the USS McCawley, DD-276, a 314ft Clemson-class destroyer (Wikipedia page). When photographed in Coot Cove it may have been taking part in the 1920 inspection tour of Alaska conducted by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, Interior Secretary John B. Payne, and Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Hugh Rodman. A note in the Kinky Bayers files reports the McCawley arriving in Juneau along with the destroyers Sinclair and Meyer on July 13, 1920, carrying Secretary Daniels and party. A photo of the McCawley in Juneau can be seen here. A photo of the VIP group visiting a glacier can be seen here. The Thlinket Packing Co was upheld as a model Alaskan industry by promoters, cruise lines, and publishers, so it easily could have been part of the inspection tour.

An article in the Seattle Times of July 10, 1918, reported that salmon packer “J. E. Barron” asked Navy Captain J. J. O’Donnell to take custody of L. Clarito, Joe Budous, and Martin F. Bolina, “Filipinos who are charged with sabotage”. The trio were brought from Funter Bay to the Juneau city jail aboard a “US Warship” and federal charges were expected to be filed. The actual “sabotage” seems to have been the un-patriotic act of inciting native workers to request higher pay.

I was not able to find a Captain J. J. O’Donnell in 1918, but as the article got J. T. Barron’s middle name wrong, it may not have been 100% accurate with the navy captain’s name either.

Funter Bay History – More Fish Traps & Fish Pirates

May 8, 2013

This began as a dry discussion of trap types, and ended up with gun fights, legal battles, piracy, and everything else that goes with Alaskan fishing!

As mentioned before, the Funter Bay cannery operated mainly with fish traps (vs fishing boats). These traps were designed to intercept salmon as they returned to spawning streams, penning them in large fixed nets until they could be scooped out.

There were two types of fish trap used in the Funter Bay area. “Pound Nets” hung from fixed pilings driven into the sea bottom. Many of these pilings had to be replaced each season, as the winter storms would knock them loose. “Floating Traps” had nets hung from a latticework of floating logs, and were used in deeper water or locations with rocky bottoms. These traps were towed into protected coves for winter storage. Both types of trap would be located a few hundred feet offshore, with a “leader” strung towards the beach (and sometimes a “Jigger” extending seaward) to intercept passing salmon. This page has some more explanation and diagrams.

Pound Net:
pound trap

Floating Trap:
floating trap

These images show one of the Thlinket Packing Co’s pound-type traps near Funter Bay (Trap #7):

Trap 7 trap 7-2

My first post on Funter Bay History shows Trap #6 at the Kittens (islands), also of the pound type.

Here is an example of a floating trap. The structure on top is the watchman’s shack:floating trap 2

As mentioned, watchmen on the traps were an attempt to prevent trap robbing or “Fish Piracy” at remote traps, which was quite common. Independent fishermen hated traps, which they (correctly) felt were taking too many salmon. Many fishermen felt that fish in a trap were fair game, and that trap robbing did not “cost” anything to the trap owner. In fact, the pirates would often sell the stolen fish to the same company that owned the traps! The problem became so bad that the governor of Alaska dispatched surplus navy boats to combat pirates, and the Thlinket Packing Co hired WWI veterans to serve as armed guards.


In July of 1919, the Weathers brothers, Al and Ike, along with Ernest Stage, were charged with assault and attempted robbery in a fish piracy case. The trio were accused of using the gas boat Diana to attack Hoonah Packing co’s tender Forrester near Funter Bay. Captain Alfred Knutson testified that his boat came under fire by the trio. Thlinket Packing Co trap watchman Ted Likeness was a witness. Earnest Stage was initially arrested for stealing $10 worth of fish from Funter Bay. Al Weathers was found guilty and given 4 years in jail, with the jury recommending clemency due to his young age.


Info on the USS Marblehead.

Photo of a WWI sub chaser in Alaska.

Fish piracy was reduced by 1925 after several canning companies joined together to patrol the area.

“Fish piracy, or the robbery of fish traps, which in previous seasons was bitterly complained of by salmon canners in southeastern Alaska, was reduced to a minimum during the season of 1925. This was accomplished chiefly through the maintenance of a patrol organized by the larger canners and operated under the supervision of deputy United States marshals. A number of cruising boats were engaged in this patrol and covered waters in the vicinity of Icy Strait, Niblack, Street Island, Behm Canal, Kanagunut, Rose Inlet, Dall Head, Hidden Inlet, Union Bay, and the west coast of Prince of Wales Island.” From Bureau of Fisheries report, 1926.

Some more information on fish piracy can be found here (restoring a patrol boat), here (the story of a miner turned pirate), and here (mentioning the piratical family history of Ketchikan’s mayor).

In addition to battling pirates, salmon packing companies were also fiercely competitive with eachother, vying for the same salmon runs, the most desirable trap locations, and the best land for canneries. An extreme example of this was “trap jumping”, similar to the phenomenon of mine claim jumping where one prospector would steal the land or resources of another. More details shortly…

Pound net traps often had a watchman on shore, vs floating traps with their onboard housing. As I previously noted, the Thlinket Packing Co acquired land via the homestead act from which to base their traps (although the person filing for the homestead would usually not be the one living there!). I showed a survey of cannery owner J.T. Barron’s “homestead” in this post. Below is a survey of the “homestead” at a trap site south of Funter:
Robertson Homestead

This homestead (located at Lizard Head point just South of Funter) was fairly openly a front for cannery development, being transferred very quickly to T.P.Co owner James Barron. Barron had previously held a lease from the Alaska Packers Association for a trap they installed in 1908 at Lizard Head, and was moving to acquire the shore and upland to support this site.

