Thursday, January 5, 2012

Alaska's Mad Trapper 1949 Seldovia

Reprinted with permission from
The Free Lance Star
Fredericksburg, Virginia

Mad Trapper of Seldovia

By Eileen Mead
The Free-Lance Star - August 20, 1988

When I saw the movie "Crocodile Dundee" recently, I was reminded of Henry "Hank" Kroll, the legendary Mad trapper of Seldovia, whom I met the summer after my sophomore year at the University of Alaska.

A college friend, the late Midge English, had invited me to spend the Summer of 1949 with her an her family in Seldovia on Cook Inlet. It was a picturesque fishing village of about 200 people, and at the time, it could only be reached by boat or seaplane.

I had been there about a week when Midge and I joined some of her friends at the movies. Shortly after we were greeted, someone behind me suddenly grabbed two clumps of my long, curly hair and yanked.

"Scooch down in your seat. I hates bushy-haired women," a man growled into my ear.

I whirled around expecting to see one of Midge's friends, but found myself looking into the glowering face of a bearded older man, a stranger to me.

I "scooched" down and looked questioningly at Midge, who appeared not to have noticed the encounter. I stayed in my crouched position during the movie, until I forgot and sat up in the midst of an exciting chase scene.

I felt a hand pushing down on the top of my head and heard the man behind me say, "I knew you wouldn't sit still." I was afraid to get up and leave, so I sat cowering.

Finally, the movie was over and the lights went on. I told Midge, in a whisper, what had happened. She laughed out loud and said, "Oh, that was only the Mad trapper." As we walked outside, thee bearded man, Kroll, came forward and introduced himself.
The theater is the square building on the left.

"Sorry, I just loves to scare pretty girls," he said, laughing. He invited our whole group to his house for some "good music." Surprisingly, Midge and everyone else started walking toward the house, pulling me along with them. Midge explained that the trapper was harmless, but very unpredictable. He and his wife, Lois, a public health nurse, owned and operated a large floating cannery at Snug Harbor and a goldmine near Mount McKinley, and he often carried around a fruit-jar filled with gold nuggets. They had several "nice, normal" little kids.

She said Kroll was considered to be a true genius. He had taught himself to play every instrument from the violin to the tuba.

He also taught himself to fly an airplane, and he built his own airplane from spare parts. After Kroll had been flying it for some time, she said, he flew the airplane to Anchorage and hired an instructor do take him up for a "refresher course." Once They were airborne, Kroll started asking questions about flying that prompted the instructor to ask him who had taught him to fly. When Kroll said he'd taught himself and had built the airplane, the instructor bailed out. Some time later, Midge said, the engine fell out off the airplane near Valdez and Kroll managed to glide in and land on a glacier.

The trapper earned his title, she said, because he was an excellent trapper. Once a movie company came to town to shoot some scenes and said they needed some live wolverines. Kroll went out into the woods and a short time later came back with one wolverine strapped to his backboard and leading another by a makeshift leash. He had muzzled the animal by strapping a stick between its teeth. Another U. of Alaska alumnus, Dick Inglima, who now lives in Homer, Alaska, recalled the time he flew with Kroll to Anchorage. Midway there, he said, Kroll said he was tired and asked him if he would fly the airplane. Inglima said he didn't know anything about flying, so Kroll gave him a few instructions and told him to follow the cliffs into Anchorage then fell asleep. As they approached Anchorage, Inglima became nervous and awakened Kroll.

"Kroll thanked me for waking him and told me he was glad I hadn't tried to land it myself," Inglima said. Once, Inglima said, Kroll had a dispute with a fishing partner, but he told the partner that they would wait until they got back to Seldovia where they could fight it out under the boardwalk, where all disputes are settled in the town.

"His partner was younger and more agile and he won the fight. Kroll got up, brushed himself off and asked his partner if he wanted to fish with him again the next Summer," Inglima said.

The night I went to Kroll's house with Midge and her friends, he insisted upon making us his "special" drink. He poured Eagle Brand, a sweetened condensed milk, and cherry Kool-Aid into a seltzer bottle and inserted a charge. A thick, pink substance billowed out of the container into our glasses and, although it was sickeningly sweet, we politely drank it.

When we finished, he laughed and slapped his knee saying, "Isn't that horrible stuff? I only make it to watch people squirm while they drink it."

I forgave him for everything after I heard him play the violin and then the piano. Like I was told, the man was a genius.

The above article about my father was exaggerated slightly but if truth be told it wold be so outrageous that nobody would believe it. It says I was a normal child. I’ll take that as proof.

I post this so you will have some idea of our lifestyle and how we had to earn a living. It merely exemplifies the inherent danger we face on a daily basis traveling in Alaska. I am looking for a ghost writer to help me finish the book about my father, Alaska’s Mad Trapper.    E-mail


  1. Heeey! I know those Nishnaabs up top! And I grew up with Sara :-D.

  2. Nice photos by Jake Booth, the Wakefield Plant, the theatre, and the post office with me and my red hat. I scanned them from Jake's film originals.