A group of people gather in front of the stone fireplace at Taku Lodge including Leigh Hackley “Hack” Smith, who inherited one-quarter of the estate from his grandparents at age nine, his mother Erie Smith next to fireplace on the right and Mary Joyce who took over the lodge when “Hack” died in 1934. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

A group of people gather in front of the stone fireplace at Taku Lodge including Leigh Hackley “Hack” Smith, who inherited one-quarter of the estate from his grandparents at age nine, his mother Erie Smith next to fireplace on the right and Mary Joyce who took over the lodge when “Hack” died in 1934. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

A centennial tribute to the people who built the Taku Glacier Lodge

The former hunting and fishing camp has gone through generations of owners and changes.

A hobo who became a surgeon, a multimillionaire heiress, a shrapnel-plagued playboy, and a nurse who mushed a thousand miles — these are the folks who created today’s Taku Glacier Lodge. Originally a hunting and fishing camp 30 miles east of Juneau, the lodge is now celebrating its hundredth birthday.

An undated photo of Dr. Harry Carlos DeVighne. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

An undated photo of Dr. Harry Carlos DeVighne. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Dr. Harry Carlos DeVighne built the lodge in 1923. A Cuban orphan schooled on the streets of New York, DeVighne hopped freight trains heading west. He saw the desecrated Lakota Sioux bodies at Wounded Knee Creek. He smuggled weapons to Cuba. Inspired by a drunk doctor, DeVighne graduated from medical school in San Francisco, surveyed the Native races of Alaska, and became chief surgeon for Treadwell and Alaska-Juneau miners. Serving on the Board of Medical Examiners and as Alaska’s Commissioner of Health, he orchestrated the dogsled run from Nenana to Nome to deliver serum for the diphtheria outbreak in 1925, an event memorialized each year during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.

In 1923, DeVigne’s Taku River Trading Company opened Twin Glacier Camp with a 20-by-40-foot central lodge and 40 guest sleeping tents. A sportsman’s paradise, it beckoned an exhausted Father Hubbard, the glacier priest who crossed the Juneau Icefield from Mendenhall to Taku glaciers in 67 hours, and yachtsmen Erie Smith, her son Hack, and nurse Mary Joyce, the next owners.

A early photo (circa 1923-1924) of Taku Lodge with Dr. Harry Carlos DeVighne’s guest tents. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

A early photo (circa 1923-1924) of Taku Lodge with Dr. Harry Carlos DeVighne’s guest tents. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Erie Louise Caughell Hackley Smith, the second owner of the Taku Lodge, lost her mother when she was six. Lumber baron Charles and wife Julia Hackley signed for their servant’s daughter to be their indentured servant, but raised her as their daughter. The Hackleys, the “Medicis of Muskegon,” donated millions in hospitals, parks, libraries, and a trust fund to their beloved city of Muskegon, Michigan. When they died, Erie inherited $3 million ($104 in 2023 values), one-fourth of their estate, and the Hackley mansion.

Leigh Hackley “Hack” Smith reads on a couch at the Taku Lodge in this undated photo. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Leigh Hackley “Hack” Smith reads on a couch at the Taku Lodge in this undated photo. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Leigh Hackley “Hack” Smith, Erie’s son, at age nine, inherited another quarter of the estate from his Hackley grandparents. A handsome, charming fellow, Hack studied abroad, attended Yale, and married twice briefly. He joined the French Foreign Legion and the American Field Service Ambulance Corps in 1917 (WWI), earning two Croix de Guerre medals for gallantry. Recovering from war wounds, he became addicted to morphine, and later alcohol, but met a vibrant young nurse named Mary Joyce. Hack’s mother Erie hired this nurse to accompany her and her son to Alaska aboard Hack’s Stella Maris, a 62-foot yacht Hack built to cruise the Pacific Northwest. In 1931, when DeVighne went south for a sabbatical, Hack leased DeVighne’s lodge as a year-round home for Mary and himself. Erie returned with guests each summer.

Mary Joyce at Taku Lodge with one of her cows, Myra. Joyce hated canned milk, so Erie Smith cruised to Alaska one summer with Myra on board. Myra and her children, Mukluk (aka Muckluck) and Moccasin, provided milk and butter to summer lodge guests. Myra wintered and was bred in Juneau. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Mary Joyce at Taku Lodge with one of her cows, Myra. Joyce hated canned milk, so Erie Smith cruised to Alaska one summer with Myra on board. Myra and her children, Mukluk (aka Muckluck) and Moccasin, provided milk and butter to summer lodge guests. Myra wintered and was bred in Juneau. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Mary Joyce called herself a “lucky lady.” Eighteen months old when her mother allegedly committed suicide, Mary was raised by her mother’s sister and “Doc” Francis Daly along with the Daly’s six children in Wisconsin. Lured to Hollywood, Mary worked as a surgical nurse at Los Angeles Catholic Hospital. She advised movie directors about medical scenes and got jobs acting but couldn’t say no to Erie’s offer to cruise to Alaska. In three years living at the lodge, Hack and Mary upgraded facilities, planted a huge garden, and commissioned a 75-horsepower boat Hack named Mary J that cut their Juneau supply trips to three hours. They raised 15 sled dogs and three Guernsey cows — Myra, Mukluk, and Moccasin — renowned for giving salmon-flavored milk. In 1934 when Hack, 38, died of a heart attack on a hunting trip, Erie purchased the lodge, gave it to Mary Joyce who lived there year-round, and spent summers there with Mary and guests.

