Feisty Old Woman, Ketchikan, Totem Poles

Feisty Old Woman, Ketchikan, Totem Poles

This Feisty Old Woman dreamed for many years to see real totem poles. Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of these carved beauties. Totem poles were not worshiped as some early missionaries once thought. Totems tell a story about a particular person, clan, myth, or legend. In a world where we struggle to find meaning, the totem guides us through various symbols to know what the carver wants us to know, yet leaves some things open for personal interpretation. The meaning is clear but we can apply the interpretation to best aid us in our own lives.

Totem Bight State Historic Site

Totem Bight State Historic Site is located 10 miles from Ketchikan on the N. Tongass Hwy. It’s worth the drive.  The Tlingit and Haida Native peoples both have totem poles representing their stories at Totem Bight State Historic Site. The information in quotes and the photo of the symbolic characters are from the tourist brochure I received upon entry into the Site. You can find more information on the website: dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/totembgh.htm

View from Totem Bight State Historical Park

Totem Pole Restoration

Totem pole restoration began due to the early migration in the 1900’s of many of the First Nation people. They moved to the European settler’s communities so they could find work. Many villages and totems were deserted and the totem poles eroded over the years.

“In 1938, the U.S. Forest Service began a program aimed at salvaging and reconstructing these large cedar monuments. By using Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) funds to hire skilled carvers from among the older Natives, two things took place: young artisans learned the art of carving totem poles and totems which had been left in the woods to go back into the earth were either repaired or duplicated.”

The artist were meticulous in duplicating the totems, even the tools were hand made to give each carving the authenticity of the original works of art.

Totem Pole Symbols

Totem pole symbols help us to “read” what the carver wants tell us. Here is a photo of inside the brochure:

I carried the brochure with me as I walked the trail trying to recognize what each totem was trying to tell me. I admit to not always being able to tell if the beak was long and straight like a Raven, or curved like an Eagle. Of course there are many more symbols than listed in the brochure, but it was still very helpful. Here’s another helpful photo for information:

Totem Bight Clan House

The Totem Bight Clan House was built to represent the type of clan house built in the early 1900’s. I was lucky enough to be sitting inside the structure when a tour guide came in and told us all the story of the community house. It would have housed 30 to 50 people. (Even with us solo visitors and the tour group, the house felt spacious.) With body heat and a large central fireplace, it kept everyone warm when the cold winds blew and snow built up outside the walls. The smooth planked platform, built along the edges, were where people slept at night. The planks were removable to store objects underneath.

Raven Carving

The raven totem being carved was on display along with the tools used to craft the piece. There is no particular time limit to carving a totem pole. One feature may be added months after the last one, and some are never completely finished. Each artist also has their own time and style in carving their work of art. Some modern artist use electric devices to help speed the work, some adhere to the ancient tools of their ancestors.














She Did It!

“She did it,” said this totem to his mother, trying to blame his misdeed on his sister. I have no idea what this totem means but it made me think of my brother when we were growing up.




Saxman Clan House

Saxman Clan House is located at the First Nation Park of the same name. I was able to visit with a First Nation man who was born and raised in Saxman. As we talked an Eagle watched us from a nearby tree, as Ravens flew overhead. I had never seen a Raven in person before. Coming from Texas, I had seen many crows and thought them a large bird, but Ravens can be up to 4.4 lbs! It doesn’t sound like much but birds are all hollow bones and feathers which weigh practically nothing, so a bird at that weight is the size of an infant. They flew over the clan house as if to protect it.

Entry Totem

This entry totem would normally be placed in front of a clan house. You would enter through the opening that I am standing in front of.





Rock Oysterman Pole

The Rock Oysterman Pole is a memorial pole that tells the story of a young man who lost his life. He was fishing for octopus when his hand was enclosed by a giant oyster and he could not free himself. The incoming tide sealed his fate. This was the only totem I saw where the human was represented independently of the actual totem pole.

My Favorite Totem

My interpretation of my favorite totem is that there are three friends who, joined together, can face any trial or tribulation life throws their way. Detail in artistry abounds in both parks I went to.




Creepy Cruise Ship

Viewing totem poles helped balance the creepiness of the giant cruise ship that towered above the town.

Walking Tour, Creek Street

I took a walking tour that took me to Creek Street where brothels were built one right after another. For over fifty years, from 1900 to 1953, these establishments lined both sides of the Ketchikan creek.

Dolly’s House is a museum now. I didn’t pay to go inside, but I found this sign humorous.




Since I camped outside the city limits, finding a parking space could be tricky. I found that getting to town before all the stores opened was a surefire way of finding a parking spot. There’s plenty to see before “opening hours’ when your wallet starts jumping around in excitement to get out and spread some money around. 

Walking Tour, Salmon Run

Walking along the tour brings you to a very old salmon run that is now bordered by city buildings. People still catch fish here and a salmon gate has been built.


Walking tours or hikes will take you to beautiful places in Ketchikan.





Signal Creek Campground

By the end of the day my Subaru found its way back to Signal Creek Campground. It was only $5.00 a night because it was so primitive. The toilets were little more than rustic outhouses, and you have to pump your own water. Nestled within the Tongass National Forest the scenery was stunning.


It felt a bit magical walking from the campground to Ward Lake.







I didn’t notice the visually impairment of the shadow in this shot but there is a lovely wooden bridge over Ward Creek in the distance. You can see it better if you click on it.

If you do make it to Ketchikan and camp in any of the campgrounds, I would highly recommend getting there during the daylight hours. Navigating at night is CREEPY! It’s the darkest place I’ve ever been to!

From Ketchikan, I caught the ferry to Prince Rupert, BC, Canada. I left a piece of my heart in Alaska, but I know the Ravens will take good care of it.

Thus ends my “Feisty Old Woman Goes North To Alaska” adventure.

Here’s the cost breakdown I promised at the beginning of this series;

Gasoline $ 932.62
Food (I like to eat out.)    954.20
Lodging, Campsite, RV Parking 1,205.64
Souvenirs    402.12
Cash    600.00
Park Fees    110.00
 Total   $4,205.58


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