McNEIL FAMILY OF KNIK, ALASKA
"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.
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 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
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 McNEIL
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:
NICK OF WASILLA, BLIND FOR 20 YEARS
LEADS FULL LIFE AND FINDS IT INTERESTING
Anchorage Times 1948
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
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
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
Blind Man Steps Off Road To Miss Death
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.
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
"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."
of interview excerpt)