Mary Joyce, a former Taku Lodge owner, arrives in Fairbanks with her lead dog Tip posing on her knee. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Mary Joyce, a former Taku Lodge owner, arrives in Fairbanks with her lead dog Tip posing on her knee. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Invited to the March 1936 Fairbanks Ice Carnival, Mary made the thousand-mile journey by dogsled with five of her Taku huskies. On her three-month journey, she traveled alone or with hired guides, mostly Tlingit and Athabascan Natives, breaking new trails through uncharted territory from the Taku Lodge into Canada and Fairbanks. She hired Taku River First Nation Tlingit elder Billy Williams (Yax Goos) and sons Steve and Frank to guide her from Tulsequah to Atlin. Some of the river crossings were challenging. Billy directed his sons to “put spruce boughs over logs so (Mary) could not see the swirling caldron beneath.” The dogs trotted across, but Mary crossed on her hands and knees. “White lady plenty scared she fall in river,” Billy told reporters. At night, Billy told stories. The Taku was a lake when glaciers across the mouth of the valley trapped the river. He told of battles and gatherings and potlatches. Mary admired these resourceful people, writing in her journal that Native people had found contentment without needing all the necessities of modern society.

She became a national hero in the dark days of the Great Depression for her adventurous spirit, quick-witted humor, spunky determination, and grit. “I just wanted to see if I could do it,” she told reporters. “Most Alaskan women can take care of themselves.”

Twin Glacier Lake and glaciers near the lodge during its early years. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Twin Glacier Lake and glaciers near the lodge during its early years. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Later an airline flight attendant, entrepreneur, movie star and Sun Valley celebrity, she taught survival skills to World War II soldiers and was a consultant for building the Alaska Canada Highway over much of the route she pioneered. At her funeral in 1976, someone commented, “Mary Joyce was one hell of a woman and lived a life that any man could envy.” She was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame and helped put Taku Lodge on the National Register of Historic Places. Her journals and logs are in the Historical Collection at the Alaska State Library.

Sometimes the lodge gained fame for its animal population. In addition to Mary’s dogs and cows, in the 1950s Mrs. Marion Storford, lodge manager, raised Taku Tilly, a baby moose. For the Bixby family, it was Nerf-Nerf, a bottle-fed baby moose. The most famous resident was Scarface, a local black bear that slept on the Killisnoo cabin porch after Ron Maas purchased the lodge in 1971. Maas married his wife Kathy by the fireplace, raised their children, and restored the facilities, all under Scarface’s supervision. The Maas family envisioned a way to sustain the lodge financially by offering visitors a three-hour flight and salmon feast during the day. Guests got to experience where the wild things are when Scarface arrived.

A Seattle Times pictorial cover from Feb. 6, 1955, shows the Twin Glacier Lake iceberg and Twin Glacier Lake.

A Seattle Times pictorial cover from Feb. 6, 1955, shows the Twin Glacier Lake iceberg and Twin Glacier Lake.

Present owners Ken and Michelle Ward inherited Scarface and his progeny from the Maas family when they purchased the lodge in 1993. To buy the lodge, Ken sold Ward Air, the air taxi business he started and ran for 20 years; flew guests; told the lodge’s history; and upgraded facilities while Michelle “Mic” continued to work as a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines, perfected recipes, ordered supplies, oversaw employees. Together they managed the business while raising their five children who summered at the lodge. Currently the Wards’ son Mike, his wife Jessalyn, their three young sons, and nine employees live at the lodge and manage it each summer, a challenge with no roads. Supplies are flown or boated in.

For 30 years through three generations, the Wards have maintained the hundred-year-old lodge and attracted guests from around the globe with a flight over five glaciers, floatplane landing on the Taku River, a salmon feast with a glacier view, and time to explore Alaska’s wilderness 30 miles from our state capital. Adventurous people live in this adventurous place.

Sources:

• Baldwin, B., “Mary Joyce’s Thousand Miles on Snow” poem in Northern Highlights and Mary Joyce, Bert Baldwin, 1976.

• Bell, K. and J., Shelfer: Taku: Four Amazing Individuals, Will Publishing, 2006.

• De Vighne, H. C.: The Time of My Life: A Frontier Doctor in Alaska, Lippincott, 1942.

• Greiner, M.A.: Mary Joyce: Taku to Fairbanks, 1,000 Miles by Dogteam, AuthorHouse, 2007.

• Alaska State Library Historical Collections: Mary Joyce

• https://wingsairways.com/about-the-lodge/

• Williams, Jackie. 2013. Lingít Kusteeyí: What My Grandfather Taught Me. Taku River Tlingit First Nation: Atlin, BC.

• Smythe, Chuck, Ph.D., Senior Ethnologist at Sealaska Heritage Institute, suggested SHI’s interactive place name exhibit which includes Elizabeth Nyman’s version of the story “The Battle of the Giants” within the Taku River landscape, read by David Katzeek.

• Mary Lou Gerbi is longtime Juneau editor, writer and photographer who was the Juneau Empire’s special editions editor from 1995-98.

Mary Joyce as a nurse at Los Angeles Hospital, circa 1929-1930. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

Mary Joyce as a nurse at Los Angeles Hospital, circa 1929-1930. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

A poster of Leigh Hackley “Hack” Smith vessel, the Stella Maris. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

A poster of Leigh Hackley “Hack” Smith vessel, the Stella Maris. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

A book cover featuring Dr. Harry Carlos DeVighne. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

A book cover featuring Dr. Harry Carlos DeVighne. (Courtesy of Ken and Mic Ward)

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