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"Capt. Slivers" and "Blind Nick"

My  research of Capt. Slivers and Blind Nick
is far from finished. This is a
very rough edit of what I've found to date.

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Alec Slivers McNeil (known as "Capt. Slivers") and his brother Nick McNeil (known as "Blind Nick")
were part of the large McNeil family of Knik. I do not know who their biological father was, but when their Dena'ina mother (Annie) joined Malcolm J. McNeil in Knik, she already had six children, including Matrona, Nick, Alec, Nicholi, Stephan and Mary. McNeil and Annie also had one son together (Tommy) and then Annie had two more children outside of the marriage (Myrtle and Victor). I was told by a McNeil family descendant that Myrtle and Victor's biological father was Frank Crab. In any case, they were all raised with the last name of McNeil.

Capt.  Alex  Slivers  McNeil

Alec McNeil, more commonly known as "Capt. Slivers", was a small but strong and self reliant man. At only 4' 8" tall, he had a humped back and a stiff right leg that gave him an easily recognizable gait as he walked around the valley.  

Valley historian Wayne Bouwens, son of Marshall Bill Bouwens, told me that his father told him Slivers once ran a small freight boat between Knik and Anchorage and that was probably where Alec picked up the moniker "Capt.".

Slivers 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 and was an excellent mechanic. He loved music and often listened to the radio in Herning's general store in Wasilla.He lived in a small cabin one mile up Wasilla Fishhook Road and there were always friends and relatives living in (or around) his cabin. Today, that area is called Blind Nick Circle.

An early Valley resident, named Bruce Graham, used to give Slivers a ride when he spotted him walking along the road. Graham's son, Robert, wrote: "He moved steady along 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 found 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 slivers carried the aromas of his meager avocation as a trapper. Marshal Bill Bouwens took an interest in the general well being of the Dena'ina people that lived near Slivers little cabin, and carried a large first aid kit that included the basics to treat major cuts, bruises and even broken bones. I was in town one weekend and spotted Slivers coming out of Koslosky's", Graham said. "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  while Slivers sat on the tailgate of Bouwens truck and then he 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. Marshal Bouwens had set Slivers leg, assembled a splint and built a peg leg for him out of a small birch limb crotch so that Slivers could get around.

In 1942, Slivers was found frozen to death dear 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 at mile 1".  

The front page, of the 12/22/1942 Anchorage Times, had the following article: "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, 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 into Wasilla after downing the animal and it was on his return trip that he died. He was about 40 years old. It is reported that he was buried by his native friends in their own burial ground."

According to Slivers military registration papers, he was born in 1886 at Matanuska, which would have made him 56 years old at the time of his death. As far as I know, he never had any children.

I know of two photos of Capt. Slivers as an adult. They are in the Leonard Grau photo collection.

After Slivers died in 1942, his step-brother, Victor McNeil, received patent to the land (159 acres) where the Slivers cabin sat. His brother, Blind Nick, Rufe and Annie (Stump) Stephan and their children Irene, Doris and James eventually lived in the cabin.


Blind Nick was born about 1880 and lost his sight when he was in his 50's; probate papers say he died in 1953 at the age of 73.
The following Anchorage newspaper article describes Blind Nick quite well:

Anchorage Times 1948

Icy roads 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 near Wasilla.

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 he 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 told how 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.

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, and in front of his cabin, he has a stick marker and here he turns into the path which leads him home which is 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. From there, 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 misses.
(end of newspaper article)

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

Two law 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 at Knik.
(end of newspaper article)


The following is an excerpt is from a 2003 interview that I did with May Carter who was the U.S. Commissioner in Wasilla from 1944-1959.

"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. One time Nick had been drinking and he laid down in the middle of the road and someone ran over his leg and never stopped.  Somebody finally 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."

(end of interview excerpt)


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