The legend of Allen HasselborgTwenty-five years ago last month I met legendary Alaskan brown bear guide Ralph Young at a book signing at the Juneau Yacht Club. Young was in his late 70s at the time, and dying from cancer, but it was he and his two books that piqued my interest in the hermit Allen Hasselborg.
By: Bernie Kuntz, Outdoors, The Jamestown Sun
Twenty-five years ago last month I met legendary Alaskan brown bear guide Ralph Young at a book signing at the Juneau Yacht Club. Young was in his late 70s at the time, and dying from cancer, but it was he and his two books that piqued my interest in the hermit Allen Hasselborg.
Hasselborg lived alone on Admiralty Island for 50 years, coming to Southeast Alaska in 1904. Where and when he was born, I have been unable to learn, but I know he died at the Pioneers’ Home in Sitka in 1954. Young claims to have spent several days with Hasselborg in 1949, hiking the interior of 1,600-square-mile Admiralty Island, and living off the land. He wrote that Hasselborg was in his 70s at the time, so I am guessing he was about 80 when he died.
Hasselborg’s cabin was at Mole Harbor, which is located on the east side of Admiralty near the mouth of Seymour Canal — a long narrow bay that opens into Stephen’s Passage. (I have never been to Mole Harbor, but in 1985 was transported by floatplane with another fellow into the upper reaches of Seymour Canal. We stayed in an ancient trapper’s cabin that my partner had bought from somebody, and we hunted Sitka deer.)
Hasselborg is said to have hunted Alaskan brown bears for their hides in the early years of the 20th century. He then hunted bears for their skulls for the great biologist/wildlife classifier, Merriam, and later became a brown bear guide. According to Young, Hasselborg quit guiding in the late 1920s and became a recluse.
In Young’s first book, “Grizzlies Don’t Come Easy”, he wrote that Hasselborg subsisted almost entirely on what he raised in a “carefully tended garden” and on meat and fish that could be found right out his front door. In Young’s second book, “My Lost Wilderness”, he wrote that Hasselborg used a fish-and-wild-hay compost with sea kelp added for fertilizer. Southeast Alaska, with its lack of sunshine, is not good gardening country, but Young said Hasselborg grew beets, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, peas, cabbage and asparagus. “In the watershed of Mole River were enough wild berries to feed all the people living in Alaska,” Young wrote. With clams and mussels on the beach, red snappers, halibut, sole and cod in the bay, and trout and salmon in the river, Hasselborg had all manner of seafood at his disposal. Sitka deer lived in profusion and were a part of the hermit’s diet.
Young called Hasselborg’s cabin a “model of efficiency.” It was a one-room affair with an upstairs attic and an adjacent lean-to that served as a workshop and storage area. The main room, which Young remembers as being about 16’ X 12’, served as “kitchen, dining room, library and armory.” Hasselborg slept in the attic on an enormous bear rug that Young believed must have measured 10 square feet.
Young wrote that the hermit had a library of about 150 volumes, including the complete works of Shakespeare “from which he quoted frequently,” and a complete series of Outdoor Life magazines dating back to March 1906!
Young said that Hasselborg made one trip a year into Juneau (60 miles north) for supplies, and notes that his annual expenditure back in those days was about $40. “All I have to do is catch two mink or one beaver a year,” he told Young. “I can do that in one day. That gives me the rest of the year to do as I please. And that’s what I do, too — as I please.”
How he made that annual trip to Juneau in a 13-foot wooden skiff, I cannot say, particularly in the years before outboard motors were available. I have been in a 17-foot boat on Stephen’s Passage, and can tell you the big, rough water is intimidating.
Much of my knowledge of Allen Hasselborg and his life is incomplete. I know he is buried at Sitka. I have heard that his cabin still exists, but reports of its location supply conflicting information. When I moved to Juneau in spring 1983, Mole Harbor had already been developed into a bear viewing area. And on the topographical maps of Admiralty Island that I used while hunting Sitka deer and brown bears, I located a lake in the interior of the island named Hasselborg Lake.
The man died the year before I entered first grade, but the story of Allen Hasselborg, who lived alone on Admiralty Island for 50 years, still fascinates me.