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THE 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.


    coleen_mielke@hotmail.com


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INTRODUCTION

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 lived with Malcolm J. McNeil (of Colorado) and their Dena'ina mother, Anna/Annie.

Anna/Annie had 6 children when she joined Malcolm McNeil: Matrona, Nick, Alec, Nicholi, Stephan and Mary. They also 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 descendant, that Mrytle and Victor's biological father was Frank Crab.

Blind Nick was born about 1880 and lost his site when he was in his 50's; probate papers say he died in 1953 at the age of 73.

Capt. Slivers military registration papers say he was born in 1886 at Matanuska. He died in 1942. Neither brother ever married or had children that I know of.


The following Anchorage newspaper article describes Blind Nick quite well:


NICK OF WASILLA, BLIND FOR 20 YEARS
 LEADS FULL LIFE AND FINDS IT INTERESTING
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)
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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)

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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 in the 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 (Blind Nick's step brother) owned the land that the cabin was sitting on. Rufe Stephan's wife, Annie, is the woman who was killed in the above article; she was the sister of John Stump.

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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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Capt. Alex Slivers McNeil

Alec McNeil, more commonly known as "Capt. Slivers" was the small but strong and self reliant brother of "Blind Nick" McNeil. He was only 4' 8" tall and had a humped back and a stiff right leg that gave him an easily recognizable gait as he walked around the Valley. Historian Wayne Bouwens, son of Marshall Bill Bouwens, told me that he remembered his father saying that Slivers McNeil ran a small boat between Knik and Anchorage at one time, and that is probably where he picked up the name Captain Slivers.

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 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 truck" (quote from the Herning diaries).

Slivers loved music and often listened to the radio in Herning's 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 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 in and around Slivers little cabin and carried a huge 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 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. 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 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".  However, the front page of the Anchorage Times, dated 12/22/1942, gave a little more of the story: "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 ground."

Note from Coleen: Alec Slivers McNeil was actually 56 when he died.
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Alwin H. Wheatley, took a photo of Alec "Slivers" McNeil (about 1910), it is now in the Consortium Library at UAA. Orville G. Herning also took a photo of "Slivers" in about 1910 and it is at UAF.

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