The Fur Coat

Paul Corbin came to Alaska many years ago to commercially fish for salmon.  The lifestyle suited him and he had many boats, caught many fish, raised a family and maintained a wilderness homestead in a remote area of southeast Alaska that would become Lisianski Inlet Lodge.  Here is his story, enjoy!

The old timers have so many stories to tell about the gold mines in Southeastern Alaska when people started coming into the territory from all over the world.  They tell about the fishing communities, the canneries, and the fish traps.  If you go back further in time, you have the Sea Otter trade and the Russians and, of course, the native people who have lived here forever.  

My grandfather spent nine years in the Alaskan gold rush and so when I finally arrived in Alaska I made it my home.  Instead of mining for gold, I became a commercial fisherman, finding gold in the form of huge king salmon.  It was a good time to check out of mainstream America, which I did for several years, and I was lucky to find a good hideout in the Southeast Alaskan Archipelago.  

It was a quiet place and very peaceful.  Flood tide dictated the main fishing time and when the tide started to ebb the fishermen headed back to the cove (Elfin Cove) for the day which often led to plenty of time to paint spoons (fishing lures) on the dock or tie up leaders.  

Agnes, an old retired schoolmarm, owned a small hostel and often cooked meals for fishermen after their long day of trolling for salmon.  She was famous for her cooking and would usually have a home made pie fresh out of the oven.  If Agnes liked you, you got a bigger piece of pie than the other fellow.  Fishermen eyeballed the other mans pie to make sure he got his fair share.  The rest of the world out there did not exist for these people and for awhile at least, it was just like that.  

Along with the small fishing communities, there also were the various fish camps operating during the main summer months.  The fishing fleet had a tendency to migrate to the west, wandering west of Cape Spencer mainly in August to chase silvers.  The smaller trollers day trolled and sold their catch to fish buyers who in turn packed the fish in ice and ran them into towns like Juneau or Sitka and returned with mail, barrel’s of white gas, groceries and fishing gear.  It was possible to spend the entire summer in a fish camp located in a remote cove somewhere on the rugged coast of Southeast Alaska.  

When Fall time came the fishermen started talking about getting the winter's supply of deer meat put up.  There was lots to do what with cutting extra wood for winter and smoking salmon.  The women were busy picking blueberries and making sure that there were enough canned vegetables and fruit and flour for baking bread.  Often the winters were long and cold with lots of snow.  

If you happened to live in a town and cabin fever set in there were always the bars to visit.  They were warm and alcohol was plentiful.  Everybody mostly knew each other and one could sit and excchange fishing stories, or if you knew another person well you might get a different kind of story.... Sven was one of those people and one night he got talking about how he had grown up in Alaska. 


Sven grew up in Sitka.  He was raised by his father and stepmother, Olaf and Lilly.  Olaf had been a sucessful business man involed in fish buying and the brokering of salmon to buyers both in the States and Europe.  His wife had passed on when Sven was a baby.  In time, Olaf met and married Lilly who was a beautiful young woman, half Tlingit and half Russian.  They lived in a house in the village right next to the channel and protected boat harbor.  The couple liked to party and spent most of their time in the local bars leaving Sven to fend for himself.  One day, Lilly saw a beautiful fur coat for sale in the local furrier shop.  Lilly loved that coat and knew she had to have it.  Olaf at that time still had some money even though he was semi-retired and fast trading his business profession over for a good bottle of vodka.  After weeks of badgering from Lilly about buying the coat, Olaf relented and bought the fur coat for $8,000.00.  After a time, Olaf would often bring up the subject of the coat in public, telling how he had bought it for Lilly and how much it cost.  He would also ridicule her about wearing it wherever she went and as his personal finances diminished, he would say, “if you had not made me buy that goddamed thing, we would have that extra money today.”  On and on it went.  One night Olaf and Lilly were out drinking at their favorite bar.  Things were not going too well for them and folks noticed that the couple seemed to spend more and more time arguing with each other.  On this night, Lilly suddenly left the bar around midnight and did not return.

It was a sobering moment the next morning when a police sergeant with a note book stood in Lilly's kitchen by the sink gazing out at the channel through a small open window with the morning sun streaming through it.  He could hear the seagulls on the docks crying away over whatever morning breakfast they could find.  He bent over closer to examine the little pieces of fur scattered around the room and noticed the scizzors on the table.  “She sure did a hell of a job on that fur coat,” he thought, "there wasn't much left of that coat.”  “Hey Pete,” a deputy called, “are you about through in there?”  “Yeah, go ahead and cut her down, Jim.”  He thought to himself, “I've seen some strange things in my years but this beats all, I have never seen anybody cut up a fur coat into thousands of pieces and then hang themselves with a piece of halibut groundline.”  As the sergeant passed the deputy and coroner on their way into the kitchen to let Lilly down from the wood beam he thought about how maybe he should just take the day off and go fishing.  It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day and one might as well take advantage of the weather, we don't get that many nice days up here.