McNEIL FAMILY OF KNIK, ALASKA
"Blind Nick" and "Capt. Slivers"
My research of Blind Nick and
Capt. Slivers. is an on-going project;
it is far from finished. This is a
very rough edit of what I've found to date.
My research interests in south central Alaska are varied. I
enjoy the "nuts and bolts" type info such as WHO came into Alaska;
WHEN they come to Alaska; WHY they come to Alaska, etc.
However, certain indigenous locals, like "Blind Nick" and his brother
"Capt. Slivers" McNeil have interested me for a long time. They were
truly interesting people who overcame major obstacles and adversities
to lead full and productive lives.
Nick McNeil (known as "Blind Nick") and his brother Alec Slivers
McNeil (known as "Capt. Slivers") were part of the large McNeil family
of Knik. I do not know who their biological father was, but they were raised
by Malcolm J. McNeil(of Colorado)and their Dena'ina mother, Anna/Annie.
Anna/Annie had 6 children when she joined Malcolm McNeil: Nick,
Matrona, Alec, Nicholi, Stephan and Mary. Anna/Annie and
Malcolm McNeil had one son together (Tommy) and then two more children were
born to Anna/Annie outside of the marriage (Myrtle and Victor). I'm told
by a McNeil family member, that Mrytle and Victor were raised as McNeil's,
but their biological father was Frank Crabb.
Blind Nick and his brother Capt. Slivers were both rugged and very
capable men. By most accounts, Nick was born about 1880 and lost his
site when he was in his late 40's; his probate papers say he died in
Capt. Slivers military registration papers say he was born
in 1886 at Matanuska, however a 1930 census listed his birth year as 1893
and the 1940 census listed his birth year as 1891. Capt. Slivers froze
to death near Wasilla in 1942. Neither brother ever married or had children
that I know of.
a book called, Shem Pete's Alaska, "Blind Nick" lived
on Upper Rabbit Slough (in the 1940's) near the Matanuska townsite,
in a cabin made of creosoted railroad ties. Russell Annabel, a
novelist who wrote Alaskan adventure stories with characters named "Tex
Cobb" and "Blind Nick" based those characters on true Matanuska Valley
residents of the same names.
The following Anchorage newspaper article (written in 1948)
describes Blind Nick quite well:
NICK OF WASILLA, BLIND FOR 20 YEARS
LEADS FULL LIFE AND FINDS IT INTERESTING
or darkness do not keep 73 year old "Blind Nick" from making his
almost daily trek to the little town of Wasilla from his cabin 3/4 of
a mile down the road. With his trusty two sticks to guide him and creepers
fitted over his shoe packs, "Blind Nick" walks the distance in half
an hour with ease. He buys groceries in small quantities and carries
them home in a pack on his back. In his cabin, where he lives alone,
he cooks his own food on a wood heater, cuts kindling and packs water
from a nearby well.
Although blind for the last twenty years, his main diversion
is walking around the countryside visiting his friends.
"Blind Nick" McNeil, a Native, was born in the Matanuska
area and has lived all his life in this section of the country, living
many years at Knik. For the past nine years, he has made his home
A territorial pension takes care of Nick's modest needs,
which he spends wisely, taking precautions to keep a well stocked
wood pile during the winter months. Always cheerful, he enjoys
talking with strangers and has an unusual memory. When "Blind Nick"
cashes his pension check at the local store, he asks the storekeeper
which is the twenty dollar bill, the ten, the five and the ones. He
then rolls them carefully with the twenty inside, then a ten and a five
with the ones on the outside. The next time he shops, he lays a bill
on the counter and knows just what denomination it is. Silver
coins are very easy for him to distinguish.
Several years ago, Nick often walked to Palmer, a distance
of 12 miles. By counting the cross roads along the way, he knew just
where he was going. One late afternoon, while returning from Palmer,
he related he missed a cross road because there was a car parked there.
He became lost and wandered around all night. since that
time, Nick confines his hikes to a four mile jaunt down the old Knik
road to visit his friend of many years, Theodore Wasilla. There
he visits and spends the night, returning home the next day.