“…On or about the first day of March, A. D. 1911, for value received, the said V. A. Robertson conveyed by good and sufficient deed in writing the above-described tract, lot or parcel of land embraced within said U. S. Nonmineral Survey No. 804 aforesaid to James T. Barron.”

However, before the Thlinket Packing Co could finish building their trap, Clarence J. Alexander, AKA “Claire Alexander” of the Tee Harbor Packing Co swooped in and installed his own, thus “corking off” Barron. He had previously worked on the pile-driving crew for the Alaska Packers Association, and knew exactly where the trap should go. Alexander even used some of the pilings that Barron had already driven! Barron sued, and some of the court documents are online (part 1 and part 2).

Perhaps Mr. Alexander’s “opportunity” was when Barron left the state?:
pile driver

Claire Alexander’s fish trap shown in front of Barron’s Lizard Head property, from court documents:
Alexander's trap

Barron’s initial letter to Alexander:
Trap Jumping

In the court case, Barron testified not that he planned a trap (as indicated by his letter and other testimony), but that he wanted to use the site as a temporary mooring for boats. He mentioned that it was too hard to tow loaded scows to Funter Bay against a North wind. He complains that Alexander’s trap blocks his water access. Alexander claimed he had no knowledge of Barron’s so-called homestead and didn’t notice any development at the site (despite incorporating Barron’s pilings into his trap). The court found against Barron and ruled that Alexander’s trap did not block Barron’s access to his property.

Some 1911 photos from the Lizard Head trap site, including the beginnings of the T.P. Co. watchman’s cabin:
Lizard Head 1911 1 Lizard Head 1911 2

Barron's cabin at Lizard Head 1911

Claire Alexander would go on to found the Hoonah Packing Co a few years later, and his trap at Lizard Head was still in place, in the same configuration, in 1948.

Laws regarding fish traps tended to fluctuate. Traps were originally fairly unregulated, and canneries would often place them directly in stream mouths, intercepting the entire spawning population until the “run” of salmon was destroyed. Later regulations placed limits on where traps could be located, when they could operate, how long the jiggers could be, etc. By the 1940s, the salmon population had declined so much that trap catches were fairly low, but the price of salmon had risen enough to keep traps cost-effective. When Alaska became a state in 1959, traps were outlawed entirely, leading to the closure of many canneries (other methods of fishing were not efficient enough for the size and type of these operations).

The Thlinket Packing Co (and later owners of the cannery) occasionally ran afoul of fish and game regulations.

TP Co Unlawful Fishing Summons

TP Co Unlawful Fishing Count 1

“During the season of 1926, four salmon traps were seized in south-eastern Alaska for illegal fishing during the weekly closed period. … A trap of P. E. Harris & Co., near Hawk Inlet, and one of the Alaska Pacific Fisheries, near Funter Bay. were seized on July 11. On trial the watchmen were found not guilty, but the traps were still in the custody of the United States marshal at the end of the season.” Bureau of Fisheries report, 1927.

I came across a set of 1948 aerial photos of Funter Bay while looking for another map (from The original is linked in my post on Funter Bay maps, below are a few excerpts showing fish traps around the bay in 1948.

A trap outside the south shore of Funter Bay (possibly pound net trap #7) Note the wake of the boat, possibly a cannery tender, leaving the trap:
trap aerial 1

C.J Alexander’s pound net style trap at Lizard Head in 1948, looking a little worse for wear. The trap has the same approximate layout as shown in the 1911 diagram (inset), but the line of pilings for the lead going to shore has vanished.
alexander 1948

A number of traps seem to have been abandoned by the Thlinket Packing Co at this point. There is no sign of Trap #6 at the Kittens in the 1948 aerials. Several of the floating-style traps are also sitting on the beach or drawn up in shallow coves where they would go dry at low tide. More traps are visible operating and in place along the shore between Funter and Hawk Inlet, but I’m not sure which companies were operating these.

Fish trap on the beach in Crab Cove:

Crab Cove trap logs outlined to be more visible:

You can see the shadow of the watchman’s shack, this might have been the shack that became the entry of our house, as mentioned in an earlier post. Our neighbor Harvey Smith also had a few sheds that were the right size to be trap watchman’s shacks, I might detail those later on.

Floating trap in place along the Admiralty Island shore south of Funter Bay, with buoyed lead net going to shore:
floating trap 3

Down at the other end of the bay, we can see a jumble of pickup sticks on the estuary between Ottesen and Dano creeks, near the sandy beach. A few hints of the outline of a trap are visible, this might be one or more damaged or disintegrating traps:
trap aerial 2

Here is the cannery site and Scow Bay with the scows visible on slipways:
cannery aerial 1948

And finally, back to the present day: here’s a trap log washed up at the sandy beach, probably from one of the traps seen above. You can see various bolts and hardware that connected the trap logs together: