Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


'DAMMIT' THE DONKEY: A Ketchikan Legend
By June Allen


July 02, 2002
Tuesday - 11:50 pm

This is a story about 'Dammit' the Donkey, a Craig work animal who spent his retirement years in Ketchikan. Dammit was actually a burro, but Ketchikan never quibbles over technicalities - and the name Dammit the Burro doesn't have quite the ring of Dammit the Donkey. I wrote the first part of the story in January of 1990 for the Ketchikan Record, told to me by longtime resident and former Craig postmistress Norma Anderson and the late Bob Ellis, legendary bush pilot. The second part of Dammit's story came to me by mail shortly after, courtesy of Darlene Carson.

Bob Ellis said the donkey came to his attention when an order to Ellis Air came in from Craig to fly a donkey to that Prince of Wales Island village. It was back in the '40s. The animal was due to arrive by Alaska Steamship Co. Well, when the donkey arrived, 600 pounds of him including crate, Bob realized his original plan to transport the animal wasn't going to fly. The donkey would have to go by mailboat, which made the run from Ketchikan to Craig once a week. Unfortunately, the weather during the week the donkey came in was especially bad and the mailboat canceled that weekly trip.

That left Bob to care for a donkey. It was, as usual, raining. He took Dammit home with him and housed him in the basement. "Would you believe," Bob said, "that we couldn't even smell it until the third day?" Son Peter was assigned the chore of walking the donkey for exercise and Bob said he heard Peter was charging the neighbor kids each a nickel to ride it. And once during that time Peter had to be called out of school to round up Dammit when he got loose and decided to roam.

Norma Anderson recalled one small incident she said Bob forgot to mention. It seems the Ellises threw a party during the week the donkey was in residence. Bob bet all his friends he could produce a donkey. He had a lot of takers! The donkey was duly led upstairs and it was after Bob collected on his bets that one of the animal's peculiar characteristics was noticed. Dammit could go up stairs nicely, but he couldn't figure out how to go down - and wasn't willing to learn a new skill.

Meanwhile, back in Craig, the entire community was awaiting Dammit's arrival on the mailboat. Why on earth did someone in Craig want a donkey? Norma Anderson, who first settled in Craig in 1938, explained. "Back then there were no streets as such in Craig. There were just planks from here to there to get where you wanted to go. Anyone who's ever been there knows there's a hill to get over from one side of town to the other. Well, there was this old fellow named Bailey Sanderfer who got the idea that a donkey could pull all those 50-gallon barrels of oil over that hill easier than a man could push them on a hand truck. So he ordered the donkey and decided to go into the dray business."

The whole town was excited, and when the whistle announced the arrival of the mailboat that carried Dammit, the whole town of Craig turned out. It turned into sort of a holiday. Old Bailey Sanderfer had a cart ready for his new dray animal and the town, which Bob said probably had never even seen a horse much less a donkey, was ready to celebrate! "We didn't need much of an excuse in those days," Norma recalled. "I remember once someone said it was his brother's birthday so we threw a big party. The brother was in California so he didn't know about it. But it didn't matter. Anything was a good excuse."

Dammit the donkey was a big hit! As he paraded down the street there were signs on both sides of him that read, "Don't be a jackass. Fly with Ellis Air."

Norma remembered that Dammit did his duty hauling freight for quite some time. But Craig was slowly changing in those fast-moving postwar years. Little by little, streets were being built, one laid out while another was graveled in. Dammit had become a common sight, arousing little further curiosity or comment. Except once. Old Bailey Sanderfer decided to sponsor a rodeo featuring his dray animal! Dammit was put through his paces, although Norma didn't recall what the events were. But apparently Dammit performed well because at the end he was taken into a bar where he was given a beer.

Dammit's days as a dray animal were numbered, however. With streets being built cars began to come to Craig. And trucks. Dammit was passe. A yellowed and undated clipping from the Ketchikan Daily News announced that Dammit arrived in Ketchikan on the mailboat Dart en route to his new home with the Lawrence (Kit) Carson family. Children of the Clover Pass area were awaiting the burro's arrival and a welcoming committee was on hand to greet him. Don King volunteered the use of his pickup to transport Dammit from the dock to the Carson home. Dammit was tied up and kept out of trouble. For awhile. But Dammit had some bad habits - like braying greetings to passersby at ungodly hours and other little idiosyncrasies that bothered the neighbors.

The following story is quoted verbatim from the Ketchikan Daily News edition of May 5, 1951, with a small headline that says "'Dammit Center of Interest." This is the news item:

"It is understood that "Dammit," the little long-eared burro from Craig, became the center of a dispute during the past week when owner Kit Carson arrived in town to file a complaint in the U.S. District Atttorney's office against Wesley Miller on the charge of assault with a dangerous weapon.

Carson relates that he became enraged in an argument with Miller after he is alleged to have fired a shotgun blast at the little animal. Carson stated that as he approached Miller he was threatened with the shotgun but that he managed to wrest it from Miller's grasp.

During the progress of the scuffle, however, he says that Mrs. Miller struck him over the head with a rock but he managed to get possession of the gun and his 12-year-old daughter picked it up and threw it in the bay.

Carson says he then threw Miller in the bay and ended the argument. According to reports, the donkey was not seriously injured."

Mr. and Mrs. Miller were charged with assault with a weapon, according to another clipping. Both of the Millers had to post a bond of $1500. There is no clipping to explain the resolution of the case, but it is safe to assume it was settled out of court once tempers cooled?

Then the Pioneers of Alaska decided on a Fourth of July parade entry featuring an old prospector and his donkey. Almer Wolff, who lived just above today's Wolf Point, went out to get Dammit and discovered that the animal seemed weak. He was not thriving on the forage along the shoreline. So it was decided that Dammit would be moved to the Pioneers' grassy property at Wolf Point. The men built a corral for him and housed him in a tool shed. Passing fishermen would call out to the donkey and Dammit would bray his return greetings. Every morning Mrs. Wolff would call out "Good morning, Dammit!" and the donkey would bray his reply. Basil Fitzwilliam, the Wolff's tenant, was so annoyed by the early morning braying that he moved. And Dammit had a habit of breaking out of his corral. He would sit down in the middle of the road until Mrs. Wolff could coax him to get up and move.

Dammit had his moments of fame, however. Father Watkins is said to have brought him to town for a Halloween fund-raiser at St. John's Church, with Dammit on hand in the undercroft to be seen and petted. And there was the time Tuck Zaruba is said to have led Dammit up the stairs to Herb Shaub's house and left him there for Herb to figure out the way to get the stubborn critter down the stairs again. And how Herb retaliated by leading Dammit up the long stairway to the upper floor of a rooming house Zaruba owned, leaving Zaruba to get Dammit down again. He accomplished the feat by dragging a mattress up and sledding the donkey down.

Dammit was eventually moved out to the Turner's home on Ward Lake Road. He was getting old and was unwell. The town responded by collecting food to tempt the animal. During a longshoremen's strike when only beer and tombstones could be unloaded, Mrs. H. P. Hansen bought the last bale of hay from a local dairy for Dammit. A bakery gave all their old bread to him. The cut grass from the Federal Building and other lawns was also donated for the ailing burro. When he came down with pneumonia, Wolff and Turner sat with all night with him and doctored him with whiskey. But they were unable to save him.

Dammit the Donkey was buried near Last Chance campground on the old Ward Lake road. And thus ended an entertaining chapter in the story of Ketchikan, Alaska's First City.



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