"Blind Nick" has his own system for getting around,
which no doubt takes experience and patience but the main thing
is that it works. He has various markers along the way. By
the side of the road, in front of his cabin he has a stick marker and
here he turns into the path which leads him home, about one hundred
feet off the road. The Community Hall, a large log structure at
the end of Wasilla's main street is one of his landmarks. A little further
down it, is the telephone pole near the coffee shop. From here
on, there's nothing to it. He walks straight to the local store. Here
a telephone pole, a few feet from the building and the end of the sidewalk,
act as guides.
When Nick makes his weekly visit to his friend Theodore,
he walks straight from the telephone pole in front of the local store,
down to the railroad tracks, about a hundred yards, crosses the tracks
and down the old Knik Road. Using sticks, the roadside ditch
leads him down the highway.
Time is not all important in the life of "Blind Nick", but
when he gets curious about the hour of day, he pulls out his watch
from which the crystal has been removed, feels the hand and he never
(end of newspaper
In 1950, Blind Nick narrowly escaped death when someone
intentionally tried to run over him and Annie (Stump) Stephan as
they walked along Wasilla Fishhook Road (Anchorage Times 1950)
Blind Man Steps Off Road To Miss Death
enforcement agencies are carrying on a joint search today for a hit-and-run
driver who fatally injured Annie Stephan, 64 year old native woman,
early Wednesday on the Willow Creek road near Wasilla. Mrs. Stephan,
member of a large and widely known clan, was killed when a speeding vehicle
bore down on her blind companion, Nick McNeil. Mrs. Stephan's neck
was broken by the impact. Her skull was fractured and she was badly
cut. McNeil, known in the area as "Blind Nick" heard the car or
truck approaching and stepped off the road. However, he was injured
when Mrs. Stephan's body was hurled across the road with such force as
to knock him down. McNeil's shouts for help aroused the dead woman's
children who were asleep in the Stephan cabin about 100 yards away.
The driver of the death vehicle, meanwhile left the scene. McNeil
was unable to tell whether the vehicle was a car or truck but told investigators
that it was running without a muffler. On that slender clue, Deputy
Marshal Bill Bouwens of Palmer and Patrolman Stanley Laird of the Highway
patrol have been trying to find the driver. The spot where the accident
happened is about a mile north of Wasilla on a road known both as Willow
Creek Road and as Fishhook Road. Funeral services were held for Mrs. Stephan
(end of newspaper
NOTE: In a personal notebook of Thomas
"Pat" Carter (who was a friend of "Blind Nick's"), he listed the
people who lived on Fishhook Road (mid to late 1940's). At mile
1, he lists Blind Nick and Rufe and Annie Stephan with children
Irene, Doris and James. A side note says that Victor McNeil owned the land
that Blind Nick's cabin was sitting on. Rufe Stephan's wife, Annie,
is the woman who was killed in the above article; she was the sister of
The following is an excerpt from a 2003 interview that
I did with May Carter who was the U.S. Commissioner in Wasilla from
"Blind Nick used to be a teacher at the Eklutna School.
He was a very intelligent man and he spoke good English. He
was completely blind and he would make his way all over this valley.
He had sticks he carried so he could feel the edge of the road,
people watched out for him. He would make his way all over,
and it was fantastic. I remember there was a school teacher that
lived right across from the Post Office and one day she told me she
was sitting at her dressing table in her bedroom and there was a window
looking out onto Main Street, and she was sitting there fixing her hair
and the wind was blowing and wind seems to confuse people who are blind.
My brother was blind and he would get lost when the wind would blow.
Anyway, here this man was standing out in the middle of the road, looking
right square at her and said, “help me! help me!”. It was just as
though he could see her. Whether he sensed her being there, I don’t
know, and later on, some how or other, of course, the Native people drank
whenever they got it…well, he was drunk and laying in the middle of the
road and someone had run over his leg and never stopped. Someone found
him and took him to the hospital, fortunately it wasn’t broken but he
was laid up for quite a while. He had a cabin out of Wasilla about
a mile out Fishhook."
