I first encountered the name Lael Morgan in a copy of an old letter to Lael on my Aunt Betsy’s desk. In the letter my aunt had praised Lael’s book And the Land Provides: Alaskan Natives in a Year of Transition for its vivid and empathetic portrayal of native life in rural Alaska at the time (1971).
I was at the beginning stage of my research for a book about Milo “Doc” Fritz who, with his wife Betsy, had pioneered clinics throughout bush Alaska in the mid-twentieth century. So, of course, I had to hunt down a copy of Lael’s book which had been published some thirty years earlier. In her preface, Lael amusingly recalls that to the Aleuts in Port Graham, she became known as “Lethal Bargain,” suggesting not so much a mispronunciation of her name by the Aleuts as an assessment of her personality. Though Lael noted that their general response to her presence was compassion not ridicule.
Years later, after reading several more of her books, I initiated what would become a sporadic email correspondence with Lael. Responses from “Lethal Bargain” were characteristically warm, informative and to the point.
This past May, while awaiting my luggage after flying into Skagway for the North Words Writing Symposium, I picked up the local free newspaper (from the previous summer!) and saw that Lael’s Good Time Girls: Of the Alaska/Yukon Gold Rush was quoted several times in the lead story about that aspect of Skagway’s colorful history. For fun, I sent Lael a photo of the story with the note: “You’re being quoted in Skagway!” Also, that I had I mentioned the article and her book to the other writers at a dinner poetry slam—appropriately being held at the Skagway Inn, a former brothel.
Lael appreciated the update. She also added that she’d enjoyed my posting about heading to Skagway and had sent it to a young friend who had just attended the writer’s conference in Homer.
And that was Lael—supportive, connected, quick with a thoughtful response. That would be our final exchange. Lael Morgan died at the end of July. Sadly, we have lost a formidable journalist and storyteller, along with her great store of knowledge about Alaska.
But there’s a bit of good news: a second edition of Art and Eskimo Power: The Life and Times of Alaskan Howard Rock will be released in September on Kindle. Lael’s writing will continue to educate and delight her readers.
Linda Fritz is a journalist, editor and award-winning essayist whose writing has appeared in east and west coast magazines and newspapers. A summer job working as a nurse’s aide for Dr. Milo Fritz in 1966 gave Linda a memorable introduction to Anchorage and her uncle’s medical clinics around Alaska. Linda’s essay “True Pioneer,” reflecting on her teenage experiences that summer, was included in the memoir-anthology Anchorage Remembers in 2015. The essay was a prelude to Answering Alaska’s Call: Milo “Doc” Fritz, Linda’s memoir-biography about Alaska’s legendary surgeon, bush pilot and statesman, to be published by Epicenter Press in 2023.