Capt. Alex Slivers McNeil
Alec Slivers McNeil, more commonly known as "Capt. Slivers"
was the small but strong and self reliant brother of "Blind Nick"
McNeil. At only 4' 8" tall, with a humped back and a stiff right leg
that gave him an easily recognizable gait; Slivers was easy to spot as
he walked all over the Valley (some sources say his sister Mary also had
a humped back).
Alec was a strong, industrious man. He delivered freight by dog team;
he was an avid and very successful hunter; he chopped wood for people;
he ran a trap line; he was an excellent mechanic and even owned his own
Ford truck in 1929; he drove everywhere until the "auto tax collector
made Capt. Slivers come through with a license for his car" (according
to the Herning diaries).
Slivers loved music and often listened to Herning's radio
at the general store in Wasilla. He lived in a small cabin at mile one
of the Wasilla Fishhook Road and could often be seen walking in the ditch
alongside the road to town.
Valley resident Bruce Graham used to give "Slivers" a ride when
he saw him. Mr. Graham's son, Robert, wrote about Capt. Slivers:
"...he moved steady long the ditch's edge with his rolling gimpy gait.
If you passed him along the gravel road and he caught your eye, he always
seemed to be smiling. Whenever we came upon him going our way, Dad gave
him a ride in our Model A pickup. It only took one trip to town in the front
seat to realize that he carried the aromas of his meager avocation as a
trapper.....Bill Bouwens the Deputy U.S. Marshall took an interest in the
general well being of the tribal remnants that lived near Slivers little
shack....[Bouwens] carried a huge first aid kit that included the basics
to make initial bodily repairs for major cuts, bruises and even broken
bones.....I was in town one weekend and spotted Slivers coming out of Koslosky's.
Even from the street I could see a boil the size of an orange on the side
of his neck.....Bill Bouwens lanced the boil on Slivers neck while he sat
on the tailgate of his car...and provided a whole bottle of aspirin for
pain and fever."
A few years later, the Graham family spotted "Slivers" walking
with crutches and a homemade peg leg. They gave him a ride and found
out that he had fallen while tending his beaver trap line. Deputy Bouwens
had set Slivers leg, assembled a splint and built a peg leg for him
out of a small birch limb crotch so that Capt. Slivers could get around.
In 1942, Capt. Slivers was found frozen to death near Wasilla.
In Herning's diary , he wrote: "Slivers found frozen to death near
his cabin at mile 1, went home drunk, failed to arrive, first victim
of Wasilla Cocktail Bar". Four days later, he wrote: "Capt. Slivers
buried on knoll back of his cabin, mile 1".
On the front page of the Anchorage Times 12/22/1942 was a
short mention of Alec Slivers McNeil's death: "A report reaching
Anchorage today reveals the death of 'Capt. Slivers' McNeil, a native
who lived in the Wasilla District for many years. "Slivers", as he was
known to all who knew him, is said to have frozen to death last Friday
night on the trail between Wasilla and the point where he had killed a
moose. He had been in to Wasilla after downing the animal and it
was on his return trip that he died. He was about 40 years old. It is
reported here, that he was buried by his native friends in their own burial
Note from Coleen: The article says he
was about 40 when he died, but Slivers military registration papers say
he was born in 1886. Other sources give Slivers a birth date between 1886-1894;
with that in mind, at his death, he would have been between 48 and 56; my
opinion is that he was a lot closer to 48 when he died.
I've never been able to find out, for sure, why Alec Slivers
McNeil was called Capt. Slivers. Wayne Bouwens, the son of Marshall
Bill Bouwens, told me that he seems to remember his father saying that Slivers
McNeil ran a small boat between Knik and Anchorage at one time; perhaps
that is how Slivers obtained the nickname "Capt.", I just don't know for
Alwin H. Wheatley, took a photo of Alec Slivers McNeil(about 1910),
it is now in the Consortium Library at UAA. Orvlle G. Herning also took
a photo of Slivers in about 1910 and it is at UAF.